King of the Beggars - Chapter XIX

Chapter XIX

He meets with the Captains who Helped him Escape; He Sleeps in a Haunted House; His Revenge on the Bellman

††††††††††† Not long after this, Mr. Carew came to Biddeford again, where he had been some time before, and delivered the compass to Captain Haley's wife, who immediately burst into tears upon seeing it, supposing her husband was dead: he then went to the Dolphin, where, as he was drinking, he saw some gentlemen in the Butchers' Row, and asked the landlord who they were. Being told they were the Captains Harvey, Hopkins, and Burd,óGo, said he, and give my duty, and tell them Mr. Bampfylde-Moore Carew is at your house. The landlord went accordingly, and soon returned with the captains. They were glad to see our hero, who returned them thanks for the favours he had received from them in America. The captains asked him a great many questions respecting his travels through the Indians' country, &c., and told him they never thought he could have gone through that dangerous undertaking, but expected to have seen him return again. He then gave them an account of everything to their satisfaction, telling them he had followed their directions in every point. They afterwards treated him very handsomely, and made a collection for him. The captains then going out, and reporting that he was in town, a great concourse of people assembled to see him, to the no little profit of the landlord; for our hero ordered that no one should be admitted to see him, till he had first drunk a quart of ale in the house.

††††††††††† Some time after this, he disguised himself like a poor miserable decrepit old man, and took to selling of matches and gathering old rags. Happening to meet a brother ragman at Wiveliscombe, they joined company, and agreed to travel to Porlock together. Just as they came to Gutter-Hall, night coming on a-pace, they proposed taking up their quarters there. The landlord told them he had no lodging to spare, but if they would go half-a-mile farther, and lie in a haunted house, they should have their lodging free cost, and good bread, cheese, and cider, with a rasher of bacon into the bargain. The ragmen very readily accepted this offer, and, accompanied by the landlord, repaired to Farmer Liddon's house. When they came there the landlord told the farmer he had brought two men who would lie in the haunted house. The farmer received them very gladly, and asked them if they were sure they had courage enough to do it, adding he would give them twenty shillings if they could lay the old woman. Never fear, farmer, replied Mr. Carew; we have not only courage to speak to, but learning enough to lay, the old woman, so that you shall never hear of her more. Things being thus agreed on, the farmer's son, a great stout fellow, willing to show his courage, in a very bold manner offered to keep them company. Having provided themselves with firing, cider, bread, cheese, and bacon, they adjourned to the haunted house, but not before Mr. Carew had taken an opportunity of going into the yard, and filling his pockets with large stones. When they came to the haunted house, they made a good fire, and he and his companion sat down, eating and drinking very merrily; but the farmer's son, beginning to have some terrors upon him, had little stomach to eat. About the middle of the night, when everything is most silent and solemn, at that time when every whisper of the mind is apt to create fear, Mr. Carew took an opportunity of throwing a stone unseen up the stairs, which, coming rumbling down again with a frightful noise, might have at that time struck a panic into the most courageous heart. The farmer's son turned pale, and leaped from his chair in a great fright, believing that the old woman was making her entrance; but nothing appearing, the same awful silence and stillness as before took place, only fear staid behind in the farmer's breast, and Mr. Carew and his companion kept mute, as though in expectation of what would follow; but soon this solemn silence was disturbed by a loud thump at the door; again the farmer leaped from his seat, crying out, O Lord! save and deliver us! At the same time, unable to command those passages at which fear is apt to issue out, he caused a smell almost as bad as Satan himself is said to bring along with him. Mr. Carew caught him in his arms, and, holding his head close to his breast, cried, don't be afraid, Mr. Liddon, for I will make the old woman fly; at the same time, pretending to conjure her, he repeated three times very solemnly, Hight spirito diabolico rubro oceano, whilst his companion went a little aside, and answered in a squeaking tone, like Joan Liddon, unless my will is fulfilled, I will tear them in pieces!

††††††††††† Soon after cock-crowing, there was another huge blow at the door, and then they bid the farmer look up, telling him the old woman was gone; however, he would not let go his hold of Mr. Carew. Just as day-light appeared, his companion went forth, and picked up the stones from the stairs, entry, &c. He had scarce done this, before the old farmer came down, to see if his son was alive, and if they had seen old Joan. He accosted them with, How do you do? how have you spent the night? O father, replied the son, most terribly indeed. You can't conceive what rattlings and noises we heard; but this good man secured me in his arms. But what smell is this? replied the father; sure old Joan stinks of brimstone, or something worse, if she brought this along with her. Ay, father, father, said the son, I believe you would have raised as bad a smell as I have done, if you had been here. Well, well, said the father, perhaps I might; but have you spoken to old Joan? Yes, indeed, replied Mr. Carew. And what does the old woman say? She says, if her will is not exactly fulfilled as she desired, she will never leave haunting you; but, if it be, all shall be well and quiet. They then went to the farmer's house, where they were made very welcome, and received the twenty shillings, according to promise, the farmer requesting they would stay the next night by themselves, for he believed his son would have no stomach to go with them, and tell the old woman everything should be fulfilled according to her will, and they should be satisfied to their content. They accordingly passed the next night there very merrily, and received another twenty shillings in the morning, which was well bestowed too by the farmer; for ever after the house had the reputation of being quiet.

††††††††††† Mr. Carew and his companion then set forward for Porlock, where they parted company; and Mr. Carew coming into Porlock, met Dr. Tanner, a relation of old Joan Liddon's, and his brother, Parson Tanner, who was with him. After the usual salutations, he very composedly asked if they had heard the news of the conjuring old Joan? The doctor replied they had heard something of it, and that he was resolved either to send or take a ride over himself, to inquire into the truth of it. He confirmed it to them, which occasioned a great deal of discourse about it, and who these two conjurers could be.

††††††††††† We should, perhaps, have passed over in silence this adventure of our hero's, but that an author of the first rate has taken a great deal of pains to frighten a poor soldier, and entertain his readers by dressing up his hero in a white coloured coat, covered with streams of blood [Note: Vide History of Tom Jones]; though we cannot well conceive how those streams of blood, which ran down the coat in the morning, should appear so very visible twenty hours after, in the middle of the night, and at a distance by the light of a single candle; notwithstanding this great author has very judiciously acquainted us with a light-coloured coat; but however this may be, we are of opinion that the farmer's son in the above adventure is a more entertaining character than the soldier in the renowned history we are speaking of; and that our hero, whenever it was needful, could make a much more tremendous figure than Mr. Jones in his white-coloured coat covered with streams of blood. The following is a sufficient instance.

††††††††††† Mr. Carew being in the town of Southmolton, in Devon, and having been ill used by a great officer, vulgarly called the bellman, was resolved to take comical revenge. It was about that time reported and generally believed, that a gentleman of the town, lately buried, walked by night in the church-yard; and, as the bellman was obliged by his nightly duty to go through it just at the hour of one, that well-known accustomed time of spectres issuing from their graves, Mr. Carew repaired there a little before the time, and, stripping to his shirt, lay down upon the gentleman's grave. Soon after, hearing the bellman approach, he raised himself up with a solemn slowness; which the bellman beholding, by the glimmering light of the moon through some thick clouds, he was harrowed up (as Shakspeare expresses it) with fear and wonder, and an universal palsy seized every limb; but, as nature most commonly dictates flight in all such cases, he retreated with as much haste as his shaking limbs would allow; yet, as fear naturally inclines us to look back upon the object we are flying from, he several times cast his eyes behind him, and beheld the ghost follow him with a solemn march. This added fresh vigour to his flight, so that he tumbled over graves and stones, not without many bruises, and at length dropped his bell, which the ghost seized upon as trophy, and forbore any farther pursuit. The bellman, however, did not stop till he reached home, where he obstinately affirmed he had seen the gentleman's ghost, who had taken away his bell, which greatly alarmed the whole town; and there were not wanting many who afterwards frequently heard the ghost ringing the bell in the church-yard.

††††††††††† It was some time before the bellman had the courage to resume his usual nightly rounds through the church-yard; but after a while, his fear abating, he ventured upon it again, and met with no interruption. Mr. Carew happening about a year afterwards to be in Southmolton again, was afresh insulted by the bellman, which made him resolve to give him a second meeting in the church-yard; taking therefore the opportunity of a very dark night, he dressed himself in a black gown, put a great fur cap upon his head, and at the usual time of the bellman coming, repaired to the church-yard, holding in his mouth, by the middle, a stick lighted at both ends, at the same time rattling a heavy iron chain. If the bellman's terror before was great, it was now much greater; and indeed the appearance, joined to the rattling of the chain, was so hideous, that the boldest soldier might have been terrified by it, without any imputation of cowardice. The bellman fled away with all the wings of fear, the spectre following him at a distance, rattling the chain with a most hideous noise; hence the bellman concluded himself to be haunted by the devil, and declined ever after his nocturnal employment.

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