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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesArthur Mervyn; Or, Memoirs Of The Year 1793 - Volume 2 - Chapter 27
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Arthur Mervyn; Or, Memoirs Of The Year 1793 - Volume 2 - Chapter 27 Post by :andre Category :Long Stories Author :Charles Brockden Brown Date :May 2012 Read :1096

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Arthur Mervyn; Or, Memoirs Of The Year 1793 - Volume 2 - Chapter 27

VOLUME II CHAPTER XXVII

"Here was new light thrown upon the character of Welbeck, and new food administered to my suspicions. No conclusion could be more plausible than that which Williams had drawn; but how should it be rendered certain? Walter Thetford, or some of his family, had possibly been witnesses of something, which, added to our previous knowledge, might strengthen or prolong that clue, one end of which seemed now to be put into our hands; but Thetford's father-in-law was the only one of his family, who, by seasonable flight from the city, had escaped the pestilence. To him, who still resided in the country, I repaired with all speed, accompanied by Williams.

"The old man, being reminded, by a variety of circumstances, of the incidents of that eventful period, was, at length, enabled to relate that he had been present at the meeting which took place between Watson and his son Walter, when certain packets were delivered by the former, relative, as he quickly understood, to the condemnation of a ship in which Thomas Thetford had gone supercargo. He had noticed some emotion of the stranger, occasioned by his son's mentioning the concern which Welbeck had in the vessel. He likewise remembered the stranger's declaring his intention of visiting Welbeck, and requesting Walter to afford him directions to his house.

"'Next morning at the breakfast-table,' continued the old man, 'I adverted to yesterday's incidents, and asked my son how Welbeck had borne the news of the loss of his ship. "He bore it," said Walter, "as a man of his wealth ought to bear so trivial a loss. But there was something very strange in his behaviour," says my son, "when I mentioned the name of the captain who brought the papers; and, when I mentioned the captain's design of paying him a visit, he stared upon me, for a moment, as if he were frighted out of his wits, and then, snatching up his hat, ran furiously out of the house." This was all my son said upon that occasion; but, as I have since heard, it was on that very night that Welbeck absconded from his creditors.'

"I have this moment returned from this interview with old Thetford. I come to you, because I thought it possible that Mervyn, agreeably to your expectations, had returned, and I wanted to see the lad once more. My suspicions with regard to him have been confirmed, and a warrant was this day issued for apprehending him as Welbeck's accomplice."

I was startled by this news. "My friend," said I, "be cautious how you act, I beseech you. You know not in what evils you may involve the innocent. Mervyn I know to be blameless; but Welbeck is indeed a villain. The latter I shall not be sorry to see brought to justice; but the former, instead of meriting punishment, is entitled to rewards."

"So you believe, on the mere assertion of the boy, perhaps, his plausible lies might produce the same effect upon me; but I must stay till he thinks proper to exert his skill. The suspicions to which he is exposed will not easily be obviated; but, if he has any thing to say in his defence, his judicial examination will afford him the suitable opportunity. Why are you so much afraid to subject his innocence to this test? It was not till you heard his tale that your own suspicions were removed. Allow me the same privilege of unbelief.

"But you do me wrong, in deeming me the cause of his apprehension. It is Jamieson and Thetford's work, and they have not proceeded on shadowy surmises and the impulses of mere revenge. Facts have come to light of which you are wholly unaware, and which, when known to you, will conquer even your incredulity as to the guilt of Mervyn."

"Facts? Let me know them, I beseech you. If Mervyn has deceived me, there is an end to my confidence in human nature. All limits to dissimulation, and all distinctness between vice and virtue, will be effaced. No man's word, nor force of collateral evidence, shall weigh with me a hair."

"It was time," replied my friend, "that your confidence in smooth features and fluent accents should have ended long ago. Till I gained from my present profession some knowledge of the world, a knowledge which was not gained in a moment, and has not cost a trifle, I was equally wise in my own conceit; and, in order to decide upon the truth of any one's pretensions, needed only a clear view of his face and a distinct hearing of his words. My folly, in that respect, was only to be cured, however, by my own experience, and I suppose your credulity will yield to no other remedy. These are the facts:--

"Mrs. Wentworth, the proprietor of the house in which Welbeck lived, has furnished some intelligence respecting Mervyn, whose truth cannot be doubted, and which furnishes the strongest evidence of a conspiracy between this lad and his employer. It seems that, some years since, a nephew of this lady left his father's family clandestinely, and has not been heard of since. This nephew was intended to inherit her fortunes, and her anxieties and inquiries respecting him have been endless and incessant. These, however, have been fruitless. Welbeck, knowing these circumstances, and being desirous of substituting a girl whom he had moulded for his purpose, in place of the lost youth, in the affections of the lady while living, and in her testament when dead, endeavoured to persuade her that the youth had died in some foreign country. For this end, Mervyn was to personate a kinsman of Welbeck who had just arrived from Europe, and who had been a witness of her nephew's death. A story was, no doubt, to be contrived, where truth should be copied with the most exquisite dexterity; and, the lady being prevailed upon to believe the story, the way was cleared for accomplishing the remainder of the plot.

"In due time, and after the lady's mind had been artfully prepared by Welbeck, the pupil made his appearance; and, in a conversation full of studied ambiguities, assured the lady that her nephew was dead. For the present he declined relating the particulars of his death, and displayed a constancy and intrepidity in resisting her entreaties that would have been admirable in a better cause. Before she had time to fathom this painful mystery, Welbeck's frauds were in danger of detection, and he and his pupil suddenly disappeared.

"While the plot was going forward, there occurred an incident which the plotters had not foreseen or precluded, and which possibly might have created some confusion or impediment in their designs. A bundle was found one night in the street, consisting of some coarse clothes, and containing, in the midst of it, the miniature portrait of Mrs. Wentworth's nephew. It fell into the hands of one of that lady's friends, who immediately despatched the bundle to her. Mervyn, in his interview with this lady, spied the portrait on the mantel-piece. Led by some freak of fancy, or some web of artifice, he introduced the talk respecting her nephew, by boldly claiming it as his; but, when the mode in which it had been found was mentioned, he was disconcerted and confounded, and precipitately withdrew.

"This conduct, and the subsequent flight of the lad, afforded ground enough to question the truth of his intelligence respecting her nephew; but it has since been confuted, in a letter just received from her brother in England. In this letter, she is informed that her nephew had been seen by one who knew him well, in Charleston; that some intercourse took place between the youth and the bearer of the news, in the course of which the latter had persuaded the nephew to return to his family, and that the youth had given some tokens of compliance. The letter-writer, who was father to the fugitive, had written to certain friends at Charleston, entreating them to use their influence with the runaway to the same end, and, at any rate, to cherish and protect him. Thus, I hope you will admit that the duplicity of Mervyn is demonstrated."

"The facts which you have mentioned," said I, after some pause, "partly correspond with Mervyn's story; but the last particular is irreconcilably repugnant to it. Now, for the first time, I begin to feel that my confidence is shaken. I feel my mind bewildered and distracted by the multitude of new discoveries which have just taken place. I want time to revolve them slowly, to weigh them accurately, and to estimate their consequences fully. I am afraid to speak; fearing that, in the present trouble of my thoughts, I may say something which I may afterwards regret, I want a counsellor; but you, Wortley, are unfit for the office. Your judgment is unfurnished with the same materials; your sufferings have soured your humanity and biassed your candour. The only one qualified to divide with me these cares, and aid in selecting the best mode of action, is my wife. She is mistress of Mervyn's history; an observer of his conduct during his abode with us; and is hindered, by her education and temper, from deviating into rigour and malevolence. Will you pardon me, therefore, if I defer commenting on your narrative till I have had an opportunity of reviewing it and comparing it with my knowledge of the lad, collected from himself and from my own observation?"

Wortley could not but admit the justice of my request, and, after some desultory conversation, we parted. I hastened to communicate to my wife the various intelligence which I had lately received. Mrs. Althorpe's portrait of the Mervyns contained lineaments which the summary detail of Arthur did not enable us fully to comprehend. The treatment which the youth is said to have given to his father; the illicit commerce that subsisted between him and his father's wife; the pillage of money and his father's horse, but ill accorded with the tale which we had heard, and disquieted our minds with doubts, though far from dictating our belief.

What, however, more deeply absorbed our attention, was the testimony of Williams and of Mrs. Wentworth. That which was mysterious and inscrutable to Wortley and the friends of Watson was luminous to us. The coincidence between the vague hints laboriously collected by these inquirers, and the narrative of Mervyn, afforded the most cogent attestation of the truth of that narrative.

Watson had vanished from all eyes, but the spot where rested his remains was known to us. The girdle spoken of by Williams would not be suspected to exist by his murderer. It was unmolested, and was doubtless buried with him. That which was so earnestly sought, and which constituted the subsistence of the Maurices, would probably be found adhering to his body. What conduct was incumbent upon me who possessed this knowledge?

It was just to restore these bills to their true owner; but how could this be done without hazardous processes and tedious disclosures? To whom ought these disclosures to be made? By what authority or agency could these half-decayed limbs be dug up, and the lost treasure be taken from amidst the horrible corruption in which it was immersed?

This ought not to be the act of a single individual. This act would entangle him in a maze of perils and suspicions, of concealments and evasions, from which he could not hope to escape with his reputation inviolate. The proper method was through the agency of the law. It is to this that Mervyn must submit his conduct. The story which he told to me he must tell to the world. Suspicions have fixed themselves upon him, which allow him not the privilege of silence and obscurity. While he continued unknown and unthought of, the publication of his story would only give unnecessary birth to dangers; but now dangers are incurred which it may probably contribute to lessen, if not to remove.

Meanwhile the return of Mervyn to the city was anxiously expected. Day after day passed, and no tidings were received. I had business of an urgent nature which required my presence in Jersey, but which, in the daily expectation of the return of my young friend, I postponed a week longer than rigid discretion allowed. At length I was obliged to comply with the exigence, and left the city, but made such arrangements that I should be apprized by my wife of Mervyn's return with all practicable expedition.

These arrangements were superfluous, for my business was despatched, and my absence at an end, before the youth had given us any tokens of his approach. I now remembered the warnings of Wortley, and his assertions that Mervyn had withdrawn himself forever from our view. The event had hitherto unwelcomely coincided with these predictions, and a thousand doubts and misgivings were awakened.

One evening, while preparing to shake off gloomy thoughts by a visit to a friend, some one knocked at my door, and left a billet containing these words:--

"_Dr. Stevens is requested to come immediately to the Debtors' Apartments in Prune Street._"

This billet was without signature. The handwriting was unknown, and the precipitate departure of the bearer left me wholly at a loss with respect to the person of the writer, or the end for which my presence was required. This uncertainty only hastened my compliance with the summons.

The evening was approaching,--a time when the prison-doors are accustomed to be shut and strangers to be excluded. This furnished an additional reason for despatch. As I walked swiftly along, I revolved the possible motives that might have prompted this message. A conjecture was soon formed, which led to apprehension and inquietude.

One of my friends, by name Carlton, was embarrassed with debts which he was unable to discharge. He had lately been menaced with arrest by a creditor not accustomed to remit any of his claims. I dreaded that this catastrophe had now happened, and called to mind the anguish with which this untoward incident would overwhelm his family. I knew his incapacity to take away the claim of his creditor by payment, or to soothe him into clemency by supplication.

So prone is the human mind to create for itself distress, that I was not aware of the uncertainty of this evil till I arrived at the prison. I checked myself at the moment when I opened my lips to utter the name of my friend, and was admitted without particular inquiries. I supposed that he by whom I had been summoned hither would meet me in the common room.

The apartment was filled with pale faces and withered forms. The marks of negligence and poverty were visible in all; but few betrayed, in their features or gestures, any symptoms of concern on account of their condition. Ferocious gayety, or stupid indifference, seemed to sit upon every brow. The vapour from a heated stove, mingled with the fumes of beer and tallow that were spilled upon it, and with the tainted breath of so promiscuous a crowd, loaded the stagnant atmosphere. At my first transition from the cold and pure air without, to this noxious element, I found it difficult to breathe. A moment, however, reconciled me to my situation, and I looked anxiously round to discover some face which I knew.

Almost every mouth was furnished with a cigar, and every hand with a glass of porter. Conversation, carried on with much emphasis of tone and gesture, was not wanting. Sundry groups, in different corners, were beguiling the tedious hours at whist. Others, unemployed, were strolling to and fro, and testified their vacancy of thought and care by humming or whistling a tune.

I fostered the hope that my prognostics had deceived me. This hope was strengthened by reflecting that the billet received was written in a different hand from that of my friend. Meanwhile I continued my search. Seated on a bench, silent and aloof from the crowd, his eyes fixed upon the floor, and his face half concealed by his hand, a form was at length discovered which verified all my conjectures and fears. Carlton was he.

My heart drooped and my tongue faltered at this sight. I surveyed him for some minutes in silence. At length, approaching the bench on which he sat, I touched his hand and awakened him from his reverie. He looked up. A momentary gleam of joy and surprise was succeeded by a gloom deeper than before.

It was plain that my friend needed consolation. He was governed by an exquisite sensibility to disgrace. He was impatient of constraint. He shrunk, with fastidious abhorrence, from the contact of the vulgar and the profligate. His constitution was delicate and feeble. Impure airs, restraint from exercise, unusual aliment, unwholesome or incommodious accommodations, and perturbed thoughts, were, at any time, sufficient to generate disease and to deprive him of life.

To these evils he was now subjected. He had no money wherewith to purchase food. He had been dragged hither in the morning. He had not tasted a morsel since his entrance. He had not provided a bed on which to lie; or inquired in what room, or with what companions, the night was to be spent.

Fortitude was not among my friend's qualities. He was more prone to shrink from danger than encounter it, and to yield to the flood rather than sustain it; but it is just to observe that his anguish, on the present occasion, arose not wholly from selfish considerations. His parents were dead, and two sisters were dependent on him for support. One of these was nearly of his own age. The other was scarcely emerged from childhood. There was an intellectual as well as a personal resemblance between my friend and his sisters. They possessed his physical infirmities, his vehement passions, and refinements of taste; and the misery of his condition was tenfold increased, by reflecting on the feelings which would be awakened in them by the knowledge of his state, and the hardships to which the loss of his succour would expose them.

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VOLUME II CHAPTER XXVIIIIt 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
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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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