Book VIII - Chapter X
In which our travellers meet with a very extraordinary adventure.
Just as Jones and his friend came to the end of their dialogue in the preceding chapter, they arrived at the bottom of a very steep hill. Here Jones stopt short, and directing his eyes upwards, stood for a while silent. At length he called to his companion, and said, "Partridge, I wish I was at the top of this hill; it must certainly afford a most charming prospect, especially by this light; for the solemn gloom which the moon casts on all objects, is beyond expression beautiful, especially to an imagination which is desirous of cultivating melancholy ideas."--"Very probably," answered Partridge; "but if the top of the hill be properest to produce melancholy thoughts, I suppose the bottom is the likeliest to produce merry ones, and these I take to be much the better of the two. I protest you have made my blood run cold with the very mentioning the top of that mountain; which seems to me to be one of the highest in the world. No, no, if we look for anything, let it be for a place under ground, to screen ourselves from the frost."--"Do so," said Jones; "let it be but within hearing of this place, and I will hallow to you at my return back."--"Surely, sir, you are not mad," said Partridge.--"Indeed, I am," answered Jones, "if ascending this hill be madness; but as you complain so much of the cold already, I would have you stay below. I will certainly return to you within an hour."--"Pardon me, sir," cries Partridge; "I have determined to follow you wherever you go." Indeed he was now afraid to stay behind; for though he was coward enough in all respects, yet his chief fear was that of ghosts, with which the present time of night, and the wildness of the place, extremely well suited.
At this instant Partridge espied a glimmering light through some trees, which seemed very near to them. He immediately cried out in a rapture, "Oh, sir! Heaven hath at last heard my prayers, and hath brought us to a house; perhaps it may be an inn. Let me beseech you, sir, if you have any compassion either for me or yourself, do not despise the goodness of Providence, but let us go directly to yon light. Whether it be a public-house or no, I am sure if they be Christians that dwell there, they will not refuse a little house-room to persons in our miserable condition." Jones at length yielded to the earnest supplications of Partridge, and both together made directly towards the place whence the light issued.
They soon arrived at the door of this house, or cottage, for it might be called either, without much impropriety. Here Jones knocked several times without receiving any answer from within; at which Partridge, whose head was full of nothing but of ghosts, devils, witches, and such like, began to tremble, crying, "Lord, have mercy upon us! surely the people must be all dead. I can see no light neither now, and yet I am certain I saw a candle burning but a moment before.--Well! I have heard of such things."--"What hast thou heard of?" said Jones. "The people are either fast asleep, or probably, as this is a lonely place, are afraid to open their door." He then began to vociferate pretty loudly, and at last an old woman, opening an upper casement, asked, Who they were, and what they wanted? Jones answered, They were travellers who had lost their way, and having seen a light in the window, had been led thither in hopes of finding some fire to warm themselves. "Whoever you are," cries the woman, "you have no business here; nor shall I open the door to any one at this time of night." Partridge, whom the sound of a human voice had recovered from his fright, fell to the most earnest supplications to be admitted for a few minutes to the fire, saying, he was almost dead with the cold; to which fear had indeed contributed equally with the frost. He assured her that the gentleman who spoke to her was one of the greatest squires in the country; and made use of every argument, save one, which Jones afterwards effectually added; and this was, the promise of half-a-crown;--a bribe too great to be resisted by such a person, especially as the genteel appearance of Jones, which the light of the moon plainly discovered to her, together with his affable behaviour, had entirely subdued those apprehensions of thieves which she had at first conceived. She agreed, therefore, at last, to let them in; where Partridge, to his infinite joy, found a good fire ready for his reception.
The poor fellow, however, had no sooner warmed himself, than those thoughts which were always uppermost in his mind, began a little to disturb his brain. There was no article of his creed in which he had a stronger faith than he had in witchcraft, nor can the reader conceive a figure more adapted to inspire this idea, than the old woman who now stood before him. She answered exactly to that picture drawn by Otway in his Orphan. Indeed, if this woman had lived in the reign of James the First, her appearance alone would have hanged her, almost without any evidence.
Many circumstances likewise conspired to confirm Partridge in his opinion. Her living, as he then imagined, by herself in so lonely a place; and in a house, the outside of which seemed much too good for her, but its inside was furnished in the most neat and elegant manner. To say the truth, Jones himself was not a little surprized at what he saw; for, besides the extraordinary neatness of the room, it was adorned with a great number of nicknacks and curiosities, which might have engaged the attention of a virtuoso.
While Jones was admiring these things, and Partridge sat trembling with the firm belief that he was in the house of a witch, the old woman said, "I hope, gentlemen, you will make what haste you can; for I expect my master presently, and I would not for double the money he should find you here."--"Then you have a master?" cried Jones. "Indeed, you will excuse me, good woman, but I was surprized to see all those fine things in your house."--"Ah, sir," said she, "if the twentieth part of these things were mine, I should think myself a rich woman. But pray, sir, do not stay much longer, for I look for him in every minute."--"Why, sure he would not be angry with you," said Jones, "for doing a common act of charity?"--"Alack-a-day, sir!" said she, "he is a strange man, not at all like other people. He keeps no company with anybody, and seldom walks out but by night, for he doth not care to be seen; and all the country people are as much afraid of meeting him; for his dress is enough to frighten those who are not used to it. They call him, the Man of the Hill (for there he walks by night), and the country people are not, I believe, more afraid of the devil himself. He would be terribly angry if he found you here."--"Pray, sir," says Partridge, "don't let us offend the gentleman; I am ready to walk, and was never warmer in my life. Do pray, sir, let us go. Here are pistols over the chimney: who knows whether they be charged or no, or what he may do with them?"--"Fear nothing, Partridge," cries Jones; "I will secure thee from danger."--"Nay, for matter o' that, he never doth any mischief," said the woman; "but to be sure it is necessary he should keep some arms for his own safety; for his house hath been beset more than once; and it is not many nights ago that we thought we heard thieves about it: for my own part, I have often wondered that he is not murdered by some villain or other, as he walks out by himself at such hours; but then, as I said, the people are afraid of him; and besides, they think, I suppose, he hath nothing about him worth taking."--"I should imagine, by this collection of rarities," cries Jones, "that your master had been a traveller."--"Yes, sir," answered she, "he hath been a very great one: there be few gentlemen that know more of all matters than he. I fancy he hath been crost in love, or whatever it is I know not; but I have lived with him above these thirty years, and in all that time he hath hardly spoke to six living people." She then again solicited their departure, in which she was backed by Partridge; but Jones purposely protracted the time, for his curiosity was greatly raised to see this extraordinary person. Though the old woman, therefore, concluded every one of her answers with desiring him to be gone, and Partridge proceeded so far as to pull him by the sleeve, he still continued to invent new questions, till the old woman, with an affrighted countenance, declared she heard her master's signal; and at the same instant more than one voice was heard without the door, crying, "D--n your blood, show us your money this instant. Your money, you villain, or we will blow your brains about your ears."
"O, good heaven!" cries the old woman, "some villains, to be sure, have attacked my master. O la! what shall I do? what shall I do?"--"How!" cries Jones, "how!--Are these pistols loaded?"--"O, good sir, there is nothing in them, indeed. O pray don't murder us, gentlemen!" (for in reality she now had the same opinion of those within as she had of those without). Jones made her no answer; but snatching an old broad sword which hung in the room, he instantly sallied out, where he found the old gentleman struggling with two ruffians, and begging for mercy. Jones asked no questions, but fell so briskly to work with his broad sword, that the fellows immediately quitted their hold; and without offering to attack our heroe, betook themselves to their heels and made their escape; for he did not attempt to pursue them, being contented with having delivered the old gentleman; and indeed he concluded he had pretty well done their business, for both of them, as they ran off, cried out with bitter oaths that they were dead men.
Jones presently ran to lift up the old gentleman, who had been thrown down in the scuffle, expressing at the same time great concern lest he should have received any harm from the villains. The old man stared a moment at Jones, and then cried, "No, sir, no, I have very little harm, I thank you. Lord have mercy upon me!"--"I see, sir," said Jones, "you are not free from apprehensions even of those who have had the happiness to be your deliverers; nor can I blame any suspicions which you may have; but indeed you have no real occasion for any; here are none but your friends present. Having mist our way this cold night, we took the liberty of warming ourselves at your fire, whence we were just departing when we heard you call for assistance, which, I must say, Providence alone seems to have sent you."--"Providence, indeed," cries the old gentleman, "if it be so."--"So it is, I assure you," cries Jones. "Here is your own sword, sir; I have used it in your defence, and I now return it into your hand." The old man having received the sword, which was stained with the blood of his enemies, looked stedfastly at Jones during some moments, and then with a sigh cried out, "You will pardon me, young gentleman; I was not always of a suspicious temper, nor am I a friend to ingratitude."
"Be thankful then," cries Jones, "to that Providence to which you owe your deliverance: as to my part, I have only discharged the common duties of humanity, and what I would have done for any fellow-creature in your situation."--"Let me look at you a little longer," cries the old gentleman. "You are a human creature then? Well, perhaps you are. Come pray walk into my little hutt. You have been my deliverer indeed."
The old woman was distracted between the fears which she had of her master, and for him; and Partridge was, if possible, in a greater fright. The former of these, however, when she heard her master speak kindly to Jones, and perceived what had happened, came again to herself; but Partridge no sooner saw the gentleman, than the strangeness of his dress infused greater terrors into that poor fellow than he had before felt, either from the strange description which he had heard, or from the uproar which had happened at the door.
To say the truth, it was an appearance which might have affected a more constant mind than that of Mr Partridge. This person was of the tallest size, with a long beard as white as snow. His body was cloathed with the skin of an ass, made something into the form of a coat. He wore likewise boots on his legs, and a cap on his head, both composed of the skin of some other animals.
As soon as the old gentleman came into his house, the old woman began her congratulations on his happy escape from the ruffians. "Yes," cried he, "I have escaped, indeed, thanks to my preserver."--"O the blessing on him!" answered she: "he is a good gentleman, I warrant him. I was afraid your worship would have been angry with me for letting him in; and to be certain I should not have done it, had not I seen by the moon-light, that he was a gentleman, and almost frozen to death. And to be certain it must have been some good angel that sent him hither, and tempted me to do it."
"I am afraid, sir," said the old gentleman to Jones, "that I have nothing in this house which you can either eat or drink, unless you will accept a dram of brandy; of which I can give you some most excellent, and which I have had by me these thirty years." Jones declined this offer in a very civil and proper speech, and then the other asked him, "Whither he was travelling when he mist his way?" saying, "I must own myself surprized to see such a person as you appear to be, journeying on foot at this time of night. I suppose, sir, you are a gentleman of these parts; for you do not look like one who is used to travel far without horses?"
"Appearances," cried Jones, "are often deceitful; men sometimes look what they are not. I assure you I am not of this country; and whither I am travelling, in reality I scarce know myself."
"Whoever you are, or whithersoever you are going," answered the old man, "I have obligations to you which I can never return."
"I once more," replied Jones, "affirm that you have none; for there can be no merit in having hazarded that in your service on which I set no value; and nothing is so contemptible in my eyes as life."
"I am sorry, young gentleman," answered the stranger, "that you have any reason to be so unhappy at your years."
"Indeed I am, sir," answered Jones, "the most unhappy of mankind."--"Perhaps you have had a friend, or a mistress?" replied the other. "How could you," cries Jones, "mention two words sufficient to drive me to distraction?"--"Either of them are enough to drive any man to distraction," answered the old man. "I enquire no farther, sir; perhaps my curiosity hath led me too far already."
"Indeed, sir," cries Jones, "I cannot censure a passion which I feel at this instant in the highest degree. You will pardon me when I assure you, that everything which I have seen or heard since I first entered this house hath conspired to raise the greatest curiosity in me. Something very extraordinary must have determined you to this course of life, and I have reason to fear your own history is not without misfortunes."
Here the old gentleman again sighed, and remained silent for some minutes: at last, looking earnestly on Jones, he said, "I have read that a good countenance is a letter of recommendation; if so, none ever can be more strongly recommended than yourself. If I did not feel some yearnings towards you from another consideration, I must be the most ungrateful monster upon earth; and I am really concerned it is no otherwise in my power than by words to convince you of my gratitude."
Jones, after a moment's hesitation, answered, "That it was in his power by words to gratify him extremely. I have confest a curiosity," said he, "sir; need I say how much obliged I should be to you, if you would condescend to gratify it? Will you suffer me therefore to beg, unless any consideration restrains you, that you would be pleased to acquaint me what motives have induced you thus to withdraw from the society of mankind, and to betake yourself to a course of life to which it sufficiently appears you were not born?"
"I scarce think myself at liberty to refuse you anything after what hath happened," replied the old man. "If you desire therefore to hear the story of an unhappy man, I will relate it to you. Indeed you judge rightly, in thinking there is commonly something extraordinary in the fortunes of those who fly from society; for however it may seem a paradox, or even a contradiction, certain it is, that great philanthropy chiefly inclines us to avoid and detest mankind; not on account so much of their private and selfish vices, but for those of a relative kind; such as envy, malice, treachery, cruelty, with every other species of malevolence. These are the vices which true philanthropy abhors, and which rather than see and converse with, she avoids society itself. However, without a compliment to you, you do not appear to me one of those whom I should shun or detest; nay, I must say, in what little hath dropt from you, there appears some parity in our fortunes: I hope, however, yours will conclude more successfully."
Here some compliments passed between our heroe and his host, and then the latter was going to begin his history, when Partridge interrupted him. His apprehensions had now pretty well left him, but some effects of his terrors remained; he therefore reminded the gentleman of that excellent brandy which he had mentioned. This was presently brought, and Partridge swallowed a large bumper.
The gentleman then, without any farther preface, began as you may read in the next chapter.Next