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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesArthur Mervyn; Or, Memoirs Of The Year 1793 - Volume 2 - Chapter 37
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Arthur Mervyn; Or, Memoirs Of The Year 1793 - Volume 2 - Chapter 37 Post by :JayBeau Category :Long Stories Author :Charles Brockden Brown Date :May 2012 Read :3539

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Arthur Mervyn; Or, Memoirs Of The Year 1793 - Volume 2 - Chapter 37

VOLUME II CHAPTER XXXVII

Mervyn'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 just been related by him; but, after so much fatigue as he had undergone, I thought it improper to prolong the conversation.

"Come," said I, "my friend, let us to bed. This is a drowsy time, and, after so much exercise of mind and body, you cannot but need some repose. Much has happened in your absence, which is proper to be known to you; but our discourse will be best deferred till to-morrow. I will come into your chamber by day-dawn, and unfold to you particulars."

"Nay," said he, "withdraw not on my account. If I go to my chamber, it will not be to sleep, but to meditate, especially after your assurance that something of moment has occurred in my absence. My thoughts, independently of any cause of sorrow or fear, have received an impulse which solitude and darkness will not stop. It is impossible to know too much for our safety and integrity, or to know it too soon. What has happened?"

I did not hesitate to comply with his request, for it was not difficult to conceive that, however tired the limbs might be, the adventures of this day would not be easily expelled from the memory at night. I told him the substance of the conversation with Mrs. Althorpe. He smiled at those parts of the narrative which related to himself; but when his father's depravity and poverty were mentioned, he melted into tears.

"Poor wretch! I, that knew thee in thy better days, might have easily divined this consequence. I foresaw thy poverty and degradation in the same hour that I left thy roof. My soul drooped at the prospect, but I said, It cannot be prevented, and this reflection was an antidote to grief; but, now that thy ruin is complete, it seems as if some of it were imputable to me, who forsook thee when the succour and counsel of a son were most needed. Thou art ignorant and vicious, but thou art my father still. I see that the sufferings of a better man than thou art would less afflict me than thine. Perhaps it is still in my power to restore thy liberty and good name, and yet--that is a fond wish. Thou art past the age when the ignorance and grovelling habits of a human being are susceptible of cure." There he stopped, and, after a gloomy pause, continued:--

* * * * *

I am not surprised or afflicted at the misconceptions of my neighbours with relation to my own character. Men must judge from what they see; they must build their conclusions on their knowledge. I never saw in the rebukes of my neighbours any thing but laudable abhorrence of vice. They were too eager to blame, to collect materials of censure rather than of praise. It was not me whom they hated and despised. It was the phantom that passed under my name, which existed only in their imagination, and which was worthy of all their scorn and all their enmity.

What I appeared to be in their eyes was as much the object of my own disapprobation as of theirs. Their reproaches only evinced the rectitude of their decisions, as well as of my own. I drew from them new motives to complacency. They fortified my perseverance in the path which I had chosen as best; they raised me higher in my own esteem; they heightened the claims of the reproachers themselves to my respect and my gratitude.

They thought me slothful, incurious, destitute of knowledge and of all thirst of knowledge, insolent, and profligate. They say that in the treatment of my father I have been ungrateful and inhuman. I have stolen his property, and deserted him in his calamity. Therefore they hate and revile me. It is well; I love them for these proofs of their discernment and integrity. Their indignation at wrong is the truest test of their virtue.

It is true that they mistake me, but that arises from the circumstances of our mutual situation. They examined what was exposed to their view, they grasped at what was placed within their reach. To decide contrary to appearances, to judge from what they knew not, would prove them to be brutish and not rational, would make their decision of no worth, and render them, in their turn, objects of neglect and contempt.

It is true that I hated school; that I sought occasions of absence, and finally, on being struck by the master, determined to enter his presence no more. I loved to leap, to run, to swim, to climb trees and to clamber up rocks, to shroud myself in thickets and stroll among woods, to obey the impulse of the moment, and to prate or be silent, just as my humour prompted me. All this I loved more than to go to and fro in the same path, and at stated hours to look off and on a book, to read just as much and of such a kind, to stand up and be seated, just as another thought proper to direct. I hated to be classed, cribbed, rebuked, and feruled at the pleasure of one who, as it seemed to me, knew no guide in his rewards but caprice, and no prompter in his punishments but passion.

It is true that I took up the spade and the hoe as rarely, and for as short a time, as possible. I preferred to ramble in the forest and loiter on the hill; perpetually to change the scene; to scrutinize the endless variety of objects; to compare one leaf and pebble with another; to pursue those trains of thought which their resemblances and differences suggested; to inquire what it was that gave them this place, structure, and form, were more agreeable employments than ploughing and threshing.

My father could well afford to hire labour. What my age and my constitution enabled me to do could be done by a sturdy boy, in half the time, with half the toil, and with none of the reluctance. The boy was a bond-servant, and the cost of his clothing and food was next to nothing. True it is, that my service would have saved him even this expense, but my motives for declining the effort were not hastily weighed or superficially examined. These were my motives.

My frame was delicate and feeble. Exposure to wet blasts and vertical suns was sure to make me sick. My father was insensible to this consequence; and no degree of diligence would please him but that which would destroy my health. My health was dearer to my mother than to me. She was more anxious to exempt me from possible injuries than reason justified; but anxious she was, and I could not save her from anxiety but by almost wholly abstaining from labour. I thought her peace of mind was of some value, and that, if the inclination of either of my parents must be gratified at the expense of the other, the preference was due to the woman who bore me; who nursed me in disease; who watched over my safety with incessant tenderness; whose life and whose peace were involved in mine. I should have deemed myself brutish and obdurately wicked to have loaded her with fears and cares merely to smooth the brow of a froward old man, whose avarice called on me to sacrifice my ease and my health, and who shifted to other shoulders the province of sustaining me when sick, and of mourning for me when dead.

I likewise believed that it became me to reflect upon the influence of my decision on my own happiness; and to weigh the profits flowing to my father from my labour, against the benefits of mental exercise, the pleasures of the woods and streams, healthful sensations, and the luxury of musing. The pecuniary profit was petty and contemptible. It obviated no necessity. It purchased no rational enjoyment. It merely provoked, by furnishing the means of indulgence, an appetite from which my father was not exempt. It cherished the seeds of depravity in him, and lessened the little stock of happiness belonging to my mother.

I did not detain you long, my friends, in portraying my parents, and recounting domestic incidents, when I first told you my story. What had no connection with the history of Welbeck and with the part that I have acted upon this stage I thought it proper to omit. My omission was likewise prompted by other reasons. My mind is enervated and feeble, like my body. I cannot look upon the sufferings of those I love without exquisite pain. I cannot steel my heart by the force of reason, and by submission to necessity; and, therefore, too frequently employ the cowardly expedient of endeavouring to forget what I cannot remember without agony.

I told you that my father was sober and industrious by habit; but habit is not uniform. There were intervals when his plodding and tame spirit gave place to the malice and fury of a demon. Liquors were not sought by him; but he could not withstand entreaty, and a potion that produced no effect upon others changed him into a maniac.

I told you that I had a sister, whom the arts of a villain destroyed. Alas! the work of her destruction was left unfinished by him. The blows and contumelies of a misjudging and implacable parent, who scrupled not to thrust her, with her new-born infant, out of doors; the curses and taunts of unnatural brothers, left her no alternative but death.----But I must not think of this; I must not think of the wrongs which my mother endured in the person of her only and darling daughter.

My brothers were the copyists of the father, whom they resembled in temper and person. My mother doted on her own image in her daughter and in me. This daughter was ravished from her by self-violence, and her other children by disease. I only remained to appropriate her affections and fulfil her hopes. This alone had furnished a sufficient reason why I should be careful of my health and my life, but my father's character supplied me with a motive infinitely more cogent.

It is almost incredible, but nevertheless true, that the only being whose presence and remonstrances had any influence on my father, at moments when his reason was extinct, was myself. As to my personal strength, it was nothing; yet my mother's person was rescued from brutal violence; he was checked, in the midst of his ferocious career, by a single look or exclamation from me. The fear of my rebukes had even some influence in enabling him to resist temptation. If I entered the tavern at the moment when he was lifting the glass to his lips, I never weighed the injunctions of decorum, but, snatching the vessel from his hand, I threw it on the ground. I was not deterred by the presence of others; and their censures on my want of filial respect and duty were listened to with unconcern. I chose not to justify myself by expatiating on domestic miseries, and by calling down that pity on my mother which I knew would only have increased her distress.

The world regarded my deportment as insolent and perverse to a degree of insanity. To deny my father an indulgence which they thought harmless, and which, indeed, was harmless in its influence on other men; to interfere thus publicly with his social enjoyments, and expose him to mortification and shame, was loudly condemned; but my duty to my mother debarred me from eluding this censure on the only terms on which it could have been eluded. Now it has ceased to be necessary to conceal what passed in domestic retirements, and I should willingly confess the truth before any audience.

At first my father imagined that threats and blows would intimidate his monitor. In this he was mistaken, and the detection of this mistake impressed him with an involuntary reverence for me, which set bounds to those excesses which disdained any other control. Hence I derived new motives for cherishing a life which was useful, in so many ways, to my mother.

My condition is now changed. I am no longer on that field to which the law, as well as reason, must acknowledge that I had some right, while there was any in my father. I must hazard my life, if need be, in the pursuit of the means of honest subsistence. I never spared myself while in the service of Mr. Hadwin; and, at a more inclement season, should probably have incurred some hazard by my diligence.

These were the motives of my _idleness_,--for my abstaining from the common toils of the farm passed by that name among my neighbours; though, in truth, my time was far from being wholly unoccupied by manual employments, but these required less exertion of body or mind, or were more connected with intellectual efforts. They were pursued in the seclusion of my chamber or the recesses of a wood. I did not labour to conceal them, but neither was I anxious to attract notice. It was sufficient that the censure of my neighbours was unmerited, to make me regard it with indifference.

I sought not the society of persons of my own age, not from sullen or unsociable habits, but merely because those around me were totally unlike myself. Their tastes and occupations were incompatible with mine. In my few books, in my pen, in the vegetable and animal existences around me, I found companions who adapted their visits and intercourse to my convenience and caprice, and with whom I was never tired of communing.

I was not unaware of the opinion which my neighbours had formed of my being improperly connected with Betty Lawrence. I am not sorry that I fell into company with that girl. Her intercourse has instructed me in what some would think impossible to be attained by one who had never haunted the impure recesses of licentiousness in a city. The knowledge which a residence in this town for ten years gave her audacious and inquisitive spirit she imparted to me. Her character, profligate and artful, libidinous and impudent, and made up of the impressions which a city life had produced on her coarse but active mind, was open to my study, and I studied it.

I scarcely know how to repel the charge of illicit conduct, and to depict the exact species of intercourse subsisting between us. I always treated her with freedom, and sometimes with gayety. I had no motives to reserve. I was so formed that a creature like her had no power over my senses. That species of temptation adapted to entice me from the true path was widely different from the artifices of Betty. There was no point at which it was possible for her to get possession of my fancy. I watched her while she practised all her tricks and blandishments, as I regarded a similar deportment in the _animal salax ignavumque who inhabits the sty. I made efforts to pursue my observations unembarrassed; but my efforts were made, not to restrain desire, but to suppress disgust. The difficulty lay, not in withholding my caresses, but in forbearing to repulse her with rage.

Decorum, indeed, was not outraged, and all limits were not overstepped at once. Dubious advances were employed; but, when found unavailing, were displaced by more shameless and direct proceedings. She was too little versed in human nature to see that her last expedient was always worse than the preceding; and that, in proportion as she lost sight of decency, she multiplied the obstacles to her success.

Betty had many enticements in person and air. She was ruddy, smooth, and plump. To these she added--I must not say what, for it is strange to what lengths a woman destitute of modesty will sometimes go. But, all her artifices availing her not at all in the contest with my insensibilities, she resorted to extremes which it would serve no good purpose to describe in this audience. They produced not the consequences she wished, but they produced another which was by no means displeasing to her. An incident one night occurred, from which a sagacious observer deduced the existence of an intrigue. It was useless to attempt to rectify his mistake by explaining appearances in a manner consistent with my innocence. This mode of explication implied a _continence in me which he denied to be possible. The standard of possibilities, especially in vice and virtue, is fashioned by most men after their own character. A temptation which this judge of human nature knew that _he was unable to resist, he sagely concluded to be irresistible by any other man, and quickly established the belief among my neighbours, that the woman who married the father had been prostituted to the son. Though I never admitted the truth of this aspersion, I believed it useless to deny, because no one would credit my denial, and because I had no power to disprove it.

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VOLUME II CHAPTER XXXVIIIWhat other inquiries were to be resolved by our young friend, we were now, at this late hour, obliged to postpone till the morrow. I shall pass over the reflections which a story like this would naturally suggest, and hasten to our next interview. After breakfast next morning, the subject of last night's conversation was renewed. I told him that something had occurred in his absence, in relation to Mrs. Wentworth and her nephew, that had perplexed us not a little. "My information is obtained," continued I, "from Wortley; and it is nothing less than that young Clavering,
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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
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