British Fiction, 18001829

BROWN, Charles Brockden. Ormond; or the Secret Witness (1800)

Contemporary Reviews

Critical Review, 3rd ser. 22 (Apr 1811): 417–30.

In the introduction to these volumes, the writer apprizes us not to expect that harmonious congruity and luminous amplification which may be displayed in a tale of pure invention, but tells us to exclude all ideas of fiction from our minds, and read a plain biographical sketch, in which facts are told without poetical taste, and incidents distributed accordingly, as they occurred. Sometimes these materials are abundant and sometimes scanty.

The character of Ormond will appear to many a wicked, contradictory, unintelligible being, a creature of improbable and horrid fancy; but yet by a sober judgment, it will be regarded as a character highly probable, and well worthy of study for avoidance rather than for imitation. We cannot do greater justice to this performance than by giving the heads of the story in as plain and concise a manner as it will admit, pointing out such parts as it may appear to us most striking and interesting.

Stephen Dudley, the father of Constantia, was a native of New York and having a taste and talent or painting, he was sent to England by his father, who was, by profession an apothecary, to improve himself in his favourite art, with the intention of practising it in his native city. He spends some time in Italy in studying the works of the old masters, and, after having married, returns most unwillingly to America. In New York he quickly found that painting would not answer the ends of a profession for the maintenance of a family; and though his father supported himself by the profits of his shop, he could do no more than procure a subsistence for himself and his son. Till his father’s death, Dudley followed his profession of painters but when that event took place, he found it necessary to abandon this agreeable occupation, and to turn his views more directly to the pursuit of gain. The knowledge[417/418]which was requisite to enable him to take his father's business was easily obtained; and he carried it on with success. He was stimulated to the acquisition of medical knowledge by a high sense of duty: but the profession which he had embraced ere long proved irksome and disgusting; and Mr. D. found that he could not bear the drudgery of a shop. The longer he pursued it, the more intolerable it appeared; and by comparing his former avocations with his present, he became a prey to melancholy and discontent.

The period of ease to which he might look forward, as the fruit of industrious exertion, was too remote to afford him much comfort; and we are told that had not circumstances occurred which flattered the hope of some more immediate enjoyment, Mr. Dudley would, in all probability, have fallen a victim to dejection of mind.

It so happens, that whilst Mr. Dudley is employed behind his counter, in his usual morning occupations, a youth of prepossessing manners and exterior, inquired of him whether he could be engaged as an apprentice, stating that he had come from England in a ship which had just arrived; that he was

‘a native of Wakefield in Yorkshire, that his family were honest, his education not mean, that he was the eldest of several children, and that he embarked for America in search of the means of independence. He was master of his book and his pen, and had acquired more than the rudiments of Latin.’

His tale was consistent and his appearance interesting; and he exhibited a frankness which bespoke a love of veracity. Mr. Dudley wanting an assistant, establishes this youth in his family as a coadjutor in his shop, supplying him with food, clothes, and lodging, as a reward for his services. The young man improves in his master’s good opinion. His diligence, sobriety and application are incessant, his apprehension quick, and though not presumptuous, he is not wanting in a suitable degree of self-confidence. His master’s interest seemed to be nearest his heart, and he was not to be drawn aside from his duty by the allurements of sensual or intellectual pleasure. His master is thus relieved from the toils of his profession, and he congratulates himself on possessing a servant, whose talents and probity appear so inestimable, and, gradually relaxing in his attention to his own concerns, he places absolute reliance in the fidelity of his assistant.

This young man, whose name is Thomas Craig, carries [418/419] on a constant correspondence with his family, and confides to Mr. Dudley the copies of his own letters to his mother and sister, with their answers to him.

These letters contained sentiments which breathed the utmost simplicity and tenderness. Mr. Dudley also himself receives letters from Craig’s mother relative to the wellbeing of her son, and expressive of her gratitude for his paternal care. Affairs remain in this situation for three years, during which Craig continually rises in the esteem of his employer. At the end of this period Mr. Dudley rewards Craig for his diligence by giving him a share of his business on condition of his discharging all the duties of his trade. Craig is unbounded in his profession of gratitude; and two years more elapsed without any thing occurring to disturb the harmony which subsisted between the partners.

Mr. Dudley’s social and literary gratifications had been increased by the increase of leisure, and he hoped shortly to be wholly relieved from the turmoils of a professional life by such an accumulation of wealth as would enable him to retire from business.

Mr. Dudley had one daughter named Constantia, the only survivor of many children. This daughter had given proofs of a mind susceptible of high improvement, and the loveliness of her person kept pace with her mental acquisitions. He, therefore, devotes his leisure to the care of her education, and flatters himself that as his career had hitherto been exempt from any material misfortunes, he should terminate his days in peace and an elegant sufficiency. Mr. Dudley wishing still more to benefit Craig, proposes to take his younger brother, whom he had mentioned with anxious affection for his welldoing; but much to the astonishment of Mr. D. Craig throws obstacles in the way of the measure, and expresses reluctance to concur in it, but at the same time makes it appear, as if he was unwilling to increase the obligations under which he already laboured. This objection Mr. Dudley thought it easy to remove; but Craig's obstinacy of opposition was invincible. Mr. D. not willing to relinquish a scheme to which there was no other objection, requests a friend in England to obtain information respecting Craig’s family and to make the offer of taking the younger brother. This letter he entrusts to a friend, who is just embarking for Europe, and at the same time concealing his intention from his partner.

In due time an answer is returned confirming, in every [419/420] respect Craig’s representation of his family, but informing Mr. Dudley, that the lad was otherwise disposed of. At this period, Craig had occasion to be absent for a short. time when a letter was left at Mr. Dudley’s, inscribed with a name unknown, and in a hand almost illegible. Mr. Dudley let it remain unopened for a considerable time, but at length unseals it to discover the person to whom it was addressed.

‘It was dated Portsmouth, in New Hampshire, the signature, was Mary Mansfield, it was addressed to her son, and was a curious specimen of illiterateness. Mary reproaches her son for deserting her, and letting five years pass away without allowing her to hear from him. She informed him of her distresses as they flowed from sickness and poverty, and were aggravated the loss of her son, who was so handsome and promising a lad. She related her marriage with Zekel Hackney, who first brought her tidings of her boy. He was master, it seems, of a fishing smack and voyaged sometimes to New York. In one of his visits to this city, he met a mighty sprightly young man in whom he thought he recognized his wife’s son. He had traced him to Mr. Dudley’s, and on inquiry, discovered that the lad resided here. On his return, he communicated the tidings to his spouse, who had now written to reproach him for his neglect of his poor old mother, and to entreat his assistance to relieve her from the necessity of drudging for her livelihood.’

Mr. Dudley’s conclusion, on reading this curious epistle, was, that it was a singular mistake; the letter is replaced on the chimney-piece and the affair dismissed from his thoughts.

The next day Craig returns, and enters the room without observing Mr. Dudley. The letter attracts his attention, he seizes it with eagerness, and, observing the seal broken, puts it in haste into his pocket, muttering in a tone of anger and consternation, ‘Damn it,’ and leaves the room without perceiving Mr. D. who was screened from his view by the door, and was an astonished, but silent witness of this, to him, extraordinary scene.

Mr. Dudley soon afterwards returns to the room where his family is assembled, and Craig in a few minutes enters, as if for the first time since his arrival, and is informed by Mrs. Dudley of the curious mistake respecting the letter which Constantia Dudley is desired to fetch. Mr. Dudley anticipates the disappointment of his daughter, as he saw Craig put the letter into his pocket, but to his great astonishment, she returns, bearing the letter in her hand Craig reads it and comments on the contents with much [420/421] mirth as if he had not seen it before. Mr. Dudley broods over these circumstances, with fearful dissatisfaction, but conceals his thoughts, waiting ‘impatiently for some new occurrence by which he might square his future proceedings.’ A week after this Craig invited a friend, who was about to sail for Jamaica to sup with him. This friend expresses how much he stands in need of a strong chest which he has not time to procure, as the ship was to sail sooner than he expected. Craig offers him one, which, during his absence, had been removed from his room, and requests it may be returned, that he may devote it to the use of his friend.

Mr. Dudley, whose mind was pained by doubts, concealed the key of the closet in which the chest was placed, so that the gentleman was obliged to sail without it. Craig accompanies his friend on board, purposing to return with the pilot boat; but the boat returns without him, and it comes out, that he had gone with a resolution never to return.

‘The unhappy Dudley was left to deplore the total ruin of his fortune, which had fallen a prey to the arts of a subtile imposture. The chest was opened, and the part which Craig had been playing for some years, with so much success, was perfectly explained. It appeared that the sum which Craig had contributed to the common stock, when first admitted into partnership, had been previously purloined from the daily receipts of his shop, of which an exact register was kept. Craig had been so indiscreet as to preserve this accusing record, and it was discovered in this depository. He was the son of Mary Mansfield, and a native of Portsmouth. The history of the Wakefield family, specious and complicated as it was, was entirely fictitious. The letters had been forged, and the correspondence supported by his own dexterity. Here was found the letter which Mr. Dudley had written to his friend, requesting him to make certain inquiries at Wakefield, and which he imagined that he had delivered with his own hands to a trusty bearer. Here was the original draught of the answer he received. The manner. in which this stratagem had been accomplished, came gradually to light. The letter which was written to the Yorkshire traveler had been purloined, and another with a similar superscription, in which the hand of Dudley was exactly imitated, and containing only brief and general remarks, had been placed in its stead. Craig must have suspected its contents, and by this suspicion have been incited to the theft. The answer which the Englishman had really written, and which sufficiently corresponded with the forged letter, had been intercepted by Craig, and furnished [421/422] him a model from which he might construct an answer adapted to his own purposes

‘This imposture had not been sustained for a trivial purpose. He had embezzled a large share of the stock, and had employed the credit of the house to procure extensive remittances to be made to an agent at a distance, by whom the property was effectually secured. Craig had gone to participate these spoils, while the whole estate of Mr. Dudley was insufficient to pay the demands that were consequently made upon him.

‘It was his lot to fall into the grasp of men who squared their actions by no other standard than law, and who esteemed every claim to be incontestably just that could plead that sanction. They did not indeed throw him into prison. When they had despoiled him of every remnant of his property, they deemed themselves entitled to his gratitude for leaving his person unmolested.’

Here then begin the sufferings of the Dudleys, the accumulated distresses, and the display of those exalted virtues, which mark the character of the daughter, Constantia Dudley.

Thus reduced from comparative affluence to beggary, Mr. Dudley forms the plan of’ leaving New York and going to Philadelphia, in order to offer his services as a writer in a public office. This he accordingly puts in practice, and obtains a situation which supplies himself and his family with a bare subsistence. When the novelty of his employment wore off; his melancholy was unconquerable, servitude was intolerable, and the recollection of his former life brought with it faded spirits and useless complainings. The privations which he endured were still more painful to his wife and her death added another calamity which he was ill able to bear, as he had always loved her with the tenderest affection.

‘But his destiny seemed never weary of persecuting him. It was not enough that he should fall a victim to the most atrocious arts, that he should wear out his days in solitude and drudgery, that he should feel not only the personal restraints and hardships attendant upon indigence, but the keener pangs that result from negligence and contumely. He was imperfectly recovered from the shock occasioned by the death of his wife, when his sight was invaded by a cataract. Its progress was rapid, and terminated in total blindness.’

His melancholy situation is alleviated by his daughter who was sixteen years of age, when this storm of adversity overtook them. The task of comforter fell upon her, and not only of comforter but of the reliever of his wants. She [422/423] refused no personal exertions. ‘The infirmities of sex and age vanished before the motives to courage and activity.’ She disposes of every superfluous article of dress and trinkets, her music and books. By this means, she supplies her father’s necessities with a considerable sum, and divides the domestic duties with a poor girl who had been taken by her mother in happier days. Not content with barely being frugal, she employs her needle to add something to the common stock. And though her father gave himself up to a listless melancholy, or a fretful impatience which produced an accusing and irascible spirit, which at times made even his daughter the object of his peevish and groundless reproaches, she did not sink into despair. Her sweetness and patience were invincible. She was not content in barely complying with the urgencies of her situation, she conformed with grace and cheerfulness, she yielded to no fruitless recriminations and repinings, but endeavoured with admirable wisdom to contract the evils which surrounded her into as small a compass as possible, and derive from her condition all the good which the circumstances of the case would admit.

‘But her fortitude did not exceed the standard of human nature. Evils now began to menace her, to which it is likely she would have yielded, had not their approach been intercepted by an evil of a different kind.

‘The strongest mind is swayed by circumstances. There is no firmness of integrity perhaps able to repel every species of temptation, which is produced by the present constitution of human affairs, and yet temptation is successful, chiefly by virtue of its gradual and invisible approaches. We rush into danger, because we are not aware of its existence, and have not therefore provided the means of safety, and the dæmon that seizes us is hourly reinforced by habit. Our opposition grows fainter in proportion as our adversary acquires new strength, and the man, becomes enslaved by the most sordid vices, whose fall would, at a former period, have been deemed impossible, or who would have been imagined liable to any species of depravity, more than to this.

‘Mr. Dudley’s education had entailed upon him many errors, vet who would have supposed it possible for him to be enslaved by a depraved appetite; to be enamoured of low debauchery, and to grasp at the happiness that intoxication had to bestow? This was a mournful period in Constantia’s history. My feelings will not suffer me to dwell upon it. I cannot describe the manner in which she was affected by the first symptoms of this depravity, the struggles which she made to counteract this dreadful infatuation, and the grief which she experienced from the re-[423/424]peated miscarriage of her efforts. I will not detail her various expedients for this end, the appeals which she made to his understanding, to his sense of honour and dread of infamy, to the gratitude to which she was entitled, and to the injunctions of parental duty. I will not detail his fits of remorse, his fruitless penitence and continual relapses, nor depict the heartbreaking scenes of uproar and violence, and foul disgrace that accompanied his paroxysms of drunkenness.’

In this state of things, Mr. Dudley’s blindness might be accounted a fortunate circumstance, for it broke the spell by which he was bound, and showed him the gulph to which he was hastening. Constantia provided him and herself with necessaries by her industry. She was, however, led to think, that a subsistence might be obtained by occupations purely intellectual, and she laboured to store her mind and increase her knowledge in French and Italian in order to qualify herself for a teacher. Her education had been regulated by her father’s peculiar views who sought to make her reflective and wise rather than showy and fascinating.

‘Instead of familiarizing her with Petrarcha and Racine, she was conversant with Tacitus and Milton. Instead of her being a practical musician or pencilist, he conducted her to the school of Newton and Hartley, unveiled to her the mathematical properties of light and sound, taught her as a metaphysician and anatomist, the structure and power of the senses, and discussed with her the principles and progress of human society. These accomplishments tended to render her superior to the rest of women, but in no degree qualified her for the post of a female instructor. She lamented her deficiencies and set about supplying them.’

In this state, she continues gaining a scanty subsistence by her needle, till the yellow fever appears at Philadelphia, and desolates the place. We must here pass over the cruel distresses which Constantia encounters, as well as the minute and affecting detail our author gives of the ravages of that dreadfully malignant distemper. Poor Constantia was, at length, driven to the extremity of want, the baker would not supply them with bread, the last piece of wood was on the fire, the last sixpence expended, a hard and cruel landlord was on the point of taking the small remains of furniture they had left, and her needle could no longer be employed to mitigate their sufferings.

In this distress she determines to apply to a merchant in the city who had been at her father's house during [424/425] his prosperity. She is not fortunate, on inquiry, to find him at home; but on her return from his house, she caught a glimpse of a person whom on a second examination she recognizes to be Thomas Craig, to whose diabolical wickedness she imputed all her woes. She traces him to an inn, and learns that he came from Baltimore. Though she rejected all thought of vengeance, she thinks that in order to avoid punishment he may be induced without direct coercion, to refund some part of the property he had stolen. She therefore writes him a letter stating the forlorn and distressed state of her father, and requests he will relieve them. This letter she takes to the house of a Mr. Ormond, with whom Craig is, and sends it up to him by a servant, saying, that she waited an answer, and should not go without one, or having an interview with him. Craig, not liking the latter part of the alternative, encloses, in a blank cover, a fifty dollar note; with this she satisfies her landlord and buys food. But this trivial relief is soon dissipated; for the landlord, who changed the note, comes to inform her that it was forged, and Constance is taken before a magistrate to account how she became possessed of it. This magistrate proves the mercantile friend to whom she had intended to apply for relief, but whom she had not had the good fortune to meet with before. She relates her miserable tale, and finds an humane friend in Mr. Melbourne. He introduces her to his wife, who supplies her with work; and as far as lies in their power Mr. and Mrs. M. ameliorate her indigent situation.

We come now to the mysterious Mr. Ormond, a most formidable personage, ‘of all mankind the most deserving to be studied.’ We have not room to quote the sketch which the author has given of his character, but it will be sufficiently developed in the subsequent narrative.

This Ormond was acquainted with the distresses of Constantia as well as with her patience and her fortitude; but be had, at the same time, been made to believe by Craig that it was his brother and not himself, who had been the ruin of her father, and that Constantia, had had an illicit amour with this pretended brother, who had died in Jamaica. But in this respect he is soon undeceived. Ormond lives with a very lovely young woman, who possesses every personal charm, and every elegant accomplishment, but he cannot bring himself to think of marriage. To this lady, whose name is Helena Cleves he mentions Constantia, as he had heard her spoken of at [425/426] Mr. Melbourne’s, as an object worthy of assistance. On the first meeting of Helena and Constantia, they recognize each other as acquaintances in happier days. Constantia finds Helena dejected by her desolation from the path of virtue; but her mind is still incorrupt and well-disposed. A friendship commences and Constance forms the resolution of pleading Helena’s cause with Ormond. Ormond was a stranger to her: and his manners were repulsive and austere; but she was not to be deterred. She thought it ignoble to refuse the province of a vindicator of the injured before a tribunal ever so unjust. ‘And who was Ormond, that his eye should inspire terror?’ Her interview with Ormond is pourtrayed in a very masterly manner: but our limits will not allow us to extract it. Ormond becomes a visitor to herself and father, on a friendly familiar footing. The masculine sense of Constantia delighted him, ‘and he was suddenly changed from being one of the calumniators of the female sex, to one of its warmest eulogists.’ Constantia lost no opportunity of urging her suit in favour of the beautiful Helena, but with no avail. Our readers will not fail to discern that Ormond falls in love with Constance. In one of their conversations on the subject of Helena’s future welfare, he abruptly asks her if she is willing to accept him with all his faults. ‘This declaration was truly unexpected by Constance. She gathered from it nothing but excitements of grief.’ This appeal to me she answers makes no change in my opinions; I still think justice requires you to become the husband of Helena. There is but one way by which you can secure my good opinion, and that is by espousing Helena. He tells her that is impossible, and that he has apprized Helena that they must part. Constance condemns his conduct, and urges him to retract or modify his resolution. This he cannot be brought to do: and the next morning finds the unfortunate Helena dead in her bed, from the effects of opium, which she takes in despair and grief at the loss of Ormond’s affections. She leaves to Constance her house, which had once belonged to Mr. Dudley. In the division of his property, it had fallen to the lot of one of his creditors who sold it afterwards to Ormond.

Here we again see our amiable heroine in affluence and ease. Adversity had exterminated the defects in Mr. Dudley’s character; his prejudices which flowed from luxurious indulgence, were removed; he learned to estimate himself at his true value, and to sympathize with [426/427] the sufferings which he himself had experienced. His blindness was now the only evil, and this was removed by a surgeon of uncommon skill who had lately arrived from England. He was one of the numerous agents of Ormond and had been induced to quit his country for purposes remote from his profession. He performs the operation on Mr. Dudley's eyes and restores him to the light of heaven. Constance did not overlook her obligations to Ormond. It was to him that she was indebted for her father’s restoration to sight, and to whom both owed though indirectly, their present comforts. She viewed him as the author of extensive benefits, but it impressed no bias on her judgment; and she decided in a way contrary to his inclinations, with as little scruple as if benefits had been received not by herself but by him. Marriage was, in the eyes of Ormond, hateful; but if Constance was to be obtained, and he could not possess her by other means, he was willing to accept her as a wife.

‘He avowed his love and described without scruple the scope of his wishes. He challenged her to confute his principles, and promised a candid audience and profound consideration to her arguments. Her present opinions he knew to be adverse to his own, but he hoped to change them by subtlety and perseverance.’

Constance’s reflections and sentiments, with respect to Ormond, are just and sensible; and her father had ruminated deeply on his character. He regarded his peculiar tenets with disapprobation and abhorrence. His daughter’s happiness was blended with his own. The emotions which her image excited, sprung but in part from his relationship: it was gratitude and veneration which filled him with rupture. Things remained for some months in this tranquil state. Ormond had left the city for a short time; but his letters furnished Constance with topics for reflection. ‘His arguments seldom imparted conviction, but delight never failed to flow from their lucid order and cogent brevity.’

Mr. Dudley had revolved a scheme which circumstances had suggested, and which he was now anxious to put in execution. It was to return to Italy, which he had reluctantly left, and where he had passed the happiest days of his life.

Every argument was used on his part to influence his daughter’s concurrence; and as he thought that the only obstacle to her adoption of it related to Ormond, he failed[427/428]not to point out his dubious character, the wildness of his schemes, and the magnitude of his errors. Their correspondence might continue; but her residence in Europe would enlighten her judgment and render her more able to form a rational decision. To this scheme Constance consents with pleasure, and is anxious to begin her preparations for their departure. After an interesting conversation with her father, she rises early the next morning, and with blithesome steps hastens to his chamber. ‘She stooped to kiss his venerable cheek, and by whispering to break his slumber. Her eye was no sooner fixed upon his countenance than she started back and shrieked. The ghastly appearance of Mr. Dudley shewed that he was dead; and that he died by violent and mysterious means. Who could be the diabolical performer of such a deed? Mr. Dudley’s manners were gentle and kind to his servants. His recreations were lonely and harmless. His chamber was exactly in the same state of negligent security. No midnight footstep, nor voice, no unbarred door, no uplifted window, no clue to trace the entrance or flight of the murderer!

The chief part of the third volume gives an account of the absence of Constance’s friend Sophia Courtland, and of friend’s return to America in search of the Dudleys. These friends at last meet; and Sophia Courtland, who had been brought up with Constance, and only parted from her to go to England just before the miseries of her family commenced, has little difficulty in persuading her to accompany her to Europe. They part for a short time to prepare for their departure. Sophia goes to inspect her friend’s property in Jersey before its sale. ‘The time prefixed by Ormond for his return had nearly arrived. Constance’s heart drooped as she revolved the necessity of disuniting their fates; but that this disunion was proper could not admit of a doubt.’ She reflects on the impetuosity of his character, and resolves to unfold her intention in a letter, which she is about to write, when Ormond enters her room. He receives her greeting with coldness, and with evident marks of a discomposed mind. He fixes his eyes on the moon, and exclaims,

‘Fit emblem of human versatility! one impediment is gone; I hoped it was the only one but no: the removal of that merely made room for another. Let this be removed. Well, fate will interpose a third. All our toils will be frustrated, and the ruin will finally redound upon our heads.’ [428/429]

He proceeds in ambiguous and forcible language, which paints his disappointment, telling her that he knows of her father’s death, of her unwearied search after the picture of her friend, her meeting with that friend, and his knowledge of every conversation they had had together, of their plans, and of their opinions of his character, though these conversations had taken place at midnight, and in a tone of voice little removed from a whisper.

On observing her astonishment, he exclaims,

‘Poor Constance, in a bitter and sarcastic tone. How hopeless is thy ignorance! to enlighten thee is past my power. What do I know? Every thing. Not a tittle has escaped me. Thy letter is superfluous. I know its contents before it is written.

He warns her of a danger that awaits her in the most mysterious terms. He tells her it is not loss of fame, for the deed will be unwitnessed by any one; her reputation will be spotless, it will be no repetition of the evils she has already endured. But it is an evil that will be thought upon with agony; it will endear oblivion and push her into an untimely grave. With this warning he leaves her. Constance neither sees nor hears from him for some time. She goes to spend a few days at her house at New Jersey, on her way to join her friend at New York. She is accommodated by her tenant, who lived at a short distance from the house which she visited usually in an evening to enjoy the luxury of musing alone in a favourite apartment, which she seldom quitted till the night was far spent. One evening, as she retired to this room, she discerns from the window a horseman riding up to the house, and discovers it to be Ormond. An interview at this dusky and lonely hour created alarm. After some time spent in trepidation, she hears a door cautiously opened. Low and imperfect sounds, which had more of inanimate than human, meet her ear. She strikes a light and determines to depart for the farmer’s house. On quitting her room, the first object that presents itself is the body of a man stretched on the floor. There was no mark of blood or wounds, but the object was dead. She passes down stairs and meets Ormond. He approaches her with solemnity and tokens of compassion; tells her that the evil he had predicted at their last interview is at hand, that he is not come to rescue her, for that was not within the compass of human powers; that now the last and heaviest trial betides her fortitude, that this is the scene of her calamity and this the hour! He asks her if [429/430] she is not desirous of detecting the author of her father’s fate? he bids her stop; and he will drag the murderer to her feet. He leaves her for that purpose. She now attempts to open the door, the principal bolt was still undrawn; but she cannot open it though she had entered without difficulty. She now perceives another fastening over which her key had no power. The other avenues were hastily examined. All were fastened! no power of escape remained. She now first perceived herself sinking in the toils of some lurking enemy. Yet hope whispered that her foe might not be Ormond. But he had said that this was the time and place of the peril which awaited her. The steps of Ormond descended the stairs; and he bore in his arms the lifeless body of a man which he cast at her feet. ‘Who would imagine features like those said he belonged to an assassin and imposter?’ At the sight of the dead man’s visage she recognizes Thomas Craig! Ormond then proceeds to tell her that he had avenged her and himself. For he had introduced Craig by a concealed door into her father’s chamber, and stood by whilst he murdered him in his sleep. By means of this door he had also heard her conversations with her father and her friend. He thus found that her father’s life stood in the way of his succeeding with Constance; and he made Craig the tool of his resentment. He tells her that he came there to possess himself of all that he now desired and by the same deed to afford her an illustrious opportunity of signalizing her wisdom and fortitude. Constantia resolves to die rather than suffer dishonour. The knife with which she had been endeavouring to open the lock of the door, she tells him, as he advances towards her, that she is determined to plunge into her heart. This determination is of no avail over the mind of the ferocious Ormond.

It so happens that Sophia Courtland arrives at the farm house at this juncture, and hearing that her friend is in this lonely mansion, she hastens thither with impatient steps. The door is broken open and Constance is found on the floor pale and motionless; the two men are breathless and supine. Constance revives, and on the enquiry of her friend, she exclaims,

‘Alas! my deed was scarcely the fruit of intention. It was suggested by a momentary frenzy. I saw no other means of escaping from vileness and pollution. I was menaced with an evil worse than death; the lapse of another moment would [430/431] have placed me beyond hope. My stroke was desperate and at random; it answered my purpose too well. He cast at me a look of terrible upbraiding, but spoke not. His heart was pierced, and he sunk, as if struck with lightning, at my feet.’

After this horrid scene little more remains for us to detail. Sophia embarks with her friend to Europe, where Constance has every prospect of ultimate restoration to tranquility. We have minutely related the heads of this singular production; for singular it may be styled as it is very different from the generality of works which are presented to us under the title of novels. We have forborne to mention the episodes which are not closely interwoven with the main story. The character of Ormond is drawn with a sort of masterly extravagance; he is represented throughout a fearful, potent and mysterious being; wild in his schemes, and determined in his purposes. The sentiments and reasonings, though sometimes erroneous, are often well worthy of attention, and show the mind of the author to be of no common class.

Notes: Format: 3 vols; no price. Publisher: Colburn, 1811.

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