We performed our journey to Paris in two days and a half, Mr. Darcy telling the same story to every one whom we were obliged to speak to. The post-chaise we traveled in, set us down at the very gate of the convent. We were strewn into the parlor, and, in a few minutes, the prioress appeared. I was so taken up with observing objects so new and strange to me, that this lady and Mr. Darcy conversed softly together for a quarter of an hour, before I could recollect myself well enough to be able to speak. "Madam, (said I, at last, to this old Nun) I cannot imagine, as you are Mr. Darcy's relation, and, no doubt, entitled to his confidence, that he will attempt to impose upon you in the same manner he has done others, since I came into his power. You can't but know that I am not his niece, and that he has no right to confine me in this place, which he proposes to do. If I meet with no redress from you, madam, I am to believe that you join in the unjust violence which is offered me, and give the sanction of your approbation to the most cruel artifice that ever was practiced." "Bless me, cousin, said the prioress, (affecting an air of astonishment) has this young creature lost her senses, that she talks in this manner? What am I to think of the incoherent stuff she has uttered! She denies that you have any right to interest yourself in her affairs, and complains of violence and artifice. What artifice, child! Is not this gentleman your uncle?" "Dear madam, interrupted Mr. Darcy, don't trouble yourself to ask her any questions. The foolish girl is distractedly in love; and she would disown her parents, were they alive, to be at liberty to indulge her infamous passion for the heretic that has helped to ruin her principles." "Pray, cousin, resumed the prioress, (with a starched gravity) be not in such heat. Permit me to examine a little what she has advanced: I will not give this child the least reason to accuse me of partiality and injustice: heaven forbid. What a scandal to our holy order! No, I will deal uprightly in this affair. Well, miss, you persist in saying you are not this gentleman's niece?" "Yes, madam, answered I, (eagerly) and I can easily put you in a method to be convinced that what I say is truth. I have relations in England of some rank; let them be wrote to." "Hold, hold, interrupted the prioress, (frowning) you talk too fast. Relations in England of rank! Who doubts it? My cousin Darcy's family is a very wealthy and opulent one. You are very artful, indeed! Very artful! Oh these abominable heretics! How they contaminate the mind! Alas! They have quite ruined this poor child! I almost despair of bringing her back to salvation! But I will not be wanting in my most zealous endeavors to reclaim her. I will continually solicit the Holy Virgin in her behalf, that she would be pleased to assist my pious labors in restoring this lost sheep to the flock of Christ. Cousin, you may depend upon my care and fidelity: I will be answerable for her safety, and, I hope, conversion to the bosom of that holy church from which she hath strayed." "Sure, madam, replied I, (lost in astonishment at her impious artifice) you forget that you have not suffered me to explain the cruel treatment I have met with. From the beginning of your speech, I hoped you would do me justice; but, I find, I am most miserably mistaken. But heaven, that sees how basely I am betrayed, will, I hope, find out the means of deliverance for me." "Alas! said the prioress, (lifting up her eyes) she is quite incorrigible!" Saying this, she rung a bell; upon which a middle-aged nun appeared: "Sister Martha, said the prioress, I shall entrust this young lady to your care. She is delivered to me by her uncle, who informs me, she has been persuaded to forsake the holy Catholic religion, in which she was bred, through a prevailing passion she has for a heretic, who would undo her." At these words, the grate being opened, I was led into that fatal enclosure. "Oh, my God! cried I, (with an ardent tone of voice) protect and deliver me!" "Go, miss, said the prioress, follow that sister; she will conduct you to your chamber." I made no reply, but followed the nun; who, strewing me into a small chamber neatly furnished, desired me, very civilly, to sit down and compose myself; for, by this time, my face was all covered with tears. I threw myself into a chair; and, not being restrained by the presence of the nun, I gave way to the excess of anguish which oppressed me, and bewailed my fate in a deluge of tears. The nun, who had observed me heedfully, and, no doubt, made her own reflections upon the reproaches I had uttered, in the intervals of my weeping, against those who had betrayed me, asked me, in an obliging tone, Why I was so much afflicted; begged me to have patience; and observed to me, that my condition might not be so bad as my imagination represented it. As I had often heard very unpleasing accounts of the inquisitive and insincere temper of the women in these religious communities, I resolved to be very cautious and reserved. The behavior of the prioress had given me such an idea of holy hypocrisy, as would have inclined me to suspect the greatest appearance of piety to be a cheat. Possessed with these unfavorable opinions of the whole convent, it is not to be wondered at, that I could not resolve to place any confidence in her, under whose direction I was placed: I, therefore, contented myself with making civil replies to her offers of service; and answered her inquiries into my affairs, with only general complaints of the treachery and violence I had suffered. Near an hour was passed in this sort of conversation, when a young person, whom I afterwards found was called a lay-sister, opening the door, told the nun, that the prioress had called for her. After a short stay, sister Martha, returning, desired I would follow her to the prioress, which I immediately did; and being come into that lady's apartment, the nun withdrew, leaving me alone with her. When she had desired me, very civilly, to be seated, she began to question me about my affairs, keeping up the appearance of believing me Mr. Darcy's niece: and, notwithstanding all my protestations to the contrary, she seemed to persist in thinking I wanted to impose on her. I easily saw through her design. She would persuade me, by thus obstinately continuing in her error, that, in complying with the injunctions of Mr. Darcy, she only did her duty. It was, therefore, to no purpose to attempt to reason her out of a thing she was determined to believe, or rather to affect she did; and, for the remainder of the time I staid with her, I observed a sullen silence, without taking the trouble to answer the monastic cant in which she talked to me. "I find, pursued she, that I must be obliged to treat you with more severity than I at first intended; and that it will be necessary to keep you from any conversation with the ladies in this convent, lest you should attempt to impose upon them with your idle tales. You must, therefore, be contented to eat alone in your chamber; and when your behavior and repentance convince me I may trust you with any of the pensioners in my convent, you shall be at liberty to enjoy their company, and mix in their amusements." Saying this, she ordered sister Martha to take me back again to my room, where I found the cloth laid, and my dinner served up, which consisted of some soup, and some other dish which I did not taste. I passed a great me with tears in her eyes. "It must be confessed, miss, said she, that your story is very moving; and, considering your extreme youth, full of very extraordinary incidents. I am surprised at your courage and constancy, and, indeed, your last misfortune requires it all. You are not the first unhappy young creature, who have been betrayed into these places through the artful contrivances of people, for whose interest it was they should be confined. There are two or three young ladies here at present, whose stories are still more melancholy than yours: they have been the prey of designing villains, who, after they had, by a mock marriage possessed themselves of their persons and fortunes, brought them here where they are entirely secluded from all conversation with the world and deprived for ever of the means of redress." "And does the prioress, resumed I, know of this injustice?" "You may judge of that, said she, by her behavior to you. There is generally a handsome reward in these cases; and she holds herself obliged to believe whatever the betrayers of these innocent victims advance, and follows their orders strictly." "Alasreplied I, is there no hopes that I shall ever be freed from my confine meet! Must I pass the rest of my days here, and never more see those dear relations, whom the loss of me will plunge into the most cruel distress?" "I see no probability, resumed the nun, of your release, unless your friends can discover where you are, which will be a very difficult matter. However, by your account of the occasion of your being brought here, I cannot think you will be confined long. Perhaps your disappearing thus, all of a sudden, was necessary to answer some present purpose of Mr. Darcy's. I is a mighty mysterious affair; and, if there is nothing more in it than what he told me, your stay may not be very long. But I can't flatter you, by saying, that there is any hopes of your escaping by any other means than those by which you were brought here." This lady, who now sincerely pitied the melancholy life I led, endeavored to soften it by all the good offices in her power. She spent as much of her time with me as she had to spare from the duties of her calling; and, despairing to work any change in my principles, she dispensed with my constantly reading the books the prioress put into my hands; and borrowed, from some of the young ladies who were pensioners in the convent, some others more calculated to divert me. She went so far as to advise me to seem more reconciled to my situation, when I discoursed with the prioress, which would be the only way of procuring the liberty of conversing with some of the young ladies. I was prevailed upon, by the extreme desire I had for society, to dissemble in the manner she hinted; and the prioress, having exacted a promise from me to take care, that I would throw no reflections on the character of her relation Mr. Darcy, permitted me to see some of the sisterhood, and one or two of the pensioners. Among the last who visited me, there was one who expressed a more than ordinary inclination to serve me. She was a native of England, and had been in the convent but six months when I came. She was but eighteen years of age; and joined to a sparkling and elegant wit, a beauty so soft and touching, and withal so exquisitely alluring, that it was impossible to look upon any thing else when she was present. I felt myself, by a powerful sympathy, obliged to love this charming young creature; and we soon contracted a friendship, which entirely banished all reserve between us. My adventures, which I related at her request, drew a thousand tears from her lovely eyes. She owned my misfortunes had been very great: "But, alas, dear miss, said she, (pressing my hand) my afflictions have been infinitely greater than yours! The few years I have lived, have been crowded with a variety of wretchedness; yet my weakness and irresolution was possibly the first cause of my unhappiness. Never was there a temper so formed to give its owner pain; tender and fearful to excess; susceptible of every melting impression; and so incapable of resenting injuries, that I could never preserve a sense of them long enough, so as to be able to answer them with that spirit which is becoming innocence and truth.
In the relation of my history, I am obliged to speak, without disguise, of the faults of an only sister, who is now no more. Ah! ought I not rather to hide them for ever in oblivion! Poor undone Maria! Shall I disturb thy ashes with a painful enumeration of the miseries thy fatal conduct brought on me! Alas! my fortune was so twisted with hers, that, in relating my distresses, I give, in effect, her history, whose actions were the only source from whence they sprung. My father, who was a very considerable merchant in London, had been married to two wives successively of great families; and thoughthey brought him no fortune, yet he found himself obliged to support them in a manner suitable to the dignity of their birth: by which fatal compliance he insensibly involved his circumstances into irreparable ruin. The last of these ladies was mother to my sister Maria and me, who were the only children my father ever had. Maria, who was born fifteen years before me, was the darling both of my father and mother: they indulged her in every wish she could frame; and, thoughher behavior had been ever so unexceptionable, it could hardly have repaid the unlimited confidence they reposed in her.
I am very unskillful, dear Miss Stuart, in drawing characters; yet I will endeavor to give you some notion of my sister's, which, indeed, requires a much abler painter. Let me begin then, with her person. She was of the middle size, and had what is called a true shape; that is, she was perfectly strait, had a good neck and small waist. But she had none of that delicacy of composure, that genteel negligence and gracefulness of motion, which constitutes an elegant person. These defects, however, were in a great measure concealed by the extraordinary richness of her clothes; for finery certainly affords great advantages to a tolerable figure, and hers, observed with a critical eye, could not be allowed any greater praise. Her face might have the same objections made to it, as her person; that is, it was neither striking nor genteel. She had a good complexion, and might be said to have tolerable features; but her mouth was too large, and her eyes too small. In short, her face was so equivocal, that it would have been hard to have called it handsome or disagreeable. Her eyes were not animated with any thing but motion, and they might more properly be said to see than to look. It will not be difficult to guess from this, that she was very deficient in her understanding. It was remarked by a very great author, that no woman could ever look well, that did not think well. I am of the same opinion; and it was to the want of thinking well, that I ascribed those unmeaning glances of my sister's, which spread an air of stupidity over her face. Yet this barrenness of wit was not so easily discovered in her as in many others: she seldom attempted to talk on any subjects out of her sphere of comprehension; and her silence, upon those occasions, was not very remarkable. She possessed an infinite share of cunning, and what by some people is called prudence; which means no more than a settled habit of masking one's own sentiments, always speaking in disguise, and taking all advantages of the openness and sincerity of others. This, indeed, was her peculiar talent: never woman was more capable of assuming the appearance of modesty and virtue. My father, who believed her a miracle of chastity, never controlled any of her actions; but gave her an entire liberty to see what company, and frequent what diversions, she pleased. And I have often heard her say, she should think herself the basest of all creatures in the world, if she abused the generous confidence her parents put in her conduct. And yet, dear miss, my sister, even in the life of my father, allowed herself very scandalous liberties; and what, if known, would have been sufficient to ruin her reputation for virtue.
My father and mother died within a few months of each other. It was thought the bad condition of his affairs threw him into a melancholy, which brought on the fatal illness which deprived us of him. I was but fourteen when, by the death of both my parents, I was left entirely to the care of my sister Maria, with no more than five hundred pounds, to which she was left sole executrix, and which was to be divided between us. Most of our relations of any quality and fortune living in France, (for my mother was a native of this country) it was expected my sister would go there; but she, not finding they were very warm in their solicitations for that purpose, chose to remain in London; where she continued to maintain as much of the same elegance of living, as if my father had been still alive, and able to afford it. It may easily be imagined, that so poor a sum as five hundred pounds would be soon diminished at the rate we lived. People were at a loss to know what my sister designed by making so gay an appearance, when it was well known the rifle we had to depend upon. I have not yet touched upon my sister's distinguishing foible which was vanity to such excess, that she did not ink there was a woman upon earth who excelled her in beauty.
I am afraid, indeed, you may suspect my having handled her character with too much satire; but I cannot possibly avoid mentioning those defects in it, to which she owed her ruin. With this advantageous opinion of her person, which the adulation of a few lovers had helped to increase, she continued the gay life she had been used to, in hopes of making her fortune by marriage. Any one, less infatuated with vanity, would not have engaged their whole dependence in so hopeless a scheme; she being no longer in that bloom of youth, in which beauty is in its full lustre. And the world, which was pretty free in its censures on her conduct, insinuated that she aimed at being kept by some man of fortune, who could afford to settle a considerable allowance on her. hoI was sensible my sister had made two or three slips in her conduct, which might, with reason, have subjected her to great censure; yet I had too good an opinion of her, to believe any thing in the world could prevail upon her to forfeit her virtue: and looked upon the liberties she had allowed herself, to be the effects of an inordinate fondness for seeing herself the object of love. This desire in her, not being managed with that delicate art, which a coquette, who has wit, always uses, and which prevents any assuming confidence in the lover she would seem to favor, she was forced to submit to lower artifices, and grant very blamable favors, for the sake of hearing the language of love. This being my sense of those faults she was guilty of, it was not strange that my partial tenderness for her, which her surprising art in disguising the true bent of her inclinations confirmed, should so far influence my opinion, as to make me perfectly secure of her virtue. I was too young to be capable of reflecting seriously on the waste of our little fortune; and had been so used to reverence and obey my sister, who, by reason of her great advantage over me in years, I considered almost in the character of a mother, that I could hardly think any thing amiss she did. Some months had elapsed since the death of my mother, without my sister making the hoped for market of her charms; for, in short, her admirers seldom went farther than a few superficial compliments, which, had her vanity given her leave to judge rightly of, was no great proof of their passion. Her own heart, however, was more sensible of the extent of that passion she aimed to inspire: she became in love with a gentleman, famous for the devastation his person had made among the inexperienced of our sex; and she no sooner resigned her heart, than she made a sacrifice of her fame, her honor, and her happiness. This shocking affair could not be long concealed from me. Maria, whose prudence once avoided the least occasion of censure, now made no scruple to lie out of our lodgings two or three times a week. Her temper was naturally violent; and she often treated me with most insupportable tyranny, if ever I dared to contradict her. I, therefore, durst only express my dislike of her conduct by distant hints, which she would not seem to understand. Her staying from me all night, shocked me beyond expression; for I was not only terribly afraid of lying alone, but was ready to die with the apprehension that her lying out would be discovered. For this reason I could not have the maid, who lived with us, to sleep with me; and was forced to hide myself under the bed-clothes, for fear of specters, while my sister stole down stairs, and went to her lover. As she was sure to return before our maid entered the chamber, who was used never to rise till she was called, her intrigue remained a secret to her; and the people with whom we lodged, were also entirely ignorant of her ever lying abroad, as they carried on great business, and, being always employed in their shop, had no opportunities of observing who went out or in at the other door, which was for the use of their lodgers.
Thus secure was the unhappy Maria in the practice of her guilt, to which I was doomed to be the victim. Young as I then was, I was capable of foreseeing some part of the misfortunes her ill conduct would bring upon us both. I lamented her crime with tears: I endeavored to make her sensible of the fatal step she had taken; but she would silence me with the most insolent expressions of rage and contempt. And telling me, she never thought the laws of marriage binding, any farther than inclination gave them force, she looked upon herself as much married to Mr. Dalmere, while she continued constant to him, as if the priest had joined their hands.
By the way, dear miss, this sentiment was not her own; she had read or heard it somewhere, and applied it immediately to her own case, as she did several other things, which favored her scheme of free and unrestrained love. l loved her with such tenderness, that I was easily persuaded to believe it was excess of love which occasioned her fault; and the first instance of indifference from her betrayer, would make her return to a sense of her duty, and give her a higher relish of a virtuous life for the future.
She still wore in her countenance and behavior such an appearance of modesty and reserve, that no one could be capable of imagining she had been guilty of any offense to virtue. In the mean time, our money was almost spent. My sister, in the disposal of her person, consulted nothing but her inclinations. She scorned, she would say, to have any mercenary views, like wretches who sold themselves for gain: it was nobler, in her opinion, to be the victim of love. A prude would have said perhaps, it was a filthy pride to value themselves upon falling a sacrifice to gross inclinations. Maria saw things in another light: she valued herself upon her nice taste in love; and would scorn to mix any mean, sordid views of interest with her gratifications in an unlawful passion. Maria, who was the most humble, creeping mistress that ever man had, was capable of exerting the violence of her temper only against me Her profound dissimulation made her seize all opportunities, in public, of expressing an uncommon tenderness and care of me; while, in private, she indulged herself in the most tyrannical treatment. Unhappily for her, she had no relations in England, who thought themselves near enough in blood to her, to assume a right of censuring her conduct: she, therefore, contracted all the insolence of unreproved vice; and dared not only justify her actions, but load me with the most injurious language, if I dared to insinuate the least dislike to the base principles she avowed.
Here, miss, I know you will condemn me for not leaving her immediately. Alas! I am sensible 'twas what I ought to have done! But, with all that native softness of constitution, that blamable tenderness, which somebody very rightly terms a milkiness of blood ; how could I resolve to cast off, for ever, an only sister! Disclaim the endearing ties of nature! and, publishing her infamy by my abandoning her, destroy the reputation she still generally preserved of virtue! I could have sooner died than have consented to do this! I could not bear to wound her with the most distant hint, that it was necessary I should leave her, to preserve my own reputation. It never seemed to enter into her thoughts, that I might suffer from her guilt. My youth and innocence, confided to her care by a mother, who believed no temptation upon earth could win her from virtue, were so little the objects of her concern, that the superiority my virtue gave me over her, even in her own reflections, made me, perhaps, often be exposed to the violence of her temper, from a cause I could not guess; and which her pride, 'tis probable, would not allow her to confess even to herself. But she was now with child; and thoughthis glaring proof of her guilt sent unutterable pangs to my heart, yet the severity of my reflections were so softened by a consideration of the danger of her condition, that I could only silently lament her shame and misery; which she seemed so entirely insensible of herself, that I could impute it to nothing else than an excess of stupidity, which rendered her wholly incapable of reflection.
Her lover now gave her so many marks of indifference, that she was convinced her charms, powerful as she thought them, had lost their influence on his heart. On this occasion, indeed, she discovered some reflection she mourned this misfortune with a gloomy kind of melancholy, which made her so excessively ill-natured, thee I hardly dared to speak to her. What uneasy days have I spent with her, while her condition obliged her to keep her chamber, lest she should be remarked. Her resentment against Dalmere would show itself in such frantic humors, that I never enjoyed a moment's peace. Then, if it happened that her lover would condescend to dissemble a return of tenderness for her, she would grow so insolent and over-bearing upon it, that I was sure to suffer as much from the tyrannic exultings of her joy, as I did before from her rage and grief. Now, if I did any thing to displease her, Mr. Dalmere should know it; she would complain of my impertinence to Mr. Dalmere; he would not suffer her to be treated in this manner. This way of threatening me with her gallant's resentment, would sometimes throw me into violent fits of rage. Then I would resolve to leave her, and implore the protection of some of my relations: haughty as they were, I would conjure them to shelter me from her infamy and ill-usage. But these emotions of my anger died almost as soon as born; and the least expression of concern from her, soothed me again into a perfect calm.
My sister, who, in the pursuit of her amour, suffered no thought of future want to intrude upon her mind, wholly engrossed by her fondness for her undoer, now found difficulties crowd upon her apace. Her lover very sparingly afforded her some assistance; and, but for some very considerable presents I received from my godmother, who was very fond of me, she must, in her affecting condition, have wanted the necessaries of life. Her lover, who had been bred to the law, had the management of a little lawsuit for us, which, if ended in our favor, would afford us but a very trifling assistance. But my relations here in France having wrote to invite me over, I determined, as soon as my sister was freed from her shameful burthen, to go to them; for my heart died within me, when I reflected that her life was perhaps drawing near a period, and that my leaving her in such a distressed condition, might have the most cruel effects. I therefore applied my godmother's bounty wholly to her assistance, which was designed to send me in a genteel manner to France; by which I laid myself under a necessity of depending upon the event of this little affair, which Dalmere was transacting.