SOMETHING CONCERNING FIREBLOOD WHICH WILL SURPRIZE; AND SOMEWHAT TOUCHING ONE OF THE MISS SNAPS, WHICH WILL GREATLY CONCERN THE READER. However, notwithstanding all these censures abroad, and in despight of all his misfortunes at home, Heartfree in Newgate enjoyed a quiet, undisturbed repose; while our hero, nobly disdaining rest, lay sleepless all night, partly from the apprehensions of Mrs. Heartfree's return before he had executed his scheme, and partly from a suspicion lest Fireblood should betray him; of whose infidelity he had, nevertheless, no other cause to maintain any fear, but from his knowing him to be an accomplished rascal, as the vulgar term it, a complete GREAT MAN in our language. And indeed, to confess the truth, these doubts were not without some foundation; for the very same thought unluckily entered the head of that noble youth, who considered whether he might not possibly sell himself for some advantage to the other side, as he had yet no promise from Wild; but this was, by the sagacity of the latter, prevented in the morning with a profusion of promises, which shewed him to be of the most generous temper in the world, with which Fireblood was extremely well satisfied, and made use of so many protestations of his faithfulness that he convinced Wild of the justice of his suspicions.
At this time an accident happened, which, though it did not immediately affect our hero, we cannot avoid relating, as it occasioned great confusion in his family, as well as in the family of Snap. It is indeed a calamity highly to be lamented, when it stains untainted blood, and happens to an honourable house--an injury never to be repaired--a blot never to be wiped out--a sore never to be healed. To detain my reader no longer, Miss Theodosia Snap was now safely delivered of a male infant, the product of an amour which that beautiful (O that I could say virtuous!) creature had with the count.
Mr. Wild and his lady were at breakfast when Mr. Snap, with all the agonies of despair both in his voice and countenance, brought them this melancholy news. Our hero, who had (as we have said) wonderful good-nature when his greatness or interest was not concerned, instead of reviling his sister-in-law, asked with a smile, "Who was the father?" But the chaste Laetitia, we repeat the chaste, for well did she now deserve that epithet, received it in another manner. She fell into the utmost fury at the relation, reviled her sister in the bitterest terms, and vowed she would never see nor speak to her more; then burst into tears and lamented over her father that such dishonour should ever happen to him and herself. At length she fell severely on her husband for the light treatment which he gave this fatal accident. She told him he was unworthy of the honour he enjoyed of marrying into a chaste family. That she looked on it as an affront to her virtue. That if he had married one of the naughty hussies of the town he could have behaved to her in no other manner. She concluded with desiring her father to make an example of the slut, and to turn her out of doors; for that she would not otherwise enter his house, being resolved never to set her foot within the same threshold with the trollop, whom she detested so much the more because (which was perhaps true) she was her own sister.
So violent, and indeed so outrageous, was this chaste lady's love of virtue, that she could not forgive a single slip (indeed the only one Theodosia had ever made) in her own sister, in a sister who loved her, and to whom she owed a thousand obligations.
Perhaps the severity of Mr. Snap, who greatly felt the injury done to the honour of his family, would have relented, had not the parish-officers been extremely pressing on this occasion, and for want of security, conveyed the unhappy young lady to a place, the name of which, for the honour of the Snaps, to whom our hero was so nearly allied, we bury in eternal oblivion; where she suffered so much correction for her crime, that the good-natured reader of the male kind may be inclined to compassionate her, at least to imagine she was sufficiently punished for a fault which, with submission to the chaste Laetitia and all other strictly virtuous ladies, it should be either less criminal in a woman to commit, or more so in a man to solicit her to it.
But to return to our hero, who was a living and strong instance that human greatness and happiness are not always inseparable. He was under a continual alarm of frights, and fears, and jealousies. He thought every man he beheld wore a knife for his throat, and a pair of scissars for his purse. As for his own gang particularly, he was thoroughly convinced there was not a single man amongst them who would not, for the value of five shillings, bring him to the gallows. These apprehensions so constantly broke his rest, and kept him so assiduously on his guard to frustrate and circumvent any designs which might be formed against him, that his condition, to any other than the glorious eye of ambition, might seem rather deplorable than the object of envy or desire.
IN WHICH OUR HERO MAKES A SPEECH WELL WORTHY TO BE CELEBRATED; AND THE BEHAVIOUR OF ONE OF THE GANG, PERHAPS MORE UNNATURAL THAN ANY OTHER PART OF THIS HISTORY. There was in the gang a man named Blueskin, one of those merchants who trade in dead oxen, sheep, &c., in short, what the vulgar call a butcher. This gentleman had two qualities of a great man, viz., undaunted courage, and an absolute contempt of those ridiculous distinctions of meum and tuum, which would cause endless disputes did not the law happily decide them by converting both into suum. The common form of exchanging property by trade seemed to him too tedious; he therefore resolved to quit the mercantile profession, and, falling acquainted with some of Mr. Wild's people, he provided himself with arms, and enlisted of the gang; in which he behaved for some time with great decency and order, and submitted to accept such share of the booty with the rest as our hero allotted him.
But this subserviency agreed ill with his temper; for we should have before remembered a third heroic quality, namely, ambition, which was no inconsiderable part of his composition. One day, therefore, having robbed a gentleman at Windsor of a gold watch, which, on its being advertised in the newspapers, with a considerable reward, was demanded of him by Wild, he peremptorily refused to deliver it.
"How, Mr. Blueskin!" says Wild; "you will not deliver the watch?" "No, Mr. Wild," answered he; "I have taken it, and will keep it; or, if I dispose of it, I will dispose of it myself, and keep the money for which I sell it." "Sure," replied Wild, "you have not the assurance to pretend you have any property or right in this watch?" "I am certain," returned Blueskin, "whether I have any right in it or no, you can prove none." "I will undertake," cries the other, "to shew I have an absolute right to it, and that by the laws of our gang, of which I am providentially at the head." "I know not who put you at the head of it," cries Blueskin; "but those who did certainly did it for their own good, that you might conduct them the better in their robberies, inform them of the richest booties, prevent surprizes, pack juries, bribe evidence, and so contribute to their benefit and safety; and not to convert all their labour and hazard to your own benefit and advantage." "You are greatly mistaken, sir," answered Wild; "you are talking of a legal society, where the chief magistrate is always chosen for the public good, which, as we see in all the legal societies of the world, he constantly consults, daily contributing, by his superior skill, to their prosperity, and not sacrificing their good to his own wealth, or pleasure, or humour: but in an illegal society or gang, as this of ours, it is otherwise; for who would be at the head of a gang, unless for his own interest? And without a head, you know, you cannot subsist. Nothing but a head, and obedience to that head, can preserve a gang a moment from destruction. It is absolutely better for you to content yourselves with a moderate reward, and enjoy that in safety at the disposal of your chief, than to engross the whole with the hazard to which you will be liable without his protection. And surely there is none in the whole gang who hath less reason to complain than you; you have tasted of my favours: witness that piece of ribbon you wear in your hat, with which I dubbed you captain. Therefore pray, captain, deliver the watch." "D--n your cajoling," says Blueskin: "do you think I value myself on this bit of ribbon, which I could have bought myself for sixpence, and have worn without your leave? Do you imagine I think myself a captain because you, whom I know not empowered to make one, call me so? The name of captain is but a shadow: the men and the salary are the substance; and I am not to be bubbled with a shadow. I will be called captain no longer, and he who flatters me by that name I shall think affronts me, and I will knock him down, I assure you." "Did ever man talk so unreasonably?" cries Wild. "Are you not respected as a captain by the whole gang since my dubbing you so? But it is the shadow only, it seems; and you will knock a man down for affronting you who calls you captain! Might not a man as reasonably tell a minister of state, Sir, you have given me the shadow only? The ribbon or the bauble that you gave me implies that I have either signalised myself, by some great action, for the benefit and glory of my country, or at least that I am descended from those who have done so. I know myself to be a scoundrel, and so have been those few ancestors I can remember, or have ever heard of. Therefore, I am resolved to knock the first man down who calls me sir or right honourable. But all great and wise men think themselves sufficiently repaid by what procures them honour and precedence in the gang, without enquiring into substance; nay, if a title or a feather be equal to this purpose, they are substance, and not mere shadows. But I have not time to argue with you at present, so give me the watch without any more deliberation." "I am no more a friend to deliberation than yourself," answered Blueskin, "and so I tell you, once for all, by G--I never will give you the watch, no, nor will I ever hereafter surrender any part of my booty. I won it, and I will wear it. Take your pistols yourself, and go out on the highway, and don't lazily think to fatten yourself with the dangers and pains of other people." At which words he departed in a fierce mood, and repaired to the tavern used by the gang, where he had appointed to meet some of his acquaintance, whom he informed of what had passed between him and Wild, and advised them all to follow his example; which they all readily agreed to, and Mr. Wild's d--tion was the universal toast; in drinking bumpers to which they had finished a large bowl of punch, when a constable, with a numerous attendance, and Wild at their head, entered the room and seized on Blueskin, whom his companions, when they saw our hero, did not dare attempt to rescue. The watch was found upon him, which, together with Wild's information, was more than sufficient to commit him to Newgate.
In the evening Wild and the rest of those who had been drinking with Blueskin met at the tavern, where nothing was to be seen but the profoundest submission to their leader. They vilified and abused Blueskin, as much as they had before abused our hero, and now repeated the same toast, only changing the name of Wild into that of Blueskin; all agreeing with Wild that the watch found in his pocket, and which must be a fatal evidence against him, was a just judgment on his disobedience and revolt.
Thus did this great man by a resolute and timely example (for he went directly to the justice when Blueskin left him) quell one of the most dangerous conspiracies which could possibly arise in a gang, and which, had it been permitted one day's growth, would inevitably have ended in his destruction; so much doth it behove all great men to be eternally on their guard, and expeditious in the execution of their purposes; while none but the weak and honest can indulge themselves in remissness or repose.
The Achates, Fireblood, had been present at both these meetings; but, though he had a little too hastily concurred in cursing his friend, and in vowing his perdition, yet now he saw all that scheme dissolved he returned to his integrity, of which he gave an incontestable proof, by informing Wild of the measures which had been concerted against him, in which he said he had pretended to acquiesce, in order the better to betray them; but this, as he afterwards confessed on his deathbed at Tyburn, was only a copy of his countenance; for that he was, at that time, as sincere and hearty in his opposition to Wild as any of his companions.
Our hero received Fireblood's information with a very placid countenance. He said, as the gang had seen their errors, and repented, nothing was more noble than forgiveness. But, though he was pleased modestly to ascribe this to his lenity, it really arose from much more noble and political principles. He considered that it would be dangerous to attempt the punishment of so many; besides, he flattered himself that fear would keep them in order: and indeed Fireblood had told him nothing more than he knew before, viz., that they were all complete prigs, whom he was to govern by their fears, and in whom he was to place no more confidence than was necessary, and to watch them with the utmost caution and circumspection: for a rogue, he wisely said, like gunpowder, must be used with caution; since both are altogether as liable to blow up the party himself who uses them as to execute his mischievous purpose against some other person or animal.
We will now repair to Newgate, it being the place where most of the great men of this history are hastening as fast as possible; and, to confess the truth, it is a castle very far from being an improper or misbecoming habitation for any great man whatever. And as this scene will continue during the residue of our history, we shall open it with a new book, and shall therefore take this opportunity of closing our third.