It was on the great northern road from York to London, about the beginning of the month of October, and the hour of eight in the evening, that four travellers were, by a violent shower of rain, driven for shelter into a little public-house on the side of the highway, distinguished by a sign which was said to exhibit the figure of a black lion. The kitchen, in which they assembled, was the only room for entertainment in the house, paved with red bricks, remarkably clean, furnished with three or four Windsor chairs, adorned with shining plates of pewter, and copper saucepans, nicely scoured, that even dazzled the eyes of the’ beholder; while a cheerful fire of sea-coal blazed in the chimney. Three of the travellers, who arrived on horseback, having seen their cattle properly accommodated in the stable, agreed to pass the time, until the weather should clear up, over a bowl of rumbo, which was accordingly prepared. But the fourth, refusing to join their company, took his station at the opposite side of the chimney, and called for a pint of twopenny, with which he indulged himself apart. At a little distance, on his left hand, there was another group, consisting of the landlady, a decent widow, her two daughters, the elder of whom seemed to be about the age of fifteen, and a country lad, who served both as waiter and ostler.

The social triumvirate was composed of Mr. Fillet, a country practitioner in surgery and midwifery, Captain Crowe, and his nephew Mr. Thomas Clarke, an attorney. Fillet was a man of some education, and a great deal of experience, shrewd, sly, and sensible. Captain Crowe had commanded a merchant ship in the Mediterranean trade for many years, and saved some money by dint of frugality and traffic. He was an excellent seaman, brave, active, friendly in his way, and scrupulously honest; but as little acquainted with the world as a sucking child; whimsical, impatient, and so impetuous, that he could not help breaking in upon the conversation, whatever it might be, with repeated interruptions, that seemed to burst from him by involuntary impulse. When he himself attempted to speak he never finished his period; but made such a number of abrupt transitions, that his discourse seemed to be an unconnected series of unfinished sentences, the meaning of which it was not easy to decipher.

His nephew, Tom Clarke, was a young fellow, whose goodness of heart even the exercise of his profession had not been able to corrupt. Before strangers he never owned himself an attorney without blushing, though he had no reason to blush for his own practice, for he constantly refused to engage in the cause of any client whose character was equivocal, and was never known to act with such industry as when concerned for the widow and orphan, or any other object that sued in forma pauperis. Indeed, he was so replete with human kindness, that as often as an affecting story or circumstance was told in his hearing, it overflowed at his eyes. Being of a warm complexion, he was very susceptible of passion, and somewhat libertine in his amours. In other respects, he piqued himself on understanding the practice of the courts, and in private company he took pleasure in laying down the law; but he was an indifferent orator, and tediously circumstantial in his explanations. His stature was rather diminutive; but, upon the whole, he had some title to the character of a pretty, dapper, little fellow.

The solitary guest had something very forbidding in his aspect, which was contracted by an habitual frown. His eyes were small and red, and so deep set in the sockets, that each appeared like the unextinguished snuff of a farthing candle, gleaming through the horn of a dark lanthorn. His nostrils were elevated in scorn, as if his sense of smelling had been perpetually offended by some unsavoury odour; and he looked as if he wanted to shrink within himself from the impertinence of society. He wore a black periwig as straight as the pinions of a raven, and this was covered with a hat flapped, and fastened to his head by a speckled handkerchief tied under his chin. He was wrapped in a greatcoat of brown frieze, under which he seemed to conceal a small bundle. His name was Ferret, and his character distinguished by three peculiarities. He was never seen to smile; he was never heard to speak in praise of any person whatsoever; and he was never known to give a direct answer to any question that was asked; but seemed, on all occasions, to be actuated by the most perverse spirit of contradiction.

Captain Crowe, having remarked that it was squally weather, asked how far it was to the next market town; and understanding that the distance was not less than six miles, said he had a good mind to come to an anchor for the night, if so be as he could have a tolerable berth in this here harbour. Mr. Fillet, perceiving by his style that he was a seafaring gentleman, observed that their landlady was not used to lodge such company; and expressed some surprise that he, who had no doubt endured so many storms and hardships at sea, should think much of travelling five or six miles a-horseback by moonlight. “For my part,” said he, “I ride in all weathers, and at all hours, without minding cold, wet, wind, or darkness. My constitution is so case-hardened that I believe I could live all the year at Spitzbergen. With respect to this road, I know every foot of it so exactly, that I’ll engage to travel forty miles upon it blindfold, without making one false step; and if you have faith enough to put yourselves under my auspices, I will conduct you safe to an elegant inn, where you will meet with the best accommodation.” “Thank you, brother,” replied the captain, “we are much beholden to you for your courteous offer; but, howsomever, you must not think I mind foul weather more than my neighbours. I have worked hard aloft and alow in many a taut gale; but this here is the case, d’ye see; we have run down a long day’s reckoning; our beasts have had a hard spell; and as for my own hap, brother, I doubt my bottom-planks have lost some of their sheathing, being as how I a’n’t used to that kind of scrubbing.”

The doctor, who had practised aboard a man-of-war in his youth, and was perfectly well acquainted with the captain’s dialect, assured him that if his bottom was damaged he would new pay it with an excellent salve, which he always carried about him to guard against such accidents on the road. But Tom Clarke, who seemed to have cast the eyes of affection upon the landlady’s eldest daughter, Dolly, objected to their proceeding farther without rest and refreshment, as they had already travelled fifty miles since morning; and he was sure his uncle must be fatigued both in mind and body, from vexation, as well as from hard exercise, to which he had not been accustomed. Fillet then desisted, saying, he was sorry to find the captain had any cause of vexation; but he hoped it was not an incurable evil. This expression was accompanied with a look of curiosity, which Mr. Clarke was glad of an occasion to gratify; for, as we have hinted above, he was a very communicative gentleman, and the affair which now lay upon his stomach interested him nearly.

“I’ll assure you, sir,” said he, “this here gentleman, Captain Crowe, who is my mother’s own brother, has been cruelly used by some of his relations. He bears as good a character as any captain of a ship on the Royal Exchange, and has undergone a variety of hardships at sea. What d’ye think, now, of his bursting all his sinews, and making his eyes start out of his head, in pulling his ship off a rock, whereby he saved to his owners”——Here he was interrupted by the captain, who exclaimed, “Belay, Tom, belay; pr’ythee, don’t veer out such a deal of jaw. Clap a stopper on thy cable and bring thyself up, my lad—what a deal of stuff thou has pumped up concerning bursting and starting, and pulling ships; Laud have mercy upon us!—look ye here, brother—look ye here—mind these poor crippled joints; two fingers on the starboard, and three on the larboard hand; crooked, d’ye see, like the knees of a bilander. I’ll tell you what, brother, you seem to be a—ship deep laden—rich cargo—current setting into the bay—hard gale—lee shore— all hands in the boat—tow round the headland—self pulling for dear blood, against the whole crew—snap go the finger-braces—crack went the eye-blocks. Bounce daylight—flash starlight—down I foundered, dark as hell—whiz went my ears, and my head spun like a whirligig. That don’t signify—I’m a Yorkshire boy, as the saying is—all my life at sea, brother, by reason of an old grandmother and maiden aunt, a couple of old stinking—kept me these forty years out of my grandfather’s estate. Hearing as how they had taken their departure, came ashore, hired horses, and clapped on all my canvas, steering to the northward, to take possession of my—But it don’t signify talking—these two old piratical— had held a palaver with a lawyer—an attorney, Tom, d’ye mind me, an attorney—and by his assistance hove me out of my inheritance. That is all, brother—hove me out of five hundred pounds a year—that’s all—what signifies—but such windfalls we don’t every day pick up along shore. Fill about, brother—yes, by the L—d! those two smuggling harridans, with the assistance of an attorney—an attorney, Tom—hove me out of five hundred a year.” “Yes, indeed, sir,” added Mr. Clarke, “those two malicious old women docked the intail, and left the estate to an alien.”

Here Mr. Ferret thought proper to intermingle in the conversation with a “Pish, what dost talk of docking the intail? Dost not know that by the statute Westm. 2, 13 Ed. the will and intention of the donor must be fulfilled, and the tenant in tail shall not alien after issue had, or before.” “Give me leave, sir,” replied Tom, “I presume you are a practitioner in the law. Now, you know, that in the case of a contingent remainder, the intail may be destroyed by levying a fine, and suffering a recovery, or otherwise destroying the particular estate, before the contingency happens. If feoffees, who possess an estate only during the life of a son, where divers remainders are limited over, make a feoffment in fee to him, by the feoffment, all the future remainders are destroyed. Indeed, a person in remainder may have a writ of intrusion, if any do intrude after the death of a tenant for life, and the writ ex gravi querela lies to execute a device in remainder after the death of a tenant in tail without issue.” “Spoke like a true disciple of Geber,” cries Ferret. “No, sir,” replied Mr. Clarke, “Counsellor Caper is in the conveyancing way—I was clerk to Serjeant Croker.” “Ay, now you may set up for yourself,” resumed the other; “for you can prate as unintelligibly as the best of them.”

“Perhaps,” said Tom, “I do not make myself understood; if so be as how that is the case, let us change the position, and suppose that this here case is a tail after a possibility of issue extinct. If a tenant in tail after a possibility make a feoffment of his land, he in reversion may enter for the forfeiture. Then we must make a distinction between general tail and special tail. It is the word body that makes the intail: there must be a body in the tail, devised to heirs male or female, otherwise it is a fee-simple, because it is not limited of what body. Thus a corporation cannot be seized in tail. For example, here is a young woman—What is your name, my dear?” “Dolly,” answered the daughter, with a curtsey. “Here’s Dolly—I seize Dolly in tail—Dolly, I seize you in tail”—“Sha’t then,” cried Dolly, pouting. “I am seized of land in fee—I settle on Dolly in tail.”

Dolly, who did not comprehend the nature of the illustration, understood him in a literal sense, and, in a whimpering tone, exclaimed, “Sha’t then, I tell thee, cursed tuoad!” Tom, however, was so transported with his subject, that he took no notice of poor Dolly’s mistake, but proceeded in his harangue upon the different kinds of tails, remainders, and seisins, when he was interrupted by a noise that alarmed the whole company. The rain had been succeeded by a storm of wind that howled around the house with the most savage impetuosity, and the heavens were overcast in such a manner that not one star appeared, so that all without was darkness and uproar. This aggravated the horror of divers loud screams, which even the noise of the blast could not exclude from the ears of our astonished travellers. Captain Crowe called out, “Avast, avast!” Tom Clarke sat silent, staring wildly, with his mouth still open; the surgeon himself seemed startled, and Ferret’s countenance betrayed evident marks of confusion. The ostler moved nearer the chimney, and the good woman of the house, with her two daughters, crept closer to the company.

After some pause, the captain starting up, “These,” said he, “be signals of distress. Some poor souls in danger of foundering—let us bear up a-head, and see if we can give them any assistance.” The landlady begged him, for Christ’s sake, not to think of going out, for it was a spirit that would lead him astray into fens and rivers, and certainly do him a mischief. Crowe seemed to be staggered by this remonstrance, which his nephew reinforced, observing, that it might be a stratagem of rogues to decoy them into the fields, that they might rob them under the cloud of night. Thus exhorted, he resumed his seat, and Mr. Ferret began to make very severe strictures upon the folly and fear of those who believed and trembled at the visitation of spirits, ghosts, and goblins. He said he would engage with twelve pennyworth of phosphorus to frighten a whole parish out of their senses; then he expatiated on the pusillanimity of the nation in general, ridiculed the militia, censured the government, and dropped some hints about a change of hands, which the captain could not, and the doctor would not, comprehend.

Tom Clarke, from the freedom of his discourse, concluded he was a ministerial spy, and communicated his opinion to his uncle in a whisper, while this misanthrope continued to pour forth his invectives with a fluency peculiar to himself. The truth is, Mr. Ferret had been a party writer, not from principle, but employment, and had felt the rod of power, in order to avoid a second exertion of which, he now found it convenient to skulk about in the country, for he had received intimation of a warrant from the secretary of state, who wanted to be better acquainted with his person. Notwithstanding the ticklish nature of his situation, it was become so habitual to him to think and speak in a certain manner, that even before strangers whose principles and connexions he could not possibly know, he hardly ever opened his mouth, without uttering some direct or implied sarcasm against the government.

He had already proceeded a considerable way in demonstrating, that the nation was bankrupt and beggared, and that those who stood at the helm were steering full into the gulf of inevitable destruction, when his lecture was suddenly suspended by a violent knocking at the door, which threatened the whole house with inevitable demolition. Captain Crowe, believing they should be instantly boarded, unsheathed his hanger, and stood in a posture of defence. Mr. Fillet armed himself with the poker, which happened to be red hot; the ostler pulled down a rusty firelock, that hung by the roof, over a flitch of bacon. Tom Clarke perceiving the landlady and her children distracted with terror, conducted them, out of mere compassion, below stairs into the cellar; and as for Mr. Ferret, he prudently withdrew into an adjoining pantry.

But as a personage of great importance in this entertaining history was forced to remain some time at the door before he could gain admittance, so must the reader wait with patience for the next chapter, in which he will see the cause of this disturbance explained much to his comfort and edification.

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