'Squire Thomas: or, The Precipitate Choice -
'S QUIRE T HOMAS flatter'd long a wealthy aunt,
Who left him all that she could give or grant:
Ten years he tried, with all his craft and skill,
To fix the sovereign lady's varying will;
Ten years enduring at her board to sit,
He meekly listen'd to her tales and wit;
He took the meanest office man can take,
And his aunt's vices for her money's sake:
By many a threat'ning hint she waked his fear,
And he was pain'd to see a rival near;
Yet all the taunts of her contemptuous pride
He bore, nor found his grov'ling spirit tried:
Nay, when she wish'd his parents to traduce,
Fawning he smiled, and justice call'd th' abuse;
" They taught you nothing; are you not, at best, "
Said the proud dame, " a trifler, and a jest?
Confess you are a fool! " — he bow'd, and he confess'd
This vex'd him much, but could not always last
The dame is buried, and the trial past
There was a female, who had courted long
Her cousin's gifts, and deeply felt the wrong;
By a vain boy forbidden to attend
The private councils of her wealthy friend,
She vow'd revenge, nor should that crafty boy
In triumph undisturb'd his spoils enjoy;
He heard, he smiled, and when the will was read,
Kindly dismiss'd the kindred of the dead;
" The dear deceased, " he call'd her, and the crowd
Moved off with curses deep and threat'nings loud.
The youth retired, and, with a mind at ease,
Found he was rich, and fancied he must please:
He might have pleased, and to his comfort found
The wife he wish'd, if he had sought around;
For there were lasses of his own degree,
With no more hatred to the state than he:
But he had courted spleen and age so long,
His heart refused to woo the fair and young;
So long attended on caprice and whim,
He thought attention now was due to him;
And as his flattery pleased the wealthy dame,
Heir to the wealth he might the flattery claim;
But this the fair, with one accord, denied,
Nor waived for man's caprice the sex's pride:
There is a season when to them is due
Worship and awe, and they will claim it too:
" Fathers, " they cry, " long hold us in their chain;
Nay, tyrant brothers claim a right to reign;
Uncles and guardians we in turn obey,
And husbands rule with ever-during sway;
Short is the time when lovers at the feet
Of beauty kneel, and own the slavery sweet;
And shall we this our triumph, this the aim
And boast of female power, forbear to claim?
No! we demand that homage, that respect,
Or the proud rebel punish and reject. "
Our hero, still too indolent, too nice
To pay for beauty the accustom'd price,
No less forbore t' address the humbler maid,
Who might have yielded with the price unpaid;
But lived, himself to humour and to please,
To count his money, and enjoy his ease.
It pleased a neighbouring 'squire to recommend
A faithful youth, as servant to his friend;
Nay, more than servant, whom he praised for parts
Ductile yet strong, and for the best of hearts;
One who might ease him in his small affairs,
With tenants, tradesmen, taxes, and repairs;
Answer his letters, look to all his dues,
And entertain him with discourse and news.
The 'squire believed, and found the trusted youth
A very pattern for his care and truth;
Not for his virtues to be praised alone,
But for a modest mien and humble tone;
Assenting always, but as if he meant
Only to strength of reasons to assent:
For was he stubborn, and retain'd his doubt,
Till the more subtle 'squire had forced it out;
" Nay, still was right, but he perceived that strong
And powerful minds could make the right the wrong. "
When the 'squire's thoughts on some fair damsel dwelt,
The faithful friend his apprehensions felt;
It would rejoice his faithful heart to find
A lady suited to his master's mind;
But who deserved that master? who would prove
That hers was pure, uninterested love?
Although a servant, he would scorn to take
A countess, till she suffer'd for his sake;
Some tender spirit, humble, faithful, true,
Such, my dear master! must be sought for you
Six months had pass'd, and not a lady seen,
With just this love, 'twixt fifty and fifteen;
All seem'd his doctrine or his pride to shun,
All would be woo'd, before they would be won;
When, the chance naming of a race and fair,
Our 'squire disposed to take his pleasure there:
The friend profess'd, " although he first began
To hint the thing, it seem'd a thoughtless plan:
The roads, he fear'd, were foul, the days were short,
The village far, and yet there might be sport "
" What! you of roads and starless nights afraid?
You think to govern! you to be obey'd! "
Smiling he spoke, the humble friend declared
His soul's obedience, and to go prepared.
The place was distant, but with great delight
They saw a race, and hail'd the glorious sight:
The 'squire exulted, and declared the ride
Had amply paid, and he was satisfied.
They gazed, they feasted, and, in happy mood,
Homeward return'd, and hastening as they rode;
For short the day, and sudden was the change
From light to darkness, and the way was strange;
Our hero soon grew peevish, then distress'd;
He dreaded darkness, and he sigh'd for rest:
Going, they pass'd a village; but, alas!
Returning saw no village to repass;
The 'squire remember'd too a noble hall,
Large as a church, and whiter than its wall:
This he had noticed as they rode along,
And justly reason'd that their road was wrong.
George, full of awe, was modest in reply —
" The fault was his, 'twas folly to deny;
And of his master's safety were he sure,
There was no grievance he would not endure. "
This made his peace with the relenting 'squire,
Whose thoughts yet dwelt on supper and a fire;
When, as they a reach'd a long and pleasant green,
Dwellings of men, and next a man, were seen.
" My friend, " said George, " to travellers astray
Point out an inn, and guide us on the way. "
The man look'd up; " Surprising! can it be
My master's son? as I'm alive, 't is he. "
" How! Robin, " George replied, " and are we near
My father's house? how strangely things appear! —
Dear sir, though wanderers, we at last are right:
Let us proceed, and glad my father's sight;
We shall at least be fairly lodged and fed,
I can ensure a supper and a bed;
Let us this night, as one of pleasure date,
And of surprise: it is an act of fate. "
" Go on, " the 'squire in happy temper cried;
" I like such blunder! I approve such guide. "
They ride, they halt, the farmer comes in haste,
Then tells his wife how much their house is graced
They bless the chance, they praise the lucky son,
That caused the error — Nay! it was not one
But their good fortune — Cheerful grew the 'squire,
Who found dependants, flattery, wine, and fire;
He heard the jack turn round; the busy dame
Produced her damask; and with supper came
The daughter, dress'd with care, and full of maiden shame.
Surprised, our hero saw the air and dress,
And strove his admiration to express;
Nay! felt it too — for Harriet was, in truth,
A tall fair beauty in the bloom of youth;
And from the pleasure and surprise, a grace
Adorn'd the blooming damsel's form and face;
Then too, such high respect and duty paid
By all — such silent reverence in the maid;
Vent'ring with caution, yet with haste, a glance;
Loth to retire, yet trembling to advance,
Appear'd the nymph, and in her gentle guest
Stirr'd soft emotions till the hour of rest:
Sweet was his sleep, and in the morn again
He felt a mixture of delight and pain:
" How fair, how gentle, " said the 'squire, " how meek,
And yet how sprightly, when disposed to speak!
Nature has bless'd her form, and Heaven her mind,
But in her favours Fortune is unkind;
Poor is the maid — nay, poor she cannot prove
Who is enrich'd with beauty, worth, and love. "
The 'squire arose, with no precise intent
To go or stay — uncertain what he meant:
He moved to part — they begg'd him first to dine;
And who could then escape from love and wine?
As came the night, more charming grew the fair,
And seem'd to watch him with a two-fold care:
On the third morn, resolving not to stay
Though urged by love, he bravely rode away.
Arrived at home, three pensive days he gave
To feelings fond and meditations grave;
Lovely she was, and, if he did not err,
As fond of him as his fond heart of her;
Still he delay'd, unable to decide
Which was the master-passion, love or pride:
He sometimes wonder'd how his friend could make,
And then exulted in, the night's mistake;
Had she but fortune, " doubtless then, " he cried,
" Some happier man had won the wealthy bride "
While thus he hung in balance, now inclined
To change his state, and then to change his mind —
That careless George dropp'd idly on the ground
A letter, which his crafty master found;
The stupid youth confess'd his fault, and pray'd
The generous 'squire to spare a gentle maid;
Of whom her tender mother, full of fears,
Had written much — " She caught her oft in tears,
For ever thinking on a youth above
Her humble fortune — still she own'd not love;
Nor can define, dear girl! the cherish'd pain,
But would rejoice to see the cause again:
That neighbouring youth, whom she endured before,
She now rejects, and will behold no more:
Raised by her passion, she no longer stoops
To her own equals, but she pines and droops,
Like to a lily, on whose sweets the sun
Has withering gazed — she saw and was undone:
His wealth allured her not — nor was she moved
By his superior state, himself she loved;
So mild, so good, so gracious, so genteel —
But spare your sister, and her love conceal;
We must the fault forgive, since she the pain must feel. "
" Fault! " said the 'squire, " there's coarseness in the mind
That thus conceives of feelings so refined;
Here end my doubts, nor blame yourself, my friend,
Fate made you careless — here my doubts have end. "
The way is plain before us — there is now
The lover's visit first, and then the vow
Mutual and fond, the marriage-rite, the bride
Brought to her home with all a husband's pride;
The 'squire receives the prize his merits won,
And the glad parents leave the patron-son.
But in short time he saw with much surprise,
First gloom, then grief, and then resentment rise,
From proud, commanding frowns, and anger-darting eyes;
" Is there in Harriet's humble mind this fire,
This fierce impatience? " ask'd the puzzled 'squire:
" Has marriage changed her? or the mask she wore
Has she thrown by, and is herself once more? "
Hour after hour, when clouds on clouds appear,
Dark and more dark, we know the tempest near;
And thus the frowning brow, the restless form,
And threat'ning glance, forerun domestic storm:
So read the husband, and, with troubled mind,
Reveal'd his fears — " My love, I hope you find
All here is pleasant — but I must confess
You seem offended, or in some distress;
Explain the grief you feel, and leave me to redress. "
" Leave it to you? " replied the nymph — " indeed!
What — to the cause from whence the ills proceed?
Good Heaven! to take me from a place, where I
Had every comfort underneath the sky;
And then immure me in a gloomy place,
With the grim monsters of your ugly race,
That from their canvas staring, make me dread
Through the dark chambers where they hang to tread!
No friend nor neighbour comes to give that joy,
Which all things here must banish or destroy:
Where is the promised coach? the pleasant ride?
Oh! what a fortune has a farmer's bride!
Your sordid pride has placed me just above
Your hired domestics — and what pays me? love!
A selfish fondness I endure each hour,
And share unwitness'd pomp, unenvied power;
I hear your folly, smile at your parade,
And see your favourite dishes duly made;
Then am I richly dress'd for you t' admire,
Such is my duty and my lord's desire;
Is this a life for youth, for health, for joy?
Are these my duties — this my base employ?
No! to my father's house will I repair,
And make your idle wealth support me there;
Was it your wish to have an humble bride
For bondage thankful? Curse upon your pride
Was it a slave you wanted? You shall see,
That if not happy, I at least am free
Well, sir, your answer: " — Silent stood the 'squire,
As looks a miser at his house on fire;
Where all he deems is vanish'd in that flame,
Swept from the earth his substance and his name;
So, lost to every promised joy of life,
Our 'squire stood gaping at his angry wife; —
His fate, his ruin, where he saw it vain
To hope for peace, pray, threaten, or complain;
And thus, betwixt his wonder at the ill
And his despair — there stood he gaping still.
" Your answer, sir — shall I depart a spot.
I thus detest? " — " Oh, miserable lot! "
Exclaim'd the man. " Go, serpent! nor remain
To sharpen wo by insult and disdain:
A nest of harpies was I doom'd to meet;
What plots, what combinations of deceit!
I see it now — all plann'd, design'd, contrived;
Served by that villain — by this fury wived —
What fate is mine! What wisdom, virtue, truth
Can stand, if demons set their traps for youth?
He lose his way! vile dog! he cannot lose
The way a villain through his life pursues;
And thou, deceiver! thou afraid to move,
And hiding close the serpent in the dove!
I saw — but, fated to endure disgrace —
Unheeding saw, the fury in thy face;
And call'd it spirit — Oh! I might have found
Fraud and imposture — all the kindred round!
A nest of vipers " —
— " Sir, I 'll not admit
These wild effusions of your angry wit:
Have you that value, that we all should use
Such mighty arts for such important views?
Are you such prize — and is my state so fair
That they should sell their souls to get me there!
Think you that we alone our thoughts disguise?
When in pursuit of some contended prize,
Mask we alone the heart, and soothe whom we despise!
Speak you of craft and subtle schemes, who know
That all your wealth you to deception owe;
Who play'd for ten dull years a scoundrel-part,
To worm yourself into a widow's heart?
Now, when you guarded, with superior skill,
That lady's closet, and preserved her will,
Blind in your craft, you saw not one of those
Opposed by you might you in turn oppose;
Or watch your motions, and by art obtain
Share of that wealth you gave your peace to gain?
Did conscience never " —
— " Cease, Tormentor, cease —
Or reach me poison — — let me rest in peace! "
" Agreed — but hear me — let the truth appear; "
" Then state your purpose — I 'll be calm and hear. "
" Know then, this wealth, sole object of your care,
I had some right, without your hand, to share;
My mother's claim was just — but soon she saw
Your power, compell'd insulted, to withdraw:
'Twas then my father, in his anger, swore
You should divide the fortune, or restore;
Long we debated — and you find me now
Heroic victim to a father's vow;
Like Jephtha's daughter, but in different state,
And both decreed to mourn our early fate;
Hence was my brother servant to your pride,
Vengeance made him your slave — and me your bride:
Now all is known — a dreadful price I pay
For our revenge — but still we have our day;
All that you love you must with others share,
Or all you dread from their resentment dare!
Yet terms I offer — let contention cease:
Divide the spoil, and let us part in peace. "
Our hero trembling heard — he sat — he rose —
Nor could his motions nor his mind compose;
He paced the room — and, stalking to her side,
Gazed on the face of his undaunted bride;
And nothing there but scorn and calm aversion spied.
He would have vengeance, yet he fear'd the law:
Her friends would threaten, and their power he saw;
" Then let her go: " — but oh! a mighty sum
Would that demand, since he had let her come;
Nor from his sorrows could he find redress,
Save that which led him to a like distress,
And all his ease was in his wife to see
A wretch as anxious and distress'd as he:
Her strongest wish, the fortune to divide
And part in peace, his avarice denied;
And thus it happen'd, as in all deceit,
The cheater found the evil of the cheat;
The husband grieved — nor was the wife at rest;
Him she could vex, and he could her molest;
She could his passions into frenzy raise,
But when the fire was kindled, fear'd the blaze:
As much they studied, so in time they found
The easiest way to give the deepest wound;
But then, like fencers, they were equal still,
Both lost in danger what they gain'd in skill,
Each heart a keener kind of rancour gain'd,
And paining more, was more severely pain'd;
And thus by both were equal vengeance dealt,
And both the anguish they inflicted felt.
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