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Melinda (1749)

The Covent Garden Calendar - Chapter IV.

Chapter IV.


            She immediately retreated to a lady's house who was her friend, to whom the discovered the whole secret of the transformation, and endeavoured through her means, who was nearly related to Lorenzo, to get the old gentleman to pardon her transgression, with a strict promise of conjugal obedience to his commands for the future. But notwithstanding all the endeavours of Melinda and her friend, old Lorenzo was fully persuaded that his wife had dealings with the devil, would not be beat out of his notion, but obstinately persisted in an implacable aversion to bedding any more with her, or suffering her to come under his roof; whom he looked upon as a more expert sorceress than Mother Shipton is reported to have been: so that Melinda was forced to live retired for some time, upon the small income that he was pleased to allow her for subsistence. This misfortune affording her leisure to reflect on and curse the immoderate love of gaming, which had thus plunged her into so much anxiety and trouble in her youthful days.

            She continued to lead this disconsolate life, worse to her than widowhood, above two years; during which, she conceived an invincible hatred to her husband for this usage to her, scorning the imputation of a witch upon any other account than her beauty. As for Aspatia, she yet continued with her mistress, and partook share of her cloudy days as well as she had done those of her sunshine; and was delivered of a jolly boy, soon after this unfortunate discovery of her lady's gaming had driven them both out of doors from old Lorenzo's, so that they were pretty hard set to maintain the youngster out of their small allowance; however, Melinda had him taken care of at her expense, as Aspatia always vouched that he had not come into the world had she not been so dutiful to her commands as to take her place in bed with the old gentleman. As Lorenzo increased in years, so his constitution grew daily more impaired; and his servants finding him too infirm to inspect into family affairs, vexed him so much by their continual impositions and knavery, that he began to wish he had not been so rash in his anger as to part from his wife; and even to wish for her home again to keep his house in order, that he might grunt in his armchair, under the afflictions of his body, without those troubles of mind, which their outrageous mismanagement caused him to undergo. But though he made many overtures to Melinda for a reconciliation with her, yet the violence of her hatred towards him would not allow her to hearken to any terms, neither could she entertain any thoughts of returning again to the withered arms of threescore and ten.

            It was in vain that the lady, her friend, whom she lived with, endeavoured to persuade her to relinquish her antipathy, and reconcile her obedience to her interest, as she was brought old Lorenzo to such a good inclination, by clearing up the mystery of her transformation to him, that was desirous of again admitting Melinda to her old place, upon a hearty promise of a thorough reformation on her side, from the folly of gaming. But whatever might be the real occasion of such a strong distaste in her, she absolutely refused coming to any agreement with her old hunks.

            Thus time passed on, and this obdurate reluctance of Melinda to any reconciliation, occasioned as much grief to old Lorenzo as his former rashness had given to her; so he had recourse to his last remedy on this occasion, which was, to take to his bed and pretend violent sickness; and to make the matter sooner credited, he caused it every day to be given out that he grew worse and worse; this news soon reached the ears of Melinda, who hearing how ill he was, and judging from his great years, that there was little or no hopes of his recovery, submitted to the advice of her friend, and agreed to pay her husband a farewell visit, as she judged it would be the last time of her ever seeing him alive. So together they went, and at the entrance into his house perceived nothing but sorrow and dejection in every countenance; they were immediately, on their arrival, conducted to the door of the sick gentleman's chamber, where some of the servants with a gloomy silence, and others with sobs and groans, expressed their grief for the near departure of their old master.

            But how was Melinda surprised, when on entering the room, the perceived a most sumptuous banquet prepared, at which. were present several of her husband's friends and acquaintance, the old man being seated in an elbow-chair at the head of them? He directly got up, as well as he was able, and embraced her with all the eagerness he was capable of, begging in the most moving terms, that she would forgive his former behaviour, for which he expressed the greatest sorrow, and agree to be reconciled with him. All the company joined their solicitations to his entreaties, and Melinda not being prepared for so strong and unexpected an attack, could not make so stubborn a resistance as she would otherwise have done, had she not been taken so disadvantageously.

            The company being willing to give her time to recover her surprise, perceiving that she was not thoroughly inclined to yield to their persuasions, begged of her to sit down to table, as there was cause to hope for the bringing of her to reason after dinner, though she would not immediately comply with their request for a thorough reconciliation. Overcome by their unanimous entreaties, she and the lady her friend took their places; and the bottle passing pretty freely after dinner, matters were so well adjusted, that Melinda consented to go to bed again to her husband, who received her with the greatest satisfaction on his part, though perhaps the pleasure she found in this renewal of their friendship was not so exquisite as she might expect.

            Fortune seemed now to be intent upon recompensing Melinda for the melancholy hours she had formerly passed in her separation from her husband, or rather from the participation of his riches; for whether the old gentleman exerted himself too vigorously for his years, on the renewal of the hymeneal joys, or whether it was occasioned by a decay of nature, yet so it happened, and no doubt much to her satisfaction, that she found herself in the long wished-for state of widowhood, soon after her reconciliation to her husband, who to convince her of his love and affection, and of his thorough oblivion of all past faults, left her in the possession of a much better fortune than she had reason to expect from an old man whom she had been so careless to oblige during her cohabiting with him.

            Melinda had not been long a widow before the éclat of her youth, beauty and fortune drew together many suitors; and amongst the rest that made address to her was Sparkish, a handsome, gay young fellow, born in the kingdom of Ireland, but of no great family or estate, except a small commission that he had in the army. He, however, had received a liberal education, though he misapplied it in his detestable practices; and was above all endued with a most destructive inveigling tongue, which had more than once been fatally employed, to the ruin of many a female. With this forcible battery he plied Melinda so strongly that she soon began to capitulate, and agreed to surrender to him upon the honourable conditions of matrimony. This was all that Starkish wanted, nay he could even have dispensed with the ceremony, if there had been any other means of obtaining her possessions, the enjoyment of which he more coveted than that of her person, having been a libertine from his infancy, and had much improved himself in those principles since his entrance into the army.

            They had not been married above half a year, before he was obliged to go to Flanders. She was so fond of him that she would fain have accompanied him, even into the bed of honour; but he would not permit it, alleging all the dangers and fatigues that attended the making of a campaign as invincible reasons for her remaining at home in safety; though this tenderness of his did not proceed so much from a regard to her ease, as to his own vicious pleasures, to which be imagined her presence would be a very great obstruction. His appetite for variety made him loathe her embraces, and he had confiderably sunk her fortune before he left her, by paying some extravagant debts which he had contracted before he was married to her; so that though he took his leave in the most complaisant and tender manner, yet he designed never to see her more.

            When Sparkish arrived at the army in Flanders he lived agreeable to his inclination; that is to say, in the most disolute and debauched manner: but happening to be wounded at the battle of Tournai, he quitted the camp and retired to an adjoining town, where he changed his name and took upon him that of Bellair; and immediately caused letters to be wrote to Melinda, and his friends in England, containing a certain account of his being killed in the action; which fictitous piece of news had like to have killed her in reality; however her youth, and the goodness of her constitution, got the better of this imaginary misfortune.

            He still continued in the Netherlands, where he married about a twelvemonth after, a young woman of good family and fortune, that had fallen passionately in love with him. With this second lady he lived about six months, in the most profuse manner; when finding that her fortune was not sufficient to support his extravagancy, he bethought himself of making a retreat from her also. In order to which, he pretended he would go to the Hague to get a colonel's commission in one of the new raised regiments in the Dutch service; to which she was obliged to give her consent, though not without the greatest reluctance. But he, instead of going to Holland, embarked immediately for England, where he continued to pass, by the name of Bellair, for a foreigner.

            He had not been long here before he got acquainted with one Rightly, a gentleman who had for some time been making his addresses to Precisia, an elderly lady worth much money, and most rigidly devoted to that modern sect, called Methodists, but of such an obdurate heart to love or marriage, that Rightly could make nothing of her; and being now grown intimate with Bellair, and despairing of any success with his hardhearted saint, he discovered the whole of his amour to his wild and inconstant acquaintance.

            Bellair understanding that the pious lady was well endowed with riches, immediately proposes to Rightly, that, out of revenge for using his friend so ill, he himself would undertake to wed her, though she were old; and that in return, he would assist him in obtaining a beautiful young widow not exceeding twenty-two years of age, whose husband was killed at the battle of Tournai. Rightly hearkened to his proposal very attentively, as the religious lady's ill reception of him had occasioned his relinquishing all further thoughts of overcoming her obstinacy; but assured his friend Bellair, that as the lady was so bigoted to Whitefield's doctrine, he very much despaired of his having any success with her; however, if he had courage enough to make the trial, he assured him that he would be no obstacle to his gaining her; and demanded of him how he would make good the advantage which he was to expect in return from the young widow, whom he had promised to help him to; "Oh well enough," replied Bellair, "I have no more to do than to deliver this ring, which will serve you for your passport. It was her husband's signet, who gave it to me a few hours before he expired of his wounds." Upon saying this, he plucked the ring from off his finger, and delivered it to Rightly, bidding him make the best use of it to his own advantage, and directed him where this young and beautiful widow lodged; he gave him assurances also that she was worth money.

            Rightly took the ring, fully resolved to proceed upon this new adventure, as Bellair was to try his success with the bigoted lady Precisia. Impatient with the hopes of obtaining a wife with such a good fortune as he understood Precisia to be, Bellair did not hesitate the least on her age, as he hoped that the depth of her years would free him from her the sooner, but soon got intelligence to what congregation of Methodists she resorted, and straightway took a devout opportunity of repairing thither to worship his golden idol, whom he could not possibly mistake, as his friend Rightly had described her so well to him, and had also told him the seat which she constantly sat in when at her devotion. Bellair had not long placed himself in the adjoining seat, with his face opposite to her place, but the lady came in. During the time of service he behaved himself as dexterously as though he had been many years one of Whitfield's followers; he sighed as she sighed, hummed where he ought to hum, and shook his head in as right time as the most disciplined Methodist present, and could have wept upon occasion had the preacher's discourse been powerful enough to have melted any of the congregation. She took no further notice of him at the first meeting, than regarding him as a very pious stranger; which occasioned her inquiring amongst all her acquaintance if they knew anything of him, but all answered in the negative. Bellair continued his practice of piety for about a fortnight longer, without perceiving that she took any particular notice of his zeal, till at last he found she remarked his motions to such a degree, that he began to fancy all her devotion was directed to him.

            As they were one day coming out of the place, the pious lady chanced to stumble, and Bellair, who like the devil, was constantly at her elbow, happily saved her from falling; this afforded him an opportunity of making her a compliment, which she received exceeding kindly. He, with all the gravity imaginable, expressed his sense of her civility, and, with a low bow, was for taking leave of her; but she, not designing to part with him so soon, told him, that if he had not a coach of his own, hers thould carry him to his lodgings; and he well knowing it to be contrary to his interest to refuse such a kind favour from the old lady, was too polite not to accept of it, which he readily did, upon condition that he might first wait on her home in it. This being agreed on they rolled away to her door, where Bellair was again going to take his leave with the utmost respectt, but she very engagingly invited him to take share of her dinner, if he was not provided with a better; to which he replied, that were he engaged to anything, excepting his immediate duty to heaven, he would forsake it, for once, to be happy in the enjoyment of her excellent and pious conversation.

            At dinner they ate pretty heartily and talked but little; but the repast being over, they thundered it off in a repetition of what they had heard from the good man in the morning. This continued for some time, but at last they fell upon other matters, and the result of their discourse was, that they could not be happy without the pleasure of each other's obliging and innocent conversation, which they mutually promised to give themselves as often as possible. At nine in the evening they parted, she possessed with a most pernicious passion for his person and seeming piety, and he with a most inexpressible veneration for her money.

            The next evening he met his good friend Rightly, to whom he related his success, demanding what news from his beautiful widow?

            "Alas!" replies the other, "she is very sorrowful for the account that I brought her; so that I have not had the courage or confidence to propose any such matter to her as yet. She is admirably beautiful! and, no doubt, sincerely virtuous!" "You love her then," replied Bellair. "Can you blame me," said Rightly, "for having a value for her excellencies?" Bellair having an engagement on his hands, they parted for the present, he being not a little chagrined to hear his friend extol the young widow's perfections so much. But the next visit to his pious mistress soon banished displeasure, and he plied the old lady so warmly, that in about three weeks after, they were married.

            Precisia at first imagined that she had got a saint of a husband, and one of the most tractable in the universe; but he was not so much blinded in her, having made himself before acquainted with all her frailties, which knowledge he improved to his advantage for he caressed her continually, never drank but in her company, and constantly went with her to hear the precious man; which manner of behaviour continuing for about two months, so won her heart, that she could not conceal a shilling of her money from him.

            Rightly, in the mean while underwent far greater difficulties in his suit to Melinda; her grief for the supposed loss of her beloved husband, seemed more and more unsurmountable; but his love being as invincible, their nuptials also were celebrated, though without the knowledge of Bellair, who had avoided seeing Rightly ever since he had gained his own ends of the devout Precisia, fearing that he might chance to meet his own Melinda with him some time or other, and therefore he proposed to his spouse Precisia to retire about fifty miles from London, in order, as he made her believe, to live the more frugal upon her fortune, and avoid the extraordinary expenses of a town life.

            This the old lady readily embraced, as she imagined that in the solitude of the country she should have the more of his engaging company, but it happened unluckily that in a day or two after they had fixed upon this resolution of retiring into the country, Rightly and the unfortunate Melinda, then his bride, came to pay the old lady a visit, not knowing but she was still single; not as he intended it out of kindness, but only to show how bravely he had broken her chain. As they were coming up the stairs, Bellair chanced to hear his friend's voice, and immediately conjecturing how matters were he prudently slipped into his bed-chamber; leaving his new bargain to receive and entertain the guests, which she did for some time; but at length growing impatient at his not making his appearance, she began to call him to welcome his friends, but he making no answer, she ran into the bed chamber and asked him why he would not come and see his old friend Rightly and his lady. "No, madam," answered he, "Mr Rightly is your old friend, and for that reason I will not see him; so pray go and excuse me in the best manner you can." "Alas, my dear," says she, "you have not the least cause to be jealous; but I shall endeavour to make an apology for you." Which she did pretty handsomely, by telling them he was very ill with some thing that lay heavy at his stomach. However, his mind, at their departure, being discharged of the fear it lay under, he told her the next morning, that he would take a ride as far as Twickenham for the benefit of the air; but whether he went that way, or not, is unknown to this day, as he has never been seen in England after that time, by her, or any of his acquaintance that knew him by any of his names; neither could the old gentlewoman ever learn any tidings of the pretty large sum of money that he conveyed away with him. He had the assurance to leave a letter directed for Rightly, which was brought to him by a porter, the day after Bellair's departure, wherein he doscovered himself to him, in hopes, as 'tis thought, to make him forsake the innocent Melinda, but Rightly had so much respect to her quiet and his own, that he burnt it; as he could impute his project of setting him on to marry Melinda, to be done with no other intent than to prevent her suing him for bigamy.

            Neither did Rightly ever disturb the repose of Melinda about Bellair, till he was thoroughly certified, by an officer of distinction in the army, that he fell in the last battle we had with the French, at a village called Val; having really purchased a commission in the Dutch service, with part of the old lady's money that he had taken with him out of England. And when Melinda was made acquainted with these his notorious transactions, she took his loss with so little regret that she and her husband now live in the greatest harmony and felicity that can possibly attend the marriage state: but the old doting Precisia soon came to her end, after the double loss of her money and bedfellow.

FINIS

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