The World's Greatest Books — Volume 04 — Fiction online

. (page 19 of 24)
Online LibraryVariousThe World's Greatest Books — Volume 04 — Fiction → online text (page 19 of 24)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

never to disclose his confidence, and warning me that he had observed my
suspicions, told me that he was the murderer of Tyrrel and the assassin
of the two Hawkins.

"This it is to be a gentleman, a man of honour!" Falkland went on, in
extreme distress. "My virtue, my honesty, my everlasting peace of mind,
all sacrificed that I may preserve my good name. And I am as much the
fool of fame as ever. Though I be the blackest of villains, I will leave
behind me a spotless and illustrious name. Why is it that I am compelled
to this confidence? From the love of fame. I had no alternative but to
make you my confidant or my victim, and perhaps my next murder would not
have been so fortunate. I do not want to shed more blood. It is better
to trust you with the whole truth, under every seal of secrecy, than to
live in perpetual fear of your penetration. But look what you have done
with your foolishly inquisitive humour. You shall continue in my
service, and I will benefit you in respect of fortune; but I shall
always hate you. If ever an unguarded word escape from your lips, you
may expect to pay for it with your death, or worse. By everything that
is sacred, preserve your faith!"

Such was the secret I had been so desirous to know.

"It is a wretched prospect," I said to myself, "that he holds up to me.
But I will never become an informer. I will never injure my patron; and
therefore he will not be my enemy."

It was no long time after this that Mr. Forester - Mr. Falkland's
half-brother - came to stay in the house while his own residence was
being got ready for him, and there being little in common between the
two, Mr. Forester being of a peculiarly sociable disposition, our
visitor chose to make me his companion. No sooner was this growing
intimacy observed than Mr. Falkland warned me that it was not agreeable
to him, and that he would not have it.

"Young man, take warning!" he said to me one day when we were alone.
"You little suspect the extent of my power. You might as well think of
escaping from the power of the omnipresent God as from mine."

My whole soul now revolted against the treatment I endured, and yet I
could not utter a word. I resolved to quit Mr. Falkland's service, and
when Mr. Forester had retired to his own house, I wrote a letter to Mr.
Falkland to that effect.

"You shall never quit it with your life," was his reply. "If you attempt
it, you shall never cease to rue your folly as long as you exist. Do not
imagine I am afraid of you! I wear an armour against which all your
weapons are impotent. Do you not know, miserable wretch, that I have
sworn to preserve my reputation, whatever it cost? I have dug a pit for
you, and whichever way you move it is ready to swallow you."

This speech was the dictate of frenzy, and it created in me a similar
frenzy. It determined me to do the very thing against which I was thus
solemnly warned, and fly from my patron's house.

No sooner, however, had I set off, and travelled some miles, than a
horseman overtook me, and handed me a letter from Mr. Forester. I opened
the letter, and read as follows:

"Williams: - My brother Falkland has sent the bearer in pursuit of you.
He expects that, if found, you will return with him. I expect it, too.
If you are a villain and a rascal, you will perhaps endeavour to fly; if
your conscience tells you you are innocent, you will, out of all doubt,
come back. If you come, I pledge myself that if you clear your
reputation, you shall not only be free to go wherever you please, but
shall receive every assistance in my power to give.

"Valentine Forester."

To a mind like mine, such a letter was enough to draw me from one end of
the earth to the other. I could not recall anything out of which the
shadow of a criminal accusation could be extorted, and I returned with
willingness and impatience. I knew the stern inflexibility of Mr.
Falkland's mind, but I also knew his virtuous and magnanimous
principles. I could not believe my innocence could be confounded with

_III. - My Persecutions and Sufferings_

Mr. Falkland accused me of having stolen money and jewels from him, and
when my boxes, which I had left behind, were opened, a watch and certain
jewels were found in one of them.

My amazement yielded to indignation and horror. I protested my innocence
I declared that Mr. Falkland knew I was innocent, and that while I was
wholly unable to account for the articles found in my possession, I
firmly believed that their being there was of Mr. Falkland's

Mr. Falkland now expressed his willingness to proceed no further against
me, and, since I had been brought to public shame, to let me depart
wherever I pleased. I was unworthy of his resentment, he said, and he
could afford to smile at my malice.

Mr. Forester, however, said this was impossible, and, as a magistrate,
he thereupon committed me to prison to await my trial. Not one of the
servants who had been present at my examination expressed any compassion
for me. The robbery appeared to them atrocious, and they were indignant
at my recrimination on their excellent master.

When I had been about a month in prison the assizes were held, but my
case was not brought forward, and I was suffered to stand over six
months longer.

I noticed a change in my jailer's behaviour at this time. He offered to
make better provision for my comfort, and as I had no doubt he was
instigated by Mr. Falkland, I answered that he might tell his employer I
would accept no favours from a man that held a halter about my neck.
Then the idea of an escape occurred to me, and as I had some proficiency
in carpentry, I decided to obtain tools by proposing to make some chairs
for the jailer. My offer was accepted, and I gradually accumulated tools
of various sorts - gimlets, chisels, etc.

In the middle of the night, my plans being now thoroughly digested, I
set about making my escape. I had to get the first door from its hinges,
and though this was attended with considerable difficulty, I was
successful. The second door being fastened on the inside, all I had to
do was to push back the bolts and unscrew the box of the lock.

Thus far I had proceeded with the happiest success; but close on the
other side there was a kennel with a large mastiff dog, of which I had
not the smallest previous knowledge. However, I managed to soothe the
animal, and go to the wall. Before I had gained half the ascent, a voice
at the garden door cried out, "Halloa! Who is there?" At this the dog
began to bark violently, and a second man came out. Alarmed at my
situation, I descended on the other side too quickly, and in my fall
nearly dislocated my ankle.

In the meantime, the two warders came through a door in the wall, of
which I had not been aware, and were at the place where I had descended,
in no time. The pain in my ankle was so intense that I could scarcely
stand, and I suffered myself to be retaken.

The condition in which I was now placed was totally different from that
which had preceded this attempt. I was chained all day in my dungeon, my
manual labors were at an end, my cell was searched every night, and
every kind of tool carefully kept from me.

Nevertheless, an active mind, which has once been forced into any
particular train, can scarcely give it up as hopeless. One day I chanced
to observe a nail trodden into the mud floor at no great distance from
me. I seized upon this new treasure, and found that I could unlock with
it the padlock that fastened me to the staple in the floor. By this
means I had the pitiful consolation of being able to range, without
constraint, the miserable coop in which I was confined. It became my
constant practice to liberate myself at night; but security breeds
negligence. One morning I overslept myself, and the turnkey, to his
surprise, found me disengaged.

Again my apartment was changed. I was now put in the strong-room, an
underground dungeon, and handcuffs were added to my fetters.

It was at this time that Thomas, Mr. Falkland's footman, and an old
acquaintance of mine, visited me. He was of the better order of
servants, and my condition shocked him. He returned again in the

"Well, Master Williams," he said, "you have been very wicked, to be
sure, and I thought it would have done me good to see you hanged. I know
I am doing wrong; but if they hang me, too, I cannot help it. For
Christ's sake, get out of this place; I cannot bear the thought of it."

With that, he slipped into my hand a chisel, a file, and a saw. I
received the implements with great joy, and thrust them into my bosom.

I waited for bright moonlight; it was necessary that I should work in
the night, and between nine and seven.

It was ten o'clock when I first took off my handcuffs. I then filed
through my fetters, and next performed the same service to the three
iron bars that secured my window. All this was the work of more than two
hours. But, even with the bars removed, the space was by no means wide
enough to admit the passing of my body. Therefore, I had to loosen the
brickwork, and this I did partly with the chisel, and partly with one of
the iron bars. When the space was sufficient for my purpose, I crept
through the opening and stepped upon a shed outside.

The prison wall, which now had to be scaled, was of considerable height,
and there was no resource for me but that of making a breach in its
lower part. For six hours I worked at this with incredible labour, and
at last I had made a passage. But the day was breaking, and in ten
minutes' time the keepers would probably enter my apartment and see the
devastation I had left.

I decided to avoid the town as much as possible, and depended upon the
open country for protection; and so I passed along the lane beyond the

I was free of my prison, but I was destitute, and had not a shilling in
the world.

_IV. - The Doom of Falkland_

Mr. Falkland's implacable animosity pursued me beyond the prison. A
hundred guineas was at once offered for my recapture, and though I
evaded arrest for some months, a man named Gines, who had at one time
been a member of a gang of robbers, undertook to lay hold of me, and
tracked me to my place of hiding in London. By this time the hawkers
were actually selling papers in the streets containing "The most
Wonderful and Surprising History and Miraculous Adventures of Caleb
Williams," for a halfpenny, and I had the temerity to purchase one. In
this I was informed how I, Caleb Williams, "first robbed, and then
brought false accusations against my master"; how I attempted at divers
times to break out of prison, and at last succeeded "in the most
wonderful and incredible manner"; and how I had travelled the kingdom in
disguise, and was now lying concealed in London, with a hundred guineas
reward for my discovery.

It seemed then that there was no end to my persecution, and I thought of
death as my only release. That very night the landlord of my humble
lodgings brought Gines to the house, and gave me up to the authorities.

And now the result of all my labour to get out of prison and evade my
pursuers had brought me back to my starting-place! Never was a human
creature so hunted by enemies. What hope was there they would ever cease
their persecution.

My long-cherished reverence for Mr. Falkland was changed to something
like abhorrence. I determined to bring the real criminal to justice.

Accordingly, when I was taken before the magistrates at Bow Street, I
declared that Mr. Falkland was a murderer, and that I was entirely

But the magistrates simply told me they had nothing to do with such
statements, and that I seemed a most impudent rascal to trump up such
things against my master.

I was conducted back to the very prison from which I had escaped, and my
situation seemed more irremediable than ever. How great, therefore, was
my astonishment, at the assizes when my case was called, to find neither
Mr. Falkland, nor Mr. Forester, nor any individual to appear against me.
I, who had come to the bar with the sentence of death already ringing in
my ears, to be told I was free to go whithersoever I pleased!

I was not, however, yet free of Mr. Falkland. I was kidnapped by Gines
and an accomplice, and carried to an inn, and here Mr. Falkland
commanded me to sign a paper declaring that the charge I had alleged
against him at Bow Street was false, malicious, and groundless. On my
refusal, he told me that he would exercise a power that should grind me
to atoms.

The impression of that memorable meeting on my understanding is
indelible. The deathlike weakness and decay of Mr. Falkland, his misery
and rage, his haggard, emaciated, and fleshless visage, are still before

There was to be no peace or happiness for me. Wherever I went, sooner or
later, Gines found me, and any new acquaintances turned from me with
loathing after they had read the handbills containing my "Wonderful and
Surprising History." This man followed me from place to place, blasting
my reputation.

I now formed my resolution and carried it into execution. At all costs I
would free myself from this overpowering tyranny.

I set out for the chief town of the county in which Mr. Falkland lived,
and there laid a formal charge of murder before the principal

After an interval of three days, I met Mr. Falkland in the presence of
the magistrate. It was now the appearance of a ghost before me. He was
brought in in a chair, unable to stand, fatigued and almost destroyed by
the journey he had just taken.

Until that moment my breast was steeled to pity; it was now too late to
draw back.

I told my story plainly, declared the nobility of Mr. Falkland's
character, and admitted that my own proceedings now seemed to me a
dreadful mistake.

When I had finished, Mr. Falkland rose from his seat, and, to my
infinite astonishment, threw himself into my arms.

"Williams," said he, "you have conquered. All that I most ardently
desired is for ever frustrated. I have spent a life of the basest
cruelty to cover one act of momentary passion. And now" - turning to the
magistrate - "do with me as you please. I am prepared to suffer all the
vengeance of the law."

He survived this dreadful scene but three days, and I feel, and always
shall feel, that I have been his murderer. I began these memoirs to
vindicate my character. I have now no character that I wish to

* * * * *


The Sorrows of Young Werther

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the greatest of German poets, and
one of the most highly gifted men of the eighteenth century,
was born in 1749 at Frankfort-on-the-Main. He received his
early education from his father, who was an imperial
councillor, and in the year 1765 he went to the University of
Leipzig. Goethe's first great work was "Goetz von
Berlichingen" (see Vol. XVII). which was translated into
English by Sir Walter Scott. "The Sorrows of Young Werther"
("Die Leiden des jungen Werthers") was begun in 1772, when
Goethe was twenty-three years old, and was published
anonymously two years later. It immediately created an immense
sensation, made a round of the world, and was everywhere
either enthusiastically praised or severely condemned. It
became the fashion of young men to dress themselves in blue
coats and yellow breeches in imitation of the hero, and many
of them were moved to follow Werther's example as the simplest
way of settling their love affairs. Nevertheless, "Werther"
formed the real basis of Goethe's fame. It was the first
revelation to the world of the genius, which, a quarter of a
century later, was to give it "Faust" (Vol. XVI). The story is
frankly sentimental, but as such it is easily the best of the
sentimental novels of the eighteenth century. When, many years
later, Goethe was invited to an audience with Napoleon, the
emperor volunteered the information that he had read "Werther"
through six times. Goethe died in March, 1832, in his
eighty-fourth year.

_I. - "I Have Found an Angel"_

_May 4_. What a strange thing is the heart of man. To leave my dearest
friend, and yet to feel happy! I know you will forgive me, and I in
return will promise that I will no longer worry myself over every petty
stab of fortune. Poor Leonora! And yet I was not to blame. Was I in
fault that, while I was pleasantly entertained by the charms of her
sister, her feeble heart conceived a passion for me? And yet I am not
wholly blameless. Did I not encourage her emotion? Did I not - but what
is man that he dares so to accuse himself? Beyond doubt, the sufferings
of mankind would be far less did they but endure the present with
equanimity, instead of raking up the past for memories of sorrow.

A wonderful calm has come over me; I am alone, and feel that a spot like
this was created for the happiness of souls like mine. You ask if you
shall send me books; I pray you spare me. My heart craves for no
excitement; I need strains to soothe me, and I find them to perfection
in my Homer.

_May 17_. I have formed many acquaintances, but as yet have found no
friends. If you inquire what sort of people are here, I answer "the same
as everywhere." The human race is a monotonous affair. The majority
labours nearly all its time for mere subsistence, and is then so
distressed to have a small portion of freedom still unemployed that it
exerts even greater efforts to get rid of it.

I have just become acquainted with a very worthy person, the district
judge. They tell me how charming it is to see him in the midst of his
family of nine. His eldest daughter is much spoken of. He has invited me
to go and see him.

_June 16_. Why do I not write to you? You should have guessed that I was
pre-occupied; that, in a word, that I have made a friend who has won my
heart. I have found - I know not what. An angel? Nonsense! Everyone so
describes his mistress. And yet I cannot tell you how perfect she is, or
why so perfect. Between ourselves, I have been three times on the point
of throwing down my pen, ordering my horse, and riding out. And yet this
morning I determined not to ride to-day; and I keep running to the
window to see how high the sun is.

I could not restrain myself; go to her I must. I have just returned,
Wilhelm, and while I eat my supper I will write to you. I had already
made the acquaintance of her aunt, the judge's sister, and with her I
was going to accompany Charlotte to a ball given by some young people in
the neighbourhood. While we were on our way to fetch her, my companion
was loud in her praises of her niece's beauty and charm. "Take care,
however," she added, "that you do not lose your heart." "Why?" I asked.
"Because she is already betrothed to a most excellent man."

As the door opened, I saw before me the most charming sight that I have
ever beheld. Six children, of various ages, were running about the hall
and surrounding a lady of medium height, with a lovely figure, dressed
in a robe of simple white, trimmed with pink ribbons. She held a loaf of
brown bread, and was cutting slices for the little ones all round. She
apologised for not being quite ready, explaining that household duties
had made her forget the children's supper, which they always preferred
to take from her. I uttered some unmeaning compliment, but my whole soul
was absorbed by her air, her voice, her manner. You who know me can
imagine how I gazed upon her rich, dark eyes; how my soul gloated over
her warm lips and fresh glowing cheeks.

Never did I dance more lightly; I felt myself more than mortal, holding
this loveliest of creatures in my arms, flying with her as rapidly as
the wind, till I lost sight of every other object. And, oh, Wilhelm, I
vowed at that moment that no maiden whom I loved should ever waltz with
another than myself, if I went to perdition for it.

Returning from the ball, there was a most magnificent sunrise. Our
companions were asleep. Charlotte asked me if I did not wish to sleep
too, and begged me not to stand on ceremony. Looking deep into her eyes,
I answered, "As long as those eyes remain open, there is no fear for
mine." We continued awake until we reached her door. I left her, asking
her permission to call in the course of the day. She consented, and I
went Since then, sun, moon, and stars may pursue their course; I know
not whether it is day or night; the whole world is nothing to me.

_June 21_. My days are as happy as those reserved by God for His elect,
and whatever be my fate hereafter, I can never say that I have not
tasted joy - the purest joy of life. Little did I think when I selected
this spot for my home that all heaven lay within half a league of it.

How childish is man. To be disturbed about a mere look. We had been to
Walheim, but during our walk I thought I saw in Charlotte's eyes - I am a
fool, but forgive me. You should see her eyes. However, to be brief, as
the ladies were preparing to drive away I watched her eyes; they
wandered from one to another, but they did not alight on me - on me who
saw nothing but her. She noticed me not. The carriage drove off, and my
eyes filled with tears. Suddenly I saw Charlotte's bonnet leaning out of
the window, and she turned to look back - was it at me? I know not, and
in uncertainty is my consolation. Perhaps she turned to look at me.
Perhaps. Good-night. What a child I am!

_July 10_. Someone asked me the other day how I like her. How I _like_
her! What sort of creature must he be who merely likes Charlotte? Whose
entire being were not absolutely filled with her? Like her! One might as
well ask if I like Ossian.

_July 13_. No, I am not deceived. In her dark eyes I read a real
interest in me. Yes, I feel it, and I believe my own heart which tells
me - dare I say it? - that she loves me. How the idea exalts me in my own
eyes. And as you can understand my feelings, I may say to you, how I
honour myself because she loves me.

I do not know a man able to take my place in her heart; yet when she
speaks of Albert with so much warmth and affection, I feel like a
soldier who has been stripped of all his honours. Sometimes when we are
talking, in the eagerness of conversation she comes closer to me, and
her balmy breath reaches my lips, I feel that I could sink into the
earth for very joy. And yet, Wilhelm, if I know myself, and should ever
dare - you understand me - No, no; my heart is not so corrupt; it is weak,
but is not that a degree of corruption?

She is to me a sacred being; how her simplest song enchants me.
Sometimes, when I am ready to commit suicide, she sings some favourite
air, and instantly the gloom and madness are dispersed.

_July 24_. Yes, dear Charlotte. I will arrange everything. Only give me
more commissions; the more the better. One thing, however, I must
request you - use no more writing-sand with the letters you send me!
Today, I raised your letter to my lips, and it set my teeth on edge.

_II. - Bereft of Comfort_

_July 30_. Albert is arrived, and I must take my departure. Were he the
best of men, and I absolutely beneath him, I could not endure to see him
in possession of my perfect being. Enough! her betrothed is here. A fine
fellow, whom I cannot help liking. And he is so considerate; he has not
given Charlotte one kiss in my presence. Heaven reward him for it. He is
free from ill-humour, which you know is the fault I detest most. I do
not ask whether he may not now and then tease her with some little
jealousies, as I know that in his place I should not be entirely free
from such feelings.

_August 8_. I am amazed to see from my diary, which I have somewhat
neglected of late, how deliberately I have entangled myself, step by
step. But even though I see the result plainly, I have no thought of
acting with any greater prudence. And yet I feel that if only I knew
where to go, I would abandon everything and fly from this place.

And yet I feel that, if I were not a fool, I could enjoy life here most
delightfully. Admitted into this charming family, loved by the father as
a son, by his children as a second father, and by Charlotte!
Furthermore, Albert welcomes me with the heartiest affection, and loves
me, next to Charlotte, more than all the world.

_August 21_. In vain do I stretch out my arms towards her when I wake in
the morning. In vain do I seek for her when some innocent dream has
happily deceived me, and placed me near her in the fields when I have

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 19 21 22 23 24

Online LibraryVariousThe World's Greatest Books — Volume 04 — Fiction → online text (page 19 of 24)