Anna Jane Vardill

MEMOIRS OF A RECLUSE

SIXTH HISTORY

Continued

When our Physician’s narrative ended, I hazarded a comment. “Your heroine, brother, was indeed too ignorant to be simple; for true simplicity is the result of right ideas: it resembles the whiteness of light, which combines the richest colours in its apparent purity. But your stratagem was an experiment more calculated to encourage cunning than to recommend truth.”

“You are not mistaken,” replied Dr. Beauclerc. “A man who tries his wit upon fools, strikes glass against log-wood, and the splinters fly in his own face. However, though I may be an erring moralist. I ought to be esteemed an honest physician when I recommend laughter. Mirth is the true gas or rarefied air which clears and invigorates the lungs; but the most benevolent mirth is the best medicine, as the purest air is the lightest. Sancho Panza gave his blessing to the inventor of sleep—I leave mine to him who first found cause for laughing.”

Our sorrowful Philosopher interposed with a sarcastic glance—“Lucian tells us that an ass is neither a laughing nor a laughable animal, but he may be mistaken. Let our sixth Brother give us his history. If he can claim an acre in the mountain of human misery, he has covered it with the shrubs of Parnassus.”—Clanharold, our young poet, cast down his eyes, and his pale countenance brightened into that red which sometimes deserves to be called the colour of virtue. “I hesitate,” said he, “because the strange events I have to tell, and my avowed attachment to poetic licence, might tempt you to suspect me of romance. But we have given this chamber the sanctity of a confessional— the listener is bound t0 secresy, and the narrator to truth.

“Only three summers are past since a melancholy humour, which has sometimes more fantastic freaks than mirth, led me from England to Greece. Tired of the world, because it could afford nothing like what I had lost;—of reason, because it reproached my grief;—and of solitude, because my very soul was alone;—I took refuge among ruins. Man, when be has survived the strength of his intellect and the beauty of his imagination, finds a gloomy comfort in viewing the decay of those glories created by other men’s. He delights in nations whose fall resembles his own, and whose only wealth is the reliques of the past. None but the happy look with pleasure on present power and greatness.

I was seated at the foot of the real Parnassus in this fine frenzy while a midsummer sun was setting. Instead of muses and nymphs, I had seen only a few strolling Turks and a squalid Greek monk, whose request for alms was accompanied by a very malignant glance. My guide and the mule which carried my baggage were reposing under a covert at a little distance; and as the ruined temple I had been sketching seemed a fit spot for depredation, I made haste to rejoin them. But the long shadow of a broken column concealed my enemy, and before my pistol could be taken from my belt, a tremendous blow laid me prostrate. How many hours or days my senses were absent, I have never ascertained; but on their first return, I found myself in a vaulted chamber, lighted by a torch, and containing little more than the mattrass which I lay on. Two men in a wild Arnaut garb stood near me with eager countenances, and whispered to each other, in barbarous Greek, “He knows us now—let us offer him sherbet.” My knowledge of their dialect enabled me to express assent, but I dared not hazard inquiry. The shattered and lacerated state of my face rendered my words very inarticulate, yet they understood me. Guess my astonishment when one of my attendants bent his forehead to my knee, crying. “Bismillah! Commander!—what shall we bring thee?—that English renegade cost thee some hard blows, but he shall bite the dust for it yet.”

I surveyed myself with doubting eyes! My dress was wholly changed to the costume of a strolling Arnaut, but a ring of extraordinary lustre shone on my right hand. I could devise no safe reply to a speech which implied a mistake so favorable to my personal security, though so unaccountably strange. My features were disfigured, it is true, and my voice altered; yet they appeared to recognise and attend me as their captain. Perhaps my long silence and wandering gaze were ascribed to delirium; for they renewed their whispers, and he who seemed the most important knelt by my mattrass—“Commander!—shall we bring thee the English surgeon so talked of at Corinth?—Thou hast told us thy countrymen are more skilful in wounds than our caloyers.”—I bowed my head assentingly, with secret joy and wonder at their proposal. The Arnauts fixed long poignards in their girdles, trimmed my torch, and leaving a rich salver with wine and grapes beside me, departed together. After what appeared only the lapse of two hours, they returned, leading in a man blindfolded and strongly manacled. “Speak to this pale coward, captain!” said one of the guards—“tell him he is safe if he cures our chief:—we know no English, and he cannot understand us.” My surprise and confusion increased. I dared not hazard expressions which might undeceive my guards if their ignorance of the English language was not complete; nor could I permit this stranger, whose appearance announced a native of my own country, to believe me the leader of the banditti. An indirect course seemed safest. “Sir,” said I, “be not prejudiced against me by this garb; I place my life in your hands, and you shall find my gratitude equals my confidence.”

The English surgeon cast a sullen glance at his escort, who had unbound his eyes and hands while I spoke; and began an examination of my wounds without any reply. The tall Arnaut, by whom his coming had been proposed, never left my chamber, but his stay seemed influenced by an anxious zeal to prevent my wants, and a jealous watchfulness of my medical attendant, to whom he often shewed his arquebus with a grin which rendered his yellow and gaunt features hideous. Yet this man’s eye had an open brightness in it when he met mine, and I felt compelled to speak to him in a tone of preference which seemed to swell his heart. My captive-surgeon exercised his skill with such speed, that my recovery could not be concealed; and feeling that my Arnauts would not permit their suppose captain to be idle when in health, I seized an opportunity to speak of my condition. “You observe,” said I, “how we are watched—I have only time to tell you that these men mistake me. I am the son of an English peer—my name is Clanharold—represent my misfortune to the consul, and procure my rescue.”—The surgeon, smiling coldly, replied, “You have devised a good expedient to interest my feelings, and ensure your safety in my hands; but my principles would have prompted me to afford you all my professional aid had you been what you appear, a Greek adventurer. That an Englishman should wear this garb for purposes so well known, is a subject of regret which you only increase by an attempt to deceive me. Lord Clanharold is already known to me and our national envoy. He is now at Corinth.”—Amger and surprise silenced me while he added—“Your agents promised me a safe escort back to the consul’s residence if I performed a cure. My task is executed, and I have made them understand it. Fulfill your part of the compact, or this outrage on a member of an ambassador's suite may be revenged.” His raised voice awoke my constant Arnaut, who sprang towards him; but the motion of my hand was construed into an order for his removal. “Shall we give him gold or pearls, commander?” said my Arnaut—“he has done his work well, and shall go home safe to night.” I answered, that he deserved reward and protection. The surgeon smiled disdainfully, and was taken out of my presence.

My chamber appeared to be subterranean, and had no inlet except the heavy door, which my sentinels watched alternately. But when the Englishman’s sullen departure forced me to depend on my own efforts for escape, I resolved to avail myself of my supposed authority among these ruffians, and to go abroad, if no other means offered, as their chief. When Mehaled, my favourite attendant, returned alone, I asked him, in his own dialect, where he had convoyed my surgeon.—“Safe to his comrades!” he replied, with a Mahometan oath—“but ours want thee, master. That English dog, Clanharold, who cost thee so much blood, has hid himself at Corinth, with the man they call a consul. Shall we not have our revenge?”

I questioned Mehaled with an eagerness which seemed to delight him, and learned that a man called by my name had been some weeks resident under the roof an official visitor.—Mehaled vanished after he had astonished me by a description of my representative, and resumed in a few moments wilh two sets of mean apparel. “Look, commander,” he exclaimed joyfully, “how we may disguise ourselves. Here are the clothes fit for slaves such as labour in the cadi’s gardens—Dost forget how the emir’s daughter gazed at thee when we lurked about her father’s door the day before we robbed him? She would have given two hundred sequins to have seen thee again, and thy countryman will think us very comely slaves. Let us offer ourselves.”

The expedient promised me at least an escape from a den of brigands: and my curiosity to see this daring impostor, and redeem my rights, seconded the Arnaut’s scheme of rapine and revenge. My companion seemed resolved to accompany me, notwithstanding my repeated hints that our appearance together might be fatal to himself and our enterprise. He looked at me with moist eyes. “Mehaled has deserved to be trusted!” was his only reply. I forgot his ferocious trade, and gave him my hand. Our new attire was soon adjusted; and taking up a torch, he led me from the cavern-chamber through a gallery hewn rudely in solid rock, to a kind of ladder framed by interlaced branches of cedar. Mehaled struck his dagger twice against a brazen cymbal suspended among them, and the broadstone which covered the outlet was removed by a hand above. When we stepped forth, I saw myself in the centre of a ruined temple, which Turkish barbarity had converted into a powder-magazine and reduced to fragments. The squalid monk whose fierce eye had alarmed me before my adventure, was seated there as sentinel of the cavern-entrance. We passed him in silence, and my guide conducted me to the house of a slave-merchant at Corinth, where an English minister was then employed in collecting antiques before he assumed his consular office at Salonica. On our way, Mehaled questioned several persons respecting the supposed Clanharold, and their answers convinced that he knew and perfectly assumed my character. I will not deny with what strange feelings I heard his sullen melancholy ridiculed, and saw the absurd inconsistency of my actions as they appeared to the world’s eye. All that it knew of my history was repeated to me with the blunt roughness of truth, and I learned at once how little it pitied or esteemed me. When caricatured by an impostor, I perceived my own deformities; and began to despise even my most cherished feelings when I found them so easily counterfeited.

My hearers cannot conjecture with what confused hopes and fears I stood in the slave-merchant’s presence, and examined his aspect. Having held a long conversation, in a vile Armenian jargon, with Mehaled, he smiled on me sagaciously, and said, in broken Greek, “We are old acquaintance, captain, and you know my terms. The consul has desired the Cadi of Elis to furnish him with two trusty labourers for his garden: if I introduce you both, I expect two jars of opium and the brocade you found in the emir's haram?”—Mehaled’s sly glance informed me I must confirm these terms: and I saw myself forced to bear my assumed character still longer. The horrible cunning in the slave-merchant’s eye warned me not to trust him with my real name; yet my danger was equal if he betrayed me to the Turkish government as a captain of Arnaut robbers. But by obtaining an interview with our consul, I felt myself assured of safety, as my acquaintance with distinguished Englishmen might render my identity beyond doubt. Before that day closed, we were conducted to a detached building in a magnificent garden which surrounded the envoy’s pavillion. The skill in horticulture which I had acquired among my earliest amusements now seemed a most important resource. A rude bed was provided for me in our hut, and Mehaled couched himself at my feet. My portion of rice and fruits stood by me untouched, while a thousand plans passed through my mind. The Arnaut’s keen black eye watched me till he thought me sleeping: then rising almost without sound, he left the hut. Suspicion and anxiety kept my eyes unclosed till he returned. “Commander!” he whispered, with lips close to my ear—“all is ready!—follow me!”—“Where, and for what purpose?” I exclaimed; but instantly recollecting that my life was at his mercy if I disavowed my supposed authority, I rose and accompanied him.—“There,” said he, pointing to the open veranda of the pavillion—“there is your enemy asleep—the garden-wall is low, and we have friends here—Shall I strike?”—He unsheathed his knife as he spoke, and prepared to leap on the veranda.—“Stop, on your life!” I answered—“He must receive his punishment from no hand but mine—I will enter his chamber alone.”—Mehaled gave me his poignard, and stepped back. The crisis was hazardous, but decisive. By this sudden entrance, I might secure my usurping representative’s person, and at least obtain an audience from the consul. There was no moment for deliberation—I sprang into the supposed Clanharold’s chamber, and by the light of a summer-moon saw him slumbering on his couch. My hand was laid upon his pistol’s to disarm him, when that moon-light shewed me the perfect resemblance of myself in his face and person. My hands and heart were palsied, and the weapon which fell from my hold awoke him. He sprang on me with a desperate grasp; but my strength, recalled by indignation, overcame him, and he sunk under me: at the same instant the consul, disturbed by his loud cries for help, came with all his domestics. They wrested me from my hold on the supposed Clanharold, who denounced me as a robber and assassin. It was vain to demand a hearing, and to profess that I alone possessed the title borne by a wretch whose life I had saved—the envoy listened coldy, and the impostor clamorously demanded my surrender to the cadi. I was firmly fettered and consigned to a dungeon walled and roofed with stone beneath his mansion.

Conscious that every circumstance weighed against my innocence, and that as unaccountable, yet almost perfect, resemblance might subject me to the death deserved by a notorious robber-chief, I stretched myself on the pavement with the careless desperation which resembles courage. Seven days passed in the utmost agony of mind, to which the sufferings of my body, in a den without light, and only a small supply of water, bread, and straw, made no trifling addition. It was probably the dead of night when I heard the door slowly opened and saw a man entering with a dark lantern. His voice announced the English surgeon whose aid had been forcibly obtained for me in the Arnaut’s cave. “Commander,” said he in a low tone, with a look of fearful anxiety—“you have acted rashly. Mehaled has betrayed himself by a desperate effort to rescue you, and your fate is certain when the English legate consigns you, as he must, to the Turkish governor.”—“Let him resign me,” I replied, “at the peril of his own life and honour, without an examination!—I am an Englishman; I came to Greece with credentials which entitled me to his protection, and I demand my freedom as Lord Clanharold.”

The surgeon smiled as he answered—“Lord Clanharold himself has produced sufficient vouchers of his rank, and your pretensions, if they have no better support than appearances, must be disbelieved. His cold and gloomy character affords you no hope of his intercession: but I have not forgotten your honourable bounty when my life was in your hands. Take back this diamond which you gave me then:—the gates are open, and the sentinels secured—you have faithful friends, and a strong place of refuge.”—I repulsed his offer with the scorn of a proud spirit—“It is plain you never knew the real Clanharold. Tell your consul I disdain the friendship and the refuge of robbers, though they have shewn me more fidelity than civilized men. A casual resemblance has placed a treacherous assassin in my station; but those who investigate the truth will find there is no semblance in our hearts.”—Finding me resolute in refusing all secret offers and methods of escape, he left me to await my sentence. The morning came, and with it a summons to attend my judge, who received me alone in a well-guarded chamber, he was a man of venerable age, with a searching eye and majestic figure. The whole strength of my soul was collected to meet his inquisition, and I challenged it haughtily. His answer is fixed in my memory—I repeat it to myself every hour, though it has never been entrusted to any other ear till this.

“I have heard your history, my Lord Clanharold, and rejoice at the good which may be gleaned from your misfortunes. You received your wounds from an English renegade long celebrated as a leader of outlaws, and his resemblance to your person tempted him to assume your attire and name. He found your baggage, possessed himself of the credentials and valuables contained in it, and claimed my protection as an English traveller. My surgeon communicated the strange adventure he met in the cavern of the Arnauts to my ear alone. I invited the supposed Clanharold to join my suite, and by detaining him as my guest kept his person within my reach and his conduct under my inspection. He has confessed the imposture, but claims a relationship to your family, which, though illegal, may incline you to favour his escape. Mehaled deserves a place among your attendants as a remembrancer of instructive events.—Your inducement to visit Greece was a peevish discontent with your own share of happiness, and with the customs, society, and legislation of your countrymen. The peril which approached your life in a desolate and uncivilized land has reconciled you, perhaps, to society less ferocious, though more frivolous. An impostor’s assumption of your rank and character may teach you how far they were essential to your importance and with what difficulty your individual talents could remedy their loss. Till that loss seemed absolute, you did not learn the value of your noble station, your affluence, and liberty. In the Arnaut's cave and my prison, you became respectful, I think, to the laws of a government exempt from the bow-string of an arbitrary judge, or the daggers of an uncontrolled banditti. You have felt the value of those daily luxuries which are disregarded only when they are secure; and have found there is much misery unknown to a man who possesses an easy bed, free air, and sufficient food. With only these three blessings you would have been content last night, yet a thousand others seemed insufficient while they were possessed. Go and employ them to a better purpose. The curiosity which brought us to Corinth at the same period, will prove another blessing to me, if I have redeemed an erring pupil of romance; and to you, if your experience convinces you that content is happiness.”

(To be continued)

The European Magazine, Vol. 71, January 1817, pp. 20-24