To Dr LEWIS.
The deceitful calm was of short duration. I am plunged again in a sea of vexation, and the complaints in my stomach and bowels are returned; so that I suppose I shall be disabled from prosecuting the excursion I had planned—What the devil had I to do, to come a plague hunting with a leash of females in my train? Yesterday my precious sister (who, by the bye, has been for some time a professed methodist) came into my apartment, attended by Mr Barton, and desired an audience with a very stately air—’Brother (said she), this gentleman has something to propose, which I flatter myself will be the more acceptable, as it will rid you of a troublesome companion.’ Then Mr Barton proceeded to this effect—‘I am, indeed, extremely ambitious of being allied to your family, Mr Bramble, and I hope you will see no cause to interpose your authority.’ ‘As for authority (said Tabby, interrupting him with some warmth), I know of none that he has a right to use on this occasion—If I pay him the compliment of making him acquainted with the step I intend to take, it is all he can expect in reason—This is as much as I believe he would do by me, if he intended to change his own situation in life—In a word, brother, I am so sensible of Mr Barton’s extra ordinary merit, that I have been prevailed upon to alter my resolution of living a single life, and to put my happiness in his hands, by vesting him with a legal title to my person and fortune, such as they are. The business at present, is to have the writings drawn; and I shall be obliged to you, if you will recommend a lawyer to me for that purpose’
You may guess what an effect this overture had upon me; who, from the information of my nephew, expected that Barton was to make a formal declaration of his passion for Liddy; I could not help gazing in silent astonishment, alternately at Tabby, and her supposed admirer, who last hung his head in the most aukward confusion for a few minutes, and then retired on pretence of being suddenly seized with a vertigo—Mrs Tabitha affected much concern, and would have had him make use of a bed in the house; but he insisted upon going home, that he might have recourse of some drops, which he kept for such emergencies, and his innamorata acquiesced—In the mean time I was exceedingly puzzled at this adventure (though I suspected the truth) and did not know in what manner to demean myself towards Mrs Tabitha, when Jery came in and told me, he had just seen Mr Barton alight from his chariot at lady Griskin’s door—This incident seemed to threaten a visit from her ladyship, with which we were honoured accordingly, in less than half an hour—‘I find (said she) there has been a match of cross purposes among you good folks; and I’m come to set you to rights’—So saying, she presented me with the following billet
I no sooner recollected myself from the extreme confusion I was thrown into, by that unlucky mistake of your sister, than I thought it my duty to assure you, that my devoirs to Mrs Bramble never exceeded the bounds of ordinary civility; and that my heart is unalterably fixed upon Miss Liddy Melford, as I had the honour to declare to her brother, when he questioned me upon that subject—Lady Griskin has been so good as to charge herself, not only with the delivery of this note, but also with the task of undeceiving Mrs Bramble, for whom I have the most profound respect and veneration, though my affection being otherwise engaged is no longer in the power of
Sir, Your very humble servant, RALPH BARTON.
Having cast my eyes over this billet, I told her ladyship, that I would no longer retard the friendly office she had undertaken: and I and Jery forthwith retired into another room. There we soon perceived the conversation grow very warm betwixt the two ladies; and, at length, could distinctly hear certain terms of altercation, which we could no longer delay interrupting, with any regard to decorum. When we entered the scene of contention, we found Liddy had joined the disputants, and stood trembling betwixt them, as if she had been afraid they would have proceeded to something more practical than words. Lady Griskin’s face was like the full moon in a storm of wind, glaring, fiery, and portentous; while Tabby looked grim and ghastly, with an aspect breathing discord and dismay.—Our appearance put a stop to their mutual revilings; but her ladyship turning to me, ’Cousin (said she) I can’t help saying I have met with a very ungrateful return from this lady, for the pains I have taken to serve her family’—‘My family is much obliged to your ladyship (cried Tabby, with a kind of hysterical giggle); but we have no right to the good offices of such an honourable go-between.’ ‘But, for all that, good Mrs Tabitha Bramble (resumed the other), I shall be content with the reflection, That virtue is its own reward; and it shall not be my fault, if you continue to make yourself ridiculous—Mr Bramble, who has no little interest of his own to serve, will, no doubt, contribute all in his power to promote a match betwixt Mr Barton and his niece, which will be equally honourable and advantageous; and, I dare say, Miss Liddy herself will have no objection to a measure so well calculated to make her happy in life’—‘I beg your ladyship’s pardon (exclaimed Liddy, with great vivacity) I have nothing but misery to expect from such a measure; and I hope my guardians will have too much compassion, to barter my peace of mind for any consideration of interest or fortune’—‘Upon my word, Miss Liddy! (said she) you have profited by the example of your good aunt—I comprehend your meaning, and will explain it when I have a proper opportunity—In the mean time, I shall take my leave—Madam, your most obedient, and devoted humble servant,’ said she, advancing close up to my sister, and curtsying so low, that I thought she intended to squat herself down on the floor—This salutation Tabby returned with equal solemnity; and the expression of the two faces, while they continued in this attitude, would be no bad subject for a pencil like that of the incomparable Hogarth, if any such should ever appear again, in these times of dullness and degeneracy.
Jery accompanied her ladyship to her house, that he might have an opportunity to restore the etuis to Barton, and advise him to give up his suit, which was so disagreeable to his sister, against whom, however, he returned much irritated—Lady Griskin had assured him that Liddy’s heart was pre-occupied; and immediately the idea of Wilson recurring to his imagination, his family-pride took the alarm. He denounced vengeance against the adventurer, and was disposed to be very peremptory with his sister; but I desired he would suppress his resentment, until I should have talked with her in private.
The poor girl, when I earnestly pressed her on this head, owned with a flood of tears, that Wilson had actually come to the Hot Well at Bristol, and even introduced himself into our lodgings as a Jew pedlar; but that nothing had passed betwixt them, further than her begging him to withdraw immediately, if he had any regard for her peace of mind: that he had disappeared accordingly, after having attempted to prevail upon my sister’s maid, to deliver a letter; which, however, she refused to receive, though she had consented to carry a message, importing that he was a gentleman of a good family; and that, in a very little time, he would avow his passion in that character—She confessed, that although he had not kept his word in this particular, he was not yet altogether indifferent to her affection; but solemnly promised, she would never carry on any correspondence with him, or any other admirer, for the future, without the privity and approbation of her brother and me.
By this declaration, she made her own peace with Jery; but the hot-headed boy is more than ever incensed against Wilson, whom he now considers as an impostor, that harbours some infamous design upon the honour of his family—As for Barton he was not a little mortified to find his present returned, and his addresses so unfavourably received; but he is not a man to be deeply affected by such disappointments; and I know not whether he is not as well pleased with being discarded by Liddy, as he would have been with a permission to prosecute his pretensions, at the risque of being every day exposed to the revenge or machinations of Tabby, who is not to be slighted with impunity.—I had not much time to moralize on these occurrences; for the house was visited by a constable and his gang, with a warrant from Justice Buzzard, to search the box of Humphry Clinker, my footman,—who was just apprehended as a highwayman. This incident threw the whole family into confusion. My sister scolded the constable for presuming to enter the lodgings of a gentleman on such an errand, without having first asked, and obtained permission; her maid was frightened into fits, and Liddy shed tears of compassion for the unfortunate Clinker, in whose box, however, nothing was found to confirm the suspicion of robbery.
For my own part, I made no doubt of the fellow’s being mistaken for some other person, and I went directly to the justice, in order to procure his discharge; but there I found the matter much more serious than I expected—Poor Clinker stood trembling at the bar, surrounded by thief-takers; and at a little distance, a thick, squat fellow, a postilion, his accuser, who had seized him on the street, and swore positively to his person, that the said Clinker had, on the 15th day of March last, on Blackheath, robbed a gentleman in a post-chaise, which he (the postilion) drove—This deposition was sufficient to justify his commitment; and he was sent accordingly to Clerkenwell prison, whither Jery accompanied him in the coach, in order to recommend him properly to the keeper, that he may want for no convenience which the place affords.
The spectators, who assembled to see this highwayman, were sagacious enough to discern something very villainous in his aspect; which (begging their pardon) is the very picture of simplicity; and the justice himself put a very unfavourable construction upon some of his answers, which, he said, savoured of the ambiguity and equivocation of an old offender; but, in my opinion, it would have been more just and humane to impute them to the confusion into which we may suppose a poor country lad to be thrown on such an occasion. I am still persuaded he is innocent; and, in this persuasion, I can do no less than use my utmost endeavours that he may not be oppressed—I shall, to-morrow, send my nephew to wait on the gentleman who was robbed, and beg; he will have the humanity to go and see the prisoner; that, in case he should find him quite different from the person of the highwayman, he may bear testimony in his behalf—Howsoever it may fare with Clinker, this cursed affair will be to me productive of intolerable chagrin—I have already caught a dreadful cold, by rushing into the open air from the justice’s parlour, where I had been stewing in the crowd; and though I should not be laid up with the gout, as I believe I shall, I must stay at London for some weeks, till this poor devil comes to his trial at Rochester; so that, in all probability, my northern expedition is blown up.
If you can find any thing in your philosophical budget, to console me in the midst of these distresses and apprehensions, pray let it be communicated to
Your unfortunate friend, MATT. BRAMBLE LONDON, June 12.