Table of Contents

+ Add to Library

Previous Next

Chapter 9

  • 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:—
  • WILLIAMS,
  • "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.
  • "VALENTINE FORESTER."
  • 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.