Tobias Smollett, The Expedition of Humphry Clinker: Ch. 72

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Letter LXXII

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


When I wrote you by last post, I did not imagine I should be tempted to trouble you again so soon: but I now sit down with a heart so full that it cannot contain itself; though I am under such agitation of spirits, that you are to expect neither method nor connexion in this address — We have been this day within a hair's breadth of losing honest Matthew Bramble, in consequence of a cursed accident, which I will endeavour to explain. — In crossing the country to get into the post road, it was necessary to ford a river, and we that were a-horseback passed without any danger or difficulty; but a great quantity of rain having fallen last night and this morning, there was such an accumulation of water, that a mill-head gave way, just as the coach was passing under it, and the flood rushed down with such impetuosity, as first floated, and then fairly overturned the carriage in the middle of the stream — Lismahago and I, and the two servants, alighting instantaneously, ran into the river to give all the assistance in our power. — Our aunt, Mrs Tabitha, who had the good fortune to be uppermost, was already half way out of the coach window, when her lover approaching, disengaged her entirely; but, whether his foot slipt, or the burthen was too great, they fell over head and ears in each others' arms. He endeavoured more than once to get up, and even to disentangle himself from her embrace, but she hung about his neck like a mill-stone (no bad emblem of matrimony), and if my man had not proved a stanch auxiliary, those two lovers would in all probability have gone hand in hand to the shades below — For my part, I was too much engaged to take any cognizance of their distress. — I snatched out my sister by the hair of the head, and, dragging her to the bank, recollected that my uncle had, not yet appeared — Rushing again into the stream, I met Clinker hauling ashore Mrs Jenkins, who looked like a mermaid with her hair dishevelled about her ears; but, when I asked if his master was safe, he forthwith shook her from him, and she must have gone to pot, if a miller had not seasonably come to her relief. — As for Humphry, he flew like lightning, to the coach, that was by this time filled with water, and, diving into it, brought up the poor 'squire, to all appearance, deprived of life — It is not in my power to describe what I felt at this melancholy spectacle — it was such an agony as baffles all description! The faithful Clinker, taking him up in his arms, as if he had been an infant of six months, carried him ashore, howling most piteously all the way, and I followed him in a transport of grief and consternation — When he was laid upon the grass and turned from side to side, a great quantity of water ran out at his mouth, then he opened his eyes, and fetched a deep sigh. Clinker perceiving these signs of life, immediately tied up his arm with a garter, and, pulling out a horse-fleam, let him blood in the farrier stile. — At first a few drops only issued from the orifice, but the limb being chafed, in a little time the blood began to flow in a continued stream, and he uttered some incoherent words, which were the most welcome sounds that ever saluted my ear. There was a country inn hard by, the landlord of which had by this time come with his people to give their assistance. — Thither my uncle being carried, was undressed and put to bed, wrapped in warm blankets; but having been moved too soon, he fainted away, and once more lay without sense or motion, notwithstanding all the efforts of Clinker and the landlord, who bathed his temples with Hungary water, and held a smelling-bottle to his nose. As I had heard of the efficacy of salt in such cases, I ordered all that was in the house to be laid under his head and body; and whether this application had the desired effect, or nature of herself prevailed, he, in less than a quarter of an hour, began to breathe regularly, and soon retrieved his recollection, to the unspeakable joy of all the by-standers. As for Clinker, his brain seemed to be affected. — He laughed, and wept, and danced about in such a distracted manner, that the landlord very judiciously conveyed him out of the room. My uncle, seeing me dropping wet, comprehended the whole of what had happened, and asked if all the company was safe? — Being answered in the affirmative, he insisted upon my putting on dry clothes; and, having swallowed a little warm wine, desired he might be left to his repose. Before I went to shift myself, I inquired about the rest of the family — I found Mrs Tabitha still delirious from her fright, discharging very copiously the water she had swallowed. She was supported by the captain, distilling drops from his uncurled periwig, so lank and so dank, that he looked like Father Thames without his sedges, embracing Isis, while she cascaded in his urn. Mrs Jenkins was present also, in a loose bed gown, without either cap or handkerchief; but she seemed to be as little compos mentis as her mistress, and acted so many cross purposes in the course of her attendance, that, between the two, Lismahago had occasion for all his philosophy. As for Liddy, I thought the poor girl would have actually lost her senses. The good woman of the house had shifted her linen, and put her into bed; but she was seized with the idea that her uncle had perished, and in this persuasion made a dismal out-cry; nor did she pay the least regard to what I said, when I solemnly assured her he was safe. Mr Bramble hearing the noise, and being informed of her apprehension, desired she might be brought into his chamber; and she no sooner received this intimation, than she ran thither half naked, with the wildest expression of eagerness in her countenance — Seeing the 'squire sitting up in the bed, she sprung forwards and throwing her arms about his neck, exclaimed in a most pathetic tone, 'Are you — Are you indeed my uncle — My dear uncle! — My best friend! My father! — Are you really living? or is it an illusion of my poor brain!' Honest Matthew was so much affected, that he could not help shedding tears, while he kissed her forehead, saying, 'My dear Liddy, I hope I shall live long enough to shew how sensible I am of your affection — But your spirits are fluttered, child — You want rest — Go to bed and compose yourself' — 'Well, I will (she replied) but still methinks this cannot be real — The coach was full of water — My uncle was under us all — Gracious God! — You was under water — How did you get out; — tell me that? or I shall think this is all a deception' — 'In what manner I was brought out, I know as little as you do, my dear (said the 'squire); and, truly, that is a circumstance of which I want to be informed.' I would have given him a detail of the whole adventure, but he would not hear me until I should change my clothes; so that I had only time to tell him, that he owed his life to the courage and fidelity of Clinker: and having given him this hint, I conducted my sister to her own chamber.