Mary: A Fiction

by Mary Wollstonecraft

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Chapter XVIII

The ladies heard that her servant was to be married that day, and that she was to sail in the vessel which was then clearing out at the Custom-house. Henry heard, but did not make any remarks; and Mary called up all her fortitude to support her, and enable her to hide from the females her internal struggles. She durst not encounter Henry's glances when she found he had been informed of her intention; and, trying to draw a veil over her wretched state of mind, she talked incessantly, she knew not what; flashes of wit burst from her, and when she began to laugh she could not stop herself.

Henry smiled at some of her sallies, and looked at her with such benignity and compassion, that he recalled her scattered thoughts; and, the ladies going to dress for dinner, they were left alone; and remained silent a few moments: after the noisy conversation it appeared solemn. Henry began. "You are going, Mary, and going by yourself; your mind is not in a state to be left to its own operations--yet I cannot, dissuade you; if I attempted to do it, I should ill deserve the title I wish to merit. I only think of your happiness; could I obey the strongest impulse of my heart, I should accompany thee to England; but such a step might endanger your future peace."

Mary, then, with all the frankness which marked her character, explained her situation to him and mentioned her fatal tie with such disgust that he trembled for her. "I cannot see him; he is not the man formed for me to love!" Her delicacy did not restrain her, for her dislike to her husband had taken root in her mind long before she knew Henry. Did she not fix on Lisbon rather than France on purpose to avoid him? and if Ann had been in tolerable health she would have flown with her to some remote corner to have escaped from him.

"I intend," said Henry, "to follow you in the next packet; where shall I hear of your health?" "Oh! let me hear of thine," replied Mary. "I am well, very well; but thou art very ill--thy health is in the most precarious state." She then mentioned her intention of going to Ann's relations. "I am her representative, I have duties to fulfil for her: during my voyage I have time enough for reflection; though I think I have already determined."

"Be not too hasty, my child," interrupted Henry; "far be it from me to persuade thee to do violence to thy feelings--but consider that all thy future life may probably take its colour from thy present mode of conduct. Our affections as well as our sentiments are fluctuating; you will not perhaps always either think or feel as you do at present: the object you now shun may appear in a different light." He paused. "In advising thee in this style, I have only thy good at heart, Mary."

She only answered to expostulate. "My affections are involuntary--yet they can only be fixed by reflection, and when they are they make quite a part of my soul, are interwoven in it, animate my actions, and form my taste: certain qualities are calculated to call forth my sympathies, and make me all I am capable of being. The governing affection gives its stamp to the rest--because I am capable of loving one, I have that kind of charity to all my fellow-creatures which is not easily provoked. Milton has asserted, That earthly love is the scale by which to heavenly we may ascend."

She went on with eagerness. "My opinions on some subjects are not wavering; my pursuit through life has ever been the same: in solitude were my sentiments formed; they are indelible, and nothing can efface them but death--No, death itself cannot efface them, or my soul must be created afresh, and not improved. Yet a little while am I parted from my Ann--I could not exist without the hope of seeing her again--I could not bear to think that time could wear away an affection that was founded on what is not liable to perish; you might as well attempt to persuade me that my soul is matter, and that its feelings arose from certain modifications of it."

"Dear enthusiastic creature," whispered Henry, "how you steal into my soul." She still continued. "The same turn of mind which leads me to adore the Author of all Perfection--which leads me to conclude that he only can fill my soul; forces me to admire the faint image-the shadows of his attributes here below; and my imagination gives still bolder strokes to them. I knew I am in some degree under the influence of a delusion--but does not this strong delusion prove that I myself 'am of subtiler essence than the trodden clod' these flights of the imagination point to futurity; I cannot banish them. Every cause in nature produces an effect; and am I an exception to the general rule? have I desires implanted in me only to make me miserable? will they never be gratified? shall I never be happy? My feelings do not accord with the notion of solitary happiness. In a state of bliss, it will be the society of beings we can love, without the alloy that earthly infirmities mix with our best affections, that will constitute great part of our happiness.

"With these notions can I conform to the maxims of worldly wisdom? can I listen to the cold dictates of worldly prudence and bid my tumultuous passions cease to vex me, be still, find content in grovelling pursuits, and the admiration of the misjudging crowd, when it is only one I wish to please--one who could be all the world to me. Argue not with me, I am bound by human ties; but did my spirit ever promise to love, or could I consider when forced to bind myself--to take a vow, that at the awful day of judgment I must give an account of. My conscience does not smite me, and that Being who is greater than the internal monitor, may approve of what the world condemns; sensible that in Him I live, could I brave His presence, or hope in solitude to find peace, if I acted contrary to conviction, that the world might approve of my conduct--what could the world give to compensate for my own esteem? it is ever hostile and armed against the feeling heart!

"Riches and honours await me, and the cold moralist might desire me to sit down and enjoy them--I cannot conquer my feelings, and till I do, what are these baubles to me? you may tell me I follow a fleeting good, an ignis fatuus; but this chase, these struggles prepare me for eternity--when I no longer see through a glass darkly I shall not reason about, but feel in what happiness consists."

Henry had not attempted to interrupt her; he saw she was determined, and that these sentiments were not the effusion of the moment, but well digested ones, the result of strong affections, a high sense of honour, and respect for the source of all virtue and truth. He was startled, if not entirely convinced by her arguments; indeed her voice, her gestures were all persuasive.

Some one now entered the room; he looked an answer to her long harangue; it was fortunate for him, or he might have been led to say what in a cooler moment he had determined to conceal; but were words necessary to reveal it? He wished not to influence her conduct--vain precaution; she knew she was beloved; and could she forget that such a man loved her, or rest satisfied with any inferior gratification. When passion first enters the heart, it is only a return of affection that is sought after, and every other remembrance and wish is blotted out.

It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.