The Vicar of Wakefield, by Oliver Goldsmith

Chapter 31

Former benevolence now repaid with unexpected interest

Mr Thornhill made his entrance with a smile, which he seldom wanted, and was going to embrace his uncle, which the other repulsed with an air of disdain. ‘No fawning, Sir, at present,’ cried the Baronet, with a look of severity, ‘the only way to my heart is by the road of honour; but here I only see complicated instances of falsehood, cowardice, and oppression. How is it, Sir, that this poor man, for whom I know you professed a friendship, is used thus hardly? His daughter vilely seduced, as a recompence for his hospitality, and he himself thrown into a prison perhaps but for resenting the insult? His son too, whom you feared to face as a man —’

‘Is it possible, Sir,’ interrupted his nephew, ‘that my uncle could object that as a crime which his repeated instructions alone have persuaded me to avoid.’

‘Your rebuke,’ cried Sir William, ‘is just; you have acted in this instance prudently and well, though not quite as your father would have done: my brother indeed was the soul of honour; but thou — yes you have acted in this instance perfectly right, and it has my warmest approbation.’

‘And I hope,’ said his nephew, ‘that the rest of my conduct will not be found to deserve censure. I appeared, Sir, with this gentleman’s daughter at some places of public amusement; thus what was levity, scandal called by a harsher name, and it was reported that I had debauched her. I waited on her father in person, willing to clear the thing to his satisfaction, and he received me only with insult and abuse. A s for the rest, with regard to his being here, my attorney and steward can best inform you, as I commit the management of business entirely to them. If he has contracted debts and is unwilling or even unable to pay them, it is their business to proceed in this manner, and I see no hardship or injustice in pursuing the most legal means of redress.’

‘If this,’ cried Sir William, ‘be as you have stated it, there is nothing unpardonable in your offence, and though your conduct might have been more generous in not suffering this gentleman to be oppressed by subordinate tyranny, yet it has been at least equitable.’

‘He cannot contradict a single particular,’ replied the ‘Squire, ‘I defy him to do so, and several of my servants are ready to attest what I say. Thus, Sir,’ continued he, finding that I was silent, for in fact I could not contradict him, ‘thus, Sir, my own innocence is vindicated; but though at your entreaty I am ready to forgive this gentleman every other offence, yet his attempts to lessen me in your esteem, excite a resentment that I cannot govern. And this too at a time when his son was actually preparing to take away my life; this, I say, was such guilt, that I am determined to let the law take its course. I have here the challenge that was sent me and two witnesses to prove it; one of my servants has been wounded dangerously, and even though my uncle himself should dissuade me, which I know he will not, yet I will see public justice done, and he shall suffer for it.’

‘Thou monster,’ cried my wife, ‘hast thou not had vengeance enough already, but must my poor boy feel thy cruelty. I hope that good Sir William will protect us, for my son is as innocent as a child; I am sure he is, and never did harm to man.’

‘Madam,’ replied the good man, ‘your wishes for his safety are not greater than mine; but I am sorry to find his guilt too plain; and if my nephew persists —’ But the appearance of Jenkinson and the gaoler’s two servants now called off our attention, who entered, haling in a tall man, very genteelly drest, and answering the description already given of the ruffian who had carried off my daughter —‘Here,’ cried Jenkinson, pulling him in, ‘here we have him, and if ever there was a candidate for Tyburn, this is one.’

The moment Mr Thornhill perceived the prisoner, and Jenkinson, who had him in custody, he seemed to shrink back with terror. His face became pale with conscious guilt, and he would have withdrawn; but Jenkinson, who perceived his design, stopt him — ‘What, ‘Squire,’ cried he, ‘are you ashamed of your two old acquaintances, Jenkinson and Baxter: but this is the way that all great men forget their friends, though I am resolved we will not forget you. Our prisoner, please your honour,’ continued he, turning to Sir William, ‘has already confessed all. This is the gentleman reported to be so dangerously wounded: He declares that it was Mr Thornhill who first put him upon this affair, that he gave him the cloaths he now wears to appear like a gentleman, and furnished him with the post-chaise. The plan was laid between them that he should carry off the young lady to a place of safety, and that there he should threaten and terrify her; but Mr Thornhill was to come in in the mean time, as if by accident, to her rescue, and that they should fight awhile and then he was to run off, by which Mr Thornhill would have the better opportunity of gaining her affections himself under the character of her defender.’

Sir William remembered the coat to have been frequently worn by his nephew, and all the rest the prisoner himself confirmed by a more circumstantial account; concluding, that Mr Thornhill had often declared to him that he was in love with both sisters at the same time.

‘Heavens,’ cried Sir William, ‘what a viper have I been fostering in my bosom! And so fond of public justice too as he seemed to be. But he shall have it; secure him, Mr Gaoler — yet hold, I fear there is not legal evidence to detain him.’

Upon this, Mr Thornhill, with the utmost humility, entreated that two such abandoned wretches might not be admitted as evidences against him, but that his servants should be examined. —‘Your servants ‘ replied Sir William, ‘wretch, call them yours no longer: but come let us hear what those fellows have to say, let his butler be called.’

When the butler was introduced, he soon perceived by his former master’s looks that all his power was now over. ‘Tell me,’ cried Sir William sternly, ‘have you ever seen your master and that fellow drest up in his cloaths in company together?’ ‘Yes, please your honour,’ cried the butler, ‘a thousand times: he was the man that always brought him his ladies.’—‘How,’ interrupted young Mr Thornhill, ‘this to my face!’—‘Yes,’ replied the butler, ‘or to any man’s face. To tell you a truth, Master Thornhill, I never either loved you or liked you, and I don’t care if I tell you now a piece of my mind.’—‘Now then,’ cried Jenkinson, ‘tell his honour whether you know any thing of me.’—‘I can’t say,’ replied the butler, ‘that I know much good of you. The night that gentleman’s daughter was deluded to our house, you were one of them.’—‘So then,’ cried Sir William, ‘I find you have brought a very fine witness to prove your innocence: thou stain to humanity! to associate with such wretches!’ (But continuing his examination) ‘You tell me, Mr Butler, that this was the person who brought him this old gentleman’s daughter.’—‘No, please your honour,’ replied the butler, ‘he did not bring her, for the ‘Squire himself undertook that business; but he brought the priest that pretended to marry them.’—‘It is but too true,’ cried Jenkinson, ‘I cannot deny it, that was the employment assigned me, and I confess it to my confusion.’

‘Good heavens!’ exclaimed the Baronet, ‘how every new discovery of his villainy alarms me. All his guilt is now too plain, and I find his present prosecution was dictated by tyranny, cowardice and revenge; at my request, Mr Gaoler, set this young officer, now your prisoner, free, and trust to me for the consequences. I’ll make it my business to set the affair in a proper light to my friend the magistrate who has committed him. But where is the unfortunate young lady herself: let her appear to confront this wretch, I long to know by what arts he has seduced her. Entreat her to come in. Where is she?’

‘Ah, Sir,’ said I, ‘that question stings me to the heart: I was once indeed happy in a daughter, but her miseries —’ Another interruption here prevented me; for who should make her appearance but Miss Arabella Wilmot, who was next day to have been married to Mr Thornhill. Nothing could equal her surprize at seeing Sir William and his nephew here before her; for her arrival was quite accidental. It happened that she and the old gentleman her father were passing through the town, on their way to her aunt’s, who had insisted that her nuptials with Mr Thornhill should be consummated at her house; but stopping for refreshment, they put up at an inn at the other end of the town. It was there from the window that the young lady happened to observe one of my little boys playing in the street, and instantly sending a footman to bring the child to her, she learnt from him some account of our misfortunes; but was still kept ignorant of young Mr Thornhill’s being the cause. Though her father made several remonstrances on the impropriety of going to a prison to visit us, yet they were ineffectual; she desired the child to conduct her, which he did, and it was thus she surprised us at a juncture so unexpected.

Nor can I go on, without a reflection on those accidental meetings, which, though they happen every day, seldom excite our surprize but upon some extraordinary occasion. To what a fortuitous concurrence do we not owe every pleasure and convenience of our lives. How many seeming accidents must unite before we can be cloathed or fed. The peasant must be disposed to labour, the shower must fall, the wind fill the merchant’s sail, or numbers must want the usual supply.

We all continued silent for some moments, while my charming pupil, which was the name I generally gave this young lady, united in her looks compassion and astonishment, which gave new finishings to her beauty. ‘Indeed, my dear Mr Thornhill,’ cried she to the ‘Squire, who she supposed was come here to succour and not to oppress us, ‘I take it a little unkindly that you should come here without me, or never inform me of the situation of a family so dear to us both: you know I should take as much pleasure in contributing to the relief of my reverend old master here, whom I shall ever esteem, as you can. But I find that, like your uncle, you take a pleasure in doing good in secret.’

‘He find pleasure in doing good!’ cried Sir William, interrupting her. ‘No, my dear, his pleasures are as base as he is. You see in him, madam, as complete a villain as ever disgraced humanity. A wretch, who after having deluded this poor man’s daughter, after plotting against the innocence of her sister, has thrown the father into prison, and the eldest son into fetters, because he had courage to face his betrayer. And give me leave, madam, now to congratulate you upon an escape from the embraces of such a monster.’

‘O goodness,’ cried the lovely girl, ‘how have I been deceived! Mr Thornhill informed me for certain that this gentleman’s eldest son, Captain Primrose, was gone off to America with his new married lady.’

‘My sweetest miss,’ cried my wife, ‘he has told you nothing but falsehoods. My son George never left the kingdom, nor was married. Tho’ you have forsaken him, he has always loved you too well to think of any body else; and I have heard him say he would die a batchellor for your sake.’ She then proceeded to expatiate upon the sincerity of her son’s passion, she set his duel with Mr Thornhill in a proper light, from thence she made a rapid digression to the ‘Squire’s debaucheries, his pretended marriages, and ended with a most insulting picture of his cowardice.

‘Good heavens!’ cried Miss Wilmot, ‘how very near have I been to the brink of ruin! But how great is my pleasure to have escaped it! Ten thousand falsehoods has this gentleman told me! He had at last art enough to persuade me that my promise to the only man I esteemed was no longer binding, since he had been unfaithful. By his falsehoods I was taught to detest one equally brave and generous!’

But by this time my son was freed from the encumbrances of justice as the person supposed to be wounded was detected to be an impostor. Mr Jenkinson also, who had acted as his valet de chambre, had dressed up his hair, and furnished him with whatever was necessary to make a genteel appearance. He now therefore entered, handsomely drest in his regimentals, and, without vanity, (for I am above it) he appeared as handsome a fellow as ever wore a military dress. As he entered, he made Miss Wilmot a modest and distant bow, for he was not as yet acquainted with the change which the eloquence of his mother had wrought in his favour. But no decorums could restrain the impatience of his blushing mistress to be forgiven. Her tears, her looks, all contributed to discover the real sensations of her heart for having forgotten her former promise and having suffered herself to be deluded by an impostor. My son appeared amazed at her condescension, and could scarce believe it real. —‘Sure, madam,’ cried he, ‘this is but delusion! I can never have merited this! To be, blest thus is to be too happy.’—‘No, Sir,’ replied she, ‘I have been deceived, basely deceived, else nothing could have ever made me unjust to my promise. You know my friendship, you have long known it; but forget what I have done, and as you once had my warmest vows of constancy, you shall now have them repeated; and be assured that if your Arabella cannot be yours, she shall never be another’s.’— ‘And no other’s you shall be,’ cried Sir William, ‘if I have any influence with your father.’

This hint was sufficient for my son Moses, who immediately flew to the inn where the old gentleman was, to inform him of every circumstance that had happened. But in the mean time the ‘Squire perceiving that he was on every side undone, now finding that no hopes were left from flattery or dissimulation, concluded that his wisest way would be to turn and face his pursuers. Thus laying aside all shame, he appeared the open hardy villain. ‘I find then,’ cried he, ‘that I am to expect no justice here; but I am resolved it shall be done me. You shall know, Sir,’ turning to Sir William, ‘I am no longer a poor dependent upon your favours. I scorn them. Nothing can keep Miss Wilmot’s fortune from me, which, I thank her father’s assiduity, is pretty large. The articles, and a bond for her fortune, are signed, and safe in my possession. It was her fortune, not her person, that induced me to wish for this match, and possessed of the one, let who will take the other.’

This was an alarming blow, Sir William was sensible of the justice of his claims, for he had been instrumental in drawing up the marriage articles himself. Miss Wilmot therefore perceiving that her fortune was irretrievably lost, turning to my son, she asked if the loss of fortune could lessen her value to him. ‘Though fortune,’ said she, ‘is out of my power, at least I have my hand to give.’

‘And that, madam,’ cried her real lover, ‘was indeed all that you ever had to give; at least all that I ever thought worth the acceptance. And now I protest, my Arabella, by all that’s happy, your want of fortune this moment encreases my pleasure, as it serves to convince my sweet girl of my sincerity.’

Mr Wilmot now entering, he seemed not a little pleased at the danger his daughter had just escaped, and readily consented to a dissolution of the match. But finding that her fortune, which was secured to Mr Thornhill by bond, would not be given up, nothing could exceed his disappointment. He now saw that his money must all go to enrich one who had no fortune of his own. He could bear his being a rascal; but to want an equivalent to his daughter’s fortune was wormwood. He sate therefore for some minutes employed in the most mortifying speculations, till Sir William attempted to lessen his anxiety. —‘I must confess, Sir’ cried he, ‘that your present disappointment does not entirely displease me. Your immoderate passion for wealth is now justly punished. But tho’ the young lady cannot be rich, she has still a competence sufficient to give content. Here you see an honest young soldier, who is willing to take her without fortune; they have long loved each other, and for the friendship I bear his father, my interest shall not be wanting in his promotion. Leave then that ambition which disappoints you, and for once admit that happiness which courts your acceptance.’

‘Sir William,’ replied the old gentleman, ‘be assured I never yet forced her inclinations, nor will I now. If she still continues to love this young gentleman, let her have him with all my heart. There is still, thank heaven, some fortune left, and your promise will make it something more. Only let my old friend here (meaning me) give me a promise of settling six thousand pounds upon my girl, if ever he should come to his fortune, and I am ready this night to be the first to join them together.’

As it now remained with me to make the young couple happy, I readily gave a promise of making the settlement he required, which, to one who had such little expectations as I, was no great favour. We had now therefore the satisfaction of seeing them fly into each other’s arms in a transport. ‘After all my misfortunes,’ cried my son George, ‘to be thus rewarded! Sure this is more than I could ever have presumed to hope for. To be possessed of all that’s good, and after such an interval of pain! My warmest wishes could never rise so high!’—‘Yes, my George,’ returned his lovely bride, ‘now let the wretch take my fortune; since you are happy without it so am I. O what an exchange have I made from the basest of men to the dearest best! — Let him enjoy our fortune, I now can be happy even in indigence.’—‘And I promise you,’ cried the ‘Squire, with a malicious grin, ‘that I shall be very happy with what you despise.’—‘Hold, hold, Sir,’ cried Jenkinson, ‘there are two words to that bargain. As for that lady’s fortune, Sir, you shall never touch a single stiver of it. Pray your honour,’ continued he to Sir William, ‘can the ‘Squire have this lady’s fortune if he be married to another?’— ‘How can you make such a simple demand,’ replied the Baronet, ‘undoubtedly he cannot.’—‘I am sorry for that,’ cried Jenkinson; ‘for as this gentleman and I have been old fellow spotters, I have a friendship for him. But I must declare, well as I love him, that his contract is not worth a tobacco stopper, for he is married already.’—‘You lie, like a rascal,’ returned the ‘Squire, who seemed rouzed by this insult, ‘I never was legally married to any woman.’—‘Indeed, begging your honour’s pardon,’ replied the other, ‘you were; and I hope you will shew a proper return of friendship to your own honest Jenkinson, who brings you a wife, and if the company restrains their curiosity a few minutes, they shall see her.’— So saying he went off with his usual celerity, and left us all unable to form any probable conjecture as to his design. —‘Ay let him go,’ cried the ‘Squire, ‘whatever else I may have done I defy him there. I am too old now to be frightened with squibs.’

‘I am surprised,’ said the Baronet, ‘what the fellow can intend by this. Some low piece of humour I suppose!’—‘Perhaps, Sir,’ replied I, ‘he may have a more serious meaning. For when we reflect on the various schemes this gentleman has laid to seduce innocence, perhaps some one more artful than the rest has been found able to deceive him. When we consider what numbers he has ruined, how many parents now feel with anguish the infamy and the contamination which he has brought into their families, it would not surprise me if some one of them — Amazement! Do I see my lost daughter! Do I hold her! It is, it is my life, my happiness. I thought thee lost, my Olivia, yet still I hold thee — and still thou shalt live to bless me.’— The warmest transports of the fondest lover were not greater than mine when I saw him introduce my child, and held my daughter in my arms, whose silence only spoke her raptures. ‘And art thou returned to me, my darling,’ cried I, ‘to be my comfort in age!’—‘That she is,’ cried Jenkinson, ‘and make much of her, for she is your own honourable child, and as honest a woman as any in the whole room, let the other be who she will. And as for you ‘Squire, as sure as you stand there this young lady is your lawful wedded wife. And to convince you that I speak nothing but truth, here is the licence by which you were married together.’— So saying, he put the licence into the Baronet’s hands, who read it, and found it perfect in every respect. ‘And now, gentlemen,’ continued he, I find you are surprised at all this; but a few words will explain the difficulty. That there ‘Squire of renown, for whom I have a great friendship, but that’s between ourselves, as often employed me in doing odd little things for him. Among the rest, he commissioned me to procure him a false licence and a false priest, in order to deceive this young lady. But as I was very much his friend, what did I do but went and got a true licence and a true priest, and married them both as fast as the cloth could make them. Perhaps you’ll think it was generosity that made me do all this. But no. To my shame I confess it, my only design was to keep the licence and let the ‘Squire know that I could prove it upon him whenever I thought proper, and so make him come down whenever I wanted money.’ A burst of pleasure now seemed to fill the whole apartment; our joy reached even to the common room, where the prisoners themselves sympathized,

— And shook their chains
In transport and rude harmony.

Happiness was expanded upon every face, and even Olivia’s cheek seemed flushed with pleasure. To be thus restored to reputation, to friends and fortune at once, was a rapture sufficient to stop the progress of decay and restore former health and vivacity. But perhaps among all there was not one who felt sincerer pleasure than I. Still holding the dear-loved child in my arms, I asked my heart if these transports were not delusion. ‘How could you,’ cried I, turning to Mr Jenkinson, ‘how could you add to my miseries by the story of her death! But it matters not, my pleasure at finding her again, is more than a recompence for the pain.’

‘As to your question,’ replied Jenkinson, ‘that is easily answered. I thought the only probable means of freeing you from prison, was by submitting to the ‘Squire, and consenting to his marriage with the other young lady. But these you had vowed never to grant while your daughter was living, there was therefore no other method to bring things to bear but by persuading you that she was dead. I prevailed on your wife to join in the deceit, and we have not had a fit opportunity of undeceiving you till now.’

In the whole assembly now there only appeared two faces that did not glow with transport. Mr Thornhill’s assurance had entirely forsaken him: he now saw the gulph of infamy and want before him, and trembled to take the plunge. He therefore fell on his knees before his uncle, and in a voice of piercing misery implored compassion. Sir William was going to spurn him away, but at my request he raised him, and after pausing a few moments, ‘Thy vices, crimes, and ingratitude,’ cried he, ‘deserve no tenderness; yet thou shalt not be entirely forsaken, a bare competence shall be supplied, to support the wants of life, but not its follies. This young lady, thy wife, shall be put in possession of a third part of that fortune which once was thine, and from her tenderness alone thou art to expect any extraordinary supplies for the future.’ He was going to express his gratitude for such kindness in a set speech; but the Baronet prevented him by bidding him not aggravate his meanness, which was already but too apparent. He ordered him at the same time to be gone, and from all his former domestics to chuse one such as he should think proper, which was all that should be granted to attend him.

As soon as he left us, Sir William very politely stept up to his new niece with a smile, and wished her joy. His example was followed by Miss Wilmot and her father; my wife too kissed her daughter with much affection, as, to use her own expression, she was now made an honest woman of. Sophia and Moses followed in turn, and even our benefactor Jenkinson desired to be admitted to that honour. Our satisfaction seemed scarce capable of increase. Sir William, whose greatest leasure was in doing good, now looked round with a countenance open as the sun, and saw nothing but joy in the looks of all except that of my daughter Sophia, who, for some reasons we could not comprehend, did not seem perfectly satisfied. ‘I think now,’ cried he, with a smile, ‘that all the company, except one or two, seem perfectly happy. There only remains an act of justice for me to do. You are sensible, Sir,’ continued he, turning to me, ‘of the obligations we both owe Mr Jenkinson. And it is but just we should both reward him for it. Miss Sophia will, I am sure, make him very happy, and he shall have from me five hundred pounds as her fortune, and upon this I am sure they can live very comfortably together. Come, Miss Sophia, what say you to this match of my making? Will you have him?’— My poor girl seemed almost sinking into her mother’s arms at the hideous proposal. —‘Have him, Sir!’ cried she faintly. ‘No, Sir, never.’—‘What,’ cried he again, ‘not have Mr Jenkinson, your benefactor, a handsome young fellow, with five hundred pounds and good expectations!’—‘I beg, Sir,’ returned she, scarce able to speak, ‘that you’ll desist, and not make me so very wretched.’—‘Was ever such obstinacy known,’ cried he again, ‘to refuse a man whom the family has such infinite obligations to, who has preserved your sister, and who has five hundred pounds! What not have him!’—‘No, Sir, never,’ replied she, angrily, ‘I’d sooner die first.’—‘If that be the case then,’ cried he, ‘if you will not have him — I think I must have you myself.’ And so saying, he caught her to his breast with ardour. ‘My loveliest, my most sensible of girls,’ cried he, ‘how could you ever think your own Burchell could deceive you, or that Sir William Thornhill could ever cease to admire a mistress that loved him for himself alone? I have for some years sought for a woman, who a stranger to my fortune could think that I had merit as a man. After having tried in vain, even amongst the pert and the ugly, how great at last must be my rapture to have made a conquest over such sense and such heavenly beauty.’ Then turning to Jenkinson, ‘As I cannot, Sir, part with this young lady myself, for she has taken a fancy to the cut of my face, all the recompence I can make is to give you her fortune, and you may call upon my steward tomorrow for five hundred pounds.’ Thus we had all our compliments to repeat, and Lady Thornhill underwent the same round of ceremony that her sister had done before. In the mean time Sir William’s gentleman appeared to tell us that the equipages were ready to carry us to the inn, where every thing was prepared for our reception. My wife and I led the van, and left those gloomy mansions of sorrow. The generous Baronet ordered forty pounds to be distributed among the prisoners, and Mr Wilmot, induced by his example, gave half that sum. We were received below by the shouts of the villagers, and I saw and shook by the hand two or three of my honest parishioners, who were among the number. They attended us to our inn, where a sumptuous entertainment was provided, and coarser provisions distributed in great quantities among the populace.

After supper, as my spirits were exhausted by the alternation of pleasure and pain which they had sustained during the day, I asked permission to withdraw, and leaving the company in the midst of their mirth, as soon as I found myself alone, I poured out my heart in gratitude to the giver of joy as well as of sorrow, and then slept undisturbed till morning.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/g/goldsmith/oliver/vicar/chapter31.html

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