Decent House of Entertainment

The knight Sir Launcelot, and the novice Crowe, retreated with equal order and expedition to the distance of half a league from the field of battle, where the former, halting, proposed to make a lodgment in a very decent house of entertainment, distinguished by the sign of St. George of Cappadocia encountering the dragon, an achievement in which temporal and spiritual chivalry were happily reconciled. Two such figures alighting at the inn gate did not pass through the yard unnoticed and unadmired by the guests and attendants, some of whom fairly took to their heels, on the supposition that these outlandish creatures were the avant-couriers or heralds of a French invasion. The fears and doubts, however, of those who ventured to stay were soon dispelled, when our hero accosted them in the English tongue, and with the most courteous demeanour desired to be shown into an apartment.

Had Captain Crowe been spokesman, perhaps their suspicions would not have so quickly subsided, for he was, in reality, a very extraordinary novice, not only in chivalry, but also in his external appearance, and particularly in those dialects of the English language which are used by the terrestrial animals of this kingdom. He desired the ostler to take his horse in tow, and bring him to his moorings in a safe riding. He ordered the waiter, who showed them into a parlour, to bear a hand, ship his oars, mind his helm, and bring alongside a short allowance of brandy or grog, that he might cant a slug into his bread-room, for there was such a heaving and pitching, that he believed he should shift his ballast. The fellow understood no part of this address but the word brandy, at mention of which he disappeared. Then Crowe, throwing himself into an elbow chair, “Stop my hawse-holes,” cried he, “I can’t think what’s the matter, brother; but, egad, my head sings and simmers like a pot of chowder. My eyesight yaws to and again, d’ye see; then there’s such a walloping and whushing in my hold—smite me—Lord have mercy upon us. Here, you swab, ne’er mind the glass, hand me the noggin.”

The latter part of this address was directed to the waiter, who had returned with a quartern of brandy, which Crowe, snatching eagerly, started into his bread-room at one cant. Indeed, there was no time to be lost, inasmuch as he seemed to be on the verge of fainting away when he swallowed this cordial, by which he was instantaneously revived.

He then desired the servant to unbuckle the straps of his helmet, but this was a task which the drawer could not perform, even though assisted with the good offices of Sir Launcelot, for the head and jaws were so much swelled with the discipline they had undergone, that the straps and buckles lay buried, as it were, in pits formed by the tumefaction of the adjacent parts.

Fortunately for the novice, a neighbouring surgeon passed by the door on horseback, a circumstance which the waiter, who saw him from the window, no sooner disclosed, than the knight had recourse to his assistance. This practitioner having viewed the whole figure, and more particularly the head of Crowe, in silent wonder, proceeded to feel his pulse, and then declared, that as the inflammation was very great, and going on with violence to its acme, it would be necessary to begin with copious phlebotomy, and then to empty the intestinal canal. So saying, he began to strip the arm of the captain, who perceiving his aim, “Avast, brother,” cried he, “you go the wrong way to work; you may as well rummage the afterhold when the damage is in the forecastle; I shall right again when my jaws are unhooped.”

With these words he drew a clasp-knife from his pocket, and, advancing to a glass, applied it so vigorously to the leathern straps of his headpiece, that the gordian knot was cut, without any other damage to his face than a moderate scarification, which, added to the tumefaction of features naturally strong, and a whole week’s growth of a very bushy beard, produced on the whole a most hideous caricatura. After all, there was a necessity for the administration of the surgeon, who found divers contusions on different parts of the skull, which even the tin cap had not been able to protect from the weapons of the rustics.

These being shaved and dressed secundum artem, and the operator dismissed with a proper acknowledgment, our knight detached one of the post-boys to the field of action for intelligence concerning Mr. Clarke and squire Timothy, and, in the interim, desired to know the particulars of Crowe’s adventures since he parted from him at the White Hart.

A connected relation, in plain English, was what he had little reason to expect from the novice, who, nevertheless, exerted his faculties to the uttermost for his satisfaction. He give him to understand, that in steering his course to Birmingham, where he thought of fitting himself with tackle, he had fallen in, by accident, at a public-house, with an itinerant tinker, in the very act of mending a kettle; that, seeing him do his business like an able workman, he had applied to him for advice, and the tinker, after having considered the subject, had undertaken to make him such a suit of armour as neither sword nor lance should penetrate; that they adjourned to the next town, where the leather coat, the plates of tinned iron, the lance, and the broadsword, were purchased, together with a copper saucepan, which the artist was now at work upon in converting it to a shield; but in the meantime, the captain, being impatient to begin his career of chivalry, had accommodated himself with a pot-lid, and taken to the highway, notwithstanding all the entreaties, tears, and remonstrances of his nephew, Tom Clarke, who could not however be prevailed upon to leave him in the dangerous voyage he had undertaken.

That this being but the second day of his journey, he descried five or six men on horseback bearing up full in his teeth, upon which he threw his sails aback, and prepared for action; that he hailed them at a considerable distance, and bade them bring to; when they came alongside, notwithstanding his hail, he ordered them to clew up their courses, and furl their topsails, otherwise he would be foul of their quarters; that, hearing this salute, they luffed all at once, till their cloth shook in the wind; then he hallooed in a loud voice, that his sweetheart, Besselia Mizzen, were the broad pendant of beauty, to which they must strike their topsails on pain of being sent to the bottom; that, after having eyed him for some time with astonishment, they clapped on all their sails, some of them running under his stern, and others athwart his forefoot, and got clear off; that, not satisfied with running ahead, they all of a sudden tacked about, and one of them boarding him on the lee-quarter, gave him such a drubbing about his upper works, that the lights danced in his lanterns; that he returned the salute with his hop-pole so effectually that his aggressor broached to in the twinkling of a handspike, and then he was engaged with all the rest of the enemy, except one, who sheered off, and soon returned with a mosquito fleet of small craft, who had done him considerable damage, and, in all probability, would have made prize of him, had n’t he been brought off by the knight’s gallantry. He said, that in the beginning of the conflict Tom Clarke rode up to the foremost of the enemy, as he did suppose in order to prevent hostilities, but before he got up to him near enough to hold discourse, he was pooped with a sea that almost sent him to the bottom, and then towed off he knew not whither.

Crowe had scarce finished his narration, which consisted of broken hints and unconnected explosions of sea terms, when a gentleman of the neighbourhood, who acted in the commission of the peace, arrived at the gate, attended by a constable, who had in custody the bodies of Thomas Clarke and Timothy Crabshaw, surrounded by five men on horseback, and an innumerable posse of men, women, and children, on foot. The captain, who always kept a good look-out, no sooner descried this cavalcade and procession, than he gave notice to Sir Launcelot, and advised that they should crowd away with all the cloth they could carry. Our adventurer was of another opinion, and determined, at any rate, to procure the enlargement of the prisoners.

The justice, ordering his attendants to stay without the gate, sent his compliments to Sir Launcelot Greaves, and desired to speak with him for a few minutes. He was immediately admitted, and could not help staring at sight of Crowe, who, by this time, had no remains of the human physiognomy, so much was the swelling increased and the skin discoloured. The gentleman, whose name was Mr. Elmy, having made a polite apology for the liberty he had taken, proceeded to unfold his business. He said, information had been lodged with him, as a justice of the peace, against two armed men on horseback, who had stopped five farmers on the king’s highway, put them in fear and danger of their lives, and even assaulted, maimed, and wounded divers persons, contrary to the king’s peace, and in violation of the statute; that, by the description, he supposed the knight and his companion to be the persons against whom the complaint had been lodged; and, understanding his quality from Mr. Clarke, whom he had known in London, he was come to wait upon him, and, if possible, effect an accommodation.

Our adventurer having thanked him for the polite and obliging manner in which he proceeded, frankly told him the whole story, as it had been just related by the captain; and Mr. Elmy had no reason to doubt the truth of the narrative, as it confirmed every circumstance which Clarke had before reported. Indeed, Tom had been very communicative to this gentleman, and made him acquainted with the whole history of Sir Launcelot Greaves, as well as with the whimsical resolution of his uncle, Captain Crowe. Mr. Elmy now told the knight, that the persons whom the captain had stopped were farmers, returning from a neighbouring market, a set of people naturally boorish, and at that time elevated with ale to an uncommon pitch of insolence; that one of them, in particular, called Prickle, was the most quarrelsome fellow in the whole county; and so litigious, that he had maintained above thirty lawsuits, in eight-and-twenty of which he had been condemned in costs. He said the others might be easily influenced in the way of admonition; but there was no way of dealing with Prickle, except by the form and authority of the law. He therefore proposed to hear evidence in a judicial capacity, and his clerk being in attendance, the court was immediately opened in the knight’s apartment.

By this time Mr. Clarke had made such good use of his time in explaining the law to his audience, and displaying the great wealth and unbounded liberality of Sir Launcelot Greaves, that he had actually brought over to his sentiments the constable and the commonalty, tag-rag, and bob-tail, and even staggered the majority of the farmers, who, at first, had breathed nothing but defiance and revenge. Farmer Stake being first called to the bar, and sworn touching the identity of Sir Launcelot Greaves and Captain Crowe, declared, that the said Crowe had stopped him on the king’s highway, and put him in bodily fear; that he afterwards saw the said Crowe with a pole or weapon, value threepence, breaking the king’s peace, by committing assault and battery against the heads and shoulders of his majesty’s liege subjects, Geoffrey Prickle, Hodge Dolt, Richard Bumpkin, Mary Fang, Catherine Rubble, and Margery Litter; and that he saw Sir Launcelot Greaves, Baronet, aiding, assisting, and comforting the said Crowe, contrary to the king’s peace, and against the form of the statute.

Being asked if the defendant, when he stopped them, demanded their money, or threatened violence, he answered he could not say, inasmuch as the defendant spoke in an unknown language. Being interrogated if the defendant did not allow them to pass without using any violence, and if they did not pass unmolested, the deponent replied in the affirmative. Being required to tell for what reason they returned, and if the defendant Crowe was not assaulted before he began to use his weapon, the deponent made no answer. The depositions of farmer Bumpkin and Muggins, as well as of Madge Litter and Mary Fang, were taken to much the same purpose; and his worship earnestly exhorted them to an accommodation, observing, that they themselves were in fact the aggressors, and that Captain Crowe had done no more than exerted himself in his own defence.

They were all pretty well disposed to follow his advice, except farmer Prickle, who, entering the court with a bloody handkerchief about his head, declared that the law should determine it at next ‘size; and in the meantime insisted that the defendants should find immediate bail, or go to prison, or be set in the stocks. He affirmed that they had been guilty of an affray, in appearing with armour and weapons not usually worn, to the terror of others, which is in itself a breach of the peace; but that they had, moreover, with force of arms, that is to say, with swords, staves, and other warlike instruments, by turns, made an assault and affray, to the terror and disturbance of him and divers subjects of our lord the King, then and there being, and to the evil and pernicious example of the liege people of the said lord the King, and against the peace of our said lord the King, his crown and dignity.

The peasant had purchased a few law terms at a considerable expense, and he thought he had a right to turn his knowledge to the annoyance of all his neighbours. Mr. Elmy, finding him obstinately deaf to all proposals of accommodation, held the defendants to very moderate bail, the landlord and the curate of the parish freely offering themselves as sureties. Mr. Clarke, with Timothy Crabshaw, against whom nothing appeared, were now set at liberty; when the former, advancing to his worship, gave information against Geoffrey Prickle, and declared upon oath that he had seen him assault Captain Crowe without any provocation; and when he, the deponent, interposed to prevent further mischief, the said Prickle had likewise assaulted and wounded him, the deponent, and detained him for some time in false imprisonment, without warrant or authority.

In consequence of this information, which was corroborated by divers evidences, selected from the mob at the gate, the tables were turned upon farmer Prickle, who was given to understand, that he must either find bail, or be forthwith imprisoned. This honest boor, who was in opulent circumstances, had made such popular use of the benefits he possessed, that there was not a housekeeper in the parish who would not have rejoiced to see him hanged. His dealings and connexions, however, were such, that none of the other four would have refused to bail him, had not Clarke given them to understand that, if they did, he would make them all principals and parties, and have two separate actions against each. Prickle happened to be at variance with the innkeeper, and the curate durst not disoblige the vicar, who at that very time was suing the farmer for the small tithes. He offered to deposit a sum equal to the recognisance of the knight’s bail; but this was rejected, as an expedient contrary to the practice of the courts. He sent for the attorney of the village, to whom he had been a good customer; but the lawyer was hunting evidence in another county. The exciseman presented himself as a surety; but he not being an housekeeper, was not accepted. Divers cottagers, who depended on farmer Prickle, were successively refused, because they could not prove that they had paid scot and lot, and parish taxes.

The farmer, finding himself thus forlorn, and in imminent danger of visiting the inside of a prison, was seized with a paroxysm of rage, during which he inveighed against the bench, reviled the two adventurers errant, declared that he believed, and would lay a wager of twenty guineas, that he had more money in his pocket than e’er a man in the company; and in the space of a quarter of an hour swore forty oaths, which the justice did not fail to number. “Before we proceed to other matters,” said Mr. Elmy, “I order you to pay forty shillings for the oaths you have sworn, otherwise I will cause you to be set in the stocks without further ceremony.”

Prickle, throwing down a couple of guineas, with two execrations more to make up the sum, declared that he could afford to pay for swearing as well as e’er a justice in the county, and repeated his challenge of the wager, which our adventurer now accepted, protesting, at the same time, that it was not a step taken from any motive of pride, but entirely with a view to punish an insolent plebeian, who could not otherwise be chastised without a breach of the peace. Twenty guineas being deposited on each side in the hands of Mr. Elmy, Prickle, with equal confidence and despatch, produced a canvas bag, containing two hundred and seventy pounds, which, being spread upon the table, made a very formidable show, that dazzled the eyes of the beholders, and induced many of them to believe he had ensured his conquest.

Our adventurer, asking if he had anything further to offer, and being answered in the negative, drew forth, with great deliberation, a pocket-book, in which there was a considerable parcel of bank-notes, from which he selected three of one hundred pounds each, and exhibited them upon the table, to the astonishment of all present. Prickle, mad with his overthrow and loss, said, it might be necessary to make him prove the notes were honestly come by; and Sir Launcelot started up, in order to take vengeance upon him for this insult, but was withheld by the arms and remonstrances of Mr. Elmy, who assured him that Prickle desired nothing so much as another broken head, to lay the foundation of a new prosecution.

The knight, calmed by this interposition, turned to the audience, saying, with the most affable deportment, “Good people, do not imagine that I intend to pocket the spoils of such a contemptible rascal. I shall beg the favour of this worthy gentleman to take up these twenty guineas, and distribute them as he shall think proper among the poor of the parish; but, by this benefaction, I do not hold myself acquitted for the share I had in the bruises some of you have received in this unlucky fray, and therefore I give the other twenty guineas to be divided among the sufferers, to each according to the damage he or she shall appear to have sustained; and I shall consider it as an additional obligation, if Mr. Elmy will likewise superintend this retribution.”

At the close of this address, the whole yard and gateway rung with acclamation, while honest Crowe, whose generosity was not inferior even to that of the accomplished Greaves, pulled out his purse, and declared, that, as he had begun the engagement, he would at least go share and share alike in new caulking their seams, and repairing their timbers. The knight, rather than enter into a dispute with his novice, told him he considered the twenty guineas as given by them both in conjunction, and that they would confer together on that subject hereafter.

This point being adjusted, Mr. Elmy assumed all the solemnity of the magistrate, and addressed himself to Prickle in these words: “Farmer Prickle, I am both sorry and ashamed to see a man of your years and circumstances so little respected, that you cannot find sufficient bail for forty pounds; a sure testimony that you have neither cultivated the friendship, nor deserved the goodwill of your neighbours. I have heard of your quarrels and your riots, your insolence and litigious disposition, and often wished for an opportunity of giving you a proper taste of the law’s correction. That opportunity now offers; you have, in the hearing of all these people, poured forth a torrent of abuse against me, both in the character of a gentleman and of a magistrate. Your abusing me personally perhaps I should have overlooked with the contempt it deserves, but I should ill vindicate the dignity of my office as a magistrate, by suffering you to insult the bench with impunity. I shall therefore imprison you for contempt, and you shall remain in jail until you can find bail on the other prosecutions.”

Prickle, the first transports of his anger having subsided, began to be pricked with the thorns of compunction; he was indeed extremely mortified at the prospect of being sent to jail so disgracefully. His countenance fell; and, after a hard internal struggle, while the clerk was employed in writing the mittimus, he said he hoped his worship would not send him to prison. He begged pardon of him, and our adventurers, for having abused them in his passion; and observed, that, as he had received a broken head, and paid two-and-twenty guineas for his folly, he could not be said to have escaped altogether without punishment, even if the plaintiff should agree to exchange releases.

Sir Launcelot, seeing this stubborn rustic effectually humbled, became an advocate in his favour with Mr. Elmy, and Tom Clarke, who forgave him at his request; and a mutual release being executed, the farmer was permitted to depart. The populace were regaled at our adventurer’s expense; and the men, women, and children, who had been wounded or bruised in the battle, to the number of ten or a dozen, were desired to wait upon Mr. Elmy in the morning, to receive the knight’s bounty. The justice was prevailed upon to spend the evening with Sir Launcelot and his two companions, for whom supper was bespoke; but the first thing the cook prepared was a poultice for Crowe’s head, which was now enlarged to a monstrous exhibition. Our knight, who was all kindness and complacency, shook Mr. Clarke by the hand, expressing his satisfaction at meeting with his old friends again; and told him softly, that he had compliments for him from Mrs. Dolly Cowslip, who now lived with his Aurelia.

Clarke was confounded at this intelligence, and, after some hesitation, “Lord bless my soul!” cried he, “I’ll be shot, then, if the pretended Miss Meadows wa’n’t the same as Miss Darnel!” He then declared himself extremely glad that poor Dolly had got into such an agreeable situation, passed many warm encomiums on her goodness of heart and virtuous inclinations, and concluded with appealing to the knight, whether she did not look very pretty in her green joseph. In the meantime, he procured a plaster for his own head, and helped to apply the poultice to that of his uncle, who was sent to bed betimes with a moderate dose of sack-whey, to promote perspiration. The other three passed the evening to their mutual satisfaction; and the justice, in particular, grew enamoured of the knight’s character, dashed as it was with extravagance.

Let us now leave them to the enjoyment of a sober and rational conversation, and give some account of other guests, who arrived late in the evening, and here fixed their night quarters. But as we have already trespassed on the reader’s patience, we shall give him a short respite, until the next chapter makes its appearance.

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