King of the Beggars - Chapter XXXIII

Chapter XXXIII

The Miracles of Bridgewater, and the Irish Mountebank

There being about this time a great fair at Bridgewater, in the county of Somerset, our hero appeared there upon crutches as a poor miserable cripple, in company with many of his subjects that were full as unfortunate as himself, some blind, some deaf, some dumb, &c., among whom were his old friends and school-fellows Martin, Escott, and Coleman. The mayor of that corporation, a bitter enemy to their community, jocosely said, that he would make the blind see, the deaf hear, and the lame walk; and by way of preparation or beginning to this intended cure, he had them all apprehended and confined in a dark hole, which greatly terrified them with the apprehension of severe punishment. After one night's repose in limbo, he sent a physician or surgeon of most profound skill and judgment to them, who brought the keys of their melancholy apartments, and pretending greatly to befriend them, advised them, if there were any of them counterfeits, to make haste out of the town, or otherwise they must expect no mercy from the mayor, unknown to whom he had privately stolen the keys; then, unlocking the door, forth issued the disabled and infirm prisoners; the lame threw aside their crutches and artificial legs, and made an exceeding good use of their natural ones: the blind made shift to see the way out of town; and the deaf themselves, with great attention, hearkened to this their friend, and followed his advice with all possible speed. The mayor, with the aldermen and several gentlemen, planted themselves opposite to the prison, and were spectators to this diverting scene, calling out to stop them, not with an intention to do them any prejudice, but only of adding a spur to their speed: however there were some who were ready enough to lay hold on them, and our hero, in a struggle of this nature, left a skirt of his garment behind him, which might be done without much violence, as we may reasonably conclude it to have been none of the soundest; and Coleman was so closely pursued, that he plunged into the river, and swam to the opposite shore: in short, so well did these cripples ply their limbs, that none of them could be taken, excepting a real object, a lame man, who, in spite of the fear and consternation he was in, could not mend his decrepit pace: he therefore was brought before the mayor, who, after slightly rebuking him for his vagrant course of life, ordered him to be relieved in a very plentiful and generous manner, and the whole corporation was exceeding kind to him.

One method of gaining his ends our hero had peculiar to himself. He used with great intent to read the inscriptions on tombs and monuments in church-yards, and when the deceased person had a character for piety and charity, he would with the greatest importunity apply to his or her surviving relations: and, if they refused an alms, he would, in the most moving terms imaginable, implore their charity for the sake of their deceased relation, praying they would follow the laudable and virtuous example of their dead husband, wife, father, mother, or the like; hoping there was the same God, the same spirit of piety, religion, and charity, still dwelling in the house as before the death of the person deceased. These and the like expressions, uttered in a most suppliant and pathetic voice, used to extort not only very handsome contributions, but tears from the person to whom he applied.

Some time after this, he engaged, at Burton, in Somersetshire, in the habit and character of a seaman, cast away in coming from Newfoundland, with a captain, who, by his great severity, had rendered himself the terror of all the mendicant order; but he, relying upon his perfect acquaintance with the country, ventured up to him, had the best entertainment his house afforded, and was honourably dismissed with a considerable piece of money. Captains Hh and Nn, with both of whom our hero had sailed, were intimate acquaintances of this captain, of whom he asked many questions, and also about Newfoundland, which country trade he had used the most part of the time; to all which questions he gave very satisfactory answers. This captain had detected so many impostors, that he concluded they were all so; but, not being able to find Mr. Carew in anyone error, he was very proud of it, pitied and relieved him in an extraordinary manner, went with him himself to the principal people of the town, wrote him letters of recommendation to his distant relations and friends, that lay in his road, and acted with such extraordinary kindness, as if he thought he could never do enough; it is to be remarked, that he passed rather for a passenger than a seaman.

In the same town lived Lord By, who had a son, who was captain of the Antelope man-of-war, stationed in the West Indies, and who died on the passage; Mr. Carew informed himself of every circumstance relating thereto, and made it his business to meet his lordship as he came out of church. After his first application, he gave his lordship to understand, that he was a spectator of the burial of his son on board the Antelope; at the same time came up this critical captain, who gave him the character of a man of great veracity, so that his lordship gave him a guinea, his eldest son five shillings, and also good entertainment from the house. This happened to be a fair day; he thereupon, going into the town, was accosted by an apothecary, who whispered him in the ear, saying, that he knew him to be the famous Bampfylde-Moore Carew, and had most grossly imposed upon the captain and the town, but at the same time assured him that he would not injure him, but faithfully keep the secret. In the meantime there was an Irish quack-doctor in view, who had gathered the whole market around him, and who, with more strength of lungs than sense of argument, most loudly harangued, entertaining them in a very florid manner with the sovereign virtues of his pills, plasters, and self; and so far did he impose upon them, as to vend his packets pretty plentifully, which the apothecary could not forbear beholding with an envious eye, and jocularly asked Mr. Carew if he could not help him to some revenge upon this dangerous rival and antagonist of his; which he promised him to do effectually.

Accordingly he got a little phial, and filled it up with spirits of turpentine; he then mixed in with the gaping auditory of this Irish itinerant physician, who was in the midst of them, mounted on his steed adorned with a pompous curb-bridle, with a large parcel of all-curing medicines in his bags behind him, and was with a great deal of confidence and success, Aesculapius-like, distributing health around him: we must observe, that our physician had taken his stand among the stalls of orange and gingerbread merchants, shoemakers, glovers, and other such retailers.

Mr. Carew therefore approached him, and planted himself close by the horse, and, wetting his fingers with the spirits, rested his hand upon the steed, as an unconcerned person might have done; at the same time putting aside the hair, he rubbed the turpentine upon the bare flesh, which immediately beginning to burn and smart, the afflicted quadruped began to express his sense of pain, by flinging his hinder legs, gently shaking himself, and other restless motions, which made the poor mountebank wonder what had befallen his horse; but the pain increasing, the disorderly behaviour of the steed increased proportionably, who now began to kick, prance, stand on end, neigh, immoderately shake himself, utterly disregarding both his bridle and rider, and running a tilt against the stalls of oranges, gingerbread, gloves, breeches, shoes, &c., which he overthrew and trampled underfoot; this occasioned a scramble among the boys for the eatables, and there were some who were but too unmerciful to the scattered goods of the poor shoemakers and glovers, who, enraged by their several losses, began to curse the doctor and his Rosinante, who was all this while capering, roaring, and dancing among their oranges, panniers of eggs, &c., to the entire ruin of the hucksters, who now began to deal very heavy blows, both on the unfortunate horse and his distressed master. This odd spectacle and adventure attracted the eyes and attention of the whole fair, which was all in an uproar, some laughing, some crying, (particularly the poor suffering pedlars,) some fighting, and others most unmercifully cursing and swearing; to make short of the story, the doctor rode about the fair, without either hat or wig, at the pleasure and discretion of his horse, among the ruined and overturned stalls and the dissipated mob, who concluded both the quack and the steed to be either mad or bewitched, and enjoyed their frolicsome situation.

The doctor, being no longer able to keep his seat, fell headlong into the miry street; the horse ran into a river, and rolled himself over several times, to the entire confusion and ruin of the inestimable pills and plasters; the doctor employed a good farrier, and after some time the horse came to himself again. The reader may very easily judge what glorious diversion this was for the apothecary and Mr. Carew, who were spectators of the whole scene. He was treated handsomely upon this account, not only by the apothecary, but all others of the same profession in the town, and several other gentlemen.

Upon Mr. Carew's departure from Burton, the generous captain befriended him with many recommendatory letters to friends and acquaintance, that lay in his road, as he pretended: nay, indeed, he was never out of it; thence he proceeded to Bristol, and other places where the letters were directed to, and received considerable sums of money from many, on account of these letters, which were mostly to captains of vessels, and gentlemen that had been at sea, with whom he several times passed muster very well; it being by desire of the captain, as was mentioned in the letters, that they examined him.

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