Book XIV, Chapter III

Containing Various Matters.

Jones was no sooner alone than he eagerly broke open his letter, and read as follows:—

"Sir, it is impossible to express what I have suffered since you left this house; and as I have reason to think you intend coming here again, I have sent Honour, though so late at night, as she tells me she knows your lodgings, to prevent you. I charge you, by all the regard you have for me, not to think of visiting here; for it will certainly be discovered; nay, I almost doubt, from some things which have dropt from her ladyship, that she is not already without some suspicion. Something favourable perhaps may happen; we must wait with patience; but I once more entreat you, if you have any concern for my ease, do not think of returning hither."

This letter administered the same kind of consolation to poor Jones, which Job formerly received from his friends. Besides disappointing all the hopes which he promised to himself from seeing Sophia, he was reduced to an unhappy dilemma, with regard to Lady Bellaston; for there are some certain engagements, which, as he well knew, do very difficultly admit of any excuse for the failure; and to go, after the strict prohibition from Sophia, he was not to be forced by any human power. At length, after much deliberation, which during that night supplied the place of sleep, he determined to feign himself sick: for this suggested itself as the only means of failing the appointed visit, without incensing Lady Bellaston, which he had more than one reason of desiring to avoid.

The first thing, however, which he did in the morning, was, to write an answer to Sophia, which he inclosed in one to Honour. He then despatched another to Lady Bellaston, containing the above-mentioned excuse; and to this he soon received the following answer:—

"I am vexed that I cannot see you here this afternoon, but more concerned for the occasion; take great care of yourself, and have the best advice, and I hope there will be no danger.—I am so tormented all this morning with fools, that I have scarce a moment's time to write to you. Adieu. "P.S.—I will endeavour to call on you this evening, at nine.—Be sure to be alone."

Mr Jones now received a visit from Mrs Miller, who, after some formal introduction, began the following speech:—"I am very sorry, sir, to wait upon you on such an occasion; but I hope you will consider the ill consequence which it must be to the reputation of my poor girls, if my house should once be talked of as a house of ill-fame. I hope you won't think me, therefore, guilty of impertinence, if I beg you not to bring any more ladies in at that time of night. The clock had struck two before one of them went away."—"I do assure you, madam," said Jones, "the lady who was here last night, and who staid the latest (for the other only brought me a letter), is a woman of very great fashion, and my near relation."—"I don't know what fashion she is of," answered Mrs Miller; "but I am sure no woman of virtue, unless a very near relation indeed, would visit a young gentleman at ten at night, and stay four hours in his room with him alone; besides, sir, the behaviour of her chairmen shows what she was; for they did nothing but make jests all the evening in the entry, and asked Mr Partridge, in the hearing of my own maid, if madam intended to stay with his master all night; with a great deal of stuff not proper to be repeated. I have really a great respect for you, Mr Jones, upon your own account; nay, I have a very high obligation to you for your generosity to my cousin. Indeed, I did not know how very good you had been till lately. Little did I imagine to what dreadful courses the poor man's distress had driven him. Little did I think, when you gave me the ten guineas, that you had given them to a highwayman! O heavens! what goodness have you shown! How have you preserved this family!—The character which Mr Allworthy hath formerly given me of you was, I find, strictly true.—And indeed, if I had no obligation to you, my obligations to him are such, that, on his account, I should shew you the utmost respect in my power.—Nay, believe me, dear Mr Jones, if my daughters' and my own reputation were out of the case, I should, for your own sake, be sorry that so pretty a young gentleman should converse with these women; but if you are resolved to do it, I must beg you to take another lodging; for I do not myself like to have such things carried on under my roof; but more especially upon the account of my girls, who have little, heaven knows, besides their characters, to recommend them." Jones started and changed colour at the name of Allworthy. "Indeed, Mrs Miller," answered he, a little warmly, "I do not take this at all kind. I will never bring any slander on your house; but I must insist on seeing what company I please in my own room; and if that gives you any offence, I shall, as soon as I am able, look for another lodging."—"I am sorry we must part then, sir," said she; "but I am convinced Mr Allworthy himself would never come within my doors, if he had the least suspicion of my keeping an ill house."—"Very well, madam," said Jones.—"I hope, sir," said she, "you are not angry; for I would not for the world offend any of Mr Allworthy's family. I have not slept a wink all night about this matter."—"I am sorry I have disturbed your rest, madam," said Jones, "but I beg you will send Partridge up to me immediately;" which she promised to do, and then with a very low courtesy retired.

As soon as Partridge arrived, Jones fell upon him in the most outrageous manner. "How often," said he, "am I to suffer for your folly, or rather for my own in keeping you? is that tongue of yours resolved upon my destruction?" "What have I done, sir?" answered affrighted Partridge. "Who was it gave you authority to mention the story of the robbery, or that the man you saw here was the person?" "I, sir?" cries Partridge. "Now don't be guilty of a falsehood in denying it," said Jones. "If I did mention such a matter," answers Partridge, "I am sure I thought no harm; for I should not have opened my lips, if it had not been to his own friends and relations, who, I imagined, would have let it go no farther." "But I have a much heavier charge against you," cries Jones, "than this. How durst you, after all the precautions I gave you, mention the name of Mr Allworthy in this house?" Partridge denied that he ever had, with many oaths. "How else," said Jones, "should Mrs Miller be acquainted that there was any connexion between him and me? And it is but this moment she told me she respected me on his account." "O Lord, sir," said Partridge, "I desire only to be heard out; and to be sure, never was anything so unfortunate: hear me but out, and you will own how wrongfully you have accused me. When Mrs Honour came downstairs last night she met me in the entry, and asked me when my master had heard from Mr Allworthy; and to be sure Mrs Miller heard the very words; and the moment Madam Honour was gone, she called me into the parlour to her. `Mr Partridge,' says she, `what Mr Allworthy is it that the gentlewoman mentioned? is it the great Mr Allworthy of Somersetshire?' `Upon my word, madam,' says I, `I know nothing of the matter.' `Sure,' says she, `your master is not the Mr Jones I have heard Mr Allworthy talk of?' `Upon my word, madam,' says I, `I know nothing of the matter.' `Then,' says she, turning to her daughter Nancy, says she, `as sure as tenpence this is the very young gentleman, and he agrees exactly with the squire's description.' The Lord above knows who it was told her: for I am the arrantest villain that ever walked upon two legs if ever it came out of my mouth. I promise you, sir, I can keep a secret when I am desired. Nay, sir, so far was I from telling her anything about Mr Allworthy, that I told her the very direct contrary; for, though I did not contradict it at that moment, yet, as second thoughts, they say, are best, so when I came to consider that somebody must have informed her, thinks I to myself, I will put an end to the story; and so I went back again into the parlour some time afterwards, and says I, upon my word, says I, whoever, says I, told you that this gentleman was Mr Jones; that is, says I, that this Mr Jones was that Mr Jones, told you a confounded lie: and I beg, says I, you will never mention any such matter, says I; for my master, says I, will think I must have told you so; and I defy anybody in the house ever to say I mentioned any such word. To be certain, sir, it is a wonderful thing, and I have been thinking with myself ever since, how it was she came to know it; not but I saw an old woman here t'other day a begging at the door, who looked as like her we saw in Warwickshire, that caused all that mischief to us. To be sure it is never good to pass by an old woman without giving her something, especially if she looks at you; for all the world shall never persuade me but that they have a great power to do mischief, and to be sure I shall never see an old woman again, but I shall think to myself, Infandum, regina, jubes renovare dolorem."

The simplicity of Partridge set Jones a laughing, and put a final end to his anger, which had indeed seldom any long duration in his mind; and, instead of commenting on his defence, he told him he intended presently to leave those lodgings, and ordered him to go and endeavour to get him others.