NEW MAN OF FEELING.
by WILLIAM GODWIN.
"DIJON was so capital a city, that I thought I might venture here to change my piece of gold, the parting present of my treacherous uncle. But I was mistaken. I hated the clothes I wore, since they had led the wagoner to discover the situation to which I belonged. I went into a clothier's shop with a determination to change them. Unfortunately I plunged headlong into the house of a man of rugged temper and a hard-favoured countenance. The moment I looked at him I trembled. But it was too late to draw back.
"'What is your pleasure, my lad?' said he.
"'I want some clothes.'
"'Where do you live? Who is to pay for them? Where shall I send them?'
"'I am a stranger in Dijon.'
"'Why does not your father or somebody come with you? How can such a child as you choose a suit of clothes?'
"'I am all alone.'
"'Alone! And how are you to pay for your clothes?'
"'Perhaps you would allow me something for the clothes I have got on. And I have a louis d'or,' -- showing it.
"'A louis d'or!' said he, coming from the other side of the counter. 'Tell me, sirrah, where you got that louis d'or?'
"'My uncle gave it me?'
"'Who is your uncle? I shall send for him immediately, and find out the truth of this.'
"'I tell you, sir, he does not live here; I am a stranger in Dijon; never saw the city till last night. But you need not frighten me; if you do not choose to sell me any clothes, I will go away without them. I assure you, I am an honest boy, and my money is my own.'
"'We shall see that presently. You do not like to be frightened! But I shall frighten you, and most confoundedly too, before I have done with you. You must go with me to the mayor.'
"'I will go with you, where you please,' said I, believing it was impossible that any body should be more frightful to me than the honest shopman before me. 'But I had rather go back to my inn.'
"The trader conducted me to the magistrate. I found myself right in my conjecture, that I should be better off in his hands than in those of the Argus who had first seized me. The mayor was a sober, creditable man, middle-aged, and inclined to corpulence, who made a point of faithfully discharging his duty, but who took no particular pleasure in frightening little boys. He was too much accustomed to office to feel any high gratification in its swagger and insolence. His passions were dead; he could scarcely be said to love or hate, to be gentle or furious; he was the law, and nothing but the law.
"As I and my conductor passed along the streets to this man's house, I fixed the plan of action that I would observe. I determined to take refuge in silence and reserve. I said to myself, 'They cannot find out that I have stolen my money, because I have not stolen it; and therefore, after having examined and tried me as much as they please, they must dismiss me. I will not betray my family story, and I will not furnish them with a clue by which they may send me back to Lyons.'
"The shopman led me into the justice-room, and told his tale. The magistrate listened and made his observations. My adversary endeavoured in vain to inspire his own passions into the mayor; the clothier was earnest, abusive, and eloquent; the mayor was considerate and inquisitive. He asked me who I was, and I refused to tell.
"'Did I know what it was to be brought before a magistrate?'
"'Not very well,' I replied.
"'It would be worse for me, if I did not give a proper account of myself.'
"I answered that I could not satisfy his curiosity. I had been ill-used by cruel relations, but did not dare to complain. I had had a father, who was kind and rich; but my father was dead, and I was driven out from my country and friends.
"The magistrate employed every artifice to extort my story from me. He said, my secret should be safe with him, and my cruel relations should never know that I had disclosed it. He said, he would take me under his protection, and oblige them by the interposition of the law to do me justice. He then changed his tone, put on an angry brow, and told me, that he perceived that all I had related was a fiction, but that he would send me to prison, and have me punished, till I told the truth. He put a variety of subtle and artfully contrived questions to wrest my secret from me. I stuck to the same point, made two or three answers which I hoped would move him to favour me, and repeated them again, and again in return to every interrogatory he uttered. He sent for the people of the inn, where I confessed to have slept the night before: luckily it was not the same inn the wagoner used, and they could discover nothing.
"The magistrate was as good as his word, and sent me to prison. At entering, it struck me, that the scene was not new to me, but that it was very like a silk-mill; the same meanness in the building, the same squalidness in the inhabitants, the same dejection in every countenance. Presently, however, I perceived a difference; the people there were employed, and here were idle; there were vacant and incurious, and here eagerly crowded about a new tenant of their wretched mansion.
"Thus I had twice in one day been introduced into situations calculated to impress a youthful mind with inexpressible horror. To be taken before a magistrate, to be thrust into a gaol, would to most children of my tender years have appeared no less terrible than death. But I had entered upon an extraordinary undertaking, and had worked myself up to an uncommon pitch of resolution. I knew that for such an urchin as I was, to undertake his own establishment in life was no holiday project. I knew that no small degree of courage and perseverance would be necessary to introduce me to the presence and speech of Louis XIV. It is inconceivable, at least judging from my own instance, of what an extent of exaltation and enthusiasm nine years of age are capable. Enthusiasm is often indebted for much of its fervour to a complete ignorance, and want of practice, in the ways of the world; and, as far as that constitutes a qualification, this immature period of life is of course admirably endowed. In this state of mind, I felt a contempt of difficulties, under which at any other time I should have sunk. I seemed to myself as if I were made of iron, and nothing hostile appeared to make any impression upon me. It was my business to proceed upon my high destination and my choice of life, and to suffer none of these things to interrupt me.
"The prisoners crowded about me, and were eager to learn for what crime such a child as I was, was brought into their society. It was presently rumoured, that it was upon suspicion of having stolen some money; that I had obstinately refused to tell the mayor how I came by it, and that I was committed for re-examination. The moment the word money was mentioned, two or three came about me at once, and told me that it was the universal practice for every new-comer to pay a certain sum by way of entrance-money, at the same time vociferously demanding from me the established fee. It fortunately happened that the magistrate had taken from me my whole stock, to be returned the next day, if no discoveries were made; otherwise it is highly probable these obliging comrades of mine would have stripped me of all that I had. After the first bustle of my introduction was over, a very grave-looking man of the set drew me into a corner, and told me I was the most promising boy of my age he ever saw. He said, he had conceived a particular liking to me; and greatly commended my firmness in refusing to tell the magistrate how I came by my money. That showed I was true game! He observed that he would, if I pleased, put me into a way by which I might make a man of myself for ever; and offered to become my instructor. He swore, that it would be a thousand pities that such talents as I had showed should be lost for want of encouragement.
"I made little answer to these compliments, though the person from whom they flowed certainly succeeded in exciting my curiosity, and I was desirous of hearing to what so extraordinary a preface would lead. Having intimated this, he entered into a very animated and earnest dissertation upon the different modes of committing theft without danger of detection. Observing, however, that I did not exactly enter into his feelings, he stopped short, and complained of my timidity. He soothed me in the gentlest, and, as he believed, the most flattering manner, and employed a hundred arts of rhetoric, worthy of a better cause. I told him, that he had mistaken my character, that I had stolen no money, and that what I had was honestly my own. On this he assumed a smile, expressive of grave and gentle derision, and replied, that that was all very well, but that it was not worth while to persist in declarations of innocence among friends. My mind was full of other projects, and therefore the representations of my sage Mentor had no effect upon me. This, however, was the sort of exhortation to which I was exposed; and, if I had been the kind of person the magistrate conceived me to be, this night's lodging would, too probably, have completed my character for ever.
"The next day I was brought again before the mayor, and persisted in my resolution to discover nothing. The interval which had passed during the silence of the night, enabled me to collect more firmness, and to express myself with greater coherence. I said, 'Sir, I am a friendless little boy, and you may do with me whatever you please. But I am not so much afraid of anybody, as of my hard-hearted uncle. I am afraid, if I tell you who I am, you would send me back to him, or write a letter to him about me. You tell me you would not; but rich men think it a good action to deceive little boys: I am sure I have reason to know that. Oh, sir, do you think it was a small thing that determined me to run away, and go among strangers? I would sooner die than return!'
"You will easily imagine that what I said, did not in the smallest degree move the man to whom it was addressed, to compassion; the magistrate, who could consign such a child as I was, for one night, to the horrors and dangers of a prison, could be little accessible to the relentings of nature. This reflection is obvious enough to me now; but it was not so then. The actions of their elders are always mysteries to children; they do not see the springs of the machine; they wait with a sort of superstitious anticipation, to observe how their seniors will act upon every new event, and are surprised at nothing.
"But, though the magistrate was guilty of no meltings of compassion toward me, he was not inflexible. He saw not what he could do further with me; he had exhausted upon me every expedient he could devise to render me frank and communicative. At length he calculated within himself, as I suppose, the fruitlessness of detaining me: perhaps he was inclined to think me innocent, and to believe the story I told. If he detained me longer, it might be a trouble to him, and ultimately produce a burden to the corporation in which be presided. He dismissed me with a moderate portion of good advice; recommended to me not to become a vagrant, in consequence of which I should finally be made a scoundrel and a thief, if I were not so already; and, above all, warned me of the stubbornness of my temper. He had never seen so stiff-necked a little villain; and he augured an untimely and a shameful death from such beginnings. I listened to his advice with passive attention; but, what I prized much beyond his advice, before he sent me from his presence he returned to me my money.
"I left Dijon with a beating heart. I was full of exultation at the thought of my liberty, once more restored to me. I foresaw every thing that was fortunate from the issue of my first adventures. The discovery of my class of life by the wagoner had been productive of no mischievous effects to me. The adventure of the shopman and the louis d'or had seemed to threaten the greatest dangers; but by my prudence and perseverance (for I was willing to take the whole praise to myself) I had been extricated from them all. All difficulties would vanish before my courage and abilities. I should infallibly become a page to the King of France. From this goal my impetuous imagination took its flight. The marshal's truncheon and the ducal coronet danced before my charmed sight: I sighed for princesses, and the blood-royal was mixed in my offspring. Alnaschar in the Arabian Nights was but a driveller to me.
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