Tom Jones Chapter vii.

Continuation of the history.

Mrs Waters remaining a few moments silent, Mr Allworthy could not refrain from saying, “I am sorry, madam, to perceive, by what I have since heard, that you have made so very ill a use——” “Mr Allworthy,” says she, interrupting him, “I know I have faults, but ingratitude to you is not one of them. I never can nor shall forget your goodness, which I own I have very little deserved; but be pleased to wave all upbraiding me at present, as I have so important an affair to communicate to you concerning this young man, to whom you have given my maiden name of Jones.”

“Have I then,” said Allworthy, “ignorantly punished an innocent man, in the person of him who hath just left us? Was he not the father of the child?” “Indeed he was not,” said Mrs Waters. “You may be pleased to remember, sir, I formerly told you, you should one day know; and I acknowledge myself to have been guilty of a cruel neglect, in not having discovered it to you before. Indeed, I little knew how necessary it was.” “Well, madam,” said Allworthy, “be pleased to proceed.” “You must remember, sir,” said she, “a young fellow, whose name was Summer.” “Very well,” cries Allworthy, “he was the son of a clergyman of great learning and virtue, for whom I had the highest friendship.” “So it appeared, sir,” answered she; “for I believe you bred the young man up, and maintained him at the university; where, I think, he had finished his studies, when he came to reside at your house; a finer man, I must say, the sun never shone upon; for, besides the handsomest person I ever saw, he was so genteel, and had so much wit and good breeding.” “Poor gentleman,” said Allworthy, “he was indeed untimely snatched away; and little did I think he had any sins of this kind to answer for; for I plainly perceive you are going to tell me he was the father of your child.”

“Indeed, sir,” answered she, “he was not.” “How!” said Allworthy, “to what then tends all this preface?” “To a story,” said she, “which I am concerned falls to my lot to unfold to you. O, sir! prepare to hear something which will surprize you, will grieve you.” “Speak,” said Allworthy, “I am conscious of no crime, and cannot be afraid to hear.” “Sir,” said she, “that Mr Summer, the son of your friend, educated at your expense, who, after living a year in the house as if he had been your own son, died there of the small-pox, was tenderly lamented by you, and buried as if he had been your own; that Summer, sir, was the father of this child.” “How!” said Allworthy; “you contradict yourself.” “That I do not,” answered she; “he was indeed the father of this child, but not by me.” “Take care, madam,” said Allworthy, “do not, to shun the imputation of any crime, be guilty of falshood. Remember there is One from whom you can conceal nothing, and before whose tribunal falshood will only aggravate your guilt.” “Indeed, sir,” says she, “I am not his mother; nor would I now think myself so for the world.” “I know your reason,” said Allworthy, “and shall rejoice as much as you to find it otherwise; yet you must remember, you yourself confest it before me.” “So far what I confest,” said she, “was true, that these hands conveyed the infant to your bed; conveyed it thither at the command of its mother; at her commands I afterwards owned it, and thought myself, by her generosity, nobly rewarded, both for my secrecy and my shame.” “Who could this woman be?” said Allworthy. “Indeed, I tremble to name her,” answered Mrs Waters. “By all this preparation I am to guess that she was a relation of mine,” cried he. “Indeed she was a near one.” At which words Allworthy started, and she continued—”You had a sister, sir.” “A sister!” repeated he, looking aghast.—”As there is truth in heaven,” cries she, “your sister was the mother of that child you found between your sheets.” “Can it be possible?” cries he, “Good heavens!” “Have patience, sir,” said Mrs Waters, “and I will unfold to you the whole story. Just after your departure for London, Miss Bridget came one day to the house of my mother. She was pleased to say she had heard an extraordinary character of me, for my learning and superior understanding to all the young women there, so she was pleased to say. She then bid me come to her to the great house; where, when I attended, she employed me to read to her. She expressed great satisfaction in my reading, shewed great kindness to me, and made me many presents. At last she began to catechise me on the subject of secrecy, to which I gave her such satisfactory answers, that, at last, having locked the door of her room, she took me into her closet, and then locking that door likewise, she said she should convince me of the vast reliance she had on my integrity, by communicating a secret in which her honour, and consequently her life, was concerned. She then stopt, and after a silence of a few minutes, during which she often wiped her eyes, she enquired of me if I thought my mother might safely be confided in. I answered, I would stake my life on her fidelity. She then imparted to me the great secret which laboured in her breast, and which, I believe, was delivered with more pains than she afterwards suffered in child-birth. It was then contrived that my mother and myself only should attend at the time, and that Mrs Wilkins should be sent out of the way, as she accordingly was, to the very furthest part of Dorsetshire, to enquire the character of a servant; for the lady had turned away her own maid near three months before; during all which time I officiated about her person upon trial, as she said, though, as she afterwards declared, I was not sufficiently handy for the place. This, and many other such things which she used to say of me, were all thrown out to prevent any suspicion which Wilkins might hereafter have, when I was to own the child; for she thought it could never be believed she would venture to hurt a young woman with whom she had intrusted such a secret. You may be assured, sir, I was well paid for all these affronts, which, together with being informed with the occasion of them, very well contented me. Indeed, the lady had a greater suspicion of Mrs Wilkins than of any other person; not that she had the least aversion to the gentlewoman, but she thought her incapable of keeping a secret, especially from you, sir; for I have often heard Miss Bridget say, that, if Mrs Wilkins had committed a murder, she believed she would acquaint you with it. At last the expected day came, and Mrs Wilkins, who had been kept a week in readiness, and put off from time to time, upon some pretence or other, that she might not return too soon, was dispatched. Then the child was born, in the presence only of myself and my mother, and was by my mother conveyed to her own house, where it was privately kept by her till the evening of your return, when I, by the command of Miss Bridget, conveyed it into the bed where you found it. And all suspicions were afterwards laid asleep by the artful conduct of your sister, in pretending ill-will to the boy, and that any regard she shewed him was out of meer complacence to you.”

Mrs Waters then made many protestations of the truth of this story, and concluded by saying, “Thus, sir, you have at last discovered your nephew; for so I am sure you will hereafter think him, and I question not but he will be both an honour and a comfort to you under that appellation.”

“I need not, madam,” said Allworthy, “express my astonishment at what you have told me; and yet surely you would not, and could not, have put together so many circumstances to evidence an untruth. I confess I recollect some passages relating to that Summer, which formerly gave me a conceit that my sister had some liking to him. I mentioned it to her; for I had such a regard to the young man, as well on his own account as on his father’s, that I should willingly have consented to a match between them; but she exprest the highest disdain of my unkind suspicion, as she called it; so that I never spoke more on the subject. Good heavens! Well! the Lord disposeth all things.—Yet sure it was a most unjustifiable conduct in my sister to carry this secret with her out of the world.” “I promise you, sir,” said Mrs Waters, “she always profest a contrary intention, and frequently told me she intended one day to communicate it to you. She said, indeed, she was highly rejoiced that her plot had succeeded so well, and that you had of your own accord taken such a fancy to the child, that it was yet unnecessary to make any express declaration. Oh! sir, had that lady lived to have seen this poor young man turned like a vagabond from your house: nay, sir, could she have lived to hear that you had yourself employed a lawyer to prosecute him for a murder of which he was not guilty——Forgive me, Mr Allworthy, I must say it was unkind.—Indeed, you have been abused, he never deserved it of you.” “Indeed, madam,” said Allworthy, “I have been abused by the person, whoever he was, that told you so.” “Nay, sir,” said she, “I would not be mistaken, I did not presume to say you were guilty of any wrong. The gentleman who came to me proposed no such matter; he only said, taking me for Mr Fitzpatrick’s wife, that, if Mr Jones had murdered my husband, I should be assisted with any money I wanted to carry on the prosecution, by a very worthy gentleman, who, he said, was well apprized what a villain I had to deal with. It was by this man I found out who Mr Jones was; and this man, whose name is Dowling, Mr Jones tells me is your steward. I discovered his name by a very odd accident; for he himself refused to tell it me; but Partridge, who met him at my lodgings the second time he came, knew him formerly at Salisbury.”

“And did this Mr Dowling,” says Allworthy, with great astonishment in his countenance, “tell you that I would assist in the prosecution?”—”No, sir,” answered she, “I will not charge him wrongfully. He said I should be assisted, but he mentioned no name. Yet you must pardon me, sir, if from circumstances I thought it could be no other.”—”Indeed, madam,” says Allworthy, “from circumstances I am too well convinced it was another. Good Heaven! by what wonderful means is the blackest and deepest villany sometimes discovered!—Shall I beg you, madam, to stay till the person you have mentioned comes, for I expect him every minute? nay, he may be, perhaps, already in the house.”

Allworthy then stept to the door, in order to call a servant, when in came, not Mr Dowling, but the gentleman who will be seen in the next chapter.