IN WHICH THE FOREGOING HAPPY INCIDENT IS ACCOUNTED FOR. But here, though I am convinced my good-natured reader may almost want the surgeon's assistance also, and that there is no passage in this whole story which can afford him equal delight, yet, lest our reprieve should seem to resemble that in the Beggars' Opera, I shall endeavour to shew him that this incident, which is undoubtedly true, is at least as natural as delightful; for we assure him we would rather have suffered half mankind to be hanged, than have saved one contrary to the strictest rules of writing and probability.
Be it known, then (a circumstance which I think highly credible), that the great Fireblood had been, a few days before, taken in the fact of a robbery, and carried before the same justice of peace who had, on his evidence, committed Heartfree to prison. This magistrate, who did indeed no small honour to the commission he bore, duly considered the weighty charge committed to him, by which he was entrusted with decisions affecting the lives, liberties, and properties of his countrymen. He therefore examined always with the utmost diligence and caution into every minute circumstance. And, as he had a good deal balanced, even when he committed Heartfree, on the excellent character given him by Friendly and the maid; and as he was much staggered on finding that, of the two persons on whose evidence alone Heartfree had been committed, and had been since convicted, one was in Newgate for a felony, and the other was now brought before him for a robbery, he thought proper to put the matter very home to Fireblood at this time. The young Achates was taken, as we have said, in the fact; so that denial he saw was in vain. He therefore honestly confessed what he knew must be proved; and desired, on the merit of the discoveries he made, to be admitted as an evidence against his accomplices. This afforded the happiest opportunity to the justice to satisfy his conscience in relation to Heartfree. He told Fireblood that, if he expected the favour he solicited, it must be on condition that he revealed the whole truth to him concerning the evidence which he had lately given against a bankrupt, and which some circumstances had induced a suspicion of; that he might depend on it the truth would be discovered by other means, and gave some oblique hints (a deceit entirely justifiable) that Wild himself had offered such a discovery. The very mention of Wild's name immediately alarmed Fireblood, who did not in the least doubt the readiness of that GREAT MAN to hang any of the gang when his own interest seemed to require it. He therefore hesitated not a moment; but, having obtained a promise from the justice that he should be accepted as an evidence, he discovered the whole falsehood, and declared that he had been seduced by Wild to depose as he had done.
The justice, having thus luckily and timely discovered this scene of villany, alias greatness, lost not a moment in using his utmost endeavours to get the case of the unhappy convict represented to the sovereign, who immediately granted him that gracious reprieve which caused such happiness to the persons concerned; and which we hope we have now accounted for to the satisfaction of the reader.
The good magistrate, having obtained this reprieve for Heartfree, thought it incumbent on him to visit him in the prison, and to sound, if possible, the depth of this affair, that, if he should appear as innocent as he now began to conceive him, he might use all imaginable methods to obtain his pardon and enlargement.
The next day therefore after that when the miserable scene above described had passed, he went to Newgate, where he found those three persons, namely, Heartfree, his wife, and Friendly, sitting together. The justice informed the prisoner of the confession of Fireblood, with the steps which he had taken upon it. The reader will easily conceive the many outward thanks, as well as inward gratitude, which he received from all three; but those were of very little consequence to him compared with the secret satisfaction he felt in his mind from reflecting on the preservation of innocence, as he soon after very clearly perceived was the case.
When he entered the room Mrs. Heartfree was speaking with some earnestness: as he perceived, therefore, he had interrupted her, he begged she would continue her discourse, which, if he prevented by his presence, he desired to depart; but Heartfree would not suffer it. He said she had been relating some adventures which perhaps, might entertain him to hear, and which she the rather desired he would hear, as they might serve to illustrate the foundation on which this falsehood had been built, which had brought on her husband all his misfortunes.
The justice very gladly consented, and Mrs. Heartfree, at her husband's desire, began the relation from the first renewal of Wild's acquaintance with him; but, though this recapitulation was necessary for the information of our good magistrate, as it would be useless, and perhaps tedious, to the reader, we shall only repeat that part of her story to which he is only a stranger, beginning with what happened to her after Wild had been turned adrift in the boat by the captain of the French privateer.
MRS. HEARTFREE RELATES HER ADVENTURES. Mrs. Heartfree proceeded thus: "The vengeance which the French captain exacted on that villain (our hero) persuaded me that I was fallen into the hands of a man of honour and justice; nor indeed was it possible for any person to be treated with more respect and civility than I now was; but if this could not mitigate my sorrows when I reflected on the condition in which I had been betrayed to leave all that was dear to me, much less could it produce such an effect when I discovered, as I soon did, that I owed it chiefly to a passion which threatened me with great uneasiness, as it quickly appeared to be very violent, and as I was absolutely in the power of the person who possessed it, or was rather possessed by it. I must however do him the justice to say my fears carried my suspicions farther than I afterwards found I had any reason to carry them: he did indeed very soon acquaint me with his passion, and used all those gentle methods which frequently succeed with our sex to prevail with me to gratify it; but never once threatened, nor had the least recourse to force. He did not even once insinuate to me that I was totally in his power, which I myself sufficiently saw, and whence I drew the most dreadful apprehensions, well knowing that, as there are some dispositions so brutal that cruelty adds a zest and savour to their pleasures, so there are others whose gentler inclinations are better gratified when they win us by softer methods to comply with their desires; yet that even these may be often compelled by an unruly passion to have recourse at last to the means of violence, when they despair of success from persuasion; but I was happily the captive of a better man. My conqueror was one of those over whom vice hath a limited jurisdiction; and, though he was too easily prevailed on to sin, he was proof against any temptation to villany.
"We had been two days almost totally becalmed, when, a brisk gale rising as we were in sight in Dunkirk, we saw a vessel making full sail towards us. The captain of the privateer was so strong that he apprehended no danger but from a man-of-war, which the sailors discerned this not to be. He therefore struck his colours, and furled his sails as much as possible, in order to lie by and expect her, hoping she might be a prize." (Here Heartfree smiling, his wife stopped and inquired the cause. He told her it was from her using the sea-terms so aptly: she laughed, and answered he would wonder less at this when he heard the long time she had been on board; and then proceeded.) "This vessel now came alongside of us, and hailed us, having perceived that on which we were aboard to be of her own country; they begged us not to put into Dunkirk, but to accompany them in their pursuit of a large English merchantman, whom we should easily overtake, and both together as easily conquer. Our captain immediately consented to this proposition, and ordered all his sail to be crowded. This was most unwelcome news to me; however, he comforted me all he could by assuring me I had nothing to fear, that he would be so far from offering the least rudeness to me himself, that he would, at the hazard of his life, protect me from it. This assurance gave me all the consolation which my present circumstances and the dreadful apprehensions I had on your dear account would admit." (At which words the tenderest glances passed on both sides between the husband and wife.)
"We sailed near twelve hours, when we came in sight of the ship we were in pursuit of, and which we should probably have soon come up with had not a very thick mist ravished her from our eyes. This mist continued several hours, and when it cleared up we discovered our companion at a great distance from us; but what gave us (I mean the captain and his crew) the greatest uneasiness was the sight of a very large ship within a mile of us, which presently saluted us with a gun, and now appeared to be a third-rate English man-of-war. Our captain declared the impossibility of either fighting or escaping, and accordingly struck without waiting for the broadside which was preparing for us, and which perhaps would have prevented me from the happiness I now enjoy." This occasioned Heartfree to change colour; his wife therefore passed hastily to circumstances of a more smiling complexion.
"I greatly rejoiced at this event, as I thought it would not only restore me to the safe possession of my jewels, but to what I value beyond all the treasure in the universe. My expectation, however, of both these was somewhat crost for the present: as to the former, I was told they should be carefully preserved; but that I must prove my right to them before I could expect their restoration, which, if I mistake not, the captain did not very eagerly desire I should be able to accomplish: and as to the latter, I was acquainted that I should be put on board the first ship which they met on her way to England, but that they were proceeding to the West Indies.
"I had not been long on board the man-of-war before I discovered just reason rather to lament than rejoice at the exchange of my captivity; for such I concluded my present situation to be. I had now another lover in the captain of this Englishman, and much rougher and less gallant than the Frenchman had been. He used me with scarce common civility, as indeed he shewed very little to any other person, treating his officers little better than a man of no great good-breeding would exert to his meanest servant, and that too on some very irritating provocation. As for me, he addressed me with the insolence of a basha to a Circassian slave; he talked to me with the loose licence in which the most profligate libertines converse with harlots, and which women abandoned only in a moderate degree detest and abhor. He often kissed me with very rude familiarity, and one day attempted further brutality; when a gentleman on board, and who was in my situation, that is, had been taken by a privateer and was retaken, rescued me from his hands, for which the captain confined him, though he was not under his command, two days in irons: when he was released (for I was not suffered to visit him in his confinement) I went to him and thanked him with the utmost acknowledgment for what he had done and suffered on my account. The gentleman behaved to me in the handsomest manner on this occasion; told me he was ashamed of the high sense I seemed to entertain of so small an obligation of an action to which his duty as a Christian and his honour as a man obliged him. From this time I lived in great familiarity with this man, whom I regarded as my protector, which he professed himself ready to be on all occasions, expressing the utmost abhorrence of the captain's brutality, especially that shewn towards me, and the tenderness of a parent for the preservation of my virtue, for which I was not myself more solicitous than he appeared. He was, indeed, the only man I had hitherto met since my unhappy departure who did not endeavour by all his looks, words, and actions, to assure me he had a liking to my unfortunate person; the rest seeming desirous of sacrificing the little beauty they complimented to their desires, without the least consideration of the ruin which I earnestly represented to them they were attempting to bring on me and on my future repose.
"I now passed several days pretty free from the captain's molestation, till one fatal night." Here, perceiving Heartfree grew pale, she comforted him by an assurance that Heaven had preserved her chastity, and again had restored her unsullied to his arms. She continued thus: "Perhaps I give it a wrong epithet in the word fatal; but a wretched night I am sure I may call it, for no woman who came off victorious was, I believe, ever in greater danger. One night I say, having drank his spirits high with punch, in company with the purser, who was the only man in the ship he admitted to his table, the captain sent for me into his cabin; whither, though unwilling, I was obliged to go. We were no sooner alone together than he seized me by the hand, and, after affronting my ears with discourse which I am unable to repeat, he swore a great oath that his passion was to be dallied with no longer; that I must not expect to treat him in the manner to which a set of blockhead land-men submitted. 'None of your coquette airs, therefore, with me, madam,' said he, 'for I am resolved to have you this night. No struggling nor squalling, for both will be impertinent. The first man who offers to come in here, I will have his skin flea'd off at the gangway.' He then attempted to pull me violently towards his bed. I threw myself on my knees, and with tears and entreaties besought his compassion; but this was, I found, to no purpose: I then had recourse to threats, and endeavoured to frighten him with the consequence; but neither had this, though it seemed to stagger him more than the other method, sufficient force to deliver me. At last a stratagem came into my head, of which my perceiving him reel gave me the first hint. I entreated a moment's reprieve only, when, collecting all the spirits I could muster, I put on a constrained air of gayety, and told him, with an affected laugh, he was the roughest lover I had ever met with, and that I believed I was the first woman he had ever paid his addresses to. Addresses, said he; d--n your dresses! I want to undress you. I then begged him to let us drink some punch together; for that I loved a can as well as himself, and never would grant the favour to any man till I had drank a hearty glass with him. O! said he, if that be all you shall have punch enough to drown yourself in. At which words he rung the bell, and ordered in a gallon of that liquor. I was in the meantime obliged to suffer his nauseous kisses, and some rudenesses which I had great difficulty to restrain within moderate bounds. When the punch came in he took up the bowl and drank my health ostentatiously, in such a quantity that it considerably advanced my scheme. I followed him with bumpers as fast as possible, and was myself obliged to drink so much that at another time it would have staggered my own reason, but at present it did not affect me. At length, perceiving him very far gone, I watched an opportunity, and ran out of the cabin, resolving to seek protection of the sea if I could find no other; but Heaven was now graciously pleased to relieve me; for in his attempt to pursue me he reeled backwards, and, falling down the cabbin stairs, he dislocated his shoulder and so bruised himself that I was not only preserved that night from any danger of my intended ravisher, but the accident threw him into a fever which endangered his life, and whether he ever recovered or no I am not certain; for during his delirious fits the eldest lieutenant commanded the ship. This was a virtuous and a brave fellow, who had been twenty-five years in that post without being able to obtain a ship, and had seen several boys, the bastards of noblemen, put over his head. One day while the ship remained under his command an English vessel bound to Cork passed by; myself and my friend, who had formerly lain two days in irons on my account, went on board this ship with the leave of the good lieutenant, who made us such presents as he was able of provisions, and, congratulating me on my delivery from a danger to which none of the ship's crew had been strangers, he kindly wished us both a safe voyage."