My remonstrances were vain. The justice was by no means inclined to digest the being expostulated with in this manner by a person in the habiliments of a beggar. In the midst of my address he would have silenced me for my impertinence, but that I spoke with an earnestness with which he was wholly unable to contend. When I had finished, he told me it was all to no purpose, and that it might have been better for me, if I had shown myself less insolent. It was clear that I was a vagabond and a suspicious person. The more earnest I showed myself to get off, the more reason there was he should keep me fast. Perhaps, after all, I should turn out to be the felon in question. But, if I was not that, he had no doubt I was worse; a poacher, or, for what he knew, a murderer. He had a kind of a notion that he had seen my face before about some such affair; out of all doubt I was an old offender. He had it in his choice to send me to hard labour as a vagrant, upon the strength of my appearance and the contradictions in my story, or to order me to Warwick; and, out of the spontaneous goodness of his disposition, he chose the milder side of the alternative. He could assure me I should not slip through his fingers. It was of more benefit to his majesty's government to hang one such fellow as he suspected me to be, than, out of mistaken tenderness, to concern one's self for the good of all the beggars in the nation.
Finding it was impossible to work, in the way I desired, on a man so fully impressed with his own dignity and importance and my utter insignificance, I claimed that, at least, the money taken from my person should be restored to me. This was granted. His worship perhaps suspected that he had stretched a point in what he had already done, and was therefore the less unwilling to relax in this incidental circumstance. My conductors did not oppose themselves to this indulgence, for a reason that will appear in the sequel. The justice however enlarged upon his clemency in this proceeding. He did not know whether he was not exceeding the spirit of his commission in complying with my demand. So much money in my possession could not be honestly come by. But it was his temper to soften, as far as could be done with propriety, the strict letter of the law.
There were cogent reasons why the gentlemen who had originally taken me into custody, chose that I should continue in their custody when my examination was over. Every man is, in his different mode, susceptible to a sense of honour; and they did not choose to encounter the disgrace that would accrue to them, if justice had been done. Every man is in some degree influenced by the love of power; and they were willing I should owe any benefit I received, to their sovereign grace and benignity, and not to the mere reason of the case. It was not however an unsubstantial honour and barren power that formed the objects of their pursuit: no, their views were deeper than that. In a word, though they chose that I should retire from the seat of justice, as I had come before it, a prisoner, yet the tenor of my examination had obliged them, in spite of themselves, to suspect that I was innocent of the charge alleged against me. Apprehensive therefore that the hundred guineas which had been offered as a reward for taking the robber was completely out of the question in the present business, they were contented to strike at smaller game. Having conducted me to an inn, and given directions respecting a vehicle for the journey, they took me aside, while one of them addressed me in the following manner:—
"You see, my lad, how the case stands: hey for Warwick is the word I and when we are got there, what may happen then I will not pretend for to say. Whether you are innocent or no is no business of mine; but you are not such a chicken as to suppose, if so be as you are innocent, that that will make your game altogether sure. You say your business calls you another way, and as how you are in haste: I scorns to cross any man in his concerns, if I can help it. If therefore you will give us them there fifteen shiners, why snug is the word. They are of no use to you; a beggar, you know, is always at home. For the matter of that, we could have had them in the way of business, as you saw, at the justice's. But I am a man of principle; I loves to do things above board, and scorns to extort a shilling from any man."
He who is tinctured with principles of moral discrimination is apt upon occasion to be run away with by his feelings in that respect, and to forget the immediate interest of the moment. I confess, that the first sentiment excited in my mind by this overture was that of indignation. I was irresistibly impelled to give utterance to this feeling, and postpone for a moment the consideration of the future. I replied with the severity which so base a proceeding appeared to deserve. My bear-leaders were considerably surprised with my firmness, but seemed to think it beneath them to contest with me the principles I delivered. He who had made the overture contented himself with replying, "Well, well, my lad, do as you will; you are not the first man that has been hanged rather than part with a few guineas." His words did not pass unheeded by me. They were strikingly applicable to my situation, and I was determined not to suffer the occasion to escape me unimproved.
The pride of these gentlemen however was too great to admit of further parley for the present. They left me abruptly; having first ordered an old man, the father of the landlady, to stay in the room with me while they were absent. The old man they ordered, for security, to lock the door, and put the key in his pocket; at the same time mentioning below stairs the station in which they had left me, that the people of the house might have an eye upon what went forward, and not suffer me to escape. What was the intention of this manoeuvre I am unable certainly to pronounce. Probably it was a sort of compromise between their pride and their avarice; being desirous, for some reason or other, to drop me as soon as convenient, and therefore determining to wait the result of my private meditations on the proposal they had made.
They were no sooner withdrawn than I cast my eye upon the old man, and found something extremely venerable and interesting in his appearance. His form was above the middle size. It indicated that his strength had been once considerable; nor was it at this time by any means annihilated. His hair was in considerable quantity, and was as white as the drifted snow. His complexion was healthful and ruddy, at the same time that his face was furrowed with wrinkles. In his eye there was remarkable vivacity, and his whole countenance was strongly expressive of good-nature. The boorishness of his rank in society was lost in the cultivation his mind had derived from habits of sensibility and benevolence.
The view of his figure immediately introduced a train of ideas into my mind, respecting the advantage to be drawn from the presence of such a person. The attempt to take any step without his consent was hopeless; for, though I should succeed with regard to him, he could easily give the alarm to other persons, who would, no doubt, be within call. Add to which, I could scarcely have prevailed on myself to offer any offence to a person whose first appearance so strongly engaged my affection and esteem. In reality my thoughts were turned into a different channel. I was impressed with an ardent wish to be able to call this man my benefactor. Pursued by a train of ill fortune, I could no longer consider myself as a member of society. I was a solitary being, cut off from the expectation of sympathy, kindness, and the good-will of mankind. I was strongly impelled, by the situation in which the present moment placed me, to indulge in a luxury which my destiny seemed to have denied. I could not conceive the smallest comparison between the idea of deriving my liberty from the spontaneous kindness of a worthy and excellent mind, and that of being indebted for it to the selfishness and baseness of the worst members of society. It was thus that I allowed myself in the wantonness of refinement, even in the midst of destruction.
Guided by these sentiments, I requested his attention to the circumstances by which I had been brought into my present situation. He immediately signified his assent, and said he would cheerfully listen to any thing I thought proper to communicate. I told him, the persons who had just left me in charge with him had come to this town for the purpose of apprehending some person who had been guilty of robbing the mail; that they had chosen to take me up under this warrant, and had conducted me before a justice of the peace; that they had soon detected their mistake, the person in question being an Irishman, and differing from me both in country and stature; but that, by collusion between them and the justice, they were permitted to retain me in custody, and pretended to undertake to conduct me to Warwick to confront me with my accomplice; that, in searching me at the justice's, they had found a sum of money in my possession which excited their cupidity, and that they had just been proposing to me to give me my liberty upon condition of my surrendering this sum into their hands. Under these circumstances, I requested him to consider, whether he would wish to render himself the instrument of their extortion. I put myself into his hands, and solemnly averred the truth of the facts I had just stated. If he would assist me in my escape, it could have no other effect than to disappoint the base passions of my conductors. I would upon no account expose him to any real inconvenience; but I was well assured that the same generosity that should prompt him to a good deed, would enable him effectually to vindicate it when done; and that those who detained me, when they had lost sight of their prey, would feel covered with confusion, and not dare to take another step in the affair.
The old man listened to what I related with curiosity and interest. He said that he had always felt an abhorrence to the sort of people who had me in their hands; that he had an aversion to the task they had just imposed upon him, but that he could not refuse some little disagreeable offices to oblige his daughter and son-in-law. He had no doubt, from my countenance and manner, of the truth of what I had asserted to him. It was an extraordinary request I had made, and he did not know what had induced me to think him the sort of person to whom, with any prospect of success, it might be made. In reality however his habits of thinking were uncommon, and he felt more than half inclined to act as I desired. One thing at least he would ask of me in return, which was to be faithfully informed in some degree respecting the person he was desired to oblige. What was my name?
The question came upon me unprepared. But, whatever might be the consequence, I could not bear to deceive the person by whom it was put, and in the circumstances under which it was put. The practice of perpetual falsehood is too painful a task. I replied, that my name was Williams.
He paused. His eye was fixed upon me. I saw his complexion alter at the repetition of that word. He proceeded with visible anxiety.
My Christian name?
Good God! it could not be ——? He conjured me by every thing that was sacred to answer him faithfully to one question more. I was not—no, it was impossible—the person who had formerly lived servant with Mr. Falkland, of ——?
I told him that, whatever might be the meaning of his question, I would answer him truly. I was the individual he mentioned.
As I uttered these words the old man rose from his seat. He was sorry that fortune had been so unpropitious to him, as for him ever to have set eyes upon me! I was a monster with whom the very earth groaned!
I entreated that he would suffer me to explain this new misapprehension, as he had done in the former instance. I had no doubt that I should do it equally to his satisfaction.
No! no! no! he would upon no consideration admit, that his ears should suffer such contamination. This case and the other were very different. There was no criminal upon the face of the earth, no murderer, half so detestable as the person who could prevail upon himself to utter the charges I had done, by way of recrimination, against so generous a master.—The old man was in a perfect agony with the recollection.
At length he calmed himself enough to say, he should never cease to grieve that he had held a moment's parley with me. He did not know what was the conduct severe justice required of him; but, since he had come into the knowledge of who I was only by my own confession, it was irreconcilably repugnant to his feelings to make use of that knowledge to my injury. Here therefore all relation between us ceased; as indeed it would be an abuse of words to consider me in the light of a human creature. He would do me no mischief; but, on the other hand, he would not, for the world, be in any way assisting and abetting me.
I was inexpressibly affected at the abhorrence this good and benevolent creature expressed against me. I could not be silent; I endeavoured once and again to prevail upon him to hear me. But his determination was unalterable. Our contest lasted for some time, and he at length terminated it by ringing the bell, and calling up the waiter. A very little while after, my conductors entered, and the other persons withdrew.
It was a part of the singularity of my fate that it hurried me from one species of anxiety and distress to another, too rapidly to suffer any one of them to sink deeply into my mind. I am apt to believe, in the retrospect, that half the calamities I was destined to endure would infallibly have overwhelmed and destroyed me. But, as it was, I had no leisure to chew the cud upon misfortunes as they befel me, but was under the necessity of forgetting them, to guard against peril that the next moment seemed ready to crush me.
The behaviour of this incomparable and amiable old man cut me to the heart. It was a dreadful prognostic for all my future life. But, as I have just observed, my conductors entered, and another subject called imperiously upon my attention. I could have been content, mortified as I was at this instant, to have been shut up in some impenetrable solitude, and to have wrapped myself in inconsolable misery. But the grief I endured had not such power over me as that I could be content to risk the being led to the gallows. The love of life, and still more a hatred against oppression, steeled my heart against that species of inertness. In the scene that had just passed I had indulged, as I have said, in a wantonness and luxury of refinement. It was time that indulgence should be brought to a period. It was dangerous to trifle any more upon the brink of fate; and, penetrated as I was with sadness by the result of my last attempt, I was little disposed to unnecessary circumambulation.
I was exactly in the temper in which the gentlemen who had me in their power would have desired to find me. Accordingly we entered immediately upon business; and, after some chaffering, they agreed to accept eleven guineas as the price of my freedom. To preserve however the chariness of their reputation, they insisted upon conducting me with them for a few miles on the outside of a stage-coach. They then pretended that the road they had to travel lay in a cross country direction; and, having quitted the vehicle, they suffered me, almost as soon as it was out of sight, to shake off this troublesome association, and follow my own inclinations. It may be worth remarking by the way, that these fellows outwitted themselves at their own trade. They had laid hold of me at first under the idea of a prize of a hundred guineas; they had since been glad to accept a composition of eleven: but if they had retained me a little longer in their possession, they would have found the possibility of acquiring the sum that had originally excited their pursuit, upon a different score.
The mischances that had befallen me, in my late attempt to escape from my pursuers by sea, deterred me from the thought of repeating that experiment. I therefore once more returned to the suggestion of hiding myself, at least for the present, amongst the crowds of the metropolis. Meanwhile, I by no means thought proper to venture by the direct route, and the less so, as that was the course which would be steered by my late conductors; but took my road along the borders of Wales. The only incident worth relating in this place occurred in an attempt to cross the Severn in a particular point. The mode was by a ferry; but, by some strange inadvertence, I lost my way so completely as to be wholly unable that night to reach the ferry, and arrive at the town which I had destined for my repose.
This may seem a petty disappointment, in the midst of the overwhelming considerations that might have been expected to engross every thought of my mind. Yet it was borne by me with singular impatience. I was that day uncommonly fatigued. Previously to the time that I mistook, or at least was aware of the mistake of the road, the sky had become black and lowring, and soon after the clouds burst down in sheets of rain. I was in the midst of a heath, without a tree or covering of any sort to shelter me. I was thoroughly drenched in a moment. I pushed on with a sort of sullen determination. By and by the rain gave place to a storm of hail. The hail-stones were large and frequent. I was ill defended by the miserable covering I wore, and they seemed to cut me in a thousand directions. The hail-storm subsided, and was again succeeded by a heavy rain. By this time it was that I had perceived I was wholly out of my road. I could discover neither man nor beast, nor habitation of any kind. I walked on, measuring at every turn the path it would be proper to pursue, but in no instance finding a sufficient reason to reject one or prefer another. My mind was bursting with depression and anguish. I muttered imprecations and murmuring as I passed along. I was full of loathing and abhorrence of life, and all that life carries in its train. After wandering without any certain direction for two hours, I was overtaken by the night. The scene was nearly pathless, and it was vain to think of proceeding any farther.
Here I was, without comfort, without shelter, and without food. There was not a particle of my covering that was not as wet as if it had been fished from the bottom of the ocean. My teeth chattered. I trembled in every limb. My heart burned with universal fury. At one moment I stumbled and fell over some unseen obstacle; at another I was turned back by an impediment I could not overcome.
There was no strict connection between these casual inconveniences and the persecution under which I laboured. But my distempered thoughts confounded them together. I cursed the whole system of human existence. I said, "Here I am, an outcast, destined to perish with hunger and cold. All men desert me. All men hate me. I am driven with mortal threats from the sources of comfort and existence. Accursed world! that hates without a cause, that overwhelms innocence with calamities which ought to be spared even to guilt! Accursed world! dead to every manly sympathy; with eyes of horn, and hearts of steel! Why do I consent to live any longer? Why do I seek to drag on an existence, which, if protracted, must be protracted amidst the lairs of these human tigers?"
This paroxysm at length exhausted itself. Presently after, I discovered a solitary shed, which I was contented to resort to for shelter. In a corner of the shed I found some clean straw. I threw off my rags, placed them in a situation where they would best be dried, and buried myself amidst this friendly warmth. Here I forgot by degrees the anguish that had racked me. A wholesome shed and fresh straw may seem but scanty benefits; but they offered themselves when least expected, and my whole heart was lightened by the encounter. Through fatigue of mind and body, it happened in this instance, though in general my repose was remarkably short, that I slept till almost noon of the next day. When I rose, I found that I was at no great distance from the ferry, which I crossed, and entered the town where I intended to have rested the preceding night.
It was market-day. As I passed near the cross, I observed two people look at me with great earnestness: after which one of them exclaimed, "I will be damned if I do not think that this is the very fellow those men were enquiring for who set off an hour ago by the coach for ——." I was extremely alarmed at this information; and, quickening my pace, turned sharp down a narrow lane. The moment I was out of sight I ran with all the speed I could exert, and did not think myself safe till I was several miles distant from the place where this information had reached my ears. I have always believed that the men to whom it related were the very persons who had apprehended me on board the ship in which I had embarked for Ireland; that, by some accident, they had met with the description of my person as published on the part of Mr. Falkland; and that, from putting together the circumstances, they had been led to believe that this was the very individual who had lately been in their custody. Indeed it was a piece of infatuation in me, for which I am now unable to account, that, after the various indications which had occurred in that affair, proving to them that I was a man in critical and peculiar circumstances, I should have persisted in wearing the same disguise without the smallest alteration. My escape in the present case was eminently fortunate. If I had not lost my way in consequence of the hail-storm on the preceding night, or if I had not so greatly overslept myself this very morning, I must almost infallibly have fallen into the hands of these infernal blood-hunters.
The town they had chosen for their next stage, the name of which I had thus caught in the market-place, was the town to which, but for this intimation, I should have immediately proceeded. As it was, I determined to take a road as wide of it as possible. In the first place to which I came, in which it was practicable to do so, I bought a great coat, which I drew over my beggar's weeds, and a better hat. The hat I slouched over my face, and covered one of my eyes with a green-silk shade. The handkerchief, which I had hitherto worn about my head, I now tied about the lower part of my visage, so as to cover my mouth. By degrees I discarded every part of my former dress, and wore for my upper garment a kind of carman's frock, which, being of the better sort, made me look like the son of a reputable farmer of the lower class. Thus equipped, I proceeded on my journey, and, after a thousand alarms, precautions, and circuitous deviations from the direct path, arrived safely in London.
Here then was the termination of an immense series of labours, upon which no man could have looked back without astonishment, or forward without a sentiment bordering on despair. It was at a price which defies estimation that I had purchased this resting-place; whether we consider the efforts it had cost me to escape from the walls of my prison, or the dangers and anxieties to which I had been a prey, from that hour to the present.
But why do I call the point at which I was now arrived at a resting-place? Alas, it was diametrically the reverse! It was my first and immediate business to review all the projects of disguise I had hitherto conceived, to derive every improvement I could invent from the practice to which I had been subjected, and to manufacture a veil of concealment more impenetrable than ever. This was an effort to which I could see no end. In ordinary cases the hue and cry after a supposed offender is a matter of temporary operation; but ordinary cases formed no standard for the colossal intelligence of Mr. Falkland. For the same reason, London, which appears an inexhaustible reservoir of concealment to the majority of mankind, brought no such consolatory sentiment to my mind. Whether life were worth accepting on such terms I cannot pronounce. I only know that I persisted in this exertion of my faculties, through a sort of parental love that men are accustomed to entertain for their intellectual offspring; the more thought I had expended in rearing it to its present perfection, the less did I find myself disposed to abandon it. Another motive, not less strenuously exciting me to perseverance, was the ever-growing repugnance I felt to injustice and arbitrary power.
The first evening of my arrival in town I slept at an obscure inn in the borough of Southwark, choosing that side of the metropolis, on account of its lying entirely wide of the part of England from which I came. I entered the inn in the evening in my countryman's frock; and, having paid for my lodging before I went to bed, equipped myself next morning as differently as my wardrobe would allow, and left the house before day. The frock I made up into a small packet, and, having carried it to a distance as great as I thought necessary, I dropped it in the corner of an alley through which I passed. My next care was to furnish myself with another suit of apparel, totally different from any to which I had hitherto had recourse. The exterior which I was now induced to assume was that of a Jew. One of the gang of thieves upon —— forest, had been of that race; and by the talent of mimicry, which I have already stated myself to possess, I could copy their pronunciation of the English language, sufficiently to answer such occasions as were likely to present themselves. One of the preliminaries I adopted, was to repair to a quarter of the town in which great numbers of this people reside, and study their complexion and countenance. Having made such provision as my prudence suggested to me, I retired for that night to an inn in the midway between Mile-end and Wapping. Here I accoutred myself in ray new habiliments; and, having employed the same precautions as before, retired from my lodging at a time least exposed to observation. It is unnecessary to describe the particulars of my new equipage; suffice it to say, that one of my cares was to discolour my complexion, and give it the dun and sallow hue which is in most instances characteristic of the tribe to which I assumed to belong; and that when my metamorphosis was finished, I could not, upon the strictest examination, conceive that any one could have traced out the person of Caleb Williams in this new disguise.
Thus far advanced in the execution of my project. I deemed it advisable to procure a lodging, and change my late wandering life for a stationary one. In this lodging I constantly secluded myself from the rising to the setting of the sun; the periods I allowed for exercise and air were few, and those few by night. I was even cautious of so much as approaching the window of my apartment, though upon the attic story; a principle I laid down to myself was, not wantonly and unnecessarily to expose myself to risk, however slight that risk might appear.
Here let me pause for a moment, to bring before the reader, in the way in which it was impressed upon my mind, the nature of my situation. I was born free: I was born healthy, vigorous, and active, complete in all the lineaments and members of a human body. I was not born indeed to the possession of hereditary wealth; but I had a better inheritance, an enterprising mind, an inquisitive spirit, a liberal ambition. In a word, I accepted my lot with willingness and content; I did not fear but I should make my cause good in the lists of existence. I was satisfied to aim at small things; I was pleased to play at first for a slender stake; I was more willing to grow than to descend in my individual significance.
The free spirit and the firm heart with which I commenced, one circumstance was sufficient to blast. I was ignorant of the power which the institutions of society give to one man over others; I had fallen unwarily into the hands of a person who held it as his fondest wish to oppress and destroy me.
I found myself subjected, undeservedly on my part, to all the disadvantages which mankind, if they reflected upon them, would hesitate to impose on acknowledged guilt. In every human countenance I feared to find the countenance of an enemy. I shrunk from the vigilance of every human eye. I dared not open my heart to the best affections of our nature. I was shut up, a deserted, solitary wretch, in the midst of my species. I dared not look for the consolations of friendship; but, instead of seeking to identify myself with the joys and sorrows of others, and exchanging the delicious gifts of confidence and sympathy, was compelled to centre my thoughts and my vigilance in myself. My life was all a lie. I had a counterfeit character to support. I had counterfeit manners to assume. My gait, my gestures, my accents, were all of them to be studied. I was not free to indulge, no not one, honest sally of the soul. Attended with these disadvantages, I was to procure myself a subsistence, a subsistence to be acquired with infinite precautions, and to be consumed without the hope of enjoyment.
This, even this, I was determined to endure; to put my shoulder to the burthen, and support it with unshrinking firmness. Let it not however be supposed that I endured it without repining and abhorrence. My time was divided between the terrors of an animal that skulks from its pursuers, the obstinacy of unshrinking firmness, and that elastic revulsion that from time to time seems to shrivel the very hearts of the miserable. If at some moments I fiercely defied all the rigours of my fate, at others, and those of frequent recurrence, I sunk into helpless despondence. I looked forward without hope through the series of my existence, tears of anguish rushed from my eyes, my courage became extinct, and I cursed the conscious life that was reproduced with every returning day.
"Why," upon such occasions I was accustomed to exclaim, "why am I overwhelmed with the load of existence? Why are all these engines at work to torment me? I am no murderer; yet, if I were, what worse could I be fated to suffer? How vile, squalid, and disgraceful is the state to which I am condemned! This is not my place in the roll of existence, the place for which either my temper or my understanding has prepared me! To what purpose serve the restless aspirations of my soul, but to make me, like a frighted bird, beat myself in vain against the enclosure of my cage? Nature, barbarous nature! to me thou hast proved indeed the worst of step-mothers; endowed me with wishes insatiate, and sunk me in never-ending degradation!"
I might have thought myself more secure if I had been in possession of money upon which to subsist. The necessity of earning for myself the means of existence, evidently tended to thwart the plan of secrecy to which I was condemned. Whatever labour I adopted, or deemed myself qualified to discharge, it was first to be considered how I was to be provided with employment, and where I was to find an employer or purchaser for my commodities. In the mean time I had no alternative. The little money with which I had escaped from the blood-hunters was almost expended.
After the minutest consideration I was able to bestow upon this question. I determined that literature should be the field of my first experiment. I had read of money being acquired in this way, and of prices given by the speculators in this sort of ware to its proper manufacturers. My qualifications I esteemed at a slender valuation. I was not without a conviction that experience and practice must pave the way to excellent production. But, though of these I was utterly destitute, my propensities had always led me in this direction; and my early thirst of knowledge had conducted me to a more intimate acquaintance with books, than could perhaps have been expected under my circumstances. If my literary pretensions were slight, the demand I intended to make upon them was not great. All I asked was a subsistence; and I was persuaded few persons could subsist upon slenderer means than myself. I also considered this as a temporary expedient, and hoped that accident or time might hereafter place me in a less precarious situation. The reasons that principally determined my choice were, that this employment called upon me for the least preparation, and could, as I thought, be exercised with least observation.
There was a solitary woman, of middle age, who tenanted a chamber in this house, upon the same floor with my own. I had no sooner determined upon the destination of my industry than I cast my eye upon her as the possible instrument for disposing of my productions. Excluded as I was from all intercourse with my species in general, I found pleasure in the occasional exchange of a few words with this inoffensive and good-humoured creature, who was already of an age to preclude scandal. She lived upon a very small annuity, allowed her by a distant relation, a woman of quality, who, possessed of thousands herself, had no other anxiety with respect to this person than that she should not contaminate her alliance by the exertion of honest industry. This humble creature was of a uniformly cheerful and active disposition, unacquainted alike with the cares of wealth and the pressure of misfortune. Though her pretensions were small, and her information slender, she was by no means deficient in penetration. She remarked the faults and follies of mankind with no contemptible discernment; but her temper was of so mild and forgiving a cast, as would have induced most persons to believe that she perceived nothing of the matter. Her heart overflowed with the milk of kindness. She was sincere and ardent in her attachments, and never did she omit a service which she perceived herself able to render to a human being.
Had it not been for these qualifications of temper, I should probably have found that my appearance, that of a deserted, solitary lad, of Jewish extraction, effectually precluded my demands upon her kindness. But I speedily perceived, from her manner of receiving and returning civilities of an indifferent sort, that her heart was too noble to have its effusions checked by any base and unworthy considerations. Encouraged by these preliminaries, I determined to select her as my agent. I found her willing and alert in the business I proposed to her. That I might anticipate occasions of suspicion, I frankly told her that, for reasons which I wished to be excused from relating, but which, if related, I was sure would not deprive me of her good opinion, I found it necessary, for the present, to keep myself private. With this statement she readily acquiesced, and told me that she had no desire for any further information than I found it expedient to give.
My first productions were of the poetical kind. After having finished two or three, I directed this generous creature to take them to the office of a newspaper; but they were rejected with contempt by the Aristarchus of that place, who, having bestowed on them a superficial glance, told her that such matters were not in his way. I cannot help mentioning in this place, that the countenance of Mrs. Marney (this was the name of my ambassadress) was in all cases a perfect indication of her success, and rendered explanation by words wholly unnecessary. She interested herself so unreservedly in what she undertook, that she felt either miscarriage or good fortune much more exquisitely than I did. I had an unhesitating confidence in my own resources, and, occupied as I was in meditations more interesting and more painful, I regarded these matters as altogether trivial.
I quietly took the pieces back, and laid them upon my table. Upon revisal, I altered and transcribed one of them, and, joining it with two others, despatched them together to the editor of a magazine. He desired they might be left with him till the day after to-morrow. When that day came he told my friend they should be inserted; but, Mrs. Marney asking respecting the price, he replied, it was their constant rule to give nothing for poetical compositions, the letter-box being always full of writings of that sort; but if the gentleman would try his hand in prose, a short essay or a tale, he would see what he could do for him.
With the requisition of my literary dictator I immediately complied. I attempted a paper in the style of Addison's Spectators, which was accepted. In a short time I was upon an established footing in this quarter. I however distrusted my resources in the way of moral disquisition, and soon turned my thoughts to his other suggestion, a tale. His demands upon me were now frequent, and, to facilitate my labours, I bethought myself of the resource of translation. I had scarcely any convenience with respect to the procuring of books; but, as my memory was retentive, I frequently translated or modelled my narrative upon a reading of some years before. By a fatality, for which I did not exactly know how to account, my thoughts frequently led me to the histories of celebrated robbers; and I related, from time to time, incidents and anecdotes of Cartouche, Gusman d'Alfarache, and other memorable worthies, whose career was terminated upon the gallows or the scaffold.
In the mean time a retrospect to my own situation rendered a perseverance even in this industry difficult to be maintained. I often threw down my pen in an ecstasy of despair. Sometimes for whole days together I was incapable of action, and sunk into a sort of partial stupor, too wretched to be described. Youth and health however enabled me, from time to time, to get the better of my dejection, and to rouse myself to something like a gaiety, which, if it had been permanent, might have made this interval of my story tolerable to my reflections.
While I was thus endeavouring to occupy and provide for the intermediate period, till the violence of the pursuit after me might be abated, a new source of danger opened upon me of which I had no previous suspicion.
Gines, the thief who had been expelled from Captain Raymond's gang, had fluctuated, during the last years of his life, between the two professions of a violator of the laws and a retainer to their administration. He had originally devoted himself to the first; and probably his initiation in the mysteries of thieving qualified him to be peculiarly expert in the profession of a thief-taker—a profession he had adopted, not from choice, but necessity. In this employment his reputation was great, though perhaps not equal to his merits; for it happens here as in other departments of human society, that, however the subalterns may furnish wisdom and skill, the principals exclusively possess the eclat. He was exercising this art in a very prosperous manner, when it happened, by some accident, that one or two of his achievements previous to his having shaken off the dregs of unlicensed depredation were in danger of becoming subjects of public attention. Having had repeated intimations of this, he thought it prudent to decamp; and it was during this period of his retreat that he entered into the —— gang.
Such was the history of this man antecedently to his being placed in the situation in which I had first encountered him. At the time of that encounter he was a veteran of Captain Raymond's gang; for thieves being a short-lived race, the character of veteran costs the less time in acquiring. Upon his expulsion from this community he returned once more to his lawful profession, and by his old comrades was received with congratulation as a lost sheep. In the vulgar classes of society no length of time is sufficient to expiate a crime; but among the honourable fraternity of thief-takers it is a rule never to bring one of their own brethren to a reckoning when it can with any decency be avoided. They are probably reluctant to fix an unnecessary stain upon the ermine of their profession. Another rule observed by those who have passed through the same gradation as Gines had done, and which was adopted by Gines himself, is always to reserve such as have been the accomplices of their depredations to the last, and on no account to assail them without great necessity or powerful temptation. For this reason, according to Gines's system of tactics, Captain Raymond and his confederates were, as he would have termed it, safe from his retaliation.
But, though Gines was, in this sense of the term, a man of strict honour, my case unfortunately did not fall within the laws of honour he acknowledged. Misfortune had overtaken me, and I was on all sides without protection or shelter. The persecution to which I was exposed was founded upon the supposition of my having committed felony to an immense amount. But in this Gines had had no participation; he was careless whether the supposition were true or false, and hated me as much as if my innocence had been established beyond the reach of suspicion.
The blood-hunters who had taken me into custody at ——, related, as usual among their fraternity, a part of their adventure, and told of the reason which inclined them to suppose, that the individual who had passed through their custody, was the very Caleb Williams for whose apprehension a reward had been offered of a hundred guineas. Gines, whose acuteness was eminent in the way of his profession, by comparing facts and dates, was induced to suspect in his own mind, that Caleb Williams was the person he had hustled and wounded upon —— forest. Against that person he entertained the bitterest aversion. I had been the innocent occasion of his being expelled with disgrace from Captain Raymond's gang; and Gines, as I afterwards understood, was intimately persuaded that there was no comparison between the liberal and manly profession of a robber from which I had driven him, and the sordid and mechanical occupation of a blood-hunter, to which he was obliged to return. He no sooner received the information I have mentioned than he vowed revenge. He determined to leave all other objects, and consecrate every faculty of his mind to the unkennelling me from my hiding-place. The offered reward, which his vanity made him consider as assuredly his own, appeared as the complete indemnification of his labour and expense. Thus I had to encounter the sagacity he possessed in the way of his profession, whetted and stimulated by a sentiment of vengeance, in a mind that knew no restraint from conscience or humanity.
When I drew to myself a picture of my situation soon after having fixed on my present abode, I foolishly thought, as the unhappy are accustomed to do, that my calamity would admit of no aggravation. The aggravation which, unknown to me, at this time occurred was the most fearful that any imagination could have devised. Nothing could have happened more critically hostile to my future peace, than my fatal encounter with Gines upon —— forest. By this means, as it now appears, I had fastened upon myself a second enemy, of that singular and dreadful sort that is determined never to dismiss its animosity as long as life shall endure. While Falkland was the hungry lion whose roarings astonished and appalled me, Gines was a noxious insect, scarcely less formidable and tremendous, that hovered about my goings, and perpetually menaced me with the poison of his sting.
The first step pursued by him in execution of his project, was to set out for the sea-port town where I had formerly been apprehended. From thence he traced me to the banks of the Severn, and from the banks of the Severn to London. It is scarcely necessary to observe that this is always practicable, provided the pursuer have motives strong enough to excite him to perseverance, unless the precautions of the fugitive be, in the highest degree, both judicious in the conception, and fortunate in the execution. Gines indeed, in the course of his pursuit, was often obliged to double his steps; and, like the harrier, whenever he was at a fault, return to the place where he had last perceived the scent of the animal whose death he had decreed. He spared neither pains nor time in the gratification of the passion, which choice had made his ruling one.
Upon my arrival in town he for a moment lost all trace of me, London being a place in which, on account of the magnitude of its dimensions, it might well be supposed that an individual could remain hidden and unknown. But no difficulty could discourage this new adversary. He went from inn to inn (reasonably supposing that there was no private house to which I could immediately repair), till he found, by the description he gave, and the recollections he excited, that I had slept for one night in the borough of Southwark. But he could get no further information. The people of the inn had no knowledge what had become of me the next morning.
This however did but render him more eager in the pursuit. The describing me was now more difficult, on account of the partial change of dress I had made the second day of my being in town. But Gines at length overcame the obstacle from that quarter.
Having traced me to my second inn, he was here furnished with a more copious information. I had been a subject of speculation for the leisure hours of some of the persons belonging to this inn. An old woman, of a most curious and loquacious disposition, who lived opposite to it, and who that morning rose early to her washing, had espied me from her window, by the light of a large lamp which hung over the inn, as I issued from the gate. She had but a very imperfect view of me, but she thought there was something Jewish in my appearance. She was accustomed to hold a conference every morning with the landlady of the inn, some of the waiters and chambermaids occasionally assisting at it. In the course of the dialogue of this morning, she asked some questions about the Jew who had slept there the night before. No Jew had slept there. The curiosity of the landlady was excited in her turn. By the time of the morning it could be no other but me. It was very strange! They compared notes respecting my appearance and dress. No two things could be more dissimilar. The Jew Christian, upon any dearth of subjects of intelligence, repeatedly furnished matter for their discourse.
The information thus afforded to Gines appeared exceedingly material. But the performance did not for some time keep pace with the promise. He could not enter every private house into which lodgers were ever admitted, in the same manner that he had treated the inns. He walked the streets, and examined with a curious and inquisitive eye the countenance of every Jew about my stature; but in vain. He repaired to Duke's Place and the synagogues. It was not here that in reality he could calculate upon finding me; but he resorted to those means in despair, and as a last hope. He was more than once upon the point of giving up the pursuit; but he was recalled to it by an insatiable and restless appetite for revenge.
It was during this perturbed and fluctuating state of his mind, that he chanced to pay a visit to a brother of his, who was the head-workman of a printing-office. There was little intercourse between these two persons, their dispositions and habits of life being extremely dissimilar. The printer was industrious, sober, inclined to methodism, and of a propensity to accumulation. He was extremely dissatisfied with the character and pursuits of his brother, and had made some ineffectual attempts to reclaim him. But, though they by no means agreed in their habits of thinking, they sometimes saw each other. Gines loved to boast of as many of his achievements as he dared venture to mention; and his brother was one more hearer, in addition to the set of his usual associates. The printer was amused with the blunt sagacity of remark and novelty of incident that characterised Gines's conversation. He was secretly pleased, in spite of all his sober and church-going prejudices, that he was brother to a man of so much ingenuity and fortitude.
After having listened for some time upon this occasion to the wonderful stories which Gines, in his rugged way, condescended to tell, the printer felt an ambition to entertain his brother in his turn. He began to retail some of my stories of Cartouche and Gusman d'Alfarache. The attention of Gines was excited. His first emotion was wonder; his second was envy and aversion. Where did the printer get these stories? This question was answered. "I will tell you what," said the printer, "we none of us know what to make of the writer of these articles. He writes poetry, and morality, and history: I am a printer, and corrector of the press, and may pretend without vanity to be a tolerably good judge of these matters: he writes them all to my mind extremely fine; and yet he is no more than a Jew." [To my honest printer this seemed as strange, as if they had been written by a Cherokee chieftain at the falls of the Mississippi.]
"A Jew! How do you know? Did you ever see him?"
"No; the matter is always brought to us by a woman. But my master hates mysteries; he likes to see his authors himself. So he plagues and plagues the old woman; but he can never get any thing out of her, except that one day she happened to drop that the young gentleman was a Jew."
A Jew! a young gentleman! a person who did every thing by proxy, and made a secret of all his motions! Here was abundant matter for the speculations and suspicions of Gines. He was confirmed in them, without adverting to the process of his own mind, by the subject of my lucubrations,—men who died by the hand of the executioner. He said little more to his brother, except asking, as if casually, what sort of an old woman this was? of what age she might be? and whether she often brought him materials of this kind? and soon after took occasion to leave him. It was with vast pleasure that Gines had listened to this unhoped-for information. Having collected from his brother sufficient hints relative to the person and appearance of Mrs. Marney, and understanding that he expected to receive something from me the next day, Gines took his stand in the street early, that he might not risk miscarriage by negligence. He waited several hours, but not without success. Mrs. Marney came; he watched her into the house; and after about twenty minutes delay, saw her return. He dogged her from street to street; observed her finally enter the door of a private house; and congratulated himself upon having at length arrived at the consummation of his labours.
The house she entered was not her own habitation. By a sort of miraculous accident she had observed Gines following her in the street. As she went home she saw a woman who had fallen down in a fainting fit. Moved by the compassion that was ever alive in her, she approached her, in order to render her assistance. Presently a crowd collected round them. Mrs. Marney, having done what she was able, once more proceeded homewards. Observing the crowd round her, the idea of pickpockets occurred to her mind; she put her hands to her sides, and at the same time looked round upon the populace. She had left the circle somewhat abruptly; and Gines, who had been obliged to come nearer, lest he should lose her in the confusion, was at that moment standing exactly opposite to her. His visage was of the most extraordinary kind; habit had written the characters of malignant cunning and dauntless effrontery in every line of his face; and Mrs. Marney, who was neither philosopher nor physiognomist, was nevertheless struck. This good woman, like most persons of her notable character, had a peculiar way of going home, not through the open streets, but by narrow lanes and alleys, with intricate insertions and sudden turnings. In one of these, by some accident, she once again caught a glance of her pursuer. This circumstance, together with the singularity of his appearance, awakened her conjectures. Could he be following her? It was the middle of the day, and she could have no fears for herself. But could this circumstance have any reference to me? She recollected the precautions and secrecy I practised, and had no doubt that I had reasons for what I did. She recollected that she had always been upon her guard respecting me; but had she been sufficiently so? She thought that, if she should be the means of any mischief to me, she should be miserable for ever. She determined therefore, by way of precaution in case of the worst, to call at a friend's house, and send me word of what had occurred. Having instructed her friend, she went out immediately upon a visit to a person in the exactly opposite direction, and desired her friend to proceed upon the errand to me, five minutes after she left the house. By this prudence she completely extricated me from the present danger.
Meantime the intelligence that was brought me by no means ascertained the greatness of the peril. For any thing I could discover in it the circumstance might be perfectly innocent, and the fear solely proceed from the over-caution and kindness of this benevolent and excellent woman. Yet, such was the misery of my situation, I had no choice. For this menace or no menace, I was obliged to desert my habitation at a minute's warning, taking with me nothing but what I could carry in my hand; to see my generous benefactress no more; to quit my little arrangements and provision; and to seek once again, in some forlorn retreat, new projects, and, if of that I could have any rational hope, a new friend. I descended into the street with a heavy, not an irresolute heart. It was broad day. I said, persons are at this moment supposed to be roaming the street in search of me: I must not trust to the chance of their pursuing one direction, and I another. I traversed half a dozen streets, and then dropped into an obscure house of entertainment for persons of small expense. In this house I took some refreshment, passed several hours of active but melancholy thinking, and at last procured a bed. As soon however as it was dark I went out (for this was indispensable) to purchase the materials of a new disguise. Having adjusted it as well as I could during the night, I left this asylum, with the same precautions that I had employed in former instances.
I procured a new lodging. By some bias of the mind, it may be, gratifying itself with images of peril, I inclined to believe that Mrs. Marney's alarm had not been without foundation. I was however unable to conjecture through what means danger had approached me; and had therefore only the unsatisfactory remedy of redoubling my watch upon all my actions. Still I had the joint considerations pressing upon me of security and subsistence. I had some small remains of the produce of my former industry; but this was but small, for my employer was in arrear with me, and I did not choose in any method to apply to him for payment. The anxieties of my mind, in spite of all my struggles, preyed upon my health. I did not consider myself as in safety for an instant. My appearance was wasted to a shadow; and I started at every sound that was unexpected. Sometimes I was half tempted to resign myself into the hands of the law, and brave its worst; but resentment and indignation at those times speedily flowed back upon my mind, and re-animated my perseverance.
I knew no better resource with respect to subsistence than that I had employed in the former instance, of seeking some third person to stand between me and the disposal of my industry. I might find an individual ready to undertake this office in my behalf; but where should I find the benevolent soul of Mrs. Marney? The person I fixed upon was a Mr. Spurrel, a man who took in work from the watchmakers, and had an apartment upon our second floor. I examined him two or three times with irresolute glances, as we passed upon the stairs, before I would venture to accost him. He observed this, and at length kindly invited me into his apartment.
Being seated, he condoled with me upon my seeming bad health, and the solitary mode of my living, and wished to know whether he could be of any service to me. "From the first moment he saw me, he had conceived an affection for me." In my present disguise I appeared twisted and deformed, and in other respects by no means an object of attraction. But it seemed Mr. Spurrel had lost an only son about six months before, and I was "the very picture of him." If I had put off my counterfeited ugliness, I should probably have lost all hold upon his affections. "He was now an old man," as he observed, "just dropping into the grave, and his son had been his only consolation. The poor lad was always ailing, but he had been a nurse to him; and the more tending he required while he was alive, the more he missed him now he was dead. Now he had not a friend, nor any body that cared for him, in the whole world. If I pleased, I should be instead of that son to him, and he would treat me in all respects with the same attention and kindness."
I expressed my sense of these benevolent offers, but told him that I should be sorry to be in any way burthensome to him. "My ideas at present led me to a private and solitary life, and my chief difficulty was to reconcile this with some mode of earning necessary subsistence. If he would condescend to lend me his assistance in smoothing this difficulty, it would be the greatest benefit he could confer on me." I added, that "my mind had always had a mechanical and industrious turn, and that I did not doubt of soon mastering any craft to which I seriously applied myself. I had not been brought up to any trade; but, if he would favour me with his instructions, I would work with him as long as he pleased for a bare subsistence. I knew that I was asking of him an extraordinary kindness; but I was urged on the one hand by the most extreme necessity, and encouraged on the other by the persuasiveness of his friendly professions."
The old man dropped some tears over my apparent distress, and readily consented to every thing I proposed. Our agreement was soon made, and I entered upon my functions accordingly. My new friend was a man of a singular turn of mind. Love of money, and a charitable officiousness of demeanour, were his leading characteristics. He lived in the most penurious manner, and denied himself every indulgence. I entitled myself almost immediately, as he frankly acknowledged, to some remuneration for my labours, and accordingly he insisted upon my being paid. He did not however, as some persons would have done under the circumstance, pay me the whole amount of my earnings, but professed to subtract from them twenty per cent, as an equitable consideration for instruction, and commission-money in procuring me a channel for my industry. Yet he frequently shed tears over me, was uneasy in every moment of our indispensable separation, and exhibited perpetual tokens of attachment and fondness. I found him a man of excellent mechanical contrivance, and received considerable pleasure from his communications. My own sources of information were various; and he frequently expressed his wonder and delight in the contemplation of my powers, as well of amusement as exertion.
Thus I appeared to have attained a situation not less eligible than in my connection with Mrs. Marney. I was however still more unhappy. My fits of despondence were deeper, and of more frequent recurrence. My health every day grew worse; and Mr. Spurrel was not without apprehensions that he should lose me, as he before lost his only son.
I had not been long however in this new situation, before an incident occurred which filled me with greater alarm and apprehension than ever. I was walking out one evening, after a long visitation of languor, for an hour's exercise and air, when my ears were struck with two or three casual sounds from the mouth of a hawker who was bawling his wares. I stood still to inform myself more exactly, when, to my utter astonishment and confusion, I heard him deliver himself nearly in these words: "Here you have the MOST WONDERFUL AND SURPRISING HISTORY AND MIRACULOUS ADVENTURES OF CALEB WILLIAMS: you are informed how he first robbed, and then brought false accusations against his master; as also of his attempting divers times to break out of prison, till at last he effected his escape in the most wonderful and uncredible manner; as also of his travelling the kingdom in various disguises, and the robberies he committed with a most desperate and daring gang of thieves; and of his coming up to London, where it is supposed he now lies concealed; with a true and faithful copy of the hue and cry printed and published by one of his Majesty's most principal secretaries of state, offering a reward of one hundred guineas for apprehending him. All for the price of one halfpenny."
Petrified as I was at these amazing and dreadful sounds, I had the temerity to go up to the man and purchase one of his papers. I was desperately resolved to know the exact state of the fact, and what I had to depend upon. I carried it with me a little way, till, no longer able to endure the tumult of my impatience, I contrived to make out the chief part of its contents, by the help of a lamp, at the upper end of a narrow passage. I found it contain a greater number of circumstances than could have been expected in this species of publication, I was equalled to the most notorious housebreaker in the art of penetrating through walls and doors, and to the most accomplished swindler in plausibleness, duplicity, and disguise. The hand-bill which Larkins had first brought to us upon the forest was printed at length. All my disguises, previously to the last alarm that had been given me by the providence of Mrs. Marney, were faithfully enumerated; and the public were warned to be upon their watch against a person of an uncouth and extraordinary appearance, and who lived in a recluse and solitary manner. I also learned from this paper that my former lodgings had been searched on the very evening of my escape, and that Mrs. Marney had been sent to Newgate, upon a charge of misprision of felony.—This last circumstance affected me deeply. In the midst of my own sufferings my sympathies flowed undiminished. It was a most cruel and intolerable idea, if I were not only myself to be an object of unrelenting persecution, but my very touch were to be infectious, and every one that succoured me was to be involved in the common ruin. My instant feeling was that of a willingness to undergo the utmost malice of my enemies, could I by that means have saved this excellent woman from alarm and peril.—I afterwards learned that Mrs. Marney was delivered from confinement, by the interposition of her noble relation.
My sympathy for Mrs. Marney however was at this moment a transient one. A more imperious and irresistible consideration demanded to be heard.
With what sensations did I ruminate upon this paper? Every word of it carried despair to my heart. The actual apprehension that I dreaded would perhaps have been less horrible. It would have put an end to that lingering terror to which I was a prey. Disguise was no longer of use. A numerous class of individuals, through every department, almost every house of the metropolis, would be induced to look with a suspicious eye upon every stranger, especially every solitary stranger, that fell under their observation. The prize of one hundred guineas was held out to excite their avarice and sharpen their penetration. It was no longer Bow-street, it was a million of men in arms against me. Neither had I the refuge, which few men have been so miserable as to want, of one single individual with whom to repose my alarms, and who might shelter me from the gaze of indiscriminate curiosity.
What could exceed the horrors of this situation? My heart knocked against my ribs, my bosom heaved, I gasped and panted for breath. "There is no end then," said I, "to my persecutors! My unwearied and long-continued labours lead to no termination! Termination! No; the lapse of time, that cures all other things, makes my case more desperate! Why then," exclaimed I, a new train of thought suddenly rushing into my mind, "why should I sustain the contest any longer? I can at least elude my persecutors in death. I can bury myself and the traces of my existence together in friendly oblivion; and thus bequeath eternal doubt, and ever new alarm, to those who have no peace but in pursuing me!"
In the midst of the horrors with which I was now impressed, this idea gave me pleasure; and I hastened to the Thames to put it in instant execution. Such was the paroxysm of my mind that my powers of vision became partially suspended. I was no longer conscious to the feebleness of disease, but rushed along with fervent impetuosity. I passed from street to street without observing what direction I pursued. After wandering I know not how long, I arrived at London Bridge. I hastened to the stairs, and saw the river covered with vessels.
"No human being must see me," said I, "at the instant that I vanish for ever." This thought required some consideration. A portion of time had elapsed since my first desperate purpose. My understanding began to return. The sight of the vessels suggested to me the idea of once more attempting to leave my native country.
I enquired, and speedily found that the cheapest passage I could procure was in a vessel moored near the Tower, and which was to sail in a few days for Middleburgh in Holland. I would have gone instantly on board, and have endeavoured to prevail with the captain to let me remain there till he sailed; but unfortunately I had not money enough in my pocket to defray my passage.
It was worse than this. I had not money enough in the world. I however paid the captain half his demand, and promised to return with the rest. I knew not in what manner it was to be procured, but I believed that I should not fail in it. I had some idea of applying to Mr. Spurrel. Surely he would not refuse me? He appeared to love me with parental affection, and I thought I might trust myself for a moment in his hands.
I approached my place of residence with a heavy and foreboding heart. Mr. Spurrel was not at home; and I was obliged to wait for his return. Worn out with fatigue, disappointment, and the ill state of my health, I sunk upon a chair. Speedily however I recollected myself. I had work of Mr. Spurrel's in my trunk, which had been delivered out to me that very morning, to five times the amount I wanted. I canvassed for a moment whether I should make use of this property as if it were my own; but I rejected the idea with disdain. I had never in the smallest degree merited the reproaches that were east upon me; and I determined I never would merit them. I sat gasping, anxious, full of the blackest forebodings. My terrors appeared, even to my own mind, greater and more importunate than the circumstances authorised.
It was extraordinary that Mr. Spurrel should be abroad at this hour; I had never known it happen before. His bed-time was between nine and ten. Ten o'clock came, eleven o'clock, but not Mr. Spurrel. At midnight I heard his knock at the door. Every soul in the house was in bed. Mr. Spurrel, on account of his regular hours, was unprovided with a key to open for himself. A gleam, a sickly gleam, of the social spirit came over my heart. I flew nimbly down stairs, and opened the door.
I could perceive, by the little taper in my hand, something extraordinary in his countenance. I had not time to speak, before I saw two other men follow him. At the first glance I was sufficiently assured what sort of persons they were. At the second, I perceived that one of them was no other than Gines himself. I had understood formerly that he had been of this profession, and I was not surprised to find him in it again. Though I had for three hours endeavoured, as it were, to prepare myself for the unavoidable necessity of falling once again into the hands of the officers of law, the sensation I felt at their entrance was indescribably agonising. I was besides not a little astonished at the time and manner of their entrance; and I felt anxious to know whether Mr. Spurrel could be base enough to have been their introducer.
I was not long held in perplexity. He no sooner saw his followers within the door, than he exclaimed, with convulsive eagerness, "There, there, that is your man! thank God! thank God!" Gines looked eagerly in my face, with a countenance expressive alternately of hope and doubt, and answered, "By God, and I do not know whether it be or no! I am afraid we are in the wrong box!" Then recollecting himself, "We will go into the house, and examine further however." We all went up stairs into Mr. Spurrel's room; I set down the candle upon the table. I had hitherto been silent; but I determined not to desert myself, and was a little encouraged to exertion by the scepticism of Gines. With a calm and deliberate manner therefore, in my feigned voice, one of the characteristics of which was lisping, I asked, "Pray, gentlemen, what may be your pleasure with me?"—"Why," said Gines, "our errand is with one Caleb Williams, and a precious rascal he is! I ought to know the chap well enough; but they say he has as many faces as there are days in the year. So you please to pull off your face; or, if you cannot do that, at least you can pull off your clothes, and let us see what your hump is made of."
I remonstrated, but in vain. I stood detected in part of my artifice; and Gines, though still uncertain, was every moment more and more confirmed in his suspicions. Mr. Spurrel perfectly gloated, with eyes that seemed ready to devour every thing that passed. As my imposture gradually appeared more palpable, he repeated his exclamation, "Thank God! thank God!" At last, tired with this scene of mummery, and disgusted beyond measure with the base and hypocritical figure I seemed to exhibit, I exclaimed, "Well, I am Caleb Williams; conduct me wherever you please! And now, Mr. Spurrel!"—He gave a violent start. The instant I declared myself his transport had been at the highest, and was, to any power he was able to exert, absolutely uncontrollable. But tile unexpectedness of my address, and the tone in which I spoke, electrified him.—"Is it possible," continued I, "that you should have been the wretch to betray me? What have I done to deserve this treatment? Is this the kindness you professed? the affection that was perpetually in your mouth? to be the death of me!"
"My poor boy! my dear creature!" cried Spurrel, whimpering, and in a tone of the humblest expostulation, "indeed I could not help it! I would have helped it, if I could! I hope they will not hurt my darling! I am sure I shall die if they do!"
"Miserable driveller!" interrupted I, with a stern voice, "do you betray me into the remorseless fangs of the law, and then talk of my not being hurt? I know my sentence, and am prepared to meet it! You have fixed the halter upon my neck, and at the same price would have done so to your only son! Go, count your accursed guineas I My life would have been safer in the hands of one I had never seen than in yours, whose mouth and whose eyes for ever ran over with crocodile affection!"
I have always believed that my sickness, and, as he apprehended, approaching death, contributed its part to the treachery of Mr. Spurrel. He predicted to his own mind the time when I should no longer be able to work. He recollected with agony the expense that attended his son's illness and death. He determined to afford me no assistance of a similar kind. He feared however the reproach of deserting me. He feared the tenderness of his nature. He felt, that I was growing upon his affections, and that in a short time he could not have deserted me. He was driven by a sort of implicit impulse, for the sake of avoiding one ungenerous action, to take refuge in another, the basest and most diabolical. This motive, conjoining with the prospect of the proffered reward, was an incitement too powerful for him to resist.
Having given vent to my resentment, I left Mr. Spurrel motionless, and unable to utter a word. Gines and his companion attended me. It is unnecessary to repeat all the insolence of this man. He alternately triumphed in the completion of his revenge, and regretted the loss of the reward to the shrivelled old curmudgeon we had just quitted, whom however he swore he would cheat of it by one means or another. He claimed to himself the ingenuity of having devised the halfpenny legend, the thought of which was all his own, and was an expedient that was impossible to fail. There was neither law nor justice, he said, to be had, if Hunks who had done nothing were permitted to pocket the cash, and his merit were left undistinguished and pennyless.
I paid but little attention to his story. It struck upon my sense, and I was able to recollect it at my nearest leisure, though I thought not of it at the time. For the present I was busily employed, reflecting on my new situation, and the conduct to be observed in it. The thought of suicide had twice, in moments of uncommon despair, suggested itself to my mind; but it was far from my habitual meditations. At present, and in all cases where death was immediately threatened me from the injustice of others, I felt myself disposed to contend to the last.
My prospects were indeed sufficiently gloomy and discouraging. How much labour had I exerted, first to extricate myself from prison, and next to evade the diligence of my pursuers; and the result of all, to be brought back to the point from which I began! I had gained fame indeed, the miserable fame to have my story bawled forth by hawkers and ballad-mongers, to have my praises as an active and enterprising villain celebrated among footmen and chambermaids; but I was neither an Erostratus nor an Alexander, to die contented with that species of eulogium. With respect to all that was solid, what chance could I find in new exertions of a similar nature? Never was a human creature pursued by enemies more inventive or envenomed. I could have small hope that they would ever cease their persecution, or that my future attempts would be crowned with a more desirable issue.
They were considerations like these that dictated my resolution. My mind had been gradually weaning from Mr. Falkland, till its feeling rose to something like abhorrence. I had long cherished a reverence for him, which not even animosity and subornation on his part could utterly destroy. But I now ascribed a character so inhumanly sanguinary to his mind; I saw something so fiend-like in the thus hunting me round the world, and determining to be satisfied with nothing less than my blood, while at the same time he knew my innocence, my indisposition to mischief, nay, I might add, my virtues; that henceforth I trampled reverence and the recollection of former esteem under my feet. I lost all regard to his intellectual greatness, and all pity for the agonies of his soul. I also would abjure forbearance. I would show myself bitter and inflexible as he had done. Was it wise in him to drive me into extremity and madness? Had he no fears for his own secret and atrocious offences?
I had been obliged to spend the remainder of the night upon which I had been apprehended, in prison. During the interval I had thrown off every vestige of disguise, and appeared the next morning in my own person. I was of course easily identified; and, this being the whole with which the magistrates before whom I now stood thought themselves concerned, they were proceeding to make out an order for my being conducted back to my own county. I suspended the despatch of this measure by observing that I had something to disclose. This is an overture to which men appointed for the administration of criminal justice never fail to attend.
I went before the magistrates, to whose office Gines and his comrade conducted me, fully determined to publish those astonishing secrets of which I had hitherto been the faithful depository; and, once for all, to turn the tables upon my accuser. It was time that the real criminal should be the sufferer, and not that innocence should for ever labour under the oppression of guilt.
I said that "I had always protested my innocence, and must now repeat the protest."
"In that case," retorted the senior magistrate abruptly, "what can you have to disclose? If you are innocent, that is no business of ours! We act officially."
"I always declared," continued I, "that I was the perpetrator of no guilt, but that the guilt wholly belonged to my accuser. He privately conveyed these effects among my property, and then charged me with the robbery. I now declare more than that, that this man is a murderer, that I detected his criminality, and that, for that reason, he is determined to deprive me of life. I presume, gentlemen, that you do consider it as your business to take this declaration. I am persuaded you will be by no means disposed, actively or passively, to contribute to the atrocious injustice under which I suffer, to the imprisonment and condemnation of an innocent man, in order that a murderer may go free. I suppressed this story as long as I could. I was extremely averse to be the author of the unhappiness or the death of a human being. But all patience and submission have their limits."
"Give me leave, sir," rejoined the magistrate, with an air of affected moderation, "to ask you two questions. Were you any way aiding, abetting, or contributing to this murder?"
"And pray, sir, who is this Mr. Falkland? and what may have been the nature of your connection with him?"
"Mr. Falkland is a gentleman of six thousand per annum. I lived with him as his secretary."
"In other words, you were his servant?"
"As you please."
"Very well, sir; that is quite enough for me. First, I have to tell you, as a magistrate, that I can have nothing to do with your declaration. If you had been concerned in the murder you talk of, that would alter the case. But it is out of all reasonable rule for a magistrate to take an information from a felon, except against his accomplices. Next, I think it right to observe to you, in my own proper person, that you appear to me to be the most impudent rascal I ever saw. Why, are you such an ass as to suppose, that the sort of story you have been telling, can be of any service to you, either here or at the assizes, or any where else? A fine time of it indeed it would be, if, when gentlemen of six thousand a year take up their servants for robbing them, those servants could trump up such accusations as these, and could get any magistrate or court of justice to listen to them! Whether or no the felony with which you stand charged would have brought you to the gallows, I will not pretend to say: but I am sure this story will. There would be a speedy end to all order and good government, if fellows that trample upon ranks and distinctions in this atrocious sort were upon any consideration suffered to get off."
"And do you refuse, sir, to attend to the particulars of the charge I allege?"
"Yes, sir, I do.—But, if I did not, pray what witnesses have you of the murder?"
This question staggered me.
"None. But I believe I can make out a circumstantial proof, of a nature to force attention from the most indifferent hearer."
"So I thought.—Officers, take him from the bar!"
Such was the success of this ultimate resort on my part, upon which I had built with such undoubting confidence. Till now, I had conceived that the unfavourable situation in which I was placed was prolonged by my own forbearance; and I had determined to endure all that human nature could support, rather than have recourse to this extreme recrimination. That idea secretly consoled me under all my calamities: it was a voluntary sacrifice, and was cheerfully made. I thought myself allied to the army of martyrs and confessors; I applauded my fortitude and self-denial; and I pleased myself with the idea, that I had the power, though I hoped never to employ it, by an unrelenting display of my resources, to put an end at once to my sufferings and persecutions.
And this at last was the justice of mankind! A man, under certain circumstances, shall not be heard in the detection of a crime, because he has not been a participator of it! The story of a flagitious murder shall be listened to with indifference, while an innocent man is hunted, like a wild beast, to the furthest corners of the earth! Six thousand a year shall protect a man from accusation; and the validity of an impeachment shall be superseded, because the author of it is a servant!
I was conducted back to the very prison from which a few months before I had made my escape. With a bursting heart I entered those walls, compelled to feel that all my more than Herculean labours served for my own torture, and for no other end. Since my escape from prison I had acquired some knowledge of the world; I had learned by bitter experience, by how many links society had a hold upon me, and how closely the snares of despotism beset me. I no longer beheld the world, as my youthful fancy had once induced me to do, as a scene in which to hide or to appear, and to exhibit the freaks of a wanton vivacity. I saw my whole species as ready, in one mode or other, to be made the instruments of the tyrant. Hope died away in the bottom of my heart. Shut up for the first night in my dungeon, I was seized at intervals with temporary frenzy. From time to time, I rent the universal silence with the roarings of unsupportable despair. But this was a transient distraction. I soon returned to the sober recollection of myself and my miseries.
My prospects were more gloomy, and my situation apparently more irremediable, than ever. I was exposed again, if that were of any account, to the insolence and tyranny that are uniformly exercised within those walls. Why should I repeat the loathsome tale of all that was endured by me, and is endured by every man who is unhappy enough to fall under the government of these consecrated ministers of national jurisprudence? The sufferings I had already experienced, my anxieties, my flight, the perpetual expectation of being discovered, worse than the discovery itself, would perhaps have been enough to satisfy the most insensible individual, in the court of his own conscience, if I had even been the felon I was pretended to be. But the law has neither eyes, nor ears, nor bowels of humanity; and it turns into marble the hearts of all those that are nursed in its principles.