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- Amelia Volume III - 4/41 -
"I thank you for that compliment," said the colonel.--"No, sir, I do not pretend to learning; but I have some little reading, and I am not ashamed to own it."
"But are you sure, colonel," cries the doctor, "that you have not made a small mistake? for I am apt to believe both Mr. Pope and Mr. Dryden (though I cannot say I ever read a word of either of them) speak of wars between nations, and not of private duels; for of the latter I do not remember one single instance in all the Greek and Roman story. In short, it is a modern custom, introduced by barbarous nations since the times of Christianity; though it is a direct and audacious defiance of the Christian law, and is consequently much more sinful in us than it would have been in the heathens."
"Drink about, doctor," cries the colonel; "and let us call a new cause; for I perceive we shall never agree on this. You are a Churchman, and I don't expect you to speak your mind."
"We are both of the same Church, I hope," cries the doctor.
"I am of the Church of England, sir," answered the colonel, "and will fight for it to the last drop of my blood."
"It is very generous in you, colonel," cries the doctor, "to fight so zealously for a religion by which you are to be damned."
"It is well for you, doctor," cries the colonel, "that you wear a gown; for, by all the dignity of a man, if any other person had said the words you have just uttered, I would have made him eat them; ay, d--n me, and my sword into the bargain."
Booth began to be apprehensive that this dispute might grow too warm; in which case he feared that the colonel's honour, together with the champagne, might hurry him so far as to forget the respect due, and which he professed to pay, to the sacerdotal robe. Booth therefore interposed between the disputants, and said that the colonel had very rightly proposed to call a new subject; for that it was impossible to reconcile accepting a challenge with the Christian religion, or refusing it with the modern notion of honour. "And you must allow it, doctor," said he, "to be a very hard injunction for a man to become infamous; and more especially for a soldier, who is to lose his bread into the bargain."
"Ay, sir," says the colonel, with an air of triumph, "what say you to that?"
"Why, I say," cries the doctor, "that it is much harder to be damned on the other side."
"That may be," said the colonel; "but damn me, if I would take an affront of any man breathing, for all that. And yet I believe myself to be as good a Christian as wears a head. My maxim is, never to give an affront, nor ever to take one; and I say that it is the maxim of a good Christian, and no man shall ever persuade me to the contrary."
"Well, sir," said the doctor, "since that is your resolution, I hope no man will ever give you an affront."
"I am obliged to you for your hope, doctor," cries the colonel, with a sneer; "and he that doth will be obliged to you for lending him your gown; for, by the dignity of a man, nothing out of petticoats, I believe, dares affront me."
Colonel James had not hitherto joined in the discourse. In truth, his thoughts had been otherwise employed; nor is it very difficult for the reader to guess what had been the subject of them. Being waked, however, from his reverie, and having heard the two or three last speeches, he turned to his brother, and asked him, why he would introduce such a topic of conversation before a gentleman of Doctor Harrison's character?
"Brother," cried Bath, "I own it was wrong, and I ask the doctor's pardon: I know not how it happened to arise; for you know, brother, I am not used to talk of these matters. They are generally poltroons that do. I think I need not be beholden to my tongue to declare I am none. I have shown myself in a line of battle. I believe there is no man will deny that; I believe I may say no man dares deny that I have done my duty."
The colonel was thus proceeding to prove that his prowess was neither the subject of his discourse nor the object of his vanity, when a servant entered and summoned the company to tea with the ladies; a summons which Colonel James instantly obeyed, and was followed by all the rest.
But as the tea-table conversation, though extremely delightful to those who are engaged in it, may probably appear somewhat dull to the reader, we will here put an end to the chapter.
_A dialogue between Booth and Amelia_.
The next morning early, Booth went by appointment and waited on Colonel James; whence he returned to Amelia in that kind of disposition which the great master of human passion would describe in Andromache, when he tells us she cried and smiled at the same instant.
Amelia plainly perceived the discomposure of his mind, in which the opposite affections of joy and grief were struggling for the superiority, and begged to know the occasion; upon which Booth spoke as follows:--
"My dear," said he, "I had no intention to conceal from you what hath past this morning between me and the colonel, who hath oppressed me, if I may use that expression, with obligations. Sure never man had such a friend; for never was there so noble, so generous a heart--I cannot help this ebullition of gratitude, I really cannot." Here he paused a moment, and wiped his eyes, and then proceeded: "You know, my dear, how gloomy the prospect was yesterday before our eyes, how inevitable ruin stared me in the face; and the dreadful idea of having entailed beggary on my Amelia and her posterity racked my mind; for though, by the goodness of the doctor, I had regained my liberty, the debt yet remained; and, if that worthy man had a design of forgiving me his share, this must have been my utmost hope, and the condition in which I must still have found myself need not to be expatiated on. In what light, then, shall I see, in what words shall I relate, the colonel's kindness? O my dear Amelia! he hath removed the whole gloom at once, hath driven all despair out of my mind, and hath filled it with the most sanguine, and, at the same time, the most reasonable hopes of making a comfortable provision for yourself and my dear children. In the first place, then, he will advance me a sum of money to pay off all my debts; and this on a bond to be repaid only when I shall become colonel of a regiment, and not before. In the next place, he is gone this very morning to ask a company for me, which is now vacant in the West Indies; and, as he intends to push this with all his interest, neither he nor I have any doubt of his success. Now, my dear, comes the third, which, though perhaps it ought to give me the greatest joy, such is, I own, the weakness of my nature, it rends my very heartstrings asunder. I cannot mention it, for I know it will give you equal pain; though I know, on all proper occasions, you can exert a manly resolution. You will not, I am convinced, oppose it, whatever you must suffer in complying. O my dear Amelia! I must suffer likewise; yet I have resolved to bear it. You know not what my poor heart hath suffered since he made the proposal. It is love for you alone which could persuade me to submit to it. Consider our situation; consider that of our children; reflect but on those poor babes, whose future happiness is at stake, and it must arm your resolution. It is your interest and theirs that reconciled me to a proposal which, when the colonel first made it, struck me with the utmost horror; he hath, indeed, from these motives, persuaded me into a resolution which I thought impossible for any one to have persuaded me into. O my dear Amelia! let me entreat you to give me up to the good of your children, as I have promised the colonel to give you up to their interest and your own. If you refuse these terms we are still undone, for he insists absolutely upon them. Think, then, my love, however hard they may be, necessity compels us to submit to them. I know in what light a woman, who loves like you, must consider such a proposal; and yet how many instances have you of women who, from the same motives, have submitted to the same!"
"What can you mean, Mr. Booth?" cries Amelia, trembling.
"Need I explain my meaning to you more?" answered Booth.--"Did I not say I must give up my Amelia?"
"Give me up!" said she.
"For a time only, I mean," answered he: "for a short time perhaps. The colonel himself will take care it shall not be long--for I know his heart; I shall scarce have more joy in receiving you back than he will have in restoring you to my arms. In the mean time, he will not only be a father to my children, but a husband to you."
"A husband to me!" said Amelia.
"Yes, my dear; a kind, a fond, a tender, an affectionate husband. If I had not the most certain assurances of this, doth my Amelia think I could be prevailed on to leave her? No, my Amelia, he is the only man on earth who could have prevailed on me; but I know his house, his purse, his protection, will be all at your command. And as for any dislike you have conceived to his wife, let not that be any objection; for I am convinced he will not suffer her to insult you; besides, she is extremely well bred, and, how much soever she may hate you in her heart, she will at least treat you with civility.
"Nay, the invitation is not his, but hers; and I am convinced they will both behave to you with the greatest friendship; his I am sure will be sincere, as to the wife of a friend entrusted to his care; and hers will, from good-breeding, have not only the appearances but the effects of the truest friendship."
"I understand you, my dear, at last," said she (indeed she had rambled into very strange conceits from some parts of his discourse); "and I will give you my resolution in a word--I will do the duty of a wife, and that is, to attend her husband wherever he goes."
Booth attempted to reason with her, but all to no purpose. She gave, indeed, a quiet hearing to all he said, and even to those parts which most displeased her ears; I mean those in which he exaggerated the great goodness and disinterested generosity of his friend; but her resolution remained inflexible, and resisted the force of all his arguments with a steadiness of opposition, which it would have been almost excusable in him to have construed into stubbornness.
The doctor arrived in the midst of the dispute; and, having heard the
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