“Relate at large, my godlike guest,” she said,
“The Grecian stratagems — the town betrayed!”
DRYDEN: Virgil, AEneid, book ii.
Descending thence, they ‘scaped!
A great improvement had taken place in the character of Augustus Tomlinson since Paul had last encountered that illustrious man. Then Augustus had affected the man of pleasure, the learned lounger about town, the all-accomplished Pericles of the papers, gayly quoting Horace, gravely flanking a fly from the leader of Lord Dunshunner. Now a more serious yet not a less supercilious air had settled upon his features; the pretence of fashion had given way to the pretence of wisdom; and from the man of pleasure Augustus Tomlinson had grown to the philosopher. With this elevation alone, too, he was not content: he united the philosopher with the politician; and the ingenious rascal was pleased especially to pique himself upon being “a moderate Whig”!
“Paul,” he was wont to observe, “believe me, moderate Whiggism is a most excellent creed. It adapts itself to every possible change, to every conceivable variety of circumstance. It is the only politics for us who are the aristocrats of that free body who rebel against tyrannical laws; for, hang it, I am none of your democrats. Let there be dungeons and turnkeys for the low rascals who whip clothes from the hedge where they hang to dry, or steal down an area in quest of a silver spoon; but houses of correction are not made for men who have received an enlightened education — who abhor your petty thefts as much as a justice of peace. can do — who ought never to be termed dishonest in their dealings, but, if they are found out, ‘unlucky in their speculations’! A pretty thing, indeed, that there should be distinctions of rank among other members of the community, and none among us! Where’s your boasted British Constitution, I should like to know, where are your privileges of aristocracy, if I, who am a gentleman born, know Latin, and have lived in the best society, should be thrust into this abominable place with a dirty fellow who was born in a cellar, and could never earn more at a time than would purchase a sausage? No, no! none of your levelling principles for me! I am liberal, Paul, and love liberty; but, thank Heaven, I despise your democracies!”
Thus, half in earnest, half veiling a natural turn to sarcasm, would this moderate Whig run on for the hour together during those long nights, commencing at half-past four, in which he and Paul bore each other company.
One evening, when Tomlinson was so bitterly disposed to be prolix that Paul felt himself somewhat wearied by his eloquence, our hero, desirous of a change in the conversation, reminded Augustus of his promise to communicate his history; and the philosophical Whig, nothing loath to speak of himself, cleared his throat, and began.
“Never mind who was my father, nor what was my native place! My first ancestor was Tommy Linn (his heir became Tom Linn’s son) — you have heard the ballad made in his praise,
“‘Tommy Linn is a Scotchman born,
His head is bald and his beard is shorn;
He had a cap made of a hare skin,
An elder man is Tommy Limn!’
“There was a sort of prophecy respecting my ancestor’s descendants darkly insinuated in the concluding stanza of this ballad:—
“‘Tommy Linn, and his wife, and his wife’s mother,
They all fell into the fire together;
They that lay undermost got a hot skin —
“We are not enough!” said Tommy Linn.’”
“You see the prophecy: it is applicable both to gentlemen rogues and to moderate Whigs; for both are undermost in the world, and both are perpetually bawling out, ‘We are not enough!’
“I shall begin my own history by saying, I went to a North Country school, where I was noted for my aptness in learning; and my skill at ‘prisoner’s base,’— upon my word I purposed no pun! I was intended for the Church. Wishing, betimes, to instruct myself in its ceremonies, I persuaded my schoolmaster’s maidservant to assist me towards promoting a christening. My father did not like this premature love for the sacred rites. He took me home; and wishing to give my clerical ardour a different turn, prepared me for writing sermons by reading me a dozen a day. I grew tired of this, strange as it may seem to you. ‘Father,’ said I, one morning, ‘it is no use talking; I will not go into the Church — that’s positive. Give me your blessing and a hundred pounds, and I’ll go up to London and get a living instead of a curacy.’ My father stormed; but I got the better at last. I talked of becoming a private tutor; swore I had heard nothing was so easy — the only things wanted were pupils; and the only way to get them was to go to London and let my learning be known. My poor father — well, he’s gone, and I am glad of it now!” The speaker’s voice faltered. “I got the better, I say, and I came to town, where I had a relation a bookseller. Through his interest, I wrote a book of Travels in Ethiopia for an earl’s son, who wanted to become a lion; and a Treatise on the Greek Particle, dedicated to the prime minister, for a dean, who wanted to become a bishop — Greek being, next to interest, the best road to the mitre. These two achievements were liberally paid; so I took a lodging in a first floor, and resolved to make a bold stroke for a wife. What do you think I did? — nay, never guess; it would be hopeless. First, I went to the best tailor, and had my clothes sewn on my back; secondly, I got the peerage and its genealogies by heart; thirdly, I marched one night, with the coolest deliberation possible, into the house of a duchess, who was giving an immense rout! The newspapers had inspired me with this idea. I had read of the vast crowds which a lady ‘at home’ sought to win to her house. I had read of staircases impassable, and ladies carried out in a fit; and common-sense told me how impossible it was that the fair receiver should be acquainted with the legality of every importation. I therefore resolved to try my chance, and — entered the body of Augustus Tomlinson, as a piece of stolen goods. Faith! the first night I was shy — I stuck to the staircase, and ogled an old maid of quality, whom I had heard announced as Lady Margaret Sinclair. Doubtless she had never been ogled before; and she was evidently enraptured with my glances. The next night I read of a ball at the Countess of ————‘s. My heart beat as if I were going to be whipped; but I plucked up courage, and repaired to her ladyship’s. There I again beheld the divine Lady Margaret; and observing that she turned yellow, by way of a blush, when she saw me, I profited by the port I had drunk as an encouragement to my entree, and lounging up in the most modish way possible, I reminded her ladyship of an introduction with which I said I had once been honoured at the Duke of Dashwell’s, and requested her hand for the next cotillion. Oh, Paul, fancy my triumph! The old damsel said, with a sigh, she remembered me very well, ha, ha, ha! — and I carried her off to the cotillion like another Theseus bearing away a second Ariadne. Not to be prolix on this part of my life, I went night after night to balls and routs, for admission to which half the fine gentlemen in London would have given their ears. And I improved my time so well with Lady Margaret, who was her own mistress and had L5,000 — a devilish bad portion for some, but not to be laughed at by me — that I began to think when the happy day should be fixed. Meanwhile, as Lady Margaret introduced me to some of her friends, and my lodgings were in a good situation, I had been honoured with some real invitations. The only two questions I ever was asked were (carelessly), ‘Was I the only son?’ and on my veritable answer ‘Yes!’ ‘What’ (this was more warmly put) — ‘what was my county?’ Luckily my county was a wide one — Yorkshire; and any of its inhabitants whom the fair interrogators might have questioned about me could only have answered, I was not in their part of it.
“Well, Paul, I grew so bold by success that the devil one day put it into my head to go to a great dinner-party at the Duke of Dashwell’s. I went, dined — nothing happened; I came away, and the next morning I read in the papers —
“‘Mysterious affair — person lately going about — first houses — most fashionable parties — nobody knows — Duke of Dashwell’s yesterday. Duke not like to make disturbance — as royalty present.”
“The journal dropped from my hands. At that moment the girl of the house gave me a note from Lady Margaret — alluded to the paragraph; wondered who was ‘The Stranger;’ hoped to see me that night at Lord A———‘s, to whose party I said I had been asked; speak then more fully on those matters I had touched on! — in short, dear Paul, a tender epistle! All great men are fatalists — I am one now; fate made me a madman. In the very face of this ominous paragraph I mustered up courage, and went that night to Lord A———‘s. The fact is, my affairs were in confusion — I was greatly in debt. I knew it was necessary to finish my conquest over Lady Margaret as soon as possible; and Lord A———‘s seemed the best place for the purpose. Nay, I thought delay so dangerous, after the cursed paragraph, that a day might unmask me, and it would be better therefore not to lose an hour in finishing the play of ‘The Stranger’ with the farce of ‘The Honey Moon.’ Behold me then at Lord A———‘s, leading off Lady Margaret to the dance. Behold me whispering the sweetest of things in her ear. Imagine her approving my suit, and gently chiding me for talking of Gretna Green. Conceive all this, my dear fellow, and just at the height of my triumph, dilate the eyes of your imagination, and behold the stately form of Lord A——— my noble host, marching up to me, while a voice that, though low and quiet as an evening breeze, made my heart sink into my shoes, said, ‘I believe, sir, you have received no invitation from Lady A———?’
“Not a word could I utter, Paul — not a word. Had it been the highroad instead of a ballroom, I could have talked loudly enough; but I was under a spell. ‘Ehem!’ I faltered at last — ‘e-h-e-m! Some mis-take, I— I—’ There I stopped.
“‘Sir,’ said the earl, regarding me with a grave sternness, ‘you had better withdraw.’
“‘Bless me! what’s all this?’ cried Lady Margaret, dropping my palsied arm, and gazing on me as if she expected me to talk like a hero.
“‘Oh,’ said I, ‘eh-e-m, eh-e-m — I will exp — lain tomorrow — ehem, e-h-e-m.’ I made to the door; all the eyes in the room seemed turned into burning-glasses, and blistered the very skin on my face. I heard a gentle shriek, as I left the apartment — Lady Margaret fainting, I suppose! There ended my courtship and my adventures in ‘the best society.’
“I felt melancholy at the ill-success of my scheme. You must allow it was a magnificent project. What moral courage! I admire myself when I think of it. Without an introduction, without knowing a soul, to become, all by my own resolution, free of the finest houses in London, dancing with earls’ daughters, and all but carrying off an earl’s daughter myself as my wife. If I had, the friends must have done something for me; and Lady Margaret Tomlinson might perhaps have introduced the youthful genius of her Augustus to parliament or the ministry. Oh, what a fall was there! Yet, faith, ha, ha, ha! I could not help laughing, despite of my chagrin, when I remembered that for three months I had imposed on these ‘delicate exclusives,’ and been literally invited by many of them, who would not have asked the younger sons of their own cousins, merely because I lived in a good street, avowed myself an only child, and talked of my property in Yorkshire! Ha, ha! how bitter the mercenary dupes must have felt when the discovery was made! What a pill for the good matrons who had coupled my image with that of some filial Mary or Jane — ha, ha, ha! The triumph was almost worth the mortification. However, as I said before, I fell melancholy on it, especially as my duns became menacing. So I went to consult with my cousin the bookseller. He recommended me to compose for the journals, and obtained me an offer. I went to work very patiently for a short time, and contracted some agreeable friendships with gentlemen whom I met at an ordinary in St. James’s. Still, my duns, though I paid them by driblets, were the plague of my life. I confessed as much to one of my new friends. ‘Come to Bath with me,’ quoth he, ‘for a week, and you shall return as rich as a Jew.’ I accepted the offer, and went to Bath in my friend’s chariot. He took the name of Lord Dunshunner, an Irish peer who had never been out of Tipperary, and was not therefore likely to be known at Bath. He took also a house for a year; filled it with wines, books, and a sideboard of plate. As he talked vaguely of setting up his younger brother to stand for the town at the next parliament, he bought these goods of the townspeople, in order to encourage their trade. I managed secretly to transport them to London and sell them; and as we disposed of them fifty per cent under cost price, our customers, the pawnbrokers, were not very inquisitive. We lived a jolly life at Bath for a couple of months, and departed one night, leaving our housekeeper to answer all interrogatories. We had taken the precaution to wear disguises, stuffed ourselves out, and changed the hues of our hair. My noble friend was an adept in these transformations; and though the police did not sleep on the business, they never stumbled on us. I am especially glad we were not discovered, for I liked Bath excessively; and I intend to return there some of these days, and retire from the world — on an heiress!
“Well, Paul, shortly after this adventure I made your acquaintance. I continued ostensibly my literary profession, but only as a mask for the labours I did not profess. A circumstance obliged me to leave London rather precipitately. Lord Dunshunner joined me in Edinburgh. D—— it, instead of doing anything there, we were done! The veriest urchin that ever crept through the High Street is more than a match for the most scientific of Englishmen. With us it is art; with the Scotch it is nature. They pick your pockets without using their fingers for it; and they prevent reprisal by having nothing for you to pick.
“We left Edinburgh with very long faces, and at Carlisle we found it necessary to separate. For my part, I went as a valet to a nobleman who had just lost his last servant at Carlisle by a fever; my friend gave me the best of characters! My new master was a very clever man. He astonished people at dinner by the impromptus he prepared at breakfast; in a word, he was a wit. He soon saw, for he was learned himself, that I had received a classical education, and he employed me in the confidential capacity of finding quotations for him. I classed these alphabetically and under three heads — ‘Parliamentary, Literary, Dining-out.’ These were again subdivided into ‘Fine,’ ‘Learned,’ and ‘Jocular;’ so that my master knew at once where to refer for genius, wisdom, and wit. He was delighted with my management of his intellects. In compliment to him, I paid more attention to politics than I had done before; for he was a ‘great Whig,’ and uncommonly liberal in everything — but money! Hence, Paul, the origin of my political principles; and I thank Heaven there is not now a rogue in England who is a better — that is to say, more of a moderate-Whig than your humble servant! I continued with him nearly a year. He discharged me for a fault worthy of my genius: other servants may lose the watch or the coat of their master; I went at nobler game, and lost him — his private character!”
“How do you mean?”
“Why, I was enamoured of a lady who would not have looked at me as Mr. Tomlinson; so I took my master’s clothes and occasionally his carriage, and made love to my nymph as Lord. Her vanity made her indiscreet. The Tory papers got hold of it; and my master, in a change of ministers, was declared by George the Third to be ‘too gay for a Chancellor of the Exchequer.’ An old gentleman who had had fifteen children by a wife like a Gorgon, was chosen instead of my master; and although the new minister was a fool in his public capacity, the moral public were perfectly content with him, because of his private virtues!
“My master was furious, made the strictest inquiry, found me out, and turned me out too!
“A Whig not in place has an excuse for disliking the Constitution. My distress almost made me a republican; but, true to my creed, I must confess that I would only have levelled upwards. I especially disaffected the inequality of riches; I looked moodily on every carriage that passed; I even frowned like a second Catiline at the steam of a gentle man’s kitchen! My last situation had not been lucrative; I had neglected my perquisites, in my ardour for politics. My master, too, refused to give me a character: who would take me without one?
“I was asking myself this melancholy question one morning, when I suddenly encountered one of the fine friends I had picked up at my old haunt, the ordinary, in St. James’s. His name was Pepper.”
“Pepper!” cried Paul.
Without heeding the exclamation, Tomlinson continued:—“We went to a tavern and drank a bottle together. Wine made me communicative; it also opened my comrade’s heart. He asked me to take a ride with him that night towards Hounslow. I did so, and found a purse.”
“How fortunate! Where?”
“In a gentleman’s pocket. I was so pleased with my luck that I went the same road twice a week, in order to see if I could pick up any more purses. Fate favoured me, and I lived for a long time the life of the blessed. Oh, Paul, you know not — you know not what a glorious life is that of a highwayman; but you shall taste it one of these days — you shall, on my honour.
“I now lived with a club of honest fellows. We called ourselves ‘The Exclusives,’— for we were mighty reserved in our associates, and only those who did business on a grand scale were admitted into our set. For my part, with all my love for my profession, I liked ingenuity still better than force, and preferred what the vulgar call swindling, even to the highroad. On an expedition of this sort, I rode once into a country town, and saw a crowd assembled in one corner; I joined it, and my feelings! — beheld my poor friend Viscount Dunshunner just about to be hanged! I rode off as fast as I could — I thought I saw Jack Ketch at my heels. My horse threw me at a hedge, and I broke my collar-bone. In the confinement that ensued gloomy ideas floated before me. I did not like to be hanged; so I reasoned against my errors, and repented. I recovered slowly, returned to town, and repaired to my cousin the bookseller. To say truth, I had played him a little trick: collected some debts of his by a mistake — very natural in the confusion incident on my distresses. However, he was extremely unkind about it; and the mistake, natural as it was, had cost me his acquaintance.
“I went now to him with the penitential aspect of the prodigal son; and, faith, he would have not made a bad representation of the fatted calf about to be killed on my return — so corpulent looked he, and so dejected! ‘Graceless reprobate!’ he began, ‘your poor father is dead!’ I was exceedingly shocked; but — never fear, Paul, I am not about to be pathetic. My father had divided his fortune among all his children; my share was L500. The possession of this soon made my penitence seem much more sincere in the eyes of my good cousin; and after a very pathetic scene, he took me once more into favour. I now consulted with him as to the best method of laying out my capital and recovering my character. We could not devise any scheme at the first conference; but the second time I saw him, my cousin said with a cheerful countenance: ‘Cheer up, Augustus, I have got thee a situation. Mr. Asgrave the banker will take thee as a clerk. He is a most worthy man; and having a vast deal of learning, he will respect thee for thy acquirements.’ The same day I was introduced to Mr. Asgrave, who was a little man with a fine, bald, benevolent head; and after a long conversation which he was pleased to hold with me, I became one of his quill-drivers. I don’t know how it was, but by little and little I rose in my master’s good graces. I propitiated him, I fancy, by disposing of my L500 according to his advice; he laid it out for me, on what he said was famous security, on a landed estate. Mr. Asgrave was of social habits — he had a capital house and excellent wines. As he was not very particular in his company, nor ambitious of visiting the great, he often suffered me to make one of his table, and was pleased to hold long arguments with me about the ancients. I soon found out that my master was a great moral philosopher; and being myself in weak health, sated with the ordinary pursuits of the world, in which my experience had forestalled my years, and naturally of a contemplative temperament, I turned my attention to the moral studies which so fascinated my employer. I read through nine shelves full of metaphysicians, and knew exactly the points in which those illustrious thinkers quarrelled with each other, to the great advance of the science. My master and I used to hold many a long discussion about the nature of good and evil; as, by help of his benevolent forehead and a clear dogged voice, he always seemed to our audience to be the wiser and better man of the two, he was very well pleased with our disputes. This gentleman had an only daughter — an awful shrew, with a face like a hatchet but philosophers overcome personal defects; and thinking only of the good her wealth might enable me to do to my fellow-creatures, I secretly made love to her. You will say that was playing my master but a scurvy trick for his kindness. Not at all; my master himself had convinced me that there was no such virtue as gratitude. It was an error of vulgar moralists. I yielded to his arguments, and at length privately espoused his daughter. The day after this took place, he summoned me to his study. ‘So, Augustus,’ said he, very mildly, ‘you have married my daughter: nay, never look confused; I saw a long time ago that you were resolved to do so, and I was very glad of it.’
“I attempted to falter out something like thanks. ‘Never interrupt me!’ said he. ‘I had two reasons for being glad — first, because my daughter was the plague of my life, and I wanted some one to take her off my hands; secondly, because I required your assistance on a particular point, and I could not venture to ask it of any one but my son-inlaw. In fine, I wish to take you into partnership!’
“‘Partnership!’ cried I, falling on my knees. ‘Noble, generous man!’
“‘Stay a bit,’ continued my father-inlaw. ‘What funds do you think requisite for carrying on a bank? You look puzzled! Not a shilling! You will put in just as much as I do. You will put in rather more; for you once put in L500, which has been spent long ago. I don’t put in a shilling of my own. I live on my clients, and I very willingly offer you half of them!’
“Imagine, dear Paul, my astonishment, my dismay! I saw myself married to a hideous shrew — son-inlaw to a penniless scoundrel, and cheated out of my whole fortune! Compare this view of the question with that which had blazed on me when I contemplated being son-inlaw to the rich Mr. Asgrave. I stormed at first. Mr. Asgrave took up Bacon ‘On the Advancement of Learning,’ and made no reply till I was cooled by explosion. You will perceive that when passion subsided, I necessarily saw that nothing was left for me but adopting my father-inlaw’s proposal. Thus, by the fatality which attended me at the very time I meant to reform, I was forced into scoundrelism, and I was driven into defrauding a vast number of persons by the accident of being son-inlaw to a great moralist. As Mr. Asgrave was an indolent man, who passed his mornings in speculations on virtue, I was made the active partner. I spent the day at the counting-house; and when I came home for recreation, my wife scratched my eyes out.”
“But were you never recognized as ‘the stranger’ or ‘the adventurer’ in your new capacity?”
“No; for of course I assumed, in all my changes, both aliases and disguises. And, to tell you the truth, my marriage so altered me that, what with a snuff-coloured coat and a brown scratch wig, with a pen in my right ear, I looked the very picture of staid respectability. My face grew an inch longer every day. Nothing is so respectable as a long face; and a subdued expression of countenance is the surest sign of commercial prosperity. Well, we went on splendidly enough for about a year. Meanwhile I was wonderfully improved in philosophy. You have no idea how a scolding wife sublimes and rarefies one’s intellect. Thunder clears the air, you know! At length, unhappily for my fame (for I contemplated a magnificent moral history of man, which, had she lived a year longer, I should have completed), my wife died in child-bed. My father-inlaw and I were talking over the event, and finding fault with civilization for the enervating habits by which women die of their children instead of bringing them forth without being even conscious of the circumstance, when a bit of paper, sealed awry, was given to my partner. He looked over it, finished the discussion, and then told me our bank had stopped payment. ‘Now, Augustus,’ said he, lighting his pipe with the bit of paper, ‘you see the good of having nothing to lose.’
“We did not pay quite sixpence in the pound; but my partner was thought so unfortunate that the British public raised a subscription for him, and he retired on an annuity, greatly respected and very much compassionated. As I had not been so well known as a moralist, and had not the prepossessing advantage of a bald, benevolent head, nothing was done for me, and I was turned once more on the wide world, to moralize on the vicissitudes of fortune. My cousin the bookseller was no more, and his son cut me. I took a garret in Warwick Court, and with a few books, my only consolation, I endeavoured to nerve my mind to the future. It was at this time, Paul, that my studies really availed me. I meditated much, and I became a true philosopher, namely, a practical one. My actions were henceforth regulated by principle; and at some time or other, I will convince you that the road of true morals never avoids the pockets of your neighbour. So soon as my mind had made the grand discovery which Mr. Asgrave had made before me, that one should live according to a system — for if you do wrong, it is then your system that errs, not you — I took to the road, without any of those stings of conscience which had hitherto annoyed me in such adventures. I formed one of a capital knot of ‘Free Agents,’ whom I will introduce to you some day or other, and I soon rose to distinction among them. But about six weeks ago, not less than formerly preferring byways to highways, I attempted to possess myself of a carriage, and sell it at discount. I was acquitted on the felony, but sent hither by Justice Burnflat on the misdemeanour. Thus far, my young friend, hath as yet proceeded the life of Augustus Tomlinson.” The history of this gentleman made a deep impression on Paul. The impression was strengthened by the conversations subsequently holden with Augustus. That worthy was a dangerous and subtle persuader. He had really read a good deal of history, and something of morals; and he had an ingenious way of defending his rascally practices by syllogisms from the latter, and examples from the former. These theories he clenched, as it were, by a reference to the existing politics of the day. Cheaters of the public, on false pretences, he was pleased to term “moderate Whigs;” bullying demanders of your purse were “high Tories;” and thieving in gangs was “the effect of the spirit of party.” There was this difference between Augustus Tomlinson and Long Ned — Ned was the acting knave, Augustus the reasoning one; and we may see therefore, by a little reflection, that Tomlinson was a far more perilous companion than Pepper — for showy theories are always more seductive to the young and clever than suasive examples, and the vanity of the youthful makes them better pleased by being convinced of a thing than by being enticed to it.
A day or two after the narrative of Mr. Tomlinson, Paul was again visited by Mrs. Lobkins — for the regulations against frequent visitors were not then so strictly enforced as we understand them to be now; and the good dame came to deplore the ill-success of her interview with Justice Burnflat.
We spare the tender-hearted reader a detail of the affecting interview that ensued. Indeed, it was but a repetition of the one we have before narrated. We shall only say, as a proof of Paul’s tenderness of heart, that when he took leave of the good matron, and bade “God bless her,” his voice faltered, and the tears stood in his eyes — just as they were wont to do in the eyes of George the Third, when that excellent monarch was pleased graciously to encore “God save the King!”
“I’ll be hanged,” soliloquized our hero, as he slowly bent his course towards the subtle Augustus — “I’ll be hanged (humph! the denunciation is prophetic), if I don’t feel as grateful to the old lady for her care of me as if she had never ill-used me. As for my parents, I believe I have little to be grateful for or proud of in that quarter. My poor mother, by all accounts, seems scarcely to have had even the brute virtue of maternal tenderness; and in all human likelihood I shall never know whether I had one father or fifty. But what matters it? I rather like the better to be independent; and, after all, what do nine tenths of us ever get from our parents but an ugly name, and advice which, if we follow, we are wretched, and if we neglect, we are disinherited?”
Comforting himself with these thoughts, which perhaps took their philosophical complexion from the conversations he had lately held with Augustus, and which broke off into the muttered air of —
“Why should we quarrel for riches?”
Paul repaired to his customary avocations.
In the third week of our hero’s captivity Tomlinson communicated to him a plan of escape that had occurred to his sagacious brain. In the yard appropriated to the amusements of the gentlemen “misdemeaning,” there was a water-pipe that, skirting the wall, passed over the door through which every morning the pious captives passed in their way to the chapel. By this Tomlinson proposed to escape; for to the pipe which reached from the door to the wall, in a slanting and easy direction, there was a sort of skirting-board; and a dexterous and nimble man might readily, by the help of this board, convey himself along the pipe, until the progress of that useful conductor (which was happily very brief) was stopped by the summit of the wall, where it found a sequel in another pipe, that descended to the ground on the opposite side of the wall. Now, on this opposite side was the garden of the prison; in this garden was a watchman, and this watchman was the hobgoblin of Tomlinson’s scheme — “For suppose us safe in the garden,” said he, “what shall we do with this confounded fellow?”
“But that is not all,” added Paul; “for even were there no watchman, there is a terrible wall, which I noted especially last week, when we were set to work in the garden, and which has no pipe, save a perpendicular one, that a man must have the legs of a fly to be able to climb!”
“Nonsense!” returned Tomlinson; “I will show you how to climb the stubbornest wall in Christendom, if one has but the coast clear. It is the watchman, the watchman, we must —”
“What?” asked Paul, observing his comrade did not conclude the sentence.
It was some time before the sage Augustus replied; he then said in a musing tone —
“I have been thinking, Paul, whether it would be consistent with virtue, and that strict code of morals by which all my actions are regulated, to — slay the watchman!”
“Good heavens!” cried Paul, horror-stricken.
“And I have decided,” continued Augustus, solemnly, without regard to the exclamation, “that the action would be perfectly justifiable!”
“Villain!” exclaimed Paul, recoiling to the other end of the stone box — for it was night — in which they were cooped.
“But,” pursued Augustus, who seemed soliloquizing, and whose voice, sounding calm and thoughtful, like Young’s in the famous monologue in “Hamlet,” denoted that he heeded not the uncourteous interruption — “but opinion does not always influence conduct; and although it may be virtuous to murder the watchman, I have not the heart to do it. I trust in my future history I shall not by discerning moralists be too severely censured for a weakness for which my physical temperament is alone to blame!”
Despite the turn of the soliloquy, it was a long time before Paul could be reconciled to further conversation with Augustus; and it was only from the belief that the moralist had leaned to the jesting vein that he at length resumed the consultation.
The conspirators did not, however, bring their scheme that night to any ultimate decision. The next day Augustus, Paul, and some others of the company were set to work in the garden; and Paul then observed that his friend, wheeling a barrow close by the spot where the watchman stood, overturned its contents. The watchman was good-natured enough to assist him in refilling the barrow; and Tomlinson profited so well by the occasion that that night he informed Paul that they would have nothing to dread from the watchman’s vigilance. “He has promised,” said Augustus, “for certain consi-derations, to allow me to knock him down; he has also promised to be so much hurt as not to be able to move until we are over the wall. Our main difficulty now, then, is the first step — namely, to climb the pipe unperceived!”
“As to that,” said Paul, who developed, through the whole of the scheme, organs of sagacity, boldness, and invention which charmed his friend, and certainly promised well for his future career — “as to that, I think we may manage the first ascent with less danger than you imagine. The mornings of late have been very foggy; they are almost dark at the hour we go to chapel. Let you and I close the file: the pipe passes just above the door; our hands, as we have tried, can reach it; and a spring of no great agility will enable us to raise ourselves up to a footing on the pipe and the skirting-board.
“The climbing then is easy; and what with the dense fog and our own quickness, I think we shall have little difficulty in gaining the garden. The only precautions we need use are, to wait for a very dark morning, and to be sure that we are the last of the file, so that no one behind may give the alarm —”
“Or attempt to follow our example, and spoil the pie by a superfluous plum!” added Augustus. “You counsel admirably; and one of these days, if you are not hung in the mean while, will, I venture to auger, be a great logician.”
The next morning was clear and frosty; but the day after was, to use Tomlinson’s simile, “as dark as if all the negroes of Africa had been stewed down into air.” “You might have cut the fog with a knife,” as the proverb says. Paul and Augustus could not even see how significantly each looked at the other.
It was a remarkable trait of the daring temperament of the former, that, young as he was, it was fixed that he should lead the attempt. At the hour, then, for chapel the prisoners passed as usual through the door. When it came to Paul’s turn he drew himself by his hands to the pipe, and then creeping along its sinuous course, gained the wall before he had even fetched his breath. Rather more clumsily, Augustus followed his friend’s example. Once his foot slipped, and he was all but over. He extended his hands involuntarily, and caught Paul by the leg. Happily our hero had then gained the wall, to which he was clinging; and for once in a way, one rogue raised himself without throwing over another. Behold Tomlinson and Paul now seated for an instant on the wall to recover breath; the latter then — the descent to the ground was not very great — letting his body down by his hands, dropped into the garden.
“Hurt?” asked the prudent Augustus, in a hoarse whisper, before he descended from his “bad eminence,” being even willing —
“To bear those ills he had,
Than fly to others that he knew not of”
“No!” without taking every previous precaution in his power, was the answer in the same voice, and Augustus dropped.
So soon as this latter worthy had recovered the shock of his fall, he lost not a moment in running to the other end of the garden. Paul followed. By the way Tomlinson stopped at a heap of rubbish, and picked up an immense stone. When they came to the part of the wall they had agreed to scale, they found the watchman — about whom they needed not, by the by, to have concerned themselves; for had it not been arranged that he was to have met them, the deep fog would have effectually prevented him from seeing them. This faithful guardian Augustus knocked down, not with a stone, but with ten guineas; he then drew forth from his dress a thickish cord, which he procured some days before from the turnkey, and fastening the stone firmly to one end, threw that end over the wall. Now the wall had (as walls of great strength mostly have) an overhanging sort of battlement on either side; and the stone, when flung over and drawn to the tether of the cord to which it was attached, necessarily hitched against this projection; and thus the cord was as it were fastened to the wall, and Tomlinson was enabled by it to draw himself up to the top of the barrier. He performed this feat with gymnastic address, like one who had often practised it; albeit the discreet adventurer had not mentioned in his narrative to Paul any previous occasion for the practice. As soon as he had gained the top of the wall, he threw down the cord to his companion, and, in consideration of Paul’s inexperience in that manner of climbing, gave the fastening of the rope an additional security by holding it himself. With slowness and labour Paul hoisted himself up; and then, by transferring the stone to the other side of the wall, where it made of course a similar hitch, our two adventurers were enabled successively to slide down, and consummate their escape from the House of Correction.
“Follow me now!” said Augustus, as he took to his heels; and Paul pursued him through a labyrinth of alleys and lanes, through which he shot and dodged with a variable and shifting celerity that, had not Paul kept close upon him, would very soon, combined with the fog, have snatched him from the eyes of his young ally. Happily the immaturity of the morning, the obscurity of the streets passed through, and above all, the extreme darkness of the atmosphere, prevented that detection and arrest which their prisoner’s garb would otherwise have insured them. At length they found themselves in the fields; and skulking along hedges, and diligently avoiding the highroad, they continued to fly onward, until they had advanced several miles into “the bowels of the land.” At that time “the bowels” of Augustus Tomlinson began to remind him of their demands; and he accordingly suggested the desirability of their seizing the first peasant they encountered, and causing him to exchange clothes with one of the fugitives, who would thus be enabled to enter a public-house and provide for their mutual necessities. Paul agreed to this proposition, and accordingly they watched their opportunity and caught a ploughman. Augustus stripped him of his frock, hat, and worsted stockings; and Paul, hardened by necessity and companionship, helped to tie the poor ploughman to a tree. They then continued their progress for about an hour, and, as the shades of evening fell around them, they discovered a public-house. Augustus entered, and returned in a few minutes laden with bread and cheese, and a bottle of beer. Prison fare cures a man of daintiness, and the two fugitives dined on these homely viands with considerable complacency. They then resumed their journey, and at length, wearied with exertion, they arrived at a lonely haystack, where they resolved to repose for an hour or two.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:06