The vicar of Wakefield: a tale. Supposed to be written by himself. ... [pt.2]
Goldsmith, Oliver, 1730?-1774.
Page  [unnumbered]

CHAP. XI.

Happier prospects begin to appear. Let us be inflexible, and fortune will at last change in our favour.

WHEN I had thus finished and my au|dience was retired, the gaoler, who was one of the most humane of his pro|fession, hoped I would not be displeased, as what he did was but his duty, observing that he must be obliged to remove my son into a stronger cell, but that he should be permitted to revisit me every morning. I thanked him for his clemency, and grasp|ing my boy's hand, bade him farewell, and be mindful of the great duty that was be|fore him.

Page  164 I again, therefore laid me down, and one of my little ones sate by my bedside read|ing, when Mr. Jenkinson entering, inform|ed me that there was news of my daugh|ter; for that she was seen by a person about two hours before in a strange gentleman's company, and that they had stopt at a neighbouring village for refreshment, and seemed as if returning to town. He had scarce delivered this news, when the gaoler came with looks of haste and pleasure, to inform me, that my daughter was found. Moses came running in a moment after, crying out that his sister Sophy was below and coming up with our old friend Mr. Burchell.

Just as he delivered this news my dearest girl entered, and with looks almost wild with pleasure, ran to kiss me in a transport of affection. Her mother's tears and silence also shewed her pleasure.—

"Here, pappa,"
Page  165 cried the charming girl,
"here is the brave man to whom I owe my delivery; to this gentleman's intrepidity I am indebt|ed for my happiness and safety—"
A kiss from Mr. Burchell, whose pleasure seemed even greater than hers, interrupted what she was going to add.

"Ah, Mr. Burchell,"
cried I,
"this is but a wretched habitation you now find us in; and we are now very different from what you last saw us. You were ever our friend: we have long discovered our errors with regard to you, and repented of our ingratitude. After the vile usage you then received at my hands, I am al|most ashamed to behold your face; yet I hope you'll forgive me, as I was de|ceived by a base ungenerous wretch, who, under the mask of friendship, has un|done me."

"It is impossible,"
replied Mr. Burchell.
"that I should forgive you, as you never Page  166 deserved my resentment. I partly saw your delusion then, and as it was out of my power to restrain, I could only pity it!"

"It was ever my conjecture,"
cried I,
"that your mind was noble; but now I find it so. But tell me, my dear child, how hast thou been relieved, or who the ruffians were who carried thee away?"

"Indeed, Sir,"
replied she,
"as to the villain who brought me off, I am yet ig|nor ut. For as my mamma and I were walking out, he came behind us, and almost before I could call for help, for|ced me into the post-chaise, and in an in|stant the horses drove away. I met se|veral on the road, to whom I cried out for assistance; but they disregarded my entreaties. In the mean time the ruffian himself used every art to hinder me from crying out: he flattered and threatened Page  167 by turns, and swore that if I continued but silent, he intended no harm. In the mean time I had broken the canvas that he had drawn up, and whom should I perceive at some distance but your old friend Mr. Burchell, walking along with his usual swiftness, with the great stick for which we used so much to ridicule him. As soon as we came within hear|ing, I called out to him by name, and entreated his help. I repeated my ex|clamations several times, upon which, with a very loud voice, he bid the pos|tillion stop; but the boy took no notice, but drove on with still greater speed. I now thought he could never overtake us, when in less than a minute I saw Mr. Burchell come running up by the side of the horses, and with one blow knock the postillion to the ground. The horses when he was fallen soon stopt of them|selves, and the ruffian stepping out, with oaths and menaces drew his sword, and Page  168 ordered him at his peril to retire; but Mr. Burchell running up, shivered his sword to pieces, and then pursued him for near a quarter of a mile; but he made his escape. I was at this time come out myself, willing to assist my de|liverer; but he soon returned to me in triumph. The postillion, who was re|covered, was going to make his escape too; but Mr. Burchell ordered him at his peril to mount again, and drive back to town. Finding it impossible to resist, he reluctantly complied, though the wound he had received seemed, to me at least, to be dangerous. He continued to complain of the pain as we drove a|long, so that he at last excited Mr. Bur|chell's compassion, who, at my request, exchanged him for another at an inn where we called on our return."

"Welcome then,"
cried I,
"my child, and thou her gallant deliverer, a thousand Page  169 welcomes. Though our chear is but wretched, yet our hearts are ready to re|ceive you. And now, Mr. Burchell, as you have delivered my girl, if you think her a recompence she is yours, if you can stoop to an alliance with a family so poor as mine, take her, obtain her consent, as I know you have her heart, and you have mine. And let me tell you, Sir, that I give you no small treasure, she has been celebrated for beauty it is true, but that is not my meaning, I give you up a treasure in her mind."

"But I suppose, Sir,"
cried Mr. Burchell,
"that you are apprized of my circumstances, and of my incapacity to support her as she deserves?"

"If your present objection,"
replied I,
"be meant as an evasion of my offer, I desist: but I know no man so worthy to deserve her as you; and if I could give Page  170 her thousands, and thousands sought her from me, yet my honest brave Burchell should be my dearest choice."

To all this his silence alone seemed to give a mortifying refusal, and without the least reply to my offer, he demanded if we could not be furnished with refreshments from the next inn, to which being answered in the affirmative, he ordered them to send in the best dinner that could be provided upon such short notice. He bespoke also a do|zen of their best wine; and some cordials for me. Adding, with a smile, that he would stretch a little for once, and tho' in a prison, asserted he was never better disposed to be merry. The waiter soon made his appearance with preparations for dinner, a table was lent us by the gaoler, who seemed remarkably assiduous, the wine was disposed in order, and two very well|drest dishes were brought in.

Page  171 My daughter had not yet heard of her poor brother's melancholy situation, and we all seemed unwilling to damp her chearful|ness by the relation. But it was in vain that I attempted to appear chearful, the cir|cumstances of my unfortunate son broke through all efforts to dissemble; so that I I was at last obliged to damp our mirth by relating his misfortunes, and wishing that he might be permitted to share with us in this little interval of satisfaction. After my guests were recovered from the consterna|tion my account had produced, I requested also that Mr. Jenkinson, a fellow prisoner, might be admitted, and the gaoler granted my request with an air of unusual submis|sion. The clanking of my son's irons was no sooner heard along the passage, than his sister ran impatiently to meet him; while Mr. Burchell, in the mean time, asked me if my son's name were George, to which replying in the affirmative, he still continued silent. As soon as my boy entered the Page  172 room, I could perceive he regarded Mr. Burchell with a look of astonishment and reverence.

"Come on,"
cried I,
"my son, though we are fallen very low, yet providence has been pleased to grant us some small relaxation from pain. Thy sister is restored to us, and there is her deliverer: to that brave man it is that I am indebted for yet having a daughter, give him, my boy, the hand of friend|ship, he deserves our warmest grati|tude."

My son seemed all this while regardless of what I said, and still continued fixed at respectful distance.—

"My dear brother,"
cried his sister,
"why don't you thank my good deliverer; the brave should ever love each other."

He still continued his silence and asto|nishment, till our guest at last perceived himself to be known, and assuming all his Page  173 native dignity, desired my son to come for|ward. Never before had I seen any thing so truly majestic as the air he assumed up|on this occasion. The greatest object in the universe, says a certain philosopher, is a good man struggling with adversity; yet there is still a greater, which is the good man that comes to relieve it. After he had regarded my son for some time with a superior air,

"I again find,'
said he,
"unthinking boy, that the same crime"
But here he was interrupted by one of the gaoler's servants, who came to in|form us that a person of distinction, who had driven into town with a chariot and several attendants, sent his respects to the gentleman that was with us, and begged to know when he should think proper to be waited upon.—
"Bid the fellow wait,"
cried our guest,
"till I shall have leisure to receive him;"
and then turning to my son,
"I again find, Sir,"
proceeded he,
"that you are guilty of the same offence Page  174 for which you once had my reproof, and for which the law is now preparing its justest punishments. You imagine, per|haps, that a contempt for your own life, gives you a right to take that of ano|ther: but where, Sir, is the difference between a duelist who hazards a life of no value, and the murderer who acts with greater security? Is it any dimi|nution of the gamester's fraud when he alledges that he has staked a coun|ter?"

"Alas, Sir,"
cried I,
"whoever you are, pity the poor misguided creature; for what he has done was in obedience to a deluded mother, who in the bitter|ness of her resentment required him up|on her blessing to avenge her quarrel. Here, Sir, is the letter, which will serve to convince you of her imprudence and diminish his guilt."

Page  175 He took the letter, and hastily read it o|ver.

"This,"
says he,
"though not a perfect excuse, is such a palliation of his fault, as induces me to forgive him. And now, Sir,"
continued he, kindly taking my son by the hand,
"I see you are surprised at finding me here; but I have often visited prisons upon occa|sions less interesting. I am now come to see justice done a worthy man, for whom I have the most sincere e|steem. I have long been a dis|guised spectator of thy father's bene|volence. I have at his little dwelling enjoyed respect uncontaminated by flat|tery, and have received that happiness that courts could not give, from the amu|sing simplicity round his fire-side. My nephew has been apprized of my inten|tions of coming here, and I find is ar|rived; it would be wronging him and you to condemn him without examination: if Page  176 there be injury, there shall be redress; and this I may say without boasting, that none have ever taxed the injustice of Sir William Thornhill."

We now found the personage whom we had so long entertained as an harmless a|musing companion was no other than the celebrated Sir William Thornhill, to whose virtues and singularities scarce any were strangers. The poor Mr. Burchell was in reality a man of large fortune and great in|terest, to whom senates listened with ap|plause, and whom party heard with con|viction; who was the friend of his coun|try, but loyal to his king. My poor wife recollecting her former familiarity, seemed to shrink with apprehension; but Sophia, who a few moments before thought him her own, now perceiving the immense dis|tance to which he was removed by fortune, was unable to conceal her tears.

Page  177

"Ah, Sir,"
cried my wife, with a pi|teous aspect,
"how is it possible that I can ever have your forgiveness; the slights you received from me the last time I had the honour of seeing you at our house, and the jokes which I audaciously threw out, these jokes, Sir, I fear can never be forgiven."

"My dear good lady,"
returned he with a smile,
"if you had your joke, I had my answer: I'll leave it to all the company if mine were not as good as yours. To say the truth, I know no body whom I am dis|posed to be angry with at present but the fellow who so frighted my little girl here. I had not even time to examine the ras|cal's person so as to describe him in an ad|vertisement. Can you tell me, Sophia, my dear, whether you should know him again?"

"Indeed, Sir,"
replied she,
"I can't be positive; yet now I recollect he had Page  178 a large mark over one of his eye-brows."
"I ask pardon, madam,"
interrupted Jen|kinson, who was by,
"but be so good as to inform me if the fellow wore his own red hair?"
"Yes, I think so,"
cried Sophia.—
"And did your honour,"
conti|nued he, turning to Sir William,
"observe the length of his legs?"
"I can't be sure of their length,"
cried the Baronet,
"but I am convinced of their swiftness; for he out-ran me, which is what I thought few men in the kingdom could have done."
"Please your honour,"
cried Jen|kinson,
"I know the man: it is certainly the same; the best runner in England; he has beaten Pinwire of Newcastle, Timothy Baxter is his name, I know him perfectly, and the very place of his retreat this mo|ment. If your honour will bid Mr. Gaoler let two of his men go with me, I'll engage to produce him to you in an hour at far|thest."
Upon this the gaoler was called, who instantly appearing, Sir William de|manded Page  179 if he knew him.
"Yes, please your honour,"
reply'd the gaoler,
"I know Sir William Thornhill well, and every body that knows any thing of him, will desire to know more of him."
"Well then,"
said the Baronet,
"my request is, that you will permit this man and two of your servants to go upon a message by my authority, and as I am in the commission of the peace, I undertake to secure you."
"Your promise is suf|ficient,"
replied the other,
"and you may at a minute's warning send them over England whenever your honour thinks fit."

In pursuance of the gaoler's compliance, Jenkinson was dispatched in search of Ti|mothy Baxter, while we were amused with the assiduity of our youngest boy Bill, who had just come in and climbed up to Sir William's neck in order to kiss him. His mother was immediately going to chastise Page  180 his familiarity, but the worthy man pre|vented her; and taking the child, all rag|ged as he was, upon his knee,

"What, Bill, you chubby rogue,"
cried he,
"do you remember your old friend Burchell; and Dick too, my honest veteran, are you here, you shall find I have not forgot you."
So saying, he gave each a large piece of gingerbread, which the poor fel|lows eat very heartily, as they had got that morning but a very scanty breakfast.

We now sate down to dinner, which was almost cold; but previously, my arm still continuing painful, Sir William wrote a prescription, for he had made the study of physic his amusement, and was more than moderately skilled in the profession: this being sent to an apothecary who lived in the place, my arm was dressed, and I found almost instantaneous relief. We were waited upon at dinner by the gaoler himself, who was willing to do our guest all the ho|nour Page  181 in his power. But before we had well dined, another message was brought from his nephew, desiring permission to appear, in order to vindicate his innocence and ho|nour, with which request the Baronet com|plied, and desired Mr. Thornhill to be introduced.