J. C. (John Collis) Snaith.

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justice was astounded by my audacity in daring to address him, and grew
as red and pompous as a turkey-cock.

"How dare you, fellow, talk to me?" says he. "If I had the power I
would commit you twice over for your insolent presumption, yes I would,
so help me."

"Yes, Tommie, you would, so help you," says his friend. "The spirit of
Hector; ye speak like Priam's son. How dare the fellow ask to hear the
evidence when you have had the magnanimity to commit him without it?
Does he forget too that when innocence ceases to suffer it will no
longer be the highest wisdom to be a rogue?"

I was likely to profit nothing by these protestations of my innocence.
This justice was evidently of the worst type of magistrate. He was too
high and mighty to imperil his preconceived opinions by entering into
the merits of the matter. He was too lofty to argue; too swollen with
self-esteem to be affronted with facts. All persons who were brought
before him must be guilty of some crime or other, otherwise they would
not have come there; and he held that he had discharged his office with
credit to himself and with profit to his country when he had
impartially committed them to gaol. I soon came to the conclusion
therefore that it would be impossible to prevail on a man of this mould
with a simple relation of the case, or expect to meet with any
suggestion of justice at his hands. I must try a more uncompromising
method; and that an exceedingly bold one. I must prove to him beyond
all doubt that I was far other than an ignorant gypsy, taking the risk
of the revelation of my true identity, and any consequences that might
ensue. For that matter if I must go to gaol, I might just as well go
there in the role of the defaulting nobleman as in that of the
larcenous vagabond.

Disregarding all attempts on the part of the officers of the law to
restrain me, I gazed about the spacious apartment with the air I might
have worn had it still belonged to me, and says: "The old place is just
as it was, I see. But, my good Sir Thomas, it grieves me to observe
that you have put your fat aunt by the side of a Rubens; and that you
have not scrupled to set a pompous citizen in a tie-wig, who, to judge
by a certain consanguinity of expression and countenance, was the
illustrous man your father and a cheesemonger at that, cheek by jowl
with one of Vandyck's gentlemen."

The justice was too incensed by this audacious speech to find words
with which to reply to it. He spluttered and stuttered himself to the
verge of an apoplexy. His friend took it far otherwise, however.

"A hit, a palpable hit," says he, laughing heartily. "I never heard a
ripe thought better expressed. And, damn it, Tommie, you deserve it
too. Your fat aunt, and your illustrious father the cheesemonger in a
tie-wig, ha, ha, ha! Our friend of the black eye and the bloody
countenance is an amateur of the arts, a lover of the beautiful."

"Remove the prisoners out of my presence," says the justice in a fury.

"No, no, Tommie," says his companion, "you go too fast. Our friend is
so monstrous good that I vow and I protest he must drink a glass of

Thereupon he countermanded the justice's order with a certain easy air
of authority that was natural to him, which carried more weight than
all the assumption of the magistrate. This strange fellow, still
chuckling, poured out a glass of wine from one of several bottles that
adorned the table, and leaving his seat carried it over to me, despite
the fact that he hobbled very badly with the gout. When he stood up he
was wonderfully imposing, being more than six feet tall, with an
appearance of perfect breeding and majesty, for all his profligate
looks and his free, laughing, jovial, devil-may-care manners. As he
offered me the glass of claret with a charming grace, I looked down at
the cords that so tightly secured my wrists with an air of humorous

"Here, hold this, and keep your long nose clear of the rim," says he,
putting the wine into the hands of the astonished head-constable. He
then drew a knife from his pocket, and without more ado cut off my
fetters. As he did so an honest indignation seemed to run in him

"What a dirty way to treat a gentleman!" he said. "But you must excuse
these low fellows; they are not to blame. They have no discretion but
simply to follow their calling. They only know a hog by his bristles."

"As a former _custos rotulorum_ for the county of Wilts, none knows
that better than I, sir. But I am vastly obliged to you, vastly

Thereupon I drank the glass he so kindly handed to me.

"My dear sir," says he, with another great laugh, "that was not the
work of a tyro. There was a neatness and a deftness in the manner of
it that must have cost you at least ten thousand liftings of the elbow
to acquire. You are as good to drink with as to talk to. I'faith you
must do me the honour of sitting at table, for you are a three-bottle
man, or I have never seen one in the world."

You may be sure that I was nothing loth to accept an invitation that
was as unexpected as it was desirable. The bewilderment of the
justice, the constable and his men, and the poor gypsies too, was
boundless as I briskly followed this extraordinary gentleman when he
hobbled back to his chair, and promptly ensconced my disreputable self
in one of the high-backed oaken seats of my forefathers, now so
courteously placed at my disposal. While he proceeded to refill my
glass and his own too, the scandalized magistrate very naturally
expostulated in the most vehement manner.

"Why, Harry, God save us all!" he cried, "have you gone horn-mad? It
is the most outrageous thing that ever was perpetrated. I vow and
protest, Harry, that you are gone stark mad to bring a thief and a
gypsy to my table to share your cups. It is unbearable, Harry, and
'fore God I will not have it. When this gets wind in the county they
will deride me to death. Lord, I shall get struck off the

"Your petitioner will ever pray," says Harry, while simultaneously we
raised the distraught justice's good claret to our lips.

Taking my cue from the familiarity of my entertainer, I threw aside
restraint and adopted the attitude of a guest in lieu of the humbler
one of a prisoner. Continuing to gaze about completely at my ease,
says I, with that frank criticism that had been formerly so effective:

"Things are no longer what they were. This place hath deteriorated
since I was in it last. The city creeps into the ancestral hall;
cheesemongery obtrudes itself. Where formerly there were Old Masters
and French Tales, there are now Bibles and bad prints. But I rejoice
to see that some few of my ancestors are still faithful to their
old-time haunt. My parents, my grand parents, my uncles, my cousins
and my aunts, Vandycks, Lelys, and Knellers, and the devil knows who,
are still assembled here, even to the replica of Sir Peter's picture of
that nobleman, most illustrious of his race, who made a Commentary on
the _Analects of Confucius_, the original of which I last saw in the
shop of a Jew dealer the other day."

My singular acquaintance with the contents of his dining-room,
evidently far more extensive than his own, was not without its effect
on the justice.

"What is the meaning of all this, Harry?" he asked of my benefactor.
"What is the fel - - what is the man talking of? What does the man mean
by his ancestors? Who ever heard such impudence, such effrontery?"

"Well, Tommie," says his frank friend, "I'll lay my last guinea that he
hath more right to call them his ancestors than their present owner."

"A murrain take you," says the justice, more purple than before, for
this was a stab in a tender place. "Will you never learn to control
your infernally long tongue? And yet again must I ask you not to
address me as Tommie when I am in the exercise of my high functions.
Thomas if you like, or my full title would be still better on these
occasions. The King would not have conferred it upon me, were it not
designed for use, and that he desired I should profit by it."

His friend nearly choked himself with laughter long before the justice
had come through this solemn homily. Indeed he could not recover his
breath until he had poured himself out another glass of wine, and had
refilled mine.

"You will kill me of laughing, Tommie, one of these days," says he.
"If it were not that your claret is as good as any for thirty miles
round London, I would never come near you. How a man can keep such a
good table and yet such a poor understanding is a thing I have never
fathomed. But I protest you will certainly kill me if you do not amend
your mind a little."

"Harry," says the justice sternly. "I can never understand how it is
that a grandson of the Earl of Denbigh, and a person of undeniable
family and descent, should have such ungenteel manners."

"Damn the Earl of Denbigh," says Harry, banging his fist on the table,
"and you too, Tommie. You can no more keep that fly out of the
ointment, than a pig can his snout out of the muck."

"What, sir," says I eagerly, "are you also cursed with a grandfather?"

"Aye, to be sure I am," says he. "Though I'll thank no man that names
him. If it were not for my grandfather I could go to the devil in my
own way."

"Why, my dear sir," says I, "never were there two such brothers in
misfortune. Your case is the very counterpart of mine."



While all this was going forward very eloquent glances were repeatedly
exchanged between the justice and the head-constable. They were both
equally at a loss to know what to do in the matter. Their plain duty
was to have me removed in custody. But this they could not very well
do, seeing on what terms of intimacy I had already been placed. There
must be a grave mistake somewhere. What it was they were too greatly
puzzled to say, but the end of it all was that my fellow-prisoners were
removed into the stables against the next morning, when they could be
more conveniently taken to prison, whilst I for the nonce was allowed
to remain seated at the table in the society of my whimsical friend.

Sir Thomas's composure had been so rudely shaken that for a long time
he could hardly venture on another word. He sat watching us with a
kind of stupefied horror, whilst we made short work of several bottles
of his most excellent claret.

"The true Falernian," says my companion, smacking his lips. "I would
that Roman fellow were here in the room of Tommie, who sits like a dead
dog in a dry ditch. I have remarked it before, and I remark it again,
that I can never understand how it is that a man who can keep such a
full-bodied, generous wine in his cellar should yet keep such a lean,
ill-liberal heart in his body. It is an internal paradox on which I
break my brains anew. You would think that one would cry out upon the
other, and that they could live together no better than a keg of
gunpowder and a live coal. And how in the first place they ever came
to be associated passes me. Ring the bell, Tommie, and tell 'em to
bring us up another bottle a-piece."

While Sir Thomas did so with the mechanical meekness of one well
accustomed to obey, says I:

"I think I can give you ease on this last matter, sir. Hath it never
struck you that our host may have bought his cellar at the same shop
that he bought his ancestors? It sticks in my mind that I have met
both his forebears and his vintages before. Indeed, to come down to
the details of this odd matter, I believe at the period of which I
speak they may have had my name appended to them."

"Shrewdly said, sir," says my companion; and then going on to another
matter which I had sedulously been leading up to, for I had come to the
conclusion that my one chance of ultimate escape lay in betraying
myself entirely, continued: "You begin to interest me vastly. I
confess you are a man after my own heart. I like your talk, I like
your manner, the colour of your eye, the cock of your old beak,
i'faith, I like you altogether. You are the very perfect gentle guest;
you abuse your host and drink his wine with the same impartial spirit.
You bear the same relation to a gypsy as our club-footed Thomas does to
the herald Mercury. No, no, my good sir, it will not do; _ex ungue

"Your compliments charm me," says I, raising the glass to my lips
again, "but I could have wished, sir, that you had not nosed out my
_incognito_. It may be the source of a greater inconvenience than I
care to think about, if it and I part company."

"The blame is entirely your own, sir," says the other. "Hercules
should not try to hide behind an arbutus tree. But no man ever had
aught to fear from me, unless that man was myself. To him, it is true,
I have been a great enemy. Yet I'll swear on my life that even that
poor unlucky young man whose name is proscribed in this morning's
news-letter would never be a penny the worse for revealing himself to
such a rough fellow as me. As for Tommie, I will answer for Tommie
too. It is true that Tommie hath weaknesses, but they are on the
surface mostly. If he can never forget that Nature had a hand in the
fashioning of Sir T. Wheatley, Knight, and Justice of the Peace, and is
in a sense a self-made man therefore, he nevertheless hath a very good
heart. I can answer for Tommie as for myself."

When he came to mention the "poor unlucky young man," I suppose I must
have winced or blinked a little, or he was a marvellously subtle and
keen observer, for after looking into my eyes, he slapped his hand on
his thigh, and cried:

"By God, can it be? Surely it is too whimsical, too fantastical.
These things do not happen outside the story books."

"Such a coincidence is a little after the manner of _Tom Jones_, to be
sure, sir," says I.

I suppose it was the word "story books" that led to my mentioning that
immortal novel which at that moment held all the town in a spell of
wonder and delight. But no sooner had I uttered the magic name of _Tom
Jones_ than I thought I saw my companion's flushed face flush deeper
than ever, and at the same instant my mind was assailed with a dozen
points of recognition. In a flash I jumped to the conclusion that I
was being entertained by the author of that inimitable work. For a
moment we sat regarding one another with the frankest amusement. Then
my companion took up his glass, and lifting it slowly to his lips, says:

"Lord Tiverton."

Thereupon I followed his polite example; and when the glass was at my
lips, says I:

"Mr. Henry Fielding."

Upon that we fell a-laughing wildly, and wrung one another warmly by
the hand. Now that the murder was out we grew closer in
good-fellowship. Had we not shown proofs of an admirable sagacity in
our previous respect for one another? The magistrate, however, was
aghast. No sooner was he acquainted with my name than he was beset
with his manifest duty as a justice of the peace.

"As you are a refugee from the law, my lord," says he, looking
anxiously at me and then at Fielding, "I fear that I have no
alternative other than to hand you over to the proper authorities. You
see, as one holding his Majesty's commission of the peace for this
county, I am precluded from giving way to any private feelings I might
entertain in the matter, but must do my plain and obvious duty, however
it be opposed to the dictates of my heart."

The dignity and the rather florid effect of this speech, which I will
do Sir Thomas the justice of saying was very well meant, was utterly
spoiled by Mr. Fielding's reception of it.

"Come down off the high horse, Tommie, if you love me," says he. "Be
damned to the dictates of your heart and your duty too. Do strive to
be natural, Tommie; if you would but be content to be natural I would
suffer you gladly, for at bottom you are as good a fellow as I know.
But when you get on these magisterial airs of yours a common mortal
cannot touch you with a six-foot pole."

"That is all very well, Harry," says Sir Thomas, "but you forget my

"There you go again," says Fielding. "Be damned to your
responsibilities. Come and drink a glass of good claret with us and
forget yourself, your office, your dignity, your wig, your knighthood,
and your laced coat for a brief five minutes. Perpend, Tommie,
perpend; and for the nonce consent to be a human being."

"Would you have me, then," says the magistrate, "sit down with a man in
my own house, knowing him to be a great criminal? How can I possibly
entertain such a person? Were I to do so I should be altogether
unworthy of the high trust that hath been reposed in me."

Mr. Fielding scratched his wig.

"A very moral sentiment," says he, "but all the morality in the world
is not worth a penn'orth of humanity."

"Sir," says I warmly, "I am grateful to you. You can scarcely know how
an example such as yours helps a drowning man to keep his head above
the flood that is like to overwhelm him. But I think I owe it to
myself to lessen the weight of Sir Thomas's responsibilities, by
assuring you that I am innocent of the horrid crime with which I am
charged. The poor fellow came by his end in a fair fight; and
therefore if you can only overlook the sums I owe my creditors, you may
relieve your scruples."

"I am more than glad of these assurances," says the justice. "A great
load is taken off my mind."

"On the contrary," says Mr. Fielding, "they make not a farthingworth of
difference to me. I care not if you are the most long-suffering peer
that ever went to the dogs, or if you are the greatest villain that
ever tried to dodge the gallows. What's the odds? You are a proper
enough fellow for all rational purposes. Certainly I would not choose
to meet Mr. Jack Sheppard in a lonely lane on a dark night, but I would
as willingly drink a bottle with a lad of his mettle just as well as
with another. If a man shall bear himself gallantly at table, with a
merry courage and a kindling eye, who am I that shall ask uncivil
questions of him?"

Whatever Mr. Henry Fielding's philosophy, and it seemed to have a
savour of that of the late eminent Sir John Falstaff, Knight, he was a
fine merry companion, who asked no better of the hour and the company
in which he sat than that they should consort with his humour. After a
while his wit, his gallant spirits, and his brave bearing before the
bottle did not fail of their effect upon the justice too. That staid
and pompous fellow resisted them for a time, but as first one and then
another bottle was numbered among the slain, and our tongues grew
looser as our brains grew warm, he fell at last from his high estate
and was seduced into a course that ill consisted with his sentiments.
When he had accepted several glasses from Mr. Fielding's own fair hands
he began to grow rather thicker in his speech, weighed his words less,
and showed several signs of having departed from his usual habit.

"You can see," says Mr. Fielding, winking at me, "that our gallant
Tommie hath been nurtured on cinnamon-water and Dr. Akenside's sermons.
I should say that four glasses are about the limit of him; five, and he
goes over the verge."

Although both Mr. Fielding and I had already accommodated a far greater
quantity than the magistrate, we had served such a much longer
apprenticeship to this business (the shame is our own) that whereas we
were scarcely conscious as yet of what we had drunk, the square-toed
Sir Thomas was already hanging out his evidences. Now no sooner did I
observe this disposition in him than I was taken with a scheme by which
my poor fellow-prisoners incarcerated in the stables outside were to
profit. Whatever my shortcomings, I would never have it said of me
that I left a friend in the lurch. These poor gypsies had given us of
their hospitality; that in itself therefore was enough of a reason why
I should endeavour to spare them a hanging. Therefore I suggested the
matter to my companion.

"Do you think, sir," says I, "that we can get our good magistrate drunk
enough to be worked on to give the order for the release of my poor
friends the gypsies? It is like to go very hard with them, I fear,
unless we can find some such way as this to aid them."

"It is very well thought on," says this truly humane fellow, without so
much as pausing to consider the matter. "Leave this jocund old
justicer to me, and I'll answer for it that the king's enemies shall
get a free pardon. Now then, Tommie, by your leave I'll name a toast.
We will drink to Law and Order. Fill up, Tommie, and no heel-taps."

So thoroughly did Mr. Fielding enter into this plan, that very soon Sir
Thomas began to babble in his talk with a most unwonted levity, and
even essayed to sing a song. With such assiduity was he plied, that he
presently advanced stage by stage, until my companion considered him to
be sufficiently primed for this business. Thereon Fielding rang the
bell and ordered the head-constable, who with his men was keeping guard
over the premises, to be brought to him. When that worthy presented
himself, Mr. Fielding says with an inimitable glib audacity:

"Sir Thomas, after much weighing of the merits of this case, hath come
to the conclusion that the evidence is not sufficient to send these
prisoners for trial. He is sensibly fearful of some miscarriage of
justice, the more particularly as one of their number that you brought
before him hath turned out on an examination to be anything but what he
was represented. Therefore Sir Thomas bids me to inform you that he
hath decided to remit these charges. And he would have you release
these people at once, that they may go about their business. And when
you have done this, you are to take your men to the kitchen, where they
are to have a good supper of beef and ale, and they can then repair to
their homes. And at least this course, this somewhat extreme course I
may say, that Sir Thomas hath decided on will save you all from a long
and weary vigil in the night air."

However surprised the head-constable was at this unexpected turn of
events, he was by no means disposed to cavil at it, since the only way
in which the fate of the gypsies could affect himself was the one that
Mr. Fielding had so adroitly indicated. Not so the scandalized
justice. Fuddled as he was, he had enough wit left to apprehend what
was going forward. But he had not enough, however, to interpose his
authority in a way that was at all likely to take effect. At all his
thick and nearly inarticulate protests, his friend Mr. Fielding kept
hushing and soothing him down, with highly eloquent and imploring

"Oh lord, Tommie," he would say, "I pray you have a care. Here am I
trying to conceal the fact that you are abominably drunk, and yet you
will flaunt it and advertise it, before the servants too. Think of
your own dignity, Tommie, I beseech you."

Whereon the head-constable would rub his coat-sleeve across his face to
conceal his laughter. Sir Thomas would grunt and wriggle and writhe
his tipsy protests, and his friend, Mr. Fielding, with the oddest
mingling of sorrow, amusement, and solemnity, apparently struggled to
put the best face he could on the justice's scandalous behaviour.



It was in this agreeable fashion that my unlucky friends obtained their
release. The justice was in no condition to cope with Mr. Fielding's
peremptory ways; and the constable, seeing and caring nothing beyond
the advantage to his own personal comfort, was not at all disposed to
wait until the magistrate was in a better condition to express his
opinions and good pleasure. Thus he bowed to Sir Thomas whilst that
inarticulate gentleman was still wrestling with his thick speech,
assured him his will should be obeyed, and that he would see to it that
his officers made a good supper in the kitchen, and took his departure
without any reluctance whatever.

"So much for that matter," says Mr. Fielding, highly pleased with the
success of his own ingenuity. "We have robbed the gallows of eight
good necks and true, which is, I think, a pretty liberal evening's
work. Yet as this is a night for good works, let us spend it
fittingly. Ring the bell, Tommie, ring the bell. The last of these
bottles died a full two minutes ago."

Unfortunately Sir Thomas was in no condition at this stage to comply
with such a request, and Mr. Fielding had perforce to perform that

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Online LibraryJ. C. (John Collis) SnaithThe Wayfarers → online text (page 10 of 18)