Tobias Smollett, The Expedition of Humphry Clinker: Ch. 41

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When I expressed my surprize that the accuser should persist in charging Clinker, without taking the least notice of the real robber who stood before him, and to whom, indeed, Humphry bore not the smallest resemblance; the constable (who was himself a thief-taker) gave me to understand, that Mr Martin was the best qualified for business of all the gentlemen on the road he had ever known; that he had always acted on his own bottom, without partner or correspondent, and never went to work but when he was cool and sober; that his courage and presence of mind never failed him; that his address was genteel, and his behaviour void of all cruelty and insolence; that he never encumbered himself with watches or trinkets, nor even with bank-notes, but always dealt for ready money, and that in the current coin of the kingdom; and that he could disguise himself and his horse in such a manner, that, after the action, it was impossible to recognize either the one or the other — 'This great man (said he) has reigned paramount in all the roads within fifty miles of London above fifteen months, and has done more business in that time, than all the rest of the profession put together; for those who pass through his hands are so delicately dealt with, that they have no desire to give him the least disturbance; but for all that, his race is almost run — he is now fluttering about justice, like a moth about a candle — there are so many lime-twigs laid in his way, that I'll bet a cool hundred, he swings before Christmas.'

Shall I own to you, that this portrait, drawn by a ruffian, heightened by what I myself had observed in his deportment, has interested me warmly in the fate of poor Martin, whom nature seems to have intended for a useful and honourable member of that community upon which he now preys for subsistence? It seems, he lived some time as a clerk to a timber-merchant, whose daughter Martin having privately married, was discarded, and his wife turned out of doors. She did not long survive her marriage; and Martin, turning fortune-hunter, could not supply his occasions any other way, than by taking to the road, in which he has travelled hitherto with uncommon success. — He pays his respects regularly to Mr Justice Buzzard, the thief-catcher-general of this metropolis, and sometimes they smoke a pipe together very lovingly, when the conversation generally turns upon the nature of evidence. — The justice has given him fair warning to take care of himself, and he has received his caution in good part. — Hitherto he has baffled all the vigilance, art, and activity of Buzzard and his emissaries, with such conduct as would have done honour to the genius of a Caesar or a Turenne; but he has one weakness, which has proved fatal to all the heroes of his tribe, namely, an indiscreet devotion to the fair sex, and in all probability, he will be attacked on this defenceless quarter.

Be that as it may, I saw the body of poor Clinker consigned to the gaoler of Clerkenwell, to whose indulgence I recommended him so effectually, that he received him in the most hospitable manner, though there was a necessity for equipping him with a suit of irons, in which he made a very rueful appearance. The poor creature seemed as much affected by my uncle's kindness, as by his own misfortune. When I assured him, that nothing should be left undone for procuring his enlargement, and making his confinement easy in the mean time, he fell down on his knees, and kissing my hand, which he bathed with his tears, '0 'squire! (cried he, sobbing) what shall I say? — I can't — no, I can't speak — my poor heart is bursting with gratitude to you and my dear — dear generous — noble benefactor.'

I protest, the scene became so pathetic, that I was fain to force myself away, and returned to my uncle, who sent me in the afternoon with a compliment to one Mr Mead, the person who had been robbed on Black-heath. As I did not find him at home, I left a message, in consequence of which he called at our lodgings this morning, and very humanely agreed to visit the prisoner. By this time, lady Griskin had come to make her formal compliments of condolance to Mrs Tabitha, on this domestic calamity; and that prudent maiden, whose passion was now cooled, thought proper to receive her ladyship so civilly, that a reconciliation immediately ensued. These two ladies resolved to comfort the poor prisoner in their own persons, and Mr Mead and I 'squired them to Clerkenwell, my uncle being detained at home by some slight complaints in his stomach and bowels.

The turnkey, who received us at Clerkenwell, looked remarkably sullen; and when we enquired for Clinker, 'I don't care, if the devil had him (said he); here has been nothing but canting and praying since the fellow entered the place. — Rabbit him! the tap will be ruined — we han't sold a cask of beer, nor a dozen of wine, since he paid his garnish — the gentlemen get drunk with nothing but your damned religion. — For my part, I believe as how your man deals with the devil. — Two or three as bold hearts as ever took the air upon Hounslow have been blubbering all night; and if the fellow an't speedily removed by Habeas Corpus, or otherwise, I'll be damn'd if there's a grain of true spirit left within these walls we shan't have a soul to do credit to the place, or make his exit like a true born Englishman — damn my eyes! there will be nothing but snivelling in the cart — we shall all die like so many psalm-singing weavers.'