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   Chapter 5 FIVE

The History of the Life of the Late Mr. Jonathan Wild the Great By Henry Fielding Characters: 10414

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


We will now leave our hero to take a short repose, and return to Mr. Snaps' where, at Wild's departure, the fair Theodosia had again betaken herself to her stocking, and Miss Letty had retired up stairs to Mr. Bagshot; but that gentleman had broken his parole, and, having conveyed himself below stairs behind a door, he took the opportunity of Wild's sally to make his escape. We shall only observe that Miss Letty's surprize was the greater, as she had, notwithstanding her promise to the contrary, taken the precaution to turn the key; but, in her hurry, she did it ineffectually. How wretched must have been the situation of this young creature, who had not only lost a lover on whom her tender heart perfectly doated, but was exposed to the rage of an injured father, tenderly jealous of his honour, which was deeply engaged to the sheriff of London and Middlesex for the safe custody of the said Bagshot, and for which two very good responsible friends had given not only their words but their bonds.

But let us remove our eyes from this melancholy object and survey our hero, who, after a successless search for Miss Straddle, with wonderful greatness of mind and steadiness of countenance went early in the morning to visit his friend Heartfree, at a time when the common herd of friends would have forsaken and avoided him. He entered the room with a chearful air, which he presently changed into surprize on seeing his friend in a night-gown, with his wounded head bound about with linen, and looking extremely pale from a great effusion of blood. When Wild was informed by Heartfree what had happened he first expressed great sorrow, and afterwards suffered as violent agonies of rage against the robbers to burst from him. Heartfree, in compassion to the deep impression his misfortunes seemed to make on his friend, endeavoured to lessen it as much as possible, at the same time exaggerating the obligation he owed to Wild, in which his wife likewise seconded him, and they breakfasted with more comfort than was reasonably to be expected after such an accident; Heartfree expressing great satisfaction that he had put the count's note in another pocket- book; adding, that such a loss would have been fatal to him; "for, to confess the truth to you, my dear friend," said he, "I have had some losses lately which have greatly perplexed my affairs; and though I have many debts due to me from people of great fashion, I assure you I know not where to be certain of getting a shilling." Wild greatly felicitated him on the lucky accident of preserving his note, and then proceeded, with much acrimony, to inveigh against the barbarity of people of fashion, who kept tradesmen out of their money.

While they amused themselves with discourses of this kind, Wild meditating within himself whether he should borrow or steal from his friend, or indeed whether he could not effect both, the apprentice brought a bank-note of L500 in to Heartfree, which he said a gentlewoman in the shop, who had been looking at some jewels, desired him to exchange. Heartfree, looking at the number, immediately recollected it to be one of those he had been robbed of. With this discovery he acquainted Wild, who, with the notable presence of mind and unchanged complexion so essential to a great character, advised him to proceed cautiously; and offered (as Mr. Heartfree himself was, he said, too much flustered to examine the woman with sufficient art) to take her into a room in his house alone. He would, he said, personate the master of the shop, would pretend to shew her some jewels, and would undertake to get sufficient information out of her to secure the rogues, and most probably all their booty. This proposal was readily and thankfully accepted by Heartfree. Wild went immediately up stairs into the room appointed, whither the apprentice, according to appointment, conducted the lady.

The apprentice was ordered down stairs the moment the lady entered the room; and Wild, having shut the door, approached her with great ferocity in his looks, and began to expatiate on the complicated baseness of the crime she had been guilty of; but though he uttered many good lessons of morality, as we doubt whether from a particular reason they may work any very good effect on our reader, we shall omit his speech, and only mention his conclusion, which was by asking her what mercy she could now expect from him? Miss Straddle, for that was the young lady, who had had a good education, and had been more than once present at the Old Bailey, very confidently denied the whole charge, and said she had received the note from a friend. Wild then, raising his voice, told her she should be immediately committed, and she might depend on being convicted; "but," added he, changing his tone, "as I have a violent affection for thee, my dear Straddle, if you will follow my advice, I promise you, on my honour, to forgive you, nor shall you be ever called in question on this account." "Why, what would you have me to do, Mr. Wild?" replied the young lady, with a pleasanter aspect. "You must know then," said Wild, "

the money you picked out of my pocket (nay, by G-d you did, and if you offer to flinch you shall be convicted of it) I won at play of a fellow who it seems robbed my friend of it; you must, therefore, give an information on oath against one Thomas Fierce, and say that you received the note from him, and leave the rest to me. I am certain, Molly, you must be sensible of your obligations to me, who return good for evil to you in this manner." The lady readily consented, and advanced to embrace Mr. Wild, who stepped a little back and cryed, "Hold, Molly; there are two other notes of L200 each to be accounted for-where are they?" The lady protested with the most solemn asseverations that she knew of no more; with which, when Wild was not satisfied, she cried, "I will stand search." "That you shall," answered Wild, "and stand strip too." He then proceeded to tumble and search her, but to no purpose, till at last she burst into tears, and declared she would tell the truth (as indeed she did); she then confessed that she had disposed of the one to Jack Swagger, a great favourite of the ladies, being an Irish gentleman, who had been bred clerk to an attorney, afterwards whipt out of a regiment of dragoons, and was then a Newgate solicitor, and a bawdy house bully; and, as for the other, she had laid it all out that very morning in brocaded silks and Flanders lace. With this account Wild, who indeed knew it to be a very probable one, was forced to be contented: and now, abandoning all further thoughts of what he saw was irretrievably lost, he gave the lady some further instructions, and then, desiring her to stay a few minutes behind him, he returned to his friend, and acquainted him that he had discovered the whole roguery; that the woman had confessed from whom she had received the note, and promised to give an information before a justice of peace; adding, he was concerned he could not attend him thither, being obliged to go to the other end of the town to receive thirty pounds, which he was to pay that evening. Heartfree said that should not prevent him of his company, for he could easily lend him such a trifle. This was accordingly done and accepted, and Wild, Heartfree, and the lady went to the justice together.

The warrant being granted, and the constable being acquainted by the lady, who received her information from Wild, of Mr. Fierce's haunts, he was easily apprehended, and, being confronted by Miss Straddle, who swore positively to him, though she had never seen him before, he was committed to Newgate, where he immediately conveyed an information to Wild of what had happened, and in the evening received a visit from him.

Wild affected great concern for his friend's misfortune, and as great surprize at the means by which it was brought about. However, he told Fierce that he must certainly be mistaken in that point of his having had no acquaintance with Miss Straddle: but added, that he would find her out, and endeavour to take off her evidence, which, he observed, did not come home enough to endanger him; besides, be would secure him witnesses of an alibi, and five or six to his character; so that he need be under no apprehension, for his confinement till the sessions would be his only punishment.

Fierce, who was greatly comforted by these assurances of his friend, returned him many thanks, and, both shaking each other very earnestly by the hand, with a very hearty embrace they separated.

The hero considered with himself that the single evidence of Miss Straddle would not be sufficient to convince Fierce, whom he resolved to hang, as he was the person who had principally refused to deliver him the stipulated share of the booty; he therefore went in quest of Mr. James Sly, the gentleman who had assisted in the exploit, and found and acquainted him with the apprehending of Fierce. Wild then, intimating his fear least Fierce should impeach Sly, advised him to be beforehand, to surrender himself to a justice of peace and offer himself as an evidence. Sly approved Mr. Wild's opinion, went directly to a magistrate, and was by him committed to the Gatehouse, with a promise of being admitted evidence against his companion.

Fierce was in a few days brought to his trial at the Old Bailey, where, to his great confusion, his old friend Sly appeared against him, as did Miss Straddle. His only hopes were now in the assistances which our hero had promised him. These unhappily failed him: so that, the evidence being plain against him, and he making no defence, the jury convicted him, the court condemned him, and Mr. Ketch executed him.

With such infinite address did this truly great man know how to play with the passions of men, to set them at variance with each other, and to work his own purposes out of those jealousies and apprehensions which he was wonderfully ready at creating by means of those great arts which the vulgar call treachery, dissembling, promising, lying, falsehood, &c., but which are by great men summed up in the collective name of policy, or politics, or rather pollitrics; an art of which, as it is the highest excellence of human nature, perhaps our great man was the most eminent master.

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