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cess, went home to rest, and when she waked in the morning, first opened her eyes upon a cabinet of jewels, and looking into her drawers and boxes, found them filled with gold.
Floretta was now as fine as the finest. She was the first to adopt any expensive fashion, to subscribe to any pompous entertainment, to encourage any oreign artist, or engage in any
frolick of which the cost was to make the pleasure. She was on a sudden the favourite of every place. Report made her wealth thrice greater than it really was, and wherever she came, all was attention, reverence, and obedience. The ladies who had formerly slighted her, or by whom she had been formerly caressed, gratified her pride by open flattery and private murmurs. She sometimes overheard them railing at upstarts, and wondering whence some people came, or how their expences were supplied. This incited her to heighten the splendour. of her dress, to increase the number of her retinue, and to make such propositions of costly schemes, that her rivals were forced to desist from contest.
But she now began to find that the tricks which can be played with money will seldom bear to be repeated, that admiration is a short-lived passion, and that the pleasure of expence is gone when wonder and envy are no more excited. She found that respect was an empty form, and that all those who crowded round her were drawn to her by vanity or interest.
It was, however, pleasant to be able on any terms to elevate and to mortify, to raise hopes and fears : and she would still have continued to be rich, had not the ambition of her mother contrived to marry her to a lord, whom she despised as ignorant, and abhorred as profligate. Her mother persisted in her importunity; and Floretta having now lost the spirit of resistance, had no other refuge than to divest herself of her fairy fortune.
She implored the assistance of Lilinet, who praised her resolution. She drank cheerfully from the flinty fountain, and found the waters not extremely bitter. When she returned she went to bed, and in the morning perceived that all her riches had been conveyed away she knew not how, except a few ornamental jewels, which Lilinet had ordered to be carried back as a reward for her dignity of mind.
She was now almost weary of visiting the fountain, and solaced herself with such amusements as every day happened to produce: at last there arose in her imagination a strong desire to become a Wit.
The pleasures with which this new character appeared to teem were so numerous and so great, that she was impatient to enjoy them, and, rising before the sun, hastened to the place where she knew that her fairy patroness was always to be found. Lilinet was willing to conduct her, but could now scarcely restrain her from leading the way but by telling her, that, if she went first, the fairies of the cavern would refuse her passage.
They came in time to the fountain, and Floretta took the golden cup into her hand; she filled it and drank, and again she filled it, for wit was sweeter than riches, spirit, or beauty.
As she returned she felt new successions of imagery rise in her mind, and whatever her memory offered to her imagination, assumed a new form, and connected itself with things to which it seemed before to have no relation. All the appearances about her were changed, but the novelties exhibited were commonly defects. She now saw that almost every thing was wrong, without often seeing how it could be better; and frequently imputed to the imperfection of art those failures which were caused by the limitation of nature.
Wherever she went, she breathed nothing but censure and reformation. If she visited her friends, she quarrelled with the situation of their houses, the disposition of their gardens, the direction of their walks, and the termination of their views. It was vain to shew her fine furniture, for she was always ready to tell how it might be finer, or to conduct her through spacious apartments, for her thoughts were full of nobler fabricks, of airy palaces and Hesperian gardens. She admired nothing, and praised but little.
Her conversation was generally thought uncivil. If she received flatteries, she seldom repaid them; for she set no value upon vulgar praise. She could not hear a long story without hurrying the speaker on to the conclusion; and obstructed the mirth of her companions, for she rarely took notice of a good jest, and never laughed except when she was delighted.
This behaviour made her unwelcome wherever she went; nor did her speculation upon human manners much contribute to forward her reception. She now saw the disproportions between language and sentiment, between passion and exclamation; she discovered the defects of every action, and the uncertainty of every conclusion; she knew the malignity of friendship, the avarice of liberality, the anxiety of content, and the cowardice of temerity.
To see all this was pleasant, but the greatest of all pleasures was to shew it. To laugh was something, but it was much more to make others laugh. As every deformity of character made a strong impression upon her, she could not always forbear to transmit it to others; as she hated false appearances, she thought it her duty to detect them, till, between wantonness and virtue, scarce any that she knew escaped without some wounds by the shafts of ridicule; not that her merriment was always the consequence of total contempt, for she often honoured virtue where she laughed at affectation.
For these practices, and who can wonder, the cry was raised against her from every quarter, and to hunt her down was generally determined. Every eye was watching for a fault, and every tongue was busy to supply its share of defamation. With the most unpolluted purity of mind, she was censured as too free of favours, because she was not afraid to talk with men: with generous sensibility of every human excellence, she was thought cold or envious, because she could not scatter praise with undistinguishing profusion: with tenderness that agonized at real misery, she was charged with delight in the pain of others, when she would not condole with those whom she knew to counterfeit
affliction. She derided false appearances of kindness and of pity, and was therefore avoided as an enemy to society. As she seldom commended or censured but with some limitations and exceptions, the world condemned her as indifferent to the good and bad; and because she was often doubtful where others were confident, she was charged with laxity of principles, while her days were distracted and her rest broken by niceties of honour and scruples of morality.
Report had now made her so formidable that all flattered and all shunned her. If a lover gave a ball to his mistress and her friends, it was stipulated that Floretta should not be invited. If she entered a publick room, the ladies courtsied, and shrunk away, for there was no such thing as speaking, but Floretta would find something to criticise. If a girl was more sprightly than her aunt, she was threatened that in a little time she would be like Floretta. Visits were very diligently paid when Floretta was known not to be at home; and no mother trusted her daughter to herself without a caution, if she should meet Floretta, to leave the company as soon as she could.
With all this Floretta made sport at first, but in time grew weary of general hostility. She would have been content with a few friends, but no friendship was durable; it was the fashion to desert her, and with the fashion what fidelity will contend? She could easily amuse herself in solitude, but that she thought it mean to quit the field to treachery and folly. · Persecution at length tired her constancy, and she implored Lilinet to rid her of her wit: Lilinet complied, and walked
up the mountain, but was often forced to stop and wait for her follower. When they came to the flinty fountain, Floretta filled a small cup and slowly brought it to her lips, but the water was insupportably bitter. She just tasted it, and dashed it to the ground, diluted the bitterness at the fountain of alabaster, and resolved to keep her wit with all its consequences.
Being now a wit for life, she surveyed the various con
ditions of mankind with such superiority of sentiment, that she found few distinctions to be envied or desired, and therefore did not very soon make another visit to the fountain. At length being alarmed by sickness, she resolved to drink length of life from the golden cup. She returned elated and secure, for though the longevity acquired was indeterminate, she considered death as far distant, and therefore suffered it not to intrude upon her pleasures.
But length of life included not perpetual health. She felt herself continually decaying, and saw the world fading about her. The delights of her early days would delight no longer, and however widely she extended her view, no new pleasure could be found; her friends, her enemies, her admirers, her rivals.dropped one by one into the grave, and with those who succeeded them she had neither community of joys nor strife of competition.
By this time she began to doubt whether old age were not dangerous to virtue; whether pain would not produce peevishness, and peevishness impair benevolence. She thought that the spectacle of life might be too long continued, and the vices which were often seen might raise less abhorrence; that resolution might be sapped by time, and let that virtue sink, which in its firmest state it had not without difficulty supported; and that it was vain to delay the hour which must come at last, and might come at a time of less preparation and greater imbecility.
These thoughts led her to Lilinet, whom she accompanied to the flinty fountain; where, after a short combat with herself, she drank the bitter water. They walked back to the favourite bush pensive and silent; “And now, said she, “ accept my thanks for the last benefit that Floretta can receive.” Lady Lilinet dropped a tear, impressed upon her lips the final kiss, and resigned her, as she resigned herself, to the course of nature.