Susanna Haswell Rowson (17621824). Charlotte Temple: A Tale of Truth. 1905.
Change of Fortune
IT was some days, continued Mr. Eldridge, recovering himself, before I could venture to inquire the particulars of what had happened during my illness: at length I assumed courage to ask my dear girl how long her mother and brother had been dead: she told me that the morning after my arrest, George came home early to inquire after his mothers health, staid with them but a few minutes, seemed greatly agitated at parting, but gave them strict charge to keep up their spirits, and hope everything would turn out for the best. In about two hours after, as they were sitting at breakfast, and endeavoring to strike out some plan to attain my liberty, they heard a loud rap at the door, which Lucy, running to open, she met the bleeding body of her brother, borne in by two men, who had lifted him from a litter, on which they had brought him from the place where he fought. Her poor mother, weakened by illness and the struggles of the preceding night, was not able to support this shock; gasping for breath, her looks wild and haggard, she reached the apartment where they had carried her dying son. She knelt by the bedside; and taking his cold hand: My poor boy, said she, I will not be parted from thee: husband! son! both at once lost. Father of mercies, spare me! She fell into a strong convulsion, and expired in about two hours. In the meantime, a surgeon had dressed Georges wounds; but they were in such a situation as to bar the smallest hopes of recovery. He never was sensible from the time he was brought home, and died that evening in the arms of his sister.
Late as it was when this event took place, my affectionate Lucy insisted on coming to me. What must he feel, said she, at our apparent neglect, and how shall I inform him of the afflictions with which it has pleased Heaven to visit us?
She left the care of the dear departed ones to some neighbors, who had kindly come in to comfort and assist her; and on entering the house where I was confined, found me in the situation I have mentioned.
How she supported herself in these trying moments I know not: Heaven no doubt was with her; and her anxiety to preserve the life of one parent in some measure abated her affliction for the loss of the other.
My circumstances were greatly embarrassed, my acquaintances few, and those few utterly unable to assist me. When my wife and son were committed to their kindred earth, my creditors seized my house and furniture, which, not being sufficient to discharge all their demands, detainers were lodged against me. No friend stepped forward to my relief; from the grave of her mother, my beloved Lucy followed an almost dying father to this melancholy place.
Here we have been nearly a year and a half. My half-pay I have given up to satisfy my creditors, and my child supports me by her industry: sometimes by fine needlework, sometimes by painting. She leaves me every night, and goes to a lodging near the bridge; but returns in the morning to cheer me with her smiles, and bless me by her duteous affection. A lady once offered her an asylum in her family; but she would not leave me. We are all the world to each other, said she. I thank God I have health and spirits to improve the talents with which nature has endowed me; and I trust, if I employ them in the support of a beloved parent, I shall not be thought an unprofitable servant. While he lives, I pray for strength to pursue my employment; and when it pleases Heaven to take one of us, may it give the survivor resignation to bear the separation as we ought: till then I will never leave him.
But something must be done, said he: that sweet maid must not wear out her life in a prison. I will see you again to-morrow, my friend, said he, shaking Eldridges hand: keep up your spirits; light and shade are not more happily blended than are the pleasures and pains of life; and the horrors of the one serve only to increase the splendor of the other.
When they got without the walls of the prison, Temple thanked his friend Blakeney1 for introducing him to so worthy a character; and, telling him he had a particular engagement in the city, wished him a good-evening.
And what is to be done for this distressed man, said Temple, as he walked up Ludgate Hill. Would to Heaven I had a fortune that would enable me instantly to discharge his debt: what exquisite transport, to see the expressive eyes of Lucy beaming at once with pleasure for her fathers deliverance and gratitude for her deliverer: but is not my fortune affluence, continued he, nay superfluous wealth, when compared to the extreme indigence of Eldridge; and what have I done to deserve ease and plenty, while a brave worthy officer starves in a prison? Three hundred a year is surely sufficient for all my wants and wishes; at any rate Eldridge must be relieved.
Temple was a young man, his feelings warm and impetuous; unacquainted with the world, his heart had not been rendered callous by being convinced of its fraud and hypocrisy. He pitied their sufferings, overlooked their faults, thought every bosom as generous as his own, and would cheerfully have divided his last guinea with an unfortunate fellow creature.
No wonder, then, that such a man (without waiting a moment for the interference of Madame Prudence) should resolve to raise money sufficient for the relief of Eldridge, by mortgaging part of his fortune.
We will not enquire too minutely into the cause which might actuate him in this instance: suffice it to say, he immediately put the plan in execution; and in three days from the time he first saw the unfortunate lieutenant, he had the superlative felicity of seeing him at liberty, and receiving an ample reward in the tearful eye and half-articulated thanks of the grateful Lucy.
It was not till within these few days that I heard in what manner your acquaintance first commenced, and can not suppose anything but attachment to the daughter could carry you such imprudent lengths for the father: it certainly must be her art that drew you into mortgage [sic] part of your fortune.
Everything that is amiable and lovely, said his father, interrupting him, ironically: no doubt, in your opinion, she is a pattern of excellence for all her sex to follow; but come, sir, pray tell me, what are your designs toward this paragon? I hope you do not intend to complete your folly by marrying her.
Then prithee, my dear lad, said his father, since your rank and fortune are so much beneath what your Princess might expect, be so kind as to turn your eyes on Miss Weatherby, who, having only an estate of three thousand a year, is more upon a level with you, and whose father yesterday solicited the mighty honor of your alliance. I shall leave you to consider on this offer, and pray remember that your union with Miss Weatherby will put it in your power to be more liberally the friend of Lucy Eldridge.
Note 1. If there be a hero in Charlotte Temple and Lucy Temple, it is Blakeney, and yet this is the last that the reader sees of him. There is something fine in a romance which makes of the man who thus brought together Henry Temple and Lucy Eldridge, the benefactor, a quarter of a century afterward, of the daughter of their unfortunate child, Charlotte. The reader wishes to know more of him. We must find in the absence of further information new evidence of the fidelity with which the author conformed her narrative to events that had actually taken place. [back]