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   Chapter 8 SEVEN

The Adventures of Sir Launcelot Greaves By T. Smollett Characters: 19414

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


IN WHICH THE KNIGHT RESUMES HIS IMPORTANCE.

Doctor Fillet having borrowed a couple of sheets from the landlady, dressed the misanthrope and Tom Clarke in ghostly apparel, which was reinforced by a few drops of liquid phosphorus, from Ferret's vial, rubbed on the foreheads of the two adventurers. Thus equipped, they returned to the church with their conductor, who entered with them softly at an aisle which was opposite to a place where the novice kept watch. They stole unperceived through the body of the church; and though it was so dark that they could not distinguish the captain with the eye, they heard the sound of his steps, as he walked backwards and forwards on the pavement with uncommon expedition, and an ejaculation now and then escaped in a murmur from this lips.

The triumvirate having taken their station with a large pew in their front, the two ghosts uncovered their heads, which by the help of the phosphorus exhibited a pale and lambent flame, extremely dismal and ghastly to the view; then Ferret in a squeaking tone, exclaimed, "Samuel Crowe! Samuel Crowe!" The captain hearing himself accosted in this manner, at such a time, and in such a place, replied, "Hilloah"; and turning his eyes towards the quarter whence the voice seemed to proceed, beheld the terrible apparition. This no sooner saluted his view than his hair bristled up, his knees began to knock, and his teeth to chatter, while he cried aloud, "In the name of God, where are you bound, ho?" To this hail the misanthrope answered, "We are the spirits of thy grandmother Jane and thy aunt Bridget."

At mention of these names, Crowe's terrors began to give way to his resentment, and he pronounced in a quick tone of surprise, mixed with indignation, "What d'ye want? what d'ye want? what d'ye want, ho?" The spirit replied, "We are sent to warn thee of thy fate." "From whence, ho?" cried the captain, whose choler had by this time well-nigh triumphed over his fear. "From Heaven," said the voice. "Ye lie, ye b---s of hell!" did our novice exclaim; "ye are d-ned for heaving me out of my right, five fathom and a half by the lead, in burning brimstone. Don't I see the blue flames come out of your hawse holes?-mayhap you may be the devil himself, for aught I know-but I trust in the Lord, d'ye see-I never disrated a kinsman, d'ye see, so don't come alongside of me-put about on th'other tack, d'ye see-you need not clap hard a-weather, for you'll soon get to hell again with a flowing sail."

So saying, he had recourse to his Paternoster; but perceiving the apparitions approach, he thundered out, "Avast,-avast-sheer off, ye babes of hell, or I'll be foul of your forelights." He accordingly sprung forwards with his hanger, and very probably would have set the spirits on their way to the other world, had he not fallen over a pew in the dark, and entangled himself so much among the benches, that he could not immediately recover his footing. The triumvirate took this opportunity to retire; and such was the precipitation of Ferret in his retreat, that he encountered a post by which his right eye sustained considerable damage; a circumstance which induced him to inveigh bitterly against his own folly, as well as the impertinence of his companions, who had inveigled him into such a troublesome adventure. Neither he nor Clarke could be prevailed upon to revisit the novice. The doctor himself thought his disease was desperate; and, mounting his horse, returned to his own habitation.

Ferret, finding all the beds in the public-house were occupied, composed himself to sleep in a Windsor chair at the chimney corner; and Mr. Clarke, whose disposition was extremely amorous, resolved to renew his practices on the heart of Dolly. He had reconnoitred the apartments in which the bodies of the knight and his squire were deposited, and discovered close by the top of the staircase a sort of a closet or hovel, just large enough to contain a truckle bed, which, from some other particulars, he supposed to be the bedchamber of his beloved Dolly, who had by this time retired to her repose. Full of this idea, and instigated by the demon of desire, Mr. Thomas crept softly upstairs, and lifting the latch of the closet door, his heart began to palpitate with joyous expectation; but before he could breathe the gentle effusions of his love, the supposed damsel started up and seizing him by the collar with a Herculean gripe, uttered, in the voice of Crabshaw, "It wan't for nothing that I dreamed of Newgate, sirrah; but I'd have thee to know, an arrant squire is not to be robbed by such a peddling thief as thee-here I'll howld thee vast, an the devil were in thy doublet-help! murder! vire! help!"

It was impossible for Mr. Clarke to disengage himself, and equally impracticable to speak in his own vindication; so that here he stood trembling and half throttled, until the whole house being alarmed, the landlady and her ostler ran upstairs with a candle. When the light rendered objects visible, an equal astonishment prevailed on all sides; Crabshaw was confounded at sight of Mr. Clarke, whose person he well knew; and releasing him instantly from his grasp, "Bodikins!" cried he, "I believe as how this hause is haunted-who thought to meet with Measter Laawyer Clarke at midnight, and so far from hoam?" The landlady could not comprehend the meaning of this encounter; nor could Tom conceive how Crabshaw had transported himself thither from the room below, in which he saw him quietly reposed. Yet nothing was more easy than to explain this mystery: the apartment below was the chamber which the hostess and her daughter reserved for their own convenience; and this particular having been intimated to the squire while he was at supper, he had resigned his bed quietly, and been conducted hither in the absence of the company. Tom, recollecting himself as well as he could, professed himself of Crabshaw's opinion, that the house was haunted, declaring that he could not well account for his being there in the dark; and leaving those that were assembled to discuss this knotty point, retired downstairs in hope of meeting with his charmer, whom accordingly he found in the kitchen just risen, and wrapped in a loose dishabille.

The noise of Crabshaw's cries had awakened and aroused his master, who, rising suddenly in the dark, snatched up his sword that lay by his bedside, and hastened to the scene of tumult, where all their mouths were opened at once, to explain the cause of the disturbance, and make an apology for breaking his honour's rest. He said nothing, but taking the candle in his hand, beckoned his squire to follow him into his apartment, resolving to arm and take horse immediately. Crabshaw understood his meaning; and while he shuffled on his clothes, yawning hideously all the while, wished the lawyer at the devil for having visited him so unseasonably; and even cursed himself for the noise he had made, in consequence of which he foresaw he should now be obliged to forfeit his night's rest, and travel in the dark, exposed to the inclemencies of the weather. "Pox rot thee, Tom Clarke, for a wicked lawyer!" said he to himself; "hadst thou been hanged at Bartlemy-tide, I should this night have slept in peace, that I should-an I would there was a blister on this plaguy tongue of mine for making such a hollo-ballo, that I do-five gallons of cold water has my poor belly been drenched with since night fell, so as my reins and my liver are all one as if they were turned into ice, and my whole harslet shakes and shivers like a vial of quicksilver. I have been dragged, half-drowned like a rotten ewe, from the bottom of a river; and who knows but I may be next dragged quite dead from the bottom of a coal-pit-if so be as I am, I shall go to hell to be sure, for being consarned like in my own moorder, that I will, so I will; for, a plague on it! I had no business with the vagaries of this crazy-peated measter of mine, a pox on him, say I."

He had just finished this soliloquy as he entered the apartment of his master, who desired to know what was become of his armour. Timothy, understanding that it had been left in the room when the knight undressed, began to scratch his head in great perplexity; and at last declared it as his opinion, that it must have been carried off by witchcraft. Then he related his adventure with Tom Clarke, who he said was conveyed to his bedside he knew not how; and concluded with affirming they were no better than Papishes who did not believe in witchcraft. Sir Launcelot could not help smiling at his simplicity; but assuming a peremptory air, he commanded him to fetch the armour without delay, that he might afterwards saddle the horses, in order to prosecute their journey.

Timothy retired in great tribulation to the kitchen, where, finding the misanthrope, whom the noise had also disturbed, and, still impressed with the notion of his being a conjurer, he offered him a shilling if he would cast a figure, and let him know what was become of his master's armour.

Ferret, in hope of producing more mischief, informed him without hesitation, that one of the company had conveyed it into the chancel of the church, where he would now find it deposited; at the same time presenting him with the key, which Mr. Fillet had left in his custody.

The squire, who was none of those who set hobgoblins at defiance, being afraid to enter the church alone at these hours, bargained with the ostler to accompany and light him with a lantern. Thus attended, he advanced to the place where the armour lay in a heap, and loaded it upon the back of his attendant without molestation, the lance being shouldered o

ver the whole. In this equipage they were just going to retire, when the ostler, hearing a noise at some distance, wheeled about with such velocity, that one end of the spear saluting Crabshaw's pate, the poor squire measured his length on the ground; and, crushing the lantern in his fall, the light was extinguished. The other, terrified at these effects of his own sudden motion, threw down his burden, and would have betaken himself to flight, had not Crabshaw laid fast hold on his leg, that he himself might not be deserted. The sound of the pieces clattering on the pavement roused Captain Crowe from a trance or slumber, in which he had lain since the apparition vanished; and he hallooed, or rather bellowed, with vast vociferation. Timothy and his friend were so intimidated by this terrific strain, that they thought no more of the armour, but ran home arm in arm, and appeared in the kitchen with all the marks of horror and consternation.

When Sir Launcelot came forth wrapped in his cloak, and demanded his arms, Crabshaw declared that the devil had them in possession; and this assertion was confirmed by the ostler, who pretended to know the devil by his roar. Ferret sat in his corner, maintaining the most mortifying silence, and enjoying the impatience of the knight, who in vain requested an explanation of this mystery. At length his eyes began to lighten, when, seizing Crabshaw in one hand, and the ostler in the other, he swore by Heaven he would dash their souls out, and raze the house to the foundation, if they did not instantly disclose the particulars of this transaction. The good woman fell on her knees, protesting, in the name of the Lord, that she was innocent as the child unborn, thof she had lent the captain a Prayer-Book to learn the Lord's Prayer, a candle and lantern to light him to the church, and a couple of clean sheets, for the use of the other gentlemen. The knight was more and more puzzled by this declaration; when Mr. Clarke, coming into the kitchen, presented himself with a low obeisance to his old patron.

Sir Launcelot's anger was immediately converted into surprise. He set at liberty the squire and the ostler, and stretching out his hand to the lawyer, "My good friend Clarke," said he, "how came you hither? Can you solve this knotty point which has involved us all in such confusion?"

Tom forthwith began a very circumstantial recapitulation of what had happened to his uncle; in what manner he had been disappointed of the estate; how he had accidentally seen his honour, been enamoured of his character, and become ambitious of following his example. Then he related the particulars of the plan which had been laid down to divert him from his design, and concluded with assuring the knight, that the captain was a very honest man, though he seemed to be a little disordered in his intellects. "I believe it," replied Sir Launcelot; "madness and honesty are not incompatible-indeed, I feel it by experience."

Tom proceeded to ask pardon, in his uncle's name, for having made so free with the knight's armour; and begged his honour, for the love of God, would use his authority with Crowe, that he might quit all thoughts of knight-errantry, for which he was by no means qualified; for, being totally ignorant of the laws of the land, he would be continually committing trespasses, and bring himself into trouble. He said, in case he should prove refractory, he might be apprehended by virtue of a friendly warrant, for having feloniously carried off the knight's accoutrements. "Taking away another man's moveables," said he, "and personal goods against the will of the owner, is furtum and felony according to the statute. Different indeed from robbery, which implies putting in fear in the king's highway, in alta via regia violenter et felonice captum et asportatum, in magnum terrorem, etc.; for if the robbery be laid in the indictment, as done in quadam via pedestri, in a footpath, the offender will not be ousted of his clergy. It must be in alta via regia; and your honour will please to take notice, that robberies committed on the river Thames are adjudged as done in alta via regia; for the king's highstream is all the same as the king's highway."

Sir Launcelot could not help smiling at Tom's learned investigation. He congratulated him on the progress he had made in the study of the law. He expressed his concern at the strange turn the captain had taken, and promised to use his influence in persuading him to desist from the preposterous design he had formed.

The lawyer, thus assured, repaired immediately to the church, accompanied by the squire, and held a parley with his uncle, who, when he understood that the knight in person desired a conference, surrendered up the arms quietly, and returned to the public-house.

Sir Launcelot received the honest seaman with his usual complacency; and perceiving great discomposure in his looks, said, he was sorry to hear he had passed such a disagreeable night to so little purpose. Crowe, having recruited his spirits with a bumper of brandy, thanked him for his concern, and observed, that he had passed many a hard night in his time; but such another as this, he would not be bound to weather for the command of the whole British navy. "I have seen Davy Jones in the shape of a blue flame, d'ye see, hopping to and fro on the sprit-sail yardarm; and I've seen your Jacks o' the Lanthorn, and Wills o' the Wisp, and many such spirits, both by sea and land. But to-night I've been boarded by all the devils and d-ned souls in hell, squeaking and squalling, and glimmering and glaring. Bounce went the door-crack went the pew-crash came the tackle-white-sheeted ghosts dancing in one corner by the glow-worm's light-black devils hobbling in another-Lord have mercy upon us! and I was hailed, Tom, I was, by my grandmother Jane, and my aunt Bridget, d'ye see-a couple of d-n'd-but they're roasting; that's one comfort, my lad."

When he had thus disburdened his conscience, Sir Launcelot introduced the subject of the new occupation at which he aspired. "I understand," said he, "that you are desirous of treading the paths of errantry, which, I assure you, are thorny and troublesome. Nevertheless, as your purpose is to exercise your humanity and benevolence, so your ambition is commendable. But towards the practice of chivalry, there is something more required than the virtues of courage and generosity. A knight-errant ought to understand the sciences, to be master of ethics or morality, to be well versed in theology, a complete casuist, and minutely acquainted with the laws of his country. He should not only be patient of cold, hunger, and fatigue, righteous, just, and valiant, but also chaste, religious, temperate, polite, and conversable; and have all his passions under the rein, except love, whose empire he should submissively acknowledge." He said, this was the very essence of chivalry; and no man had ever made such a profession of arms, without first having placed his affection upon some beauteous object, for whose honour, and at whose command, he would cheerfully encounter the most dreadful perils.

He took notice, that nothing could be more irregular than the manner in which Crowe had attempted to keep his vigil. For he had never served his novitiate-he had not prepared himself with abstinence and prayer-he had not provided a qualified godfather for the ceremony of dubbing-he had no armour of his own to wake; but, on the very threshold of chivalry, which is the perfection of justice, had unjustly purloined the arms of another knight. That this was a mere mockery of a religious institution, and therefore unpleasing in the sight of Heaven; witness the demons and hobgoblins that were permitted to disturb and torment him in his trial.

Crowe having listened to these remarks with earnest attention, replied, after some hesitation, "I am bound to you, brother, for your kind and Christian counsel-I doubt as how I've steered by a wrong chart, d'ye see-as for the matter of the sciences, to be sure, I know Plain Sailing and Mercator; and am an indifferent good seaman, thof I say it that should not say it. But as to all the rest, no better than the viol-block or the geer-capstan. Religion I han't much overhauled; and we tars laugh at your polite conversation, thof, mayhap, we can chaunt a few ballads to keep the hands awake in the night watch; then for chastity, brother, I doubt that's not expected in a sailor just come ashore, after a long voyage-sure all those poor hearts won't be d-ned for steering in the wake of nature. As for a sweetheart, Bet Mizen of St. Catherine's would fit me to a hair-she and I are old messmates; and what signifies talking, brother, she knows already the trim of my vessel, d'ye see." He concluded with saying, he thought he wa'n't too old to learn; and if Sir Launcelot would take him in tow as his tender, he would stand by him all weathers, and it should not cost his consort a farthing's expense.

The knight said, he did not think himself of consequence enough to have such a pupil, but should always be ready to give him his best advice; as a specimen of which, he exhorted him to weigh all the circumstances, and deliberate calmly and leisurely, before he actually engaged in such a boisterous profession; assuring him, that if, at the end of three months, his resolution should continue, he would take upon himself the office of his instructor. In the meantime he gratified the hostess for his lodging, put on his armour, took leave of the company, and, mounting Bronzomarte, proceeded southerly, being attended by his squire Crabshaw, grumbling, on the back of Gilbert.

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