Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 6

A TERRIBLE ADVENTURE.


The marriage of John and the lovely Primerose was about to be celebrated. Freind never felt more joy. I shared it. But the occasion was changed into one of deep sorrow and suffering.

Clive-Hart loved John, though constantly faithless. They say this is the lot of those women who, violating modesty, renounce their honor. Especially she deceived John for her dear Birton and for another of the same school. They lived together in debauch; and, what is perhaps peculiar to our nation, they had all of them sense and worth. Unfortunately, they employed their sense against God. Madame Clive-Hart's house was a rendezvous for atheists. Well for them had they been such atheists as Epicurus, Leontium, Lucretius, Memmius, and Spinoza,—the most upright man of Holland,—or Hobbes, so faithful to his unfortunate king, Charles I.

But however it may be, Clive-Hart, jealous of the pure and gentle Primerose, could not endure the marriage. She devised a vengeance, which I conceive to be unsurpassed even in London, where I believe our fathers have witnessed crimes of every kind. She learned that Miss Primerose, returning from shopping, would pass by her door. She took advantage of the opportunity, and had a sewer opened, communicating with her premises.

Miss Primerose's carriage, on its return, was obliged to draw up at this obstruction. Clive-Hart goes out, and entreats her to alight and take some refreshment, while the passage is being cleared. This invitation made Miss Primerose hesitate; but she perceived John standing in the hall, and, yielding to an impulse stronger than her discretion, she got out. John offered her his hand. She enters. Clive-Hart's husband was a silly drunkard, as hateful to his wife as he was submissive and troublesome by his civility. He presents refreshments to the young lady, and drinks after her. Mrs. Clive-Hart takes them away instantly and brings others. By this time the street is cleared. Miss Primerose enters her carriage, and drives to her mother's.

She soon falls sick, and complains of giddiness. They suppose it is occasioned by the motion of the carriage. But the illness increased, and the next day she was dying.

Mr. Freind and I hastened to the house. We found the lovely creature pale and livid, a prey to convulsions,—her lips open, her eyes glazed, and always staring. Black spots disfigured her face and throat. Her mother had fainted on her bed. Cheselden employed in vain all the resources of his art. I will not attempt to describe Freind's anguish. It was intense. I hurried to Clive-Hart's house, and found that the husband was just dead, and that the wife had fled.

I sought John. He could not be found. A servant told me that his mistress had besought him not to leave her in her misfortune, and that they had gone off together, accompanied by Birton, no one knew whither.

Overcome by these rapid and numerous shocks, terrified at the frightful suspicions which haunted me, I hastened to the dying lady.

"Yet," said I to myself, "if this abominable woman threw herself on John's generosity, it does not follow that he is an accomplice. John is incapable of so horrible and cowardly a crime, which he had no interest in committing, which deprives him of a charming wife, and renders him odious to the human race. Weak, he has allowed himself to be drawn away by a wretch, of whose crime he was ignorant. He did not see, as I have done, Primerose dying; he never would have deserted her pillow to accompany the poisoner of his bride. Oppressed by these thoughts, I entered, shuddering, the room which I expected contained a corpse."

She was still living. Old Clive-Hart died soon, because his constitution was worn out by debauchery; but young Primerose was sustained by a temperament as robust as her blood was pure. She saw me, and enquired, in a tender tone, after John. A flood of tears gushed from my eyes. I could not reply. I was unable to speak to the father. I was obliged to leave her to the faithful hands that served her.

We went to inform his lordship of this disaster. He is as kind to his friends as terrible to his foes. Never was there a more compassionate man with so stern a countenance. He took as much pains to assist the dying lady, and to overtake the abandoned woman, and discover John, as he had done to give Spain to the arch-duke. But all our search proved in vain. I thought it would kill Freind. Now we flew to the residence of Miss Primerose, whose dying was protracted, now to Rochester, Dover, Portsmouth. Couriers were dispatched every where. We wandered about at random, like dogs that have lost the scent;—while the unfortunate mother expected hourly the death of her child.

At length we learned that a handsome lady, accompanied by three young men and some servants, had embarked at Newport, in Monmouthshire, in a little smuggling vessel that was in the roads, and had sailed for North America.

Freind sighed deeply at this intelligence, then suddenly recovering himself, and pressing my hand, he said:

"I must go to America."

I replied, weeping with admiration: "I will not leave you. But what can you do?"

"Restore my only son," said he, "to virtue and his country, or bury myself with him."

Indeed, from our information, we could not doubt but he had fled thither with that horrible woman, Birton, and the other villains of the party.

The good father took leave of Lord Peterborough, who returned soon after to Catalonia; and we went to Bristol and freighted a ship for the Delaware and the bay of Maryland.

Freind, knowing these coasts to be in the heart of the English possessions, thought it right to go thither, whether his son had sought concealment in the North or South.

He supplied himself with money, letters of credit, and provisions, and left a confidential servant in London, to write to him by ships that were leaving every week for Maryland or Pennsylvania.

We started. The crew, judging from the placid countenance of my friend, thought we were on an excursion of pleasure. But when he was alone with me, his sighs expressed the depth of his anguish. At times I congratulated myself on the happiness of consoling such a noble mind.

A west wind kept us a long time about the Sorlingues. We were obliged to steer for New England. What enquiries we made on every coast! What time and toil were thrown away! At length a northeast wind arising, we steered for Maryland. There, it was said, John and his companions had taken refuge.

The fugitives had sojourned on the coast more than a month, and had astonished the whole colony by indulgences in luxury and debauch, till then unknown in that part of the world. Then they disappeared; no one knew whither.

We advanced into the bay, intending to go to Baltimore for fresh information.



Francois-Marie Arouet Voltaire

Sorry, no summary available yet.