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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesArthur Mervyn; Or, Memoirs Of The Year 1793 - Volume 2 - Chapter 24
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Arthur Mervyn; Or, Memoirs Of The Year 1793 - Volume 2 - Chapter 24 Post by :andre Category :Long Stories Author :Charles Brockden Brown Date :May 2012 Read :726

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Arthur Mervyn; Or, Memoirs Of The Year 1793 - Volume 2 - Chapter 24


Here 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 growth of benevolence and reason, and not the child of insensibility and the nursling of habit. He had been qualified for the encounter of gigantic dangers by no laborious education. He stepped forth upon the stage, unfurnished, by anticipation or experience, with the means of security against fraud; and yet, by the aid of pure intentions, had frustrated the wiles of an accomplished and veteran deceiver.

I blessed the chance which placed the youth under my protection. When I reflected on that tissue of nice contingencies which led him to my door, and enabled me to save from death a being of such rare endowments, my heart overflowed with joy, not unmingled with regrets and trepidation. How many have been cut off by this disease, in their career of virtue and their blossom-time of genius! How many deeds of heroism and self-devotion are ravished from existence, and consigned to hopeless oblivion!

I had saved the life of this youth. This was not the limit of my duty or my power. Could I not render that life profitable to himself and to mankind? The gains of my profession were slender; but these gains were sufficient for his maintenance as well as my own. By residing with me, partaking my instructions, and reading my books, he would, in a few years, be fitted for the practice of physic. A science whose truths are so conducive to the welfare of mankind, and which comprehends the whole system of nature, could not but gratify a mind so beneficent and strenuous as his.

This scheme occurred to me as soon as the conclusion of his tale allowed me to think. I did not immediately mention it, since the approbation of my wife, of whose concurrence, however, I entertained no doubt, was previously to be obtained. Dismissing it, for the present, from my thoughts, I reverted to the incidents of his tale.

The lady whom Welbeck had betrayed and deserted was not unknown to me. I was but too well acquainted with her fate. If she had been single in calamity, her tale would have been listened to with insupportable sympathy; but the frequency of the spectacle of distress seems to lessen the compassion with which it is reviewed. Now that those scenes are only remembered, my anguish is greater than when they were witnessed. Then every new day was only a repetition of the disasters of the foregoing. My sensibility, if not extinguished, was blunted; and I gazed upon the complicated ills of poverty and sickness with a degree of unconcern on which I should once have reflected with astonishment.

The fate of Clemenza Lodi was not, perhaps, more signal than many which have occurred. It threw detestable light upon the character of Welbeck, and showed him to be more inhuman than the tale of Mervyn had evinced him to be. That man, indeed, was hitherto imperfectly seen. The time had not come which should fully unfold the enormity of his transgressions and the complexity of his frauds.

There lived in a remote quarter of the city a woman, by name Villars, who passed for the widow of an English officer. Her manners and mode of living were specious. She had three daughters, well trained in the school of fashion, and elegant in person, manners, and dress. They had lately arrived from Europe, and, for a time, received from their neighbours that respect to which their education and fortune appeared to lay claim.

The fallacy of their pretensions slowly appeared. It began to be suspected that their subsistence was derived not from pension or patrimony, but from the wages of pollution. Their habitation was clandestinely frequented by men who were unfaithful to their secret; one of these was allied to me by ties which authorized me in watching his steps and detecting his errors, with a view to his reformation. From him I obtained a knowledge of the genuine character of these women.

A man like Welbeck, who was the slave of depraved appetites, could not fail of being quickly satiated with innocence and beauty. Some accident introduced him to the knowledge of this family, and the youngest daughter found him a proper subject on which to exercise her artifices. It was to the frequent demands made upon his purse, by this woman, that part of the embarrassments in which Mervyn found him involved are to be ascribed.

To this circumstance must likewise be imputed his anxiety to transfer to some other the possession of the unhappy stranger. Why he concealed from Mervyn his connection with Lucy Villars may be easily imagined. His silence with regard to Clemenza's asylum will not create surprise, when it was told that she was placed with Mrs. Villars. On what conditions she was received under this roof, cannot be so readily conjectured. It is obvious, however, to suppose that advantage was to be taken of her ignorance and weakness, and that they hoped, in time, to make her an associate in their profligate schemes.

The appearance of pestilence, meanwhile, threw them into panic, and they hastened to remove from danger. Mrs. Villars appears to have been a woman of no ordinary views. She stooped to the vilest means of amassing money; but this money was employed to secure to herself and her daughters the benefits of independence. She purchased the house which she occupied in the city, and a mansion in the environs, well built and splendidly furnished. To the latter, she and her family, of which the Italian girl was now a member, retired at the close of July.

I have mentioned that the source of my intelligence was a kinsman, who had been drawn from the paths of sobriety and rectitude by the impetuosity of youthful passions. He had power to confess and deplore, but none to repair, his errors. One of these women held him by a spell which he struggled in vain to dissolve, and by which, in spite of resolutions and remorses, he was drawn to her feet, and made to sacrifice to her pleasure his reputation and his fortune.

My house was his customary abode during those intervals in which he was persuaded to pursue his profession. Some time before the infection began its progress, he had disappeared. No tidings were received of him, till a messenger arrived, entreating my assistance. I was conducted to the house of Mrs. Villars, in which I found no one but my kinsman. Here, it seems, he had immured himself from my inquiries, and, on being seized by the reigning malady, had been deserted by the family, who, ere they departed, informed me by a messenger of his condition.

Despondency combined with his disease to destroy him. Before he died, he informed me fully of the character of his betrayers. The late arrival, name, and personal condition of Clemenza Lodi were related. Welbeck was not named, but was described in terms which, combined with the narrative of Mervyn, enabled me to recognise the paramour of Lucy Villars in the man whose crimes had been the principal theme of our discourse.

Mervyn's curiosity was greatly roused when I intimated my acquaintance with the fate of Clemenza. In answer to his eager interrogations, I related what I knew. The tale plunged him into reverie. Recovering, at length, from his thoughtfulness, he spoke:--

"Her condition is perilous. The poverty of Welbeck will drive him far from her abode. Her profligate protectors will entice her or abandon her to ruin. Cannot she be saved?"

"I know not," answered I, "by what means."

"The means are obvious. Let her remove to some other dwelling. Let her be apprized of the vices of those who surround her. Let her be entreated to fly. The will need only be inspired, the danger need only be shown, and she is safe, for she will remove beyond its reach."

"Thou art an adventurous youth. Who wilt thou find to undertake the office? Who will be persuaded to enter the house of a stranger, seek without an introduction the presence of this girl, tell her that the house she inhabits is a house of prostitution, prevail on her to believe the tale, and persuade her to accompany him? Who will open his house to the fugitive? Whom will you convince that her illicit intercourse with Welbeck, of which the opprobrious tokens cannot be concealed, has not fitted her for the company of prostitutes, and made her unworthy of protection? Who will adopt into their family a stranger whose conduct has incurred infamy, and whose present associates have, no doubt, made her worthy of the curse?"

"True. These are difficulties which I did not foresee. Must she then perish? Shall not something be done to rescue her from infamy and guilt?"

"It is neither in your power nor in mine to do any thing."

The lateness of the hour put an end to our conversation and summoned us to repose. I seized the first opportunity of imparting to my wife the scheme which had occurred, relative to our guest; with which, as I expected, she readily concurred. In the morning, I mentioned it to Mervyn. I dwelt upon the benefits that adhered to the medical profession, the power which it confers of lightening the distresses of our neighbours, the dignity which popular opinion annexes to it, the avenue which it opens to the acquisition of competence, the freedom from servile cares which attends it, and the means of intellectual gratification with which it supplies us.

As I spoke, his eyes sparkled with joy. "Yes," said he, with vehemence, "I willingly embrace your offer. I accept this benefit, because I know that, if my pride should refuse it, I should prove myself less worthy than you think, and give you pain, instead of that pleasure which I am bound to confer. I would enter on the duties and studies of my new profession immediately; but somewhat is due to Mr. Hadwin and his daughters. I cannot vanquish my inquietudes respecting them, but by returning to Malverton and ascertaining their state with my own eyes. You know in what circumstances I parted with Wallace and Mr. Hadwin. I am not sure that either of them ever reached home, or that they did not carry the infection along with them. I now find myself sufficiently strong to perform the journey, and purposed to have acquainted you, at this interview, with my intentions. An hour's delay is superfluous, and I hope you will consent to my setting out immediately. Rural exercise and air, for a week or fortnight, will greatly contribute to my health."

No objection could be made to this scheme. His narrative had excited no common affection in our bosoms for the Hadwins. His visit could not only inform us of their true state, but would dispel that anxiety which they could not but entertain respecting our guest. It was a topic of some surprise that neither Wallace nor Hadwin had returned to the city, with a view to obtain some tidings of their friend. It was more easy to suppose them to have been detained by some misfortune, than by insensibility or indolence. In a few minutes Mervyn bade us adieu, and set out upon his journey, promising to acquaint us with the state of affairs as soon as possible after his arrival. We parted from him with reluctance, and found no consolation but in the prospect of his speedy return.

During his absence, conversation naturally turned upon those topics which were suggested by the narrative and deportment of this youth. Different conclusions were formed by his two auditors. They had both contracted a deep interest in his welfare, and an ardent curiosity as to those particulars which his unfinished story had left in obscurity. The true character and actual condition of Welbeck were themes of much speculation. Whether he were dead or alive, near or distant from his ancient abode, was a point on which neither Mervyn, nor any of those with whom I had means of intercourse, afforded any information. Whether he had shared the common fate, and had been carried by the collectors of the dead from the highway or the hovel to the pits opened alike for the rich and the poor, the known and the unknown; whether he had escaped to a foreign shore, or were destined to reappear upon this stage, were questions involved in uncertainty.

The disappearance of Watson would, at a different time, have excited much inquiry and suspicion; but, as this had taken place on the eve of the epidemic, his kindred and friends would acquiesce, without scruple, in the belief that he had been involved in the general calamity, and was to be numbered among the earliest victims. Those of his profession usually resided in the street where the infection began, and where its ravages had been most destructive; and this circumstance would corroborate the conclusions of his friends.

I did not perceive any immediate advantage to flow from imparting the knowledge I had lately gained to others. Shortly after Mervyn's departure to Malverton, I was visited by Wortley. Inquiring for my guest, I told him that, having recovered his health, he had left my house. He repeated his invectives against the villany of Welbeck, his suspicions of Mervyn, and his wishes for another interview with the youth. Why had I suffered him to depart, and whither had he gone?

"He has gone for a short time into the country. I expect him to return in less than a week, when you will meet with him here as often as you please, for I expect him to take up his abode in this house."

Much astonishment and disapprobation were expressed by my friend. I hinted that the lad had made disclosures to me, which justified my confidence in his integrity. These proofs of his honesty were not of a nature to be indiscriminately unfolded. Mervyn had authorized me to communicate so much of his story to Wortley, as would serve to vindicate him from the charge of being Welbeck's co-partner in fraud; but this end would only be counteracted by an imperfect tale, and the full recital, though it might exculpate Mervyn, might produce inconveniences by which this advantage would be outweighed.

Wortley, as might be naturally expected, was by no means satisfied with this statement. He suspected that Mervyn was a wily impostor; that he had been trained in the arts of fraud, under an accomplished teacher; that the tale which he had told to me was a tissue of ingenious and plausible lies; that the mere assertions, however plausible and solemn, of one like him, whose conduct had incurred such strong suspicions, were unworthy of the least credit.

"It cannot be denied," continued my friend, "that he lived with Welbeck at the time of his elopement; that they disappeared together; that they entered a boat, at Pine Street wharf, at midnight; that this boat was discovered by the owner in the possession of a fisherman at Redbank, who affirmed that he had found it stranded near his door, the day succeeding that on which they disappeared. Of all this I can supply you with incontestable proof. If, after this proof, you can give credit to his story, I shall think you made of very perverse and credulous materials."

"The proof you mention," said I, "will only enhance his credibility. All the facts which you have stated have been admitted by him. They constitute an essential portion of his narrative."

"What then is the inference? Are not these evidences of a compact between them? Has he not acknowledged this compact in confessing that he knew Welbeck was my debtor; that he was apprized of his flight, but that (what matchless effrontery!) he had promised secrecy, and would, by no means, betray him? You say he means to return; but of that I doubt. You will never see his face more. He is too wise to thrust himself again into the noose; but I do not utterly despair of lighting upon Welbeck. Old Thetford, Jamieson, and I, have sworn to hunt him through the world. I have strong hopes that he has not strayed far. Some intelligence has lately been received, which has enabled us to place our hounds upon his scent. He may double and skulk; but, if he does not fall into our toils at last, he will have the agility and cunning, as well as the malignity, of devils."

The vengeful disposition thus betrayed by Wortley was not without excuse. The vigour of his days had been spent in acquiring a slender capital; his diligence and honesty had succeeded, and he had lately thought his situation such as to justify marriage with an excellent woman, to whom he had for years been betrothed, but from whom his poverty had hitherto compelled him to live separate. Scarcely had this alliance taken place, and the full career of nuptial enjoyments begun, when his ill fate exposed him to the frauds of Welbeck, and brought him, in one evil hour, to the brink of insolvency.

Jamieson and Thetford, however, were rich, and I had not till now been informed that they had reasons for pursuing Welbeck with peculiar animosity. The latter was the uncle of him whose fate had been related by Mervyn, and was one of those who employed money, not as the medium of traffic, but as in itself a commodity. He had neither wines nor cloths, to transmute into silver. He thought it a tedious process to exchange to-day one hundred dollars for a cask or bale, and to-morrow exchange the bale or cask for one hundred _and ten dollars. It was better to give the hundred for a piece of paper, which, carried forthwith to the money-changers, he could procure a hundred twenty-three and three-fourths. In short, this man's coffers were supplied by the despair of honest men and the stratagems of rogues. I did not immediately suspect how this man's prudence and indefatigable attention to his own interest should allow him to become the dupe of Welbeck.

"What," said I, "is old Thetford's claim upon Welbeck?"

"It is a claim," he replied, "that, if it ever be made good, will doom Welbeck to imprisonment and wholesome labour for life."

"How? Surely it is nothing more than debt."

"Have you not heard? But that is no wonder. Happily you are a stranger to mercantile anxieties and revolutions. Your fortune does not rest on a basis which an untoward blast may sweep away, or four strokes of a pen may demolish. That hoary dealer in suspicions was persuaded to put his hand to three notes for eight hundred dollars each. The _eight was then dexterously prolonged to eigh_teen_; they were duly deposited in time and place, and the next day Welbeck was credited for fifty-three hundred and seventy-three, which, an hour after, were _told out to his messenger. Hard to say whether the old man's grief, shame, or rage, be uppermost. He disdains all comfort but revenge, and that he will procure at any price. Jamieson, who deals in the same _stuff with Thetford, was outwitted in the same manner, to the same amount, and on the same day.

"This Welbeck must have powers above the common rate of mortals. Grown gray in studying the follies and the stratagems of men, these veterans were overreached. No one pities them. 'Twere well if his artifices had been limited to such, and he had spared the honest and the poor. It is for his injuries to men who have earned their scanty subsistence without forfeiting their probity, that I hate him, and shall exult to see him suffer all the rigours of the law." Here Wortley's engagements compelled him to take his leave.

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VOLUME II CHAPTER XXVWhile 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

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VOLUME I CHAPTER XXI laid myself on the bed and wrapped my limbs in the folds of the carpet. My thoughts were restless and perturbed. I was once more busy in reflecting on the conduct which I ought to pursue with regard to the bank-bills. I weighed, with scrupulous attention, every circumstance that might influence my decision. I could not conceive any more beneficial application of this property than to the service of the indigent, at this season of multiplied distress; but I considered that, if my death were unknown, the house would not be opened or examined till the pestilence