Tobias Smollett, The Expedition of Humphry Clinker: Ch. 39

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Letter XXXIX

To Sir WATKIN PHILLIPS, of Jesus college, Oxon.

DEAR PHILLIPS,

The moment I received your letter, I began to execute your commission — With the assistance of mine host at the Bull and Gate, I discovered the place to which your fugitive valet had retreated, and taxed him with his dishonesty — The fellow was in manifest confusion at sight of me, but he denied the charge with great confidence, till I told him, that if he would give up the watch, which was a family piece, he might keep the money and the clothes, and go to the devil his own way, at his leisure; but if he rejected this proposal, I would deliver him forthwith to the constable, whom I had provided for that purpose, and he would carry him before the justice without further delay. After some hesitation, he desired to speak with me in the next room, where he produced the watch, with all its appendages, and I have delivered it to our landlord, to be sent you by the first safe conveyance.

So much for business.

I shall grow vain, upon your saying you find entertainment in my letters; barren, as they certainly are, of incident and importance, because your amusement must arise, not from the matter, but from the manner, which you know is all my own — Animated, therefore, by the approbation of a person, whose nice taste and consummate judgment I can no longer doubt, I will chearfully proceed with our memoirs — As it is determined we shall set out next week for Yorkshire, I went to-day in the forenoon with my uncle to see a carriage, belonging to a coachmaker in our neighbourhood — Turning down a narrow lane, behind Longacre, we perceived a crowd of people standing at a door; which, it seems, opened into a kind of a methodist meeting, and were informed, that a footman was then holding forth to the congregation within. Curious to see this phoenomenon, we squeezed into the place with much difficulty; and who should this preacher be, but the identical Humphry Clinker. He had finished his sermon, and given out a psalm, the first stave of which he sung with peculiar graces — But if we were astonished to see Clinker in the pulpit, we were altogether confounded at finding all the females of our family among the audience — There was lady Griskin, Mrs Tabitha Bramble, Mrs Winifred Jenkins, my sister Liddy, and Mr Barton, and all of them joined in the psalmody, with strong marks of devotion.

I could hardly keep my gravity on this ludicrous occasion; but old Square-toes was differently affected — The first thing that struck him, was the presumption of his lacquey, whom he commanded to come down, with such an air of authority as Humphry did not think proper to disregard. He descended immediately, and all the people were in commotion. Barton looked exceedingly sheepish, lady Griskin flirted her fan, Mrs Tabby groaned in spirit, Liddy changed countenance, and Mrs Jenkins sobbed as if her heart was breaking — My uncle, with a sneer, asked pardon of the ladies, for having interrupted their devotion, saying, he had particular business with the preacher, whom he ordered to call a hackney-coach. This being immediately brought up to the end of the lane, he handed Liddy into it, and my aunt and I following him, we drove home, without taking any further notice of the rest of the company, who still remained in silent astonishment.

Mr Bramble, perceiving Liddy in great trepidation, assumed a milder aspect, bidding her be under no concern, for he was not at all displeased at any thing she had done — 'I have no objection (said he) to your being religiously inclined; but I don't think my servant is a proper ghostly director for a devotee of your sex and character — if, in fact (as I rather believe) your aunt is not the sole conductress of, this machine' — Mrs Tabitha made no answer, but threw up the whites of her eyes, as if in the act of ejaculation — Poor Liddy, said, she had no right to the title of a devotee; that she thought there was no harm in hearing a pious discourse, even if it came from a footman, especially as her aunt was present; but that if she had erred from ignorance, she hoped he would excuse it, as she could not bear the thoughts of living under his displeasure. The old gentleman, pressing her hand with a tender smile, said she was a good girl, and that he did not believe her capable of doing any thing that could give him the least umbrage or disgust.