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Melinda (1749)

The Covent Garden Calendar - Chapter I.

Chapter I.

            It would be an extreme difficult point to decide, whether men of fortune have been greater sufferers; by the dilatoriness, chicane, and knavery of the law, when they have been necessitated to enter into its dreary meanders, or from the cheats and abuses of sharpers, when they have resigned themselves up to a vicious habit of gaming. Horatio sufficiently participated of the evils of both. He was not above the age of eighteen years when his father died, who left his effects, which were very considerable, in the hands of such honest guardians, that Horatio, when he cameof age, was obliged to apply to the justice of Law, and the equity of Chancery, to recover what was his indubitable right; which nevertheless, he could not obtain the possession of, till after a tedious suit of ten years' continuance; whereby his fortune was so much curtailed, that scarce a fourth part of his father's personal eslate came into his hands, although he was the only son and heir to his possessions, and as such, during his father's lifetime, he had always been exceedingly indulged in those pleasures to which he had an inclination, of which play was not the least.

            Horatio, on his father's demise, found himself deprived of the means of pursuing his favourite diversion; for his careful guardians immediately packed him to the University, with such a pitiful allowance as would scarce provide him with necessaries. He had drank too deeply of the pleasures of the town to relish a college life; and began to cast about how he should manage to live like a gentleman, till that day arrived which should make him of age, and free him from the power of his guardians: so, quitting the university privately, he hastened to town. He soon learned that there were persons enough always ready to furnish any minor, that was heir to a fortune like his, with cash, if he could bring himself to a compliance with their exorbitant terms.

            Horatio thought it no time to hesitate upon their articles, as he could not support a town life without money; and his guardians' alllowance was too mean, even to support him at the college like a gentleman student: so that he soon complied to pay an extravagant interest, for the purchase of his pleasures, till he should arrive at age. But when the wished-for day came that brought that period about, how was he surprised, on application to his father's righteous trustees, to be put into possession of his fortune, in finding himself absolutely refused.

            It would be to little purpose to rehearse the several evasions they made use of on this occasion in order to keep the young gentleman's patrimony in their own hands, where they alleged it was very secure; and that by drawing it thence he would inevitatably ruin himself, from the violent propensity he had to gaming. Neither would they condescend to discharge any of those debts that he had contracted in his minority, so that he soon found, he had no other way to deal with them but by commencing a lawsuit.

            This step, to which he was compelled by necessity, proved very expensive; and during the continuance of it, he married a lady, who had little else beside beauty, wit, and agreeableness, to recommend her. Neither could he expect any other fortune, as the Law had not, as yet, given him anything to furnish out a jointure suitable for a moneyed wife.

            By this lady he had several children; of whom Melinda was the only one that lived any considerable time. But the costs of the lawsuit, and his extravagancies in gaming, both before and after his coming at the possession of that moiety of his fortune which the law left him, disabled him from leaving his daughter any more than was scarcely sufficient to match her to a mechanic; though he had given her an education suitable to a much higher sphere.

            As Melinda was descended from a good family, and had a sufficient share of wit and beauty, her accomplishments soon rendered her too conspicuous to want admirers: but, as her fortune was so very slender, they seemed to pay their addresses rather through hopes of obtaining a gratification of their brutal passions, than with any desire to her advantage in the matrimonial state. But as her eyes were charming, they were also very discerning; which soon made her see the drift of her lovers, and that notwithstanding all the fine compliments, and hourly protestations which were continually made to her, yet unless she would sacrifice her virtue to their desires, there were, no hopes of her benefiting herself by her adorers.

            Though Melinda was capable of inspiring love, yet she did not appear framed to receive any of its impressions; whether from a coldness in her nature, a rigid vow of chastity, or from the true principles of virtue having been infused into her by the care of her mother, she still continued deaf to all the overtures and promises that were made to seduce her, and although then but at the age of sixteen, she had sense enough to distinguish between her own true interest and the sensual views of her lovers.

            She, being one day visiting a lady of fashion, happened to meet with an ancient gentleman, that was a widower, called Lorenzo, who had a very great estate. He was instantly so smitten with her beauty, and sprightly conversation, that he hecame from that moment deeply enamoured with her. But being sensible that his years would not permit him to waste much time in courtship, and also, having a strong mistrust that he should never be able to obtain the young lady's consent to make him her spouse, purely from the prevalency of his own personal accomplishments, he resolved, first to ask her father's permission to make his addresses to her, promising withal, that if he could prevail with Melinda to have him, that he would marry her without requiring any fortune of him, and would also settle upon her as good a jointure, in case she should survive him, as either of them could wish for.

            Horatio, well knowing the narrowness of his own circumstances, and thoroughly weighing the great probability of Melinda's outliving the old gentleman, listened very attentively to his proposals, and was very well inclined to accept of one older than himself for his son-in-law. He therefore soon took an opportunity of opening the affair to his daughter. Although Melinda had not fixed her inclinations upon any of those young and gay sparks that were continually accosting her, nor had any previous engagement upon her hands, or any distinct view of profiting by matrimony: yet the inequality beteen Lorenzo's years and hers gave her such a great aversion to this ancient lover, that she at first absolutely refused conforming to her father's request, and could scarcely credit that Lorenzo, notwithstanding his advantageous proposals, was in earnest, till Horatio made her thoroughly sensible of it, by informing her, that the old man had married his first wife for the sake of her fortune, which was very considerable; and therefore was willing to venture the second time purely for love, though Melinda could not think it to be any other than mere dotage.

            To the father's entreaties for this young lover, were joined the solicitations of all her friends and acquaintance, who assured her that if a lady of her youth and sprightliness managed matters rightly after wedlock, that the old gentleman's fondness would soon bring him from the wedding sheets to a winding one; and that the more she caressed him, the sooner she should find herself an opulent widow, instead of the miserrable wife that she imagined herself going to be.

            Lorenzo was indeed already past his grand climacteric; it is therefore no wonder that Melinda thould disrelish him, either for a lover or a husband. But as interest seldom fails of having advocates, and money always procures friends; so old Lorenzo's cause had so many strenuous backers, joined to the indispensible commands of Melinda's father, that, much against her will, she was at last prevailed on to become the old gentleman's bride: and Lorenzo had the marriage celebrated with as much pomp and splendour as possible, thinking thereby to endear himself the more to the lovely Melinda, by showing her that he begrudged no expense, either on her person or her pleasures. Though perhaps the lady was much better pleased with the festivity of the celebration of their nuptials, than with the joys of consummation. However, she treated Lorenzo with all the fondness and endearments that could possibly invigorate those remaining sparks of fire that were left in his blood; thereby fully convincing him, that, though young, she was capable of fully performing her duty of loving and cherishing him, whenever he was inclined to demand it.

            Old Lorenzo was entirely charmed with the constant and affectionate caresses of his young wife, and wanted for nothing more than an ability to return them, which his years would not permit of; and Melinda, for her part, comforted herself with an entire reliance on her friends promises, that the old gentleman would not long survive his nuptials, with such a young and sprightly lady. Almost a twelvemonth passed on (a tedious time to a wife in her situation) and yet not the least view of his being nearer to make her happy in becoming a widow, than she could expect from being a wife. But, however, as he promised before marriage to make her mistress of all his fortune, and to maintain her in the greatest splendour, she took care to remind him of it, and he accordingly kept his word with her, by purchasing the richest furniture, jewels, and equipage, that could be bought for her use; and daily presenting herwith the most precious knick-knacks and bagatelles that could be procured.

            All these favours, kindnesses, and magnificent living, could not satisfy the heart of Melinda, which was continually willing for widowhood: but in order to pass her melancholy days (as she called them) the better, she resolved to divert herself by visiting her acquaintance, and making use of some recreation, to extirpate the disagreeable thoughts of passing her youth in the arms of such an old lump of impotency as was Lorenzo; whose superannuated caresses she abhorred in her soul, nor would have endured them, only in hopes that they would contribute to hasten his end. For which reason she was continually, when at home, sitting on his kneee, stroking his cheek, kissing, tickling of him, and using all other provocatives, in order to make believe that he was not above thirty; and indeed, it would have made her life much easier, if she could have found any motives to have persuaded herself so. Thus they were continually cooing and billing when together; and she would often protest, that he had not so much as a grey hair in his head; which she might very well assure him of, as it was bald all over.

            But, as I said before, this way of spending her youthful days, in endeavouring to excite old Lorenzo to the performance of an impossible task, grew at last so irksome to her, that she was resolved no longer to lead a recluse life, but to pass the remainder of the time, that they must be together in innocent diversions and gallantry. Whereupon she acquainted her husband, that she found the sedentary life, she had so long led within doors, very much impaired her health, and would, if she continued it, bring upon her, in a little time, some violent disease; therefore begged of him to permit her to go a little abroad, and see company, in order to drive off the melancholy thoughts of that black and dreadful distemper which so apparently threatened her, and which she found to increase upon her daily more and more.

            Lorenzo had too much value for his young wife, to deny her so reasonable a request, as this seemed to be; especially as she assured him, that the greatest diversion would be but a tedious punishment out of his dear company, were it not on account of her health, which she was obliged to do her endeavour to preserve, purely for his sake, who loved her so well; which gilding of the pill made the old gentleman swallow it the easier. So he readily gave his consent to her going abroad, and visiting, not only out of regard that such innocent recreation might be conducive to her health, but might also give him an opportunity of refreshing his own; which he found considerably impaired of late, by his too constant attendance at Venus's altar, whose fires he vainly attempted to make blaze, from that small spark which was left in his damp match. In a word, Lorenzo, who had all his life-time, till he fell in love with Melinda, been accounted a boon companion, and used, notwithslanding his years, to dispense with a bottle or two of a night; now finding a more than ordinary decay of spirits, began to think of exhilarating them, by resuming his old practice, whilst his lady was abroad a-visiting.

            As Melinda was reckoned to resemble her father in many things, so, like him, she had a violent propensity to gaming; which her visiting afforded her frequent opportunities to indulge, unknown to her old husband, as several ladies, whose houses she frequented, kept public nights for play at which she, by degrees, became a constant attendant. And Lorenzo, never being niggardly in his allowance for pin-money, furnished her with a sufficient stock to begin with, which she had the good fortune; by a lucky run at first, to improve very much in a short time.

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