The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter XCVII.

He writes against the Minister, by whose Instigation he is arrested, and moves himself by habeas corpus into the Fleet.

My lady having prolonged her stay beyond the period of a common visit, and repeated her protestations in the most frank and obliging manner, took her leave of our adventurer, who promised to pay his respects to her in a few days at her own house. Meanwhile, he resumed his task; and having finished a most severe remonstrance against Sir Steady, not only with regard to his private ingratitude, but also to his maladministration of public affairs, he sent it to the author of a weekly paper, who had been long a professed reformer in politics, and it appeared in a very few days, with a note of the publisher, desiring the favour of further correspondence with the author.

The animadversions contained in this small essay were so spirited and judicious, and a great many new lights thrown upon the subject with such perspicuity, as attracted the notice of the public in an extraordinary manner, and helped to raise the character of the paper in which it was inserted. The minister was not the last who examined the performance, which, in spite of all his boasted temper, provoked him to such a degree, that he set his emissaries at work, and by dint of corruption, procured a sight of the manuscript in Peregrine’s own handwriting, which he immediately recognised; but, for further confirmation of his opinion, he compared it with the two letters which he had received from our adventurer. Had he known the young gentleman’s talents for declamation were so acute, perhaps he would never have given him cause to complain, but employed him in the vindication of his own measures; nay, he might still have treated him like some other authors whom he had brought over from the opposition, had not the keenness of this first assault incensed him to a desire of revenge. He, therefore, no sooner made this discovery, than he conveyed his directions to his dependent, the receiver-general, who was possessed of Pickle’s notes. Next day, while our author stood within a circle of his acquaintance, at a certain coffee-house, holding forth with great eloquence upon the diseases of the state, he was accosted by a bailiff, who, entering the room with five or six followers, told him aloud that he had a writ against him for twelve hundred pounds, at the suit of Mr. Ravage Gleanum.

The whole company were astonished at this address, which did not fail to discompose the defendant himself, who, as it were instinctively, in the midst of his confusion, saluted the officer across the head with his cane; in consequence of which application, he was surrounded and disarmed in an instant by the gang, who carried him off to the next tavern in the most opprobrious manner. Nor did one of the spectators interpose in his behalf, or visit him in his confinement with the least tender of advice or assistance; such is the zeal of coffee-house friendship. This stroke was the more severe upon our hero, as it was altogether unexpected; for he had utterly forgot the debt for which he was arrested. His present indignation was, however, chiefly kindled against the bailiff, who had done his office in such a disrespectful manner; and the first use he made of his recollection in the house to which they conducted him, was to chastise him for the insolence and indecency of his behaviour. This task he performed with his bare fists, every other weapon being previously conveyed out of his reach; and the delinquent underwent his discipline with surprising patience and resignation, asking pardon with great humility, and protesting before God, that he had never willingly and wittingly used any gentleman with ill manners, but had been commanded to arrest our adventurer according to the express direction of the creditor, on pain of forfeiting his place.

By this declaration Peregrine was appeased, and, out of a delirium of passion, waked to all the horrors of reflection. All the glory of his youth was now eclipsed, all the blossoms of his hope were blasted, and he saw himself doomed to the miseries of a jail, without the least prospect of enlargement, except in the issue of his lawsuit, of which he had, for some time past, grown less and less confident every day. What would become of the unfortunate, if the constitution of the mind did not permit them to bring one passion into the field against another? passions that operate in the human breast, like poisons of a different nature, extinguishing each other’s effect. Our hero’s grief reigned in full despotism, until it was deposed by revenge, during the predominancy of which he considered everything which had happened as a circumstance conducive to its gratification. “If I must be prisoner for life,” said he to himself, “if I must relinquish all my gay expectations, let me at least have the satisfaction of clanking my chains so as to interrupt the repose of my adversary; and let me search in my own breast for that peace and contentment, which I have not been able to find in all the scenes of my success. In being detached from the world, I shall be delivered from folly and ingratitude, as well as exempted from an expense, which I should have found it very difficult, if not impracticable, to support; I shall have little or no temptation to misspend my time, and more undisturbed opportunity to earn my subsistence, and prosecute revenge. After all, a jail is the best tub to which a cynic philosopher can retire.”

In consequence of these comfortable reflections, he sent a letter to Mr. Crabtree, with an account of his misfortune, signifying his resolution to move himself immediately into the Fleet, and desiring that he would send him some understanding attorney of his acquaintance, who would direct him into the steps necessary to be taken for that purpose. The misanthrope, upon the receipt of this intimation, sent in person to a lawyer, whom he accompanied to the spunging-house whither the prisoner had by this time retired. Peregrine was, under the auspices of his director, conducted to the judges’ chamber, where he was left in the custody of a tipstaff; and, after having paid for a warrant of habeas corpus, by him conveyed to the Fleet, and delivered to the care of the warden.

Here he was introduced to the lodge, in which he was obliged to expose himself a full half-hour to the eyes of all the turnkeys and door-keepers, who took an accurate survey of his person, that they might know him again at first sight; and then he was turned loose into the place called the master’s side, having given a valuable consideration for that privilege. This is a large range of building, containing some hundreds of lodging-rooms for the convenience of the prisoners, who pay so much per week for that accommodation. In short, this community is like a city detached from all communication with the neighbouring parts, regulated by its own laws, and furnished with peculiar conveniences for the use of the inhabitants. There is a coffee-house for the resort of gentlemen, in which all sorts of liquors are kept, and a public kitchen, where any quantity of meat is sold at a very reasonable rate, or any kind of provision boiled and roasted gratis, for the poor prisoners. Nay, there are certain servants of the public, who are obliged to go to market, at the pleasure of individuals, without fee or reward from those who employ them. Nor are they cooped up, so as to be excluded from the benefit of fresh air, there being an open area, of a considerable extent, adjacent to the building, on which they may exercise themselves in walking, skittles, bowls, and a variety of other diversions, according to the inclination of each.

Our adventurer being admitted a denizen of this community, found himself bewildered in the midst of strangers, who, by their appearance, did not at all prepossess him in their favour; and, after having strolled about the place with his friend Cadwallader, repaired to the coffee-house, in order to be further informed of the peculiar customs which it was necessary for him to know. There, while he endeavoured to pick up intelligence from the bar-keeper, he was accosted by a person in canonicals, who very civilly asked if he was a new-comer. Being answered in the affirmative, he gave him the salutation of welcome to the society, and, with great hospitality, undertook to initiate him in the constitutions of the brotherhood. This humane clergyman gave him to understand, that his first care ought to be that of securing a lodging; telling him there was a certain number of apartments in the prison let at the same price, though some were more commodious than others; and that when the better sort became vacant, by the removal of their possessors, those who succeeded in point of seniority had the privilege of occupying the empty tenements preferable to the rest of the inhabitants, howsoever respectable they might otherwise be. That, when the jail was very much crowded, there was but one chamber allotted for two lodgers; but this was not considered as any great hardship on the prisoners; because, in that case, there was always a sufficient number of males, who willingly admitted the females to a share in their apartments and beds. Not but the time had been, when this expedient would not answer the occasion; because, after a couple had been quartered in every room, there was a considerable residue still unprovided with lodging; so that, for the time being, the last-comers were obliged to take up their habitation in Mount Scoundrel, an apartment most miserably furnished, in which they lay promiscuously, amidst filth and vermin, until they could be better accommodated in due course of rotation.

Peregrine, hearing the description of this place, began to be very impatient about his night’s lodging; and the parson, perceiving his anxiety, conducted him, without loss of time, to the warden, who forthwith put him in possession of a paltry chamber, for which he agreed to pay half a crown a week. This point being settled, his director gave him an account of the different methods of eating, either singly, in a mess, or at an ordinary, and advised him to choose the last, as the most reputable, offering to introduce him next day to the best company in the Fleet, who always dined together in public.

Pickle having thanked this gentleman for his civilities, and promised to be governed by his advice, invited him to pass the evening at his apartment; and, in the meantime, shut himself up with Crabtree, in order to deliberate upon the wreck of his affairs. Of all his ample fortune nothing now remained but his wardrobe, which was not very sumptuous, about thirty guineas in cash, and the garrison, which the misanthrope counselled him to convert into ready money for his present subsistence. This advice, however, he absolutely rejected, not only on account of his having already bestowed it upon Hatchway during the term of his natural life, but also with a view of retaining some memorial of the commodore’s generosity. He proposed, therefore, to finish in this retreat the translation which he had undertaken, and earn his future subsistence by labour of the same kind. He desired Cadwallader to take charge of his movables, and send to him such linen and clothes as he should have occasion for in his confinement. But, among all his difficulties, nothing embarrassed him so much as his faithful Pipes, whom he could no longer entertain in his service. He knew Tom had made shift to pick up a competency in the course of his ministration; but that reflection, though it in some measure alleviated, could not wholly prevent the mortification he should suffer in parting with an affectionate adherent, who was by this time become as necessary to him as one of his own members, and who was so accustomed to live under his command and protection, that he did not believe the fellow could reconcile himself to any other way of life.

Crabtree, in order to make him easy on that score, offered to adopt him in the room of his own valet, whom he would dismiss; though he observed, that Pipes had been quite spoiled in our hero’s service. But Peregrine did not choose to lay his friend under that inconvenience, knowing that his present lacquey understood and complied with all the peculiarities of his humour, which Pipes would never be able to study or regard; he therefore determined to send him back to his shipmate Hatchway, with whom he had spent the fore part of his life. These points being adjusted, the two friends adjourned to the coffee-house, with a view of inquiring into the character of the clergyman to whose beneficence our adventurer was so much indebted. They learned he was a person who had incurred the displeasure of the bishop in whose diocese he was settled, and, being unequal in power to his antagonist, had been driven to the Fleet, in consequence of his obstinate opposition; though he still found means to enjoy a pretty considerable income, by certain irregular practices in the way of his function, which income was chiefly consumed in acts of humanity to his fellow-creatures in distress.

His eulogium was scarce finished, when he entered the room, according to appointment with Peregrine, who ordering wine and something for supper to be carried to his apartment, the triumvirate went thither; and Cadwallader taking his leave for the night, the two fellow-prisoners passed the evening very sociably, our hero being entertained by his new companion with a private history of the place, some particulars of which were extremely curious. He told him, that the person who attended them at supper, bowing with the most abject servility, and worshipping them every time he opened his mouth, with the epithets of your lordship and your honour, had, a few years before, been actually a captain in the guards; who, after having run his career in the great world, had threaded every station in their community, from that of a buck of the first order, who swaggers about the Fleet in a laced coat, with a footman and w — to the degree of a tapster, in which he was now happily settled. “If you will take the trouble of going into the cook’s kitchen,” said he, “you will perceive a beau metamorphosed into a turnspit; and there are some hewers of wood and drawers of water in this microcosm who have had forests and fishponds of their own. Yet, notwithstanding such a miserable reverse of fortune, they are neither objects of regard nor compassion, because their misfortunes are the fruits of the most vicious extravagance, and they are absolutely insensible of the misery which is their lot. Those of our fellow-sufferers, who have been reduced by undeserved losses, or the precipitation of inexperienced youth, never fail to meet with the most brotherly assistance, provided they behave with decorum, and a due sense of their unhappy circumstances. Nor are we destitute of power to chastise the licentious, who refuse to comply with the regulations of the place, and disturb the peace of the community with riot and disorder. justice is here impartially administered by a court of equity, consisting of a select number of the most respectable inhabitants, who punish all offenders with equal judgment and resolution, after they have been fairly convicted of the crimes laid to their charge.”

The clergyman having thus explained the economy of the place, as well as the cause of his own confinement, began to discover signs of curiosity touching our hero’s situation; and Pickle, thinking he could do no less for the satisfaction of a man who had treated him in such a hospitable manner, favoured him with a detail of the circumstances which produced his imprisonment; at the same time gratifying his resentment against the minister, which delighted in recapitulating the injuries he had received. The parson, who had been prepossessed in favour of our youth at first sight, understanding what a considerable part he had acted on the stage of life, felt his veneration increase; and, pleased with the opportunity of introducing a stranger of his consequence to the club, left him to his repose, or rather to ruminate on an event which he had not as yet seriously considered.

I might here, in imitation of some celebrated writers, furnish out a page or two, with the reflections he made upon the instability of human affairs, the treachery of the world, and the temerity of youth; and endeavour to decoy the reader into a smile, by some quaint observation of my own, touching the sagacious moraliser: but, besides that I look upon this practice as an impertinent anticipation of the peruser’s thoughts, I have too much matter of importance upon my hands, to give the reader the least reason to believe that I am driven to such paltry shifts, in order to eke out the volume. Suffice it then to say, our adventurer passed a very uneasy night, not only from the thorny suggestions of his mind, but likewise from the anguish of his body, which suffered from the hardness of his couch, as well as from the natural inhabitants thereof, that did not tamely suffer his intrusion. In the morning he was waked by Pipes, who brought upon his shoulder a portmanteau filled with necessaries, according to the direction of Cadwallader; and, tossing it down upon the floor, regaled himself with a quid, without the least manifestation of concern. After some pause, “You see, Pipes,” said his master, “to what I have brought myself.” “Ey, ey,” answered the valet, “once the vessel is ashore, what signifies talking? We must bear a hand to tow her off, if we can. If she won’t budge for all the anchors and capstans aboard, after we have lightened her, by cutting away her masts, and heaving our guns and cargo overboard, why then, mayhap a brisk gale of wind, a tide, or current setting from shore, may float her again in the blast of a whistle. Here is two hundred and ten guineas by the tale in this here canvas bag; and upon this scrap of paper — no, avast — that’s my discharge from the parish for Moll Trundle — ey, here it is — an order for thirty pounds upon the what-d’ye-call-’em in the city; and two tickets for twenty-five and eighteen, which I lent, d’ye see, to Sam Studding to buy a cargo of rum, when he hoisted the sign of the commodore at St. Catherine’s.” So saying, he spread his whole stock upon the table for the acceptance of Peregrine; who, being very much affected with this fresh instance of his attachment, expressed his satisfaction at seeing he had been such a good economist, and paid his wages up to that very day. He thanked him for his faithful services, and, observing that he himself was no longer in a condition to maintain a domestic, advised him to retire to the garrison, where he would be kindly received by his friend Hatchway, to whom he would recommend him in the strongest terms.

Pipes looked blank at this unexpected intimation, to which he replied, that he wanted neither pay nor provision, but only to be employed as a tender; and that he would not steer his course for the garrison, unless his master would first take his lumber aboard. Pickle, however, peremptorily refused to touch a farthing of the money, which he commanded him to put up, and Pipes was so mortified at his refusal, that, twisting the notes together, he threw them into the fire without hesitation, crying, “D— the money!” The canvas bag with its contents would have shared the same fate, had not Peregrine started up, and snatching the paper from the flames, ordered his valet to forbear, on pain of being banished for ever from his sight. He told him that, for the present, there was a necessity for his being dismissed, and he discharged him accordingly; but, if he would go and live quietly with the lieutenant, he promised, on the first favourable turn of his fortune, to take him again into his service. In the meantime he gave him to understand, that he neither wanted, nor would make use of his money, which he insisted upon his pocketing immediately, on pain of forfeiting all title to his favour.

Pipes was very much chagrined at these injunctions, to which he made no reply; but, sweeping the money into his bag, stalked off in silence, with a look of grief and mortification, which his countenance had never exhibited before. Nor was the proud heart of Pickle unmoved upon the occasion; he could scarce suppress his sorrow in the presence of Pipes, and, soon as he was gone, it vented itself in tears.

Having no great pleasure in conversing with his own thoughts, he dressed himself with all convenient despatch, being attended by one of the occasional valets of the place, who had formerly been a rich mercer in the city; and, this operation being performed, he went to breakfast at the coffee-house, where he happened to meet with his friend the clergyman and several persons of genteel appearance, to whom the doctor introduced him as a new messmate. By these gentlemen he was conducted to a place where they spent the forenoon in playing at fives, an exercise in which our hero took singular delight; and about one o’clock a court was held, for the trial of two delinquents, who had transgressed the laws of honesty and good order. The first who appeared at the bar was an attorney, accused of having picked a gentleman’s pocket of his handkerchief. And the fact being proved by incontestable evidence, he received sentence. In consequence of which, he was immediately carried to the public pump, and subjected to a severe cascade of cold water. This cause being discussed, they proceeded to the trial of the other offender, who was a lieutenant of a man-of-war, indicted for a riot, which he had committed in company with a female, not yet taken, against the laws of the place, and the peace of his fellow-prisoners. The culprit had been very obstreperous, and absolutely refused to obey the summons, with many expressions of contempt and defiance against the authority of the court; upon which the constables were ordered to bring him to the bar, vi et armis; and he was accordingly brought before the judge, after having made a most desperate resistance with a hanger, by which one of the officers was dangerously wounded. This outrage was such an aggravation of his crime, that the court would not venture to decide upon it, but remitted him to the sentence of the warden; who, by virtue of his dictatorial power, ordered the rioter to be loaded with irons, and confined in the strong room, which is a dismal dungeon, situated upon the side of the ditch, infested with toads and vermin, surcharged with noisome damps, and impervious to the least ray of light.

Justice being done upon these criminals, our adventurer and his company adjourned to the ordinary, which was kept at the coffee-house; and he found, upon inquiry, that his messmates consisted of one officer, two underwriters, three projectors, an alchemist, an attorney, a parson, a brace of poets, a baronet, and a knight of the Bath. The dinner, though not sumptuous, nor very elegantly served up, was nevertheless substantial, and pretty well dressed. The wine was tolerable, and all the guests as cheerful as if they had been utter strangers to calamity; so that our adventurer began to relish the company, and mix in the conversation, with that sprightliness and ease which were peculiar to his disposition. The repast being ended, the reckoning paid, and part of the gentlemen withdrawn to cards, or other avocations, those who remained, among whom Peregrine made one, agreed to spend the afternoon in conversation over a bowl of punch; and the liquor being produced, they passed the time very socially in various topics of discourse, including many curious anecdotes relating to their own affairs. No man scrupled to own the nature of the debt for which he was confined, unless it happened to be some piddling affair, but, on the contrary, boasted of the importance of the sum, as a circumstance that implied his having been a person of consequence in life; and he who made the most remarkable escapes from bailiffs, was looked upon as a man of superior genius and address.

Among other extraordinary adventures of this kind, none was more romantic than the last elopement achieved by the officer; who told them he had been arrested for a debt of two hundred pounds, at a time when he could not command as many pence, and conveyed to the bailiff’s house, in which he continued a whole fortnight, moving his lodgings higher and higher, from time to time, in proportion to the decay of his credit; until, from the parlour, he had made a regular ascent to the garret. There, while he ruminated on his next step, which would have been to the Marshalsea, and saw the night come on, attended with hunger and cold, the wind began to blow, and the tiles of the house rattled with the storm. His imagination was immediately struck with the idea of escaping unperceived, amidst the darkness and noise of the tempest, by creeping out of the window of his apartment, and making his way over the tops of the adjoining houses. Glowing with this prospect, he examined the passage, which, to his infinite mortification, he found grated with iron bars on the outside; but even this difficulty did not divert him from his purpose. Conscious of his own strength, he believed himself able to make a hole through the roof, which seemed to be slender and crazy; and, on this supposition, he barricaded the door with the whole furniture of the room; then setting himself to work with a poker, he in a few minutes effected a passage for his hand, with which he gradually stripped off the boards and tiling, so as to open a sallyport for his whole body, through which he fairly set himself free, groping his way towards the next tenement. Here, however, he met with an unlucky accident. His hat being blown off his head, chanced to fall into the court just as one of the bailiff’s followers was knocking at the door; and this myrmidon, recognizing it, immediately gave the alarm to his chief, who, running up-stairs to the garret, forced open the door in a twinkling, notwithstanding the precautions which the prisoner had taken, and, with his attendant, pursued the fugitive through his own track. “After this chase had continued some time,” said the officer, “to the imminent danger of all three, I found my progress suddenly stopped by a skylight, through which I perceived seven tailors sitting at work upon a board. Without the least hesitation, or previous notice, I plunged among them with my backside foremost. Before they could recollect themselves from the consternation occasioned by such a strange visit, I told them my situation, and gave them to understand that there was no time to be lost. One of the number, taking the hint, led me instantly down-stairs, and dismissed me at the street door; while the bailiff and his follower, arriving at the breach, were deterred from entering by the brethren of my deliverer, who, presenting their shears, like a range of chevaux de frise, commanded them to retire, on pain of immediate death. And the catchpole, rather than risk his carcase, consented to discharge the debt, comforting himself with the hope of making me prisoner again. There, however, he was disappointed. I kept snug, and laughed at his escape-warrant, until I was ordered abroad with the regiment, when I conveyed myself in a hearse to Gravesend, where I embarked for Flanders; but, being obliged to come over again on the recruiting service, I was nabbed on another score. And all the satisfaction my first captor has been able to obtain, is a writ of detainer, which, I believe, will fix me in this place, until the parliament, in its great goodness, shall think proper to discharge my debts by a new act of insolvency.”

Everybody owned, that the captain’s success was equal to the hardiness of his enterprise, which was altogether in the style of a soldier; but one of the merchants observed, that he must have been a bailiff of small experience, who would trust a prisoner of that consequence in such an unguarded place. “If the captain,” said he, “had fallen into the hands of such a cunning rascal as the fellow that arrested me, he would not have found it such an easy matter to escape; for the manner in which I was caught is perhaps the most extraordinary that ever was practised in these realms. You must know, gentlemen, I suffered such losses by insuring vessels during the war, that I was obliged to stop payment, though my expectations were such as encouraged me to manage one branch of business, without coming to an immediate composition with my creditors. and, in short, I received consignments from abroad as usual, that I might not be subject to the visits of those catchpoles, I never stirred abroad; but, turning my first floor into a warehouse, ordered all my goods to be hoisted up by a crane fixed to the upper story of my house. Divers were the stratagems practised by those ingenious ferrets, with a view of decoying me from the walls of my fortification. I received innumerable messages from people, who wanted to see me at certain taverns, upon particular business. I was summoned into the country, to see my own mother, who was said to be at the point of death. A gentlewoman, one night, was taken in labour on my threshold. At another time I was disturbed with the cry of murder in the street; and once I was alarmed by a false fire. But, being still upon my guard, I baffled all their attempts, and thought myself quite secure from their invention, when one of those bloodhounds, inspired, I believe, by the devil himself, contrived a snare by which I was at last entrapped. “He made it his business to inquire into the particulars of my traffic; and, understanding that, among other things, there were several chests of Florence entered at the custom house on my behalf, he ordered himself to be enclosed in a box of the same dimensions, with air-holes in the bottom, for the benefit of breathing, and marked upon the cover; and, being conveyed to my door in a cart, among other goods, was, in his turn, hoisted up to my warehouse, where I stood with a hammer, in order to open the chests, that I might compare the contents with the invoice. You may guess my surprise and consternation, when, upon uncovering the box, I saw a bailiff rearing up his head, like Lazarus from the grave, and heard him declare that he had a writ against me for a thousand pounds. Indeed, I aimed the hammer at his head, but, in the hurry of my confusion, missed my mark; before I could repeat the blow, he started up with great agility, and executed his office in sight of several evidences whom he had assembled in the street for that purpose; so that I could not possibly disentangle myself from the toil without incurring an escape-warrant, from which I had no protection. But, had I known the contents of the chest, by all that’s good! I would have ordered my porter to raise it up as high as the crane would permit, and then have cut the rope by accident.”

“That expedient,” said the knight with the red ribbon, “would have discouraged him from such hazardous attempts for the future, and would have been an example in terrorem of all his brethren. The story puts me in mind of a deliverance achieved by Tom Hackabout, a very stout, honest fellow, an old acquaintance of mine, who had been so famous for maiming bailiffs, that another gentleman having been ill-used at a spunging-house, no sooner obtained his liberty, than, with a view of being revenged upon the landlord, he, for five shillings, bought one of Tom’s notes, which sold at a very large discount, and, taking out a writ upon it, put it into the hands of the bailiff who had used him ill. The catchpole, after a diligent search, had an opportunity of executing the writ upon the defendant, who, without ceremony, broke one of his arms, fractured his skull, and belaboured him in such a manner, that he lay without sense or motion on the spot. By such exploits, this hero became so formidable, that no single bailiff would undertake to arrest him; so that he appeared in all public places untouched. At length, however, several officers of the Marshalsea court entered into a confederacy against him; and two of the number, attended by three desperate followers, ventured to arrest him one day in the Strand, near Hungerford-market. He found it impossible to make resistance, because the whole gang sprung upon him at once, like so many tigers, and pinioned his arms so fast, that he could not wag a finger. Perceiving himself fairly overpowered, he desired to be conducted forthwith to jail, and was stowed in a boat accordingly; by the time they had reached the middle of the river, he found means to overset the wherry by accident, and every man, disregarding the prisoner, consulted his own safety. As for Hackabout, to whom that element was quite familiar, he mounted astride upon the keel of the boat, which was uppermost, and exhorted the bailiffs to swim for their lives; protesting before God, that they had no other chance to be saved.

“The watermen were immediately taken up by some of their own friends, who, far from yielding any assistance to the catchpoles, kept aloof, and exulted in their calamity. In short, two of the five went to the bottom, and never saw the light of God’s sun, and the other three, with great difficulty, saved themselves by laying hold on the rudder of a dung-barge, to which they were carried by the stream, while Tom, with great deliberation, swam across to the Surrey shore. After this achievement, he was so much dreaded by the whole fraternity, that they shivered at the very mention of his name; and this character, which some people would think an advantage to a man in debt, was the greatest misfortune that could possibly happen to him; because no tradesman would give him credit for the least trifle, on the supposition that he could not indemnify himself in the common course of law.”

The parson did not approve of Mr. Hackabout’s method of escaping, which he considered as a very unchristian attempt upon the lives of his fellow-subjects. “It is enough,” said he, “that we elude the laws of our country, without murdering the officers of justice. For my own part, I can lay my hand upon my heart, and safely say, that I forgive from my soul the fellow by whom I was made a prisoner, although the circumstances of his behaviour were treacherous, wicked, and profane. You must know, Mr. Pickle, I was one day called into my chapel, in order to join a couple in the holy bands of matrimony; and, my affairs being at that time so situated, as to lay me under apprehensions of an arrest, I cautiously surveyed the man through a lattice which was made for that purpose, before I would venture to come within his reach. He was clothed in a seaman’s jacket and trousers, and had such an air of simplicity in his countenance, as divested me of all suspicion. I therefore, without further scruple, trusted myself in his presence, began to exercise the duty of my function, and had actually performed one half of the ceremony, when the supposed woman, pulling out a paper from her bosom, exclaimed, with a masculine voice, ‘Sir, you are my prisoner; I have got a writ against you for five hundred pounds.’ I was thunderstruck at this declaration, not so much on account of my own misfortune, which, thank Heaven, I can bear with patience and resignation, as at the impiety of the wretch, first, in disguising such a worldly aim under the cloak of religion; and, secondly, in prostituting the service, when there was no occasion for so doing, his design having previously taken effect. Yet I forgive him, poor soul! because he knew not what he did; and I hope you, Sir Simple, will exert the same Christian virtue towards the man by whom you were likewise overreached.”

“Oh! d — the rascal,” cried the knight; “were I his judge, he should be condemned to flames everlasting. A villain! to disgrace me in such a manner, before almost all the fashionable company in town.” Our hero expressing a curiosity to know the particulars of this adventure, the knight gratified his desire, by telling him, that one evening, while he was engaged in a party of cards, at a drum in the house of a certain lady of quality, he was given to understand by one of the servants, that a stranger, very richly dressed, was just arrived in a chair, preceded by five footmen with flambeaux, and that he refused to come upstairs, until he should be introduced by Sir Simple. “Upon this notice,” continued the knight, “I judged it was some of my quality friends; and, having obtained her ladyship’s permission to bring him up, went down to the hall, and perceived a person, whom, to the best of my recollection, I had never seen before. However, his appearance was so magnificent, that I could not harbour the least suspicion of his true quality; and, seeing me advance, he saluted me with a very genteel bow, observing, that though he had not the honour of my acquaintance, he could not dispense with waiting upon me, even on that occasion, in consequence of a letter which he had received from a particular friend. So saying, he put a paper into my hand, intimating that he had got a writ against me for ten thousand pounds, and that it would be my interest to submit without resistance, for he was provided with a guard of twenty men, who surrounded the door in different disguises, determined to secure me against all opposition. Enraged at the scoundrel’s finesse, and trusting to the assistance of the real footmen assembled in the hall, ‘So you are a rascally bailiff,’ said I, ‘who have assumed the garb of a gentleman, in order to disturb her ladyship’s company. Take this fellow, my lads, and roll him in the kennel. Here are ten guineas for your trouble.’ These words were no sooner pronounced, than I was seized, lifted up, placed in a chair, and carried off in the twinkling of an eye; not but that the servants of the house, and some other footmen, made a motion towards my rescue, and alarmed all the company above. But the bailiff affirming with undaunted effrontery, that I was taken up upon an affair of state, and so many people appearing in his behalf, the countess would not suffer the supposed messenger to be insulted; and he carried me to the county jail without further let or molestation.”

Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:30