Book VIII - Chapter VIII
Jones arrives at Gloucester, and goes to the Bell; the character of that house, and of a petty-fogger which he there meets with.
Mr Jones and Partridge, or Little Benjamin (which epithet of Little was perhaps given him ironically, he being in reality near six feet high), having left their last quarters in the manner before described, travelled on to Gloucester without meeting any adventure worth relating.
Being arrived here, they chose for their house of entertainment the sign of the Bell, an excellent house indeed, and which I do most seriously recommend to every reader who shall visit this antient city. The master of it is brother to the great preacher Whitefield; but is absolutely untainted with the pernicious principles of Methodism, or of any other heretical sect. He is indeed a very honest plain man, and, in my opinion, not likely to create any disturbance either in church or state. His wife hath, I believe, had much pretension to beauty, and is still a very fine woman. Her person and deportment might have made a shining figure in the politest assemblies; but though she must be conscious of this and many other perfections, she seems perfectly contented with, and resigned to, that state of life to which she is called; and this resignation is entirely owing to the prudence and wisdom of her temper; for she is at present as free from any Methodistical notions as her husband: I say at present; for she freely confesses that her brother's documents made at first some impression upon her, and that she had put herself to the expense of a long hood, in order to attend the extraordinary emotions of the Spirit; but having found, during an experiment of three weeks, no emotions, she says, worth a farthing, she very wisely laid by her hood, and abandoned the sect. To be concise, she is a very friendly good-natured woman; and so industrious to oblige, that the guests must be of a very morose disposition who are not extremely well satisfied in her house.
Mrs Whitefield happened to be in the yard when Jones and his attendant marched in. Her sagacity soon discovered in the air of our heroe something which distinguished him from the vulgar. She ordered her servants, therefore, immediately to show him into a room, and presently afterwards invited him to dinner with herself; which invitation he very thankfully accepted; for indeed much less agreeable company than that of Mrs Whitefield, and a much worse entertainment than she had provided, would have been welcome after so long fasting and so long a walk.
Besides Mr Jones and the good governess of the mansion, there sat down at table an attorney of Salisbury, indeed the very same who had brought the news of Mrs Blifil's death to Mr Allworthy, and whose name, which I think we did not before mention, was Dowling: there was likewise present another person, who stiled himself a lawyer, and who lived somewhere near Linlinch, in Somersetshire. This fellow, I say, stiled himself a lawyer, but was indeed a most vile petty-fogger, without sense or knowledge of any kind; one of those who may be termed train-bearers to the law; a sort of supernumeraries in the profession, who are the hackneys of attorneys, and will ride more miles for half-a-crown than a postboy.
During the time of dinner, the Somersetshire lawyer recollected the face of Jones, which he had seen at Mr Allworthy's; for he had often visited in that gentleman's kitchen. He therefore took occasion to enquire after the good family there with that familiarity which would have become an intimate friend or acquaintance of Mr Allworthy; and indeed he did all in his power to insinuate himself to be such, though he had never had the honour of speaking to any person in that family higher than the butler. Jones answered all his questions with much civility, though he never remembered to have seen the petty-fogger before; and though he concluded, from the outward appearance and behaviour of the man, that he usurped a freedom with his betters, to which he was by no means intitled.
As the conversation of fellows of this kind is of all others the most detestable to men of any sense, the cloth was no sooner removed than Mr Jones withdrew, and a little barbarously left poor Mrs Whitefield to do a penance, which I have often heard Mr Timothy Harris, and other publicans of good taste, lament, as the severest lot annexed to their calling, namely, that of being obliged to keep company with their guests.
Jones had no sooner quitted the room, than the petty-fogger, in a whispering tone, asked Mrs Whitefield, "If she knew who that fine spark was?" She answered, "She had never seen the gentleman before."--"The gentleman, indeed!" replied the petty-fogger; "a pretty gentleman, truly! Why, he's the bastard of a fellow who was hanged for horse-stealing. He was dropt at Squire Allworthy's door, where one of the servants found him in a box so full of rain-water, that he would certainly have been drowned, had he not been reserved for another fate."--"Ay, ay, you need not mention it, I protest: we understand what that fate is very well," cries Dowling, with a most facetious grin.--"Well," continued the other, "the squire ordered him to be taken in; for he is a timbersome man everybody knows, and was afraid of drawing himself into a scrape; and there the bastard was bred up, and fed, and cloathified all to the world like any gentleman; and there he got one of the servant-maids with child, and persuaded her to swear it to the squire himself; and afterwards he broke the arm of one Mr Thwackum a clergyman, only because he reprimanded him for following whores; and afterwards he snapt a pistol at Mr Blifil behind his back; and once, when Squire Allworthy was sick, he got a drum, and beat it all over the house to prevent him from sleeping; and twenty other pranks he hath played, for all which, about four or five days ago, just before I left the country, the squire stripped him stark naked, and turned him out of doors."
"And very justly too, I protest," cries Dowling; "I would turn my own son out of doors, if he was guilty of half as much. And pray what is the name of this pretty gentleman?"
"The name o' un?" answered Petty-fogger; "why, he is called Thomas Jones."
"Jones!" answered Dowling a little eagerly; "what, Mr Jones that lived at Mr Allworthy's? was that the gentleman that dined with us?"--"The very same," said the other. "I have heard of the gentleman," cries Dowling, "often; but I never heard any ill character of him."--"And I am sure," says Mrs Whitefield, "if half what this gentleman hath said be true, Mr Jones hath the most deceitful countenance I ever saw; for sure his looks promise something very different; and I must say, for the little I have seen of him, he is as civil a well-bred man as you would wish to converse with."
Petty-fogger calling to mind that he had not been sworn, as he usually was, before he gave his evidence, now bound what he had declared with so many oaths and imprecations that the landlady's ears were shocked, and she put a stop to his swearing, by assuring him of her belief. Upon which he said, "I hope, madam, you imagine I would scorn to tell such things of any man, unless I knew them to be true. What interest have I in taking away the reputation of a man who never injured me? I promise you every syllable of what I have said is fact, and the whole country knows it."
As Mrs Whitefield had no reason to suspect that the petty-fogger had any motive or temptation to abuse Jones, the reader cannot blame her for believing what he so confidently affirmed with many oaths. She accordingly gave up her skill in physiognomy, and hence-forwards conceived so ill an opinion of her guest, that she heartily wished him out of her house.
This dislike was now farther increased by a report which Mr Whitefield made from the kitchen, where Partridge had informed the company, "That though he carried the knapsack, and contented himself with staying among servants, while Tom Jones (as he called him) was regaling in the parlour, he was not his servant, but only a friend and companion, and as good a gentleman as Mr Jones himself."
Dowling sat all this while silent, biting his fingers, making faces, grinning, and looking wonderfully arch; at last he opened his lips, and protested that the gentleman looked like another sort of man. He then called for his bill with the utmost haste, declared he must be at Hereford that evening, lamented his great hurry of business, and wished he could divide himself into twenty pieces, in order to be at once in twenty places.
The petty-fogger now likewise departed, and then Jones desired the favour of Mrs Whitefield's company to drink tea with him; but she refused, and with a manner so different from that with which she had received him at dinner, that it a little surprized him. And now he soon perceived her behaviour totally changed; for instead of that natural affability which we have before celebrated, she wore a constrained severity on her countenance, which was so disagreeable to Mr Jones, that he resolved, however late, to quit the house that evening.
He did indeed account somewhat unfairly for this sudden change; for besides some hard and unjust surmises concerning female fickleness and mutability, he began to suspect that he owed this want of civility to his want of horses; a sort of animals which, as they dirty no sheets, are thought in inns to pay better for their beds than their riders, and are therefore considered as the more desirable company; but Mrs Whitefield, to do her justice, had a much more liberal way of thinking. She was perfectly well-bred, and could be very civil to a gentleman, though he walked on foot. In reality, she looked on our heroe as a sorry scoundrel, and therefore treated him as such, for which not even Jones himself, had he known as much as the reader, could have blamed her; nay, on the contrary, he must have approved her conduct, and have esteemed her the more for the disrespect shown towards himself. This is indeed a most aggravating circumstance, which attends depriving men unjustly of their reputation; for a man who is conscious of having an ill character, cannot justly be angry with those who neglect and slight him; but ought rather to despise such as affect his conversation, unless where a perfect intimacy must have convinced them that their friend's character hath been falsely and injuriously aspersed.
This was not, however, the case of Jones; for as he was a perfect stranger to the truth, so he was with good reason offended at the treatment he received. He therefore paid his reckoning and departed, highly against the will of Mr Partridge, who having remonstrated much against it to no purpose, at last condescended to take up his knapsack and to attend his friend.Next