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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesArthur Mervyn; Or, Memoirs Of The Year 1793 - Volume 2 - Chapter 36
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Arthur Mervyn; Or, Memoirs Of The Year 1793 - Volume 2 - Chapter 36 Post by :JayBeau Category :Long Stories Author :Charles Brockden Brown Date :May 2012 Read :3301

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Arthur Mervyn; Or, Memoirs Of The Year 1793 - Volume 2 - Chapter 36

VOLUME II CHAPTER XXXVI

"Why," said I, as I hasted forward, "is my fortune so abundant in unforeseen occurrences? Is every man who leaves his cottage and the impressions of his infancy behind him ushered into such a world of revolutions and perils as have trammelled my steps? or is my scene indebted for variety and change to my propensity to look into other people's concerns, and to make their sorrows and their joys mine?

"To indulge an adventurous spirit, I left the precincts of the barn-door, enlisted in the service of a stranger, and encountered a thousand dangers to my virtue under the disastrous influence of Welbeck. Afterwards my life was set at hazard in the cause of Wallace, and now am I loaded with the province of protecting the helpless Eliza Hadwin and the unfortunate Clemenza. My wishes are fervent, and my powers shall not be inactive in their defence; but how slender are these powers!

"In the offers of the unknown lady there is, indeed, some consolation for Clemenza. It must be my business to lay before my friend Stevens the particulars of what has befallen me, and to entreat his directions how this disconsolate girl may be most effectually succoured. It may be wise to take her from her present abode, and place her under some chaste and humane guardianship, where she may gradually lose remembrance of her dead infant and her specious betrayer. The barrier that severs her from Welbeck must be high as heaven and insuperable as necessity.

"But, soft! Talked she not of Welbeck? Said she not that he was in prison and was sick? Poor wretch! I thought thy course was at an end; that the penalty of guilt no longer weighed down thy heart; that thy misdeeds and thy remorses were buried in a common and obscure grave; but it seems thou art still alive.

"Is it rational to cherish the hope of thy restoration to innocence and peace? Thou art no obdurate criminal; hadst thou less virtue, thy compunctions would be less keen. Wert thou deaf to the voice of duty, thy wanderings into guilt and folly would be less fertile of anguish. The time will perhaps come, when the measure of thy transgressions and calamities will overflow, and the folly of thy choice will be too conspicuous to escape thy discernment. Surely, even for such transgressors as thou, there is a salutary power in the precepts of truth and the lessons of experience.

"But thou art imprisoned and art sick. This, perhaps, is the crisis of thy destiny. Indigence and dishonour were the evils to shun which thy integrity and peace of mind have been lightly forfeited. Thou hast found that the price was given in vain; that the hollow and deceitful enjoyments of opulence and dignity were not worth the purchase; and that, frivolous and unsubstantial as they are, the only path that leads to them is that of honesty and diligence. Thou art in prison and art sick; and there is none to cheer thy hour with offices of kindness, or uphold thy fainting courage by the suggestions of good counsel. For such as thou the world has no compassion. Mankind will pursue thee to the grave with execrations. Their cruelty will be justified or palliated, since they know thee not. They are unacquainted with the goadings of thy conscience and the bitter retributions which thou art daily suffering. They are full of their own wrongs, and think only of those tokens of exultation and complacency which thou wast studious of assuming in thy intercourse with them. It is I only that thoroughly know thee and can rightly estimate thy claims to compassion.

"I have somewhat partaken of thy kindness, and thou meritest some gratitude at my hands. Shall I not visit and endeavour to console thee in thy distress? Let me, at least, ascertain thy condition, and be the instrument in repairing the wrongs which thou hast inflicted. Let me gain, from the contemplation of thy misery, new motives to sincerity and rectitude."

While occupied by these reflections, I entered the city. The thoughts which engrossed my mind related to Welbeck. It is not my custom to defer till to-morrow what can be done to-day. The destiny of man frequently hangs upon the lapse of a minute. "I will stop," said I, "at the prison; and, since the moment of my arrival may not be indifferent, I will go thither with all possible haste." I did not content myself with walking, but, regardless of the comments of passengers, hurried along the way at full speed.

Having inquired for Welbeck, I was conducted through a dark room, crowded with beds, to a staircase. Never before had I been in a prison. Never had I smelt so noisome an odour, or surveyed faces so begrimed with filth and misery. The walls and floors were alike squalid and detestable. It seemed that in this house existence would be bereaved of all its attractions; and yet those faces, which could be seen through the obscurity that encompassed them, were either void of care or distorted with mirth.

"This," said I, as I followed my conductor, "is the residence of Welbeck. What contrasts are these to the repose and splendour, pictured walls, glossy hangings, gilded sofas, mirrors that occupied from ceiling to floor, carpets of Tauris, and the spotless and transcendent brilliancy of coverlets and napkins, in thy former dwelling! Here brawling and the shuffling of rude feet are eternal. The air is loaded with the exhalations of disease and the fumes of debauchery. Thou art cooped up in airless space, and, perhaps, compelled to share thy narrow cell with some stupid ruffian. Formerly, the breezes were courted by thy lofty windows. Aromatic shrubs were scattered on thy hearth. Menials, splendid in apparel, showed their faces with diffidence in thy apartment, trod lightly on thy marble floor, and suffered not the sanctity of silence to be troubled by a whisper. Thy lamp shot its rays through the transparency of alabaster, and thy fragrant lymph flowed from vases of porcelain. Such were formerly the decorations of thy hall, the embellishments of thy existence; but now--alas!----"

We reached a chamber in the second story. My conductor knocked at the door. No one answered. Repeated knocks were unheard or unnoticed by the person within. At length, lifting a latch, we entered together.

The prisoner lay upon the bed, with his face turned from the door. I advanced softly, making a sign to the keeper to withdraw. Welbeck was not asleep, but merely buried in reverie. I was unwilling to disturb his musing, and stood with my eyes fixed upon his form. He appeared unconscious that any one had entered.

At length, uttering a deep sigh, he changed his posture, and perceived me in my motionless and gazing attitude. Recollect in what circumstances we had last parted. Welbeck had, no doubt, carried away with him from that interview a firm belief that I should speedily die. His prognostic, however, was fated to be contradicted.

His first emotions were those of surprise. These gave place to mortification and rage. After eyeing me for some time, he averted his glances, and that effort which is made to dissipate some obstacle to breathing showed me that his sensations were of the most excruciating kind. He laid his head upon the pillow, and sunk into his former musing. He disdained, or was unable, to utter a syllable of welcome or contempt.

In the opportunity that had been afforded me to view his countenance, I had observed tokens of a kind very different from those which used to be visible. The gloomy and malignant were more conspicuous. Health had forsaken his cheeks, and taken along with it those flexible parts which formerly enabled him to cover his secret torments and insidious purposes beneath a veil of benevolence and cheerfulness. "Alas!" said I, loud enough for him to hear me, "here is a monument of ruin. Despair and mischievous passions are too deeply rooted in this heart for me to tear them away."

These expressions did not escape his notice. He turned once more and cast sullen looks upon me. There was somewhat in his eyes that made me shudder. They denoted that his reverie was not that of grief, but of madness. I continued, in a less steadfast voice than before:--

"Unhappy Clemenza! I have performed thy message. I have visited him that is sick and in prison. Thou hadst cause for anguish and terror, even greater cause than thou imaginedst. Would to God that thou wouldst be contented with the report which I shall make; that thy misguided tenderness would consent to leave him to his destiny, would suffer him to die alone; but that is a forbearance which no eloquence that I possess will induce thee to practise. Thou must come, and witness for thyself."

In speaking thus, I was far from foreseeing the effects which would be produced on the mind of Welbeck. I was far from intending to instil into him a belief that Clemenza was near at hand, and was preparing to enter his apartment; yet no other images but these would, perhaps, have roused him from his lethargy, and awakened that attention which I wished to awaken. He started up, and gazed fearfully at the door.

"What!" he cried. "What! Is she here? Ye powers, that have scattered woes in my path, spare me the sight of her! But from this agony I will rescue myself. The moment she appears I will pluck out these eyes and dash them at her feet."

So saying, he gazed with augmented eagerness upon the door. His hands were lifted to his head, as if ready to execute his frantic purpose. I seized his arm and besought him to lay aside his terror, for that Clemenza was far distant. She had no intention, and besides was unable, to visit him.

"Then I am respited. I breathe again. No; keep her from a prison. Drag her to the wheel or to the scaffold; mangle her with stripes; torture her with famine; strangle her child before her face, and cast it to the hungry dogs that are howling at the gate; but--keep her from a prison. Never let her enter these doors." There he stopped; his eyes being fixed on the floor, and his thoughts once more buried in reverie. I resumed:--

"She is occupied with other griefs than those connected with the fate of Welbeck. She is not unmindful of you; she knows you to be sick and in prison; and I came to do for you whatever office your condition might require, and I came at her suggestion. She, alas! has full employment for her tears in watering the grave of her child."

He started. "What! dead? Say you that the child is dead?"

"It is dead. I witnessed its death. I saw it expire in the arms of its mother; that mother whom I formerly met under your roof blooming and gay, but whom calamity has tarnished and withered. I saw her in the raiment of poverty, under an accursed roof: desolate; alone; unsolaced by the countenance or sympathy of human beings; approached only by those who mock at her distress, set snares for her innocence, and push her to infamy. I saw her leaning over the face of her dying babe."

Welbeck put his hands to his head, and exclaimed, "Curses on thy lips, infernal messenger! Chant elsewhere thy rueful ditty! Vanish! if thou wouldst not feel in thy heart fangs red with blood less guilty than thine."

Till this moment the uproar in Welbeck's mind appeared to hinder him from distinctly recognising his visitant. Now it seemed as if the incidents of our last interview suddenly sprung up in his remembrance.

"What! This is the villain that rifled my cabinet, the maker of my poverty and of all the evils which it has since engendered! That has led me to a prison! Execrable fool! you are the author of the scene that you describe, and of horrors without number and name. To whatever crimes I have been urged since that interview, and the fit of madness that made you destroy my property, they spring from your act; they flowed from necessity, which, had you held your hand at that fateful moment, would never have existed.

"How dare you thrust yourself upon my privacy? Why am I not alone? Fly! and let my miseries want, at least, the aggravation of beholding their author. My eyes loathe the sight of thee! My heart would suffocate thee with its own bitterness! Begone!"

"I know not," I answered, "why innocence should tremble at the ravings of a lunatic; why it should be overwhelmed by unmerited reproaches! Why it should not deplore the errors of its foe, labour to correct those errors, and----"

"Thank thy fate, youth, that my hands are tied up by my scorn; thank thy fate that no weapon is within reach. Much has passed since I saw thee, and I am a new man. I am no longer inconstant and cowardly. I have no motives but contempt to hinder me from expiating the wrongs which thou hast done me in thy blood. I disdain to take thy life. Go; and let thy fidelity, at least, to the confidence which I have placed in thee, be inviolate. Thou hast done me harm enough, but canst do, if thou wilt, still more. Thou canst betray the secrets that are lodged in thy bosom, and rob me of the comfort of reflecting that my guilt is known but to one among the living."

This suggestion made me pause, and look back upon the past. I had confided this man's tale to you. The secrecy on which he so fondly leaned was at an end. Had I acted culpably or not?

But why should I ruminate, with anguish and doubt, upon the past? The future was within my power, and the road of my duty was too plain to be mistaken. I would disclose to Welbeck the truth, and cheerfully encounter every consequence. I would summon my friend to my aid, and take his counsel in the critical emergency in which I was placed. I ought not to rely upon myself alone in my efforts to benefit this being, when another was so near whose discernment and benevolence, and knowledge of mankind, and power of affording relief, were far superior to mine.

Influenced by these thoughts, I left the apartment without speaking; and, procuring pen and paper, despatched to you the billet which brought about our meeting.

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VOLUME II CHAPTER XXXVIIMervyn's auditors allowed no pause in their attention to this story. Having ended, a deep silence took place. The clock which stood upon the mantel had sounded twice the customary _larum_, but had not been heard by us. It was now struck a third time. It was _one_. Our guest appeared somewhat startled at this signal, and looked, with a mournful sort of earnestness, at the clock. There was an air of inquietude about him which I had never observed in an equal degree before. I was not without much curiosity respecting other incidents than those which had
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VOLUME II CHAPTER XXXVTo explore the house in this manner was so contrary to ordinary rules, that the design was probably wholly unsuspected by the women whom I had just left. My silence, at parting, might have been ascribed by them to the intimidating influence of invectives and threats. Hence I proceeded in my search without interruption. Presently I reached a front chamber in the third story. The door was ajar. I entered it on tiptoe. Sitting on a low chair by the fire, I beheld a female figure, dressed in a negligent but not indecent manner. Her face, in the
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