The HISTORY of POMPEY the LITTLE
|Contents||Chapters XIII-XV||Book II|
|Chapter XVI||Chapter XVII||Chapter XVIII|
|Sir Thomas Browne|
The history of a highwayman.
' I think you have often told me, old father hypocrite, that you begat me under a hedge near Newberry in Berkshire. This, I confess, is not the most honourable way of coming into the world, but no man is answerable for his birth, and therefore what signifies prevarication ? Alexander I have heard was the son of a flying dragon, and Romulus was suckled by a plaguy confounded wolf, as I have read in Hooke's Roman history, and yet in time he grew to be a very pretty young fellow, and a king --- but you are ignorant of these matters, both of you, and therefore I only play the fool to talk about them in such company.
' Well, sir, as soon as I was born, my mother, I suppose, wrapped me up in the dirty rags of an old rotten petticoat, and lugged me about behind her shoulders, as an object to move compassion. In this agreeable situation, nuzzling behind the back of a lousy drab --- excuse me, old fellow, for making so free with your consort --- in this situation, I suppose, I visited all the towns in England, and 'tis amazing I was not crippled with having my feet and limbs bundled up in such close confinement. But I kicked hard for liberty, and at length came out that easy, degagé, jaunty young fellow of fashion, which you now behold me.
' My genius very early began to shew itself, and before I was twelve years old, you know I had acquired a great reputation for slight of hand : which being reported to a great master of that science, he immediately took me under his care, and promised to initiate me into all the mysteries of the art. Thus I bade adieu to the dirty employment of begging, left father and mother, and struck into a higher sphere of life.
' At first indeed I meddled only with petty larceny, and was sent out to try my hand on execution-days at Tyburn ; where having acquitted myself with honour, I was quickly promoted to better business, and by that time I was fifteen, began to make a great figure in the passages about the theatres. Many a gentleman's fob have I eased of the trouble of carrying a watch ; and tho' it may look like vanity to say so, I believe I furnished more brokers shops and pedlars boxes, than half the pick-pockets in London besides. None of them all had so great a levee of travelling Jews to travel for buckles, seals, watches, tweezar-cases, and the like, as I had. But my chief dexterity was in robbing the ladies --- there is a peculiar delicacy required in whipping one's hand up a lady's petticoats, and carrying off her pockets, which few of them ever attain to with any success. That now was my glory --- that was my delight --- I performed it to admiration, and out-did them all in this branch of the craft.
' I remember once a chambermaid of my acquaintance, a flame of mine, gave me notice that her young lady would be at play such a night, with a pair of diamond buckles in her shoes. You may be sure I watched her into her coach, marked her into her box, and waited for her coming out, with some of the fraternity to assist me. At last, as soon as the play was over, out she came tittering and laughing with her companions, who by good luck happened to be all of her own sex. This now was my time ; I had her up in my arms in a moment, while one of my comrades whipped off her shoes with prodigious expedition ; but my reason for telling the story is this --- while I had her in my arms, let me die if I could help giving her a kiss, which hang me, if the little trembler did not seem to return, with her heart panting, and breasts heaving --- Deuce take me, if I was not almost sorry afterwards to see her walking to her coach, without any shoes upon her feet.
' Well, sir, this was my course of life for a few years. But ambition, you know, is a thing never to be satisfied, and having gained all the glory I could in this way, my next step of promotion was to the gaming-tables. Here I played with great success a long while, and shared in the fleecing of many raw young cullies, who had more money than wit. But one unfortunate night, the devil or my evil genius carried me to a masquerade, and there in the ill-omen'd habit of a fryer, being fool enough to play upon an honourable footing, I lost all I had to a few shillings. This was a confounded stroke, this was a stunning blow to me --- I lay a bed all the next day, raving at my ill-fortune, and beating my brains to think I could be such an ass as to play upon the square. At last in a fit of despair, I started out of bed about nine or ten o'clock at night, borrowed a friend's horse, bought a second-hand pair of poppers, with the little silver that was left me, and away I rode full gallop, night and rainy as it was, for Hounslow Heath. There I wandered about half-dead with cold and fear till morning, and to say the truth, began to grow devilish sick of my business. When day broke, the first object that presented itself to my eyes, I remember, was a gallows within a hundred yards of me ; this seemed plaguy ominous, and I was very near riding back to London without striking a stroke. At last, while I was wavering in this state of uncertainty, behold, a stage-coach comes gently, softly ambling over the Heath. Courage, my heart, cries I, there can be no fear of resistance here ; a stage-coach is the most lucky thing in the world for a young adventurer ; and so saying, I clapt on my mask, (the same I had worn the night before at the Hay-Market) set spurs to my horse, and presented my pistol at the coach-window. How the passengers behaved, I know not. For my own part, I was more than half blind with fear, and taking what they gave me without any expostulation, away I rode, exceedingly well satisfied to have escaped without resistance. Taking courage however at this success, I attacked another stage-coach with greater bravery, and afterwards a third with so much magnanimity, that I even ventured to search some of the passengers, who I thought defrauded me of my due. Here now I should have left off, and all had been well --- but that devil avarice prompting me to get a little more, I attacked a single horseman, and plundered him of a watch and about thirty guineas. The scoundrel seemed to pursue his journey quietly enough, but meeting afterwards with some of his friends on the road, and relating his case to them, they all agreed to pursue me. Meanwhile, sir, I was jogging on contentedly at my ease, when turning around on a sudden, I saw this tremendous grazier, and two or three more bloody-minded fellows, that seemed each as big as a giant, in full pursuit of me. Away I dashed thro' thick and thin, as if the devil drove ; but being wretchedly mounted, I was surrounded, apprehended, carried before that infernal Sir Thomas Deveil, and he committed me.
' Now I was in a sweet condition. This was a charming revolution in my life. Newgate and the prospect of a gallows, furnish a man with very agreeable reflexions. O that cursed Old-Baily ! I shall never forget the sentence which the hum-drum son of a whore of a judge passed upon me --- You shall hang till you are dead, dead, dead --- faith I was more than half-dead with hearing it, and in that plight I was dragged back to my prison.
' Excellent lodging in the condemned hole ! --- pretty music the death warrant rings in a man's ears ! --- but as good luck would have it, while I was expecting every hour to be tucked up, his majesty (G-d bless him) took pity on me the very day before execution, and sent me a reprieve for transportation. To describe the transport I felt at this moment, would be impossible ; I was half-mad with joy, and instead of reflecting that I was going to slavery, fancied myself going to heaven. The being shipped off for Jamaica was so much better a voyage, I thought, than ferrying over that same river Styx with old gaffar Charon, that I never once troubled myself about what I was to suffer, when I got thither.
' Not to be tedious, (for I hate a long story) to Jamaica I went, with a full resolution of making my escape by the first opportunity, which I very soon accomplished. After leading the life of a dog for about a year and a half, I got on board a ship which was coming for England, and arrived safe and sound on the coast of Cornwal. My dear native country ! how it revived my heart to see thee again ? O London, London ! no woman of quality, after suffering the vapours for a whole summer in the country, ever sighed after thee with greater desire than I did. But as I landed without a farthing of money in my pocket, I was obliged to beg my way up to town in the habit of a sailor, telling all the way the confoundedst lies --- how I had been taken by pirates, and fought with the Moors, who were going to eat me alive, and twenty other unaccountable stories, to chouse silly women of a few half-pence.
' Well, at last I entered the dear old metropolis, and went immediately in quest of a gang of sharpers, which I formerly frequented. These jovial blades were just then setting out for New-Market races, and very generously took me into their party. They supplied me with cloaths, lent me a little money to begin with, and in short set me up again in the world. There is nothing like courage --- 'tis the life, the soul of business --- Accordingly on the very first day's sport, having marked out the horse that I saw was the favourite of the knowing-ones, I offered great odds, made as many bets as I could, and trusted myself to fortune ; resolving to scamper off the course as hard as I could drive, if I saw her likely to declare against me. But as it happened to make amends for her former ill-usage the jade now decided in my favour ; 'twas quite a hollow thing ; Goliath won the day, and I pocketted up about three-score guineas. Of this I made excellent use at the gaming-tables, and in short when the week was over, carried away from New-Market a cool three hundred. Now, my dear Bess, I was a man again ; I returned immediately to London, equipped myself with lace-cloaths, rattled down to Bath in a post-chaise, gave myself out for the eldest son of Sir Jeremy Griskin of the kingdom of Ireland, and struck at once into all the joys of high-life. This is a little epitome of my history --- Having been a pick-pocket, a sharper, a slave, and a highwayman, I am now the peculiar favourite of all the ladies at Bath.'
Here the beau finished his story, and sat expecting the applauses of his company, which he very soon received on the part of his sister : but as to that worthy gentleman his father, he had been fast asleep for several minutes, and did not hear the conclusion of this wonderful history. Being now waked by silence, and the cessation of his son's voice, as he had been before lulled to sleep by his talking, he cried out from the midst of a doze --- ' So, she's a very fine girl, is she, Jack ? --- a very fine girl ?'
' Who is a very fine girl ?' cries the sharper, slapping him over the shoulder ; ' why, zounds thou art asleep, old miserable, and dost not know a syllable of what has been said.'
' Yes, sir, I do know what has been said,' returned the father, ' and therefore you need not beat one so, Jack ! --- You was telling about going to be married --- and going to Jamaica.'
' Going to Jamaica ! pox take thee, thou wantest to be going to bed. Why was there ever such a wretched old dotard ? I have not seen thee these seven or eight years, and perhaps may never see thee again, for thou'lt be rotten in a year or two more, and yet canst not put a little life into thyself for one evening. Come Bess,' added he, ' let us take another bumper, and then bid old drowsy good night --- Silenus will snore, do what one can to prevent him. Here my girl ! here's prosperity to love, and may all sleepers go to the devil.'
' Nay, nay,' cries the father ; ' consider Jack, 'tis past my bed-time many hours ago. You fine gentlemen of the world are able to bear these fashionable hours, but I have been used to live by the light of the sun. Besides, if you had been drudging about after charity, as I have all day long, I fancy you would not be in a much better condition than your poor father ; but really you sharpers don't consider the toil and trouble of earning one's bread in an honest way. Why now I have not gathered above six or seven shillings this whole day, and that won't half pay for our supper to night.'
Here the beau bestowed several curses on him for his stinginess, and contemptuously bidding him hoard up his miserable pelf, generously undertook to pay the whole. The bill was then called for, the reckoning discharged, and the company separated, having first however made an agreement to meet there the succeeding evening. And thus ended this illustrious compotation.
Adventures at the Bath.
NEXT morning the blind beggar, conducted by our hero, went out as usual, and presented himself before the beau-monde on the parade. Some few people, afflicted with very ill health, were generous enough to throw him down a few sixpences ; others only commended the beauty of his pretty dog ; and far the greater number walked on without casting their eyes upon him.
As he was here howling forth the miseries of his condition in a most lamentable tone of voice, who should happen to pass by but his own accomplished son, in company with two ladies of figure, to whom he was talking with the greatest familiarity and ease ? The gaiety of his laugh, the vivacity of his conversation, made him universally observed, and all the women on the parade seemed to envy the happiness of the two ladies with whom he was engaged.
As the party came very near the place, where the old hypocrite was stationed, he could not escape their notice ; and the youngest of the ladies being struck with compassion at the sight of him, ' bless me,' says she, ' I am sure that poor old man is an object of charity. Do stay a moment, lady Marmazet, I am resolved to give him something.' ' Pshaw, my dear ! come along, child,' cries her ladyship, ' how can you be so ridiculous, miss Newcome ? who gives any money to charity now a-days ?' ' True, madam, your ladyship is perfectly in the right,' replied the beau, (who now discovered his own father) ' nothing can be more idle, I think, than throwing one's money away upon a set of thievish tatterdemallion wretches, who are the burthen of the nation, and ought to be exterminated from the face of the earth.' ' Well, well, you may say what you please, both of you,' says miss Newcome, ' but I am resolved to be generous this morning, and therefore it does not signify laughing at me. Here, master, gaffar ---, here's sixpence for you.'
All this while Mr. Griskin was in extreme pain, for tho' he had no reason to fear any discovery, yet the consciousness that this deplorable object was his own father, hurt the gentleman's pride in the presence of his mistress, and greatly checked his vivacity. He endeavoured therefore all he could to hurry the young lady away from so unpleasant a scene ; in which he was seconded by lady Marmazet, who kept crying out ; ' How can you be so monstrously preposterous, miss Newcome ? come along girl ! as I hope to be saved I am ashamed o you --- we shall have all the eyes of the company upon us in a few minutes.' ' I don't care a farthing for the company,' replied the young lady ; ' I am resolved to ask the old man some questions, and therefore hold your tongue --- What ? are you quite blind, gaffar ?'
By this time 'squire Griskin was recovered from his first surprize, and perceiving no bad consequences likely to happen, thought he might venture to shine a little upon the occasion. ' Sirrah,' cries he, ' you miserable old dog ! what do you mean by shocking people of quality here with a sight of your detestable physiognomy ? whence do you come ? what do you do out of your own parish ? I'll have you whipt from constable to constable back to your own settlement.'
' No, please your noble honour,' cries the beggar, ' I hope your noble honour won't be so cruel to a poor blind man --- a poor blind man, struck blind with lightning. Heaven preserve your honour from such calamities ! I have very good friends down in Cumberland, please your royal worship, and I am travelling homeward as fast as I can, but it pleased heaven to strike me blind with a flash of lightning a long way from my relations, and I am reduced to beg for a little sustenance.'
' Mercy upon me !' cries miss Newcome --- ' why, what a vast way the miserable wretch has to travel, Mr. Griskin ? how will he ever be able to get home ?'
' Oh, curse him, all a confounded lie from beginning to end, depend upon't madam ! the dog has no relations or friends in the world, I'll answer for him,' cries the beau. Then turning to his father, ' here you old rascal,' added he, ' here's a shilling for you, and do you hear me, take yourself off this moment --- If ever I see you upon the parade again, I'll have you laid by the heels, and sent to the house of correction.' the blind wretch then hobbled away, pouring forth a thousand benedictions upon them, while lady Marmazet and the sharper rallied miss Newcome for her unfashionable generosity.
Leaving the reader to make his own remarks on this extraordinary occurrence ; I shall pass over the intermediate space of time, in which nothing happened material to this history, and rejoin the three illustrious guests at their ale-house in the evening. The lady was the first that came, to whom her father related the adventure of the morning, which greatly delighted her : While she was laughing at this story, that sprightly knight her brother also came singing into the room, and throwing himself negligently into a chair, picked his teeth for a moment or two in silence. Then addressing himself to his father, ' old fellow,' cries he, ' I was obliged to use you a little roughly this morning, but you'll excuse me --- There was a necessity you know of treating you like a scoundrel and an impostor, to prevent any suspicion of our relationship.' ' Well, well Jack !' replied the father, ' I forgive you, I forgive you with all my heart ; for I suppose one of the ladies was your sweet-heart, and to be sure 'twas as well not to let her know you was my son, for fear of the worst that might happen, tho'f [sic] you tell me women are so fond of marrying highwaymen now-a-days. Adad Jack ! I wished for my eyes again, just to have had one little peep at her --- what, is she a deadly fine girl ?'
' A divine creature, sir,' replied the beau ; ' young, melting, amorous and beautiful ; innocent as an angel, and yet wanton as the month of May ; and then --- she doats on me to distraction. Did you mind how tenderly the little fool interested herself about your blind eyes, and pitied you for the confounded lies you told her.'
' Why yes, there was something very pretty I must confess,' said the father, ' very pretty indeed, in her manner of talking. How the deuce do you get acquainted with these great ladies ?'
' O let me alone for that,' returned Mr. Griskin ; I am made for the women, sir ! I have the toujours gay, which is so dear to them ; I am blest with that agreeable impudence, that easy familiar way of talking nonsense, that happy insensibility of shame, which they all adore in men. And then, consider my figure, my shape, my air, my legs --- all together, I find I am irresistible. How in the name of wonder, old fellow, could you and your trull strike out such a lucky hit under a country hedge ?'
Here the fair lady was in raptures at her brother's wit, and asked her father, if he did not think him a most delightful, charming young fellow ? to which the beggar replied with a groan, ' O Jack, Jack ! thou wilt certainly come to be hanged in the end ; I see it as plain as can be ; so much wit and impudence will certainly bring thee to the gallows at last.'
Much more of this sort of ribaldry and licentious conversation passed between them ; and as the father was more wakeful this night, than he had been the preceding one, they protracted their cups till very late : they roared, they sung, they danced, and practised all sorts of unruly, drunken mirth. At last however, they separated once more to their several beds, and fate had destined they should never meet again in joy and friendship, at this or any other ale-house ; the cause whereof will be seen in the following chapter.
More adventures at Bath.
THE father of young Jeremy Griskin was so pleased with the advantageous match his son was concluding, that in the joy of his heart, he could not help talking of it to the alehouse-keeper where he lodged ; tho' he had imprecated a thousand curses on his head, if ever he revealed. The alehouse-keeper likewise had bound himself by an equal number of oaths, never to discover what he heard from the beggar ; and perhaps at the time he made these vows, he meant to observe them : but being once in possession of a secret, he found it impossible to be long easy with so troublesome a guest in his bosom. With a very mysterious face therefore he whispered to several coachmen and footmen, who frequented his house, ' that a very fine gentleman and lady came privately ever night to visit an old blind beggar, who lodged with him ; that these fine folks, by what he could learn, were the beggar's son and daughter ; and that the fine gentleman lived amongst the quality, and was going to run away with a great fortune.'
The story having made this progress, could not fail of proceeding farther ; for being once communicated to the servants of several families, it was quickly served up to the tables of the great. The valets informed their masters, and the waiting gentlewomen their mistresses, as a new topic of conversation while they were dressing them.
From hence the rumour became public, and dispersed itself all over the Bath ; so that the very next morning after the last rendezvous at the alehouse, when 'squire Griskin appeared with lady Marmazet and miss Newcome as usual in the pump-room, they found themselves stared on with more than common attention by all the company. Several gentlemen laughed aloud as they passed by them ; the young ladies all affected to titter under their fans ; and the elder dames tossed up their noses with the most insolent air of disdain. As all this could not be done without a meaning, the two ladies his companions were greatly astonished, and even the beau himself, fortified as he was in impudence, could not stifle some unpleasant apprehensions. He affected however to turn it off with an air of raillery, imputed it to the d-n'd censoriousness of the Bath ; and expressed his wonder that people could not be allowed to be free and intimate, without drawing on themselves the scandalous observations of a whole public place.
While Mr. Griskin was supposed to be a gentleman, the whole tribe of coquettes and beauties looked on miss Newcome with eyes of jealousy and indignation, all of them envying her the happiness of engaging so accomplished a lover : but no sooner were they let into the secret of his parentage, than they began to triumph in their turns, and shewed their malice another way. Envy now changed into contempt ; a malicious sneer was seen on all their faces, and they huddled together in little parties to feast on so agreeable a discovery. For spite is never so spiteful as among young ladies, who are rivals in love and beauty. ' Really, madam,' said one of them, ' one must be obliged to take care of one's pockets, because you know if sharpers are allowed to come into public places, and appear like gentlemen, one can never be safe a moment.' To which another replied, ' indeed I shall leave my watch at home when I go to the ball to night, for I don't think it safe to carry any thing valuable about one, while miss Newcome's admirer continues among us.' Many such speeches were flirted about ; for tho' the story hitherto was only a flying suspicion, they were all fully persuaded of its truth, and resolutely bent to believe it, without waiting for any confirmation, and indeed without once troubling themselves to enquire on what authority it was founded.
The gay sharper manifestly perceived from all this, that some discovery had been made to his disadvantage ; but not being willing to resign his hopes till affairs appeared a little more desperate, he very courageously presented himself that evening in the ball-room. He was indeed prudent enough to abstain from minuets, not chusing to encounter the eyes of people in so conspicuous an attitude ; but as soon as the company stood up to country-dances, with a face of infinite assurance, he led miss Newcome towards the top of the room, and took his station as usual among the foremost files. A buz immediately ran thro' the company, and when they came to dance, most of the ladies refused him their hands. This was a terrible blow to him ; he knew not how to revenge the affront, nor yet how to behave under such an interdiction. Lady Marmazet, who saw with what scorn he was treated, very resolutely advanced and reprimanded several of her female acquaintance with much warmth for their behaviour, pretending it was an affront to miss Newcome, who came to Bath under her protection, and whose cause she was obliged to espouse. In reality, I believe there was another reason which quickened her ladyship's resentment, and made her behold with concern the indignities offered to a man, who had found the way of being agreeable to her ladyship, as well as to the young lady her companion. But however that be, 'tis certain her interfering did him little service ; and after a thousand taunts and fleers, the unfortunate couple was obliged to sit down in a corner of the room. They stood up again some time afterwards to make a fresh attempt, proved as unsuccessful as the former : in short, after repeated disgraces, they were obliged to give over all thoughts of dancing for the remaining part of the night ; the poor girl trembling and wondering what could be the reason of all this behaviour ; and even the beau himself looking foolish under the consciousness of his own condition.
As it was pretty plain however that his father must have betrayed his secret, the ball no sooner broke up, than he flew with the greatest rage to the ale-house, rushed eagerly into the room, where the misereble wretch was then dozing, and fell upon him with all the bitterness of passion. ' Where is this old rascal ?' cries he ; ' what is it you mean by this, you detestable miscreant ? I have a great mind to murder you, and give your carcase to the hounds ? '
' Bless us ! what's the matter now, Jack ?' said the beggar. ' Matter !' returned he ; ' you have been prating, and tattling, and chattering. You have ruined me, you old villain, you have blow me up for ever. Speak, confess that you have discovered my secrets.'
Here the beggar stammered and endeavoured to excuse himself, but was obliged at last to acknowledge, that he believed he might have mentioned something of the matter to the man of the house. ' And how durst you mention any thing of the matter ?' cries the son, seizing his father by the throat ; ' how durst you open your lips upon the subject ? I have a great inclination to pluck your tongue out, and burn it before your face. You have told him, I suppose, that I am your son --- 'tis a lie ; you stole me, you kidnapped me, 'tis impossible I could be the offspring of such an eyeless, shirtless, toothless raggamuffin as thou art. Here I have been insulted by every body to-night, I have run the gauntlope thro' the whole ball-room ; all my hopes, all my stratagems are destroyed, and all is owing to your infamous prating. But mark what I say to you --- set out directly, to-night, or to-morrow morning before sunrise, and budget off as fast as your legs can carry you. If I find you here to-morrow at seven o'clock, by hell I'll cut your throat. You have done mischief enough already --- you shall do me no more, and therefore pack up your wallet, and away with you, or prepare to feed the crows.' Having uttered this terrible denunciation of vengeance, he rushed out of the room with as much impetuosity as he came into it, and left the poor offender staring and trembling with amazement.
The first thing he did after his son had quitted him, was to heave up a prodigious groan, which he accompanied with amoral reflexion on the hard fate of all fathers, who are cursed with rebellious unnatural children. As such usage he thought was sufficient to cancel all paternal affection, he felt in himself a strong desire at first to be revenged, by impeaching, and bringing the villain to justice. But then considering on the other hand, that he could not well do this, without discovering his own hypocrisy and impostures at the same time, he prudently suppressed those thoughts, and resoved to quit the place. 'Twas hard, he said to himself, to obey the orders of such an abandoned profligate, but he comforted himself with the agreeable, and indeed very probable hopes, that he should soon see his son come to the gallows, without his being accessary to such an event.
Very early then the next morning, he set out with his unfortunate little guide, and made forced marches for London. Being willing to escape beyond the reach of his son's resentment as soon as possible : he travelled so very fast, that in little more than a week's time he arrived at Reading : from whence, after a day's resting, he again renewed his journey. But sorrow and fatigue so entirely overcame him, that he fell sick on the road, and it was with the greatest difficulty that he crawled up to the gate of a celebrated inn, not used to the entertainment of such guests, where he fainted and dropped down in a fit. Two or three ostlers, who were the first that saw him, conveyed him to an apartment in the stable, where he lay for several days in a most miserable condition. His disorder soon rendered him speechless, and being able to ask for nothing, he was supplied with nothing ; for tho' the good landlady of the house would gladly have done any thing in the world to relieve him, had she known his condition ; her servants, happening not to have the same spirit of humanity in them, never once informed her, that such an object of charity lay sick in her stable. Finding himself thus neglected and destitute of all comfort, he very prudently gave up the ghost, leaving our hero once more at the disposal of chance.
What future scenes of good or evil are next to open upon him, fate does not yet chuse to divulge, and therefore begging the reader to suspend his curiosity, till we have received a proper commission for gratifying it, we here put an end to this first book of our wonderful history.
End of the FIRST BOOK.
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This page is by James Eason.