Tobias Smollett, The Expedition of Humphry Clinker: Ch. 26

[+] | [-] | reset

The squire, in all probability, cursed his punctuality in his heart, but he affected to talk big; and having prepared his artillery overnight, they crossed the water at the end of the South Parade. In their progress up the hill, Prankley often eyed the parson, in hopes of perceiving some reluctance in his countenance; but as no such marks appeared, he attempted to intimidate him by word of mouth. 'If these flints do their office (said he) I'll do thy business in a few minutes.' 'I desire you will do your best (replied the other); for my part, I come not here to trifle. Our lives are in the hands of God; and one of us already totters on the brink of eternity' This remark seemed to make some impression upon the squire, who changed countenance, and with a faultering accent observed, 'That it ill became a clergyman to be concerned in quarrels and bloodshed' — 'Your insolence to me (said Eastgate) I should have bore with patience, had not you cast the most infamous reflections upon my order, the honour of which I think myself in duty bound to maintain, even at the expence of my heart's blood; and surely it can be no crime to put out of the world a profligate wretch, without any sense of principle, morality, or religion' — 'Thou may'st take away my life (cried Prankley, in great perturbation) but don't go to murder my character. What! has't got no conscience?' 'My conscience is perfectly quiet (replied the other); and now, Sir, we are upon the spot — Take your ground as near as you please; prime your pistol; and the Lord, of his infinite mercy, have compassion upon your miserable soul!'

This ejaculation he pronounced in a loud solemn tone, with his hat off, and his eyes lifted up; then drawing a large horse-pistol, he presented, and put himself in a posture of action. Prankley took his distance, and endeavoured to prime, but his hand shook with such violence, that he found this operation impracticable — His antagonist, seeing how it was with him, offered his assistance, and advanced for that purpose; when the poor squire, exceedingly alarmed at what he had heard and seen, desired the action might be deferred till next day, as he had not settled his affairs. 'I ha'n't made my will (said he); my sisters are not provided for; and I just now recollect an old promise, which my conscience tells me I ought to perform — I'll first convince thee, that I'm not a wretch without principle, and then thou shalt have an opportunity to take my life, which thou seem'st to thirst after so eagerly.'

Eastgate understood the hint; and told him, that one day should break no squares: adding, 'God forbid that I should be the means of hindering you from acting the part of an honest man, and a dutiful brother' — By virtue of this cessation, they returned peaceably together. Prankley forthwith made out the presentation of the living, and delivered it to Eastgate, telling him at the same time, he had now settled his affairs, and was ready to attend him to the Fir-grove; but Tom declared he could not think of lifting his hand against the life of so great a benefactor — He did more: when they next met at the coffeehouse, he asked pardon of Mr Prankley, if in his passion he had said any thing to give him offence; and the squire was so gracious as to forgive him with a cordial shake of the hand, declaring, that he did not like to be at variance with an old college companion — Next day, however, he left Bath abruptly; and then Eastgate told me all these particulars, not a little pleased with the effects of his own sagacity, by which he has secured a living worth 160l. per annum.

Of my uncle, I have nothing at present to say; but that we set out tomorrow for London en famille. He and the ladies, with the maid and Chowder in a coach; I and the man-servant a-horseback. The particulars of our journey you shall have in my next, provided no accident happens to prevent,

Yours ever,
BATH May 17.