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   Chapter 9 EIGHT

The Adventures of Sir Launcelot Greaves By T. Smollett Characters: 17161

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


WHICH IS WITHIN A HAIR'S-BREADTH OF PROVING HIGHLY INTERESTING.

Leaving Captain Crowe and his nephew for the present, though they, and even the misanthrope, will reappear in due season, we are now obliged to attend the progress of the knight, who proceeded in a southerly direction, insensible of the storm that blew, as well as of the darkness, which was horrible. For some time, Crabshaw ejaculated curses in silence; till at length his anger gave way to his fear, which waxed so strong upon him, that he could no longer resist the desire of alleviating it, by entering into a conversation with his master. By way of introduction, he gave Gilbert the spur, directing him towards the flank of Bronzomarte, which he encountered with such a shock, that the knight was almost dismounted.

When Sir Launcelot, with some warmth, asked the reason of this attack, the squire replied in these words: "The devil, God bless us! mun be playing his pranks with Gilbert too, as sure as I'm a living soul-I'se wager a teaster, the foul fiend has left the seaman, and got into Gilbert, that he has-when a has passed through an ass and a horse, I'se marvel what beast a will get into next." "Probably into a mule," said the knight; "in that case, you will be in some danger-but I can, at any time, dispossess you with a horse-whip."-"Ay, ay," answered Timothy, "your honour has a mortal good hand at giving a flap with a fox's tail, as the saying is-'t is a wonderment you did not try your hand on that there wiseacre that stole your honour's harness, and wants to be an arrant with a murrain to 'un. Lord help his fool's head, it becomes him as a sow doth a cart saddle." "There is no guilt in infirmity," said the knight; "I punish the vicious only." "I would your honour would punish Gilbert then," cried the squire, "for 't is the most vicious tuoad that ever I laid a leg over-but as to that same seafaring man, what may his distemper be?"

"Madness," answered Sir Launcelot. "Bodikins," exclaimed the squire, "I doubt as how other volks are leame of the same leg-but it an't vor such small gentry as he to be mad; they mun leave that to their betters." "You seem to hint at me, Crabshaw. Do you really think I am mad?" "I may say as how I have looked your honour in the mouth; and a sorry dog should I be, if I did not know your humours as well as I know e'er a beast in the steable at Greavesbury Hall." "Since you are so well acquainted with my madness," said the knight, "what opinion have you of yourself, who serve and follow a lunatic?" "I hope I han't served your honour for nothing, but I shall inherit some of your cast vagaries-when your honour is pleased to be mad, I should be very sorry to be found right in my senses. Timothy Crabshaw will never eat the bread of unthankfulness-it shall never be said of him, that he was wiser than his measter. As for the matter of following a madman, we may see your honour's face is made of a fiddle; every one that looks on you, loves you." This compliment the knight returned, by saying, "If my face is a fiddle, Crabshaw, your tongue is a fiddlestick that plays upon it-yet your music is very disagreeable-you don't keep time." "Nor you neither, measter," cried Timothy, "or we shouldn't be here wandering about under a cloud of night, like sheep-stealers, or evil spirits with troubled consciences."

Here the discourse was interrupted by a sudden disaster; in consequence of which, the squire uttered an inarticulate roar, that startled the knight himself, who was very little subject to the sensation of fear. But his surprise was changed into vexation, when he perceived Gilbert without a rider passing by, and kicking his heels with great agility. He forthwith turned his steed, and riding back a few paces, found Crabshaw rising from the ground. When he asked what was become of his horse, he answered in a whimpering tone, "Horse! would I could once see him fairly carrion for the hounds-for my part, I believe as how 't is no horse, but a devil incarnate; and yet I've been worse mounted, that I have-I'd like to have rid a horse that was foaled of an acorn."

This accident happened in a hollow way, overshadowed with trees, one of which the storm had blown down, so that it lay over the road, and one of its boughs projecting horizontally, encountered the squire as he trotted along in the dark. Chancing to hitch under his long chin, he could not disengage himself, but hung suspended like a flitch of bacon; while Gilbert, pushing forward, left him dangling, and, by his awkward gambols, seemed to be pleased with the joke. This capricious animal was not retaken, without the personal endeavours of the knight; for Crabshaw absolutely refusing to budge a foot from his honour's side, he was obliged to alight, and fasten Bronzomarte to a tree. Then they set out together, and, with some difficulty, found Gilbert with his neck stretched over a five-barred gate, snuffing up the morning air. The squire, however, was not remounted, without first having undergone a severe reprehension from his master, who upbraided him with his cowardice, threatened to chastise him on the spot, and declared that he would divorce his dastardly soul from his body, should he ever be incommoded or affronted with another instance of his baseborn apprehension.

Though there was some risk in carrying on the altercation at this juncture, Timothy, having bound up his jaws, could not withstand the inclination he had to confute his master. He therefore, in a muttering accent, protested, that, if the knight would give him leave, he should prove that his honour had tied a knot with his tongue, which he could not untie with all his teeth. "How, caitiff!" cried Sir Launcelot, "presume to contend with me in argument?" "Your mouth is scarce shut," said the other, "since you declared that a man was not to be punished for madness, because it was a distemper. Now I will maintain that cowardice is a distemper, as well as madness; for nobody would be afraid, if he could help it." "There is more logic in that remark," resumed the knight, "than I expected from your clod-pate, Crabshaw. But I must explain the difference between cowardice and madness. Cowardice, though sometimes the effect of natural imbecility, is generally a prejudice of education, or bad habit contracted from misinformation, or misapprehension; and may certainly be cured by experience, and the exercise of reason. But this remedy cannot be applied in madness, which is a privation or disorder of reason itself."

"So is cowardice, as I'm a living soul," exclaimed the squire; "don't you say a man is frightened out of his senses? for my peart, measter, I can neither see nor hear, much less argufy, when I'm in such a quandary. Wherefore, I do believe, odds bodikins! that cowardice and madness are both distempers, and differ no more than the hot and cold fits of an ague. When it teakes your honour, you're all heat, and fire, and fury, Lord bless us! but when it catches poor Tim, he's cold and dead-hearted, he sheakes and shivers like an aspen leaf, that he does." "In that case," answered the knight, "I shall not punish you for the distemper which you cannot help, but for engaging in a service exposed to perils, when you knew your own infirmity; in the same manner as a man deserves punishment, who enlists himself for a soldier, while he labours under any secret disease." "At that rate," said the squire, "my bread is like to be rarely buttered o' both sides, i'faith. But, I hope, as by the blessing of God I have run mad, so I shall in good time grow valiant, under your honour's precept and example."

By this time a very disagreeable night was succeeded by a fair bright morning, and a market-town appeared at the distance of three or four miles, when Crabshaw, having no longer the fear of hobgoblins before his eyes, and being moreover cheered by the sight of a place where he hoped to meet with comfortable entertainment, began to talk big, to expatiate on the folly of being afraid, and finally set all danger at defiance; when all of a sudden he was presented with an opportunity of putting in practice those new-adopted maxims. In an opening between two lanes, they perceived a gentleman's coach stopped by two highwaymen on horseback, one of whom advanced to reconnoitre and keep the coast clear, while the other exacted contribution from the travellers in the coach. He who acted as sentinel, no sooner saw our adventurer appearing from the lane, than he rode up with a pistol in his hand, and ordered him to halt on pain of immedi

ate death.

To this peremptory mandate the knight made no other reply than charging him with such impetuosity, that he was unhorsed in a twinkling, and lay sprawling on the ground, seemingly sore bruised with his fall. Sir Launcelot, commanding Timothy to alight and secure the prisoner, couched his lance, and rode full speed at the other highwayman, who was not a little disturbed at sight of such an apparition. Nevertheless, he fired his pistol without effect; and, clapping spurs to his horse, fled away at full gallop. The knight pursued him with all the speed that Bronzomarte could exert; but the robber, being mounted on a swift hunter, kept him at a distance; and, after a chase of several miles, escaped through a wood so entangled with coppice, that Sir Launcelot thought proper to desist. He then, for the first time, recollected the situation in which he had left the other thief, and, remembering to have heard a female shriek, as he passed by the coach window, resolved to return with all expedition, that he might make a proffer of his service to the lady, according to the obligation of knight-errantry. But he had lost his way; and after an hour's ride, during which he traversed many a field, and circled divers hedges, he found himself in the market-town aforementioned. Here the first object that presented itself to his eyes was Crabshaw, on foot, surrounded by a mob, tearing his hair, stamping with his feet, and roaring out in manifest distraction, "Show me the mayor! for the love of God, show me the mayor!-O Gilbert, Gilbert! a murrain take thee, Gilbert! sure thou wast foaled for my destruction!"

From these exclamations, and the antique dress of the squire, the people, not without reason, concluded that the poor soul had lost his wits; and the beadle was just going to secure him, when the knight interposed, and at once attracted the whole attention of the populace. Timothy seeing his master fell down on his knees, crying, "The thief has run away with Gilbert-you may pound me into a peast, as the saying is. But now I'se as mad as your worship, I an't afeard of the divil and all his works." Sir Launcelot desiring the beadle would forbear, was instantly obeyed by that officer, who had no inclination to put the authority of his place in competition with the power of such a figure, armed at all points, mounted on a fiery steed, and ready for the combat. He ordered Crabshaw to attend him to the next inn, where he alighted; then, taking him into a separate apartment, demanded an explanation of the unconnected words he had uttered.

The squire was in such agitation, that, with infinite difficulty, and by dint of a thousand different questions, his master learned the adventure to this effect. Crabshaw, according to Sir Launcelot's command, had alighted from his horse, and drawn his cutlass, in hope of intimidating the discomfited robber into a tame surrender, though he did not at all relish the nature of the service. But the thief was neither so much hurt nor so tame as Timothy had imagined. He started on his feet with his pistol still in his hand; and presenting it to the squire, swore with dreadful imprecations, that he would blow his brains out in an instant. Crabshaw, unwilling to hazard the trial of this experiment, turned his back, and fled with great precipitation; while the robber, whose horse had run away, mounted Gilbert, and rode off across the country. It was at this period, that two footmen, belonging to the coach, who had stayed behind to take their morning's whet at the inn where they lodged, came up to the assistance of the ladies, armed with blunderbusses; and the carriage proceeded, leaving Timothy alone in distraction and despair. He knew not which way to turn, and was afraid of remaining on the spot, lest the robbers should come back and revenge themselves upon him for the disappointment they had undergone. In this distress, the first thought that occurred was to make the best of his way to the town, and demand the assistance of the civil magistrate towards the retrieval of what he had lost; a design which he executed in such a manner, as justly entailed upon him the imputation of lunacy.

While Timothy stood fronting the window, and answering the interrogations of his master, he suddenly exclaimed, "Bodikins! there's Gilbert!" and sprung into the street with incredible agility. There finding his strayed companion brought back by one of the footmen who attended the coach, he imprinted a kiss on his forehead; and, hanging about his neck, with the tears in his eyes, hailed his return with the following salutation: "Art thou come back, my darling? ah, Gilbert, Gilbert! a pize upon thee! thou hadst like to have been a dear Gilbert to me! how couldst thou break the heart of thy old friend, who has known thee from a colt? seven years next grass have I fed thee and bred thee; provided thee with sweet hay, delicate corn, and fresh litter, that thou mought lie warm, dry, and comfortable. Han't I currycombed thy carcass till it was as sleek as a sloe, and cherished thee as the apple of mine eye? for all that thou hast played me an hundred dog's tricks; biting, and kicking, and plunging, as if the devil was in thy body; and now thou couldst run away with a thief, and leave me to be flayed alive by measter. What canst thou say for thyself, thou cruel, hard-hearted, unchristian tuoad?" To this tender expostulation, which afforded much entertainment to the boys, Gilbert answered not one word; but seemed altogether insensible to the caresses of Timothy, who forthwith led him into the stable. On the whole, he seems to have been an unsocial animal; for it does not appear that he ever contracted any degree of intimacy, even with Bronzomarte, during the whole course of their acquaintance and fellowship. On the contrary, he has been more than once known to signify his aversion, by throwing out behind, and other eruptive marks of contempt for that elegant charger, who excelled him as much in personal merit, as his rider Timothy was outshone by his all-accomplished master.

While the squire accommodated Gilbert in the stable, the knight sent for the footman who had brought him back; and, having presented him with a liberal acknowledgment, desired to know in what manner the horse had been retrieved.

The stranger satisfied him in this particular, by giving him to understand, that the highwayman, perceiving himself pursued across the country, plied Gilbert so severely with whip and spur, that the animal resented the usage, and being besides, perhaps, a little struck with remorse for having left his old friend Crabshaw, suddenly halted, and stood stock still, notwithstanding all the stripes and tortures he underwent; or if he moved at all, it was in a retrograde direction. The thief, seeing all his endeavours ineffectual, and himself in danger of being overtaken, wisely quitted his acquisition, and fled into the bosom of a neighbouring wood.

Then the knight inquired about the situation of the lady in the coach, and offered himself as her guard and conductor; but was told that she was already safely lodged in the house of a gentleman at some distance from the road. He likewise learned that she was a person disordered in her senses, under the care and tuition of a widow lady, her relation, and that in a day or two they should pursue their journey northward to the place of her habitation.

After the footman had been some time dismissed, the knight recollected that he had forgot to ask the name of the person to whom he belonged; and began to be uneasy at this omission, which indeed was more interesting than he could imagine. For an explanation of this nature would, in all likelihood, have led to a discovery, that the lady in the coach was no other than Miss Aurelia Darnel, who seeing him unexpectedly in such an equipage and attitude, as he passed the coach, for his helmet was off, had screamed with surprise and terror, and fainted away. Nevertheless, when she recovered from her swoon, she concealed the real cause of her agitation, and none of her attendants were acquainted with the person of Sir Launcelot.

The circumstances of the disorder under which she was said to labour shall be revealed in due course. In the meantime, our adventurer, though unaccountably affected, never dreamed of such an occurrence; but being very much fatigued, resolved to indemnify himself for the loss of last night's repose; and this happened to be one of the few things in which Crabshaw felt an ambition to follow his master's example.

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