Susanna Haswell Rowson (17621824). Charlotte Temple: A Tale of Truth. 1905.
Like a Fair Lily
Pensive she mournd, and hung her languid head,
Like a fair lily overchargd with dew.
CHARLOTTE had now been left almost three months a prey to her own melancholy reflectionssad companions, indeed; nor did any one break in upon her solitude but Belcour, who once or twice called to inquire after her health, and tell her he had in vain endeavored to bring Montraville to hear reason; and once, but only once, was her mind cheered by the receipt of an affectionate letter from Mrs. Beauchamp. Often had she wrote to her perfidious seducer, and with the most persuasive eloquence endeavored to convince him of her innocence; but these letters were never suffered to reach the hands of Montraville, or they must, tho on the very eve of marriage, have prevented his deserting the wretched girl. Real anguish of heart had in a great measure faded her charms; her cheeks were pale from want of rest, and her eyes, by frequent, indeed, almost continued weeping, were sunk and heavy. Sometimes a gleam of hope would play about her heart when she thought of her parents. They can not, surely, she would say, refuse to forgive me; or should they deny their pardon to me, they will not hate my innocent infant on account of its mothers errors. How often did the poor mourner wish for the consoling presence of the benevolent Mrs. Beauchamp. If she were here, she would cry, she would certainly comfort me, and soothe the distraction of my soul.
She was sitting one afternoon, wrapped in these melancholy reflections, when she was interrupted by the entrance of Belcour. Great as the alteration was which incessant sorrow had made on her person, she was still interesting, still charming; and the unhallowed flame, which had urged Belcour to plant dissension between her and Montraville, still raged in his bosom: he was determined, if possible, to make her his mistress; nay, he had even conceived the diabolical scheme of taking her to New York, and making her appear in every public place where it was likely she should meet Montraville, that he might be a witness to his unmanly triumph.
When he entered the room where Charlotte was sitting, he assumed the look of tender consolatory friendship. And how does my lovely Charlotte? said he, taking her hand: I fear you are not so well as I could wish.
I am not well, Mr. Belcour, said she, very far from it; but the pains and infirmities of the body I could easily bear, nay, submit to them with patience, were they not aggravated by the most insupportable anguish of my mind.
Alas! replied she, mournfully shaking her head, how can I be happy, deserted and forsaken as I am, without a friend of my own sex to whom I can unburthen my full heart; nay, my fidelity suspected by the very man for whom I have sacrificed everything valuable in life, for whom I have made myself a poor, despised creature, an outcast from society, an object only of contempt and pity.
You think too meanly of yourself, Miss Temple: there is no one who would dare to treat you with contempt: all who have the pleasure of knowing you, must admire and esteem. You are lonely here, my dear girl; give me leave to conduct you to New York, where the agreeable society of some ladies to whom I will introduce you will dispel these sad thoughts, and I shall again see returning cheerfulness animate those lovely features.
Oh, never! never! cried Charlotte, emphatically: the virtuous part of my sex will scorn me, and I will never associate with infamy. No, Belcour, here let me hide my shame and sorrow; here let me spend my few remaining days in obscurity, unknown and unpitied; here let me die unlamented, and my name sink to oblivion. Here her tears stopped her utterance. Belcour was awed to silence: he dared not interrupt her: and after a moments pause she proceededI once had conceived the thought of going to New York to seek out the still dear, tho cruel, ungenerous Montraville, to throw myself at his feet and entreat his compassion; Heaven knows, not for myself; if I am no longer beloved, I will not be indebted to his pity to redress my injuries, but I would have knelt and entreated him not to forsake my poor unborn She could say no more; a crimson glow rushed over her cheeks, and, covering her face with her hands, she sobbed aloud.
Something like humanity was awakened in Belcours breast by this pathetic speech. He arose and walked toward the window, but the selfish passion which had taken possession of his heart soon stifled these finer emotions; and he thought if Charlotte was once convinced she had no longer any dependance on Montraville, she would more readily throw herself on his protection. Determined, therefore, to inform her of all that had happened, he again resumed his seat; and, finding she began to be more composed, inquired if she had ever heard from Montraville since the unfortunate recontre in her bedchamber.
Belcour, said Charlotte, seizing his hand, and gazing at him earnestly, while her pale lips trembled with convulsive agony. Tell me, and tell me truly, I beseech you, do you think he can be such a villain as to marry another woman, and leave me to die with want and misery in a strange land? Tell me what you think; I can bear it very well; I will not shrink from this heaviest stroke of fate; I have deserved my afflictions, and I will endeavor to bear them as I ought.
Perhaps, cried she, eagerly interrupting him, perhaps he is married already: come, let me know the worst, continued she, with an affected look of composure: you need not be afraid; I shall not send the fortunate lady a bowl of poison!
Marriedgonesay you? cried she, in distracted accents; what, without a last farewell, without one thought on my unhappy situation! Oh, Montraville! may God forgive your perfidy! She shrieked, and Belcour sprang forward just in time to prevent her falling to the floor. Alarming faintings now succeeded each other and she was conveyed to her bed, from whence she earnestly prayed she might never more arise. Belcour stayed with her that night, and in the morning found her in a high fever. The fits she had been seized with had greatly terrified him; and confined as she now was to a bed of sickness, she was no longer an object of desire: it is true, for several days he went constantly to see her, but her pale, emaciated appearance disgusted him: his visits became less frequent; he forgot the solemn charge given him by Montraville; he even forgot the money entrusted to his care; and the burning blush of indignation and shame tinges my cheek while I write it, this disgrace to humanity and manhood at length forgot even the injured Charlotte; and, attracted by the blooming health of a farmers daughter, whom he had seen in his frequent excursions to the country, he left the unhappy girl to sink unnoticed to the grave, a prey to sickness, grief and penury; while he, having triumphed over the virtue of the artless cottager, rioted in all the intemperance of luxury and lawless pleasure.