Caleb Williams, by William Godwin

Chapter 11.

Such was the fate of Miss Emily Melville. Perhaps tyranny never exhibited a more painful memorial of the detestation in which it deserves to be held. The idea irresistibly excited in every spectator of the scene, was that of regarding Mr. Tyrrel as the most diabolical wretch that had ever dishonoured the human form. The very attendants upon this house of oppression, for the scene was acted upon too public a stage not to be generally understood, expressed their astonishment and disgust at his unparalleled cruelty.

If such were the feelings of men bred to the commission of injustice, it is difficult to say what must have been those of Mr. Falkland. He raved, he swore, he beat his head, he rent up his hair. He was unable to continue in one posture, and to remain in one place. He burst away from the spot with vehemence, as if he sought to leave behind him his recollection and his existence. He seemed to tear up the ground with fierceness and rage. He returned soon again. He approached the sad remains of what had been Emily, and gazed on them with such intentness, that his eyes appeared, ready to burst from their sockets. Acute and exquisite as were his notions of virtue and honour, he could not prevent himself from reproaching the system of nature, for having given birth to such a monster as Tyrrel. He was ashamed of himself for wearing the same form. He could not think of the human species with patience. He foamed with indignation against the laws of the universe, that did not permit him to crush such reptiles at a blow, as we would crush so many noxious insects. It was necessary to guard him like a madman.

The whole office of judging what was proper to be done under the present circumstances devolved upon Doctor Wilson. The doctor was a man of cool and methodical habits of acting. One of the first ideas that suggested itself to him was, that Miss Melvile was a branch of the family of Tyrrel. He did not doubt of the willingness of Mr. Falkland to discharge every expense that might be further incident to the melancholy remains of this unfortunate victim; but he conceived that the laws of fashion and decorum required some notification of the event to be made to the head of the family. Perhaps, too, he had an eye to his interest in his profession, and was reluctant to expose himself to the resentment of a person of Mr. Tyrrel’s consideration in the neighbourhood. But, with this weakness, he had nevertheless some feelings in common with the rest of the world, and must have suffered considerable violence, before he could have persuaded himself to be the messenger; beside which, he did not think it right in the present situation to leave Mr. Falkland.

Doctor Wilson no sooner mentioned these ideas, than they seemed to make a sudden impression on Mrs. Hammond, and she earnestly requested that she might be permitted to carry the intelligence. The proposal was unexpected; but the doctor did not very obstinately refuse his assent. She was determined, she said, to see what sort of impression the catastrophe would make upon the author of it; and she promised to comport herself with moderation and civility. The journey was soon performed.

“I am come, sir,” said she to Mr. Tyrrel, “to inform you that your cousin, Miss Melville, died this afternoon.”

“Died?”

“Yes, sir. I saw her die. She died in these arms.”

“Died? Who killed her? What do you mean?”

“Who? Is it for you to ask that question? Your cruelty and malice killed her!”

“Me? — my? — Poh! she is not dead — it cannot be — it is not a week since she left this house.”

“Do not you believe me? I say she is dead!”

“Have a care, woman! this is no matter for jesting. No: though she used me ill, I would not believe her dead for all the world!”

Mrs. Hammond shook her head in a manner expressive at once of grief and indignation.

“No, no, no, no! I will never believe that! — No, never!”

“Will you come with me, and convince your eyes? It is a sight worthy of you; and will be a feast to such a heart as yours!”— Saying this, Mrs. Hammond offered her hand, as if to conduct him to the spot.

Mr. Tyrrel shrunk back.

“If she be dead, what is that to me? Am I to answer for every thing that goes wrong in the world? — What do you come here for? Why bring your messages to me?”

“To whom should I bring them but to her kinsman — and her murderer.”

“Murderer? — Did I employ knives or pistols? Did I give her poison? I did nothing but what the law allows. If she be dead, nobody can say that I am to blame!”

“To blame? — All the world will abhor and curse you. Were you such a fool as to think, because men pay respect to wealth and rank, this would extend to such a deed? They will laugh at so barefaced a cheat. The meanest beggar will spurn and spit at you. Ay, you may well stand confounded at what you have done. I will proclaim you to the whole world, and you will be obliged to fly the very face of a human creature!”

“Good woman,” said Mr. Tyrrel, extremely humbled, “talk no more in this strain! — Emmy is not dead! I am sure — I hope — she is not dead! — Tell me that you have only been deceiving me, and I will forgive you every thing — I will forgive her — I will take her into favour — I will do any thing you please! — I never meant her any harm!”

“I tell you she is dead! You have murdered the sweetest innocent that lived! Can you bring her back to life, as you have driven her out of it? If you could, I would kneel to you twenty times a day! What is it you have done? — Miserable wretch! did you think you could do and undo, and change things this way and that, as you pleased?”

The reproaches of Mrs. Hammond were the first instance in which Mr. Tyrrel was made to drink the full cup of retribution. This was, however, only a specimen of a long series of contempt, abhorrence, and insult, that was reserved for him. The words of Mrs. Hammond were prophetic. It evidently appeared, that though wealth and hereditary elevation operate as an apology for many delinquencies, there are some which so irresistibly address themselves to the indignation of mankind, that, like death, they level all distinctions, and reduce their perpetrator to an equality with the most indigent and squalid of his species. Against Mr. Tyrrel, as the tyrannical and unmanly murderer of Emily, those who dared not venture the unreserved avowal of their sentiments muttered curses, deep, not loud; while the rest joined in an universal cry of abhorrence and execration. He stood astonished at the novelty of his situation. Accustomed as he had been to the obedience and trembling homage of mankind, he had imagined they would be perpetual, and that no excess on his part would ever be potent enough to break the enchantment. Now he looked round, and saw sullen detestation in every face, which with difficulty restrained itself, and upon the slightest provocation broke forth with an impetuous tide, and swept away the mounds of subordination and fear. His large estate could not purchase civility from the gentry, the peasantry, scarcely from his own servants. In the indignation of all around him he found a ghost that haunted him with every change of place, and a remorse that stung his conscience, and exterminated his peace. The neighbourhood appeared more and more every day to be growing too hot for him to endure, and it became evident that he would ultimately be obliged to quit the country. Urged by the flagitiousness of this last example, people learned to recollect every other instance of his excesses, and it was, no doubt, a fearful catalogue that rose up in judgment against him. It seemed as if the sense of public resentment had long been gathering strength unperceived, and now burst forth into insuppressible violence.

There was scarcely a human being upon whom this sort of retribution could have sat more painfully than upon Mr. Tyrrel. Though he had not a consciousness of innocence prompting him continually to recoil from the detestation of mankind as a thing totally unallied to his character, yet the imperiousness of his temper and the constant experience he had had of the pliability of other men, prepared him to feel the general and undisguised condemnation into which he was sunk with uncommon emotions of anger and impatience. That he, at the beam of whose eye every countenance fell, and to whom in the fierceness of his wrath no one was daring enough to reply, should now be regarded with avowed dislike, and treated with unceremonious censure, was a thing he could not endure to recollect or believe. Symptoms of the universal disgust smote him at every instant, and at every blow he writhed with intolerable anguish. His rage was unbounded and raving. He repelled every attack with the fiercest indignation; while the more he struggled, the more desperate his situation appeared to become. At length he determined to collect his strength for a decisive effort, and to meet the whole tide of public opinion in a single scene.

In pursuance of these thoughts he resolved to repair, without delay, to the rural assembly which I have already mentioned in the course of my story. Miss Melville had now been dead one month. Mr. Falkland had been absent the last week in a distant part of the country, and was not expected to return for a week longer. Mr. Tyrrel willingly embraced the opportunity, trusting, if he could now effect his re-establishment, that he should easily preserve the ground he had gained, even in the face of his formidable rival. Mr. Tyrrel was not deficient in courage; but he conceived the present to be too important an epoch in his life to allow him to make any unnecessary risk in his chance for future ease and importance.

There was a sort of bustle that took place at his entrance into the assembly, it having been agreed by the gentlemen of the assembly, that Mr. Tyrrel was to be refused admittance, as a person with whom they did not choose to associate. This vote had already been notified to him by letter by the master of the ceremonies, but the intelligence was rather calculated, with a man of Mr. Tyrrel’s disposition, to excite defiance than to overawe. At the door of the assembly he was personally met by the master of the ceremonies, who had perceived the arrival of an equipage, and who now endeavoured to repeat his prohibition: but he was thrust aside by Mr. Tyrrel with an air of native authority and ineffable contempt. As he entered; every eye was turned upon him. Presently all the gentlemen in the room assembled round him. Some endeavoured to hustle him, and others began to expostulate. But he found the secret effectually to silence the one set, and to shake off the other. His muscular form, the well-known eminence of his intellectual powers, the long habits to which every man was formed of acknowledging his ascendancy, were all in his favour. He considered himself as playing a desperate stake, and had roused all the energies he possessed, to enable him to do justice to so interesting a transaction. Disengaged from the insects that at first pestered him, he paced up and down the room with a magisterial stride, and flashed an angry glance on every side. He then broke silence. “If any one had any thing to say to him, he should know where and how to answer him. He would advise any such person, however, to consider well what he was about. If any man imagined he had any thing personally to complain of, it was very well. But he did expect that nobody there would be ignorant and raw enough to meddle with what was no business of theirs, and intrude into the concerns of any man’s private family.”

This being a sort of defiance, one and another gentleman advanced to answer it. He that was first began to speak; but Mr. Tyrrel, by the expression of his countenance and a peremptory tone, by well-timed interruptions and pertinent insinuations, caused him first to hesitate, and then to be silent. He seemed to be fast advancing to the triumph he had promised himself. The whole company were astonished. They felt the same abhorrence and condemnation of his character; but they could not help admiring the courage and resources he displayed upon the present occasion. They could without difficulty have concentred afresh their indignant feelings, but they seemed to want a leader.

At this critical moment Mr. Falkland entered the room. Mere accident had enabled him to return sooner than he expected.

Both he and Mr. Tyrrel reddened at sight of each other. He advanced towards Mr. Tyrrel without a moment’s pause, and in a peremptory voice asked him what he did there?

“Here? What do you mean by that? This place is as free to me as you, and you are the last person to whom I shall deign to give an account of myself.”

“Sir, the place is not free to you. Do not you know, you have been voted out? Whatever were your rights, your infamous conduct has forfeited them.”

“Mr. what do you call yourself, if you have anything to say to me, choose a proper time and place. Do not think to put on your bullying airs under shelter of this company! I will not endure it.”

“You are mistaken, sir. This public scene is the only place where I can have any thing to say to you. If you would not hear the universal indignation of mankind, you must not come into the society of men. — Miss Melville! — Shame upon you, inhuman, unrelenting tyrant! Can you hear her name, and not sink into the earth? Can you retire into solitude, and not see her pale and patient ghost rising to reproach you? Can you recollect her virtues, her innocence, her spotless manners, her unresentful temper, and not run distracted with remorse? Have you not killed her in the first bloom of her youth? Can you bear to think that she now lies mouldering in the grave through your cursed contrivance, that deserved a crown, ten thousand times more than you deserve to live? And do you expect that mankind will ever forget, or forgive such a deed? Go, miserable wretch; think yourself too happy that you are permitted to fly the face of man! Why, what a pitiful figure do you make at this moment! Do you think that any thing could bring so hardened a wretch as you are to shrink from reproach, if your conscience were not in confederacy with them that reproached you? And were you fool enough to believe that any obstinacy, however determined, could enable you to despise the keen rebuke of justice? Go, shrink into your miserable self! Begone, and let me never be blasted with your sight again!”

And here, incredible as it may appear, Mr. Tyrrel began to obey his imperious censurer. His looks were full of wildness and horror; his limbs trembled; and his tongue refused its office. He felt no power of resisting the impetuous torrent of reproach that was poured upon him. He hesitated; he was ashamed of his own defeat; he seemed to wish to deny it. But his struggles were ineffectual; every attempt perished in the moment it was made. The general voice was eager to abash him. As his confusion became more visible, the outcry increased. It swelled gradually to hootings, tumult, and a deafening noise of indignation. At length he willingly retired from the public scene, unable any longer to endure the sensations it inflicted.

In about an hour and a half he returned. No precaution had been taken against this incident, for nothing could be more unexpected. In the interval he had intoxicated himself with large draughts of brandy. In a moment he was in a part of the room where Mr. Falkland was standing, and with one blow of his muscular arm levelled him with the earth. The blow however was not stunning, and Mr. Falkland rose again immediately. It is obvious to perceive how unequal he must have been in this species of contest. He was scarcely risen before Mr. Tyrrel repeated his blow. Mr. Falkland was now upon his guard, and did not fall. But the blows of his adversary were redoubled with a rapidity difficult to conceive, and Mr. Falkland was once again brought to the earth. In this situation Mr. Tyrrel kicked his prostrate enemy, and stooped apparently with the intention of dragging him along the floor. All this passed in a moment, and the gentlemen present had not time to recover their surprise. They now interfered, and Mr. Tyrrel once more quitted the apartment.

It is difficult to conceive any event more terrible to the individual upon whom it fell, than the treatment which Mr. Falkland in this instance experienced. Every passion of his life was calculated to make him feel it more acutely. He had repeatedly exerted an uncommon energy and prudence, to prevent the misunderstanding between Mr. Tyrrel and himself from proceeding to extremities; but in vain! It was closed with a catastrophe, exceeding all that he had feared, or that the most penetrating foresight could have suggested. To Mr. Falkland disgrace was worse than death. The slightest breath of dishonour would have stung him to the very soul. What must it have been with this complication of ignominy, base, humiliating, and public? Could Mr. Tyrrel have understood the evil he inflicted, even he, under all his circumstances of provocation, could scarcely have perpetrated it. Mr. Falkland’s mind was full of uproar like the war of contending elements, and of such suffering as casts contempt on the refinements of inventive cruelty. He wished for annihilation, to lie down in eternal oblivion, in an insensibility, which, compared with what he experienced, was scarcely less enviable than beatitude itself. Horror, detestation, revenge, inexpressible longings to shake off the evil, and a persuasion that in this case all effort was powerless, filled his soul even to bursting.

One other event closed the transactions of this memorable evening. Mr. Falkland was baffled of the vengeance that yet remained to him. Mr. Tyrrel was found by some of the company dead in the street, having been murdered at the distance of a few yards from the assembly house.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:37