Tobias Smollett, The Expedition of Humphry Clinker: Ch. 62

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Letter LXII

To Sir WATKIN PHILLIPS, Bart. at Oxon.


Once more I tread upon English ground, which I like not the worse for the six weeks' ramble I have made among the woods and mountains of Caledonia; no offence to the land of cakes, where bannocks grow upon straw. I never saw my uncle in such health and spirits as he now enjoys. Liddy is perfectly recovered; and Mrs Tabitha has no reason to complain. Nevertheless, I believe, she was, till yesterday, inclined to give the whole Scotch nation to the devil, as a pack of insensible brutes, upon whom her accomplishments had been displayed in vain. — At every place where we halted, did she mount the stage, and flourished her rusty arms, without being able to make one conquest. One of her last essays was against the heart of Sir George Colquhoun, with whom she fought all the weapons more than twice over. — She was grave and gay by turns — she moralized and methodized — she laughed, and romped, and danced, and sung, and sighed, and ogled, and lisped, and fluttered, and flattered — but all was preaching to the desart. The baronet, being a well-bred man, carried his civilities as far as she could in conscience expect, and, if evil tongues are to be believed, some degrees farther; but he was too much a veteran in gallantry, as well as in war, to fall into any ambuscade that she could lay for his affection — While we were absent in the Highlands, she practised also upon the laird of Ladrishmore, and even gave him the rendezvous in the wood of Drumscailloch; but the laird had such a reverend care of his own reputation, that he came attended with the parson of the parish, and nothing passed but spiritual communication. After all these miscarriages, our aunt suddenly recollected lieutenant Lismahago, whom, ever since our first arrival at Edinburgh, she seemed to have utterly forgot; but now she expressed her hopes of seeing him at Dumfries, according to his promise.

We set out from Glasgow by the way of Lanerk, the county-town of Clydesdale, in the neighbourhood of which, the whole river Clyde, rushing down a steep rock, forms a very noble and stupendous cascade. Next day we were obliged to halt in a small borough, until the carriage, which had received some damage, should be repaired; and here we met with an incident which warmly interested the benevolent spirit of Mr Bramble — As we stood at the window of an inn that fronted the public prison, a person arrived on horseback, genteelly, tho' plainly, dressed in a blue frock, with his own hair cut short, and a gold-laced hat upon his head. — Alighting, and giving his horse to the landlord, he advanced to an old man who was at work in paving the street, and accosted him in these words: 'This is hard work for such an old man as you.' — So saying, he took the instrument out of his hand, and began to thump the pavement. — After a few strokes, 'Have you never a son (said he) to ease you of this labour?' 'Yes, an please Your honour (replied the senior), I have three hopeful lads, but, at present, they are out of the way.' 'Honour not me (cried the stranger); but more becomes me to honour your grey hairs. Where are those sons you talk of?' The ancient paviour said, his eldest son was a captain in the East Indies; and the youngest had lately inlisted as a soldier, in hopes of prospering like his brother. The gentleman desiring to know what was become of the second, he wiped his eyes, and owned, he had taken upon him his old father's debts, for which he was now in the prison hard by.

The traveller made three quick steps towards the jail, then turning short, 'Tell me (said he), has that unnatural captain sent you nothing to relieve your distress?' 'Call him not unnatural (replied the other); God's blessing be upon him! he sent me a great deal of money; but I made a bad use of it; I lost it by being security for a gentleman that was my landlord, and was stript of all I had in the world besides.' At that instant a young man, thrusting out his head and neck between two iron bars in the prison-window, exclaimed, 'Father! father! if my brother William is in life, that's he!' 'I am! — I am! — (cried the stranger, clasping the old man in his arms, and shedding a flood of tears) — I am your son Willy, sure enough!' Before the father, who was quite confounded, could make any return to this tenderness, a decent old woman bolting out from the door of a poor habitation, cried, 'Where is my bairn? where is my dear Willy?' — The captain no sooner beheld her, than he quitted his father, and ran into her embrace.