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Caleb Williams Things as They Are online

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gnashed with her teeth, her eyes seemed as if starting from their
sockets, and her body heaved with uncontrollable insanity.

"Rascal! devil!" she exclaimed, "what do you mean to do to me?"

Till now the scene had passed uninterrupted by a single word.

"Nothing," I replied: "begone, infernal witch! and leave me to myself."

"Leave you! No: I will thrust my fingers through your ribs, and drink
your blood! - You conquer me? - Ha, ha! - Yes, yes; you shall! - I will sit
upon you, and press you to hell! I will roast you with brimstone, and
dash your entrails into your eyes! Ha, ha! - ha!"

Saying this, she sprung up, and prepared to attack me with redoubled
fury. I seized her hands, and compelled her to sit upon the bed. Thus
restrained, she continued to express the tumult of her thoughts by
grinning, by certain furious motions of her head, and by occasional
vehement efforts to disengage herself from my grasp. These contortions
and starts were of the nature of those fits in which the patients are
commonly supposed to need three or four persons to hold them. But I
found by experience that, under the circumstances in which I was
placed, my single strength was sufficient. The spectacle of her emotions
was inconceivably frightful. Her violence at length however began to
abate, and she became convinced of the hopelessness of the contest.

"Let me go!" said she. "Why do you hold me? I will not be held."

"I wanted you gone from the first," replied I.

"Are you contented to go now?"

"Yes, I tell you, misbegotten villain! Yes, rascal!"

I immediately loosed my hold. She flew to the door, and, holding it in
her hand, said, "I will be the death of you yet: you shall not be your
own man twenty-four hours longer!" With these words she shut the door,
and locked it upon me. An action so totally unexpected startled me.
Whither was she gone? What was it she intended? To perish by the
machinations of such a hag as this was a thought not to be endured.
Death in any form brought upon us by surprise, and for which the mind
has had no time to prepare, is inexpressibly terrible. My thoughts
wandered in breathless horror and confusion, and all within was uproar.
I endeavoured to break the door, but in vain. I went round the room in
search of some tool to assist me. At length I rushed against it with a
desperate effort, to which it yielded, and had nearly thrown me from the
top of the stairs to the bottom.

I descended with all possible caution and vigilance, I entered the room
which served us for a kitchen, but it was deserted. I searched every
other apartment in vain. I went out among the ruins; still I discovered
nothing of my late assailant. It was extraordinaiy: what could be become
of her? what was I to conclude from her disappearance! I reflected on
her parting menace, - "I should not be my own man twenty-four hours
longer." It was mysterious! it did not seem to be the menace of
assassination. Suddenly the recollection of the hand-bill brought to us
by Larkins rushed upon my memory. Was it possible that she alluded to
that in her parting words? Would she set out upon such an expedition by
herself? Was it not dangerous to the whole fraternity if, without the
smallest precaution, she should bring the officers of justice in the
midst of them? It was perhaps improbable she would engage in an
undertaking thus desperate. It was not however easy to answer for the
conduct of a person in her state of mind. Should I wait, and risk the
preservation of my liberty upon the issue?

To this question I returned an immediate negative. I had resolved in a
short time to quit my present situation, and the difference of a little
sooner or a little later could not be very material. It promised to be
neither agreeable nor prudent for me to remain under the same roof with
a person who had manifested such a fierce and inexpiable hostility. But
the consideration which had inexpressibly the most weight with me,
belonged to the ideas of imprisonment, trial, and death. The longer they
had formed the subject of my contemplation, the more forcibly was I
impelled to avoid them. I had entered upon a system of action for that
purpose; I had already made many sacrifices; and I believed that I would
never miscarry in this project through any neglect of mine. The thought
of what was reserved for me by my persecutors sickened my very soul; and
the more intimately I was acquainted with oppression and injustice, the
more deeply was I penetrated with the abhorrence to which they are
entitled.

Such were the reasons that determined me instantly, abruptly, without
leave-taking, or acknowledgment for the peculiar and repeated favours I
had received, to quit a habitation to which, for six weeks, I had
apparently been indebted for protection from trial, conviction, and an
ignominious death. I had come hither pennyless; I quitted my abode with
the sum of a few guineas in my possession, Mr. Raymond having insisted
upon my taking a share at the time that each man received his dividend
from the common stock. Though I had reason to suppose that the heat of
the pursuit against me would be somewhat remitted by the time that had
elapsed, the magnitude of the mischief that, in an unfavourable event,
might fall on me, determined me to neglect no imaginable precaution. I
recollected the hand-bill which was the source of my present alarm, and
conceived that one of the principal dangers which threatened me was the
recognition of my person, either by such as had previously known me, or
even by strangers. It seemed prudent therefore to disguise it as
effectually as I could. For this purpose I had recourse to a parcel of
tattered garments, that lay in a neglected corner of our habitation. The
disguise I chose was that of a beggar. Upon this plan, I threw off my
shirt; I tied a handkerchief about my head, with which I took care to
cover one of my eyes; over this I drew a piece of an old woollen
nightcap. I selected the worst apparel I could find; and this I reduced
to a still more deplorable condition, by rents that I purposely made in
various places. Thus equipped, I surveyed myself in a looking-glass. I
had rendered my appearance complete; nor would any one have suspected
that I was not one of the fraternity to which I assumed to belong. I
said, "This is the form in which tyranny and injustice oblige me to seek
for refuge: but better, a thousand times better is it, thus to incur
contempt with the dregs of mankind, than trust to the tender mercies of
our superiors!"




CHAPTER V.


The only rule that I laid down to myself in traversing the forest, was
to take a direction as opposite as possible to that which led to the
scene of my late imprisonment. After about two hours walking I arrived
at the termination of this ruder scene, and reached that part of the
country which is inclosed and cultivated. Here I sat down by the side of
a brook, and, pulling out a crust of bread which I had brought away with
me, rested and refreshed myself. While I continued in this place, I
began to ruminate upon the plan I should lay down for my future
proceedings; and my propensity now led me, as it had done in a former
instance, to fix upon the capital, which I believed, besides its other
recommendations, would prove the safest place for concealment. During
these thoughts I saw a couple of peasants passing at a small distance,
and enquired of them respecting the London road. By their description I
understood that the most immediate way would be to repass a part of the
forest, and that it would be necessary to approach considerably nearer
to the county-town than I was at the spot which I had at present
reached. I did not imagine that this could be a circumstance of
considerable importance. My disguise appeared to be a sufficient
security against momentary danger; and I therefore took a path, though
not the most direct one, which led towards the point they suggested.

Some of the occurrences of the day are deserving to be mentioned. As I
passed along a road which lay in my way for a few miles, I saw a
carriage advancing in the opposite direction. I debated with myself for
a moment, whether I should pass it without notice, or should take this
occasion, by voice or gesture, of making an essay of my trade. This idle
disquisition was however speedily driven from my mind when I perceived
that the carriage was Mr. Falkland's. The suddenness of the encounter
struck me with terror, though perhaps it would have been difficult for
calm reflection to have discovered any considerable danger. I withdrew
from the road, and skulked behind a hedge till it should have completely
gone by. I was too much occupied with my own feelings, to venture to
examine whether or no the terrible adversary of my peace were in the
carriage. I persuaded myself that he was. I looked after the equipage,
and exclaimed, "There you may see the luxurious accommodations and
appendages of guilt, and here the forlornness that awaits upon
innocence!" - I was to blame to imagine that my case was singular in that
respect. I only mention it to show how tile most trivial circumstance
contributes to embitter the cup to the man of adversity. The thought
however was a transient one. I had learned this lesson from my
sufferings, not to indulge in the luxury of discontent. As my mind
recovered its tranquillity, I began to enquire whether the phenomenon I
had just seen could have any relation to myself. But though my mind was
extremely inquisitive and versatile in this respect, I could discover no
sufficient ground upon which to build a judgment.

At night I entered a little public-house at the extremity of a village,
and, seating myself in a corner of the kitchen, asked for some bread and
cheese. While I was sitting at my repast, three or four labourers came
in for a little refreshment after their work. Ideas respecting the
inequality of rank pervade every order in society; and, as my appearance
was meaner and more contemptible than theirs, I found it expedient to
give way to these gentry of a village alehouse, and remove to an
obscurer station. I was surprised, and not a little startled, to find
them fall almost immediately into conversation about my history, whom,
with a slight variation of circumstances, they styled the notorious
housebreaker, Kit Williams.

"Damn the fellow," said one of them, "one never hears of any thing else.
O' my life, I think he makes talk for the whole country."

"That is very true," replied another. "I was at the market-town to-day
to sell some oats for my master, and there was a hue and cry, some of
them thought they had got him, but it was a false alarm."

"That hundred guineas is a fine thing," rejoined the first. "I should be
glad if so be as how it fell in my way."

"For the matter of that," said his companion, "I should like a hundred
guineas as well as another. But I cannot be of your mind for all that. I
should never think money would do me any good that had been the means of
bringing a Christian creature to the gallows."

"Poh, that is all my granny! Some folks must be hanged, to keep the
wheels of our state-folks a-going. Besides, I could forgive the fellow
all his other robberies, but that he should have been so hardened as to
break the house of his own master at last, that is too bad."

"Lord! lord!" replied the other, "I see you know nothing of the matter!
I will tell you how it was, as I learned it at the town. I question
whether he ever robbed his master at all. But, hark you! you must know
as how that squire Falkland was once tried for murder" -

"Yes, yes, we know that."

"Well, he was as innocent as the child unborn. But I supposes as how he
is a little soft or so. And so Kit Williams - Kit is a devilish cunning
fellow, you may judge that from his breaking prison no less than five
times, - so, I say, he threatened to bring his master to trial at
'size all over again, and so frightened him, and got money from him at
divers times. Till at last one squire Forester, a relation of t'other,
found it all out. And he made the hell of a rumpus, and sent away Kit to
prison in a twinky; and I believe he would have been hanged: for when
two squires lay their heads together, they do not much matter law, you
know; or else they twist the law to their own ends, I cannot exactly say
which; but it is much at one when the poor fellow's breath is out of his
body."

Though this story was very circumstantially told, and with a sufficient
detail of particulars, it did not pass unquestioned. Each man maintained
the justness of his own statement, and the dispute was long and
obstinately pursued. Historians and commentators at length withdrew
together. The terrors with which I was seized when this conversation
began, were extreme. I stole a sidelong glance to one quarter and
another, to observe if any man's attention was turned upon me. I
trembled as if in an ague-fit; and, at first, felt continual impulses to
quit the house, and take to my heels. I drew closer to my corner, held
aside my head, and seemed from time to time to undergo a total
revolution of the animal economy.

At length the tide of ideas turned. Perceiving they paid no attention to
me, the recollection of the full security my disguise afforded recurred
strongly to my thoughts; and I began inwardly to exult, though I did not
venture to obtrude myself to examination. By degrees I began to be
amused at the absurdity of their tales, and the variety of the
falsehoods I heard asserted around me. My soul seemed to expand; I felt
a pride in the self-possession and lightness of heart with which I could
listen to the scene; and I determined to prolong and heighten the
enjoyment. Accordingly, when they were withdrawn, I addressed myself to
our hostess, a buxom, bluff, good-humoured widow, and asked what sort of
a man this Kit Williams might be? She replied that, as she was informed,
he was as handsome, likely a lad, as any in four counties round; and
that she loved him for his cleverness, by which he outwitted all the
keepers they could set over him, and made his way through stone walls as
if they were so many cobwebs. I observed, that the country was so
thoroughly alarmed, that I did not think it possible he should escape
the pursuit that was set up after him. This idea excited her immediate
indignation: she said, she hoped he was far enough away by this time;
but if not, she wished the curse of God might light on them that
betrayed so noble a fellow to an ignominious end! - Though she little
thought that the person of whom she spoke was so near her, yet the
sincere and generous warmth with which She interested herself in my
behalf gave me considerable pleasure. With this sensation to sweeten the
fatigues of the day and the calamities of my situation, I retired from
the kitchen to a neighbouring barn, laid myself down upon some straw,
and fell into a profound sleep.

The next day about noon, as I was pursuing my journey, I was overtaken
by two men on horseback, who stopped me, to enquire respecting a person
that they supposed might have passed along that road. As they proceeded
in their description, I perceived, with astonishment and terror, that I
was myself the person to whom their questions related. They entered into
a tolerably accurate detail of the various characteristics by which my
person might best be distinguished. They said, they had good reason to
believe that I had been seen at a place in that county the very day
before. While they were speaking a third person, who had fallen behind,
came up; and my alarm was greatly increased upon seeing that this person
was the servant of Mr. Forester, who had visited me in prison about a
fortnight before my escape. My best resource in this crisis was
composure and apparent indifference. It was fortunate for me that my
disguise was so complete, that the eye of Mr. Falkland itself could
scarcely have penetrated it. I had been aware for some time before that
this was a refuge which events might make necessary, and had endeavoured
to arrange and methodise my ideas upon the subject. From my youth I had
possessed a considerable facility in the art of imitation; and when I
quitted my retreat in the habitation of Mr. Raymond, I adopted, along
with my beggar's attire, a peculiar slouching and clownish gait, to be
used whenever there should appear the least chance of my being observed,
together with an Irish brogue which I had had an opportunity of studying
in my prison. Such are the miserable expedients, and so great the
studied artifice, which man, who never deserves the name of manhood but
in proportion as he is erect and independent, may find it necessary to
employ, for the purpose of eluding the inexorable animosity and
unfeeling tyranny of his fellow man! I had made use of this brogue,
though I have not thought it necessary to write it down in my narrative,
in the conversation of the village alehouse. Mr. Forester's servant, as
he came up, observed that his companions were engaged in conversation
with me; and, guessing at the subject, asked whether they had gained any
intelligence. He added to the information at which they had already
hinted, that a resolution was taken to spare neither diligence nor
expense for my discovery and apprehension, and that they were satisfied,
if I were above ground and in the kingdom, it would be impossible for me
to escape them.

Every new incident that had occurred to me tended to impress upon my
mind the extreme danger to which I was exposed. I could almost have
imagined that I was the sole subject of general attention, and that the
whole world was in arms to exterminate me. The very idea tingled through
every fibre of my frame. But, terrible as it appeared to my imagination,
it did but give new energy to my purpose; and I determined that I would
not voluntarily resign the field, that is, literally speaking, my neck
to the cord of the executioner, notwithstanding the greatest superiority
in my assailants. But the incidents which had befallen me, though they
did not change my purpose, induced me to examine over again the means by
which it might be effected. The consequence of this revisal was, to
determine me to bend my course to the nearest sea-port on the west side
of the island, and transport myself to Ireland. I cannot now tell what
it was that inclined me to prefer this scheme to that which I had
originally formed. Perhaps the latter, which had been for some time
present to my imagination, for that reason appeared the more obvious of
the two; and I found an appearance of complexity, which the mind did not
stay to explain, in substituting the other in its stead.

I arrived without further impediment at the place from which I intended
to sail, enquired for a vessel, which I found ready to put to sea in a
few hours, and agreed with the captain for my passage. Ireland had to
me the disadvantage of being a dependency of the British government, and
therefore a place of less security than most other countries which are
divided from it by the ocean. To judge from the diligence with which I
seemed to be pursued in England, it was not improbable that the zeal of
my persecutors might follow me to the other side of the channel. It was
however sufficiently agreeable to my mind, that I was upon the point of
being removed one step further from the danger which was so grievous to
my imagination.

Could there be any peril in the short interval that was to elapse,
before the vessel was to weigh anchor and quit the English shore?
Probably not. A very short time had intervened between my determination
for the sea and my arrival at this place; and if any new alarm had been
given to my prosecutors, it proceeded from the old woman a very few days
before. I hoped I had anticipated their diligence. Meanwhile, that I
might neglect no reasonable precaution, I went instantly on board,
resolved that I would not unnecessarily, by walking the streets of the
town, expose myself to any untoward accident. This was the first time I
had, upon any occasion, taken leave of my native country.




CHAPTER VI.


The time was now nearly elapsed that was prescribed for our stay, and
orders for weighing anchor were every moment expected, when we were
hailed by a boat from the shore, with two other men in it besides those
that rowed. They entered our vessel in an instant. They were officers
of justice. The passengers, five persons besides myself, were ordered
upon deck for examination. I was inexpressibly disturbed at the
occurrence of such a circumstance in so unseasonable a moment. I took it
for granted that it was of me they were in search. Was it possible that,
by any unaccountable accident, they should have got an intimation of my
disguise? It was infinitely more distressing to encounter them upon this
narrow stage, and under these pointed circumstances, than, as I had
before encountered my pursuers, under the appearance of an indifferent
person. My recollection however did not forsake me. I confided in my
conscious disguise and my Irish brogue, as a rock of dependence against
all accidents.

No sooner did we appear upon deck than, to my great consternation, I
could observe the attention of our guests principally turned upon me.
They asked a few frivolous questions of such of my fellow passengers as
happened to be nearest to them; and then, turning to me, enquired my
name, who I was, whence I came, and what had brought me there? I had
scarcely opened my mouth to reply, when, with one consent, they laid
hold of me, said I was their prisoner, and declared that my accent,
together with the correspondence of my person, would be sufficient to
convict me before any court in England. I was hurried out of the vessel
into the boat in which they came, and seated between them, as if by way
of precaution, lest I should spring overboard, and by any means escape
them.

I now took it for granted that I was once more in the power of Mr.
Falkland; and the idea was insupportably mortifying and oppressive to my
imagination. Escape from his pursuit, freedom from his tyranny, were
objects upon which my whole soul was bent. Could no human ingenuity and
exertion effect them? Did his power reach through all space, and his
eye penetrate every concealment? Was he like that mysterious being, to
protect us from whose fierce revenge mountains and hills, we are told,
might fall on us in vain? No idea is more heart-sickening and tremendous
than this. But, in my case, it was not a subject of reasoning or of
faith; I could derive no comfort, either directly from the unbelief
which, upon religious subjects, some men avow to their own minds; or
secretly from the remoteness and incomprehensibility of the conception:
it was an affair of sense; I felt the fangs of the tiger striking deep
into my heart.

But though this impression was at first exceedingly strong, and
accompanied with its usual attendants of dejection and pusillanimity, my
mind soon began, as it were mechanically, to turn upon the consideration
of the distance between this sea-port and my county prison, and the
various opportunities of escape that might offer themselves in the
interval. My first duty was to avoid betraying myself, more than it
might afterwards appear I was betrayed already. It was possible that,
though apprehended, my apprehension might have been determined on upon
some slight score, and that, by my dexterity, I might render my
dismission as sudden as my arrest had been. It was even possible that I
had been seized through a mistake, and that the present measure might
have no connection with Mr. Falkland's affair. Upon every supposition,
it was my business to gain information. In my passage from the ship to
the town I did not utter a word. My conductors commented on my
sulkiness; but remarked that it would avail me nothing - I should
infallibly swing, as it was never known that any body got off who was
tried for robbing his majesty's mail. It is difficult to conceive the
lightness of heart which was communicated to me by these words: I
persisted however in the silence I had meditated. From the rest of their
conversation, which was sufficiently voluble, I learned that the mail
from Edinburgh to London had been robbed about ten days before by two
Irishmen, that one of them was already secured, and that I was taken up
upon suspicion of being the other. They had a description of his person,
which, though, as I afterwards found, it disagreed from mine in several
material articles, appeared to them to tally to the minutest tittle. The
intelligence that the whole proceeding against me was founded in a
mistake, took an oppressive load from my mind. I believed that I should



Online LibraryWilliam GodwinCaleb Williams Things as They Are → online text (page 25 of 34)