They were no sooner withdrawn than I cast my eye upon the old man, and foun_omething extremely venerable and interesting in his appearance. His form wa_bove the middle size. It indicated that his strength had been onc_onsiderable; nor was it at this time by any means annihilated. His hair wa_n considerable quantity, and was as white as the drifted snow. His complexio_as healthful and ruddy, at the same time that his face was furrowed wit_rinkles. In his eye there was remarkable vivacity, and his whole countenanc_as strongly expressive of good-nature. The boorishness of his rank in societ_as lost in the cultivation his mind had derived from habits of sensibilit_nd benevolence.
The view of his figure immediately introduced a train of ideas into my mind,
respecting the advantage to be drawn from the presence of such a person. Th_ttempt to take any step without his consent was hopeless; for, though _hould succeed with regard to him, he could easily give the alarm to othe_ersons, who would, no doubt, be within call. Add to which, I could scarcel_ave prevailed on myself to offer any offence to a person whose firs_ppearance so strongly engaged my affection and esteem. In reality my thought_ere turned into a different channel. I was impressed with an ardent wish t_e able to call this man my benefactor. Pursued by a train of ill fortune, _ould no longer consider myself as a member of society. I was a solitar_eing, cut off from the expectation of sympathy, kindness, and the good-wil_f mankind. I was strongly impelled, by the situation in which the presen_oment placed me, to indulge in a luxury which my destiny seemed to hav_enied. I could not conceive the smallest comparison between the idea o_eriving my liberty from the spontaneous kindness of a worthy and excellen_ind, and that of being indebted for it to the selfishness and baseness of th_orst members of society. It was thus that I allowed myself in the wantonnes_f refinement, even in the midst of destruction.
Guided by these sentiments, I requested his attention to the circumstances b_hich I had been brought into my present situation. He immediately signifie_is assent, and said he would cheerfully listen to any thing I thought prope_o communicate. I told him, the persons who had just left me in charge wit_im had come to this town for the purpose of apprehending some person who ha_een guilty of robbing the mail; that they had chosen to take me up under thi_arrant, and had conducted me before a justice of the peace; that they ha_oon detected their mistake, the person in question being an Irishman, an_iffering from me both in country and stature; but that, by collusion betwee_hem and the justice, they were permitted to retain me in custody, an_retended to undertake to conduct me to Warwick to confront me with m_ccomplice; that, in searching me at the justice's, they had found a sum o_oney in my possession which excited their cupidity, and that they had jus_een proposing to me to give me my liberty upon condition of my surrenderin_his sum into their hands. Under these circumstances, I requested him t_onsider, whether he would wish to render himself the instrument of thei_xtortion. I put myself into his hands, and solemnly averred the truth of th_acts I had just stated. If he would assist me in my escape, it could have n_ther effect than to disappoint the base passions of my conductors. I woul_pon no account expose him to any real inconvenience; but I was well assure_hat the same generosity that should prompt him to a good deed, would enabl_im effectually to vindicate it when done; and that those who detained me,
when they had lost sight of their prey, would feel covered with confusion, an_ot dare to take another step in the affair.
The old man listened to what I related with curiosity and interest. He sai_hat he had always felt an abhorrence to the sort of people who had me i_heir hands; that he had an aversion to the task they had just imposed upo_im, but that he could not refuse some little disagreeable offices to oblig_is daughter and son-in-law. He had no doubt, from my countenance and manner,
of the truth of what I had asserted to him. It was an extraordinary request _ad made, and he did not know what had induced me to think him the sort o_erson to whom, with any prospect of success, it might be made. In realit_owever his habits of thinking were uncommon, and he felt more than hal_nclined to act as I desired. One thing at least he would ask of me in return,
which was to be faithfully informed in some degree respecting the person h_as desired to oblige. What was my name?
The question came upon me unprepared. But, whatever might be the consequence,
I could not bear to deceive the person by whom it was put, and in th_ircumstances under which it was put. The practice of perpetual falsehood i_oo painful a task. I replied, that my name was Williams.
He paused. His eye was fixed upon me. I saw his complexion alter at th_epetition of that word. He proceeded with visible anxiety.
My Christian name?
Good God! it could not be ——? He conjured me by every thing that was sacred t_nswer him faithfully to one question more. I was not—no, it wa_mpossible—the person who had formerly lived servant with Mr. Falkland, of ——?
I told him that, whatever might be the meaning of his question, I would answe_im truly. I was the individual he mentioned.
As I uttered these words the old man rose from his seat. He was sorry tha_ortune had been so unpropitious to him, as for him ever to have set eyes upo_e! I was a monster with whom the very earth groaned!
I entreated that he would suffer me to explain this new misapprehension, as h_ad done in the former instance. I had no doubt that I should do it equally t_is satisfaction.
No! no! no! he would upon no consideration admit, that his ears should suffe_uch contamination. This case and the other were very different. There was n_riminal upon the face of the earth, no murderer, half so detestable as th_erson who could prevail upon himself to utter the charges I had done, by wa_f recrimination, against so generous a master.—The old man was in a perfec_gony with the recollection.
At length he calmed himself enough to say, he should never cease to griev_hat he had held a moment's parley with me. He did not know what was th_onduct severe justice required of him; but, since he had come into th_nowledge of who I was only by my own confession, it was irreconcilabl_epugnant to his feelings to make use of that knowledge to my injury. Her_herefore all relation between us ceased; as indeed it would be an abuse o_ords to consider me in the light of a human creature. He would do me n_ischief; but, on the other hand, he would not, for the world, be in any wa_ssisting and abetting me.
I was inexpressibly affected at the abhorrence this good and benevolen_reature expressed against me. I could not be silent; I endeavoured once an_gain to prevail upon him to hear me. But his determination was unalterable.
Our contest lasted for some time, and he at length terminated it by ringin_he bell, and calling up the waiter. A very little while after, my conductor_ntered, and the other persons withdrew.
It was a part of the singularity of my fate that it hurried me from on_pecies of anxiety and distress to another, too rapidly to suffer any one o_hem to sink deeply into my mind. I am apt to believe, in the retrospect, tha_alf the calamities I was destined to endure would infallibly have overwhelme_nd destroyed me. But, as it was, I had no leisure to chew the cud upo_isfortunes as they befel me, but was under the necessity of forgetting them,
to guard against peril that the next moment seemed ready to crush me.
The behaviour of this incomparable and amiable old man cut me to the heart. I_as a dreadful prognostic for all my future life. But, as I have jus_bserved, my conductors entered, and another subject called imperiously upo_y attention. I could have been content, mortified as I was at this instant,
to have been shut up in some impenetrable solitude, and to have wrapped mysel_n inconsolable misery. But the grief I endured had not such power over me a_hat I could be content to risk the being led to the gallows. The love o_ife, and still more a hatred against oppression, steeled my heart agains_hat species of inertness. In the scene that had just passed I had indulged,
as I have said, in a wantonness and luxury of refinement. It was time tha_ndulgence should be brought to a period. It was dangerous to trifle any mor_pon the brink of fate; and, penetrated as I was with sadness by the result o_y last attempt, I was little disposed to unnecessary circumambulation.
I was exactly in the temper in which the gentlemen who had me in their powe_ould have desired to find me. Accordingly we entered immediately upo_usiness; and, after some chaffering, they agreed to accept eleven guineas a_he price of my freedom. To preserve however the chariness of thei_eputation, they insisted upon conducting me with them for a few miles on th_utside of a stage-coach. They then pretended that the road they had to trave_ay in a cross country direction; and, having quitted the vehicle, the_uffered me, almost as soon as it was out of sight, to shake off thi_roublesome association, and follow my own inclinations. It may be wort_emarking by the way, that these fellows outwitted themselves at their ow_rade. They had laid hold of me at first under the idea of a prize of _undred guineas; they had since been glad to accept a composition of eleven:
but if they had retained me a little longer in their possession, they woul_ave found the possibility of acquiring the sum that had originally excite_heir pursuit, upon a different score.
The mischances that had befallen me, in my late attempt to escape from m_ursuers by sea, deterred me from the thought of repeating that experiment. _herefore once more returned to the suggestion of hiding myself, at least fo_he present, amongst the crowds of the metropolis. Meanwhile, I by no mean_hought proper to venture by the direct route, and the less so, as that wa_he course which would be steered by my late conductors; but took my roa_long the borders of Wales. The only incident worth relating in this plac_ccurred in an attempt to cross the Severn in a particular point. The mode wa_y a ferry; but, by some strange inadvertence, I lost my way so completely a_o be wholly unable that night to reach the ferry, and arrive at the tow_hich I had destined for my repose.
This may seem a petty disappointment, in the midst of the overwhelmin_onsiderations that might have been expected to engross every thought of m_ind. Yet it was borne by me with singular impatience. I was that da_ncommonly fatigued. Previously to the time that I mistook, or at least wa_ware of the mistake of the road, the sky had become black and lowring, an_oon after the clouds burst down in sheets of rain. I was in the midst of _eath, without a tree or covering of any sort to shelter me. I was thoroughl_renched in a moment. I pushed on with a sort of sullen determination. By an_y the rain gave place to a storm of hail. The hail-stones were large an_requent. I was ill defended by the miserable covering I wore, and they seeme_o cut me in a thousand directions. The hail-storm subsided, and was agai_ucceeded by a heavy rain. By this time it was that I had perceived I wa_holly out of my road. I could discover neither man nor beast, nor habitatio_f any kind. I walked on, measuring at every turn the path it would be prope_o pursue, but in no instance finding a sufficient reason to reject one o_refer another. My mind was bursting with depression and anguish. I muttere_mprecations and murmuring as I passed along. I was full of loathing an_bhorrence of life, and all that life carries in its train. After wanderin_ithout any certain direction for two hours, I was overtaken by the night. Th_cene was nearly pathless, and it was vain to think of proceeding any farther.
Here I was, without comfort, without shelter, and without food. There was no_ particle of my covering that was not as wet as if it had been fished fro_he bottom of the ocean. My teeth chattered. I trembled in every limb. M_eart burned with universal fury. At one moment I stumbled and fell over som_nseen obstacle; at another I was turned back by an impediment I could no_vercome.
There was no strict connection between these casual inconveniences and th_ersecution under which I laboured. But my distempered thoughts confounde_hem together. I cursed the whole system of human existence. I said, "Here _m, an outcast, destined to perish with hunger and cold. All men desert me.
All men hate me. I am driven with mortal threats from the sources of comfor_nd existence. Accursed world! that hates without a cause, that overwhelm_nnocence with calamities which ought to be spared even to guilt! Accurse_orld! dead to every manly sympathy; with eyes of horn, and hearts of steel!
Why do I consent to live any longer? Why do I seek to drag on an existence,
which, if protracted, must be protracted amidst the lairs of these huma_igers?"
This paroxysm at length exhausted itself. Presently after, I discovered _olitary shed, which I was contented to resort to for shelter. In a corner o_he shed I found some clean straw. I threw off my rags, placed them in _ituation where they would best be dried, and buried myself amidst thi_riendly warmth. Here I forgot by degrees the anguish that had racked me. _holesome shed and fresh straw may seem but scanty benefits; but they offere_hemselves when least expected, and my whole heart was lightened by th_ncounter. Through fatigue of mind and body, it happened in this instance,
though in general my repose was remarkably short, that I slept till almos_oon of the next day. When I rose, I found that I was at no great distanc_rom the ferry, which I crossed, and entered the town where I intended to hav_ested the preceding night.
It was market-day. As I passed near the cross, I observed two people look a_e with great earnestness: after which one of them exclaimed, "I will b_amned if I do not think that this is the very fellow those men were enquirin_or who set off an hour ago by the coach for ——." I was extremely alarmed a_his information; and, quickening my pace, turned sharp down a narrow lane.
The moment I was out of sight I ran with all the speed I could exert, and di_ot think myself safe till I was several miles distant from the place wher_his information had reached my ears. I have always believed that the men t_hom it related were the very persons who had apprehended me on board the shi_n which I had embarked for Ireland; that, by some accident, they had met wit_he description of my person as published on the part of Mr. Falkland; an_hat, from putting together the circumstances, they had been led to believ_hat this was the very individual who had lately been in their custody. Indee_t was a piece of infatuation in me, for which I am now unable to account,
that, after the various indications which had occurred in that affair, provin_o them that I was a man in critical and peculiar circumstances, I should hav_ersisted in wearing the same disguise without the smallest alteration. M_scape in the present case was eminently fortunate. If I had not lost my wa_n consequence of the hail-storm on the preceding night, or if I had not s_reatly overslept myself this very morning, I must almost infallibly hav_allen into the hands of these infernal blood-hunters.
The town they had chosen for their next stage, the name of which I had thu_aught in the market-place, was the town to which, but for this intimation, _hould have immediately proceeded. As it was, I determined to take a road a_ide of it as possible. In the first place to which I came, in which it wa_racticable to do so, I bought a great coat, which I drew over my beggar'_eeds, and a better hat. The hat I slouched over my face, and covered one o_y eyes with a green-silk shade. The handkerchief, which I had hitherto wor_bout my head, I now tied about the lower part of my visage, so as to cover m_outh. By degrees I discarded every part of my former dress, and wore for m_pper garment a kind of carman's frock, which, being of the better sort, mad_e look like the son of a reputable farmer of the lower class. Thus equipped,
I proceeded on my journey, and, after a thousand alarms, precautions, an_ircuitous deviations from the direct path, arrived safely in London.