Caleb Williams, by William Godwin

Chapter 3.

Two days subsequent to this conversation, Mr. Falkland ordered me to be called to him. [I shall continue to speak in my narrative of the silent, as well as the articulate part of the intercourse between us. His countenance was habitually animated and expressive, much beyond that of any other man I have seen. The curiosity which, as I have said, constituted my ruling passion, stimulated me to make it my perpetual study. It will also most probably happen, while I am thus employed in collecting the scattered incidents of my history, that I shall upon some occasions annex to appearances an explanation which I was far from possessing at the time, and was only suggested to me through the medium of subsequent events.]

When I entered the apartment, I remarked in Mr. Falkland’s countenance an unwonted composure. This composure however did not seem to result from internal ease, but from an effort which, while he prepared himself for an interesting scene, was exerted to prevent his presence of mind, and power of voluntary action, from suffering any diminution.

“Williams,” said he, “I am determined, whatever it may cost me, to have an explanation with you. You are a rash and inconsiderate boy, and have given me much disturbance. You ought to have known that, though I allow you to talk with me upon indifferent subjects, it is very improper in you to lead the conversation to any thing that relates to my personal concerns. You have said many things lately in a very mysterious way, and appear to know something more than I am aware of. I am equally at a loss to guess how you came by your knowledge, as of what it consists. But I think I perceive too much inclination on your part to trifle with my peace of mind. That ought not to be, nor have I deserved any such treatment from you. But, be that as it will, the guesses in which you oblige me to employ myself are too painful. It is a sort of sporting with my feelings, which, as a man of resolution, I am determined to bring to an end. I expect you therefore to lay aside all mystery and equivocation, and inform me explicitly what it is upon which your allusions are built. What is it you know? What is it you want? I have been too much exposed already to unparalleled mortification and hardship, and my wounds will not bear this perpetual tampering.”

“I feel, sir,” answered I, “how wrong I have been, and am ashamed that such a one as I should have given you all this trouble and displeasure. I felt it at the time; but I have been hurried along, I do not know how. I have always tried to stop myself, but the demon that possessed me was too strong for me. I know nothing, sir, but what Mr. Collins told me. He told me the story of Mr. Tyrrel and Miss Melville and Hawkins. I am sure, sir, he said nothing but what was to your honour, and proved you to be more an angel than a man.”

“Well, sir: I found a letter written by that Hawkins the other day; did not that letter fall into your hands? Did not you read it?”

“For God’s sake, sir, turn me out of your house. Punish me in some way or other, that I may forgive myself. I am a foolish, wicked, despicable wretch. I confess, sir, I did read the letter.”

“And how dared you read it? It was indeed very wrong of you. But we will talk of that by and by. Well, and what did you say to the letter? You know it seems, that Hawkins was hanged.”

“I say, sir? why it went to my heart to read it. I say, as I said the day before yesterday, that when I see a man of so much principle afterwards deliberately proceeding to the very worst of crimes, I can scarcely bear to think of it.”

“That is what you say? It seems too you know — accursed remembrance! — that I was accused of this crime?”

I was silent.

“Well, sir. You know too, perhaps, that from the hour the crime was committed — yes, sir, that was the date [and as he said this, there was somewhat frightful, I had almost said diabolical, in his countenance]— I have not had an hour’s peace; I became changed from the happiest to the most miserable thing that lives; sleep has fled from my eyes; joy has been a stranger to my thoughts; and annihilation I should prefer a thousand times to the being that I am. As soon as I was capable of a choice, I chose honour and the esteem of mankind as a good I preferred to all others. You know, it seems, in how many ways my ambition has been disappointed — I do not thank Collins for having been the historian of my disgrace — would to God that night could be blotted from the memory of man! — But the scene of that night, instead of perishing, has been a source of ever new calamity to me, which must flow for ever! Am I then, thus miserable and ruined, a proper subject upon which for you to exercise your ingenuity, and improve your power of tormenting? Was it not enough that I was publicly dishonoured? that I was deprived, by the pestilential influence of some demon, of the opportunity of avenging my dishonour? No: in addition to this, I have been charged with having in this critical moment intercepted my own vengeance by the foulest of crimes. That trial is past. Misery itself has nothing worse in store for me, except what you have inflicted: the seeming to doubt of my innocence, which, after the fullest and most solemn examination, has been completely established. You have forced me to this explanation. You have extorted from me a confidence which I had no inclination to make. But it is a part of the misery of my situation, that I am at the mercy of every creature, however little, who feels himself inclined to sport with my distress. Be content. You have brought me low enough.”

“Oh, sir, I am not content; I cannot be content! I cannot bear to think what I have done. I shall never again be able to look in the face of the best of masters and the best of men. I beg of you, sir, to turn me out of your service. Let me go and hide myself where I may never see you more.”

Mr. Falkland’s countenance had indicated great severity through the whole of this conversation; but now it became more harsh and tempestuous than ever. “How now, rascal!” cried he. “You want to leave me, do you? Who told you that I wished to part with you? But you cannot bear to live with such a miserable wretch as I am! You are not disposed to put up with the caprices of a man so dissatisfied and unjust!”

“Oh, sir! do not talk to me thus! Do with me any thing you will. Kill me if you please.”

“Kill you!” [Volumes could not describe the emotions with which this echo of my words was given and received.]

“Sir, I could die to serve you! I love you more than I can express. I worship you as a being of a superior nature. I am foolish, raw, inexperienced — worse than any of these; — but never did a thought of disloyalty to your service enter into my heart.”

Here our conversation ended; and the impression it made upon my youthful mind it is impossible to describe. I thought with astonishment, even with rapture, of the attention and kindness towards me I discovered in Mr. Falkland, through all the roughness of his manner. I could never enough wonder at finding myself, humble as I was by my birth, obscure as I had hitherto been, thus suddenly become of so much importance to the happiness of one of the most enlightened and accomplished men in England. But this consciousness attached me to my patron more eagerly than ever, and made me swear a thousand times, as I meditated upon my situation, that I would never prove unworthy of so generous a protector.

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