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My friend and I were confounded both by the matter and manner of these remarks. We clearly enough perceived that Jolinson was perfectly aware, not only of the reports that were in circulation against him, but of the share we had had in propagating them. We did not make any reply, but proceeded to the ostensible purpose of our call. We laid the subscription - paper before Mr Johnson, at the same time explaining the circumstances of the case.
Having glanced at the paper, he, without saying a word, went to a little desk at the head of the counter, raised the lid, thrust in his hand, withdrew it, returned to us, and—still without speaking a word—laid a sovereign upon the subscription-paper. It was the largest sum which had yet been contributed by any individual. • Poor woman,' said Johnson, in a voice which, from another, I should have said was that of true compassionate feeling, ' I trust she will yet recover: I hope she is properly attended to, and that the sum which may be collected will be sufficient to put her in some little way of doing?
With feelings which I should not find it very easy to describe, I took up Johnson's contribution, wished him good-morning, and, accompanied by my friend, left the shop. The conduct of the man altogether puzzled us. The gentleness of his manner, and the patience and mildness with which he spoke of his want of success in business, and of those who had traduced him, confounded
We came to the conclusion that he was, after all, merely a consummate hypocrite, and that there was no doubt he would shortly appear in his true colours.
One forenoon, some little time after, my neighbour, Manson, the person who had accompanied me in my call on Johnson with the subscription-paper, and who had, I must say it, been particularly industrious in spreading the evil reports, called me into his shop, and put a letter into my hands. It was from Johnson. Here it is :
"SIR-It is with very sincere regret I have learned that you have been circulating reports highly prejudicial to
my character, and utterly ruinous to my interests. This is a very serious charge; but I beg of you to understand, that I do not bring it against you without having sufficient proof of its truth. Such proof I could command as would at once obtain for me large damages in a court of justice. But it is not my intention to adopt such a course with you: I mean rather to appeal to your reason and your better feelings, and to try whether I cannot, by such a proceeding, bring you to a sense of the injustice you have done me.
“I now, sir, make this appeal, and am very sure that a little reflection will point out to you the impropriety of your conduct towards me, and induce you at once to express your regret for it, and to desist from it in time to come. Please to remember, that I have never done you the smallest injury, either by word or deed, either directly or indirectly. Why, then, this unprovoked hostility towards me? Allow me, in conclusion, to say, that it would afford me inexpressible happiness could I by any means induce you to think better of me than you at present do. I would do much, sir, to gain your goodwill, if I might not aspire to your friendship. In the meantime, have the kindness to desist from farther injuring me.- - I am, sir,' &c.
*Well, Manson,' said I, after having read the letter, "what do you think of it?'
• Why, that its writer is a mean-spirited, sneaking, canting fellow, and a most accomplished hypocrite,' replied Manson.
“Then, upon my word,' said I, 'I cannot agree with you; neither can I help beginning to entertain a somewhat different opinion of this man. I now doubt the truth of much that has been said against him. I do not know how it is, but this unalterable gentleness of his has a strange effect on me; it is beginning to make me feel somewhat ashamed of myself, as regards the part I have acted towards him. In truth, this mildness of spirit, with all its seeming inertness, appears to me to possess an extraordinary power.
Had he given us bad language
that day we called with the subscription-paper, my prejudices would have been confirmed; but his suavity has completely disarmed me. What do you mean to do, Manson, with regard to that letter?'
Why, to take no notice of it. I do not mean to answer it: I wish to have no correspondence with such a character:
About a week after this, we had a subscription-ball in H
got up by some of our gayer and wealthier towns
Amongst those present were Johnson and his sister, a lady-like girl of about two-and-twenty, to whom, it was said, her brother was extremely kind and attentive. On this occasion, Johnson and his sister were treated with marked discourtesy on all hands. Some, as if studiously to insult them, turned their backs on them when they approached; others got out of their way with offensive haste; while others, again, sneered at them while they passed. I could observe that Miss Johnson felt keenly the treatment to which her brother and herself were subjected. She looked pale and agitated; and, occasionally, as a more than usually marked instance of disrespect occurred, a blush would hurry over her fine, intelligent countenance. Johnson, again, though apparently not less sensible of the contumely to which he and his sister were exposed, met it differently: his demeanour, as he perambulated the ball-room, with his sister leaning on his arm, was calm and collected, while a gentle and significant, but almost imperceptible smile played about his rather handsome mouth. I really could not help admiring his calmness and self-possession under these trying circumstances.
Greatly struck by what had fallen under my observation, I could not help reflecting, as I went horne, that surely he must be no common man who could thus maintain his temper under such trying circumstances ; and I began to feel a friendship for him taking possession of me. Being now anxious to be convinced of his worth, I determined on stepping into his shop now and then, and having some conversation with him. Let me here
parenthetically remark, that, in spite of the rumours that had been circulated against him, and in spite of the efforts of a clique to injure his business, or, rather, to prevent him obtaining any, Johnson was gradually acquiring a fair share of custom. His mildness and civility, together with the perfect propriety of his conduct, were gradually overcoming prejudice and winning confidence. People said: “As to the unfavourable reports of Mr Johnson's character, we must suspend judgment: we believed them at first, certainly, but now we have our doubts. Besides, his articles are, at least, as reasonable in price, and certainly much better in quality, than those of many dealers in town.'
In pursuance of the resolution I had formed, I called, a day or two after the ball, on Mr Johnson, and sat for nearly two hours with him-fascinated at once by his singularly pleasant and gentle manners, by his great intelligence, and by the extraordinary extent and variety of his information. There was, even in the tones of his voice, a charm that I found exercising a powerful influence
I frequently repeated my calls, and after each interview, became more and more satisfied that Johnson had been grievously wronged. Under this impression, I took every opportunity of expressing amongst my friends and acquaintances my strong doubts of the truth of the reports. To my great gratification, I found almost everybody, although they had no such opportunities of correcting their opinions, willing to believe that he had been unjustly dealt by.
By and by, Mr Johnson and I became so intimate, and I so assured of his innocence as regarded the special accusations which scandal had circulated against him, that I ventured one day to mention them to him. He said calmly: ‘My dear sir, I knew from the very first of the circulation of these rumours; but, excepting one letter to Mr Manson, I have never made any attempt to meet them with a denial, being certain that my own conduct would be their only effectual refutation. Since you have adverted
to the subject as a friend, I will explain all to you. As is often the case, these reports are not altogether creatures of any one's imagination, but have a certain basis in fact, though not as applicable to me.' He then proceeded to shew-proving at the same time the truth of what he said by various documents—that the forgery of which he had been accused, instead of being committed by him, had been committed upon him; and this by a nephew of his own, whom he had forborne to prosecute, although his loss by the act had exceeded L.2000. As to the desertion of wife and children, he also satisfied me, first, that he had never been married at all, nor ever had had any children ; next, that the family alluded to was the widow and children of his brother, whom he was now supporting, and had supported for many years. He shewed me a number of letters from the widow, who resided in a distant part of England, and several from her elder children, whom he was educating; all of which were filled with expressions of the warmest love and gratitude.
A letter which he next produced, and which he had but a day or two before received from the rector of Combermeath, his native parish, was written in an affectionate strain, and bore, in an incidental way, the strongest testimony to his moral and religious character.
Now,' said he, laughing,' we come to the last remaining charge-my fraudulent bankruptcy. Well, it is true, perfectly true, that I did stop payment about fifteen years since; chiefly in consequence of the forgery on me by my nephew, and partly in consequence of large losses otherwise. But success in business enabled me at a subsequent period to pay all my creditors in full, including interest. Of the satisfaction of my creditors with my conduct on the occasion of which I speak, I have evidence, inscribed, not indeed on a tablet of brass, but on a vessel or rather utensil of silver, which I will shew you.'
Having said this, he rose, went to a corner of the shop, and drew a bell-pull. His sister—there being an internal communication between the shop and the house which was above-answered the summons.