It was not long before I took my everlasting leave of this detested an_iserable scene. My heart was for the present too full of astonishment an_xultation in my unexpected deliverance, to admit of anxiety about the future.
I withdrew from the town; I rambled with a slow and thoughtful pace, no_ursting with exclamation, and now buried in profound and undefinable reverie.
Accident led me towards the very heath which had first sheltered me, when, upon a former occasion, I broke out of my prison. I wandered among it_avities and its valleys. It was a forlorn and desolate solitude. I continue_ere I know not how long. Night at length overtook me unperceived, and _repared to return for the present to the town I had quitted.
It was now perfectly dark, when two men, whom I had not previously observed, sprung upon me from behind. They seized me by the arms, and threw me upon th_round. I had no time for resistance or recollection. I could however perceiv_hat one of them was the diabolical Gines. They blindfolded, gagged me, an_urried me I knew not whither. As we passed along in silence, I endeavoured t_onjecture what could be the meaning of this extraordinary violence. I wa_trongly impressed with the idea, that, after the event of this morning, th_ost severe and painful part of my history was past; and, strange as it ma_eem, I could not persuade myself to regard with alarm this unexpected attack.
It might however be some new project, suggested by the brutal temper an_nrelenting animosity of Gines.
I presently found that we were returned into the town I had just quitted. The_ed me into a house, and, as soon as they had taken possession of a room free_e from the restraints they had before imposed Here Gines informed me with _alicious grin that no harm was intended me, and therefore I should show mos_ense in keeping myself quiet. I perceived that we were in an inn; I overhear_ompany in a room at no great distance from us, and therefore was now a_horoughly aware as he could be, that there was at present little reason t_tand in fear of any species of violence, and that it would be time enough t_esist, when they attempted to conduct me from the inn in the same manner tha_hey had brought me into it. I was not without some curiosity to see th_onclusion that was to follow upon so extraordinary a commencement.
The preliminaries I have described were scarcely completed, before Mr.
Falkland entered the room. I remember Collins, when he first communicated t_e the particulars of our patron's history, observed that he was totall_nlike the man he had once been. I had no means of ascertaining the truth o_hat observation. But it was strikingly applicable to the spectacle which no_resented itself to my eyes, though, when I last beheld this unhappy man, h_ad been a victim to the same passions, a prey to the same undying remorse, a_ow. Misery was at that time inscribed in legible characters upon hi_ountenance. But now he appeared like nothing that had ever been visible i_uman shape. His visage was haggard, emaciated, and fleshless. His complexio_as a dun and tarnished red, the colour uniform through every region of th_ace, and suggested the idea of its being burnt and parched by the eterna_ire that burned within him. His eyes were red, quick, wandering, full o_uspicion and rage. His hair was neglected, ragged, and floating. His whol_igure was thin, to a degree that suggested the idea rather of a skeleton tha_ person actually alive. Life seemed hardly to be the capable inhabitant of s_oe-begone and ghost-like a figure. The taper of wholesome life was expired; but passion, and fierceness, and frenzy, were able for the present to suppl_ts place.
I was to the utmost degree astonished and shocked at the sight of him.—H_ternly commanded my conductors to leave the room.
"Well, sir, I have this day successfully exerted myself to save your life fro_he gallows. A fortnight ago you did what you were able to bring my life t_hat ignominious close.
"Were you so stupid and undistinguishing as not to know that the preservatio_f your life was the uniform object of my exertions? Did not I maintain you i_rison? Did not I endeavour to prevent your being sent thither? Could yo_istake the bigoted and obstinate conduct of Forester, in offering a hundre_uineas for your apprehension, for mine?
"I had my eye upon you in all your wanderings. You have taken no material ste_hrough their whole course with which I have not been acquainted. I meditate_o do you good. I have spilt no blood but that of Tyrrel: that was in th_oment of passion; and it has been the subject of my uninterrupted and hourl_emorse. I have connived at no man's fate but that of the Hawkinses: the_ould no otherwise have been saved, than by my acknowledging myself _urderer. The rest of my life has been spent in acts of benevolence.
"I meditated to do you good. For that reason I was willing to prove you. Yo_retended to act towards me with consideration and forbearance. If you ha_ersisted in that to the end, I would yet have found a way to reward you. _eft you to your own discretion. You might show the impotent malignity of you_wn heart; but, in the circumstances in which you were then placed, I knew yo_ould not hurt me. Your forbearance has proved, as I all along suspected, empty and treacherous. You have attempted to blast my reputation. You hav_ought to disclose the select and eternal secret of my soul. Because you hav_one that, I will never forgive you. I will remember it to my latest breath.
The memory shall survive me, when my existence is no more. Do you think yo_re out of the reach of my power, because a court of justice has acquitte_ou?"
While Mr. Falkland was speaking a sudden distemper came over his countenance, his whole frame was shaken by an instantaneous convulsion, and he staggered t_ chair. In about three minutes he recovered.
"Yes," said he, "I am still alive. I shall live for days, and months, an_ears; the power that made me, of whatever kind it be, can only determine ho_ong. I live the guardian of my reputation. That, and to endure a misery suc_s man never endured, are the only ends to which I live. But, when I am n_ore, my fame shall still survive. My character shall be revered as spotles_nd unimpeachable by all posterity, as long as the name of Falkland shall b_epeated in the most distant regions of the many-peopled globe."
Having said this, he returned to the discourse which more immediately relate_o my future condition and happiness.
"There is one condition," said he, "upon which you may obtain some mitigatio_f your future calamity. It is for that purpose that I have sent for you.
Listen to my proposal with deliberation and sobriety. Remember, that th_nsanity is not less to trifle with the resolved determination of my soul, than it would be to pull a mountain upon your head that hung trembling upo_he edge of the mighty Apennine!
"I insist then upon your signing a paper, declaring, in the most solem_anner, that I am innocent of murder, and that the charge you alleged at th_ffice in Bow-street is false, malicious, and groundless. Perhaps you ma_cruple out of a regard to truth. Is truth then entitled to adoration for it_wn sake, and not for the sake of the happiness it is calculated to produce?
Will a reasonable man sacrifice to barren truth, when benevolence, humanity, and every consideration that is dear to the human heart, require that i_hould be superseded? It is probable that I may never make use of this paper, but I require it, as the only practicable reparation to the honour you hav_ssailed. This is what I had to propose. I expect your answer."
"Sir," answered I, "I have heard you to an end, and I stand in need of n_eliberation to enable me to answer you in the negative. You took me up a ra_nd inexperienced boy, capable of being moulded to any form you pleased. Bu_ou have communicated to me volumes of experience in a very short period. I a_o longer irresolute and pliable. What is the power you retain over my fate _m unable to discover. You may destroy me; but you cannot make me tremble. _m not concerned to enquire, whether what I have suffered flowed from you b_esign or otherwise; whether you were the author of my miseries, or onl_onnived at them. This I know, that I have suffered too exquisitely on you_ccount, for me to feel the least remaining claim on your part to my makin_ny voluntary sacrifice.
"You say that benevolence and humanity require this sacrifice of me. No; i_ould only be a sacrifice to your mad and misguided love of fame,—to tha_assion which has been the source of all your miseries, of the most tragica_alamities to others, and of every misfortune that has happened to me. I hav_o forbearance to exercise towards that passion. If you be not yet cured o_his tremendous and sanguinary folly, at least I will do nothing to cheris_t. I know not whether from my youth I was destined for a hero; but I ma_hank you for having taught me a lesson of insurmountable fortitude.
"What is it that you require of me? that I should sign away my own reputatio_or the better maintaining of yours. Where is the equality of that? What is i_hat casts me at such an immense distance below you, as to make every thin_hat relates to me wholly unworthy of consideration? You have been educated i_he prejudice of birth. I abhor that prejudice. You have made me desperate, and I utter what that desperation suggests.
"You will tell me perhaps that I have no reputation to lose; that, while yo_re esteemed faultless and unblemished, I am universally reputed a thief, _uborner, and a calumniator. Be it so. I will never do any thing t_ountenance those imputations. The more I am destitute of the esteem o_ankind, the more careful I will be to preserve my own. I will never fro_ear, or any other mistaken motive, do any thing of which I ought to b_shamed.
"You are determined to be for ever my enemy. I have in no degree deserved thi_ternal abhorrence. I have always esteemed and pitied you. For a considerabl_ime I rather chose to expose myself to every kind of misfortune, tha_isclose the secret that was so dear to you. I was not deterred by you_enaces—(what could you make me suffer more than I actually suffered?)—but b_he humanity of my own heart; in which, and not in means of violence, yo_ught to have reposed your confidence. What is the mysterious vengeance tha_ou can yet execute against me? You menaced me before; you can menace no wors_ow. You are wearing out the springs of terror. Do with me as you please; yo_each me to hear you with an unshrinking and desperate firmness. Recollec_ourself! I did not proceed to the step with which you reproach me, till I wa_pparently urged to the very last extremity. I had suffered as much as huma_ature can suffer; I had lived in the midst of eternal alarm and unintermitte_atchfulness; I had twice been driven to purposes of suicide. I am now sorr_owever, that the step of which you complain was ever adopted. But, urged t_xasperation by an unintermitted rigour, I had no time to cool or t_eliberate. Even at present I cherish no vengeance against you. All that i_easonable, all that can really contribute to your security, I will readil_oncede; but I will not be driven to an act repugnant to all reason, integrity, and justice."
Mr. Falkland listened to me with astonishment and impatience. He ha_ntertained no previous conception of the firmness I displayed. Several time_e was convulsed with the fury that laboured in his breast. Once and again h_etrayed an intention to interrupt; but he was restrained by the collectednes_f my manner, and perhaps by a desire to be acquainted with the entire stat_f my mind. Finding that I had concluded, he paused for a moment; his passio_eemed gradually to enlarge, till it was no longer capable of control.
"It is well!" said he, gnashing his teeth, and stamping upon the ground. "Yo_efuse the composition I offer! I have no power to persuade you to compliance!
You defy me! At least I have a power respecting you, and that power I wil_xercise; a power that shall grind you into atoms. I condescend to no mor_xpostulation. I know what I am, and what I can be. I know what you are, an_hat fate is reserved for you!"
Saying this he quitted the room.
Such were the particulars of this memorable scene. The impression it has lef_pon my understanding is indelible. The figure and appearance of Mr. Falkland, his death-like weakness and decay, his more than mortal energy and rage, th_ords that he spoke, the motives that animated him, produced one compounde_ffect upon my mind that nothing of the same nature could ever parallel. Th_dea of his misery thrilled through my frame. How weak in comparison of it i_he imaginary hell, which the great enemy of mankind is represented a_arrying every where about with him!
From this consideration, my mind presently turned to the menaces he had vente_gainst myself. They were all mysterious and undefined. He had talked o_ower, but had given no hint from which I could collect in what he imagined i_o consist. He had talked of misery, but had not dropped a syllable respectin_he nature of the misery to be inflicted.
I sat still for some time, ruminating on these thoughts. Neither Mr. Falklan_or any other person appeared to disturb my meditations. I rose, went out o_he room, and from the inn into the street. No one offered to molest me. I_as strange! What was the nature of this power, from which I was to apprehen_o much, yet which seemed to leave me at perfect liberty? I began to imagin_hat all I had heard from this dreadful adversary was mere madness an_xtravagance, and that he was at length deprived of the use of reason, whic_ad long served him only as a medium of torment. Yet was it likely in tha_ase that he should be able to employ Gines and his associate, who had jus_een his instruments of violence upon my person?
I proceeded along the streets with considerable caution. I looked before m_nd behind me, as well as the darkness would allow me to do, that I might no_gain be hunted in sight by some men of stratagem and violence without m_erceiving it. I went not, as before, beyond the limits of the town, bu_onsidered the streets, the houses, and the inhabitants, as affording som_egree of security. I was still walking with my mind thus full of suspicio_nd forecast, when I discovered Thomas, that servant of Mr. Falkland whom _ave already more than once had occasion to mention. He advanced towards m_ith an air so blunt and direct, as instantly to remove from me the idea o_ny thing insidious in his purpose; besides that I had always felt th_haracter of Thomas, rustic and uncultivated as it was, to be entitled to _ore than common portion of esteem.
"Thomas," said I, as he advanced, "I hope you are willing to give me joy, tha_ am at length delivered from the dreadful danger which for many month_aunted me so unmercifully."
"No," rejoined Thomas, roughly; "I be not at all willing. I do not know wha_o make of myself in this affair. While you were in prison in that miserabl_ashion, I felt all at one almost as if I loved you: and now that that i_ver, and you are turned out loose in the world to do your worst, my bloo_ises at the very sight of you. To look at you, you are almost that very la_illiams for whom I could with pleasure, as it were, have laid down my life; and yet, behind that smiling face there lie robbery, and lying, and ever_hing that is ungrateful and murderous. Your last action was worse than al_he rest. How could you find in your heart to revive that cruel story abou_r. Tyrrel, which every body had agreed, out of regard to the squire, never t_ention again, and of which I know, and you know, he is as innocent as th_hild unborn? There are causes and reasons, or else I could have wished fro_he bottom of my soul never to have set eyes on you again."
"And you still persist in your hard thoughts of me?"
"Worse! I think worse of you than ever! Before, I thought you as bad as ma_ould be. I wonder from my soul what you are to do next. But you make good th_ld saying, 'Needs must go, that the devil drives.'"
"And so there is never to be an end of my misfortunes! What can Mr. Falklan_ontrive for me worse than the ill opinion and enmity of all mankind?"
"Mr. Falkland contrive! He is the best friend you have in the world, thoug_ou are the basest traitor to him. Poor man! it makes one's heart ache to loo_t him; he is the very image of grief. And it is not clear to me that it i_ot all owing to you. At least you have given the finishing lift to th_isfortune that was already destroying him. There have been the devil and al_o pay between him and squire Forester. The squire is right raving mad with m_aster, for having outwitted him in the matter of the trial, and saved you_ife. He swears that you shall be taken up and tried all over again at th_ext assizes; but my master is resolute, and I believe will carry it his ow_ay. He says indeed that the law will not allow squire Forester to have hi_ill in this. To see him ordering every thing for your benefit, and taking al_our maliciousness as mild and innocent as a lamb, and to think of your vil_roceedings against him, is a sight one shall not see again, go all the worl_ver. For God's sake, repent of your reprobate doings, and make what littl_eparation is in your power! Think of your poor soul, before you awake, as t_e sure one of these days you will, in fire and brimstone everlasting!"
Saying this, he held out his hand and took hold of mine. The action seeme_trange; but I at first thought it the unpremeditated result of his solemn an_ell-intended adjuration. I felt however that he put something into my hand.
The next moment he quitted his hold, and hastened from me with the swiftnes_f an arrow. What he had thus given me was a bank-note of twenty pounds. I ha_o doubt that he had been charged to deliver it to me from Mr. Falkland.
What was I to infer? what light did it throw upon the intentions of m_nexorable persecutor? his animosity against me was as great as ever; that _ad just had confirmed to me from his own mouth. Yet his animosity appeared t_e still tempered with the remains of humanity. He prescribed to it a line, wide enough to embrace the gratification of his views, and within th_oundaries of that line it stopped. But this discovery carried no consolatio_o my mind. I knew not what portion of calamity I was fated to endure, befor_is jealousy of dishonour, and inordinate thirst of fame would deem themselve_atisfied.
Another question offered itself. Was I to receive the money which had jus_een put into my hands? the money of a man who had inflicted upon me injuries, less than those which he had entailed upon himself, but the greatest that on_an can inflict upon another? who had blasted my youth, who had destroyed m_eace, who had held me up to the abhorrence of mankind, and rendered me a_utcast upon the face of the earth? who had forced the basest and mos_trocious falsehoods, and urged them with a seriousness and perseverance whic_roduced universal belief? who, an hour before, had vowed against m_nexorable enmity, and sworn to entail upon me misery without end? Would no_his conduct on my part betray a base and abject spirit, that crouched unde_yranny, and kissed the hands that were imbrued in my blood?
If these reasons appeared strong, neither was the other side without reason_n reply. I wanted the money: not for any purpose of vice or superfluity, bu_or those purposes without which life cannot subsist. Man ought to be able, wherever placed, to find for himself the means of existence; but I was to ope_ new scene of life, to remove to some distant spot, to be prepared agains_ll the ill-will of mankind, and the unexplored projects of hostility of _ost accomplished foe. The actual means of existence are the property of all.
What should hinder me from taking that of which I was really in want, when, i_aking it, I risked no vengeance, and perpetrated no violence? The property i_uestion will be beneficial to me, and the voluntary surrender of it i_ccompanied with no injury to its late proprietor; what other condition can b_ecessary to render the use of it on my part a duty? He that lately possesse_t has injured me; does that alter its value as a medium of exchange? He wil_oast, perhaps of the imaginary obligation he has conferred on me: surely t_hrink from a thing in itself right from any such apprehension, can be th_esult only of pusillanimity and cowardice!