Part 4 out of 7
I have always been at a loss to account for my having plunged thus
headlong into an act so monstrous. There is something in it of
unexplained and involuntary sympathy. One sentiment flows, by necessity
of nature, into another sentiment of the same general character. This
was the first instance in which I had witnessed a danger by fire. All
was confusion around me, and all changed into hurricane within. The
general situation, to my unpractised apprehension, appeared desperate,
and I by contagion became alike desperate. At first I had been in some
degree calm and collected, but that too was a desperate effort; and when
it gave way, a kind of instant insanity became its successor.
I had now every thing to fear. And yet what was my fault? It proceeded
from none of those errors which are justly held up to the aversion of
mankind; my object had been neither wealth, nor the means of indulgence,
nor the usurpation of power. No spark of malignity had harboured in my
soul. I had always reverenced the sublime mind of Mr. Falkland; I
reverenced it still. My offence had merely been a mistaken thirst of
knowledge. Such however it was, as to admit neither of forgiveness nor
remission. This epoch was the crisis of my fate, dividing what may be
called the offensive part from the defensive, which has been the sole
business of my remaining years. Alas! my offence was short, not
aggravated by any sinister intention: but the reprisals I was to suffer
are long, and can terminate only with my life!
In the state in which I found myself, when the recollection of what I
had done flowed back upon my mind, I was incapable of any resolution.
All was chaos and uncertainty within me. My thoughts were too full of
horror to be susceptible of activity. I felt deserted of my intellectual
powers, palsied in mind, and compelled to sit in speechless expectation
of the misery to which I was destined. To my own conception I was like a
man, who, though blasted with lightning, and deprived for ever of the
power of motion, should yet retain the consciousness of his situation.
Death-dealing despair was the only idea of which I was sensible.
I was still in this situation of mind when Mr. Falkland sent for me. His
message roused me from my trance. In recovering, I felt those sickening
and loathsome sensations, which a man may be supposed at first to endure
who should return from the sleep of death. Gradually I recovered the
power of arranging my ideas and directing my steps. I understood, that
the minute the affair of the fire was over Mr. Falkland had retired to
his own room. It was evening before he ordered me to be called.
I found in him every token of extreme distress, except that there was an
air of solemn and sad composure that crowned the whole. For the present,
all appearance of gloom, stateliness, and austerity was gone. As I
entered he looked up, and, seeing who it was, ordered me to bolt the
door. I obeyed. He went round the room, and examined its other avenues.
He then returned to where I stood. I trembled in every joint of my
frame. I exclaimed within myself, "What scene of death has Roscius now
"Williams!" said he, in a tone which had more in it of sorrow than
resentment, "I have attempted your life! I am a wretch devoted to the
scorn and execration of mankind!" There he stopped.
"If there be one being on the whole earth that feels the scorn and
execration due to such a wretch more strongly than another, it is
myself. I have been kept in a state of perpetual torture and madness.
But I can put an end to it and its consequences; and, so far at least as
relates to you, I am determined to do it. I know the price, and--I will
make the purchase.
"You must swear," said he. "You must attest every sacrament, divine and
human, never to disclose what I am now to tell you."--He dictated the
oath, and I repeated it with an aching heart. I had no power to offer a
word of remark.
"This confidence," said he, "is of your seeking, not of mine. It is
odious to me, and is dangerous to you."
Having thus prefaced the disclosure he had to make, he paused. He seemed
to collect himself as for an effort of magnitude. He wiped his face with
his handkerchief. The moisture that incommoded him appeared not to be
tears, but sweat.
"Look at me. Observe me. Is it not strange that such a one as I should
retain lineaments of a human creature? I am the blackest of villains. I
am the murderer of Tyrrel. I am the assassin of the Hawkinses."
I started with terror, and was silent.
"What a story is mine! Insulted, disgraced, polluted in the face of
hundreds, I was capable of any act of desperation. I watched my
opportunity, followed Mr. Tyrrel from the rooms, seized a sharp-pointed
knife that fell in my way, came behind him, and stabbed him to the
heart. My gigantic oppressor rolled at my feet.
"All are but links of one chain. A blow! A murder! My next business was
to defend myself, to tell so well-digested a lie as that all mankind
should believe it true. Never was a task so harrowing and intolerable!
"Well, thus far fortune favoured me; she favoured me beyond my desire.
The guilt was removed from me, and cast upon another; but this I was to
endure. Whence came the circumstantial evidence against him, the broken
knife and the blood, I am unable to tell. I suppose, by some miraculous
accident, Hawkins was passing by, and endeavoured to assist his
oppressor in the agonies of death. You have heard his story; you have
read one of his letters. But you do not know the thousandth part of the
proofs of his simple and unalterable rectitude that I have known. His
son suffered with him; that son, for the sake of whose happiness and
virtue he ruined himself, and would have died a hundred times.--I have
had feelings, but I cannot describe them.
"This it is to be a gentleman! a man of honour! I was the fool of fame.
My virtue, my honesty, my everlasting peace of mind, were cheap
sacrifices to be made at the shrine of this divinity. But, what is
worse, there is nothing that has happened that has in any degree
contributed to my cure. I am as much the fool of fame as ever. I cling
to it to my last breath. Though I be the blackest of villains, I will
leave behind me a spotless and illustrious name. There is no crime so
malignant, no scene of blood so horrible, in which that object cannot
engage me. It is no matter that I regard these things at a distance with
aversion;--I am sure of it; bring me to the test, and I shall yield. I
despise myself, but thus I am; things are gone too far to be recalled.
"Why is it that I am compelled to this confidence? From the love of
fame. I should tremble at the sight of every pistol or instrument of
death that offered itself to my hands; and perhaps my next murder may
not be so fortunate as those I have already committed. I had no
alternative but to make you my confidant or my victim. It was better to
trust you with the whole truth under every seal of secrecy, than to live
in perpetual fear of your penetration or your rashness.
"Do you know what it is you have done? To gratify a foolishly
inquisitive humour, you have sold yourself. You shall continue in my
service, but can never share my affection. I will benefit you in respect
of fortune, but I shall always hate you. If ever an unguarded word
escape from your lips, if ever you excite my jealousy or suspicion,
expect to pay for it by your death or worse. It is a dear bargain you
have made. But it is too late to look back. I charge and adjure you by
every thing that is sacred, and that is tremendous, preserve your faith!
"My tongue has now for the first time for several years spoken the
language of my heart; and the intercourse from this hour shall be shut
for ever. I want no pity. I desire no consolation. Surrounded as I am
with horrors, I will at least preserve my fortitude to the last. If I
had been reserved to a different destiny, I have qualities in that
respect worthy of a better cause. I can be mad, miserable, and frantic;
but even in frenzy I can preserve my presence of mind and discretion."
Such was the story I had been so desirous to know. Though my mind had
brooded upon the subject for months, there was not a syllable of it that
did not come to my ear with the most perfect sense of novelty. "Mr.
Falkland is a murderer!" said I, as I retired from the conference. This
dreadful appellative, "a murderer," made my very blood run cold within
me. "He killed Mr. Tyrrel, for he could not control his resentment and
anger: he sacrificed Hawkins the elder and Hawkins the younger, because
he could upon no terms endure the public loss of honour: how can I
expect that a man thus passionate and unrelenting will not sooner or
later make me his victim?"
But, notwithstanding this terrible application of the story, an
application to which perhaps in some form or other, mankind are indebted
for nine tenths of their abhorrence against vice, I could not help
occasionally recurring to reflections of an opposite nature. "Mr.
Falkland is a murderer!" resumed I. "He might yet be a most excellent
man, if he did but think so." It is the thinking ourselves vicious then,
that principally contributes to make us vicious.
Amidst the shock I received from finding, what I had never suffered
myself constantly to believe, that my suspicions were true, I still
discovered new cause of admiration for my master. His menaces indeed
were terrible. But, when I recollected the offence I had given, so
contrary to every received principle of civilised society, so insolent
and rude, so intolerable to a man of Mr. Falkland's elevation, and in
Mr. Falkland's peculiarity of circumstances, I was astonished at his
forbearance. There were indeed sufficiently obvious reasons why he might
not choose to proceed to extremities with me. But how different from the
fearful expectations I had conceived were the calmness of his
behaviour, and the regulated mildness of his language! In this respect,
I for a short time imagined that I was emancipated from the mischiefs
which had appalled me; and that, in having to do with a man of Mr.
Falkland's liberality, I had nothing rigorous to apprehend.
"It is a miserable prospect," said I, "that he holds up to me. He
imagines that I am restrained by no principles, and deaf to the claims
of personal excellence. But he shall find himself mistaken. I will never
become an informer. I will never injure my patron; and therefore he will
not be my enemy. With all his misfortunes and all his errors, I feel
that my soul yearns for his welfare. If he have been criminal, that is
owing to circumstances; the same qualities under other circumstances
would have been, or rather were, sublimely beneficent."
My reasonings were, no doubt, infinitely more favourable to Mr.
Falkland, than those which human beings are accustomed to make in the
case of such as they style great criminals. This will not be wondered
at, when it is considered that I had myself just been trampling on the
established boundaries of obligation, and therefore might well have a
fellow-feeling for other offenders. Add to which, I had known Mr.
Falkland from the first as a beneficent divinity. I had observed at
leisure, and with a minuteness which could not deceive me, the excellent
qualities of his heart; and I found him possessed of a mind beyond
comparison the most fertile and accomplished I had ever known.
But though the terrors which had impressed me were considerably
alleviated, my situation was notwithstanding sufficiently miserable. The
ease and light-heartedness of my youth were for ever gone. The voice of
an irresistible necessity had commanded me to "sleep no more." I was
tormented with a secret, of which I must never disburthen myself; and
this consciousness was, at my age, a source of perpetual melancholy. I
had made myself a prisoner, in the most intolerable sense of that term,
for years--perhaps for the rest of my life. Though my prudence and
discretion should be invariable, I must remember that I should have an
overseer, vigilant from conscious guilt, full of resentment at the
unjustifiable means by which I had extorted from him a confession, and
whose lightest caprice might at any time decide upon every thing that
was dear to me. The vigilance even of a public and systematical
despotism is poor, compared with a vigilance which is thus goaded by the
most anxious passions of the soul. Against this species of persecution I
knew not how to invent a refuge. I dared neither fly from the
observation of Mr. Falkland, nor continue exposed to its operation. I
was at first indeed lulled in a certain degree to security upon the
verge of the precipice. But it was not long before I found a thousand
circumstances perpetually reminding me of my true situation. Those I am
now to relate are among the most memorable.
In no long time after the disclosure Mr. Falkland had made, Mr.
Forester, his elder brother by the mother's side, came to reside for a
short period in our family. This was a circumstance peculiarly adverse
to my patron's habits and inclinations. He had broken off, as I have
already said, all intercourse of visiting with his neighbours. He
debarred himself every kind of amusement and relaxation. He shrunk from
the society of his fellows, and thought he could never be sufficiently
buried in obscurity and solitude. This principle was, in most cases, of
no difficult execution to a man of firmness. But Mr. Falkland knew not
how to avoid the visit of Mr. Forester. This gentleman was just returned
from a residence of several years upon the continent; and his demand of
an apartment in the house of his half-brother, till his own house at the
distance of thirty miles should be prepared for his reception, was made
with an air of confidence that scarcely admitted of a refusal. Mr.
Falkland could only allege, that the state of his health and spirits was
such, that lie feared a residence at his house would be little agreeable
to his kinsman; and Mr. Forester conceived that this was a
disqualification which would always augment in proportion as it was
tolerated, and hoped that his society, by inducing Mr. Falkland to
suspend his habits of seclusion, would be the means of essential
benefit. Mr. Falkland opposed him no further. He would have been sorry
to be thought unkind to a kinsman for whom he had a particular esteem;
and the consciousness of not daring to assign the true reason, made him
cautious of adhering to his objection.
The character of Mr. Forester was, in many respects, the reverse of that
of my master. His very appearance indicated the singularity of his
disposition. His figure was short and angular. His eyes were sunk far
into his head, and were overhung with eye-brows, black, thick, and
bushy. His complexion was swarthy, and his lineaments hard. He had seen
much of the world; but, to judge of him from his appearance and manners,
one would have thought that he had never moved from his fire-side.
His temper was acid, petulant, and harsh. He was easily offended by
trifles, respecting which, previously to the offence, the persons with
whom he had intercourse could have no suspicion of such a result. When
offended, his customary behaviour was exceedingly rugged. He thought
only of setting the delinquent right, and humbling him for his error;
and, in his eagerness to do this, overlooked the sensibility of the
sufferer, and the pains he inflicted. Remonstrance in such a case he
regarded as the offspring of cowardice, which was to be extirpated with
a steady and unshrinking hand, and not soothed with misjudging kindness
and indulgence. As is usual in human character, he had formed a system
of thinking to suit the current of his feelings. He held that the
kindness we entertain for a man should be veiled and concealed, exerted
in substantial benefits, but not disclosed, lest an undue advantage
should be taken of it by its object.
With this rugged outside, Mr. Forester had a warm and generous heart. At
first sight all men were deterred by his manner, and excited to give him
an ill character. But the longer any one knew him, the more they
approved him. His harshness was then only considered as habit; and
strong sense and active benevolence were uppermost in the recollection
of his familiar acquaintance. His conversation, when he condescended to
lay aside his snappish, rude, and abrupt half-sentences, became flowing
in diction, and uncommonly amusing with regard to its substance. He
combined, with weightiness of expression, a dryness of characteristic
humour, that demonstrated at once the vividness of his observation, and
the force of his understanding. The peculiarities of this gentleman's
character were not undisplayed in the scene to which he was now
introduced. Having much kindness in his disposition, he soon became
deeply interested in the unhappiness of his relation. He did every thing
in his power to remove it; but his attempts were rude and unskilful.
With a mind so accomplished and a spirit so susceptible as that of Mr.
Falkland, Mr. Forester did not venture to let loose his usual violence
of manner; but, if he carefully abstained from harshness, he was however
wholly incapable of that sweet and liquid eloquence of the soul, which
would perhaps have stood the fairest chance of seducing Mr. Falkland for
a moment to forget his anguish. He exhorted his host to rouse up his
spirit, and defy the foul fiend; but the tone of his exhortations found
no sympathetic chord in the mind of my patron. He had not the skill to
carry conviction to an understanding so well fortified in error. In a
word, after a thousand efforts of kindness to his entertainer, he drew
off his forces, growling and dissatisfied with his own impotence, rather
than angry at the obstinacy of Mr. Falkland. He felt no diminution of
his affection for him, and was sincerely grieved to find that he was so
little capable of serving him. Both parties in this case did justice to
the merits of the other; at the same time that the disparity of their
humours was such, as to prevent the stranger from being in any degree a
dangerous companion to the master of the house. They had scarcely one
point of contact in their characters. Mr. Forester was incapable of
giving Mr. Falkland that degree either of pain or pleasure, which can
raise the soul into a tumult, and deprive it for a while of tranquillity
Our visitor was a man, notwithstanding appearances, of a peculiarly
sociable disposition, and, where he was neither interrupted nor
contradicted, considerably loquacious. He began to feel himself
painfully out of his element upon the present occasion. Mr. Falkland
was devoted to contemplation and solitude. He put upon himself some
degree of restraint upon the arrival of his kinsman, though even then
his darling habits would break out. But when they had seen each other a
certain number of times, and it was sufficiently evident that the
society of either would be a burthen rather than a pleasure to the
other, they consented, by a sort of silent compact, that each should be
at liberty to follow his own inclination. Mr. Falkland was, in a sense,
the greatest gainer by this. He returned to the habits of his choice,
and acted, as nearly as possible, just as he would have done if Mr.
Forester had not been in existence. But the latter was wholly at a loss.
He had all the disadvantages of retirement, without being able, as he
might have done at his house, to bring his own associates or his own
amusements about him.
In this situation lie cast his eyes upon me. It was his principle to do
every thing that his thoughts suggested, without caring for the forms of
the world. He saw no reason why a peasant, with certain advantages of
education and opportunity, might not be as eligible a companion as a
lord; at the same time that he was deeply impressed with the
venerableness of old institutions. Reduced as he was to a kind of last
resort, he found me better qualified for his purpose than any other of
Mr. Falkland's household.
The manner in which he began this sort of correspondence was
sufficiently characteristical. It was abrupt; but it was strongly
stamped with essential benevolence. It was blunt and humorous; but there
was attractiveness, especially in a case of unequal intercourse, in that
very rusticity by which he levelled himself with the mass of his
species. He had to reconcile himself as well as to invite me; not to
reconcile himself to the postponing an aristocratical vanity, for of
that he had a very slender portion, but to the trouble of invitation,
for he loved his ease. All this produced some irregularity and
indecision in his own mind, and gave a whimsical impression to his
On my part, I was by no means ungrateful for the distinction that was
paid me. My mind had been relaxed into temporary dejection, but my
reserve had no alloy of moroseness or insensibility. It did not long
hold out against the condescending attentions of Mr. Forester. I became
gradually heedful, encouraged, confiding. I had a most eager thirst for
the knowledge of mankind; and though no person perhaps ever purchased so
dearly the instructions he received in that school, the inclination was
in no degree diminished. Mr. Forester was the second man I had seen
uncommonly worthy of my analysis, and who seemed to my thoughts, arrived
as I was at the end of my first essay, almost as much deserving to be
studied as Mr. Falkland himself. I was glad to escape from the
uneasiness of my reflections; and, while engaged with this new friend, I
forgot the criticalness of the evils with which I was hourly menaced.
Stimulated by these feelings, I was what Mr. Forester wanted, a diligent
and zealous hearer, I was strongly susceptible of impression; and the
alternate impressions my mind received, visibly displayed themselves in
my countenance and gestures. The observations Mr. Forester had made in
his travels, the set of opinions he had formed, all amused and
interested me. His manner of telling a story, or explaining his
thoughts, was forcible, perspicuous, and original: his style in
conversation had an uncommon zest. Every thing he had to relate
delighted me; while, in return, my sympathy, my eager curiosity, and my
unsophisticated passions, rendered me to Mr. Forester a most desirable
hearer. It is not to be wondered at, therefore, that every day rendered
our intercourse more intimate and cordial.
Mr. Falkland was destined to be for ever unhappy; and it seemed as if no
new incident could occur, from which he was not able to extract food for
this imperious propensity. He was wearied with a perpetual repetition of
similar impressions; and entertained an invincible disgust against all
that was new. The visit of Mr. Forester he regarded with antipathy. He
was scarcely able to look at him without shuddering; an emotion which
his guest perceived, and pitied as the result of habit and disease,
rather than of judgment. None of his actions passed unremarked; the most
indifferent excited uneasiness and apprehension. The first overtures of
intimacy between me and Mr. Forester probably gave birth to sentiments
of jealousy in the mind of my master. The irregular, variable character
of his visitor tended to heighten them, by producing an appearance of
inexplicableness and mystery. At this time he intimated to me that it
was not agreeable to him, that there should be much intercourse between
me and this gentleman.
What could I do? Young as I was, could it be expected that I should play
the philosopher, and put a perpetual curb upon my inclinations?
Imprudent though I had been, could I voluntarily subject myself to an
eternal penance, and estrangement from human society? Could I discourage
a frankness so perfectly in consonance with my wishes, and receive in an
ungracious way a kindness that stole away my heart?
Besides this, I was but ill prepared for the servile submission Mr.
Falkland demanded. In early life I had been accustomed to be much my own
master. When I first entered into Mr. Falkland's service, my personal
habits were checked by the novelty of my situation, and my affections
were gained by the high accomplishments of my patron. To novelty and its
influence, curiosity had succeeded: curiosity, so long as it lasted, was
a principle stronger in my bosom than even the love of independence. To
that I would have sacrificed my liberty or my life; to gratify it, I
would have submitted to the condition of a West Indian negro, or to the
tortures inflicted by North American savages. But the turbulence of
curiosity had now subsided.
As long as the threats of Mr. Falkland had been confined to generals, I
endured it. I was conscious of the unbecoming action I had committed,
and this rendered me humble. But, when he went further, and undertook to
prescribe to every article of my conduct, my patience was at an end. My
mind, before sufficiently sensible to the unfortunate situation to which
my imprudence had reduced me, now took a nearer and a more alarming view
of the circumstances of the case. Mr. Falkland was not an old man; he
had in him the principles of vigour, however they might seem to be
shaken; he might live as long as I should. I was his prisoner; and what
a prisoner! All my actions observed; all my gestures marked. I could
move neither to the right nor the left, but the eye of my keeper was
upon me. He watched me; and his vigilance was a sickness to my heart.
For me there was no more freedom, no more of hilarity, of
thoughtlessness, or of youth. Was this the life upon which I had entered
with such warm and sanguine expectation? Were my days to be wasted in
this cheerless gloom; a galley-slave in the hands of the system of
nature, whom death only, the death of myself or my inexorable superior,
I had been adventurous in the gratification of an infantine and
unreasonable curiosity; and I resolved not to be less adventurous, if
need were, in the defence of every thing that can make life a blessing.
I was prepared for an amicable adjustment of interests: I would
undertake that Mr. Falkland should never sustain injury through my
means; but I expected in return that I should suffer no encroachment,
but be left to the direction of my own understanding.
I went on, then, to seek Mr. Forester's society with eagerness; and it
is the nature of an intimacy that does not decline, progressively to
increase. Mr. Falkland observed these symptoms with visible
perturbation. Whenever I was conscious of their being perceived by him,
I betrayed tokens of confusion: this did not tend to allay his
uneasiness. One day he spoke to me alone; and, with a look of mysterious
but terrible import, expressed himself thus:--
"Young man, take warning! Perhaps this is the last time you shall have
an opportunity to take it! I will not always be the butt of your
simplicity and inexperience, nor suffer your weakness to triumph over my
strength! Why do you trifle with me? You little suspect the extent of my
power. At this moment you are enclosed with the snares of my vengeance
unseen by you, and, at the instant that you flatter yourself you are
already beyond their reach, they will close upon you. You might as well
think of escaping from the power of the omnipresent God, as from mine!
If you could touch so much as my finger, you should expiate it in hours
and months and years of a torment, of which as yet you have not the
remotest idea. Remember! I am not talking at random! I do not utter a
word, that, if you provoke me, shall not be executed to the severest
It may be supposed that these menaces were not without their effect. I
withdrew in silence. My whole soul revolted against the treatment I
endured, and yet I could not utter a word. Why could not I speak the
expostulations of my heart, or propose the compromise I meditated? It
was inexperience, and not want of strength, that awed me. Every act of
Mr. Falkland contained something new, and I was unprepared to meet it.
Perhaps it will be found that the greatest hero owes the propriety of
his conduct to the habit of encountering difficulties, and calling out
with promptness the energies of his mind.
I contemplated the proceedings of my patron with the deepest
astonishment. Humanity and general kindness were fundamental parts of
his character; but in relation to me they were sterile and inactive. His
own interest required that he should purchase my kindness; but he
preferred to govern me by terror, and watch me with unceasing anxiety. I
ruminated with the most mournful sensations upon the nature of my
calamity. I believed that no human being was ever placed in a situation
so pitiable as mine. Every atom of my frame seemed to have a several
existence, and to crawl within me. I had but too much reason to believe
that Mr. Falkland's threats were not empty words. I knew his ability; I
felt his ascendancy. If I encountered him, what chance had I of victory?
If I were defeated, what was the penalty I had to suffer? Well then, the
rest of my life must be devoted to slavish subjection. Miserable
sentence! And, if it were, what security had I against the injustice of
a man, vigilant, capricious, and criminal? I envied the condemned wretch
upon the scaffold; I envied the victim of the inquisition in the midst
of his torture. They know what they have to suffer. I had only to
imagine every thing terrible, and then say, "The fate reserved for me
is worse than this!"
It was well for me that these sensations were transient: human nature
could not long support itself under what I then felt. By degrees my mind
shook off its burthen. Indignation succeeded to emotions of terror. The
hostility of Mr. Falkland excited hostility in me. I determined I would
never calumniate him in matters of the most trivial import, much less
betray the grand secret upon which every thing dear to him depended.
But, totally abjuring the offensive, I resolved to stand firmly upon the
defensive. The liberty of acting as I pleased I would preserve, whatever
might be the risk. If I were worsted in the contest, I would at least
have the consolation of reflecting that I had exerted myself with
energy. In proportion as I thus determined, I drew off my forces from
petty incursions, and felt the propriety of acting with premeditation
and system. I ruminated incessantly upon plans of deliverance, but I was
anxious that my choice should not be precipitately made.
It was during this period of my deliberation and uncertainty that Mr.
Forester terminated his visit. He observed a strange distance in my
behaviour, and, in his good-natured, rough way, reproached me for it. I
could only answer with a gloomy look of mysterious import, and a
mournful and expressive silence. He sought me for an explanation, but I
was now as ingenious in avoiding as I had before been ardent to seek
him; and he quitted our house, as he afterwards told me, with an
impression, that there was some ill destiny that hung over it, which
seemed fated to make all its inhabitants miserable, without its being
possible for a bystander to penetrate the reason.
Mr. Forester had left us about three weeks, when Mr. Falkland sent me
upon some business to an estate he possessed in a neighbouring county,
about fifty miles from his principal residence. The road led in a
direction wholly wide of the habitation of our late visitor. I was upon
my return from the place to which I had been sent, when I began in fancy
to take a survey of the various circumstances of my condition, and by
degrees lost, in the profoundness of my contemplation, all attention to
the surrounding objects. The first determination of my mind was to
escape from the lynx-eyed jealousy and despotism of Mr. Falkland; the
second to provide, by every effort of prudence and deliberation I could
devise, against the danger with which I well knew my attempt must be
Occupied with these meditations, I rode many miles before I perceived
that I had totally deviated from the right path. At length I roused
myself, and surveyed the horizon round me; but I could observe nothing
with which my organ was previously acquainted. On three sides, the heath
stretched as far as the eye could reach; on the fourth, I discovered at
some distance a wood of no ordinary dimensions. Before me, scarcely a
single track could be found, to mark that any human being had ever
visited the spot. As the best expedient I could devise, I bent my course
towards the wood I have mentioned, and then pursued, as well as I was
able, the windings of the inclosure. This led me, after some time, to
the end of the heath; but I was still as much at a loss as ever
respecting the road I should pursue. The sun was hid from me by a grey
and cloudy atmosphere; I was induced to continue along the skirts of
the wood, and surmounted with some difficulty the hedges and other
obstacles that from time to time presented themselves. My thoughts were
gloomy and disconsolate; the dreariness of the day, and the solitude
which surrounded me, seemed to communicate a sadness to my soul. I had
proceeded a considerable way, and was overcome with hunger and fatigue,
when I discovered a road and a little inn at no great distance. I made
up to them, and upon enquiry found that, instead of pursuing the proper
direction, I had taken one that led to Mr. Forester's rather than to my
own habitation. I alighted, and was entering the house, when the
appearance of that gentleman struck my eyes.
Mr. Forester accosted me with kindness, invited me into the room where
he had been sitting, and enquired what accident had brought me to that
While he was speaking, I could not help recollecting the extraordinary
manner in which we were thus once more brought together, and a train of
ideas was by this means suggested to my mind. Some refreshment was, by
Mr. Forester's order, prepared for me; I sat down, and partook of it.
Still this thought dwelt upon my recollection:--"Mr. Falkland will never
be made acquainted with our meeting; I have an opportunity thrown in my
way, which if I do not improve, I shall deserve all the consequences
that may result. I can now converse with a friend, and a powerful
friend, without fear of being watched and overlooked." What wonder that
I was tempted to disclose, not Mr. Falkland's secret, but my own
situation, and receive the advice of a man of worth and experience,
which might perhaps be adequately done without entering into any detail
injurious to my patron?
Mr. Forester, on his part, expressed a desire to learn why it was I
thought myself unhappy, and why I had avoided him during the latter part
of his residence under the same roof, as evidently as I had before taken
pleasure in his communications. I replied, that I could give him but an
imperfect satisfaction upon these points; but what I could, I would
willingly explain. The fact, I proceeded, was, that there were reasons
which rendered it impossible for me to have a tranquil moment under the
roof of Mr. Falkland. I had revolved the matter again and again in my
mind, and was finally convinced that I owed it to myself to withdraw
from his service. I added, that I was sensible, by this half-confidence,
I might rather seem to merit the disapprobation of Mr. Forester than his
countenance; but I declared my persuasion that, if he could be
acquainted with the whole affair, however strange my behaviour might at
present appear, he would applaud my reserve.
He appeared to muse for a moment upon what I had said, and then asked
what reason I could have to complain of Mr. Falkland? I replied, that I
entertained the deepest reverence for my patron; I admired his
abilities, and considered him as formed for the benefit of his species.
I should in my own opinion be the vilest of miscreants, if I uttered a
whisper to his disadvantage. But this did not avail: I was not fit for
him; perhaps I was not good enough for him; at all events, I must be
perpetually miserable so long as I continued to live with him.
I observed Mr. Forester gaze upon me eagerly with curiosity and
surprise; but this circumstance I did not think proper to notice. Having
recovered himself, he enquired, why then, that being the case, I did not
quit his service? I answered, what he now touched upon was that which
most of all contributed to my misfortune. Mr. Falkland was not ignorant
of my dislike to my present situation; perhaps he thought it
unreasonable, unjust; but I knew that he would never be brought to
consent to my giving way to it.
Here Mr. Forester interrupted me, and, smiling, said, I magnified
obstacles, and over-rated my own importance; adding, that he would
undertake to remove that difficulty, as well as to provide me with a
more agreeable appointment. This suggestion produced in me a serious
alarm. I replied, that I must entreat him upon no account to think of
applying to Mr. Falkland upon the subject. I added, that perhaps I was
only betraying my imbecility; but in reality, unacquainted as I was with
experience and the world, I was afraid, though disgusted with my present
residence, to expose myself upon a mere project of my own, to the
resentment of so considerable a man as Mr. Falkland. If he would favour
me with his advice upon the subject, or if he would only give me leave
to hope for his protection in case of any unforeseen accident, this was
all I presumed to request; and, thus encouraged. I would venture to obey
the dictates of my inclination, and fly in pursuit of my lost
Having thus opened myself to this generous friend, as far as I could do
it with propriety and safety, he sat for some time silent, with an air
of deep reflection. At length, with a countenance of unusual severity,
and a characteristic fierceness of manner and voice, he thus addressed
me: "Young man, perhaps you are ignorant of the nature of the conduct
you at present hold. May be, you do not know that where there is
mystery, there is always something at bottom that will not bear the
telling. Is this the way to obtain the favour of a man of consequence
and respectability? To pretend to make a confidence, and then tell him a
disjointed story that has not common sense in it!"
I answered, that, whatever were the amount of that prejudice, I must
submit. I placed my hope of a candid construction, in the present
instance, in the rectitude of his nature.
He went on: "You do so; do you? I tell you, sir, the rectitude of my
nature is an enemy to disguise. Come, boy, you must know that I
understand these things better than you. Tell all, or expect nothing
from me but censure and contempt."
"Sir," replied I, "I have spoken from deliberation; I have told you my
choice, and, whatever be the result, I must abide by it. If in this
misfortune you refuse me your assistance, here I must end, having gained
by the communication only your ill opinion and displeasure."
He looked hard at me, as if he would see me through. At length he
relaxed his features, and softened his manner. "You are a foolish,
headstrong boy," said he, "and I shall have an eye upon you. I shall
never place in you the confidence I have done. But--I will not desert
you. At present, the balance between approbation and dislike is in your
favour. How long it will last, I cannot tell; I engage for nothing. But
it is my rule to act as I feel. I will for this time do as you
require;--and, pray God, it may answer. I will receive you, either now
or hereafter, under my roof, trusting that I shall have no reason to
repent, and that appearances will terminate as favourably as I wish,
though I scarcely know how to hope it."
We were engaged in the earnest discussion of subjects thus interesting
to my peace, when we were interrupted by an event the most earnestly to
have been deprecated. Without the smallest notice, and as if he had
dropped upon us from the clouds, Mr. Falkland burst into the room. I
found afterwards that Mr. Forester had come thus far upon an
appointment to meet Mr. Falkland, and that the place of their intended
rendezvous was at the next stage. Mr. Forester was detained at the inn
where we now were by our accidental rencounter, and in reality had for
the moment forgotten his appointment; while Mr. Falkland, not finding
him where he expected, proceeded thus far towards the house of his
kinsman. To me the meeting was most unaccountable in the world.
I instantly foresaw the dreadful complication of misfortune that was
included in this event. To Mr. Falkland, the meeting between me and his
relation must appear not accidental, but, on my part at least, the
result of design. I was totally out of the road I had been travelling by
his direction; I was in a road that led directly to the house of Mr.
Forester. What must he think of this? How must he suppose I came to that
place? The truth, if told, that I came there without design, and purely
in consequence of having lost my way, must appear to be the most
palpable lie that ever was devised.
Here then I stood detected in the fact of that intercourse which had
been so severely forbidden. But in this instance it was infinitely worse
than in those which had already given so much disturbance to Mr.
Falkland. It was then frank and unconcealed; and therefore the
presumption was, that it was for purposes that required no concealment.
But the present interview, if concerted, was in the most emphatical
degree clandestine. Nor was it less perilous than it was clandestine: it
had been forbidden with the most dreadful menaces; and Mr. Falkland was
not ignorant how deep an impression those menaces had made upon my
imagination. Such a meeting therefore could not have been concerted
under such circumstances, for a trivial purpose, or for any purpose
that his heart did not ache to think of. Such was the amount of my
crime, such was the agony my appearance was calculated to inspire; and
it was reasonable to suppose that the penalty I had to expect would be
proportionable. The threats of Mr. Falkland still sounded in my ears,
and I was in a transport of terror.
The conduct of the same man in different circumstances, is often so
various as to render it very difficult to be accounted for. Mr.
Falkland, in this to him, terrible crisis, did not seem to be in any
degree hurried away by passion. For a moment he was dumb; his eyes
glared with astonishment; and the next moment, as it were, he had the
most perfect calmness and self-command. Had it been otherwise, I have no
doubt that I should instantly have entered into an explanation of the
manner in which I came there, the ingenuousness and consistency of which
could not but have been in some degree attended with a favourable event.
But, as it was, I suffered myself to be overcome; I yielded, as in a
former instance, to the discomfiting influence of surprise. I dared
scarcely breathe; I observed the appearances with equal anxiety and
surprise. Mr. Falkland quietly ordered me to return home, and take along
with me the groom he had brought with him. I obeyed in silence.
I afterwards understood, that he enquired minutely of Mr. Forester the
circumstances of our meeting; and that that gentleman, perceiving that
the meeting itself was discovered, and guided by habits of frankness,
which, when once rooted in a character, it is difficult to counteract,
told Mr. Falkland every thing that had passed, together with the remarks
it had suggested to his own mind. Mr. Falkland received the
communication with an ambiguous and studied silence, which by no means
operated to my advantage in the already poisoned mind of Mr. Forester.
His silence was partly the direct consequence of a mind watchful,
inquisitive, and doubting; and partly perhaps was adopted for the sake
of the effect it was calculated to produce, Mr. Falkland not being
unwilling to encourage prejudices against a character which might one
day come in competition with his own.
As to me, I went home indeed, for this was not a moment to resist. Mr.
Falkland, with a premeditation to which he had given the appearance of
accident, had taken care to send with me a guard to attend upon his
prisoner. I seemed as if conducting to one of those fortresses, famed in
the history of despotism, from which the wretched victim is never known
to come forth alive; and when I entered my chamber, I felt as if I were
entering a dungeon. I reflected that I was at the mercy of a man,
exasperated at my disobedience, and who was already formed to cruelty by
successive murders. My prospects were now closed; I was cut off for ever
from pursuits that I had meditated with ineffable delight; my death
might be the event of a few hours. I was a victim at the shrine of
conscious guilt, that knew neither rest nor satiety; I should be blotted
from the catalogue of the living, and my fate remain eternally a secret;
the man who added my murder to his former crimes, would show himself the
next morning, and be hailed with the admiration and applause of his
In the midst of these terrible imaginations, one idea presented itself
that alleviated my feelings. This was the recollection of the strange
and unaccountable tranquillity which Mr. Falkland had manifested, when
he discovered me in company with Mr. Forester. I was not deceived by
this. I knew that the calm was temporary, and would be succeeded by a
tumult and whirlwind of the most dreadful sort. But a man under the
power of such terrors as now occupied me catches at every reed. I said
to myself, "This tranquillity is a period it is incumbent upon me to
improve; the shorter its duration may be found, the more speedy am I
obliged to be in the use of it." In a word, I took the resolution,
because I already stood in fear of the vengeance of Mr. Falkland, to
risk the possibility of provoking it in a degree still more inexpiable,
and terminate at once my present state of uncertainty. I had now opened
my case to Mr. Forester, and he had given me positive assurances of his
protection. I determined immediately to address the following letter to
Mr. Falkland. The consideration that, if he meditated any thing
tragical, such a letter would only tend to confirm him, did not enter
into the present feelings of my mind.
"I have conceived the intention of quitting your service. This is a
measure we ought both of us to desire. I shall then be, what it is my
duty to be, master of my own actions. You will be delivered from the
presence of a person, whom you cannot prevail upon yourself to behold
without unpleasing emotions.
"Why should you subject me to an eternal penance? Why should you consign
my youthful hopes to suffering and despair? Consult the principles of
humanity that have marked the general course of your proceedings, and do
not let me, I entreat you, be made the subject of a useless severity. My
heart is impressed with gratitude for your favours. I sincerely ask your
forgiveness for the many errors of my conduct. I consider the treatment
I have received under your roof, as one almost uninterrupted scene of
kindness and generosity. I shall never forget my obligations to you,
and will never betray them.
"I remain, Sir,
"Your most grateful, respectful,
"and dutiful servant,
Such was my employment of the evening of a day which will be ever
memorable in the history of my life. Mr. Falkland not being yet
returned, though expected every hour, I was induced to make use of the
pretence of fatigue to avoid an interview. I went to bed. It may be
imagined that my slumbers were neither deep nor refreshing.
The next morning I was informed that my patron did not come home till
late; that he had enquired for me, and, being told that I was in bed,
had said nothing further upon the subject. Satisfied in this respect, I
went to the breakfasting parlour, and, though full of anxiety and
trepidation, endeavoured to busy myself in arranging the books, and a
few other little occupations, till Mr. Falkland should come down. After
a short time I heard his step, which I perfectly well knew how to
distinguish, in the passage. Presently he stopped, and, speaking to some
one in a sort of deliberate, but smothered voice, I overheard him repeat
my name as enquiring for me. In conformity to the plan I had persuaded
myself to adopt, I now laid the letter I had written upon the table at
which he usually sat, and made my exit at one door as Mr. Falkland
entered at the other. This done, I withdrew, with flutterings and
palpitation, to a private apartment, a sort of light closet at the end
of the library, where I was accustomed not unfrequently to sit.
I had not been here three minutes, when I heard the voice of Mr.
Falkland calling me. I went to him in the library. His manner was that
of a man labouring with some dreadful thought, and endeavouring to give
an air of carelessness and insensibility to his behaviour. Perhaps no
carriage of any other sort could have produced a sensation of such
inexplicable horror, or have excited, in the person who was its object,
such anxious uncertainty about the event.--"That is your letter," said
he, throwing it.
"My lad," continued he, "I believe now you have played all your tricks,
and the farce is nearly at an end! With your apishness and absurdity
however you have taught me one thing; and, whereas before I have winced
at them with torture, I am now as tough as an elephant. I shall crush
you in the end with the same indifference, that I would any other little
insect that disturbed my serenity.
"I am unable to tell what brought about your meeting with Mr. Forester
yesterday. It might be design; it might be accident. But, I shall not
forget it. You write me here, that you are desirous to quit my service.
To that I have a short answer: You never shall quit it with life. If you
attempt it, you shall never cease to rue your folly as long as you
exist. That is my will; and I will not have it resisted. The very next
time you disobey me in that or any other article, there is an end of
your vagaries for ever. Perhaps your situation may be a pitiable one; it
is for you to look to that. I only know that it is in your power to
prevent its growing worse; no time nor chance shall ever make it better.
"Do not imagine I am afraid of you! I wear an armour, against which all
your weapons are impotent. I have dug a pit for you; and, whichever way
you move, backward or forward, to the right or the left, it is ready to
swallow you. Be still! If once you fall, call as loud as you will, no
man on earth shall hear your cries; prepare a tale however plausible, or
however true, the whole world shall execrate you for an impostor. Your
innocence shall be of no service to you; I laugh at so feeble a defence.
It is I that say it; you may believe what I tell you--Do you not know,
miserable wretch!" added he, suddenly altering his tone, and stamping
upon the ground with fury, "that I have sworn to preserve my reputation,
whatever be the expense; that I love it more than the whole world and
its inhabitants taken together? And do you think that you shall wound
it? Begone, miscreant! reptile! and cease to contend with insurmountable
The part of my history which I am now relating is that which I reflect
upon with the least complacency. Why was it, that I was once more
totally overcome by the imperious carriage of Mr. Falkland, and unable
to utter a word? The reader will be presented with many occasions in the
sequel, in which I wanted neither facility in the invention of
expedients, nor fortitude in entering upon my justification. Persecution
at length gave firmness to my character, and taught me the better part
of manhood. But in the present instance I was irresolute, overawed, and
The speech I had heard was the dictate of frenzy, and it created in me a
similar frenzy. It determined me to do the very thing against which I
was thus solemnly warned, and fly from my patron's house. I could not
enter into parley with him; I could no longer endure the vile
subjugation he imposed on me. It was in vain that my reason warned me of
the rashness of a measure, to be taken without concert or preparation. I
seemed to be in a state in which reason had no power. I felt as if I
could coolly survey the several arguments of the case, perceive that
they had prudence, truth, and common sense on their side; and then
answer, I am under the guidance of a director more energetic than you.
I was not long in executing what I had thus rapidly determined. I fixed
on the evening of that very day as the period of my evasion. Even in
this short interval I had perhaps sufficient time for deliberation. But
all opportunity was useless to me; my mind was fixed, and each
succeeding moment only increased the unspeakable eagerness with which I
meditated my escape. The hours usually observed by our family in this
country residence were regular; and one in the morning was the time I
selected for my undertaking.
In searching the apartment where I slept, I had formerly discovered a
concealed door, which led to a small apartment of the most secret
nature, not uncommon in houses so old as that of Mr. Falkland, and which
had perhaps served as a refuge from persecution, or a security from the
inveterate hostilities of a barbarous age. I believed no person was
acquainted with this hiding-place but myself. I felt unaccountably
impelled to remove into it the different articles of my personal
property. I could not at present take them away with me. If I were never
to recover them, I felt that it would be a gratification to my
sentiment, that no trace of my existence should be found after my
departure. Having completed their removal, and waited till the hour I
had previously chosen, I stole down quietly from my chamber with a lamp
in my hand. I went along a passage that led to a small door opening into
the garden, and then crossed the garden, to a gate that intersected an
elm-walk and a private horse-path on the outside.
I could scarcely believe my good fortune in having thus far executed my
design without interruption. The terrible images Mr. Falkland's menaces
had suggested to my mind, made me expect impediment and detection at
every step; though the impassioned state of my mind impelled me to
advance with desperate resolution. He probably however counted too
securely upon the ascendancy of his sentiments, when imperiously
pronounced, to think it necessary to take precautions against a sinister
event. For myself, I drew a favourable omen as to the final result of my
project, from the smoothness of success that attended it in the outset.
The first plan that had suggested itself to me was, to go to the nearest
public road, and take the earliest stage for London. There I believed I
should be most safe from discovery, if the vengeance of Mr. Falkland
should prompt him to pursue me; and I did not doubt, among the
multiplied resources of the metropolis, to find something which should
suggest to me an eligible mode of disposing of my person and industry. I
reserved Mr. Forester in my arrangement, as a last resource, not to be
called forth unless for immediate protection from the hand of
persecution and power. I was destitute of that experience of the world,
which can alone render us fertile in resources, or enable us to
institute a just comparison between the resources that offer themselves.
I was like the fascinated animal, that is seized with the most terrible
apprehensions, at the same time that he is incapable of adequately
considering for his own safety.
The mode of my proceeding being digested, I traced, with a cheerful
heart, the unfrequented 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 the power to perceive; all was sunshine and
joy within me. I hardly felt the ground; I repeated to myself a thousand
times, "I am free. What concern have I with 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 power can 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. I did
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 thought with unspeakable loathing of those errors, in consequence of
which every man is fated to be, more or less, the tyrant or the slave. I
was astonished at the folly of my species, that they did not rise up as
one man, and shake off chains so ignominious, and misery so
insupportable. So far as related to myself, I resolved--and this
resolution has never been entirety forgotten by me--to hold myself
disengaged from this odious scene, and never fill the part either of the
oppressor or the sufferer. My mind continued in this enthusiastical
state, full of confidence, and accessible only to such a portion of fear
as served rather to keep up a state of pleasurable emotion than to
generate anguish and distress, during the whole of this nocturnal
expedition. After a walk of three hours, I arrived, without accident, at
the village from which I hoped to have taken my passage for the
metropolis. At this early hour every thing was quiet; no sound of any
thing human saluted my ear. 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 received the unwelcome tidings,
that the coach was not expected till six o'clock in the morning of the
day after to-morrow, its route through that town recurring only three
times a week.
This intelligence gave the first check to the rapturous inebriation by
which my 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 eleven guineas. I had about fifty more, that had
fallen to me from the disposal of my property at the death of my father;
but that was so vested as to preclude it from immediate use, and I even
doubted whether it would not be found better ultimately to resign it,
than, by claiming it, to risk the furnishing a clew to what I most of
all dreaded, the persecution of Mr. Falkland. There was nothing I so
ardently desired as the annihilation of all future intercourse between
us, that he should not know there was such a person on the earth as
myself, and that I should never more hear the repetition of a name which
had been so fatal to my peace.
Thus circumstanced, I conceived frugality to be an object by no means
unworthy of my attention, unable as I was to prognosticate what
discouragements and delays might present themselves to the
accomplishment of my wishes, after my arrival in London. For this and
other reasons, I determined to adhere to my design of travelling by the
stage; it only remaining for me to consider in what manner I should
prevent the eventful delay of twenty-four hours from becoming, by any
untoward event, a source of new calamity. It was by no means advisable
to remain in the village where I now was during this interval; nor did I
even think proper to employ it, in proceeding on foot along the great
road. I therefore decided upon making a circuit, the direction of which
should seem at first extremely wide of my intended route, and then,
suddenly taking a different inclination, should enable me to arrive by
the close of day at a market-town twelve miles nearer to the metropolis.
Having fixed the economy of the day, and persuaded myself that it was
the best which, under the circumstances, could be adopted, I dismissed,
for the most part, all further anxieties from my mind, and eagerly
yielded myself up to the different amusements that arose. I rested and
went forward at the impulse of the moment. At one time I reclined upon a
bank immersed in contemplation, and at another exerted myself to analyse
the prospects which succeeded each other. The haziness of the morning
was followed by a spirit-stirring and beautiful day. With the ductility
so characteristic of a youthful mind, I forgot the anguish which had
lately been my continual guest, and occupied myself entirely in dreams
of future novelty and felicity. I scarcely ever, in the whole course of
my existence, spent a day of more various or exquisite gratification. It
furnished a strong, and perhaps not an unsalutary contrast, to the
terrors which had preceded, and the dreadful scenes that awaited me.
In the evening I arrived at the place of my destination, and enquired
for the inn at which the coach was accustomed to call. A circumstance
however had previously excited my attention, and reproduced in me a
state of alarm.
Though it was already dark before I reached the town, my observation
had been attracted 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
inquisitiveness in 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 two minutes before I heard the sound of a horse
advancing slowly behind me. These circumstances impressed some degree of
uneasy sensation upon my mind. I first mended my pace; and, this not
appearing to answer the purpose, I afterwards loitered, that the
horseman might pass me. He did so; and, as I glanced at him, I thought I
saw that it was the same man. He now put his horse into a trot, and
entered the town. I followed; and it was not long before I perceived him
at the door of an alehouse, drinking a mug of beer. This however the
darkness prevented me from discovering, till I was in a manner upon him.
I pushed forward, and saw him no more, till, as I entered the yard of
the inn where I intended to sleep, the same man suddenly rode up to me,
and asked if my name were Williams.
This adventure, _while it had been passing_, expelled the gaiety of my
mind, and filled me with anxiety. The apprehension however that I felt,
appeared to me groundless: if I were pursued, I took it for granted it
would be by some of Mr. Falkland's people, and not by a stranger. The
darkness took from me some of the simplest expedients of precaution. I
determined at least to proceed to the inn, and make the necessary
I no sooner heard the sound of the horse as I entered the yard, and the
question proposed to me by the rider, than the dreadful certainty of
what I feared instantly took possession of my mind. Every incident
connected with my late abhorred situation was calculated to impress me
with the deepest alarm. My first thought was, to betake myself to the
fields, and trust to the swiftness of my flight for safety. But this was
scarcely practicable: I remarked that my enemy was alone; and I believed
that, man to man, I might reasonably hope to get the better of him,
either by the firmness of my determination, or the subtlety of my
Thus resolved, I replied in an impetuous and peremptory tone, that I was
the man he took me for; adding, "I guess your errand; but it is to no
purpose. You come to conduct me back to Falkland House; but no force
shall ever drag me to that place alive. I have not taken my resolution
without strong reasons; and all the world shall not persuade me to alter
it. I am an Englishman, and it is the privilege of an Englishman to be
sole judge and master of his own actions."
"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 to be thankful that my errand is not something worse.
Sure enough the squire expects you;--but I have a letter, and when you
have read that, I suppose you will come off a little of your stoutness.
If that does not answer, it will then be time to think what is to be
Thus saying, he gave me his letter, which was from Mr. Forester, whom,
as he told me, he had left at Mr. Falkland's house. I went into a room
of the inn for the purpose of reading it, and was followed by the
bearer. The letter was as 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
utmost consequence to your future honour and character. After reading
these lines, if you are a villain and a rascal, you will perhaps
endeavour to fly; if your conscience 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 your seeming ingenuousness, have
suffered myself to be made the tool of a designing knave. If you come, I
pledge myself that, if you clear your reputation, you shall not only be
free to go wherever you please, but shall receive every assistance in my
power to give. Remember, I engage for nothing further than that.
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 addressed from one end of the earth to the other. My mind was full
of confidence and energy. I felt my own innocence, and was determined to
assert it. I was willing to be driven out a fugitive; I even rejoiced in
my escape, and cheerfully went out into the world destitute of every
provision, and depending for my future prospects upon my own ingenuity.
Thus much, said I, Falkland! you may do. Dispose of me as you please
with respect to the goods of fortune; but you shall neither make prize
of my liberty, nor sully the whiteness of my name. I repassed in my
thoughts every memorable incident that had happened to me under his
roof. I could recollect nothing, except the affair of the mysterious
trunk, out of which the shadow of a criminal accusation could be
extorted. In that instance my conduct had been highly reprehensible, and
I had never looked back upon it without remorse and self-condemnation.
But I did not believe that it was of the nature of those actions which
can be brought under legal censure. I could still less persuade myself
that Mr. Falkland, who shuddered at the very possibility of detection,
and who considered himself as completely in my power, would dare to
bring forward a subject so closely connected with the internal agony of
his soul. In a word, the more I reflected on the phrases of Mr.
Forester's billet, the less could I imagine the nature of those scenes
to which they were to serve as a prelude.
The inscrutableness however of the mystery they contained, did not
suffice to overwhelm my courage. My mind seemed to undergo an entire
revolution. Timid and embarrassed as I had felt myself, when I regarded
Mr. Falkland as my clandestine and domestic foe, I now conceived that
the case was entirely altered. "Meet me," said I, "as an open accuser:
if we must contend, let us contend in the face of day; and then,
unparalleled as your resources may be, I will not fear you." Innocence
and guilt were, in my apprehension, the things in the whole world the
most opposite to each other. I would not suffer myself to believe, that
the former could be confounded with the latter, unless the innocent man
first allowed himself to be subdued in mind, before he was defrauded of
the good opinion of mankind. Virtue rising superior to every calamity,
defeating by a plain unvarnished tale all the stratagems of Vice, and
throwing back upon her adversary the confusion with which he had hoped
to overwhelm her, was one of the favourite subjects of my youthful
reveries. I determined never to prove an instrument of destruction to
Mr. Falkland; but I was not less resolute to obtain justice to myself.
The issue of all these confident hopes I shall immediately have
occasion to relate. It was thus, with the most generous and undoubting
spirit, that I rushed upon irretrievable ruin.
"Friend," said I to the bearer, after a considerable interval of
silence, "you are right. This is, indeed, an extraordinary letter you
have brought me; but it answers its purpose. I will certainly go with
you now, whatever be the consequence. No person shall ever impute blame
to me, so long as I have it in my 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. We procured a second horse. We proceeded on our journey in
silence. My mind was occupied again in endeavouring to account for Mr.
Forester's letter. I knew the inflexibility and sternness of Mr.
Falkland's mind in accomplishing the purposes he had at heart; but I
also knew that every virtuous and magnanimous principle was congenial to
When we arrived, midnight was already past, and we were obliged to waken
one of the servants to give us admittance. I found that Mr. Forester had
left a message for me, in consideration of the possibility of my arrival
during the night, directing me immediately to go to bed, and to take
care that I did not come weary and exhausted to the business of the
following day. I endeavoured to take his advice; but my slumbers were
unrefreshing and disturbed. I suffered however no reduction of courage:
the singularity of my situation, my conjectures with respect to the
present, my eagerness for the future, did not allow me to sink into a
languid and inactive state.
Next morning the first person I saw was Mr. Forester. He told me that
he did not yet know what Mr. Falkland had to allege against me, for that
he had refused to know. He had arrived at the house of his brother by
appointment on the preceding day to settle some indispensable business,
his intention having been to depart the moment the business was
finished, as he knew that conduct on his part would be most agreeable to
Mr. Falkland. But he was no sooner come, than he found the whole house
in confusion, the alarm of my elopement having been given a few hours
before. Mr. Falkland had despatched servants in all directions in
pursuit of me; and the servant from the market-town arrived at the same
moment with Mr. Forester, with intelligence that a person answering the
description he gave, had been there very early in the morning enquiring
respecting the stage to London.
Mr. Falkland seemed extremely disturbed at this information, and
exclaimed on me with acrimony, as an unthankful and unnatural villain.
Mr. Forester replied, "Have more command of yourself, sir! Villain is a
serious appellation, and must not be trifled with. Englishmen are free;
and no man is to be charged with villainy, because he changes one source
of subsistence for another."
Mr. Falkland shook his head, and with a smile, expressive of acute
sensibility, said, "Brother, brother, you are the dupe of his art. I
always considered him with an eye of suspicion, and was aware of his
depravity. But I have just discovered--"
"Stop, sir!" interrupted Mr. Forester. "I own I thought that, in a
moment of acrimony, you might be employing harsh epithets in a sort of
random style. But if you have a serious accusation to state, we must not
be told of that, till it is known whether the lad is within reach of a
hearing. I am indifferent myself about the good opinion of others. It is
what the world bestows and retracts 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 the example and terror of their
species, is that of being heard in their own defence. It is a wise
principle that requires the judge to come into court uninformed of the
merits of the cause he is to try; and to that principle I am determined
to conform as an individual. I shall always think it right to be severe
and inflexible in my treatment of offenders; but the severity I exercise
in the sequel, must be accompanied with impartiality and caution in what
While Mr. Forester related to me these particulars, he observed me ready
to break out into some of the expressions which the narrative suggested;
but he would not suffer me to speak. "No," said he; "I would not hear
Mr. Falkland against you; and I cannot hear you in your defence. I come
to you at present to speak, and not to hear. I thought it right to warn
you of your danger, but I have nothing more to do now. Reserve what you
have to say to the proper time. Make the best story you can for
yourself--true, if truth, as I hope, will serve your purpose; but, if
not, the most plausible and ingenious you can invent. That is what
self-defence requires from every man, where, as it always happens to a
man upon his trial, he has the whole world against him, and has his own
battle to fight against the world. Farewell; and God send you a good
deliverance! If Mr. Falkland's accusation, whatever it be, shall appear
premature, depend upon having me more zealously your friend than ever.
If not, this is the last act of friendship you will ever receive from
It may be believed that this address, so singular, so solemn, so big
with conditional menace, did not greatly tend to encourage me. I was
totally ignorant 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 the innocent but instructed individual to be
the party accused and suffering, instead of having, as was natural, the
real criminal at his mercy. I was still more astonished at the
superhuman power Mr. Falkland seemed to possess, of bringing the object
of his persecution within the sphere of his authority; a reflection
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 is taken out of his direction, and he is hurried along with an
irresistible force, without finding it within the compass of his efforts
to check their rapidity. I was allowed only a short time to recollect
myself, when my trial commenced. I was conducted to the library, where I
had passed so many happy and so many contemplative hours, and found
there Mr. Forester and three or four 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 the justice of the parties
concerned, and had nothing to hope from their indulgence. Mr. Falkland
entered at one door, almost as soon as I entered at the other.
He began: "It has been the principle of my life, never to inflict a
wilful injury upon any thing that lives; I need not express my regret,
when I find myself obliged to be the promulgator of a criminal charge.
How gladly would I pass unnoticed the evil I have sustained; but I owe
it to society to detect an offender, and prevent other men from being
imposed upon, as I have been, by an appearance of integrity."
"It would be better," interrupted Mr. Forester "to speak directly to the
point. We ought not, though unwarily, by apologising for ourselves, to
create at such a time a prejudice against an individual, against whom a
criminal accusation will always be prejudice enough."
"I strongly suspect," continued Mr. Falkland, "this young man, who has
been peculiarly the object of my kindness, of having robbed me to a
"What," replied Mr. Forester, "are the grounds of your suspicion?"
"The first of them is the actual loss I have sustained, in notes,
jewels, and plate. I have missed bank-notes to the amount of nine
hundred pounds, three gold repeaters of considerable value, a complete
set of diamonds, the property of my late mother, and several other
"And why," continued my arbitrator, astonishment grief, and a desire to
retain his self-possession, strong contending in his countenance and
voice, "do you fix on this young man as the instrument of the
"I found him, on my coming home, upon the day when every thing was in
disorder from the alarm of fire, in the very act of quitting the private
apartment where these articles were deposited. He was confounded at
seeing me, and hastened to withdraw as soon as he possibly could."
"Did you say nothing to him--take no notice of the confusion your sudden
"I asked what was his errand in that place. He was at first so terrified
and overcome, that he could not answer me. Afterwards, with a good deal
of faltering, he said that, when all the servants were engaged in
endeavouring to save the most valuable part of my property, he had come
hither with the same view; but that he had as yet removed nothing."
"Did you immediately examine to see that every thing was safe?"
"No. I was accustomed to Confide in his honesty, and I was suddenly
called away, in the present instance, to attend to the increasing
progress of the flames. I therefore only took out the key from the door
of the apartment, having first locked it, and, putting it in my pocket,
hastened to go where my presence seemed indispensably necessary."
"How long was it before you missed your property?"
"The same evening. The hurry of the scene had driven the circumstance
entirely out of my mind, till, going by accident near the apartment, the
whole affair, together with the singular and equivocal behaviour of
Williams, rushed at once upon my recollection. I immediately entered,
examined the trunk in which these things were contained, and, to my
astonishment, found the locks broken, and the property gone."
"What steps did you take upon this discovery?"
"I sent for Williams, and talked to him very seriously upon the
subject. But he had now perfectly recovered his self-command, and calmly
and stoutly denied all knowledge of the matter. I urged him with the
enormousness of the offence, but I made no impression. He did not
discover either the surprise and indignation one would have expected
from a person entirely innocent, or the uneasiness that generally
attends upon guilt. He was rather silent and reserved. I then informed
him, that I should proceed in a manner different from what he might
perhaps expect. I would not, as is too frequent in such cases, make a
general search; for I had rather lose my property for ever without
redress, than expose a multitude of innocent persons to anxiety and
injustice. My suspicion, for the present, unavoidably fixed upon him.
But, in a matter of so great consequence, I was determined not to act
upon suspicion. I would neither incur the possibility of ruining him,
being innocent, nor be the instrument of exposing others to his
depredations, if guilty. I should therefore merely insist upon his
continuing in my service. He might depend upon it he should be well
watched, and I trusted the whole truth would eventually appear. Since he
avoided confession now, I advised him to consider how far it was likely
he would come off with impunity at last. This I determined on, that the
moment he attempted an escape, I would consider that as an indication of
guilt, and proceed accordingly."
"What circumstances have occurred from that time to the present?"
"None upon which I can infer a certainty of guilt; several that agree to
favour a suspicion. From that time Williams was perpetually uneasy in
his situation, always desirous, as it now appears, to escape, but
afraid to adopt such a measure without certain precautions. It was not
long after, that you, Mr. Forester, became my visitor. I observed, with
dissatisfaction, the growing intercourse between you, reflecting on the
equivocalness of his character, and the attempt he would probably make
to render you the dupe of his hypocrisy. I accordingly threatened him
severely; and I believe you observed the change that presently after
occurred in his behaviour with relation to you."
"I did, and it appeared at that time mysterious and extraordinary."
"Some time after, as you well know, a rencounter took place between you,
whether accidental or intentional on his part I am not able to say, when
he confessed to you the uneasiness of his mind, without discovering the
cause, and openly proposed to you to assist him in his flight, and
stand, in case of necessity, between him and my resentment. You offered,
it seems, to take him into your service; but nothing, as he
acknowledged, would answer his purpose, that did not place his retreat
wholly out of my power to discover."
"Did it not appear extraordinary to you, that he should hope for any
effectual protection from me, while it remained perpetually in your
power to satisfy me of his unworthiness?"
"Perhaps he had hopes that I should not proceed to that step, at least
so long as the place of his retreat should be unknown to me, and of
consequence the event of my proceeding dubious. Perhaps he confided in
his own powers, which are far from contemptible, to construct a
plausible tale, especially as he had taken care to have the first
impression in his favour. After all, this protection, on your part, was
merely reserved in case all other expedients failed. He does not appear
to have had any other sentiment upon the subject, than that, if he were
defeated in his projects for placing himself beyond the reach of
justice, it was better to have bespoken a place in your patronage than
to be destitute of every resource."
Mr. Falkland having thus finished his evidence, called upon Robert, the
valet, to confirm the part of it which related to the day of the fire.
Robert stated, that he happened to be coming through the library that
day, a few minutes after Mr. Falkland's being brought home by the sight
of the fire; that he had found me standing there with every mark of
perturbation and fright; that he could not help stopping to notice it;
that he had spoken to me two or three times before he could obtain an
answer; and that all he could get from me at last was, that I was the
most miserable creature alive.
He further said, that in the evening of the same day Mr. Falkland called
him into the private apartment adjoining to the library, and bid him
bring a hammer and some nails. He then showed him a trunk standing in
the apartment with its locks and fastening broken, and ordered him to
observe and remember what he saw, but not to mention it to any one.
Robert did not at that time know what Mr. Falkland intended by these
directions, which were given in a manner uncommonly solemn and
significant; but he entertained no doubt, that the fastenings were
broken and wrenched by the application of a chisel or such-like
instrument, with the intention of forcibly opening the trunk.
Mr. Forester observed upon this evidence, that as much of it as related
to the day of the fire seemed indeed to afford powerful reasons for
suspicion; and that the circumstances that had occurred since strangely
concurred to fortify that suspicion. Meantime, that nothing proper to
be done might be omitted, he asked whether in my flight I had removed my
boxes, to see whether by that means any trace could be discovered to
confirm the imputation. Mr. Falkland treated this suggestion slightly,
saying, that if I were the thief, I had no doubt taken the precaution to
obviate so palpable a means of detection. To this Mr. Forester only
replied, that conjecture, however skilfully formed, was not always
realised in the actions and behaviour of mankind; and ordered that my
boxes and trunks, if found, should be brought into the library. I
listened to this suggestion with pleasure; and, uneasy and confounded as
I was at the appearances combined against me, I trusted in this appeal
to give a new face to my cause. I was eager to declare the place where
my property was deposited; and the servants, guided by my direction,
presently produced what was enquired for.
The two boxes that were first opened, contained nothing to confirm the
accusation against me; in the third were found a watch and several
jewels, that were immediately known to be the property of Mr. Falkland.
The production of this seemingly decisive evidence excited emotions of
astonishment and concern; but no person's astonishment appeared to be
greater than that of Mr. Falkland. That I should have left the stolen
goods behind me, would of itself have appeared incredible; but when it
was considered what a secure place of concealment I had found for them,
the wonder diminished; and Mr. Forester observed, that it was by no
means impossible I might conceive it easier to obtain possession of them
afterwards, than to remove them at the period of my precipitate flight.
Here however I thought it necessary to interfere. I fervently urged my
right to a fair and impartial construction. I asked Mr. Forester,
whether it were probable, if I had stolen these things, that I should
not have contrived, at least to remove them along with me? And again,
whether, if I had been conscious they would he found among my property,
I should myself have indicated the place where I had concealed it?
The insinuation I conveyed against Mr. Forester's impartiality
overspread his whole countenance, for an instant, with the flush of
"Impartiality, young man! Yes, be sure, from me you shall experience an
impartial treatment! God send that may answer your purpose! Presently
you shall be heard at full in your own defence.
"You expect us to believe you innocent, because you did not remove these
things along with you. The money is removed. Where, sir, is that? We
cannot answer for the inconsistences and oversights of any human mind,
and, least of all, if that mind should appear to be disturbed with the
consciousness of guilt.
"You observe that it was by your own direction these boxes and trunks
have been found: that is indeed extraordinary. It appears little less
than infatuation. But to what purpose appeal to probabilities and
conjecture, in the face of incontestable facts? There, sir, are the
boxes: you alone knew where they were to be found; you alone had the
keys: tell us then how this watch and these jewels came to be contained
I was silent.
To the rest of the persons present I seemed to be merely the subject of
detection; but in reality I was, of all the spectators, that individual
who was most at a loss to conceive, through every stage of the scene,
what, would come next, and who listened to every word that was uttered
with the most uncontrollable amazement. Amazement however alternately
yielded to indignation and horror. At first I could not refrain from
repeatedly attempting to interrupt; but I was checked in these attempts
by Mr. Forester; and I presently felt how necessary it was to my future
peace, that I should collect the whole energy of my mind to repel the
charge, and assert my innocence.
Every thing being now produced that could be produced against me, Mr.
Forester turned to me with a look of concern and pity, and told me that
now was the time, if I chose to allege any thing in my defence. In reply
to this invitation, I spoke nearly as follows:--
"I am innocent. It is in vain that circumstances are accumulated against
me; there is not a person upon earth less capable than I of the things
of which I am accused. I appeal to my heart--I appeal to my looks--I
appeal to every sentiment my tongue ever uttered."
I could perceive that the fervour with which I spoke made some
impression upon every one that heard me. But in a moment their eyes were
turned upon the property that lay before them, and their countenances
changed. I proceeded:--
"One thing more I must aver;--Mr. Falkland is not deceived; he perfectly
knows that I am innocent."
I had no sooner uttered these words, than an involuntary cry of
indignation burst from every person in the room. Mr. Forester turned to
me with a look of extreme severity, and said--
"Young man, consider well what you are doing! It is the privilege of the
party accused to say whatever he thinks proper; and I will take care
that you shall enjoy that privilege in its utmost extent. But do you
think it will conduce in any respect to your benefit, to throw out such
insolent and intolerable insinuations?"
"I thank you most sincerely," replied I, "for your caution; but I well
know what it is I am doing. I make this declaration, not merely because
it is solemnly true, but because it is inseparably connected with my
vindication. I am the party accused, and I shall be told that I am not
to be believed in my own defence. I can produce no other witnesses of my
innocence; I therefore call upon Mr. Falkland to be my evidence. I ask
"Did you never boast to me in private of your power to ruin me? Did you
never say that, if once I brought on myself the weight of your
displeasure, my fall should be irreparable? Did you not tell me that,
though I should prepare in that case a tale however plausible or however
true, you would take care that the whole world should execrate me as an
impostor? Were not those your very words? Did you not add, that my
innocence should be of no service to me, and that you laughed at so
feeble a defence? I ask you further,--Did you not receive a letter from
me the morning of the day on which I departed, requesting your consent
to my departure? Should I have done that if my flight had been that of a
thief? I challenge any man to reconcile the expressions of that letter
with this accusation. Should I have begun with stating that I had
conceived a desire to quit your service, if my desire and the reasons
for it, had been of the nature that is now alleged? Should I have dared
to ask for what reason I was thus subjected to an eternal penance?"
Saying this, I took out a copy of my letter, and laid it open upon the
Mr. Falkland returned no immediate answer to my interrogations. Mr.
Forester turned to him, and said.
"Well, sir, what is your reply to this challenge of your servant?"
Mr. Falkland answered, "Such a mode of defence scarcely calls for a
reply. But I answer, I held no such conversation; I never used such
words; I received no such letter. Surely it is no sufficient refutation
of a criminal charge, that the criminal repels what is alleged against
him with volubility of speech, and intrepidity of manner."
Mr. Forester then turned to me: "If," said he, "you trust your
vindication to the plausibility of your tale, you must take care to
render it consistent and complete. You have not told us what was the
cause of the confusion and anxiety in which Robert professes to have
found you, why you were so impatient to quit the service of Mr.
Falkland, or how you account for certain articles of his property being
found in your possession."
"All that, sir," answered I, "is true. There are certain parts of my
story that I have not told. If they were told, they would not conduce to
my disadvantage, and they would make the present accusation appear still
more astonishing. But I cannot, as yet at least, prevail upon myself to
tell them. Is it necessary to give any particular and precise reasons
why I should wish to change the place of my residence? You all of you
know the unfortunate state of Mr. Falkland's mind. You know the
sternness, reservedness, and distance of his manners. If I had no other
reasons, surely it would afford small presumption of criminality that I
should wish to change his service for another.
"The question of how these articles of Mr. Falkland's property came to
be found in my possession, is more material. It is a question I am
wholly unable to answer. Their being found there, was at least as
unexpected to me as to any one of the persons now present. I only know
that, as I have the most perfect assurance of Mr. Falkland's being
conscious of my innocence--for, observe! I do not shrink from that
assertion; I reiterate it with new confidence--I therefore firmly and
from my soul believe, that their being there is of Mr. Falkland's
I no sooner said this, than I was again interrupted by an involuntary
exclamation from every one present. They looked at me with furious
glances, as if they could have torn me to pieces. I proceeded:--
"I have now answered every thing that is alleged against me.
"Mr. Forester, you are a lover of justice; I conjure you not to violate
it in my person. You are a man of penetration; look at me! do you see
any of the marks of guilt? Recollect all that has ever passed under your
observation; is it compatible with a mind capable of what is now alleged
against me? Could a real criminal have shown himself so unabashed,
composed, and firm as I have now done?
"Fellow-servants! Mr. Falkland is a man of rank and fortune; he is your
master. I am a poor country lad, without a friend in the world. That is
a ground of real difference to a certain extent; but it is not a
sufficient ground for the subversion of justice. Remember, that I am in
a situation that is not to be trifled with; that a decision given
against me now, in a case in which I solemnly assure you I am innocent,
will for ever deprive me of reputation and peace of mind, combine the
whole world in a league against me, and determine perhaps upon my
liberty and my life. If you believe--if you see--if you know, that I am
innocent, speak for me. Do not suffer a pusillanimous timidity to
prevent you from saving a fellow-creature from destruction, who does not
deserve to have a human being for his enemy. Why have we the power of
speech, but to communicate our thoughts? I will never believe that a
man, conscious of innocence, cannot make other men perceive that he has
that thought. Do not you feel that my whole heart tells me. I am not
guilty of what is imputed to me?
"To you, Mr. Falkland, I have nothing to say: I know you, and know that
you are impenetrable. At the very moment that you are urging such odious
charges against me, you admire my resolution and forbearance. But I have
nothing to hope from you. You can look upon my ruin without pity or
remorse. I am most unfortunate indeed in having to do with such an
adversary. You oblige me to say ill things of you; but I appeal to your
own heart, whether my language is that of exaggeration or revenge."
Every thing that could be alleged on either side being now concluded,
Mr. Forester undertook to make some remarks upon the whole.
"Williams," said he, "the charge against you is heavy; the direct
evidence strong; the corroborating circumstances numerous and striking.
I grant that you have shown considerable dexterity in your answers; but
you will learn, young man, to your cost, that dexterity, however
powerful it may be in certain cases, will avail little against the
stubbornness of truth. It is fortunate for mankind that the empire of
talents has its limitations, and that it is not in the power of
ingenuity to subvert the distinctions of right and wrong. Take my word
for it, that the true merits of the case against you will be too strong
for sophistry to overturn; that justice will prevail, and impotent
malice be defeated.
"To you, Mr. Falkland, society is obliged for having placed this black
affair in its true light. Do not suffer the malignant aspersions of the
criminal to give you uneasiness. Depend upon it that they will be found
of no weight I have no doubt that your character, in the judgment of
every person that has heard them, stands higher than ever. We feel for
your misfortune, in being obliged to hear such calumnies from a person
who has injured you so grossly. But you must be considered in that
respect as a martyr in the public cause. The purity of your motives and
dispositions is beyond the reach of malice; and truth and equity will
not fail to award, to your calumniator infamy, and to you the love and
approbation of mankind.
"I have now told you, Williams, what I think of your case. But I have no
right to assume to be your ultimate judge. Desperate as it appears to
me, I will give you one piece of advice, as if I were retained as a
counsel to assist you. Leave out of it whatever tends to the
disadvantage of Mr. Falkland. Defend yourself as well as you can, but do
not attack your master. It is your business to create in those who hear
you a prepossession in your favour. But the recrimination you have been
now practising, will always create indignation. Dishonesty will admit of
some palliation. The deliberate malice you have now been showing is a
thousand times more atrocious. It proves you to have the mind of a
demon, rather than of a felon. Wherever you shall repeat it, those who
hear you will pronounce you guilty upon that, even if the proper
evidence against you were glaringly defective. If therefore you would
consult your interest, which seems to be your only consideration, it is
incumbent upon you by all means immediately to retract that. If you
desire to be believed honest, you must in the first place show that you
have a due sense of merit in others. You cannot better serve your cause
than by begging pardon of your master, and doing homage to rectitude and
worth, even when they are employed in vengeance against you."
It is easy to conceive that my mind sustained an extreme shock from the
decision of Mr. Forester; but his call upon me to retract and humble
myself before my accuser penetrated my whole soul with indignation. I
"I have already told you I am innocent. I believe that I could not
endure the effort of inventing a plausible defence, if it were
otherwise. You have just affirmed that it is not in the power of
ingenuity to subvert the distinctions of right and wrong, and in that
very instant I find them subverted. This is indeed to me a very awful
moment. New to the world, I know nothing of its affairs but what has
reached me by rumour, or is recorded in books. I have come into it with
all the ardour and confidence inseparable from my years. In every
fellow-being I expected to find a friend. I am unpractised in its wiles,
and have even no acquaintance with its injustice. I have done nothing to
deserve the animosity of mankind; but, if I may judge from the present
scene, I am henceforth to be deprived of the benefits of integrity and
honour. I am to forfeit the friendship of every one I have hitherto
known, and to be precluded from the power of acquiring that of others. I
must therefore be reduced to derive my satisfaction from myself. Depend
upon it, I will not begin that career by dishonourable concessions. If I
am to despair of the good-will of other men, I will at least maintain
the independence of my own mind. Mr. Falkland is my implacable enemy.
Whatever may be his merits in other respects, he is acting towards me
without humanity, without remorse, and without principle. Do you think I
will ever make submissions to a man by whom I am thus treated, that I
will fall down at the feet of one who is to me a devil, or kiss the hand
that is red with my blood?"
"In that respect," answered Mr. Forester, "do as you shall think
proper. I must confess that your firmness and consistency astonish me.
They add something to what I had conceived of human powers. Perhaps you
have chosen the part which, all things considered, may serve your
purpose best; though I think more moderation would be more conciliating.
The exterior of innocence will, I grant, stagger the persons who may
have the direction of your fate, but it will never be able to prevail
against plain and incontrovertible facts. But I have done with you. I
see in you a new instance of that abuse which is so generally made of
talents, the admiration of an undiscerning public. I regard you with
horror. All that remains is, that I should discharge my duty, in
consigning you, as a monster of depravity, to the justice of your
"No," rejoined Mr. Falkland, "to that I can never consent. I have put a
restraint upon myself thus far, because it was right that evidence and
enquiry should take their course. I have suppressed all my habits and
sentiments, because it seemed due to the public that hypocrisy should be
unmasked. But I can suffer this violence no longer. I have through my
whole life interfered to protect, not overbear, the sufferer; and I must
do so now. I feel not the smallest resentment of his impotent attacks
upon my character; I smile at their malice; and they make no diminution
in my benevolence to their author. Let him say what he pleases; he
cannot hurt me. It was proper that he should be brought to public shame,
that other people might not be deceived by him as we have been. But
there is no necessity for proceeding further; and I must insist upon it
that he be permitted to depart wherever he pleases. I am sorry that
public interest affords so gloomy a prospect for his future happiness."
"Mr. Falkland," answered Mr. Forester, "these sentiments do honour to
your humanity; but I must not give way to them. They only serve to set
in a stronger light the venom of this serpent, this monster of
ingratitude, who first robs his benefactor, and then reviles him. Wretch
that you are, will nothing move you? Are you inaccessible to remorse?
Are you not struck to the heart with the unmerited goodness of your
master? Vile calumniator! you are the abhorrence of nature, the
opprobrium of the human species, and the earth can only be freed from an
insupportable burthen by your being exterminated! Recollect, sir, that
this monster, at the very moment that you are exercising such unexampled
forbearance in his behalf, has the presumption to charge you with
prosecuting a crime of which you know him to be innocent, nay, with
having conveyed the pretended stolen goods among his property, for the
express purpose of ruining him. By this unexampled villainy, he makes it
your duty to free the world from such a pest, and your interest to admit
no relaxing in your pursuit of him, lest the world should be persuaded
by your clemency to credit his vile insinuations."
"I care not for the consequences," replied Mr. Falkland; "I will obey
the dictates of my own mind. I will never lend my assistance to the
reforming mankind by axes and gibbets. I am sure things will never be as
they ought, till honour, and not law, be the dictator of mankind, till
vice be taught to shrink before the resistless might of inborn dignity,
and not before the cold formality of statutes. If my calumniator were
worthy of my resentment, I would chastise him with my own sword, and not
that of the magistrate; but in the present case I smile at his malice,
and resolve to spare him, as the generous lord of the forest spares the
insect that would disturb his repose."
"The language you now hold," said Mr. Forester, "is that of romance, and
not of reason. Yet I cannot but be struck with the contrast exhibited
before me, of the magnanimity of virtue, and the obstinate impenetrable
injustice of guilt. While your mind overflows with goodness, nothing can
touch the heart of this thrice-refined villain. I shall never forgive
myself for having once been entrapped by his detestable arts. This is no
time for us to settle the question between chivalry and law. I shall
therefore simply insist as a magistrate, having taken the evidence in
this felony, upon my right and duty of following the course of justice,
and committing the accused to the county jail."
After some further contest Mr. Falkland, finding Mr. Forester obstinate
and impracticable, withdrew his opposition. Accordingly a proper officer
was summoned from the neighbouring village, a mittimus made out, and one
of Mr. Falkland's carriages prepared to conduct me to the place of
custody. It will easily be imagined that this sudden reverse was very
painfully felt by me. I looked round on the servants who had been the
spectators of my examination, but not one of them, either by word or
gesture, expressed compassion for my calamity. The robbery of which I
was accused appeared to them atrocious from its magnitude; and whatever
sparks of compassion might otherwise have sprung up in their ingenuous
and undisciplined minds, were totally obliterated by indignation at my
supposed profligacy in recriminating upon their worthy and excellent
master. My fate being already determined, and one of the servants
despatched for the officer, Mr. Forester and Mr. Falkland withdrew, and
left me in the custody of two others.
One of these was the son of a farmer at no great distance, who had been
in habits of long-established intimacy with my late father. I was
willing accurately to discover the state of mind of those who had been
witnesses of this scene, and who had had some previous opportunity of
observing my character and manners. I, therefore, endeavoured to open a
conversation with him. "Well, my good Thomas," said I, in a querulous
tone, and with a hesitating manner, "am I not a most miserable
"Do not speak to me, Master Williams! You have given me a shock that I
shall not get the better of for one while. You were hatched by a hen, as
the saying is, but you came of the spawn of a cockatrice. I am glad to
my heart that honest farmer Williams is dead; your villainy would else
have made him curse the day that ever he was born."
"Thomas, I am innocent' I swear by the great God that shall judge me
another day, I am innocent!"
"Pray, do not swear! for goodness' sake, do not swear! your poor soul is
damned enough without that. For your sake, lad, I will never take any
body's word, nor trust to appearances, tho' it should be an angel. Lord
bless us! how smoothly you palavered it over, for all the world, as if
you had been as fair as a new-born babe! But it will not do; you will
never be able to persuade people that black is white. For my own part, I
have done with you. I loved you yesterday, all one as if you had been my
own brother. To-day I love you so well, that I would go ten miles with
all the pleasure in life to see you hanged."
"Good God, Thomas! have you the heart? What a change! I call God to
witness, I have done nothing to deserve it! What a world do we live in!"
"Hold your tongue, boy! It makes my very heart sick to hear you! I
would not lie a night under the same roof with you for all the world! I
should expect the house to fall and crush such wickedness! I admire that
the earth does not open and swallow you alive! It is poison so much as
to look at you! If you go on at this hardened rate, I believe from my
soul that the people you talk to will tear you to pieces, and you will
never live to come to the gallows. Oh, yes, you do well to pity
yourself; poor tender thing! that spit venom all round you like a toad,
and leave the very ground upon which you crawl infected with your
Finding the person with whom I talked thus impenetrable to all I could
say, and considering that the advantage to be gained was small, even if
I could overcome his prepossession, I took his advice, and was silent.
It was not much longer before every thing was prepared for my departure,
and I was conducted to the same prison which had so lately enclosed the
wretched and innocent Hawkinses. They too had been the victims of Mr.
Falkland. He exhibited, upon a contracted scale indeed, but in which the
truth of delineation was faithfully sustained, a copy of what monarchs
are, who reckon among the instruments of their power prisons of state.
For my own part, I had never seen a prison, and, like the majority of my
brethren, had given myself little concern to enquire what was the
condition of those who committed offence against, or became obnoxious to
suspicion from, the community. Oh, how enviable is the most tottering
shed under which the labourer retires to rest, compared with the
residence of these walls!
To me every thing was new,--the massy doors, the resounding locks, the
gloomy passages, the grated windows, and the characteristic looks of the
keepers, accustomed to reject every petition, and to steel their hearts
against feeling and pity. Curiosity, and a sense of my situation,
induced me to fix my eyes on the faces of these men; but in a few
minutes I drew them away with unconquerable loathing. It is impossible
to describe the sort of squalidness and filth with which these mansions
are distinguished. I have seen dirty faces in dirty apartments, which
have nevertheless borne the impression of health, and spoke carelessness
and levity rather than distress. But the dirt of a prison speaks sadness
to the heart, and appears to be already in a state of putridity and
I was detained for more than an hour in the apartment of the keeper, one
turnkey after another coming in, that they might make themselves
familiar with my person. As I was already considered as guilty of felony
to a considerable amount, I underwent a rigorous search, and they took
from me a penknife, a pair of scissars, and that part of my money which
was in gold. It was debated whether or not these should be sealed up, to
be returned to me, as they said, as soon as I should be acquitted; and
had I not displayed an unexpected firmness of manner and vigour of
expostulation, such was probably the conduct that would have been
pursued. Having undergone these ceremonies, I was thrust into a
day-room, in which all the persons then under confinement for felony
were assembled, to the number of eleven. Each of them was too much
engaged in his own reflections, to take notice of me. Of these, two were
imprisoned for horse-stealing, and three for having stolen a sheep, one
for shop-lifting, one for coining, two for highway-robbery, and two for
The horse-stealers were engaged in a game at cards, which was presently
interrupted by a difference of opinion, attended with great
vociferation,--they calling upon one and another to decide it, to no
purpose; one paying no attention to their summons, and another leaving
them in the midst of their story, being no longer able to endure his own
internal anguish, in the midst of their mummery.
It is a custom among thieves to constitute a sort of mock tribunal of
their own body, from whose decision every one is informed whether he
shall be acquitted, respited, or pardoned, as well as respecting the
supposed most skilful way of conducting his defence. One of the
housebreakers, who had already passed this ordeal, and was stalking up
and down the room with a forced bravery, exclaimed to his companion,
that he was as rich as the Duke of Bedford himself. He had five guineas
and a half, which was as much as he could possibly spend in the course
of the ensuing month; and what happened after that, it was Jack Ketch's
business to see to, not his. As he uttered these words, he threw himself
abruptly upon a bench that was near him, and seemed to be asleep in a
moment. But his sleep was uneasy and disturbed, his breathing was hard,
and, at intervals, had rather the nature of a groan. A young fellow from
the other side of the room came softly to the place where he lay, with a
large knife in his hand: and pressed the back of it with such violence
upon his neck, the head hanging over the side of the bench, that it was
not till after several efforts that he was able to rise. "Oh, Jack!"
cried this manual jester, "I had almost done your business for you!" The
other expressed no marks of resentment, but sullenly answered, "Damn
you, why did not you take the edge? It would have been the best thing
you have done this many a day!"[B]
[Footnote B: An incident exactly similar to this was witnessed by a
friend of the author, a few years since, in a visit to the prison of
The case of one of the persons committed for highway-robbery was not a
little extraordinary. He was a common soldier of a most engaging
physiognomy, and two-and-twenty years of age. The prosecutor, who had
been robbed one evening, as he returned late from the alehouse, of the
sum of three shillings, swore positively to his person. The character of
the prisoner was such as has seldom been equalled. He had been ardent in
the pursuit of intellectual cultivation, and was accustomed to draw his
favourite amusement from the works of Virgil and Horace. The humbleness
of his situation, combined with his ardour for literature, only served
to give an inexpressible heightening to the interestingness of his
character. He was plain and unaffected; he assumed nothing; he was
capable, when occasion demanded, of firmness, but, in his ordinary
deportment, he seemed unarmed and unresisting, unsuspicious of guile in
others, as he was totally free from guile in himself. His integrity was
proverbially great. In one instance he had been intrusted by a lady to
convey a sum of a thousand pounds to a person at some miles distance: in
another, he was employed by a gentleman, during his absence, in the care
of his house and furniture, to the value of at least five times that
sum. His habits of thinking were strictly his own, full of justice,
simplicity, and wisdom. He from time to time earned money of his
officers, by his peculiar excellence in furbishing arms; but he declined
offers that had been made him to become a Serjeant or a corporal,
saying that he did not want money, and that in a new situation he should
have less leisure for study. He was equally constant in refusing
presents that were offered him by persons who had been struck with his
merit; not that he was under the influence of false delicacy and pride,
but that he had no inclination to accept that, the want of which he did
not feel to be an evil. This man died while I was in prison. I received
his last breath.[C]
[Footnote C: A story extremely similar to this is to be found in the
Newgate Calendar, vol. i. p. 382.]
The whole day I was obliged to spend in the company of these men, some
of them having really committed the actions laid to their charge, others
whom their ill fortune had rendered the victims of suspicion. The whole
was a scene of misery, such as nothing short of actual observation can
suggest to the mind. Some were noisy and obstreperous, endeavouring by a
false bravery to keep at bay the remembrance of their condition; while
others, incapable even of this effort, had the torment of their thoughts
aggravated by the perpetual noise and confusion that prevailed around
them. In the faces of those who assumed the most courage, you might
trace the furrows of anxious care and in the midst of their laboured
hilarity dreadful ideas would ever and anon intrude, convulsing their
features, and working every line into an expression of the keenest
agony. To these men the sun brought no return of joy. Day after day
rolled on, but their state was immutable. Existence was to them a scene
of invariable melancholy; every moment was a moment of anguish; yet did
they wish to prolong that moment, fearful that the coming period would
bring a severer fate. They thought of the past with insupportable
repentance, each man contented to give his right hand to have again the
choice of that peace and liberty, which he had unthinkingly bartered
away. We talk of instruments of torture; Englishmen take credit to
themselves for having banished the use of them from their happy shore!
Alas! he that has observed the secrets of a prison, well knows that
there is more torture in the lingering existence of a criminal, in the
silent intolerable minutes that he spends, than in the tangible misery
of whips and racks!
Such were our days. At sunset our jailors appeared, and ordered each man
to come away, and be locked into his dungeon. It was a bitter
aggravation of our fate, to be under the arbitrary control of these
fellows. They felt no man's sorrow; they were of all men least capable
of any sort of feeling. They had a barbarous and sullen pleasure in
issuing their detested mandates, and observing the mournful reluctance
with which they were obeyed. Whatever they directed, it was in vain to
expostulate; fetters, and bread and water, were the sure consequences of
resistance. Their tyranny had no other limit than their own caprice. To
whom shall the unfortunate felon appeal? To what purpose complain, when
his complaints are sure to be received with incredulity? A tale of
mutiny and necessary precaution is the unfailing refuge of the keeper,
and this tale is an everlasting bar against redress.
Our dungeons were cells, 7-1/2 feet by 6-1/2, below the surface of the
ground, damp, without window, light, or air, except from a few holes
worked for that purpose in the door. In some of these miserable
receptacles three persons were put to sleep together.[D] I was fortunate
enough to have one to myself. It was now the approach of winter. We
were not allowed to have candles, and, as I have already said, were
thrust in here at sunset, and not liberated till the returning day. This
was our situation for fourteen or fifteen hours out of the
four-and-twenty. I had never been accustomed to sleep more than six or
seven hours, and my inclination to sleep was now less than ever. Thus
was I reduced to spend half my day in this dreary abode, and in complete
darkness. This was no trifling aggravation of my lot.
[Footnote D: See Howard on Prisons.]
Among my melancholy reflections I tasked my memory, and counted over the
doors, the locks, the bolts, the chains, the massy walls, and grated
windows, that were between me and liberty. "These," said I, "are the
engines that tyranny sits down in cold and serious meditation to invent.
This is the empire that man exercises over man. Thus is a being, formed
to expatiate, to act, to smile, and enjoy, restricted and benumbed. How
great must be his depravity or heedlessness, who vindicates this scheme
for changing health and gaiety and serenity, into the wanness of a
dungeon, and the deep furrows of agony and despair!"
"Thank God," exclaims the Englishman, "we have no Bastile! Thank God,
with us no man can be punished without a crime!" Unthinking wretch! Is
that a country of liberty, where thousands languish in dungeons and
fetters? Go, go, ignorant fool! and visit the scenes of our prisons!
witness their unwholesomeness, their filth, the tyranny of their
governors, the misery of their inmates! After that, show me the man
shameless enough to triumph, and say, England has no Bastile! Is there
any charge so frivolous, upon which men are not consigned to those
detested abodes? Is there any villainy that is not practised by justices