Tobias Smollett, The Expedition of Humphry Clinker: Ch. 49

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Letter XLIX

To Sir WATKIN PHILLIPS, Bart of Jesus college, Oxon.


We made a precipitate retreat from Scarborough, owing to the excessive delicacy of our 'squire, who cannot bear the thoughts of being proetereuntium digito monstratus.

One morning, while he was bathing in the sea, his man Clinker took it in his head that his master was in danger of drowning; and, in this conceit, plunging into the water, he lugged him out naked on the beach, and almost pulled off his ear in the operation. You may guess how this atchievement was relished by Mr Bramble, who is impatient, irascible, and has the most extravagant ideas of decency and decorum in the oeconomy of his own person — In the first ebullition of his choler, he knocked Clinker down with his fist; but he afterwards made him amends for his outrage, and, in order to avoid further notice of the people, among whom this incident had made him remarkable, he resolved to leave Scarborough next day.

We set out accordingly over the moors, by the way of Whitby, and began our journey betimes, in hopes of reaching Stockton that night; but in this hope we were disappointed — In the afternoon, crossing a deep gutter, made by a torrent, the coach was so hard strained, that one of the irons, which connect the frame, snapt, and the leather sling on the same side, cracked in the middle. The shock was so great, that my sister Liddy struck her head against Mrs Tabitha's nose with such violence that the blood flowed; and Win. Jenkins was darted through a small window in that part of the carriage next the horses, where she stuck like a bawd in the pillory, till she was released by the hand of Mr Bramble. We were eight miles distant from any place where we could be supplied with chaises, and it was impossible to proceed with the coach, until the damage should be repaired — in this dilemma, we discovered a blacksmith's forge on the edge of a small common, about half a mile from the scene of our disaster, and thither the postilions made shift to draw the carriage, slowly, while the company walked a-foot; but we found the black-smith had been dead some days; and his wife, who had been lately delivered, was deprived of her senses, under the care of a nurse, hired by the parish. We were exceedingly mortified at this disappointment, which, however, was surmounted by the help of Humphry Clinker, who is a surprising compound of genius and simplicity. Finding the tools of the defunct, together with some coals in the smithy, he unscrewed the damaged iron in a twinkling, and, kindling a fire, united the broken pieces with equal dexterity and dispatch — While he was at work upon this operation, the poor woman in the straw, struck with the well-known sound of the hammer and anvil, started up, and, notwithstanding all the nurse's efforts, came running into the smithy, where, throwing her arms about Clinker's neck, 'Ah, Jacob (cried she) how could you leave me in such a condition?'

This incident was too pathetic to occasion mirth — it brought tears into the eyes of all present. The poor widow was put to bed again; and we did not leave the village without doing something for her benefit — Even Tabitha's charity was awakened on this occasion. As for the tender-hearted Humphry Clinker, he hammered the iron and wept at the same time — But his ingenuity was not confined to his own province of farrier and black-smith — It was necessary to join the leather sling, which had been broke; and this service he likewise performed, by means of a broken awl, which he new-pointed and ground, a little hemp, which he spun into lingels, and a few tacks which he made for the purpose. Upon the whole, we were in a condition to proceed in little more than an hour; but even this delay obliged us to pass the night at Gisborough — Next day we crossed the Tees at Stockton, which is a neat agreeable town; and there we resolved to dine, with purpose to lie at Durham.

Whom should we meet in the yard, when we alighted, but Martin the adventurer? Having handed out the ladies, and conducted them into an apartment, where he payed his compliments to Mrs Tabby, with his usual address, he begged leave to speak to my uncle in another room; and there, in some confusion, he made an apology for having taken the liberty to trouble him with a letter at Stevenage. He expressed his hope, that Mr Bramble had bestowed some consideration on his unhappy case, and repeated his desire of being taken into his service.