The Story of Melissa

Sit mihi fas audita loqui

What I have heard, permit me to relate.

I received, a few weeks ago, an account of the death of a lady whose name is known to many, but the “eventful history” of whose life has been communicated to few: to me it has been often related during a long and intimate acquaintance; and as there is not a single person living, upon whom the making it public can reflect unmerited dishonour, or whose delicacy or virtue can suffer by the relation, I think I owe to mankind a series of events from which the wretched may derive comfort, and the most forlorn may be encouraged to hope; as misery is alleviated by the contemplation of yet deeper distress, and the mind fortified against despair by instances of unexpected relief.

The father of Melissa was the younger son of a country gentleman who possessed an estate of about five hundred a year; but as this was to be the inheritance of the elder brother, and as there were three sisters to be provided for, he was at about sixteen taken from Eton school, and apprenticed to a considerable merchant at Bristol. The young gentleman, whose imagination had been fired by the exploits of heroes, the victories gained by magnanimous presumption, and the wonders discovered by daring curiosity, was not disposed to consider the acquisition of wealth as the limit of his ambition, or the repute of honest industry as the total of his fame. He regarded his situation as servile and ignominious, as the degradation of his genius and the preclusion of his hopes; and longing to go in search of adventures, he neglected his business as unworthy of his attention, heard the remonstrances of his master with a kind of sullen disdain, and after two years’ legal slavery made his escape, and at the next town enlisted himself a soldier; not doubting but that, by his military merit and the fortune of war, he should return a general officer, to the confusion of those who would have buried him in the obscurity of a compting-house. He found means effectually to elude the inquiries of his friends, as it was of the utmost importance to prevent their officious endeavours to ruin his project and obstruct his advancement.

He was sent with other recruits to London, and soon after quartered with the rest of his company in a part of the country, which was so remote from all with whom he had any connection, that he no longer dreaded a discovery.

It happened that he went one day to the house of a neighbouring gentleman with his comrade, who was become acquainted with the chamber-maid, and by her interest admitted into the Kitchen. This gentleman, whose age was something more than sixty, had been about two years married to a second wife, a young woman who had been well educated, and lived in the polite world, but had no fortune. By his first wife, who had been dead about ten years, he had several children; the youngest was a daughter who had just entered her seventeenth year; she was very tall for her age, had a fine complexion, good features, and was well shaped; but her father, whose affection for her was mere instinct, as much as that of a brute for his young, utterly neglected her education. It was impossible for him, he said, to live without her; and as he could not afford to have her attended by a governess and proper masters in a place so remote from London, she was suffered to continue illiterate and unpolished; she knew no entertainment higher than a game at romps with the servants; she became their confident, and trusted them in return, nor did she think herself happy anywhere but in the kitchen.

As the capricious fondness of her father had never conciliated her affection, she perceived it abate upon his marriage without regret. She suffered no new restraint from her new mother, who observed with a secret satisfaction that miss had been used to hide herself from visitors, as neither knowing how to behave nor being fit to be seen, and chose rather to conceal her defects by excluding her from company, than to supply them by putting her to a boarding-school.

Miss, who had been told by Betty that she expected her sweetheart, and that they were to be merry, stole down stairs, and, without scruple, made one in a party at blindman’s buff. The soldier of fortune was struck with her person, and discovered, or thought he discovered, in the simplicity of nature, some graces which are polished away by the labour of art. However, nothing that had the appearance of an

  By PanEris using Melati.

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