King of the Beggars - Chapter V

Chapter V

He Impersonates a Clergyman

            To do this with more effect, he bethought himself of a new stratagem. He therefore equips himself in a loose black gown, puts on a band, a large white peruke, and a broad-brimmed hat; his whole deportment was agreeable to his dress; his pace was solemn and slow, his countenance thoughtful and grave, his eyes turned on the ground, but now and then raised in seeming ejaculations to heaven: in every look and action he betrayed his want, but at the same time seemed overwhelmed with that shame which modest merit feels, when it is obliged to solicit the cold hand of charity; this behaviour excited the curiosity of many gentlemen, clergy, &c., to inquire into the circumstances of his misfortunes; but it was with difficulty they could engage him to relate them, it being with much seeming reluctance that he acquainted them with his having exercised for many years the sacred office of a clergyman at Aberystwyth, a parish in Wales; but that the government changing, he had preferred quitting his benefice, to taking an oath contrary to his principles and conscience. This relation he accompanied with frequent sighs, deep marks of adoration of the ways of Providence, and warm expressions of his firm trust and reliance in its goodness and faithfulness, with high encomiums on the inward satisfaction of a good conscience. When he discoursed with any clergyman, or other person of literature, he would now and then introduce some Latin or Greek sentences, that were applicable to what they were talking about, which gave his hearers a high opinion of his learning; all this, and his thorough knowledge of those persons whom it was proper to apply to, made this stratagem succeed even beyond his own expectations.

            But now, hearing of a vessel bound to Philadelphia, on board of which were many Quakers, being cast away on the coast of Ireland, he laid aside his gown, cassock, and band, clothes himself in a plain suit, pulls the button from his hat, and flaps it on every side; his countenance was now demure, his language unadorned with any flowers of speech, and the words You and Sir, he seemed to hold in abomination; his hat was moved to none, for, though under misfortunes, he would not think of bowing the knee to Baal.

            With these qualifications, he addressed himself to persons of the denomination of Quakers with great success (for indeed it is to be wished that all other sects would imitate them in their readiness to relieve their brethren); and hearing that there was to be a great meeting of them from all parts, at a place called Thorncombe, in Devonshire, he makes the best of his way there; and with a demure look and modest assurance enters the assembly, where, making his case known, and satisfying them, by his behaviour, of his being one of their sect, they made a very considerable subscription for his relief.

            So active was the mind of our hero, that he was never more happy than when engaged in some adventure or other; therefore, when he had no opportunity of putting any great stratagem in execution, he would amuse himself with those which did not require so great a share of art and ingenuity. Whenever he heard of any melancholy accident by fire, he immediately repaired to the place where it happened, and there, remarking very accurately the spot, inquired into the cause of it, and getting an exact information of the trades, characters, families, and circumstances of the unhappy sufferers, he immediately assumed the person and name of one of them; and burning some part of his coat and hat, as an ocular demonstration of his narrow escape, he made the best of his way to places at some distance, and there passed for one who had been burnt out; and to gain credit, showed a paper signed with the names of several gentlemen in the neighbourhood of the place where the fire happened, recommending him as an honest unhappy sufferer, by which he got considerable sums. Under this character, he had once the boldness to address Justice Hall, of Exmouth, in Devon, the terror and professed enemy of every order of the Gypsies; however, our hero managed so artfully, (though he went through a strict examination,) that he at last convinced his worship that he was an honest miller, whose house, mill, and whole substance had been consumed by fire, occasioned by the negligence of an apprentice boy, and was accordingly relieved by the justice.

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