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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesArthur Mervyn; Or, Memoirs Of The Year 1793 - Volume 2 - Chapter 25
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Arthur Mervyn; Or, Memoirs Of The Year 1793 - Volume 2 - Chapter 25 Post by :andre Category :Long Stories Author :Charles Brockden Brown Date :May 2012 Read :1192

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Arthur Mervyn; Or, Memoirs Of The Year 1793 - Volume 2 - Chapter 25

VOLUME II CHAPTER XXV

While musing upon these facts, I could not but reflect with astonishment on the narrow escapes which Mervyn's virtue had experienced. I was by no means certain that his fame or his life was exempt from all danger, or that the suspicions which had already been formed respecting him could possibly be wiped away. Nothing but his own narrative, repeated with that simple but nervous eloquence which we had witnessed, could rescue him from the most heinous charges. Was there any tribunal that would not acquit him on merely hearing his defence?

Surely the youth was honest. His tale could not be the fruit of invention; and yet, what are the bounds of fraud? Nature has set no limits to the combinations of fancy. A smooth exterior, a show of virtue, and a specious tale, are, a thousand times, exhibited in human intercourse by craft and subtlety. Motives are endlessly varied, while actions continue the same; and an acute penetration may not find it hard to select and arrange motives, suited to exempt from censure any action that a human being can commit.

Had I heard Mervyn's story from another, or read it in a book, I might, perhaps, have found it possible to suspect the truth; but, as long as the impression made by his tones, gestures, and looks, remained in my memory, this suspicion was impossible. Wickedness may sometimes be ambiguous, its mask may puzzle the observer; our judgment may be made to falter and fluctuate, but the face of Mervyn is the index of an honest mind. Calm or vehement, doubting or confident, it is full of benevolence and candour. He that listens to his words may question their truth, but he that looks upon his countenance when speaking cannot withhold his faith.

It was possible, however, to find evidence supporting or confuting his story. I chanced to be acquainted with a family, by name Althorpe, who were natives of that part of the country where his father resided. I paid them a visit, and, after a few preliminaries, mentioned, as if by accident, the name of Mervyn. They immediately recognised this name as belonging to one of their ancient neighbours. The death of the wife and sons, and the seduction of the only daughter by Colvill, with many pathetic incidents connected with the fate of this daughter, were mentioned.

This intelligence induced me to inquire of Mrs. Althorpe, a sensible and candid woman, if she were acquainted with the recent or present situation of this family.

"I cannot say much," she answered, "of my own knowledge. Since my marriage, I am used to spend a few weeks of summer at my father's, but am less inquisitive than I once was into the concerns of my old neighbours. I recollect, however, when there, last year, during _the fever_, to have heard that Sawny Mervyn had taken a second wife; that his only son, a youth of eighteen, had thought proper to be highly offended with his father's conduct, and treated the new mistress of the house with insult and contempt. I should not much wonder at this, seeing children are so apt to deem themselves unjustly treated by a second marriage of their parent; but it was hinted that the boy's jealousy and discontent were excited by no common cause. The new mother was not much older than himself, had been a servant of the family, and a criminal intimacy had subsisted between her, while in that condition, and the son. Her marriage with his father was justly accounted by their neighbours a most profligate and odious transaction. The son, perhaps, had, in such a case, a right to scold, but he ought not to have carried his anger to such extremes as have been imputed to him. He is said to have grinned upon her with contempt, and even to have called her _strumpet in the presence of his father and of strangers.

"It was impossible for such a family to keep together. Arthur took leave one night to possess himself of all his father's cash, mount the best horse in his meadow, and elope. For a time, no one knew whither he had gone. At last, one was said to have met with him in the streets of this city, metamorphosed from a rustic lad into a fine gentleman. Nothing could be quicker than this change, for he left the country on a Saturday morning, and was seen in a French frock and silk stockings, going into Christ's Church the next day. I suppose he kept it up with a high hand, as long as his money lasted.

"My lather paid us a visit last week, and, among other country-news, told us that Sawny Mervyn had sold his place. His wife had persuaded him to try his fortune in the Western country. The price of his hundred acres here would purchase a thousand there, and the man, being very gross and ignorant, and, withal, quite a simpleton, found no difficulty in perceiving that a thousand are ten times more than a hundred. He was not aware that a rood of ground upon Schuylkill is tenfold better than an acre on the Tennessee.

"The woman turned out to be an artful profligate. Having sold his ground and gotten his money, he placed it in her keeping, and she, to enjoy it with the more security, ran away to the city; leaving him to prosecute his journey to Kentucky moneyless and alone. Some time after, Mr. Althorpe and I were at the play, when he pointed out to me a group of females in an upper box, one of whom was no other than Betty Lawrence. It was not easy to recognise, in her present gaudy trim, all flaunting with ribbons and shining with trinkets, the same Betty who used to deal out pecks of potatoes and superintend her basket of cantaloupes in the Jersey market, in pasteboard bonnet and linsey petticoat. Her companions were of the infamous class. If Arthur were still in the city, there is no doubt that the mother and son might renew the ancient terms of their acquaintance.

"The old man, thus robbed and betrayed, sought consolation in the bottle, of which he had been at all times over-fond. He wandered from one tavern to another till his credit was exhausted, and then was sent to jail, where, I believe, he is likely to continue till his death. Such, my friend, is the history of the Mervyns."

"What proof," said I, "have you of the immoral conduct of the son? Of his mistreatment of his mother, and his elopement with his father's horse and money?"

"I have no proof but the unanimous report of Mervyn's neighbours. Respectable and honest men have affirmed, in my hearing, that they had been present when the boy treated his mother in the way that I have described. I was, besides, once in company with the old man, and heard him bitterly inveigh against his son, and charge him with the fact of stealing his horse and money. I well remember that tears rolled from his eyes while talking on the subject. As to his being seen in the city the next day after his elopement, dressed in a most costly and fashionable manner, I can doubt that as little as the rest, for he that saw him was my father, and you, who know my father, know what credit is due to his eyes and his word. He had seen Arthur often enough not to be mistaken, and described his appearance with great exactness. The boy is extremely handsome, give him his due; has dark hazel eyes, auburn hair, and very elegant proportions. His air and gait have nothing of the clown in them. Take away his jacket and trousers, and you have as spruce a fellow as ever came from dancing-school or college. He is the exact picture of his mother, and the most perfect contrast to the sturdy legs, squat figure, and broad, unthinking, sheepish face of the father that can be imagined. You must confess that his appearance here is a pretty strong proof of the father's assertions. The money given for these clothes could not possibly have been honestly acquired. It is to be presumed that they were bought or stolen, for how else should they have been gotten?"

"What was this lad's personal deportment during the life of his mother, and before his father's second marriage?"

"Very little to the credit of his heart or his intellects. Being the youngest son, the only one who at length survived, and having a powerful resemblance to herself, he became the mother's favourite. His constitution was feeble, and he loved to stroll in the woods more than to plough or sow. This idleness was much against his father's inclination and judgment; and, indeed, it was the foundation of all his vices. When he could be prevailed upon to do any thing it was in a bungling manner, and so as to prove that his thoughts were fixed on any thing except his business. When his assistance was wanted he was never to be found at hand. They were compelled to search for him among the rocks and bushes, and he was generally discovered sauntering along the bank of a river, or lolling in the shade of a tree. This disposition to inactivity and laziness, in so young a man, was very strange. Persons of his age are rarely fond of work, but then they are addicted to company, and sports, and exercises. They ride, or shoot, or frolic; but this being moped away his time in solitude, never associated with other young people, never mounted a horse but when he could not help it, and never fired a gun or angled for a fish in his life. Some people supposed him to be half an idiot, or, at least, not to be right in his mind; and, indeed, his conduct was so very perverse and singular, that I do not wonder at those who accounted for it in this way."

"But surely," said I, "he had some object of pursuit. Perhaps he was addicted to books."

"Far from it. On the contrary, his aversion to school was as great as his hatred of the plough. He never could get his lessons or bear the least constraint. He was so much indulged by his mother at home, that tasks and discipline of any kind were intolerable. He was a perpetual truant; till, the master one day attempting to strike him, he ran out of the room and never entered it more. The mother excused and countenanced his frowardness, and the foolish father was obliged to give way. I do not believe he had two months' schooling in his life."

"Perhaps," said I, "he preferred studying by himself, and at liberty. I have known boys endowed with great curiosity and aptitude to learning, who never could endure set tasks, and spurned at the pedagogue and his rod."

"I have known such likewise, but this was not one of them. I know not whence he could derive his love of knowledge or the means of acquiring it. The family were totally illiterate. The father was a Scotch peasant, whose ignorance was so great that he could not sign his name. His wife, I believe, could read, and might sometimes decipher the figures in an almanac; but that was all. I am apt to think that the son's ability was not much greater. You might as well look for silver platters or marble tables in his house, as for a book or a pen.

"I remember calling at their house one evening in the winter before last. It was intensely cold; and my father, who rode with me, having business with Sawny Mervyn, we stopped a minute at his gate; and, while the two old men were engaged in conversation, I begged leave to warm myself by the kitchen fire. Here, in the chimney-corner, seated on a block, I found Arthur busily engaged in _knitting stockings_! I thought this a whimsical employment for a young active man. I told him so, for I wanted to put him to the blush; but he smiled in my face, and answered, without the least discomposure, 'Just as whimsical a business for a young active woman. Pray, did you never knit a stocking?'

"'Yes; but that was from necessity. Were I of a different sex, or did I possess the strength of a man, I should rather work in my field or study my book.'

"'Rejoice that you are a woman, then, and are at liberty to pursue that which costs least labour and demands most skill. You see, though a man, I use your privilege, and prefer knitting yarn to threshing my brain with a book or the barn-floor with a flail.'

"'I wonder,' said I, contemptuously, 'you do not put on the petticoat as well as handle the needle.'

"'Do not wonder,' he replied; 'it is because I hate a petticoat encumbrance as much as I love warm feet. Look there,' (offering the stocking to my inspection:) 'is it not well done?'

"I did not touch it, but sneeringly said, 'Excellent! I wonder you do not apprentice yourself to a tailor.'

"He looked at me with an air of ridiculous simplicity, and said, 'How prone the woman is to _wonder_! You call the work excellent, and yet _wonder that I do not make myself a slave to improve my skill! Did you learn needlework from seven years' squatting on a tailor's board? Had you come to me, I would have taught you in a day.'

"'I was taught at school.'

"'And paid your instructor?'

"'To-be-sure.'

"''Twas liberty and money thrown away. Send your sister, if you have one, to me, and I will teach her without either rod or wages. Will you?'

"'You have an old and a violent antipathy, I believe, to any thing like a school.'

"'True. It was early and violent. Had not you?'

"'No. I went to school with pleasure; for I thought to read and write were accomplishments of some value.'

"'Indeed? Then I misunderstood you just now. I thought you said that, had you the strength of a man, you should prefer the plough and the book to the needle. Whence, supposing you a female, I inferred that you had a woman's love for the needle and a fool's hatred of books.'

"My father calling me from without, I now made a motion to go. 'Stay,' continued he, with great earnestness, throwing aside his knitting-apparatus, and beginning in great haste to pull off his stockings. 'Draw these stockings over your shoes. They will save your feet from the snow while walking to your horse.'

"Half angry, and half laughing, I declined the offer. He had drawn them off, however, and, holding them in his hand, 'Be persuaded,' said he; 'only lift your feet, and I will slip them on in a trice.'

"Finding me positive in my refusal, he dropped the stockings; and, without more ado, caught me up in his arms, rushed out of the room, and, running barefoot through the snow, set me fairly on my horse. All was done in a moment, and before I had time to reflect on his intentions. He then seized my hand, and, kissing it with great fervour, exclaimed, 'A thousand thanks to you for not accepting my stockings. You have thereby saved yourself and me the time and toil of drawing on and drawing off. Since you have taught me to wonder, let me practise the lesson in wondering at your folly, in wearing worsted shoes and silk stockings at a season like this. Take my counsel, and turn your silk to worsted and your worsted to leather. Then may you hope for warm feet and dry. What! Leave the gate without a blessing on your counsellor?'

"I spurred my horse into a gallop, glad to escape from so strange a being. I could give you many instances of behaviour equally singular, and which betrayed a mixture of shrewdness and folly, of kindness and impudence, which justified, perhaps, the common notion that his intellects were unsound. Nothing was more remarkable than his impenetrability to ridicule and censure. You might revile him for hours, and he would listen to you with invincible composure. To awaken anger or shame in him was impossible. He would answer, but in such a way as to show him totally unaware of your true meaning. He would afterwards talk to you with all the smiling affability and freedom of an old friend. Every one despised him for his idleness and folly, no less conspicuous in his words than his actions; but no one feared him, and few were angry with him, till after the detection of his commerce with _Betty_, and his inhuman treatment of his father."

"Have you good reasons for supposing him to have been illicitly connected with that girl?"

"Yes. Such as cannot be discredited. It would not be proper for me to state these proofs. Nay, he never denied it. When reminded, on one occasion, of the inference which every impartial person would draw from appearances, he acknowledged, with his usual placid effrontery, that the inference was unavoidable. He even mentioned other concurring and contemporary incidents, which had eluded the observation of his censurer, and which added still more force to the conclusion. He was studious to palliate the vices of this woman, as long as he was her only paramour; but, after her marriage with his father, the tone was changed. He confessed that she was tidy, notable, industrious; but, then, she was a prostitute. When charged with being instrumental in making her such, and when his companions dwelt upon the depravity of reviling her for vices which she owed to him, 'True,' he would say, 'there is depravity and folly in the conduct you describe. Make me out, if you please, to be a villain. What then? I was talking, not of myself, but of Betty. Still this woman is a prostitute. If it were I that made her such, with more confidence may I make the charge. But think not that I blame Betty. Place me in her situation, and I should have acted just so. I should have formed just such notions of my interest, and pursued it by the same means. Still, say I, I would fain have a different woman for my father's wife, and the mistress of his family.'"

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VOLUME II CHAPTER XXVIThis conversation was interrupted by a messenger from my wife, who desired my return immediately. I had some hopes of meeting with Mervyn, some days having now elapsed since his parting from us, and not being conscious of any extraordinary motives for delay. It was Wortley, however, and not Mervyn, to whom I was called. My friend came to share with me his suspicions and inquietudes respecting Welbeck and Mervyn. An accident had newly happened which had awakened these suspicions afresh. He desired a patient audience while he explained them to me. These were his words:-- "To-day a
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VOLUME II CHAPTER XXIVHere ended the narrative of Mervyn. Surely its incidents were of no common kind. During this season of pestilence, my opportunities of observation had been numerous, and I had not suffered them to pass unimproved. The occurrences which fell within my own experience bore a general resemblance to those which had just been related, but they did not hinder the latter from striking on my mind with all the force of novelty. They served no end, but as vouchers for the truth of the tale. Surely the youth had displayed inimitable and heroic qualities. His courage was the
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