The first plan that had suggested itself to me was, to go to the neares_ublic road, and take the earliest stage for London. There I believed I shoul_e most safe from discovery, if the vengeance of Mr. Falkland should promp_im to pursue me; and I did not doubt, among the multiplied resources of th_etropolis, to find something which should suggest to me an eligible mode o_isposing of my person and industry. I reserved Mr. Forester in m_rrangement, as a last resource, not to be called forth unless for immediat_rotection from the hand of persecution and power. I was destitute of tha_xperience of the world, which can alone render us fertile in resources, o_nable us to institute a just comparison between the resources that offe_hemselves. I was like the fascinated animal, that is seized with the mos_errible apprehensions, at the same time that he is incapable of adequatel_onsidering for his own safety.
The mode of my proceeding being digested, I traced, with a cheerful heart, th_nfrequented path it was now necessary for me to pursue. The night was gloomy,
and it drizzled with rain. But these were circumstances I had scarcely th_ower to perceive; all was sunshine and joy within me. I hardly felt th_round; I repeated to myself a thousand times, "I am free. What concern have _ith danger and alarm? I feel that I am free; I feel that I will continue so.
What power is able to hold in chains a mind ardent and determined? What powe_an cause that man to die, whose whole soul commands him to continue to live?"
I looked back with abhorrence to the subjection in which I had been held. _id not hate the author of my misfortunes—truth and justice acquit me of that;
I rather pitied the hard destiny to which he seemed condemned. But I though_ith unspeakable loathing of those errors, in consequence of which every ma_s fated to be, more or less, the tyrant or the slave. I was astonished at th_olly of my species, that they did not rise up as one man, and shake of_hains so ignominious, and misery so insupportable. So far as related t_yself, I resolved—and this resolution has never been entirety forgotten b_e—to hold myself disengaged from this odious scene, and never fill the par_ither of the oppressor or the sufferer. My mind continued in thi_nthusiastical state, full of confidence, and accessible only to such _ortion of fear as served rather to keep up a state of pleasurable emotio_han to generate anguish and distress, during the whole of this nocturna_xpedition. After a walk of three hours, I arrived, without accident, at th_illage from which I hoped to have taken my passage for the metropolis. A_his early hour every thing was quiet; no sound of any thing human saluted m_ar. It was with difficulty that I gained admittance into the yard of the inn,
where I found a single ostler taking care of some horses. From him I receive_he unwelcome tidings, that the coach was not expected till six o'clock in th_orning of the day after to-morrow, its route through that town recurring onl_hree times a week.
This intelligence gave the first check to the rapturous inebriation by whic_y mind had been possessed from the moment I quitted the habitation of Mr.
Falkland. The whole of my fortune in ready cash consisted of about eleve_uineas. I had about fifty more, that had fallen to me from the disposal of m_roperty at the death of my father; but that was so vested as to preclude i_rom immediate use, and I even doubted whether it would not be found bette_ltimately to resign it, than, by claiming it, to risk the furnishing a cle_o what I most of all dreaded, the persecution of Mr. Falkland. There wa_othing I so ardently desired as the annihilation of all future intercours_etween us, that he should not know there was such a person on the earth a_yself, and that I should never more hear the repetition of a name which ha_een so fatal to my peace.
Thus circumstanced, I conceived frugality to be an object by no means unworth_f my attention, unable as I was to prognosticate what discouragements an_elays might present themselves to the accomplishment of my wishes, after m_rrival in London. For this and other reasons, I determined to adhere to m_esign of travelling by the stage; it only remaining for me to consider i_hat manner I should prevent the eventful delay of twenty-four hours fro_ecoming, by any untoward event, a source of new calamity. It was by no mean_dvisable to remain in the village where I now was during this interval; no_id I even think proper to employ it, in proceeding on foot along the grea_oad. I therefore decided upon making a circuit, the direction of which shoul_eem at first extremely wide of my intended route, and then, suddenly taking _ifferent inclination, should enable me to arrive by the close of day at _arket-town twelve miles nearer to the metropolis.
Having fixed the economy of the day, and persuaded myself that it was the bes_hich, under the circumstances, could be adopted, I dismissed, for the mos_art, all further anxieties from my mind, and eagerly yielded myself up to th_ifferent amusements that arose. I rested and went forward at the impulse o_he moment. At one time I reclined upon a bank immersed in contemplation, an_t another exerted myself to analyse the prospects which succeeded each other.
The haziness of the morning was followed by a spirit-stirring and beautifu_ay. With the ductility so characteristic of a youthful mind, I forgot th_nguish which had lately been my continual guest, and occupied myself entirel_n dreams of future novelty and felicity. I scarcely ever, in the whole cours_f my existence, spent a day of more various or exquisite gratification. I_urnished a strong, and perhaps not an unsalutary contrast, to the terror_hich had preceded, and the dreadful scenes that awaited me.
In the evening I arrived at the place of my destination, and enquired for th_nn at which the coach was accustomed to call. A circumstance however ha_reviously excited my attention, and reproduced in me a state of alarm.
Though it was already dark before I reached the town, my observation had bee_ttracted by a man, who passed me on horseback in the opposite direction,
about half a mile on the other side of the town. There was an inquisitivenes_n his gesture that I did not like; and, as far as I could discern his figure,
I pronounced him an ill-looking man. He had not passed me more than tw_inutes before I heard the sound of a horse advancing slowly behind me. Thes_ircumstances impressed some degree of uneasy sensation upon my mind. I firs_ended my pace; and, this not appearing to answer the purpose, I afterward_oitered, that the horseman might pass me. He did so; and, as I glanced a_im, I thought I saw that it was the same man. He now put his horse into _rot, and entered the town. I followed; and it was not long before I perceive_im at the door of an alehouse, drinking a mug of beer. This however th_arkness prevented me from discovering, till I was in a manner upon him. _ushed forward, and saw him no more, till, as I entered the yard of the in_here I intended to sleep, the same man suddenly rode up to me, and asked i_y name were Williams.
This adventure, while it had been passing, expelled the gaiety of my mind, an_illed me with anxiety. The apprehension however that I felt, appeared to m_roundless: if I were pursued, I took it for granted it would be by some o_r. Falkland's people, and not by a stranger. The darkness took from me som_f the simplest expedients of precaution. I determined at least to proceed t_he inn, and make the necessary enquiries.
I no sooner heard the sound of the horse as I entered the yard, and th_uestion proposed to me by the rider, than the dreadful certainty of what _eared instantly took possession of my mind. Every incident connected with m_ate abhorred situation was calculated to impress me with the deepest alarm.
My first thought was, to betake myself to the fields, and trust to th_wiftness of my flight for safety. But this was scarcely practicable: _emarked that my enemy was alone; and I believed that, man to man, I migh_easonably hope to get the better of him, either by the firmness of m_etermination, or the subtlety of my invention.
Thus resolved, I replied in an impetuous and peremptory tone, that I was th_an he took me for; adding, "I guess your errand; but it is to no purpose. Yo_ome to conduct me back to Falkland House; but no force shall ever drag me t_hat place alive. I have not taken my resolution without strong reasons; an_ll the world shall not persuade me to alter it. I am an Englishman, and it i_he privilege of an Englishman to be sole judge and master of his ow_ctions."
"You are in the devil of a hurry," replied the man, "to guess my intentions,
and tell your own. But your guess is right; and mayhap you may have reason t_e thankful that my errand is not something worse. Sure enough the squir_xpects you;—but I have a letter, and when you have read that, I suppose yo_ill come off a little of your stoutness. If that does not answer, it wil_hen be time to think what is to be done next."
Thus saying, he gave me his letter, which was from Mr. Forester, whom, as h_old me, he had left at Mr. Falkland's house. I went into a room of the in_or the purpose of reading it, and was followed by the bearer. The letter wa_s follows:—
"My brother Falkland has sent the bearer in pursuit of you. He expects that,
if found, you will return with him: I expect it too. It is of the utmos_onsequence to your future honour and character. After reading these lines, i_ou are a villain and a rascal, you will perhaps endeavour to fly; if you_onscience tells you, you are innocent, you will, out of all doubt, come back.
Show me then whether I have been your dupe: and, while I was won over by you_eeming ingenuousness, have suffered myself to be made the tool of a designin_nave. If you come, I pledge myself that, if you clear your reputation, yo_hall not only be free to go wherever you please, but shall receive ever_ssistance in my power to give. Remember, I engage for nothing further tha_hat.
What a letter was this! To a mind like mine, glowing with the love of virtue,
such an address was strong enough to draw the person to whom it was addresse_rom one end of the earth to the other. My mind was full of confidence an_nergy. I felt my own innocence, and was determined to assert it. I wa_illing to be driven out a fugitive; I even rejoiced in my escape, an_heerfully went out into the world destitute of every provision, and dependin_or my future prospects upon my own ingenuity.
Thus much, said I, Falkland! you may do. Dispose of me as you please wit_espect to the goods of fortune; but you shall neither make prize of m_iberty, nor sully the whiteness of my name. I repassed in my thoughts ever_emorable incident that had happened to me under his roof. I could recollec_othing, except the affair of the mysterious trunk, out of which the shadow o_ criminal accusation could be extorted. In that instance my conduct had bee_ighly reprehensible, and I had never looked back upon it without remorse an_elf-condemnation. But I did not believe that it was of the nature of thos_ctions which can be brought under legal censure. I could still less persuad_yself that Mr. Falkland, who shuddered at the very possibility of detection,
and who considered himself as completely in my power, would dare to brin_orward a subject so closely connected with the internal agony of his soul. I_ word, the more I reflected on the phrases of Mr. Forester's billet, the les_ould I imagine the nature of those scenes to which they were to serve as _relude.
The inscrutableness however of the mystery they contained, did not suffice t_verwhelm my courage. My mind seemed to undergo an entire revolution. Timi_nd embarrassed as I had felt myself, when I regarded Mr. Falkland as m_landestine and domestic foe, I now conceived that the case was entirel_ltered. "Meet me," said I, "as an open accuser: if we must contend, let u_ontend in the face of day; and then, unparalleled as your resources may be, _ill not fear you." Innocence and guilt were, in my apprehension, the thing_n the whole world the most opposite to each other. I would not suffer mysel_o believe, that the former could be confounded with the latter, unless th_nnocent man first allowed himself to be subdued in mind, before he wa_efrauded of the good opinion of mankind. Virtue rising superior to ever_alamity, defeating by a plain unvarnished tale all the stratagems of Vice,
and throwing back upon her adversary the confusion with which he had hoped t_verwhelm her, was one of the favourite subjects of my youthful reveries. _etermined never to prove an instrument of destruction to Mr. Falkland; but _as not less resolute to obtain justice to myself.
The issue of all these confident hopes I shall immediately have occasion t_elate. It was thus, with the most generous and undoubting spirit, that _ushed upon irretrievable ruin.
"Friend," said I to the bearer, after a considerable interval of silence, "yo_re right. This is, indeed, an extraordinary letter you have brought me; bu_t answers its purpose. I will certainly go with you now, whatever be th_onsequence. No person shall ever impute blame to me, so long as I have it i_y power to clear myself."
I felt, in the circumstances in which I was placed by Mr. Forester's letter,
not merely a willingness, but an alacrity and impatience, to return. W_rocured a second horse. We proceeded on our journey in silence. My mind wa_ccupied again in endeavouring to account for Mr. Forester's letter. I kne_he inflexibility and sternness of Mr. Falkland's mind in accomplishing th_urposes he had at heart; but I also knew that every virtuous and magnanimou_rinciple was congenial to his character.
When we arrived, midnight was already past, and we were obliged to waken on_f the servants to give us admittance. I found that Mr. Forester had left _essage for me, in consideration of the possibility of my arrival during th_ight, directing me immediately to go to bed, and to take care that I did no_ome weary and exhausted to the business of the following day. I endeavoure_o take his advice; but my slumbers were unrefreshing and disturbed. _uffered however no reduction of courage: the singularity of my situation, m_onjectures with respect to the present, my eagerness for the future, did no_llow me to sink into a languid and inactive state.
Next morning the first person I saw was Mr. Forester. He told me that he di_ot yet know what Mr. Falkland had to allege against me, for that he ha_efused to know. He had arrived at the house of his brother by appointment o_he preceding day to settle some indispensable business, his intention havin_een to depart the moment the business was finished, as he knew that conduc_n his part would be most agreeable to Mr. Falkland. But he was no soone_ome, than he found the whole house in confusion, the alarm of my elopemen_aving been given a few hours before. Mr. Falkland had despatched servants i_ll directions in pursuit of me; and the servant from the market-town arrive_t the same moment with Mr. Forester, with intelligence that a perso_nswering the description he gave, had been there very early in the mornin_nquiring respecting the stage to London.
Mr. Falkland seemed extremely disturbed at this information, and exclaimed o_e with acrimony, as an unthankful and unnatural villain.
Mr. Forester replied, "Have more command of yourself, sir! Villain is _erious appellation, and must not be trifled with. Englishmen are free; and n_an is to be charged with villainy, because he changes one source o_ubsistence for another."
Mr. Falkland shook his head, and with a smile, expressive of acut_ensibility, said, "Brother, brother, you are the dupe of his art. I alway_onsidered him with an eye of suspicion, and was aware of his depravity. But _ave just discovered—"
"Stop, sir!" interrupted Mr. Forester. "I own I thought that, in a moment o_crimony, you might be employing harsh epithets in a sort of random style. Bu_f you have a serious accusation to state, we must not be told of that, til_t is known whether the lad is within reach of a hearing. I am indifferen_yself about the good opinion of others. It is what the world bestows an_etracts with so little thought, that I can make no account of its decision.
But that does not authorise me lightly to entertain an ill opinion of another.
The slenderest allowance I think I can make to such as I consign to be th_xample and terror of their species, is that of being heard in their ow_efence. It is a wise principle that requires the judge to come into cour_ninformed of the merits of the cause he is to try; and to that principle I a_etermined to conform as an individual. I shall always think it right to b_evere and inflexible in my treatment of offenders; but the severity _xercise in the sequel, must be accompanied with impartiality and caution i_hat is preliminary."
While Mr. Forester related to me these particulars, he observed me ready t_reak out into some of the expressions which the narrative suggested; but h_ould not suffer me to speak. "No," said he; "I would not hear Mr. Falklan_gainst you; and I cannot hear you in your defence. I come to you at presen_o speak, and not to hear. I thought it right to warn you of your danger, bu_ have nothing more to do now. Reserve what you have to say to the prope_ime. Make the best story you can for yourself—true, if truth, as I hope, wil_erve your purpose; but, if not, the most plausible and ingenious you ca_nvent. That is what self-defence requires from every man, where, as it alway_appens to a man upon his trial, he has the whole world against him, and ha_is own battle to fight against the world. Farewell; and God send you a goo_eliverance! If Mr. Falkland's accusation, whatever it be, shall appea_remature, depend upon having me more zealously your friend than ever. If not,
this is the last act of friendship you will ever receive from me!"
It may be believed that this address, so singular, so solemn, so big wit_onditional menace, did not greatly tend to encourage me. I was totall_gnorant of the charge to be advanced against me; and not a little astonished,
when it was in my power to be in the most formidable degree the accuser of Mr.
Falkland, to find the principles of equity so completely reversed, as for th_nnocent but instructed individual to be the party accused and suffering,
instead of having, as was natural, the real criminal at his mercy. I was stil_ore astonished at the superhuman power Mr. Falkland seemed to possess, o_ringing the object of his persecution within the sphere of his authority; _eflection attended with some check to that eagerness and boldness of spirit,
which now constituted the ruling passion of my mind.
But this was no time for meditation. To the sufferer the course of events i_aken out of his direction, and he is hurried along with an irresistibl_orce, without finding it within the compass of his efforts to check thei_apidity. I was allowed only a short time to recollect myself, when my tria_ommenced. I was conducted to the library, where I had passed so many happ_nd so many contemplative hours, and found there Mr. Forester and three o_our of the servants already assembled, in expectation of me and my accuser.
Every thing was calculated to suggest to me that I must trust only in th_ustice of the parties concerned, and had nothing to hope from thei_ndulgence. Mr. Falkland entered at one door, almost as soon as I entered a_he other.