Alicia Palmer, The Husband and the Lover
London: Lackington, 1811
By Lindsey Karen Holland, May 1998
The novel opens with a young nobleman, named Sapieha, walking along the Seine, admiring the views. His attention is arrested by the plight of a young lady and her maid in obvious distress. These are Sabina, the heroine of this novel, and Camilla, her maid. Sabina is enticed by Camilla to go to a fortune-teller, called the Egyptian Sibyl, to endeavour to find out more about the Marquis.
On their return from the Sibyl, Sabina and Camilla are arrested by a person in a state of intoxication. They are rescued by a young gentleman who takes them to his hotel for safety. They are placed in a room and the gentleman leaves them to rest, stating that he will be back soon. While they are waiting his return, they hear footsteps coming towards their room. Quickly, they hide behind a screen at the far end of the room. Keeping very still, they overhear a conversation between the two gentlemen, one of them relating to the other the history of Sabina and her intended marriage. These gentleman are Polish noblemen: the chevalier and his relative, Olesko. Sabina, who is now very distraught by the day's events, procures her escape with Camilla to the hotel of the Baroness de Bonneville, her guardian.
Sabina's history to this point is as follows: she is represented as an orphan. She has been placed under the protection of Prince Charles of Lorraine by her father, the Count de Montresor. Sabina's mother had passed her infancy in the court of Philip IV of Spain and had been treated very kindly by Anne of Austria. Sabina is left at the Chateau de Montresor under the care of Father Theodore. When she reaches an acceptable age, she is presented to the Queen Mother. The queen places her under the care of the Baroness de Bonneville, who is requested to find Sabina a suitable marriage partner. This is found in the Marquis de Briscacier.
Sabina is introduced to the marquis and she agrees to marry him. A tournament then begins to celebrate their marriage. Among the noblemen present are Don Juan and the king's brother. Before the games begin, three noblemen arrive on horses and introduce themselves as wanting to enter the games. They are Polish, and the tournament is won by one of them. He is recognised both by Sabina, who was rescued by him, and by the marquis, who was also rescued by him - from a cave, when he was captured by banditti. He is therefore named the Knight of the Cavern by the King, who likes this story.
As the married couple are returning with the queen and the court to the chateau, the marquis receives a letter which requests him to leave urgently and quell a mutiny which has broken out in the army. He escorts his bride to the chateau and engages the Baroness de Bonneville to be her companion. Also present are the three noblemen, who are to share in the merriment of the party. During this time, the Knight of the Cavern and Olesko build up an intimacy with the Chevalier Sapieha. Time is spent between these three friends, the marchioness (Sabina), and the baroness in splendour.
This party takes a journey around France with the queen, visiting many places, including Avignon, St Cloud, and St Germain. They view the Pyrenees and the Bay of Biscay before returning to the chateau. The friends grow ever closer together and enjoy each other's company exceedingly well. Then love creeps into the heart of Sabina, who innocently thinks she feels only deep friendship. The knight excites this passion in the heart of the young heroine.
The knight declares his love for Sabina, and this is received by her as an insupportable shock. The knight is then seized with a nearly fatal fever. After a long and painful illness, the knight recovers with the help of Sabina. Her presence soothes him and convinces him that there are no bad feelings between the two friends. She plays to him on her harp during the day, their friendship resumes, and the story reverts to one of classic seduction! After the knight seduces Sabina, he leaves, and the marchioness, crushed with grief and remorse, writes to the marquis to tell him of her dishonour. She falls ill with the weight of her grief and is only persuaded to live by the promise of the marquis, 'who resolves on making a noble sacrifice of his own feelings, and with his beneficial hand, raise the drooping flower'.
The marquis arranges a divorce and plans to find the seducer of Sabina to propose a marriage between the two. Sabina bears a son, who passes for the marquis's heir, and years pass without Sabina knowing the location of the father of her son. The marquis and her son, named Sidney, form a bond so strong that when the marquis suddenly dies, Sidney is grief-stricken. The marquis leaves a document detailing that the father of her son is the great Sobieski, King of Poland.
Sabina, all this time, has not fully recovered her spirits and gradually becomes worse, to the distress of Sidney. She finally dies, leaving her son in the care of Charles of Lorraine and Father Theodore. In an endeavour to make Sobieski acquainted with the existence of his son, Sidney and Charles take up a commission in the army and go to Vienna to oppose the Ottoman forces. Charles forms a plan to introduce Sidney to Sobieski. When the king hears of Sabina's death, he is deeply grieved and relates to Charles and his son what happened at the chateau. Sidney is received into the Sobieski family, marries a cousin, and retires to his inherited estate, the Chateau de Montresor, in France.