Tobias Smollett, The Expedition of Humphry Clinker: Ch. 29

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Letter XXIX

To Sir WATKIN PHILLIPS, of Jesus college, Oxon.


Without waiting for your answer to my last, I proceed to give you an account of our journey to London, which has not been wholly barren of adventure. Tuesday last the 'squire took his place in a hired coach and four, accompanied by his sister and mine, and Mrs Tabby's maid, Winifrid Jenkins, whose province it was to support Chowder on a cushion in her lap. I could scarce refrain from laughing when I looked into the vehicle, and saw that animal sitting opposite to my uncle, like any other passenger. The squire, ashamed of his situation, blushed to the eyes: and, calling to the postilions to drive on, pulled the glass up in my face. I, and his servant, John Thomas, attended them on horseback.

Nothing worth mentioning occurred, till we arrived on the edge of Marlborough Downs. There one of the four horses fell, in going down hill at a round trot; and the postilion behind, endeavouring to stop the carriage, pulled it on one side into a deep rut, where it was fairly overturned. I had rode on about two hundred yards before; but, hearing a loud scream, galloped back and dismounted, to give what assistance was in my power. When I looked into the coach, I could see nothing distinctly, but the nether end of Jenkins, who was kicking her heels and squalling with great vociferation. All of a sudden, my uncle thrust up his bare pate, and bolted through the window, as nimble as a grasshopper, having made use of poor Win's posteriors as a step to rise in his ascent — The man (who had likewise quitted his horse) dragged this forlorn damsel, more dead than alive, through the same opening. Then Mr Bramble, pulling the door off its hinges with a jerk, laid hold on Liddy's arm, and brought her to the light; very much frighted, but little hurt. It fell to my share to deliver our aunt Tabitha, who had lost her cap in the struggle, and being rather more than half frantic, with rage and terror, was no bad representation of one of the sister Furies that guard the gates of hell — She expressed no sort of concern for her brother, who ran about in the cold, without his periwig, and worked with the most astonishing agility, in helping to disentangle the horses from the carriage: but she cried, in a tone of distraction, 'Chowder! Chowder! my dear Chowder! my poor Chowder is certainly killed!'

This was not the case — Chowder, after having tore my uncle's leg in the confusion of the fall, had retreated under the scat, and from thence the footman drew him by the neck; for which good office, he bit his fingers to the bone. The fellow, who is naturally surly, was so provoked at this assault, that he saluted his ribs with a hearty kick, exclaiming, 'Damn the nasty son of a bitch, and them he belongs to!' A benediction, which was by no means lost upon the implacable virago his mistress — Her brother, however, prevailed upon her to retire into a peasant's house, near the scene of action, where his head and hers were covered, and poor Jenkins had a fit. Our next care was to apply some sticking plaister to the wound in his leg, which exhibited the impression of Chowder's teeth; but he never opened his lips against the delinquent — Mrs Tabby, alarmed at this scene, 'You say nothing, Matt (cried she); but I know your mind — I know the spite you have to that poor unfortunate animal! I know you intend to take his life away!' 'You are mistaken, upon my honour! (replied the squire, with a sarcastic smile) I should be incapable of harbouring any such cruel design against an object so amiable and inoffensive; even if he had not the happiness to be your favourite.'

John Thomas was not so delicate. The fellow, whether really alarmed for his life, or instigated by the desire of revenge, came in, and bluntly demanded, that the dog should be put to death; on the supposition, that if ever he should run mad hereafter, he, who had been bit by him, would be infected — My uncle calmly argued upon the absurdity of his opinion, observing, that he himself was in the same predicament, and would certainly take the precaution he proposed, if he was not sure he ran no risque of infection. Nevertheless, Thomas continued obstinate; and, at length declared, that if the dog was not shot immediately, he himself would be his executioner — This declaration opened the flood-gates of Tabby's eloquence, which would have shamed the first-rate oratress of Billingsgate. The footman retorted in the same stile; and the squire dismissed him from his service, after having prevented me from giving him a good horse-whipping for his insolence.