Henry Fielding. (17071754). The History of Tom Jones.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917.
Book XIV. Containing Two Days
IX. Containing Strange Matters
AT his return to his lodgings, Jones found the situation of affairs greatly altered from what they had been in at his departure. The mother, the two daughters, and young Mr. Nightingale, were now sat down to supper together, when the uncle was, at his own desire introduced without any ceremony into the company, to all of whom he was well known; for he had several times visited his nephew at that house.
The old gentleman immediately walked up to Miss Nancy, saluted and wished her joy, as he did afterwards the mother and the other sister; and lastly, he paid the proper compliments to his nephew, with the same good humour and courtesy, as if his nephew had married his equal or superior in fortune, with all the previous requisites first performed.
Miss Nancy and her supposed husband both turned pale, and looked rather foolish than otherwise upon the occasion; but Mrs. Miller took the first opportunity of withdrawing: and, having sent for Jones into the dining-room, she threw herself at his feet, and in a most passionate flood of tears, called him her good angel, the preserver of her poor little family, with many other respectful and endearing appellations, and made him every acknowledgment which the highest benefit can extract from the most grateful heart.
After the first gust of her passion was a little over, which she declared, if she had not vented, would have burst her, she proceeded to inform Mr. Jones that all matters were settled between Mr. Nightingale and her daughter, and that they were to be married the next morning; at which Mr. Jones having expressed much pleasure, the poor woman fell again into a fit of joy and thanksgiving, which he at length with difficulty silenced, and prevailed on her to return with him back to the company, whom they found in the same good humour in which they had left them.
This little society now past two or three very agreeable hours together, in which the uncle, who was a very great lover of his bottle, had so well plyed his nephew, that this latter, though not drunk, began to be somewhat flustered; and now Mr. Nightingale, taking the old gentleman with him upstairs into the apartment he had lately occupied, unbosomed himself as follows:
As you have been always the best and kindest of uncles to me, and as you have shown such unparalleled goodness in forgiving this match, which to be sure may be thought a little improvident, I should never forgive myself if I attempted to deceive you in anything. He then confessed the truth, and opened the whole affair.
How, Jack? said the old gentleman, and are you really then not married to this young woman? No, upon my honour, answered Nightingale, I have told you the simple truth. My dear boy, cries the uncle, kissing him, I am heartily glad to hear it. I never was better pleased in my life. If you had been married I should have assisted you as much as was in my power to have made the best of a bad matter; but there is a great difference between considering a thing which is already done and irrecoverable, and that which is yet to do. Let your reason have fair play, Jack, and you will see this match in so foolish and preposterous a light, that there will be no need of any dissuasive arguments. How, sir? replies young Nightingale, is there this difference between having already done an act, and being in honour engaged to do it! Pugh! said the uncle, honour is a creature of the worlds making, and the world hath the power of a creator over it, and may govern and direct it as they please. Now you well know how trivial these breaches of contract are thought; even the grossest make but the wonder and conversation of a day. Is there a man who afterwards will be more backward in giving you his sister, or daughter? or is there any sister or daughter who would be more backward to receive you? Honour is not concerned in these engagements. Pardon me, dear sir, cries Nightingale, I can never think so; and not only honour, but conscience and humanity, are concerned. I am well satisfied, that, was I now to disappoint the young creature, her death would be the consequence, and I should look upon myself as her murderer; nay, as her murderer by the cruellest of all methods, by breaking her heart. Break her heart, indeed! no, no, Jack, cries the uncle, the hearts of women are not so soon broke; they are tough, boy, they are tough. But, sir, answered Nightingale, my own affections are engaged, and I never could be happy with any other woman. How often have I heard you say, that children should be always suffered to chuse for themselves, and that you would let my cousin Harriet do so? Why, ay, replied the old gentleman, so I would have them; but then I would have them chuse wisely.Indeed, Jack, you must and shall leave the girl.Indeed, uncle, cries the other, I must and will have her. You will, young gentleman; said the uncle; I did not expect such a word from you. I should not wonder if you had used such language to your father, who hath always treated you like a dog, and kept you at the distance which a tyrant preserves over his subjects; but I, who have lived with you upon an equal footing, might surely expect better usage: but I know how to account for it all: it is all owing to your preposterous education, in which I have had too little share. There is my daughter, now, whom I have brought up as my friend, never doth anything without my advice, nor ever refuses to take it when I give it her. You have never yet given her advice in an affair of this kind, said Nightingale; for I am greatly mistaken in my cousin, if she would be very ready to obey even your most positive commands in abandoning her inclinations. Dont abuse my girl, answered the old gentleman with some emotion; dont abuse my Harriet. I have brought her up to have no inclinations contrary to my own. By suffering her to do whatever she pleases, I have enured her to a habit of being pleased to do whatever I like. Pardon me, sir, said Nightingale, I have not the least design to reflect on my cousin, for whom I have the greatest esteem; and indeed I am convinced you will never put her to so severe a tryal, or lay such hard commands on her as you would do on me.But, dear sir, let us return to the company; for they will begin to be uneasy at our long absence. I must beg one favour of my dear uncle which is that he would not say anything to shock the poor girl or her mother. Oh! you need not fear me, answered he, I understand myself too well to affront women; so I will readily grant you that favour; and in return I must expect another of you. There are but few of your commands, sir, said Nightingale, which I shall not very chearfully obey. Nay, sir, I ask nothing, said the uncle, but the honour of your company home to my lodging, that I may reason the case a little more fully with you; for I would, if possible, have the satisfaction of preserving my family, notwithstanding the head-strong folly of my brother, who, in his own opinion, is the wisest man in the world.
Nightingale, who well knew his uncle to be as headstrong as his father, submitted to attend him home, and then they both returned back into the room, where the old gentleman promised to carry himself with the same decorum which he had before maintained.