Harley kneeled also at the side of the unfortunate daughter.
“Allow me, sir,” said he, “to entreat your pardon for one whose offences have been already so signally punished. I know, I feel, that those tears, wrung from the heart of a father, are more dreadful to her than all the punishments your sword could have inflicted: accept the contrition of a child whom heaven has restored to you.”
“Is she not lost,” answered he, “irrecoverably lost? Damnation! a common prostitute to the meanest ruffian!”
“Calmly, my dear sir,” said Harley, “did you know by what complicated misfortunes she had fallen to that miserable state in which you now behold her, I should have no need of words to excite your compassion. Think, sir, of what once she was. Would you abandon her to the insults of an unfeeling world, deny her opportunity of penitence, and cut off the little comfort that still remains for your afflictions and her own!”
“Speak,” said he, addressing himself to his daughter; “speak; I will hear thee.”
The desperation that supported her was lost; she fell to the ground, and bathed his feet with her tears.
Harley undertook her cause: he related the treacheries to which she had fallen a sacrifice, and again solicited the forgiveness of her father. He looked on her for some time in silence; the pride of a soldier’s honour checked for a while the yearnings of his heart; but nature at last prevailed, he fell on her neck and mingled his tears with hers.
Harley, who discovered from the dress of the stranger that he was just arrived from a journey, begged that they would both remove to his lodgings, till he could procure others for them. Atkins looked at him with some marks of surprise. His daughter now first recovered the power of speech.
“Wretch as I am,” said she, “yet there is some gratitude due to the preserver of your child. See him now before you. To him I owe my life, or at least the comfort of imploring your forgiveness before I die.”
“Pardon me, young gentleman,” said Atkins, “I fear my passion wronged you.”
“Never, never, sir,” said Harley “if it had, your reconciliation to your daughter were an atonement a thousand fold.” He then repeated his request that he might be allowed to conduct them to his lodgings, to which Mr. Atkins at last consented. He took his daughter’s arm.
“Come, my Emily,” said he, “we can never, never recover that happiness we have lost! but time may teach us to remember our misfortunes with patience.”
When they arrived at the house where Harley lodged, he was informed that the first floor was then vacant, and that the gentleman and his daughter might be accommodated there. While he was upon his enquiry, Miss Atkins informed her father more particularly what she owed to his benevolence. When he turned into the room where they were Atkins ran and embraced him; - begged him again to forgive the offence he had given him, and made the warmest protestations of gratitude for his favours. We would attempt to describe the joy which Harley felt on this occasion, did it not occur to us that one half of the world could not understand it though we did, and the other half will, by this time, have understood it without any description at all.
Miss Atkins now retired to her chamber, to take some rest from the violence of the emotions she had suffered. When she was gone, her father, addressing himself to Harley, said, “You have a right, sir, to be informed of the present situation of one who owes so much to your compassion for his misfortunes. My daughter I find has informed you what that was at the fatal juncture when they began. Her distresses you have heard, you have pitied as they deserved; with mine, perhaps, I cannot so easily make you acquainted. You have a feeling heart, Mr. Harley; I bless it that it has saved my child; but you never were a father, a father torn by that most dreadful of calamities, the dishonour of a child he doated on! You have been already informed of some of the circumstances of her elopement: I was then from home, called by the death of a relation, who, though he would never advance me a shilling on the utmost exigency in his life-time, left me all the gleanings of his frugality at his death. I would not write this intelligence to my daughter, because I intended to be the bearer myself; and as soon as my business would allow me, I set out on my return, winged with all the haste of paternal affection. I fondly built those schemes of future happiness, which present prosperity is ever busy to suggest: my Emily was concerned in them all. As I approached our little dwelling my heart throbbed with the anticipation of joy and welcome. I imagined the cheering fire, the blissful contentment of a frugal meal, made luxurious by a daughter’s smile, I painted to myself her surprise at the tidings of our new-acquired riches, our fond disputes about the disposal of them.
“The road was shortened by the dreams of happiness I enjoyed, and it began to be dark as I reached the house: I alighted from my horse, and walked softly upstairs to the room we commonly sat in. I was somewhat disappointed at not finding my daughter there. I rung the bell; her maid appeared, and shewed no small signs of wonder at the summons. She blessed herself as she entered the room: I smiled at her surprise. ‘Where is Miss Emily, sir?’ said she.
“‘Yes, sir; she has been gone hence some days, upon receipt of those letters you sent her.’
“‘Letters!’ said I.
“‘Yes, sir, so she told me, and went off in all haste that very night.’
“I stood aghast as she spoke, but was able so far to recollect myself, as to put on the affectation of calmness, and telling her there was certainly some mistake in the affair, desired her to leave me.
“When she was gone, I threw myself into a chair, in that state of uncertainty which is, of all others, the most dreadful. The gay visions with which I had delighted myself, vanished in an instant. I was tortured with tracing back the same circle of doubt and disappointment. My head grew dizzy as I thought. I called the servant again, and asked her a hundred questions, to no purpose; there was not room even for conjecture.
“Something at last arose in my mind, which we call Hope, without knowing what it is. I wished myself deluded by it; but it could not prevail over my returning fears. I rose and walked through the room. My Emily’s spinnet stood at the end of it, open, with a book of music folded down at some of my favourite lessons. I touched the keys; there was a vibration in the sound that froze my blood; I looked around, and methought the family pictures on the walls gazed on me with compassion in their faces. I sat down again with an attempt at more composure; I started at every creaking of the door, and my ears rung with imaginary noises!
“I had not remained long in this situation, when the arrival of a friend, who had accidentally heard of my return, put an end to my doubts, by the recital of my daughter’s dishonour. He told me he had his information from a young gentleman, to whom Winbrooke had boasted of having seduced her.
“I started from my seat, with broken curses on my lips, and without knowing whither I should pursue them, ordered my servant to load my pistols and saddle my horses. My friend, however, with great difficulty, persuaded me to compose myself for that night, promising to accompany me on the morrow, to Sir George Winbrooke’s in quest of his son.
“The morrow came, after a night spent in a state little distant from madness. We went as early as decency would allow to Sir George’s. He received me with politeness, and indeed compassion, protested his abhorrence of his son’s conduct, and told me that he had set out some days before for London, on which place he had procured a draft for a large sum, on pretence of finishing his travels, but that he had not heard from him since his departure.
“I did not wait for any more, either of information or comfort, but, against the united remonstrances of Sir George and my friend, set out instantly for London, with a frantic uncertainty of purpose; but there, all manner of search was in vain. I could trace neither of them any farther than the inn where they first put up on their arrival; and after some days fruitless inquiry, returned home destitute of every little hope that had hitherto supported me. The journeys I had made, the restless nights I had spent, above all, the perturbation of my mind, had the effect which naturally might be expected - a very dangerous fever was the consequence. From this, however, contrary to the expectation of my physicians, I recovered. It was now that I first felt something like calmness of mind: probably from being reduced to a state which could not produce the exertions of anguish or despair. A stupid melancholy settled on my soul; I could endure to live with an apathy of life; at times I forgot my resentment, and wept at the remembrance of my child.
“Such has been the tenor of my days since that fatal moment when these misfortunes began, till yesterday, that I received a letter from a friend in town, acquainting me of her present situation. Could such tales as mine, Mr. Harley, be sometimes suggested to the daughters of levity, did they but know with what anxiety the heart of a parent flutters round the child he loves, they would be less apt to construe into harshness that delicate concern for their conduct, which they often complain of as laying restraint upon things, to the young, the gay, and the thoughtless, seemingly harmless and indifferent. Alas! I fondly imagined that I needed not even these common cautions! my Emily was the joy of my age, and the pride of my soul! Those things are now no more, they are lost for ever! Her death I could have born, but the death of her honour has added obloquy and shame to that sorrow which bends my grey hairs to the dust!”
As he spoke these last words, his voice trembled in his throat; it was now lost in his tears. He sat with his face half turned from Harley, as if he would have hid the sorrow which he felt. Harley was in the same attitude himself; he durst not meet his eye with a tear, but gathering his stifled breath, “Let me entreat you, sir,” said he, “to hope better things. The world is ever tyrannical; it warps our sorrows to edge them with keener affliction. Let us not be slaves to the names it affixes to motive or to action. I know an ingenuous mind cannot help feeling when they sting. But there are considerations by which it may be overcome. Its fantastic ideas vanish as they rise; they teach us to look beyond it.”
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