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J. C. (John Collis) Snaith.

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But neither of us retorted on the fellow by so much as a word, and I
think we were well advised not to do so, for had we but unbosomed
ourselves of a very small part of what was in our hearts he might have
had a real grievance to set against us.

Therefore we both regarded him in silence, and strove to maintain a
demeanour of the coldest disdain. It was not very easy, to be sure, in
that posture, with jeers and humiliation besetting us on every side.
Yet we persevered in it so well that presently it did not fail in its
effect. For our persecutor was such a poltroon at heart that although
we were secured and quite at his mercy, he no sooner observed that we
scorned him, than the torrent of his eloquence grew sensibly less. So
long as we were humble and appeared to shrink and tremble before him,
his rage knew no bounds. But the moment we called in a little disdain
to our aid, he grew less certain of himself, and was so baffled and
held in check by it, that at last he bethought himself that he would
best serve his dignity by taking himself off. His parasite the beadle
went with him, but a considerable number of the yokels stayed to keep
us company. Their disposition was to make sport of our misfortune.
But how true is that old saw - so the master, so the man.

For with a good deal of difficulty, as you may guess, we managed to
preserve an appearance of mighty dignified unconcern, however far we
might be from feeling it, and contrived to converse one with another in
a perfectly natural and amiable manner, for all the world as though we
were not sitting in the stocks at all, but in the village alehouse. In
the face of such a fine contempt the spectators were just as much at a
loss as ever the squire had been. They were there to bully and bait
us, but under our unwavering eyes had not the courage to do so. Indeed
it seemed to involve such a degree of initiative on their part to kick
two persons who after all were not thoroughly and effectually knocked
down, that one by one they followed the example of the squire and slunk
away.

When the best part of these idle and mischievous persons had departed,
and our admirers were diminished to about a score of the village
urchins who were not to be so easily daunted, says I to my little
companion, who to be sure had been wonderfully steadfast through all
our misfortunes:

"I think, your ladyship, we shall best forget the distresses of our
present situation by arrogating to ourselves the grandeur of our former
state. How was the dear queen when you saw her last? Had she quite
recovered of her whooping-cough?"

"Oh yes, I thank your lordship," says Cynthia glibly. "But surely your
lordship was at the levée last Tuesday month?"

"No, rat me if I was," says I, with a languid air. "The fact of the
matter is, I have not the taste for these routs and drums and crushes
and assemblies. My father, the late lord, I have heard boast that he
never missed above three in thirty years. But I think your ladyship
will be the first to own that in these days the _haut ton_ is not so
vastly energetic as it once was. For myself, I would be the first to
confess that the practices and observances of the genteel and polite
world weary me to distraction. I never get into my Court suit but what
I die of fatigue in the operation!"

"His Grace of Middlesex I have heard speak to the same tenor," says
Cynthia; "and often enough have I heard her grace the duchess reprove
it in him."

"I think," says I, "it was a fashion that first obtruded itself in the
Prince of Wales."

"Ah, the dear prince!" says she. "How like his poor dear Royal
Highness it is, to be sure! I hope your lordship was not with him at
that particular drawing-room where he took off so many of the gentlemen
to play a game at basset or hazard or what not in the antechamber."

"Primero, your ladyship," says I gravely.

It was in this edifying fashion that we supported ourselves in our
present trials. Our conversation was carried to the very heights of
the genteel, and was chiefly concerned with the Royal Family. We
mentioned nobody under a peer, and contrived to bring in those great
persons in a highly inept and fashionable manner. Had any one heard
our conversation they must have marvelled to know how two people so
vastly polite and who moved in such exalted circles could ever have
come in that place. The smack of humour in the thing was undeniable,
but I am not sure that we did not retail those details, anecdotes, and
reminiscences in the mincing, clipping tone of St. James's as much for
a vindication of ourselves and a salve for our wounded feelings as for
the whimsicality of the occupation.

We were still beguiling the time in this way when the beadle came to
release us. In the performance of this office he gave us a great deal
of advice that we could very well have dispensed with. He was also
charged with a message from the squire as to how much more serious the
consequences would be if either of us were caught in those parts again.
Having at last obtained our freedom, we were not long in shaking the
dust of this unlucky parish off our feet.

As we went away we were a good deal disconcerted by the turn our
affairs were taking. It was already growing dark, and sensibly colder,
and worse, it was coming on to rain. And we had but a matter of
sevenpence to provide us with the supper that we should soon be greatly
in need of, and a protection from the night's inclemency. To have had
recourse to the flute once more, and I gravely doubt after what had
happened whether we should have had the stomach to have done so, would
not have served us. We were a long way from the next village, and the
evening had already come.




CHAPTER XVI

WE ARE SO SORELY TRIED THAT WE FAIN HAVE RECOURSE TO OUR WITS

Hand-in-hand we trudged along valiantly. The rain came, at first a
thin, hesitating haze, then with a quicker patter and a brisker
resolution, which presently settled into a steady sullen all-night
down-pour. We were very well shod, happily, and we drew our cloaks
tightly about us, and turned our faces to the deluge. To pass the
night in the open air in weather of this sort was impossible, but we
were like to be in the predicament of that first evening out of London.
Once more were we wholly ignorant of the way, were in great discomfort
of body, and had no wherewithal by which we could relieve it. We were
again called on to endure all the discomforts inseparable from our lot.
The only sound from the great darkness that covered the land was the
squish of the water under our feet, and the ceaseless twitter of the
rain on the road. Although our clothes were a steaming burden, and
clung about us in a sop, we tried not to be daunted. We pursued our
way through mud and puddles, resisting the hunger and weariness that
crept so insidiously upon us. And whatever the outward conditions of
our state I don't think we minded greatly. The example of one another
kept us from flagging, even as the possession of one another kept us
from complaining.

At last, having dragged our weary limbs up a steep hill, and having
crested the brow, we saw all at once quite a number of lights gleaming
below in the valley. It was plainly a considerable place, to judge by
them; and though it was in our best interests to keep away from all
towns and villages of any size and importance, on this occasion we did
not pay much heed to these scruples, but went boldly and gladly towards
it.

"But what shall we profit when we get there?" says Cynthia. "We have
but a matter of sevenpence between us, which will avail us little
enough for food and a lodging. And I am sure there will be nobody to
be found who will extend their charity to such a pair of drenched
beggars as we are. Oh, what can we possibly do!"

I pondered on this hard problem for a full minute. Cynthia's gloomy
views were hopelessly right. We were indeed a pair of beggars,
homeless and destitute. But we could not walk about all through that
wretched wet night on the open road. We must find some asylum for our
weariness, if only a cow-hovel as it had been formerly. This night,
however, put us in no mind for that kind of thing. We longed for the
luxuries of a bright fire at which to dry our clothes, a warm supper at
which to defeat the dismal weather, and a snug bed afterwards. But how
could we make sevenpence go so far? Beat my brains as I might, I could
find no solution to this hard problem. Yet we both yearned for these
comforts so keenly, that at last we came to the resolve that we would
obtain them by hook or by crook, if not by fair means, by those more
desperate, and be hanged to the consequences! Accordingly, when we
arrived at the first house in the place, I thrilled Cynthia by boldly
knocking on the door, and thrilled her further by more boldly asking
the title of the principal inn. As it bore the promising name of the
Angel, and was less than half-a-mile along that very road, and was said
to be a remarkably good inn, we were encouraged to push on in search of
it.

"Oh, Jack," says poor Cynthia nervously, "whatever will the
consequences be? It must be quite a public place; the landlord will
certainly ask to see our money before he serves us, such a poor vagrant
pair must we seem in the eyes of everybody; some of those horrid Bow
Street runners may be there too, or possibly my father. And if we take
that for which we are unable to pay, we may get sent to prison, or - - "

"Put in the stocks," says I.

Cynthia shuddered, and then laughed a little.

"I don't think," says she, "we shall ever fear that indignity again.
At least we came triumphantly through that ordeal."

"Merely by being bold," says I, "and the exercise of our sense of
mirth. And that is what will be demanded of us in the adventure that
is before us. Let us play our parts as bravely here, and I am
convinced that we shall come out of it just as successfully. Let us be
bold and take our courage in our hands, and I'll answer for it we'll
get a supper, a fire, a bottle, and a bed, and no questions asked. But
only a sufficient hardihood can do it, do you understand? We must not
bear ourselves as a pair of beggars at this inn, but rather as persons
of consideration and great place. You must be daughter to the duke, my
prettiness, and I will be a devil of a peer."

"That is all very fine, Jack," says Cynthia, who on occasion could be
very shrewd, "but how are we to reconcile our lost and destitute state
with our exalted degree?

"A most happy idea," says I, suddenly seized with the same. "I have it
exactly. We must be a pair of travellers who have been set on by a
highwayman, turned out of our carriage, and robbed of all our money and
valuables."

"Yes," urged Cynthia, "but what carriage can we have to show?"

"We can provide for that too," says I, in the throes of invention.
"Our servants were so affrighted at the highwayman's appearance, that
they made off pell-mell, carriage and all, without once stopping to
look behind them."

"A not very plausible story," urged Cynthia again.

"I agree with you there," says I, "but we must strengthen any defects
in our tale by the vigour and sincerity of its narration. We must play
our parts at the very height of our ability, and the landlord, whoever
he is, shall be put to it very hard to catch us tripping. A bold
demeanour and a loud voice go a long way in these days. I can smell
that supper already, and I feel my feet to be toasting before the warm
blaze. And here we are to be sure under the very sign of the house, as
goodly a country hostel i'faith as I ever saw, at which to arrive on a
pouring wet night."

Forsooth we were already come to the door. By its substantial,
well-lit, comfortable look, and the space in front of it, it had the
appearance of a coaching inn. And for that matter it did not call for
much observation to prove such to be the case. It stood at the
junction of four roads. The one that had carried us thither was a
by-road, running at this point across one of the main coaching
highways. When we discovered this to be the case we paused a moment.
There was a degree of publicity about such a hostelry that we could
have very well done without. We were certainly taking a great risk
lest our enemies should enter it; and again, the charges were likely to
be high. Yet it took only a brief reflection to decide us. We were
utterly cold, hungry and jaded, our cloaks were soaked with rain, and
the mud rose above our ankles. Therefore leaving discretion outside in
the rain, we entered boldly.

The chamber we found ourselves in was in singular and delightful
contrast to the conditions from which we had emerged. It was brightly
lit, a rare wood fire crackled and sputtered on the hearth, and threw
its shadows on the oaken panellings. An incomparable smell of cookery
pervaded it, and a table was laid for supper. The whole apartment was
spotlessly clean, replete with comfort, and altogether was a model of
what such a room should be in an inn of the better sort.

The room had only one occupant; he, a gentleman who sat at his ease,
waiting for his supper in a chair by the brisk fire. He was a
wonderfully handsome man, young, bold-eyed, and with a look of gay
impudence more winning than displeasing. He threw up his eyes as soon
as we entered and frankly took our measure. He went over us from top
to toe with the frank audacity of a pretty woman or a child. He was
plainly a little puzzled by us. He could not reconcile our appearance
with our address. We must indeed have looked to a stranger at that
moment the most draggle-tailed couple that ever came out of Bridewell.
But we had got all our best town airs about us too, and the contrast
between our state and our address must have been ludicrous, truly.

We had hardly got in to the room ere the landlord came bustling
forward. His mode of assessing the character of his guests was more
peremptory. We were in a wretched plight, and had come afoot without
baggage and unattended. He gave us one shrewd contemptuous glance and
says:

"You are come to the wrong house, are you not, master? The Chequers, a
bit further along the road to your left, is more in your style, I'm
thinking. The quality comes to this house, dy'e see?"

"God bless my soul," I roared, "was there ever such effrontery! Why,
you pot-bellied ruffian, I would knock you down as flat as your own ale
were it not for fatigue and the presence of a lady. The wrong house,
is it? Do you take us for a pair of pickers and stealers then, you
beer-barrel! Call a chambermaid this minute and have her ladyship
taken to the best bedroom you have got in the place, or I will rub my
boots into the small of your fat back, upon mine honour so I will."

A less forcible method of address might have permitted of a
controversy, in which we should have everything to lose and nothing
whatever to gain. But this fine assault, this taking of the landlord
by storm, completely disarmed him. In an instant his demeanour
completely changed, as is usual with those of his kidney. From the
contemptuous critic he was transformed into the grovelling lackey. On
the instant he was ours to command. With many bows and congees he was
soon inquiring what we would have for supper, and which wine we would
prefer. He also presumed that our luggage and attendants would
presently arrive.

"Devil a bit of it," says I. "Neither one nor the other will you see
this night. Our wretched rogues have had such a fright that I will bet
my leg they never draw rein until they make the blessed town o' London.
A murrain upon them, and may they die of a vertigo!"

The landlord clasped his palms in a fine attitude of humility,
curiosity and awe.

"Lord save us!" says he, "what can have happened to your lordship?"

"Why, something that is always happening to us, of course," says I,
with a great air of a glib matter of fact. "One of these pestilential
highwaymen stopped us and tried us on this very road, not five miles
off. Cocked his ugly mug through the carriage-window as cool as a
church, and had us step out of our cushions into the pouring rain.
Took our money and jewels off us before you could say your prayers.
And not content with all this, burn me for a heretick! if out of pure
wantonness this villain did not discharge his barker across the nose of
the leader, and away they flew downhill to the devil before we could
jump in again. They are miles away ere this, and lord knows how we
shall contrive to return to town."

I suppose there must have been a nice tone of verisimilitude in this
tissue of lies, or a ring of truth in my tone, or an expression of
perfect veracity in my eyes, for the landlord put never another
question to us upon that matter, but accepted my heart-moving tale with
a mien of deep solicitude. I think I must be unusually gifted in this
particular, since this bold story worked on his credulity to such a
remarkable degree. And either our supposed misadventures or my command
of great oaths must have invested us in the landlord's mind with the
indisputable evidences of high quality, for his obeisances grew
profounder for the recital, and though by our own confession we had not
a penny about us with which to requite him, he proposed to entertain us
to the utmost of his capacity.

"Your lordship and your ladyship will doubtless prefer an entirely
private apartment in which to sup," says he. "If you will very kindly
bear with this one while a fire is lighted in another, I will go about
it at once, and also prepare you as good a meal as it is in the power
of this poor place to furnish."

However, as I was rather taken than otherwise with the appearance of
the solitary occupant of this room, and even more so by the rare warmth
and comfort of it, I was fain to suggest that if our company was not
disagreeable to the present occupant, we should be well content to stay
where we were, and take our supper in his society. And, indeed, the
frank, amused, wonderfully naïve countenance he turned on the
innkeeper, and the air of perfect good-breeding with which he asked the
honour of our company at his table, promised excellent companionship to
follow. I having gratefully accepted his offer, he very politely
insisted that I should choose the wine, adding that our host kept a
very tolerable cellar, and paid a particular compliment to the Burgundy.

In a variety of amiable ways we were very well advanced in a
companionship long before supper was served. Our friend, in addition
to his handsome looks and elegant manners, appeared to have a good deal
of knowledge of the world. His tastes, too, seemed extremely refined.
He was well versed in Dryden, Virgil, and Shakespeare, and passed the
highest encomiums on the genius of Mr. Henry Fielding. He contributed
some excellently apposite remarks to the long-standing controversy
respecting the merits of the author of _Tom Jones_ in comparison with
those of the author of _Clarissa_. To my extreme gratification he
declared strongly for the former, whereon Mrs. Cynthia, following the
fashion of her sex, took up the cudgels very warmly for the latter.

"My dear madam," says our friend, laughing in his musical tones, "the
difference between those two authors is that between honest, searching
brandy punch and tea twice watered with a good deal of sugar in it."

"That is doubtless the case," says Cynthia. "But whereas the one may
degrade a man to the level of a beast," - I will do her the justice of
saying she laid no particular stress on this simile, neither did she
look at me, greatly to my relief - "the other is perfectly harmless,
wholesome and stimulating. Mr. Richardson's morality hath never been
impeached, but Mr. Fielding's hath never been defended."

"It is not always the person who lifts up his voice the loudest, madam,
who is the most worthy to be heard," says our friend gravely. "Nor is
it he who makes the best parade of his virtue who is invariably the
most valuable member of society. I dare say Mr. Fielding would blush
as much to be found out in a good act as Mr. Richardson would to be
caught in a bad one; but for all that I would prefer to recommend
myself to the author of the so-called loose and scandalous _Tom Jones_,
than he of the so-called high-toned _Clarissa_, were I in need of a
dinner and a guinea."

"Sir," says I, "you have put the gist of the matter excellently. You
are one of the very few persons I have met who hath had the wit to draw
this essential distinction between the characters of two such diverse
writers. What the world is for ever failing to apprehend is that true
morality, like true religion, has nothing to do with the profession of
it; and that man who as often as not best serves his species is he who
least pretends to do so."

Yet no sooner had I ventured to confirm the wisdom of my friend with my
own opinion, than my dear Mrs. Cynthia began to take my interference as
a personal matter aimed at her rather than at the argument. Thus in a
truly feminine fashion she got upon her dignity and invested her
championship of Mr. Richardson, and more especially her animadversion
of Mr. Fielding, with several palpable references to my recent
behaviour in his company. At least the unease of my conscience put
this construction upon her replies, although when I reflected upon the
matter afterwards I could find no grounds except those of my own guilty
knowledge for supposing that she was at all acquainted with our meeting.

It was a real relief none the less when our heated discourse on
morality was at last interrupted by the arrival of the first dish, a
highly delectable loin of pork flanked with sage and onions. We sat
down in much comfort and did ample justice to the fare. Our friend's
manners at the table had all the elegance of good-breeding, whilst his
conversation under the benign influences of excellent dishes and good
wine was as entertaining and various as any one need listen to. He was
at a loss on no subject whatever; and there was such an easy air of
gallantry about him, too, as commended him extremely to the susceptible
Cynthia, however they might differ in their opinions on the subject of
morality. Indeed his mien was so winning and so perfectly acceptable
withal to her ladyship, that I could have wished he had less of those
graces to recommend him. For I'll swear that her eyes shone to his
speeches, and there was a fine colour in her cheeks, however
indignantly she may be moved to deny it. There was a sly humour in the
fellow too, which as the meal wore on and the excellence of the fare
warmed his heart, he manifested in various ways. To start with, he
made more than one allusion to our supposed misfortune. What kind of a
person was the highwayman, he asked in a tone equally pregnant with
mischief and concern.

"Oh, pretty tallish," says I, with admirable vagueness and promptitude.

Thereupon he put a vast number of questions all bearing on the
appearance of our assailant. Had he a cast in his eye? a scar on his
lip? Did he speak with a west country burr? and so forth. These were
but a few. For strive as we would to turn the topic towards something
that might disconcert us less, he persisted in returning again and
again to our supposed adventure on the road. The theme seemed to have
a kind of fascination for him. At last it grew too plain that his
pertinacity had serious purpose behind it. Either my fencing grew too
obvious or his queries grew too direct, for I was presently led to see
that he had formed his own opinion on the matter, and that he proposed
to convict us out of our own mouths. It was with an effort therefore
that I retained my politeness, since the deeper one is in the wrong the
more is one inclined to resent its being proved against one.

"I should be obliged, sir," says I, "if you will do us the favour of
forgetting this unfortunate circumstance. We have already come to
regard our property as lost, and having made up our minds upon that we
cease to regret it. Indeed, we had already dismissed so trivial a
matter from our minds, and should not have thought fit to recall it,
had not the predicament of our penury, and the obstinate importunities
of this fellow the landlord, compelled us to allude to it again. You
will vastly oblige me, sir, by ceasing to mention it."

"You are very well schooled in the art of evasion, sir," says the
other. "But I am much too greatly interested in this affair to consent
to its stopping at this. The manner of the appearance of your adorable


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