Book VIII - Chapter XI
In which the Man of the Hill begins to relate his history.
"I was born in a village of Somersetshire, called Mark, in the year
1657. My father was one of those whom they call gentlemen farmers. He had a little estate of about L300 a year of his own, and rented another estate of near the same value. He was prudent and industrious, and so good a husbandman, that he might have led a very easy and comfortable life, had not an arrant vixen of a wife soured his domestic quiet. But though this circumstance perhaps made him miserable, it did not make him poor; for he confined her almost entirely at home, and rather chose to bear eternal upbraidings in his own house, than to injure his fortune by indulging her in the extravagancies she desired abroad.
"By this Xanthippe" (so was the wife of Socrates called, said Partridge)--"by this Xanthippe he had two sons, of which I was the younger. He designed to give us both good education; but my elder brother, who, unhappily for him, was the favourite of my mother, utterly neglected his learning; insomuch that, after having been five or six years at school with little or no improvement, my father, being told by his master that it would be to no purpose to keep him longer there, at last complied with my mother in taking him home from the hands of that tyrant, as she called his master; though indeed he gave the lad much less correction than his idleness deserved, but much more, it seems, than the young gentleman liked, who constantly complained to his mother of his severe treatment, and she as constantly gave him a hearing."
"Yes, yes," cries Partridge, "I have seen such mothers; I have been abused myself by them, and very unjustly; such parents deserve correction as much as their children."
Jones chid the pedagogue for his interruption, and then the stranger proceeded.
"My brother now, at the age of fifteen, bade adieu to all learning, and to everything else but to his dog and gun; with which latter he became so expert, that, though perhaps you may think it incredible, he could not only hit a standing mark with great certainty, but hath actually shot a crow as it was flying in the air. He was likewise excellent at finding a hare sitting, and was soon reputed one of the best sportsmen in the country; a reputation which both he and his mother enjoyed as much as if he had been thought the finest scholar.
"The situation of my brother made me at first think my lot the harder, in being continued at school: but I soon changed my opinion; for as I advanced pretty fast in learning, my labours became easy, and my exercise so delightful, that holidays were my most unpleasant time; for my mother, who never loved me, now apprehending that I had the greater share of my father's affection, and finding, or at least thinking, that I was more taken notice of by some gentlemen of learning, and particularly by the parson of the parish, than my brother, she now hated my sight, and made home so disagreeable to me, that what is called by school-boys Black Monday, was to me the whitest in the whole year.
"Having at length gone through the school at Taunton, I was thence removed to Exeter College in Oxford, where I remained four years; at the end of which an accident took me off entirely from my studies; and hence, I may truly date the rise of all which happened to me afterwards in life.
"There was at the same college with myself one Sir George Gresham, a young fellow who was intitled to a very considerable fortune, which he was not, by the will of his father, to come into full possession of till he arrived at the age of twenty-five. However, the liberality of his guardians gave him little cause to regret the abundant caution of his father; for they allowed him five hundred pounds a year while he remained at the university, where he kept his horses and his whore, and lived as wicked and as profligate a life as he could have done had he been never so entirely master of his fortune; for besides the five hundred a year which he received from his guardians, he found means to spend a thousand more. He was above the age of twenty-one, and had no difficulty in gaining what credit he pleased.
"This young fellow, among many other tolerable bad qualities, had one very diabolical. He had a great delight in destroying and ruining the youth of inferior fortune, by drawing them into expenses which they could not afford so well as himself; and the better, and worthier, and soberer any young man was, the greater pleasure and triumph had he in his destruction. Thus acting the character which is recorded of the devil, and going about seeking whom he might devour.
"It was my misfortune to fall into an acquaintance and intimacy with this gentleman. My reputation of diligence in my studies made me a desirable object of his mischievous intention; and my own inclination made it sufficiently easy for him to effect his purpose; for though I had applied myself with much industry to books, in which I took great delight, there were other pleasures in which I was capable of taking much greater; for I was high-mettled, had a violent flow of animal spirits, was a little ambitious, and extremely amorous.
"I had not long contracted an intimacy with Sir George before I became a partaker of all his pleasures; and when I was once entered on that scene, neither my inclination nor my spirit would suffer me to play an under part. I was second to none of the company in any acts of debauchery; nay, I soon distinguished myself so notably in all riots and disorders, that my name generally stood first in the roll of delinquents; and instead of being lamented as the unfortunate pupil of Sir George, I was now accused as the person who had misled and debauched that hopeful young gentleman; for though he was the ringleader and promoter of all the mischief, he was never so considered. I fell at last under the censure of the vice-chancellor, and very narrowly escaped expulsion.
"You will easily believe, sir, that such a life as I am now describing must be incompatible with my further progress in learning; and that in proportion as I addicted myself more and more to loose pleasure, I must grow more and more remiss in application to my studies. This was truly the consequence; but this was not all. My expenses now greatly exceeded not only my former income, but those additions which I extorted from my poor generous father, on pretences of sums being necessary for preparing for my approaching degree of batchelor of arts. These demands, however, grew at last so frequent and exorbitant, that my father by slow degrees opened his ears to the accounts which he received from many quarters of my present behaviour, and which my mother failed not to echo very faithfully and loudly; adding, `Ay, this is the fine gentleman, the scholar who doth so much honour to his family, and is to be the making of it. I thought what all this learning would come to. He is to be the ruin of us all, I find, after his elder brother hath been denied necessaries for his sake, to perfect his education forsooth, for which he was to pay us such interest: I thought what the interest would come to,' with much more of the same kind; but I have, I believe, satisfied you with this taste.
"My father, therefore, began now to return remonstrances instead of money to my demands, which brought my affairs perhaps a little sooner to a crisis; but had he remitted me his whole income, you will imagine it could have sufficed a very short time to support one who kept pace with the expenses of Sir George Gresham.
"It is more than possible that the distress I was now in for money, and the impracticability of going on in this manner, might have restored me at once to my senses and to my studies, had I opened my eyes before I became involved in debts from which I saw no hopes of ever extricating myself. This was indeed the great art of Sir George, and by which he accomplished the ruin of many, whom he afterwards laughed at as fools and coxcombs, for vying, as he called it, with a man of his fortune. To bring this about, he would now and then advance a little money himself, in order to support the credit of the unfortunate youth with other people; till, by means of that very credit, he was irretrievably undone.
"My mind being by these means grown as desperate as my fortune, there was scarce a wickedness which I did not meditate, in order for my relief. Self-murder itself became the subject of my serious deliberation; and I had certainly resolved on it, had not a more shameful, though perhaps less sinful, thought expelled it from my head."--Here he hesitated a moment, and then cried out, "I protest, so many years have not washed away the shame of this act, and I shall blush while I relate it." Jones desired him to pass over anything that might give him pain in the relation; but Partridge eagerly cried out, "Oh, pray, sir, let us hear this; I had rather hear this than all the rest; as I hope to be saved, I will never mention a word of it." Jones was going to rebuke him, but the stranger prevented it by proceeding thus: "I had a chum, a very prudent, frugal young lad, who, though he had no very large allowance, had by his parsimony heaped up upwards of forty guineas, which I knew he kept in his escritore. I took therefore an opportunity of purloining his key from his breeches-pocket, while he was asleep, and thus made myself master of all his riches: after which I again conveyed his key into his pocket, and counterfeiting sleep--though I never once closed my eyes, lay in bed till after he arose and went to prayers--an exercise to which I had long been unaccustomed.
"Timorous thieves, by extreme caution, often subject themselves to discoveries, which those of a bolder kind escape. Thus it happened to me; for had I boldly broke open his escritore, I had, perhaps, escaped even his suspicion; but as it was plain that the person who robbed him had possessed himself of his key, he had no doubt, when he first missed his money, but that his chum was certainly the thief. Now as he was of a fearful disposition, and much my inferior in strength, and I believe in courage, he did not dare to confront me with my guilt, for fear of worse bodily consequences which might happen to him. He repaired therefore immediately to the vice-chancellor, and upon swearing to the robbery, and to the circumstances of it, very easily obtained a warrant against one who had now so bad a character through the whole university.
"Luckily for me, I lay out of the college the next evening; for that day I attended a young lady in a chaise to Witney, where we staid all night, and in our return, the next morning, to Oxford, I met one of my cronies, who acquainted me with sufficient news concerning myself to make me turn my horse another way."
"Pray, sir, did he mention anything of the warrant?" said Partridge. But Jones begged the gentleman to proceed without regarding any impertinent questions; which he did as follows:--
"Having now abandoned all thoughts of returning to Oxford, the next thing which offered itself was a journey to London. I imparted this intention to my female companion, who at first remonstrated against it; but upon producing my wealth, she immediately consented. We then struck across the country, into the great Cirencester road, and made such haste, that we spent the next evening, save one, in London.
"When you consider the place where I now was, and the company with whom I was, you will, I fancy, conceive that a very short time brought me to an end of that sum of which I had so iniquitously possessed myself.
"I was now reduced to a much higher degree of distress than before: the necessaries of life began to be numbered among my wants; and what made my case still the more grievous was, that my paramour, of whom I was now grown immoderately fond, shared the same distresses with myself. To see a woman you love in distress; to be unable to relieve her, and at the same time to reflect that you have brought her into this situation, is perhaps a curse of which no imagination can represent the horrors to those who have not felt it."--"I believe it from my soul," cries Jones, "and I pity you from the bottom of my heart:" he then took two or three disorderly turns about the room, and at last begged pardon, and flung himself into his chair, crying, "I thank Heaven, I have escaped that!"
"This circumstance," continued the gentleman, "so severely aggravated the horrors of my present situation, that they became absolutely intolerable. I could with less pain endure the raging in my own natural unsatisfied appetites, even hunger or thirst, than I could submit to leave ungratified the most whimsical desires of a woman on whom I so extravagantly doated, that, though I knew she had been the mistress of half my acquaintance, I firmly intended to marry her. But the good creature was unwilling to consent to an action which the world might think so much to my disadvantage. And as, possibly, she compassionated the daily anxieties which she must have perceived me suffer on her account, she resolved to put an end to my distress. She soon, indeed, found means to relieve me from my troublesome and perplexed situation; for while I was distracted with various inventions to supply her with pleasures, she very kindly--betrayed me to one of her former lovers at Oxford, by whose care and diligence I was immediately apprehended and committed to gaol.
"Here I first began seriously to reflect on the miscarriages of my former life; on the errors I had been guilty of; on the misfortunes which I had brought on myself; and on the grief which I must have occasioned to one of the best of fathers. When I added to all these the perfidy of my mistress, such was the horror of my mind, that life, instead of being longer desirable, grew the object of my abhorrence; and I could have gladly embraced death as my dearest friend, if it had offered itself to my choice unattended by shame.
"The time of the assizes soon came, and I was removed by habeas corpus to Oxford, where I expected certain conviction and condemnation; but, to my great surprize, none appeared against me, and I was, at the end of the sessions, discharged for want of prosecution. In short, my chum had left Oxford, and whether from indolence, or from what other motive I am ignorant, had declined concerning himself any farther in the affair."
"Perhaps," cries Partridge, "he did not care to have your blood upon his hands; and he was in the right on't. If any person was to be hanged upon my evidence, I should never be able to lie alone afterwards, for fear of seeing his ghost."
"I shall shortly doubt, Partridge," says Jones, "whether thou art more brave or wise."--"You may laugh at me, sir, if you please," answered Partridge; "but if you will hear a very short story which I can tell, and which is most certainly true, perhaps you may change your opinion. In the parish where I was born--" Here Jones would have silenced him; but the stranger interceded that he might be permitted to tell his story, and in the meantime promised to recollect the remainder of his own.
Partridge then proceeded thus: "In the parish where I was born, there lived a farmer whose name was Bridle, and he had a son named Francis, a good hopeful young fellow: I was at the grammar-school with him, where I remember he was got into Ovid's Epistles, and he could construe you three lines together sometimes without looking into a dictionary. Besides all this, he was a very good lad, never missed church o' Sundays, and was reckoned one of the best psalm-singers in the whole parish. He would indeed now and then take a cup too much, and that was the only fault he had."--"Well, but come to the ghost," cries Jones. "Never fear, sir; I shall come to him soon enough," answered Partridge. "You must know, then, that farmer Bridle lost a mare, a sorrel one, to the best of my remembrance; and so it fell out that this young Francis shortly afterward being at a fair at Hindon, and as I think it was on--, I can't remember the day; and being as he was, what should he happen to meet but a man upon his father's mare. Frank called out presently, Stop thief; and it being in the middle of the fair, it was impossible, you know, for the man to make his escape. So they apprehended him and carried him before the justice: I remember it was Justice Willoughby, of Noyle, a very worthy good gentleman; and he committed him to prison, and bound Frank in a recognisance, I think they call it--a hard word compounded of re and cognosco; but it differs in its meaning from the use of the simple, as many other compounds do. Well, at last down came my Lord Justice Page to hold the assizes; and so the fellow was had up, and Frank was had up for a witness. To be sure, I shall never forget the face of the judge, when he began to ask him what he had to say against the prisoner. He made poor Frank tremble and shake in his shoes. `Well you, fellow,' says my lord, `what have you to say? Don't stand humming and hawing, but speak out.' But, however, he soon turned altogether as civil to Frank, and began to thunder at the fellow; and when he asked him if he had anything to say for himself, the fellow said, he had found the horse.
`Ay!' answered the judge, `thou art a lucky fellow: I have travelled the circuit these forty years, and never found a horse in my life: but I'll tell thee what, friend, thou wast more lucky than thou didst know of; for thou didst not only find a horse, but a halter too, I promise thee.' To be sure, I shall never forget the word. Upon which everybody fell a laughing, as how could they help it? Nay, and twenty other jests he made, which I can't remember now. There was something about his skill in horse-flesh which made all the folks laugh. To be certain, the judge must have been a very brave man, as well as a man of much learning. It is indeed charming sport to hear trials upon life and death. One thing I own I thought a little hard, that the prisoner's counsel was not suffered to speak for him, though he desired only to be heard one very short word, but my lord would not hearken to him, though he suffered a counsellor to talk against him for above half-an-hour. I thought it hard, I own, that there should be so many of them; my lord, and the court, and the jury, and the counsellors, and the witnesses, all upon one poor man, and he too in chains. Well, the fellow was hanged, as to be sure it could be no otherwise, and poor Frank could never be easy about it. He never was in the dark alone, but he fancied he saw the fellow's spirit."--"Well, and is this thy story?" cries Jones. "No, no," answered Partridge. "O Lord have mercy upon me! I am just now coming to the matter; for one night, coming from the alehouse, in a long, narrow, dark lane, there he ran directly up against him; and the spirit was all in white, and fell upon Frank; and Frank, who was a sturdy lad, fell upon the spirit again, and there they had a tussel together, and poor Frank was dreadfully beat: indeed he made a shift at last to crawl home; but what with the beating, and what with the fright, he lay ill above a fortnight; and all this is most certainly true, and the whole parish will bear witness to it."
The stranger smiled at this story, and Jones burst into a loud fit of laughter; upon which Partridge cried, "Ay, you may laugh, sir; and so did some others, particularly a squire, who is thought to be no better than an atheist; who, forsooth, because there was a calf with a white face found dead in the same lane the next morning, would fain have it that the battle was between Frank and that, as if a calf would set upon a man. Besides, Frank told me he knew it to be a spirit, and could swear to him in any court in Christendom; and he had not drank above a quart or two or such a matter of liquor, at the time. Lud have mercy upon us, and keep us all from dipping our hands in blood, I say!"
"Well, sir," said Jones to the stranger, "Mr Partridge hath finished his story, and I hope will give you no future interruption, if you will be so kind to proceed." He then resumed his narration; but as he hath taken breath for a while, we think proper to give it to our reader, and shall therefore put an end to this chapter.Next