King of the Beggars - Chapter VI

Chapter VI

Further impostures

Coming one day to Squire Portman's, at Brinson, near Blandford, in the character of a rat-catcher, with a hairy cap upon his head, a buff girdle about his waist, and a tame rat in a little box by his side, he boldly marched up to the house in this disguise, though his person was well known by the family, and meeting in the court with Mr. Portman, the Rev. Mr. Bryant, and several other gentlemen whom he well knew, but did not suspect he should be known by them, he accosted them as a rat-catcher, asking if their Honours had any rats to kill. Do you understand your business well? replied Mr. Portman. Yes, and please your honour; I have followed it many years, and have been employed in his majesty's yards and ships. Well, go in and get something to eat; and after dinner we will try your abilities.

Our hero was accordingly placed at the second table to dinner, and very handsomely entertained; after which he was called into a great parlour, among a large company of gentlemen and ladies. Well, honest Mr. Rat-catcher, said Mr. Portman, can you lay any schemes to kill the rats, without hurting my dogs? Yes, boldly replied Mr. Carew, I shall lay it where even cats can't climb to reach it. And what countryman are you, pray? A Devonshire man, please your honour. What may be your name? Our hero now perceiving, by the smiles and whispering of the gentlemen, that he was known, replied very composedly, B, a, m, p, f, y, l, d, e, M, o, o, r, e, C, a, r, e, w. This occasioned a good deal of mirth; and Mr. Carew asking what scabby sheep had infected the whole flock? was told, Parson Bryant was the man who had discovered him, none of the other gentlemen knowing him under his disguise: upon which, turning to the parson, he asked him if he had forgotten good king Charles's rules? Mr. Pleydell, of St. Andrew's, Milbourn, expressed a pleasure at seeing the famous Mr. Bampfylde-Moore Carew, saying he had never seen him before. Yes, but you have, replied he, and gave me a suit of clothes. Mr. Pleydell testified some surprise at this, and desired to know when it was. Mr. Carew asked him if he did not remember a poor wretch met him one day at his stable-door with an old stocking round his head instead of a cap, and a woman's old ragged mantle on his shoulders, no shirt on his back, nor stockings to his legs, and scarce any shoes on his feet; and that he asked him if he was mad? to which he replied No; but a poor unfortunate man, cast away on the coast, and taken up, with eight others, by a Frenchman, the rest of the crew, sixteen in number, being all drowned; and that Mr. Pleydell having asked what countryman he was, gave him a guinea and a suit of clothes. Mr. Pleydell said he well remembered such a poor object. Well, replied our hero, that object was no other than the rat-catcher now before you: at which all the company laughed very heartily. Well, said Mr. Pleydell, I will bet a guinea I shall know you again, come in what shape you will: the same said Mr. Seymour, of Handford. Some of the company asserting to the contrary of this, they desired our hero to try his ingenuity upon them, and then to discover himself, to convince them of it.

This being agreed upon, and having received a handsome contribution of this company, he took his leave; but Parson Bryant followed him out, and acquainted him that the same company, and many more, would be at Mr. Pleydell's on such a day, and advised him to make use of that opportunity to deceive them all together; which our hero soon resolved to do. He therefore revolved in his mind what stratagem was most likely to succeed: at length he fixed upon one, which he thought could not fail answering his purpose.

When the day was come, the barber was called in to make his face as smooth as his art could do, and a woman's gown and other female accoutrements of the largest size were provided for him. Having jumped into his petticoats, pinned a large dowde under his chin, and put a high-crowned hat on his head, he made a figure so comical that even Hogarth's humour can scarcely parallel; yet our hero thought himself of something else to render his disguise more impenetrable: he therefore borrowed a little hump-backed child of a tinker, and two more of some others of his community. There remained now only in what situation to place the children, and it was quickly resolved to tie two to his back, and to take the other in his arms.

Thus accoutred, and thus hung with helpless infants, he marched forwards for Mr. Pleydell's; coming up to the door, he put his hand behind him, and pinched one of the children, which set it a roaring; this gave the alarm to the dogs, so that between their barking and the child's crying, the whole family was sufficiently disturbed. Out came the maid, crying, Carry away the children, old woman, they disturb the ladies. God bless their ladyships, I am the poor unfortunate grandmother to these poor helpless infants, whose dear mother and all they had was burnt at the dreadful fire at Kirton, and hope the good ladies, for God's sake, will bestow something on the poor famishing starving infants. This moving story was accompanied with tears; upon which, the maid ran in to acquaint the ladies with this melancholy tale, while the good grandmother kept pinching one or other of the children, that they might play their parts to greater perfection; the maid soon returned with a half crown from the ladies, and some good broth, which he went into the court-yard to eat, (understanding the gentlemen were not in the house,) and got one of the under-servants, whom he met, to give some to the children on his back. He had not long been there, before the gentlemen all came in together, who accosted him with, Where did you come from, my good old woman? From Kirton, please your honours, where the poor unfortunate mother of these helpless babes was burnt to death by the flames, and all they had consumed. Dn you, said one of the gentlemen, (who is well known by the name of Worthy Sir, and was particularly acquainted with Mr. Carew,) there has been more money collected for Kirton than ever Kirton was worth; however, he gave this good old grandmother a shilling, the other gentlemen likewise relieved her, commiserating her age, and her burden of so many helpless infants; not one of them discovering our hero in the old woman, who received their alms very thankfully, and pretended to go away; but the gentlemen were not got into the house before their ears were saluted with a tantivy, tantivy, and halloo to the dogs, upon which they turned about, supposing it to be some brother sportsman, but seeing nobody, Worthy Sir swore the old woman they had relieved was Carew; a servant therefore was dispatched to bring her back; and she was brought into the parlour among the gentlemen, where, being examined, she confessed herself to be the famous Mr. Bampfylde-Moore Carew, which made the gentlemen very merry, and they were now all employed in untying the children from his back, and observing the features and dress of this grandmother, which afforded them sufficient entertainment. They afterwards rewarded our hero for the mirth he procured them.

In the same manner he raised a contribution of Mr. Jones, of Ashton, near Bristol, twice in one day, who had maintained, with a gentleman of his acquaintance, that he could not be so deceived. In the morning, with a sooty face, leather apron, a dejected countenance, and a woollen cap, he was generously relieved as an unfortunate blacksmith, whose all had been consumed by fire: in the afternoon he exchanged his legs for crutches; his countenance was now pale and sickly, his gestures very expressive of pain, his complaints lamentable, a poor unfortunate tinner, disabled from maintaining himself, a wife, and seven children, by the damps and hardships he had suffered in the mines; and so well did he paint his distress, that the disabled tinner was now as generously relieved as the unfortunate blacksmith had been in the morning.

Being now near the city of Bath, where he had not long before made so great a figure with his new married bride, he was resolved to visit it in a very different shape and character; he therefore tied up one of his legs behind him, and supplied its place with a wooden one, and putting on a false beard, assumed the character of a poor old cripple. In this disguise he had an opportunity of entertaining himself with the different receptions he met with from every order of men now, from what he had done before in his fine rich clothes. The rich, who before saluted him with their hats and compliments, now spurned him out of their way; the gamesters overlooked him, thinking he was no fish for their net; the chairmen, instead of Please your honour, dd him; and the pumpers, who attentively marked his nod before, now denied him a glass of water. Many of the clergy, those disciples of humility, looked upon him with a supercilious brow; the ladies too, who had before strove who should be his partner at the balls, could not bear the sight of so shocking a creature: thus despised is poverty and rags, though sometimes the veil of real merit; and thus caressed and flattered is finery, though perhaps a covering for shame, poverty of soul, and abandoned profligacy. One character alone vouchsafed to look upon this contemptible object; the good man looked upon him with an eye melting into tenderness and soft compassion, while at the same time the hand which was stretched out to relieve him, showed the heart felt all the pangs which it supposed him to feel. But, notwithstanding the almost general contempt, he raised very considerable contributions; for, as some tossed him money out of pride, others to get rid of his importunity, and a few, as above, out of a good heart, it amounted to no small sum by the end of the season.

It is almost unnecessary to inform the reader, that these successful stratagems gained him high applause and honour in the company of the Gypsies: he soon became the favourite of their king, who was very old and decrepit, and had always some honourable mark of distinction assigned him at their public assemblies. [Note: By favourite we do not mean a worthless flatterer, but one who from real merit deserved the approbation of his king.] These honours and applauses were so many fresh spurs to his ingenuity and industry; so certain it is, that wherever those qualities are honoured, and publicly rewarded, though but by an oaken garland, there industry will outwork itself, and ingenuity will exceed the common bounds of art. Our hero, therefore, was continually planning new stratagems, and soon executed a very bold one on his grace the Duke of Bolton. Coming to his seat near Basingstoke, in Hampshire, he dressed himself in a sailor's ragged habit, and knocking at the gate, desired of the porter, with a composed and assured countenance, admittance to the duke, or at least that the porter would give his grace a paper which he held in his hand; but, as he did not apply in a proper manner to this great officer, (who we think may not improperly be styled the turnkey of the gate) as he did not show him that passport which can open every gate, pass by the surliest porter, and get admittance even to kings, neither himself nor paper could gain any entrance. However, he was not disheartened with this, but waiting near the gate for some time, he at last saw a servant come out, whom he followed, and, telling him that he was a very unfortunate man, desired he would be so kind as to introduce him where he might speak to his grace. As this servant had no interest in locking up his master, for that belonged to the porter only, he very readily complied with his request, as soon as the porter was off his stand; which he accordingly did, introducing him into a hall, where the duke was to pass through soon. He had not been long there before the duke came in, upon which he clapped his knee to the ground, and very graciously offered a paper to his hand for acceptance, which was a petition, setting forth that the unfortunate petitioner, Bampfylde-Moore Carew, was supercargo of a large vessel that was cast away coming from Sweden, in which were his whole effects, and none of which he had been able to save. The duke seeing the name of Bampfylde-Moore Carew, and knowing those names to belong to families of the greatest worth and note in the west of England, inquired of what family he was, and how he became entitled to those honourable names? He replied, they were those of his godfathers, the Honourable Hugh Bampfylde, and the Honourable Major Moore. The duke then asked him several questions about his friends and relations, all of which he answered very fully; and the duke expressing some surprise that he should apply for relief in his misfortunes to any but his own family, who were so well able to assist him, he replied, he had disobliged them by some follies in his youth, and had not seen them for some years, but was now returning to them. Many more questions did the duke, and a lady who was present, ask him; all of which he answered to their satisfaction.

As this was not a great while after his becoming a member of the community of the Gypsies, the duke had never heard that any of the noble family of the Carews was become one of those people; and was very glad to have it in his power to oblige any of that family; he therefore treated him with respect, and called a servant to conduct him into an inner room, where the duke's barber waited on him to shave him. Presently after came in a footman, who brought in a good suit of trimmed clothes, a fine Holland shirt, and all the other parts of dress suitable to these. As soon as he had finished dressing, he was introduced to the duke again, who complimented him on his genteel appearance, and not without reason, as few did more honour to dress. He was now desired to sit down by the duke, with whom were many other persons of quality, who were all greatly taken with his person and behaviour, and very much condoled his misfortunes; so that a collection was soon made for him to the amount of ten guineas. The duke, being engaged to go out in the afternoon, desired him to stay there that night, and gave orders that he should be handsomely entertained, leaving his gentleman to keep him company; but Mr. Carew, probably not liking his company so well as the duke's, took an opportunity, soon after the duke was gone, to set out unobserved towards Basingstoke, where he immediately went into a house which he knew was frequented by some of his community. The master of the house, who saw him entering the door, cried out, Here's his Grace the Duke of Bolton coming in! upon which there was no small hurry amongst the company. As soon as he entered, he ordered the liquor to flow very plentifully at his private cost; his brethren discovering who he was, were greatly amazed at the appearance he made, so different from the usual custom of their order: but when he had informed them fully of the bold stratagem he had executed, the whole place resounded with applause, and every one acknowledged he was the most worthy of succeeding their present good old king.

As our hero's thoughts were bent on making still greater advantage of his stratagem, he did not stay long with his brethren, but went to a reputable inn, where he lodged, and set out the next morning for Salisbury; here he presented his petition to the mayor, bishop, and other gentlemen of great note and fortune, (applying to none but such who were so,) and acquainted them with the favours he had received from his grace the Duke of Bolton. The gentlemen, having such ocular demonstration of the duke's great liberality, treated him with great complaisance and respect, and relieved him very generously, not presuming to offer any small alms to one whom the Duke of Bolton had thought so worthy of his notice. In the same manner, and with the same success, he visited Lord Arundel, Sir Edward Bouverie, and many other gentlemen in the counties of Wilts, Dorset, and Somerset. Coming into Devonshire, his native country, he visited all his friends and most intimate acquaintance in that part, and was relieved by them, not one of them discovering this unfortunate supercargo to be Mr. Bampfylde-Moore Carew. Being one morning near the seat of his friend Sir William Courtney, he was resolved to pay him three visits that day: he went therefore to a house frequented by his order, and there pulled off his fine clothes, and put on a parcel of rags; in this dress he moved towards Sir William's: there, with a piteous moan, a dismal countenance, and a deplorable tale, he got half-a-crown of that gentleman, as a man who had met with misfortunes at sea; at noon he put on a leather apron, a coat which seemed scorched by the fire, with a dejected countenance applied again, and was relieved as an unfortunate shoemaker, who had been burned out of his house, and all he had; in the afternoon he went again in his trimmed clothes, and desiring admittance to Sir William, with a modest grace and submissive eloquence he repeated his misfortunes as the supercargo of a vessel which had been cast away, and his whole effects lost, at the same time mentioning the kindness he had received from his grace the Duke of Bolton. Sir William, seeing his genteel appearance and behaviour, treated him with that respect which the truly great will always pay to those who supplicate their assistance, and generously relieved him, presenting him with a guinea at his departure. There happened to be at that time a great number of the neighbouring gentlemen and clergy at dinner with Sir William, not one of whom discovered who this supercargo was, except the Reverend Mr. Richards, who did not make it known till he was gone; upon which Sir William dispatched a servant after him, to desire him to come back. When he entered the room again, Sir William and the rest of the company were very merry with him, and he was desired to sit down and give them an account by what stratagem he had got all his finery, and what success he had with it, which he did; after which he asked Sir William if he had not bestowed half-a-crown that morning on a beggar, and at noon relieved a poor unfortunate shoemaker. I remember, replied Sir William, that I bestowed such alms on a poor ragged wretch. Well, said Mr. Carew, that ragged wretch was no other than the supercargo now before you. Sir William scarcely crediting this, Mr. Carew withdrew, and putting on the same rags, came again with the same piteous moan, dismal countenance, and deplorable tale, as he had done in the morning, which fully convinced Sir William that he was the same man, and occasioned much diversion in the company; he was however introduced again, and seated among them in his rags; Sir William being one of the few who pay a greater regard to the man than the dress, can discern and support merit under rags, and despise poverty of soul and worthlessness in embroidery; but, notwithstanding the success of this stratagem, our hero always looked upon it as one of the most unfortunate in his whole life; for, after he had been at Sir William's, as above-mentioned, coming to Stoke Gabriel, near Totness, on a Sunday, and having done that which discovered the nakedness of Noah, he went to the Reverend Mr. Osburn, the minister of the parish, and requested the thanksgivings of the church for the wonderful preservation of himself, and the whole ship's crew, in the imminent danger of a violent tempest of thunder and lightning, which destroyed the vessel they were aboard of. Though Mr. Osburn knew him very well, yet he had no suspicion of its being him in disguise, therefore readily granted his request; and not only so, but recommending him to his parishioners, a handsome collection was made for him by the congregation, which he had generosity enough to distribute among the poor of the parish, reserving but a small part to himself. Though this was bringing good out of evil, he still speaks of it (after above thirty years lapse since the commission) with the greatest regret and compunction of mind; for he is sensible, that though he can deceive man, he cannot deceive God, whose eyes penetrate into every place, and mark all our actions, and who is a Being too awful to be jested with.

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