Caleb Williams, by William Godwin

Chapter 8.

Nothing could be further from Mr. Tyrrel’s intention than to suffer his project to be thus terminated. No sooner was he freed from the fear of his housekeeper’s interference, than he changed the whole system of his conduct. He ordered Miss Melville to be closely confined to her apartment, and deprived of all means of communicating her situation to any one out of his own house. He placed over her a female servant, in whose discretion he could confide, and who, having formerly been honoured with the amorous notices of the squire, considered the distinctions that were paid to Emily at Tyrrel Place as an usurpation upon her more reasonable claims. The squire himself did every thing in his power to blast the young lady’s reputation, and represented to his attendants these precautions as necessary, to prevent her from eloping to his neighbour, and plunging herself in total ruin.

As soon as Miss Melville had been twenty-four hours in durance, and there was some reason to suppose that her spirit might be subdued to the emergency of her situation, Mr. Tyrrel thought proper to go to her, to explain the grounds of her present treatment, and acquaint her with the only means by which she could hope for a change. Emily no sooner saw him, than she turned towards him with an air of greater firmness than perhaps she had ever assumed in her life, and accosted him thus:—

“Well, sir, is it you? I wanted to see you. It seems I am shut up here by your orders. What does this mean? What right have you to make a prisoner of me? What do I owe you? Your mother left me a hundred pounds: have you ever offered to make any addition to my fortune? But, if you had, I do not want it. I do not pretend to be better than the children of other poor parents; I can maintain myself as they do. I prefer liberty to wealth. I see you are surprised at the resolution I exert. But ought I not to turn again, when I am trampled upon? I should have left you before now, if Mrs. Jakeman had not over-persuaded me, and if I had not thought better of you than by your present behaviour I find you deserve. But now, sir, I intend to leave your house this moment, and insist upon it, that you do not endeavour to prevent me.”

Thus saying, she rose, and went towards the door, while Mr. Tyrrel stood thunderstruck at her magnanimity. Seeing, however, that she was upon the point of being out of the reach of his power, he recovered himself and pulled her back.

“What is in the wind now? Do you think, strumpet; that you shall get the better of me by sheer impudence? Sit down! rest you satisfied! — So you want to know by what right you are here, do you? By the right of possession. This house is mine, and you are in my power. There is no Mrs. Jakeman now to spirit you away; no, nor no Falkland to bully for you. I have countermined you, damn me! and blown up your schemes. Do you think I will be contradicted and opposed for nothing? When did you ever know any body resist my will without being made to repent? And shall I now be browbeaten by a chitty-faced girl? — I have not given you a fortune! Damn you! who brought you up? I will make you a bill for clothing and lodging. Do not you know that every creditor has a right to stop his runaway debtor. You may think as you please; but here you are till you marry Grimes. Heaven and earth shall not prevent but I will get the better of your obstinacy!”

“Ungenerous, unmerciful man! and so it is enough for you that I have nobody to defend me! But I am not so helpless as you may imagine. You may imprison my body, but you cannot conquer my mind. Marry Mr. Grimes! And is this the way to bring me to your purpose? Every hardship I suffer puts still further distant the end for which I am thus unjustly treated. You are not used to have your will contradicted! When did I ever contradict it? And, in a concern that is so completely my own, shall my will go for nothing? Would you lay down this rule for yourself, and suffer no other creature to take the benefit of it? I want nothing of you: how dare you refuse me the privilege of a reasonable being, to live unmolested in poverty and innocence? What sort of a man do you show yourself, you that lay claim to the respect and applause of every one that knows you?”

The spirited reproaches of Emily had at first the effect to fill Mr. Tyrrel with astonishment, and make him feel abashed and overawed in the presence of this unprotected innocent. But his confusion was the result of surprise. When the first emotion wore off, he cursed himself for being moved by her expostulations; and was ten times more exasperated against her, for daring to defy his resentment at a time when she had every thing to fear. His despotic and unforgiving propensities stimulated him to a degree little short of madness. At the same time his habits, which were pensive and gloomy, led him to meditate a variety of schemes to punish her obstinacy. He began to suspect that there was little hope of succeeding by open force, and therefore determined to have recourse to treachery.

He found in Grimes an instrument sufficiently adapted to his purpose. This fellow, without an atom of intentional malice, was fitted, by the mere coarseness of his perceptions, for the perpetration of the greatest injuries. He regarded both injury and advantage merely as they related to the gratifications of appetite; and considered it an essential in true wisdom, to treat with insult the effeminacy of those who suffer themselves to be tormented with ideal misfortunes. He believed that no happier destiny could befal a young woman than to be his wife; and he conceived that that termination would amply compensate for any calamities she might suppose herself to undergo in the interval. He was therefore easily prevailed upon, by certain temptations which Mr. Tyrrel knew how to employ, to take part in the plot into which Miss Melville was meant to be betrayed.

Matters being thus prepared, Mr. Tyrrel proceeded, through the means of the gaoler (for the experience he already had of personal discussion did not incline him to repeat his visits), to play upon the fears of his prisoner. This woman, sometimes under the pretence of friendship, and sometimes with open malice, informed Emily, from time to time, of the preparations that were making for her marriage. One day, “the squire had rode over to look at a neat little farm which was destined for the habitation of the new-married couple;” and at another, “a quantity of live stock and household furniture was procured, that every thing might be ready for their reception.” She then told her “of a licence that was bought, a parson in readiness, and a day fixed for the nuptials.” When Emily endeavoured, though with increased misgivings, to ridicule these proceedings as absolutely nugatory without her consent, her artful gouvernante related several stories of forced marriages, and assured her that neither protestations, nor silence, nor fainting, would be of any avail, either to suspend the ceremony, or to set it aside when performed.

The situation of Miss Melville was in an eminent degree pitiable. She had no intercourse but with her persecutors. She had not a human being with whom to consult, who might afford her the smallest degree of consolation and encouragement. She had fortitude; but it was neither confirmed nor directed by the dictates of experience. It could not therefore be expected to be so inflexible, as with better information it would, no doubt, have been found. She had a clear and noble spirit; but she had some of her sex’s errors. Her mind sunk under the uniform terrors with which she was assailed, and her health became visibly impaired.

Her firmness being thus far undermined, Grimes, in pursuance of his instructions, took care, in his next interview, to throw out an insinuation that, for his own part, he had never cared for the match, and since she was so averse to it, would be better pleased that it should never take place. Between one and the other however, he was got into a scrape, and now he supposed he must marry, will he, nill he. The two squires would infallibly ruin him upon the least appearance of backwardness on his part, as they were accustomed to do every inferior that resisted their will. Emily was rejoiced to find her admirer in so favourable a disposition; and earnestly pressed him to give effect to this humane declaration. Her representations were full of eloquence and energy. Grimes appeared to be moved at the fervency of her manner; but objected the resentment of Mr. Tyrrel and his landlord. At length, however, he suggested a project, in consequence of which he might assist her in her escape, without its ever coming to their knowledge, as, indeed, there was no likelihood that their suspicions would fix upon him. “To be sure,” said he, “you have refused me in a disdainful sort of a way, as a man may say. Mayhap you thought I was no better ‘an a brute: but I bear you no malice, and I will show you that I am more kind-hearted ‘an you have been willing to think. It is a strange sort of a vagary you have taken, to stand in your own light, and disoblige all your friends. But if you are resolute, do you see? I scorn to be the husband of a lass that is not every bit as willing as I; and so I will even help to put you in a condition to follow your own inclinations.”

Emily listened to these suggestions at first with eagerness and approbation. But her fervency somewhat abated, when they came to discuss the minute parts of the undertaking. It was necessary, as Grimes informed her, that her escape should be effected in the dead of the night. He would conceal himself for that purpose in the garden, and be provided with false keys, by which to deliver her from her prison. These circumstances were by no means adapted to calm her perturbed imagination. To throw herself into the arms of the man whose intercourse she was employing every method to avoid, and whom, under the idea of a partner for life, she could least of all men endure, was, no doubt, an extraordinary proceeding. The attendant circumstances of darkness and solitude aggravated the picture. The situation of Tyrrel Place was uncommonly lonely; it was three miles from the nearest village, and not less than seven from that in which Mrs. Jakeman’s sister resided, under whose protection Miss Melville was desirous of placing herself. The ingenuous character of Emily did not allow her once to suspect Grimes of intending to make an ungenerous and brutal advantage of these circumstances; but her mind involuntarily revolted against the idea of committing herself, alone, to the disposal of a man, whom she had lately been accustomed to consider as the instrument of her treacherous relation.

After having for some time revolved these considerations, she thought of the expedient of desiring Grimes to engage Mrs. Jakeman’s sister to wait for her at the outside of the garden. But this Grimes peremptorily refused. He even flew into a passion at the proposal. It showed very little gratitude, to desire him to disclose to other people his concern in this dangerous affair. For his part, he was determined, in consideration of his own safety, never to appear in it to any living soul. If Miss did not believe him, when he made this proposal out of pure good-nature, and would not trust him a single inch, she might even see to the consequences herself. He was resolved to condescend no further to the whims of a person who, in her treatment of him, had shown herself as proud as Lucifer himself.

Emily exerted herself to appease his resentment; but all the eloquence of her new confederate could not prevail upon her instantly to give up her objection. She desired till the next day to consider of it. The day after was fixed by Mr. Tyrrel for the marriage ceremony. In the mean time she was pestered with intimations, in a thousand forms, of the fate that so nearly awaited her. The preparations were so continued, methodical, and regular, as to produce in her the most painful and aching anxiety. If her heart attained a moment’s intermission upon the subject, her female attendant was sure, by some sly hint or sarcastical remark, to put a speedy termination to her tranquillity. She felt herself, as she afterwards remarked, alone, uninstructed, just broken loose, as it were, from the trammels of infancy, without one single creature to concern himself in her fate. She, who till then never knew an enemy, had now, for three weeks, not seen the glimpse of a human countenance, that she had not good reason to consider as wholly estranged to her at least, if not unrelentingly bent on her destruction. She now, for the first time, experienced the anguish of never having known her parents, and being cast upon the charity of people with whom she had too little equality, to hope to receive from them the offices of friendship.

The succeeding night was filled with the most anxious thoughts. When a momentary oblivion stole upon her senses, her distempered imagination conjured up a thousand images of violence and falsehood; she saw herself in the hands of her determined enemies, who did not hesitate by the most daring treachery to complete her ruin. Her waking thoughts were not more consoling. The struggle was too great for her constitution. As morning approached, she resolved, at all hazards, to put herself into the hands of Grimes. This determination was no sooner made, than she felt her heart sensibly lightened. She could not conceive any evil which could result from this proceeding, that deserved to be put in the balance against those which, under the roof of her kinsman, appeared unavoidable.

When she communicated her determination to Grimes, it was not possible to say whether he received pleasure or pain from the intimation. He smiled indeed; but his smile was accompanied by a certain abrupt ruggedness of countenance, so that it might equally well be the smile of sarcasm or of congratulation. He, however, renewed his assurances of fidelity to his engagements and punctuality of execution. Meanwhile the day was interspersed with nuptial presents and preparations, all indicating the firmness as well as security of the directors of the scene. Emily had hoped that, as the crisis approached, they might have remitted something of their usual diligence. She was resolved, in that case, if a fair opportunity had offered, to give the slip both to her jailors, and to her new and reluctantly chosen confederate. But, though extremely vigilant for that purpose, she found the execution of the idea impracticable.

At length the night, so critical to her happiness, approached. The mind of Emily could not fail, on this occasion, to be extremely agitated. She had first exerted all her perspicacity to elude the vigilance of her attendant. This insolent and unfeeling tyrant, instead of any relentings, had only sought to make sport of her anxiety. Accordingly, in one instance she hid herself, and, suffering Emily to suppose that the coast was clear, met her at the end of the gallery, near the top of the staircase. “How do you do, my dear?” said she, with an insulting tone. “And so the little dear thought itself cunning enough to outwit me, did it? Oh, it was a sly little gipsy! Go, go back, love; troop!” Emily felt deeply the trick that was played upon her. She sighed, but disdained to return any answer to this low vulgarity. Being once more in her chamber, she sat down in a chair, and remained buried in reverie for more than two hours. After this she went to her drawers, and turned over, in a hurrying confused way, her linen and clothes, having in her mind the provision it would be necessary to make for her elopement. Her jailor officiously followed her from place to place, and observed what she did for the present in silence. It was now the hour of rest. “Good night, child,” said this saucy girl, in the act of retiring. “It is time to lock up. For the few next hours, the time is your own. Make the best use of it! Do’ee think ee can creep out at the key-hole, lovey? At eight o’clock you see me again. And then, and then,” added she, clapping her hands, “it is all over. The sun is not surer to rise, than you and your honest man to be made one.”

There was something in the tone with which this slut uttered her farewell, that suggested the question to Emily, “What does she mean? Is it possible that she should know what has been planned for the few next hours?”— This was the first moment that suspicion had offered itself, and its continuance was short. With an aching heart she folded up the few necessaries she intended to take with her. She instinctively listened, with an anxiety that would almost have enabled her to hear the stirring of a leaf. From time to time she thought her ear was struck with the sound of feet; but the treading, if treading it were, was so soft, that she could never ascertain whether it were a real sound, or the mere creature of the fancy. Then all was still, as if the universal motion had been at rest. By and by she conceived she overheard a noise as of buzzing and low-muttered speech. Her heart palpitated; for a second time she began to doubt the honesty of Grimes. The suggestion was now more anxious than before; but it was too late. Presently she heard the sound of a key in her chamber-door, and the rustic made his appearance. She started, and cried, “Are we discovered? did not I hear you speak?” Grimes advanced on tiptoe with his finger to his lip. “No, no,” replied he, “all is safe!” He took her by the hand, led her in silence out of the house, and then across the garden. Emily examined with her eye the doors and passages as they proceeded, and looked on all sides with fearful suspicion; but every thing was as vacant and still as she herself could have wished. Grimes opened a back-door of the garden already unlocked, that led into an unfrequented lane. There stood two horses ready equipped for the journey, and fastened by their bridles to a post not six yards distant from the garden. Grimes pushed the door after them.

“By Gemini,” said he, “my heart was in my mouth. As I comed along to you, I saw Mun, coachey, pop along from the back-door to the stables. He was within a hop, step, and jump of me. But he had a lanthorn in his hand, and he did not see me, being as I was darkling.” Saying this, he assisted Miss Melville to mount. He troubled her little during the route; on the contrary, he was remarkably silent and contemplative, a circumstance by no means disagreeable to Emily, to whom his conversation had never been acceptable.

After having proceeded about two miles, they turned into a wood, through which the road led to the place of their destination. The night was extremely dark, at the same time that the air was soft and mild, it being now the middle of summer. Under pretence of exploring the way, Grimes contrived, when they had already penetrated into the midst of this gloomy solitude, to get his horse abreast with that of Miss Melville, and then, suddenly reaching out his hand, seized hold of her bridle. “I think we may as well stop here a bit,” said he.

“Stop!” exclaimed Emily with surprise; “why should we stop? Mr. Grimes, what do you mean?”

“Come, come,” said he, “never trouble yourself to wonder. Did you think I were such a goose, to take all this trouble merely to gratify your whim? I’ faith, nobody shall find me a pack-horse, to go of other folks’ errands, without knowing a reason why. I cannot say that I much minded to have you at first; but your ways are enough to stir the blood of my grand-dad. Far-fetched and dear-bought is always relishing. Your consent was so hard to gain, that squire thought it was surest asking in the dark. A’ said however, a’ would have no such doings in his house, and so, do ye see, we are comed here.”

“For God’s sake, Mr. Grimes, think what you are about! You cannot be base enough to ruin a poor creature who has put herself under your protection!

“Ruin! No, no, I will make an honest woman of you, when all is done. Nay, none of your airs; no tricks upon travellers! I have you here as safe AS a horse in a pound; there is not a house nor a shed within a mile of us; and, if I miss the opportunity, call me spade. Faith, you are a delicate morsel, and there is no time to be lost!”

Miss Melville had but an instant in which to collect her thoughts. She felt that there was little hope of softening the obstinate and insensible brute in whose power she was placed. But the presence of mind and intrepidity annexed to her character did not now desert her. Grimes had scarcely finished his harangue, when, with a strong and unexpected jerk, she disengaged the bridle from his grasp, and at the same time put her horse upon full speed. She had scarcely advanced twice the length of her horse, when Grimes recovered from his surprise, and pursued her, inexpressibly mortified at being so easily overreached. The sound of his horse behind served but to rouse more completely the mettle of that of Emily; whether by accident or sagacity, the animal pursued without a fault the narrow and winding way; and the chase continued the whole length of the wood.

At the extremity of this wood there was a gate. The recollection of this softened a little the cutting disappointment of Grimes, as he thought himself secure of putting an end, by its assistance, to the career of Emily; nor was it very probable that any body would appear to interrupt his designs, in such a place, and in the dead and silence of the night. By the most extraordinary accident, however, they found a man on horseback in wait at this gate. “Help, help!” exclaimed the affrighted Emily; “thieves! murder! help!” The man was Mr. Falkland. Grimes knew his voice; and therefore, though he attempted a sort of sullen resistance, it was feebly made. Two other men, whom, by reason of the darkness, he had not at first seen, and who were Mr. Falkland’s servants, hearing the bustle of the rencounter, and alarmed for the safety of their master, rode up; and then Grimes, disappointed at the loss of his gratification, and admonished by conscious guilt, shrunk from farther parley, and rode off in silence.

It may seem strange that Mr. Falkland should thus a second time have been the saviour of Miss Melville, and that under circumstances the most unexpected and singular. But in this instance it is easily to be accounted for. He had heard of a man who lurked about this wood for robbery or some other bad design, and that it was conjectured this man was Hawkins, another of the victims of Mr. Tyrrel’s rural tyranny, whom I shall immediately have occasion to introduce. Mr. Falkland’s compassion had already been strongly excited in favour of Hawkins; he had in vain endeavoured to find him, and do him good; and he easily conceived that, if the conjecture which had been made in this instance proved true, he might have it in his power not only to do what he had always intended, but further, to save from a perilous offence against the laws and society a man who appeared to have strongly imbibed the principles of justice and virtue. He took with him two servants, because, going with the express design of encountering robbers, if robbers should be found, he believed he should be inexcusable if he did not go provided against possible accidents. But he had directed them, at the same time that they kept within call, to be out of the reach of being seen; and it was only the eagerness of their zeal that had brought them up thus early in the present encounter.

This new adventure promised something extraordinary. Mr. Falkland did not immediately recognise Miss Melville; and the person of Grimes was that of a total stranger, whom he did not recollect to have ever seen. But it was easy to understand the merits of the case, and the propriety of interfering. The resolute manner of Mr. Falkland, conjoined with the dread which Grimes, oppressed with a sense of wrong, entertained of the opposition of so elevated a personage, speedily put the ravisher to flight. Emily was left alone with her deliverer. He found her much more collected and calm, than could reasonably have been expected from a person who had been, a moment before, in the most alarming situation. She told him of the place to which she desired to be conveyed, and he immediately undertook to escort her. As they went along, she recovered that state of mind which inclined her to make a person to whom she had such repeated obligations, and who was so eminently the object of her admiration, acquainted with the events that had recently befallen her. Mr. Falkland listened with eagerness and surprise. Though he had already known various instances of Mr. Tyrrel’s mean jealousy and unfeeling tyranny, this surpassed them all; and he could scarcely credit his ears while he heard the tale. His brutal neighbour seemed to realise all that has been told of the passions of fiends. Miss Melville was obliged to repeat, in the course of her tale, her kinsman’s rude accusation against her, of entertaining a passion for Mr. Falkland; and this she did with the most bewitching simplicity and charming confusion. Though this part of the tale was a source of real pain to her deliverer, yet it is not to be supposed but that the flattering partiality of this unhappy girl increased the interest he felt in her welfare, and the indignation he conceived against her infernal kinsman.

They arrived without accident at the house of the good lady under whose protection Emily desired to place herself. Here Mr. Falkland willingly left her as in a place of security. Such conspiracies as that of which she was intended to have been the victim, depend for their success upon the person against whom they are formed being out of the reach of help; and the moment they are detected, they are annihilated. Such reasoning will, no doubt, be generally found sufficiently solid; and it appeared to Mr. Falkland perfectly applicable to the present case. But he was mistaken.

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