Conclusion of the unfortunate jilt.
Leonora, having once broke through the bounds which custom and modesty impose on her sex, soon gave an unbridled indulgence to her passion. Her visits to Bellarmine were more constant, as well as longer, than his surgeon's: in a word, she became absolutely his nurse; made his water-gruel, administered him his medicines; and, notwithstanding the prudent advice of her aunt to the contrary, almost intirely resided in her wounded lover's apartment.
The ladies of the town began to take her conduct under consideration: it was the chief topic of discourse at their tea-tables, and was very severely censured by the most part; especially by Lindamira, a lady whose discreet and starch carriage, together with a constant attendance at church three times a day, had utterly defeated many malicious attacks on her own reputation; for such was the envy that Lindamira's virtue had attracted, that, notwithstanding her own strict behaviour and strict enquiry into the lives of others, she had not been able to escape being the mark of some arrows herself, which, however, did her no injury; a blessing, perhaps, owed by her to the clergy, who were her chief male companions, and with two or three of whom she had been barbarously and unjustly calumniated.
"Not so unjustly neither, perhaps," says Slipslop; "for the clergy are men, as well as other folks."
The extreme delicacy of Lindamira's virtue was cruelly hurt by those freedoms which Leonora allowed herself: she said, "It was an affront to her sex; that she did not imagine it consistent with any woman's honour to speak to the creature, or to be seen in her company; and that, for her part, she should always refuse to dance at an assembly with her, for fear of contamination by taking her by the hand."
But to return to my story: as soon as Bellarmine was recovered, which was somewhat within a month from his receiving the wound, he set out, according to agreement, for Leonora's father's, in order to propose the match, and settle all matters with him touching settlements, and the like.
A little before his arrival the old gentleman had received an intimation of the affair by the following letter, which I can repeat verbatim, and which, they say, was written neither by Leonora nor her aunt, though it was in a woman's hand. The letter was in these words: —
"SIR, — I am sorry to acquaint you that your daughter, Leonora, hath acted one of the basest as well as most simple parts with a young gentleman to whom she had engaged herself, and whom she hath (pardon the word) jilted for another of inferior fortune, notwithstanding his superior figure. You may take what measures you please on this occasion; I have performed what I thought my duty; as I have, though unknown to you, a very great respect for your family."
The old gentleman did not give himself the trouble to answer this kind epistle; nor did he take any notice of it, after he had read it, till he saw Bellarmine. He was, to say the truth, one of those fathers who look on children as an unhappy consequence of their youthful pleasures; which, as he would have been delighted not to have had attended them, so was he no less pleased with any opportunity to rid himself of the incumbrance. He passed, in the world's language, as an exceeding good father; being not only so rapacious as to rob and plunder all mankind to the utmost of his power, but even to deny himself the conveniencies, and almost necessaries, of life; which his neighbours attributed to a desire of raising immense fortunes for his children: but in fact it was not so; he heaped up money for its own sake only, and looked on his children as his rivals, who were to enjoy his beloved mistress when he was incapable of possessing her, and which he would have been much more charmed with the power of carrying along with him; nor had his children any other security of being his heirs than that the law would constitute them such without a will, and that he had not affection enough for any one living to take the trouble of writing one.
To this gentleman came Bellarmine, on the errand I have mentioned. His person, his equipage, his family, and his estate, seemed to the father to make him an advantageous match for his daughter: he therefore very readily accepted his proposals: but when Bellarmine imagined the principal affair concluded, and began to open the incidental matters of fortune, the old gentleman presently changed his countenance, saying, "He resolved never to marry his daughter on a Smithfield match; that whoever had love for her to take her would, when he died, find her share of his fortune in his coffers; but he had seen such examples of undutifulness happen from the too early generosity of parents, that he had made a vow never to part with a shilling whilst he lived." He commended the saying of Solomon, "He that spareth the rod spoileth the child;" but added, "he might have likewise asserted, That he that spareth the purse saveth the child." He then ran into a discourse on the extravagance of the youth of the age; whence he launched into a dissertation on horses; and came at length to commend those Bellarmine drove. That fine gentleman, who at another season would have been well enough pleased to dwell a little on that subject, was now very eager to resume the circumstance of fortune. He said, "He had a very high value for the young lady, and would receive her with less than he would any other whatever; but that even his love to her made some regard to worldly matters necessary; for it would be a most distracting sight for him to see her, when he had the honour to be her husband, in less than a coach and six." The old gentleman answered, "Four will do, four will do;" and then took a turn from horses to extravagance and from extravagance to horses, till he came round to the equipage again; whither he was no sooner arrived than Bellarmine brought him back to the point; but all to no purpose; he made his escape from that subject in a minute; till at last the lover declared, "That in the present situation of his affairs it was impossible for him, though he loved Leonora more than tout le monde, to marry her without any fortune." To which the father answered, "He was sorry that his daughter must lose so valuable a match; that, if he had an inclination, at present it was not in his power to advance a shilling: that he had had great losses, and been at great expenses on projects; which, though he had great expectation from them, had yet produced him nothing: that he did not know what might happen hereafter, as on the birth of a son, or such accident; but he would make no promise, or enter into any article, for he would not break his vow for all the daughters in the world."