The outward door of the Black Lion had already sustained two dreadful shocks, but at the third it flew open, and in stalked an apparition that smote the hearts of our travellers with fear and trepidation. It was the figure of a man armed cap-a-pee, bearing on his shoulders a bundle dropping with water, which afterwards appeared to be the body of a man that seemed to have been drowned, and fished up from the bottom of the neighbouring river.

Having deposited his burden carefully on the floor, he addressed himself to the company in these words: “Be not surprised, good people, at this unusual appearance, which I shall take an opportunity to explain, and forgive the rude and boisterous manner in which I have demanded, and indeed forced admittance; the violence of my intrusion was the effect of necessity. In crossing the river, my squire and his horse were swept away by the stream, and, with some difficulty, I have been able to drag him ashore, though I am afraid my assistance reached him too late, for since I brought him to land he has given no signs of life.”

Here he was interrupted by a groan, which issued from the chest of the squire, and terrified the spectators as much as it comforted the master. After some recollection, Mr. Fillet began to undress the body, which was laid in a blanket on the floor, and rolled from side to side by his direction. A considerable quantity of water being discharged from the mouth of this unfortunate squire, he uttered a hideous roar, and, opening his eyes, stared wildly around. Then the surgeon undertook for his recovery; and his master went forth with the ostler in quest of the horses, which he had left by the side of the river. His back was no sooner turned, than Ferret, who had been peeping from behind the pantry-door, ventured to rejoin the company; pronouncing with a smile, or rather grin, of contempt, “Hey-day! what precious mummery is this? What, are we to have the farce of Hamlet’s ghost?” “Adzooks,” cried the captain, “My kinsman Tom has dropped astern—hope in God a-has not bulged to, and gone to bottom.” “Pish,” exclaimed the misanthrope, “there’s no danger; the young lawyer is only seizing Dolly in tail.”

Certain it is, Dolly squeaked at that instant in the cellar; and Clarke appearing soon after in some confusion, declared she had been frightened by a flash of lightning. But this assertion was not confirmed by the young lady herself, who eyed him with a sullen regard, indicating displeasure, though not indifference; and when questioned by her mother, replied, “A doan’t maind what a-says, so a doan’t, vor all his goalden jacket, then.”

In the meantime the surgeon had performed the operation of phlebotomy on the squire, who was lifted into a chair, and supported by the landlady for that purpose; but he had not as yet given any sign of having retrieved the use of his senses. And here Mr. Fillet could not help contemplating, with surprise, the strange figure and accoutrements of his patient, who seemed in age to be turned of fifty. His stature was below the middle size; he was thick, squat, and brawny, with a small protuberance on one shoulder, and a prominent belly, which, in consequence of the water he had swallowed, now strutted beyond its usual dimensions. His forehead was remarkably convex, and so very low, that his black bushy hair descended within an inch of his nose; but this did not conceal the wrinkles of his front, which were manifold. His small glimmering eyes resembled those of the Hampshire porker, that turns up the soil with his projecting snout. His cheeks were shrivelled and puckered at the corners, like the seams of a regimental coat as it comes from the hands of the contractor. His nose bore a strong analogy in shape to a tennis-ball, and in colour to a mulberry; for all the water of the river had not been able to quench the natural fire of that feature. His upper jaw was furnished with two long white sharp-pointed teeth or fangs, such as the reader may have observed in the chaps of a wolf, or full-grown mastiff, and an anatomist would describe as a preternatural elongation of the dentes canini. His chin was so long, so peaked, and incurvated, as to form in profile, with his impending forehead, the exact resemblance of a moon in the first quarter. With respect to his equipage, he had a leathern cap upon his head, faced like those worn by marines, and exhibiting in embroidery, the figure of a crescent. His coat was of white cloth, faced with black, and cut in a very antique fashion; and, in lieu of a waistcoat, he wore a buff jerkin. His feet were cased with loose buskins, which, though they rose almost to his knee, could not hide that curvature, known by the appellation of bandy legs. A large string of bandaliers garnished a broad belt that graced his shoulders, from whence depended an instrument of war, which was something between a back-sword and a cutlass; and a case of pistols were stuck in his girdle.

Such was the figure which the whole company now surveyed with admiration. After some pause, he seemed to recover his recollection. He rolled about his eyes around, and, attentively surveying every individual, exclaimed, in a strange tone, “Bodikins! where’s Gilbert?” This interrogation did not savour much of sanity, especially when accompanied with a wild stare, which is generally interpreted as a sure sign of a disturbed understanding. Nevertheless, the surgeon endeavoured to assist his recollection. “Come,” said he, “have a good heart.—How dost do, friend?” “Do!” replied the squire, “do as well as I can.—That’s a lie too; I might have done better. I had no business to be here.” “You ought to thank God and your master,” resumed the surgeon, “for the providential escape you have had.” “Thank my master!” cried the squire, “thank the devil! Go and teach your grannum to crack filberds. I know who I’m bound to pray for, and who I ought to curse the longest day I have to live.”

Here the captain interposing, “Nay, brother,” said he, “you are bound to pray for this here gentleman as your sheet-anchor; for, if so be as he had not cleared your stowage of the water you had taken in at your upper works, and lightened your veins, d’ye see, by taking away some of your blood, adad! you had driven before the gale, and never been brought up in this world again, d’ye see.” “What, then you would persuade me,” replied the patient, “that the only way to save my life was to shed my precious blood? Look ye, friend, it shall not be lost blood to me.—I take you all to witness, that there surgeon, or apothecary, or farrier, or dog-doctor, or whatsoever he may be, has robbed me of the balsam of life.—He has not left so much blood in my body as would fatten a starved flea.—O! that there was a lawyer here to serve him with a siserari.”

Then fixing his eyes upon Ferret, he proceeded: “An’t you a limb of the law, friend?—No, I cry you mercy, you look more like a showman or a conjurer.”—Ferret, nettled at this address, answered, “It would be well for you, that I could conjure a little common sense into that numskull of yours.” “If I want that commodity,” rejoined the squire, “I must go to another market, I trow.—You legerdemain men be more like to conjure the money from our pockets than sense into our skulls. Vor my own part, I was once cheated of vorty good shillings by one of your broother cups and balls.” In all probability he would have descended to particulars, had he not been seized with a return of his nausea, which obliged him to call for a bumper of brandy. This remedy being swallowed, the tumult in his stomach subsided. He desired he might be put to bed without delay, and that half a dozen eggs and a pound of bacon might, in a couple of hours, be dressed for his supper.

He was accordingly led off the scene by the landlady and her daughter; and Mr. Ferret had just time to observe the fellow was a composition, in which he did not know whether knave or fool most predominated, when the master returned from the stable. He had taken off his helmet, and now displayed a very engaging countenance. His age did not seem to exceed thirty. He was tall, and seemingly robust; his face long and oval, his nose aquiline, his mouth furnished with a set of elegant teeth, white as the drifted snow, his complexion clear, and his aspect noble. His chestnut hair loosely flowed in short natural curls; and his grey eyes shone with such vivacity, as plainly showed that his reason was a little discomposed. Such an appearance prepossessed the greater part of the company in his favour. He bowed round with the most polite and affable address; inquired about his squire, and, being informed of the pains Mr. Fillet had taken for his recovery, insisted upon that gentleman’s accepting a handsome gratuity. Then, in consideration of the cold bath he had undergone, he was prevailed upon to take the post of honour; namely, the great chair fronting the fire, which was reinforced with a billet of wood for his comfort and convenience.

Perceiving his fellow-travellers, either overawed into silence by his presence, or struck dumb with admiration at his equipage, he accosted them in these words, while an agreeable smile dimpled on his cheek:—

“The good company wonders, no doubt, to see a man cased in armour, such as hath been for above a whole century disused in this and every other country of Europe; and perhaps they will be still more surprised, when they hear that man profess himself a novitiate of that military order, which hath of old been distinguished in Great Britain, as well as through all Christendom, by the name of knights-errant. Yes, gentlemen, in that painful and thorny path of toil and danger I have begun my career, a candidate for honest fame; determined, as far as in me lies, to honour and assert the efforts of virtue; to combat vice in all her forms, redress injuries, chastise oppression, protect the helpless and forlorn, relieve the indigent, exert my best endeavours in the cause of innocence and beauty, and dedicate my talents, such as they are, to the service of my country.”

“What!” said Ferret, “you set up for a modern Don Quixote? The scheme is rather too stale and extravagant. What was a humorous romance and well-timed satire in Spain near two hundred years ago, will make but a sorry jest, and appear equally insipid and absurd when really acted from affectation, at this time of day, in a country like England.”

The knight, eyeing this censor with a look of disdain, replied, in a solemn, lofty tone: “He that from affectation imitates the extravagancies recorded of Don Quixote, is an impostor equally wicked and contemptible. He that counterfeits madness, unless he dissembles, like the elder Brutus, for some virtuous purpose, not only debases his own soul, but acts as a traitor to Heaven, by denying the divinity that is within him. I am neither an affected imitator of Don Quixote, nor, as I trust in Heaven, visited by that spirit of lunacy so admirably displayed in the fictitious character exhibited by the inimitable Cervantes. I have not yet encountered a windmill for a giant, nor mistaken this public-house for a magnificent castle; neither do I believe this gentleman to be the constable; nor that worthy practitioner to be Master Elizabat, the surgeon recorded in Amadis de Gaul; nor you to be the enchanter Alquife, nor any other sage of history or romance; I see and distinguish objects as they are discerned and described by other men. I reason without prejudice, can endure contradiction, and, as the company perceives, even bear impertinent censure without passion or resentment. I quarrel with none but the foes of virtue and decorum, against whom I have declared perpetual war, and them I will everywhere attack as the natural enemies of mankind.”

“But that war,” said the cynic, “may soon be brought to a conclusion, and your adventures close in Bridewell, provided you meet with some determined constable, who will seize your worship as a vagrant, according to the statute.” “Heaven and earth!” cried the stranger, starting up, and laying his hand on his sword, “do I live to hear myself insulted with such an opprobrious epithet, and refrain from trampling into dust the insolent calumniator?”

The tone in which these words were pronounced, and the indignation that flashed from the eyes of the speaker, intimidated every individual of the society, and reduced Ferret to a temporary privation of all his faculties. His eyes retired within their sockets; his complexion, which was naturally of a copper hue, now shifted to a leaden colour; his teeth began to chatter; and all his limbs were agitated by a sudden palsy. The knight observed his condition, and resumed his seat, saying, “I was to blame; my vengeance must be reserved for very different objects. Friend, you have nothing to fear—the sudden gust of passion is now blown over. Recollect yourself, and I will reason calmly on the observation you have made.”

This was a very seasonable declaration to Mr. Ferret, who opened his eyes, and wiped his forehead, while the other proceeded in these terms: “You say I am in danger of being apprehended as a vagrant. I am not so ignorant of the laws of my country, but that I know the description of those who fall within the legal meaning of this odious term. You must give me leave to inform you, friend, that I am neither bearward, fencer, stroller, gipsy, mountebank, nor mendicant; nor do I practise subtle craft, to deceive and impose upon the king’s lieges; nor can I be held as an idle disorderly person, travelling from place to place, collecting monies by virtue of counterfeited passes, briefs, and other false pretences; in what respect, therefore, am I to be deemed a vagrant? Answer boldly without fear or scruple.”

To this interrogation the misanthrope replied, with a faltering accent, “If not a vagrant, you incur the penalty for riding armed in affray of the peace.” “But, instead of riding armed in affray of the peace,” resumed the other, “I ride in preservation of the peace; and gentlemen are allowed by the law to wear armour for their defence. Some ride with blunderbusses, some with pistols, some with swords, according to their various inclinations. Mine is to wear the armour of my forefathers. Perhaps I use them for exercise, in order to accustom myself to fatigue, and strengthen my constitution; perhaps I assume them for a frolic.”

“But if you swagger, armed and in disguise, assault me on the highway, or put me in bodily fear for the sake of the jest, the law will punish you in earnest,” cried the other. “But my intention,” answered the knight, “is carefully to avoid all those occasions of offence.” “Then,” said Ferret, “you may go unarmed, like other sober people.” “Not so,” answered the knight; “as I propose to travel all times, and in all places, mine armour may guard me against the attempts of treachery; it may defend me in combat against odds, should I be assaulted by a multitude, or have occasion to bring malefactors to justice.”

“What, then,” exclaimed the philosopher, “you intend to co-operate with the honourable fraternity of thief-takers?” “I do purpose,” said the youth, eyeing him with a look of ineffable contempt, “to act as a coadjutator to the law, and even to remedy evils which the law cannot reach; to detect fraud and treason, abase insolence, mortify pride, discourage slander, disgrace immodesty, and stigmatise ingratitude, but the infamous part of a thief-catcher’s character I disclaim. I neither associate with robbers and pickpockets, knowing them to be such, that, in being intrusted with their secrets, I may the more effectually betray them; nor shall I ever pocket the reward granted by the legislature to those by whom robbers are brought to conviction; but I shall always think it my duty to rid my country of that pernicious vermin, which prey upon the bowels of the commonwealth—not but that an incorporated company of licensed thieves might, under proper regulations, be of service to the community.”

Ferret, emboldened by the passive tameness with which the stranger bore his last reflection, began to think he had nothing of Hector but his outside, and gave a loose to all the acrimony of his party rancour. Hearing the knight mention a company of licensed thieves, “What else,” cried he, “is the majority of the nation? What is your standing army at home, that eat up their fellow-subjects? What are your mercenaries abroad, whom you hire to fight their own quarrels? What is your militia, that wise measure of a sagacious ministry, but a larger gang of petty thieves, who steal sheep and poultry through mere idleness; and were they confronted with an enemy, would steal themselves away? What is your . . . but a knot of thieves, who pillage the nation under colour of law, and enrich themselves with the wreck of their country? When you consider the enormous debt of above an hundred millions, the intolerable load of taxes and impositions under which we groan, and the manner in which that burden is yearly accumulating, to support two German electorates, without our receiving anything in return, but the shows of triumph and shadows of conquest;—I say, when you reflect on these circumstances, and at the same time behold our cities filled with bankrupts, and our country with beggars, can you be so infatuated as to deny that the ministry is mad, or worse than mad—our wealth exhausted, our people miserable, our credit blasted, and our state on the brink of perdition? This prospect, indeed, will make the fainter impression, if we recollect that we ourselves are a pack of such profligate, corrupted, pusillanimous rascals, as deserve no salvation.”

The stranger, raising his voice to a loud tone, replied, “Such, indeed, are the insinuations, equally false and insidious, with which the desperate emissaries of a party endeavour to poison the minds of his majesty’s subjects, in defiance of common honesty and common sense. But he must be blind to all perception, and dead to candour, who does not see and own that we are involved in a just and necessary war, which has been maintained on truly British principles, prosecuted with vigour, and crowned with success; that our taxes are easy, in proportion to our wealth; that our conquests are equally glorious and important; that our commerce flourishes, our people are happy, and our enemies reduced to despair. Is there a man who boasts a British heart, that repines at the success and prosperity of his country? Such there are, (Oh, shame to patriotism, and reproach to Great Britain!) who act as the emissaries of France, both in word and writing; who exaggerate our necessary burdens, magnify our dangers, extol the power of our enemies, deride our victories, extenuate our conquests, condemn the measures of our government, and scatter the seeds of dissatisfaction through the land. Such domestic traitors are doubly the objects of detestation;—first, in perverting truth; and, secondly, in propagating falsehood, to the prejudice of that community of which they have professed themselves members. One of these is well known by the name of Ferret, an old, rancorous, incorrigible instrument of sedition. Happy it is for him that he has never fallen in my way; for, notwithstanding the maxims of forbearance which I have adopted, the indignation which the character of that caitiff inspires, would probably impel me to some act of violence, and I should crush him like an ungrateful viper, that gnawed the bosom which warmed it into life!”

These last words were pronounced with a wildness of look, that even bordered upon frenzy. The misanthrope once more retired to the pantry for shelter, and the rest of the guests were evidently disconcerted.

Mr. Fillet, in order to change the conversation, which was likely to produce serious consequences, expressed uncommon satisfaction at the remarks which the knight had made, signified his approbation of the honourable office he had undertaken, declared himself happy in having seen such an accomplished cavalier, and observed, that nothing was wanting to render him a complete knight-errant, but some celebrated beauty, the mistress of his heart, whose idea might animate his breast, and strengthen his arm to the utmost exertion of valour. He added, that love was the soul of chivalry.

The stranger started at this discourse. He turned his eyes on the surgeon with a fixed regard; his countenance changed; a torrent of tears gushed down his cheeks; his head sunk upon his bosom; he heaved a profound sigh, and remained in silence with all the external marks of unutterable sorrow. The company were, in some measure, infected by his despondence, concerning the cause of which, however, they would not venture to inquire.

By this time the landlady, having disposed of the squire, desired to know, with many curtsies, if his honour would not choose to put off his wet garments, assuring him, that she had a very good feather bed at his service, upon which many gentlevolks of the virst quality had lain, that the sheets were well aired, and that Dolly would warm them for his worship with a pan of coals. This hospitable offer being repeated, he seemed to wake from a trance of grief, arose from his seat, and, bowing courteously to the company, withdrew.

Captain Crowe, whose faculty of speech had been all this time absorbed in amazement, now broke into the conversation with a volley of interjections. “Split my snatchblock!—Odd’s firkin!—Splice my old shoes!—I have sailed the salt seas, brother, since I was no higher than the Triton’s taffrel—east, west, north, and south, as the saying is— Blacks, Indians, Moors, Morattos, and Seapoys;—but, smite my timbers! such a man of war--”

Here he was interrupted by his nephew, Tom Clarke, who had disappeared at the knight’s first entrance, and now produced himself with an eagerness in his look, while the tears stared in his eyes.—“Lord bless my soul!” cried he, “I know that gentleman, and his servant, as well as I know my own father!—I am his own godson, uncle; he stood for me when he was a boy—yes, indeed, sir, my father was steward to the estate—I may say I was bred up in the family of Sir Everhard Greaves, who has been dead these two years—this is the only son, Sir Launcelot; the best-natured, worthy, generous gentleman—I care not who knows it. I love him as well as if he was my own flesh and blood.”

At this period, Tom, whose heart was of the melting mood, began to sob and weep plenteously, from pure affection. Crowe, who was not very subject to these tendernesses, d—-ed him for a chicken-hearted lubber; repeating, with much peevishness, “What dost cry for? what dost cry for, noddy?” The surgeon, impatient to know the story of Sir Launcelot, which he had heard imperfectly recounted, begged that Mr. Clarke would compose himself, and relate it as circumstantially as his memory would retain the particulars; and Tom, wiping his eyes, promised to give him that satisfaction; which the reader, if he be so minded, may partake in the next chapter.

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