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- Amelia Volume III - 3/41 -
doctor was not difficult of access; indeed, he held the strange reserve which is usually practised in this nation between people who are in any degree strangers to each other to be very unbecoming the Christian character.
The two ladies soon left the room; and the remainder of the visit, which was not very long, past in discourse on various common subjects, not worth recording. In the conclusion, the colonel invited Booth and his lady, and the doctor, to dine with him the next day.
To give Colonel James his due commendation, he had shewn a great command of himself and great presence of mind on this occasion; for, to speak the plain truth, the visit was intended to Amelia alone; nor did he expect, or perhaps desire, anything less than to find the captain at home. The great joy which he suddenly conveyed into his countenance at the unexpected sight of his friend is to be attributed to that noble art which is taught in those excellent schools called the several courts of Europe. By this, men are enabled to dress out their countenances as much at their own pleasure as they do their bodies, and to put on friendship with as much ease as they can a laced coat.
When the colonel and doctor were gone, Booth acquainted Amelia with the invitation he had received. She was so struck with the news, and betrayed such visible marks of confusion and uneasiness, that they could not have escaped Booth's observation had suspicion given him the least hint to remark; but this, indeed, is the great optic-glass helping us to discern plainly almost all that passes in the minds of others, without some use of which nothing is more purblind than human nature.
Amelia, having recovered from her first perturbation, answered, "My dear, I will dine with you wherever you please to lay your commands on me." "I am obliged to you, my dear soul," cries Booth; "your obedience shall be very easy, for my command will be that you shall always follow your own inclinations." "My inclinations," answered she, "would, I am afraid, be too unreasonable a confinement to you; for they would always lead me to be with you and your children, with at most a single friend or two now and then." "O my dear!" replied he, "large companies give us a greater relish for our own society when we return to it; and we shall be extremely merry, for Doctor Harrison dines with us." "I hope you will, my dear," cries she;" but I own I should have been better pleased to have enjoyed a few days with yourself and the children, with no other person but Mrs. Atkinson, for whom I have conceived a violent affection, and who would have given us but little interruption. However, if you have promised, I must undergo the penance." "Nay, child," cried he, "I am sure I would have refused, could I have guessed it had been in the least disagreeable to you though I know your objection." "Objection!" cries Amelia eagerly "I have no objection." "Nay, nay," said he, "come, be honest, I know your objection, though you are unwilling to own it." "Good Heavens!" cryed Amelia, frightened, "what do you mean? what objection?" "Why," answered he, "to the company of Mrs. James; and I must confess she hath not behaved to you lately as you might have expected; but you ought to pass all that by for the sake of her husband, to whom we have both so many obligations, who is the worthiest, honestest, and most generous fellow in the universe, and the best friend to me that ever man had."
Amelia, who had far other suspicions, and began to fear that her husband had discovered them, was highly pleased when she saw him taking a wrong scent. She gave, therefore, a little in to the deceit, and acknowledged the truth of what he had mentioned; but said that the pleasure she should have in complying with his desires would highly recompense any dissatisfaction which might arise on any other account; and shortly after ended the conversation on this subject with her chearfully promising to fulfil his promise.
In reality, poor Amelia had now a most unpleasant task to undertake; for she thought it absolutely necessary to conceal from her husband the opinion she had conceived of the colonel. For, as she knew the characters, as well of her husband as of his friend, or rather enemy (both being often synonymous in the language of the world), she had the utmost reason to apprehend something very fatal might attend her husband's entertaining the same thought of James which filled and tormented her own breast.
And, as she knew that nothing but these thoughts could justify the least unkind, or, indeed, the least reserved behaviour to James, who had, in all appearance, conferred the greatest obligations upon Booth and herself, she was reduced to a dilemma the most dreadful that can attend a virtuous woman, as it often gives the highest triumph, and sometimes no little advantage, to the men of professed gallantry.
In short, to avoid giving any umbrage to her husband, Amelia was forced to act in a manner which she was conscious must give encouragement to the colonel; a situation which perhaps requires as great prudence and delicacy as any in which the heroic part of the female character can be exerted.
_A conversation between Dr Harrison and others_.
The next day Booth and his lady, with the doctor, met at Colonel James's, where Colonel Bath likewise made one of the company.
Nothing very remarkable passed at dinner, or till the ladies withdrew. During this time, however, the behaviour of Colonel James was such as gave some uneasiness to Amelia, who well understood his meaning, though the particulars were too refined and subtle to be observed by any other present.
When the ladies were gone, which was as soon as Amelia could prevail on Mrs. James to depart, Colonel Bath, who had been pretty brisk with champagne at dinner, soon began to display his magnanimity. "My brother tells me, young gentleman," said he to Booth, "that you have been used very ill lately by some rascals, and I have no doubt but you will do yourself justice."
Booth answered that he did not know what he meant. "Since I must mention it then," cries the colonel, "I hear you have been arrested; and I think you know what satisfaction is to be required by a man of honour."
"I beg, sir," says the doctor, "no more may be mentioned of that matter. I am convinced no satisfaction will be required of the captain till he is able to give it."
"I do not understand what you mean by able," cries the colonel. To which the doctor answered, "That it was of too tender a nature to speak more of."
"Give me your hand, doctor," cries the colonel; "I see you are a man of honour, though you wear a gown. It is, as you say, a matter of a tender nature. Nothing, indeed, is so tender as a man's honour. Curse my liver, if any man--I mean, that is, if any gentleman, was to arrest me, I would as surely cut his throat as--"
"How, sir!" said the doctor, "would you compensate one breach of the law by a much greater, and pay your debts by committing murder?"
"Why do you mention law between gentlemen?" says the colonel. "A man of honour wears his law by his side; and can the resentment of an affront make a gentleman guilty of murder? and what greater affront can one man cast upon another than by arresting him? I am convinced that he who would put up an arrest would put up a slap in the face."
Here the colonel looked extremely fierce, and the divine stared with astonishment at this doctrine; when Booth, who well knew the impossibility of opposing the colonel's humour with success, began to play with it; and, having first conveyed a private wink to the doctor, he said there might be cases undoubtedly where such an affront ought to be resented; but that there were others where any resentment was impracticable: "As, for instance," said he, "where the man is arrested by a woman."
"I could not be supposed to mean that case," cries the colonel; "and you are convinced I did not mean it."
"To put an end to this discourse at once, sir," said the doctor, "I was the plaintiff at whose suit this gentleman was arrested."
"Was you so, sir?" cries the colonel; "then I have no more to say. Women and the clergy are upon the same footing. The long-robed gentry are exempted from the laws of honour."
"I do not thank you for that exemption, sir," cries the doctor; "and, if honour and fighting are, as they seem to be, synonymous words with you, I believe there are some clergymen, who in defence of their religion, or their country, or their friend, the only justifiable causes of fighting, except bare self-defence, would fight as bravely as yourself, colonel! and that without being paid for it."
"Sir, you are privileged," says the colonel, with great dignity; "and you have my leave to say what you please. I respect your order, and you cannot offend me."
"I will not offend you, colonel, "cries the doctor; "and our order is very much obliged to you, since you profess so much respect to us, and pay none to our Master."
"What Master, sir?" said the colonel.
"That Master," answered the doctor, "who hath expressly forbidden all that cutting of throats to which you discover so much inclination."
"O! your servant, sir," said the colonel; "I see what you are driving at; but you shall not persuade me to think that religion forces me to be a coward."
"I detest and despise the name as much as you can," cries the doctor; "but you have a wrong idea of the word, colonel. What were all the Greeks and Romans? were these cowards? and yet, did you ever hear of this butchery, which we call duelling, among them?"
"Yes, indeed, have I," cries the colonel. "What else is all Mr. Pope's Homer full of but duels? Did not what's his name, one of the Agamemnons, fight with that paultry rascal Paris? and Diomede with what d'ye call him there? and Hector with I forget his name, he that was Achilles's bosom-friend; and afterwards with Achilles himself? Nay, and in Dryden's Virgil, is there anything almost besides fighting?"
"You are a man of learning, colonel," cries the doctor; "but--"
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