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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesArthur Mervyn; Or, Memoirs Of The Year 1793 - Volume 2 - Chapter 28
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Arthur Mervyn; Or, Memoirs Of The Year 1793 - Volume 2 - Chapter 28 Post by :andre Category :Long Stories Author :Charles Brockden Brown Date :May 2012 Read :885

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Arthur Mervyn; Or, Memoirs Of The Year 1793 - Volume 2 - Chapter 28

VOLUME II CHAPTER XXVIII

It was not in my power to release my friend by the payment of his debt; but, by contracting with the keeper of the prison for his board, I could save him from famine; and, by suitable exertions, could procure him lodging as convenient as the time would admit. I could promise to console and protect his sisters, and, by cheerful tones and frequent visits, dispel some part of the evil which encompassed him.

After the first surprise had subsided, he inquired by what accident this meeting had been produced. Conscious of my incapacity to do him any essential service, and unwilling to make me a partaker in his miseries, he had forborne to inform me of his condition.

This assurance was listened to with some wonder. I showed him the billet. It had not been written by him. He was a stranger to the penmanship. None but the attorney and officer were apprized of his fate. It was obvious to conclude, that this was the interposition of some friend, who, knowing my affection for Carlton, had taken this mysterious method of calling me to his succour.

Conjectures as to the author and motives of this inter position were suspended by more urgent considerations. I requested an interview with the keeper, and inquired how Carlton could be best accommodated.

He said that all his rooms were full but one, which, in consequence of the dismission of three persons in the morning, had at present but one tenant. This person had lately arrived, was sick, and had with him, at this time, one of his friends. Carlton might divide the chamber with this person. No doubt his consent would be readily given; though this arrangement, being the best, must take place whether he consented or not.

This consent I resolved immediately to seek, and, for that purpose, desired to be led to the chamber. The door of the apartment was shut. I knocked for admission. It was instantly opened, and I entered. The first person who met my view was--Arthur Mervyn.

I started with astonishment. Mervyn's countenance betrayed nothing but satisfaction at the interview. The traces of fatigue and anxiety gave place to tenderness and joy. It readily occurred to me that Mervyn was the writer of the note which I had lately received. To meet him within these walls, and at this time, was the most remote and undesirable of all contingencies. The same hour had thus made me acquainted with the kindred and unwelcome fate of two beings whom I most loved.

I had scarcely time to return his embrace, when, taking my hand, he led me to a bed that stood in one corner. There was stretched upon it one whom a second glance enabled me to call by his name, though I had never before seen him. The vivid portrait which Mervyn had drawn was conspicuous in the sunken and haggard visage before me. This face had, indeed, proportions and lines which could never be forgotten or mistaken. Welbeck, when once seen or described, was easily distinguished from the rest of mankind. He had stronger motives than other men for abstaining from guilt, the difficulty of concealment or disguise being tenfold greater in him than in others, by reason of the indelible and eye-attracting marks which nature had set upon him.

He was pallid and emaciated. He did not open his eyes on my entrance. He seemed to be asleep; but, before I had time to exchange glances with Mervyn, or to inquire into the nature of the scene, he awoke. On seeing me he started, and cast a look of upbraiding on my companion. The latter comprehended his emotion, and endeavoured to appease him.

"This person," said he, "is my friend. He is likewise a physician; and, perceiving your state to require medical assistance, I ventured to send for him."

Welbeck replied, in a contemptuous and indignant tone, "Thou mistakest my condition, boy. My disease lies deeper than his scrutiny will ever reach. I had hoped thou wert gone. Thy importunities are well meant, but they aggravate my miseries."

He now rose from the bed, and continued, in a firm and resolute tone, "You are intruders into this apartment. It is mine, and I desire to be left alone."

Mervyn returned, at first, no answer to this address. He was immersed in perplexity. At length, raising his eyes from the floor, he said, "My intentions are indeed honest, and I am grieved that I want the power of persuasion. To-morrow, perhaps, I may reason more cogently with your despair, or your present mood may be changed. To aid my own weakness I will entreat the assistance of this friend."

These words roused a new spirit in Welbeck. His confusion and anger increased. His tongue faltered as he exclaimed, "Good God! what mean you? Headlong and rash as you are, you will not share with this person your knowledge of me?" Here he checked himself, conscious that the words he had already uttered tended to the very end which he dreaded. This consciousness, added to the terror of more ample disclosures, which the simplicity and rectitude of Mervyn might prompt him to make, chained up his tongue, and covered him with dismay.

Mervyn was not long in answering:--"I comprehend your fears and your wishes. I am bound to tell you the truth. To this person your story has already been told. Whatever I have witnessed under your roof, whatever I have heard from your lips, have been faithfully disclosed to him."

The countenance of Welbeck now betrayed a mixture of incredulity and horror. For a time his utterance was stifled by his complicated feelings:--

"It cannot be. So enormous a deed is beyond thy power. Thy qualities are marvellous. Every new act of thine outstrips the last, and belies the newest calculations. But this--this perfidy exceeds--this outrage upon promises, this violation of faith, this blindness to the future, is incredible." There he stopped; while his looks seemed to call upon Mervyn for a contradiction of his first assertion.

"I know full well how inexpiably stupid or wicked my act will appear to you, but I will not prevaricate or lie. I repeat, that every thing is known to him. Your birth; your early fortunes; the incidents at Charleston and Wilmington; your treatment of the brother and sister; your interview with Watson, and the fatal issue of that interview--I have told him all, just as it was told to me."

Here the shock that was felt by Welbeck overpowered his caution and his strength. He sunk upon the side of the bed. His air was still incredulous, and he continued to gaze upon Mervyn. He spoke in a tone less vehement:--

"And hast thou then betrayed me? Hast thou shut every avenue to my return to honour? Am I known to be a seducer and assassin? To have meditated all crimes, and to have perpetrated the worst?

"Infamy and death are my portion. I know they are reserved for me; but I did not think to receive them at thy hands, that under that innocent guise there lurked a heart treacherous and cruel. But go; leave me to myself. This stroke has exterminated my remnant of hope. Leave me to prepare my neck for the halter, and my lips for this last and bitterest cup."

Mervyn struggled with his tears, and replied, "All this was foreseen, and all this I was prepared to endure. My friend and I will withdraw, as you wish; but to-morrow I return; not to vindicate my faith or my humanity; not to make you recant your charges, or forgive the faults which I seem to have committed, but to extricate you from your present evil, or to arm you with fortitude."

So saying, he led the way out of the room. I followed him in silence. The strangeness and abruptness of this scene left me no power to assume a part in it. I looked on with new and indescribable sensations. I reached the street before my recollection was perfectly recovered. I then reflected on the purpose that had led me to Welbeck's chamber. This purpose was yet unaccomplished. I desired Mervyn to linger a moment while I returned into the house. I once more inquired for the keeper, and told him I should leave to him the province of acquainting Welbeck with the necessity of sharing his apartment with a stranger. I speedily rejoined Mervyn in the street.

I lost no time in requiring an explanation of the scene that I had witnessed. "How became you once more the companion of Welbeck? Why did you not inform me by letter of your arrival at Malverton, and of what occurred during your absence? What is the fate of Mr. Hadwin and of Wallace?"

"Alas!" said he, "I perceive that, though I have written, you have never received my letters. The tale of what has occurred since we parted is long and various. I am not only willing but eager to communicate the story; but this is no suitable place. Have patience till we reach your house. I have involved myself in perils and embarrassments from which I depend upon your counsel and aid to release me."

I had scarcely reached my own door, when I was overtaken by a servant, whom I knew to belong to the family in which Carlton and his sisters resided. Her message, therefore, was readily guessed. She came, as I expected, to inquire for my friend, who had left his home in the morning with a stranger, and had not yet returned. His absence had occasioned some inquietude, and his sister had sent this message to me, to procure what information respecting the cause of his detention I was able to give.

My perplexity hindered me, for some time, from answering. I was willing to communicate the painful truth with my own mouth. I saw the necessity of putting an end to her suspense, and of preventing the news from reaching her with fallacious aggravations or at an unseasonable time.

I told the messenger that I had just parted with Mr. Carlton, that he was well, and that I would speedily come and acquaint his sister with the cause of his absence.

Though burning with curiosity respecting Mervyn and Welbeck, I readily postponed its gratification till my visit to Miss Carlton was performed. I had rarely seen this lady; my friendship for her brother, though ardent, having been lately formed, and chiefly matured by interviews at my house. I had designed to introduce her to my wife, but various accidents had hindered the execution of my purpose. Now consolation and counsel were more needed than ever, and delay or reluctance in bestowing it would have been, in a high degree, unpardonable.

I therefore parted with Mervyn, requesting him to await my return, and promising to perform the engagement which compelled me to leave him, with the utmost despatch. On entering Miss Carlton's apartment, I assumed an air of as much tranquillity as possible. I found the lady seated at a desk, with pen in hand and parchment before her. She greeted me with affectionate dignity, and caught from my countenance that cheerfulness of which on my entrance she was destitute.

"You come," said she, "to inform me what has made my brother a truant to-day. Till your message was received I was somewhat anxious. This day he usually spends in rambling through the fields; but so bleak and stormy an atmosphere, I suppose, would prevent his excursion. I pray, sir, what is it detains him?"

To conquer my embarrassment, and introduce the subject by indirect and cautious means, I eluded her question, and, casting an eye at the parchment,--"How now?" said I; "this is strange employment for a lady. I knew that my friend pursued this trade, and lived by binding fast the bargains which others made; but I knew not that the pen was ever usurped by his sister."

"The usurpation was prompted by necessity. My brother's impatient temper and delicate frame unfitted him for the trade. He pursued it with no less reluctance than diligence, devoting to the task three nights in the week, and the whole of each day. It would long ago have killed him, had I not bethought myself of sharing his tasks. The pen was irksome and toilsome at first, but use has made it easy, and far more eligible than the needle, which was formerly my only tool.

"This arrangement affords my brother opportunities of exercise and recreation, without diminishing our profits; and my time, though not less constantly, is more agreeably, as well as more lucratively, employed than formerly."

"I admire your reasoning. By this means provision is made against untoward accidents. If sickness should disable him, you are qualified to pursue the same means of support."

At these words the lady's countenance changed. She put her hand on my arm, and said, in a fluttering and hurried accent, "Is my brother sick?"

"No. He is in perfect health. My observation was a harmless one. I am sorry to observe your readiness to draw alarming inferences. If I were to say that your scheme is useful to supply deficiencies, not only when your brother is disabled by sickness, but when thrown, by some inhuman creditor, into jail, no doubt you would perversely and hastily infer that he is now in prison."

I had scarcely ended the sentence, when the piercing eyes of the lady were anxiously fixed upon mine. After a moment's pause, she exclaimed, "The inference, indeed, is too plain. I know his fate. It has long been foreseen and expected, and I have summoned up my equanimity to meet it. Would to Heaven he may find the calamity as light as I should find it! but I fear his too irritable spirit."

When her fears were confirmed, she started out into no vehemence of exclamation. She quickly suppressed a few tears which would not be withheld, and listened to my narrative of what had lately occurred, with tokens of gratitude.

Formal consolation was superfluous. Her mind was indeed more fertile than my own in those topics which take away its keenest edge from affliction. She observed that it was far from being the heaviest calamity which might have happened. The creditor was perhaps vincible by arguments and supplications. If these should succeed, the disaster would not only be removed, but that security from future molestation be gained, to which they had for a long time been strangers.

Should he be obdurate, their state was far from being hopeless. Carlton's situation allowed him to pursue his profession. His gains would be equal, and his expenses would not be augmented. By their mutual industry they might hope to amass sufficient to discharge the debt at no very remote period.

What she chiefly dreaded was the pernicious influence of dejection and sedentary labour on her brother's health. Yet this was not to be considered as inevitable. Fortitude might be inspired by exhortation and example, and no condition precluded us from every species of bodily exertion. The less inclined he should prove to cultivate the means of deliverance and happiness within his reach, the more necessary it became for her to stimulate and fortify his resolution.

If I were captivated by the charms of this lady's person and carriage, my reverence was excited by these proofs of wisdom and energy. I zealously promised to concur with her in every scheme she should adopt for her own or her brother's advantage; and, after spending some hours with her, took my leave.

I now regretted the ignorance in which I had hitherto remained respecting this lady. That she was, in an eminent degree, feminine and lovely, was easily discovered; but intellectual weakness had been rashly inferred from external frailty. She was accustomed to shrink from observation, and reserve was mistaken for timidity. I called on Carlton only when numerous engagements would allow, and when, by some accident, his customary visits had been intermitted. On those occasions, my stay was short, and my attention chiefly confined to her brother. I now resolved to atone for my ancient negligence, not only by my own assiduities, but by those of my wife.

On my return home, I found Mervyn and my wife in earnest discourse. I anticipated the shock which the sensibility of the latter would receive from the tidings which I had to communicate respecting Carlton. I was unwilling, and yet perceived the necessity of disclosing the truth. I desired to bring these women, as soon as possible, to the knowledge of each other, but the necessary prelude to this was an acquaintance with the disaster that had happened.

Scarcely had I entered the room, when Mervyn turned to me, and said, with an air of anxiety and impatience, "Pray, my friend, have you any knowledge of Francis Carlton?"

The mention of this name by Mervyn produced some surprise. I acknowledged my acquaintance with him.

"Do you know in what situation he now is?"

In answer to this question, I stated by what singular means his situation had been made known to me, and the purpose from the accomplishment of which I had just returned. I inquired in my turn, "Whence originated this question?"

He had overheard the name of Carlton in the prison. Two persons were communing in a corner, and accident enabled him to catch this name, though uttered by them in a half whisper, and to discover that the person talked about had lately been conveyed thither.

This name was not now heard for the first time. It was connected with remembrances that made him anxious for the fate of him to whom it belonged. In discourse with my wife, this name chanced to be again mentioned, and his curiosity was roused afresh. I was willing to communicate all that I knew, but Mervyn's own destiny was too remarkable not to absorb all my attention, and I refused to discuss any other theme till that were fully explained. He postponed his own gratification to mine, and consented to relate the incidents that had happened from the moment of our separation till the present.

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