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

[+] | [-] | reset
 

My uncle, calling me into the room, told him, that we were both very well inclined to rescue him from a way of life that was equally dangerous and dishonourable; and that he should have no scruples in trusting to his gratitude and fidelity, if he had any employment for him, which he thought would suit his qualifications and his circumstances; but that all the departments he had mentioned in his letter, were filled up by persons of whose conduct he had no reason to complain; of consequence he could not, without injustice, deprive any one of them of his bread. Nevertheless, he declared himself ready to assist him in any feasible project, either with his purse or credit.

Martin seemed deeply touched at this declaration — The tear started in his eye, while he said, in a faultering accent — 'Worthy sir — your generosity oppresses me — I never dreamed of troubling you for any pecuniary assistance — indeed I have no occasion — I have been so lucky at billiards and betting in different places, at Buxton, Harrigate, Scarborough, and Newcastle races, that my stock in ready-money amounts to three hundred pounds, which I would willingly employ, in prosecuting some honest scheme of life; but my friend, justice Buzzard, has set so many springs for my life, that I am under the necessity of either retiring immediately to a remote part of the country, where I can enjoy the protection of some generous patron, or of quitting the kingdom altogether. It is upon this alternative that I now beg leave to ask your advice. I have had information of all your route, since I had the honour to see you at Stevenage; and, supposing you would come this way from Scarborough, I came hither last night from Darlington, to pay you my respects.'

'It would be no difficult matter to provide you with an asylum in the country (replied my uncle); but a life of indolence and obscurity would not suit with your active and enterprizing disposition — I would therefore advise you to try your fortune in the East Indies — I will give you a letter to a friend in London, who will recommend you to the direction, for a commission in the company's service; and if that cannot be obtained, you will at least be received as a volunteer — in which case, you may pay for your passage, and I shall undertake to procure you such credentials, that you will not be long without a commission.'

Martin embraced the proposal with great eagerness; it was therefore resolved, that he should sell his horse, and take a passage by sea for London, to execute the project without delay — In the mean time he accompanied us to Durham, were we took up our quarters for the night. Here, being furnished with letters from my uncle, he took his leave of us, with strong symptoms of gratitude and attachment, and set out for Sunderland, in order to embark in the first collier, bound for the river Thames. He had not been gone half an hour, when we were joined by another character, which promised something extraordinary — A tall, meagre figure, answering, with his horse, the description of Don Quixote mounted on Rozinante, appeared in the twilight at the inn door, while my aunt and Liddy stood at a window in the dining-room — He wore a coat, the cloth of which had once been scarlet, trimmed with Brandenburgs, now totally deprived of their metal, and he had holstercaps and housing of the same stuff and same antiquity. Perceiving ladies at the window above, he endeavoured to dismount with the most graceful air he could assume; but the ostler neglecting to hold the stirrup when he wheeled off his right foot, and stood with his whole weight on the other, the girth unfortunately gave way, the saddle turned, down came the cavalier to the ground, and his hat and perriwig falling off, displayed a head-piece of various colours, patched and plaistered in a woeful condition — The ladies, at the window above, shrieked with affright, on the supposition that the stranger had received some notable damages in his fall; but the greatest injury he had sustained arose from the dishonour of his descent, aggravated by the disgrace of exposing the condition of his cranium; for certain plebeians that were about the door, laughed aloud, in the belief that the captain had got either a scald head, or a broken head, both equally opprobrious.

He forthwith leaped up in a fury, and snatching one of his pistols, threatened to put the ostler to death, when another squall from the women checked his resentment. He then bowed to the window, while he kissed the butt-end of his pistol, which he replaced; adjusted his wig in great confusion, and led his horse into the stable — By this time I had come to the door, and could not help gazing at the strange figure that presented itself to my view. He would have measured above six feet in height had he stood upright; but he stooped very much; was very narrow in the shoulders, and very thick in the calves of his legs, which were cased in black spatterdashes — As for his thighs, they were long and slender, like those of a grasshopper; his face was, at least, half a yard in length, brown and shrivelled, with projecting cheek-bones, little grey eyes on the greenish hue, a large hook-nose, a pointed chin, a mouth from ear to car, very ill furnished with teeth, and a high, narrow fore-head, well furrowed with wrinkles. His horse was exactly in the stile of its rider; a resurrection of dry bones, which (as we afterwards learned) he valued exceedingly, as the only present he had ever received in his life.