Tobias Smollett, The Expedition of Humphry Clinker: Ch. 66

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Letter LXVI

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


Adventures begin to thicken as we advance to the southward. Lismahago has now professed himself the admirer of our aunt, and carries on his addresses under the sanction of her brother's approbation; so that we shall certainly have a wedding by Christmas. I should be glad you was present at the nuptials, to help me throw the stocking, and perform other ceremonies peculiar to that occasion. — I am sure it will be productive of some diversion; and, truly, it would be worth your while to come across the country on purpose to see two such original figures in bed together, with their laced night caps; he, the emblem of good cheer, and she, the picture of good nature. All this agreeable prospect was clouded, and had well nigh vanished entirely, in consequence of a late misunderstanding between the future brothers-in-law, which, however, is now happily removed.

A few days ago, my uncle and I, going to visit a relation, met with lord Oxmington at his house, who asked us to dine with him, next day, and we accepted the invitation. — Accordingly, leaving our women under the care of captain Lismahago, at the inn where we had lodged the preceding night, in a little town, about a mile from his lordship's dwelling, we went at the hour appointed, and had a fashionable meal served up with much ostentation to a company of about a dozen persons, none of whom he had ever seen before. — His lordship is much more remarkable for his pride and caprice, than for his hospitality and understanding; and, indeed, it appeared, that he considered his guests merely as objects to shine upon, so as to reflect the lustre of his own magnificence — There was much state, but no courtesy; and a great deal of compliment without any conversation. — Before the desert was removed, our noble entertainer proposed three general toasts; then calling for a glass of wine, and bowing all round, wished us a good afternoon. This was the signal for the company to break up, and they obeyed it immediately, all except our 'squire who was greatly shocked at the manner of this dismission — He changed countenance, bit his lip in silence, but still kept his seat, so that his lordship found himself obliged to give us another hint, by saying, he should be glad to see us another time. 'There is no time like the present (cried Mr Bramble); your lordship has not yet drank a bumper to the best in Christendom.' 'I'll drink no more bumpers to-day (answered our landlord); and I am sorry to see you have drank too many. — Order the gentleman's carriage to the gate.' — So saying, he rose and retired abruptly; our 'squire starting up at the same time, laying his hand upon his sword, and eyeing him with a most ferocious aspect. The master having vanished in this manner, our uncle bad one of the servants to see what was to pay; and the fellow answering, 'This is no inn,' 'I cry you mercy (cried the other), I perceive it is not; if it were, the landlord would be more civil. There's a guinea, however; take it, and tell your lord, that I shall riot leave the country till I have had the opportunity to thank him in person for his politeness and hospitality.'

We then walked down stairs through a double range of lacqueys, and getting into the chaise, proceeded homewards. Perceiving the 'squire much ruffled, I ventured to disapprove of his resentment, observing, that as lord Oxmington was well known to have his brain very ill timbered, a sensible man should rather laugh, than be angry at his ridiculous want of breeding. — Mr Bramble took umbrage at my presuming to be wiser than he upon this occasion; and told me, that as he had always thought for himself in every occurrence in life, he would still use the same privilege, with my good leave.

When we returned to our inn, he closeted Lismahago; and having explained his grievance, desired that gentleman to go and demand satisfaction of lord Oxmington in his name. — The lieutenant charged himself with this commission, and immediately set out a horseback for his lordship's house, attended, at his own request, by my man Archy Macalpine, who had been used to military service; and truly, if Macalpine had been mounted upon an ass, this couple might have passed for the knight of La Mancha and his 'squire Panza. It was not till after some demur that Lismahago obtained a private audience, at which he formally defied his lordship to single combat, in the name of Mr Bramble, and desired him to appoint the time and place. Lord Oxmington was so confounded at this unexpected message, that he could not, for some time, make any articulate reply; but stood staring at the lieutenant with manifest marks of perturbation. At length, ringing a bell with great vehemence, he exclaimed, 'What! a commoner send a challenge to a peer of the realm! — Privilege! privilege! — Here's a person brings me a challenge from the Welshman that dined at my table — An impudent fellow. — My wine is not yet out of his head.'