King of the Beggars - Chapter XXIII

Chapter XXIII

He Bilks the Customs' Men

            Soon after this he planned a new design, which he put into execution with great success. Dressing himself up in a chequered shirt, jacket, and trowsers, he went upon Exeter quay, and, with the rough but artless air and behaviour of a sailor, inquired for some of the king's officers, whom he informed that he belonged to a vessel lately come from France, which had landed a large quantity of run goods, but the captain was a rascal, and had used him ill, and damn his blood if he would not—. He was about to proceed, but the officers, who with greedy ears swallowed all he said, interrupted him by taking him into the custom-house, and filling him a bumper of cherry brandy, which when he had drunk, they forced another upon him, persuading him to wet the other eye, rightly judging that the old proverb, In wine there is truth, might with equal propriety be applied to brandy, and that they should have the fuller discovery, the more the honest sailor's heart was cheered; but, that no provocation should be wanting to engage him to speak the truth, they asked him if he wanted any money. He with much art answered very indifferently, no; adding, he scorned to make such a discovery out of a mercenary view, but that he was resolved to be revenged of his captain. They then ordered him to the sign of the Boot, in St. Thomas's, Exeter, whither they soon followed him, having first sent to Mr. Eastwood, an exciseman, to ask what he would have for dinner, and what liquor he would have to drink. A fire was lighted upstairs in a private room, a couple of ducks roasted, and full glasses of wine and punch went cheerfully round; they then thrust four guineas into his hand, which at first he seemed unwilling to accept of, which made them the more pressing. He now began to open his mind with great freedom, gave a particular account of the vessel, where they had taken in their cargo at France, and what it consisted of; the day they sailed, and the time they were on their passage; and at last concluded with acquainting them they had landed and concealed part of their valuable cargo in the out-houses of Squire Mallock, of Cockington, and the remainder in those of Squire Cary, of Tor-abbey, both which houses, upon account of their situation on the sea-side, were very noted for such concealments. The officers, having now got on the scent, were like sagacious hounds for pursuing it forthwith, and also thought proper the sailor should accompany them; and, to prevent all suspicion, resolved he should now change his habit; they therefore dressed him in a ruffled shirt, a fine suit of broad cloth belonging to the collector, and put a gold-laced hat on his head; then, mounting him on a fine black mare, away they rode together, being in all seven or eight of them; they that night reached Newton-Bushel, and slept at the Bull; nothing was wanting to make the night jovial; the greatest delicacies the town afforded were served up at their table, the best liquors were broached for them, and music, with its enlivening charms, crowned the banquet; the officers' hearts were quite open and cheerful, as they already enjoyed, in imagination, all the booty they were to seize on the morrow. Thinking they could not do enough for the honest sailor, they inquired if he knew anything of accounts; promising, if he did, to get him a place in the customs. In the morning, after a good hearty breakfast, they set forward for Tor-abbey; and, being arrived in Tor-town, they demanded the constables' assistance, who was with the utmost reluctance prevailed on to accompany them in making this search; Squire Gary being a gentleman so universally beloved by the whole parish, (to which he always behaved as a father,) that everyone was very backward in doing anything to give him the least uneasiness. Did gentlemen of large estates in the country but once taste the exalted pleasure of making the whole neighbourhood happy, and consider how much honest industry they might support, how much misery they might alleviate, and how many daily blessings they might have poured forth upon their heads from hearts overflowing with love, respect and gratitude, almost to adoration, we should not so often see them leave their noble country mansions to repair to noise and folly; nor exchange the heart-enlivening pleasure of making numbers happy, for the beguiling smiles and unmeaning professions of a prime minister.

            Being come to the house, they all dismounted, and the collector desired the sailor to hold his horse, but he replied he would rather go round the garden, and meet them on the other side of the house, to prevent anything from being conveyed away, and that it would be proper he should be present to show the particular place where everything was deposited. This appeared quite right to the collector; he therefore contented himself with fastening his horse to the garden rails, and proceeded with the rest of the officers, in great form, to search the dog-kennel, coal-house, dove-house, stables, and all other suspicious places, expecting every minute to see the informing sailor, who by this time had nearly got back to Newton-Bushel, having turned his horse's head that way as soon as he was out of sight of the collector. He stopped at the Bull, where they had been the preceding night, and drank a bottle of wine; then, ordering a handsome dinner to be got ready for his company, whom he said he had left behind, because his business called him with urgent haste to Exeter, he clapped his spurs to his horse, and did not stop till he reached that city, where he put up at the Oxford inn, then kept by Mr. Buckstone, to whom both himself and friends were well known; he acquainted Mr. Buckstone that he was now reformed, and lived at home with his friends, and spent the night very jovially, calling for the best of everything. In the morning he desired Mr. Buckstone to do him the favour of lending him a couple of guineas, till he could receive some of a merchant in the city upon whom he had a bill, for the merchant was gone out of town. As Mr. Buckstone had a mare in his custody worth ten or twelve pounds, he made no scruple of doing it; and soon after Mr. Carew thought proper to change his quarters, without bidding the landlord good-bye. Leaving the mare to discharge the reckoning and the loan he had borrowed, he repaired immediately to a house of usual resort for his community, where he pulls off the fine clothes the collector had lent him, and rigged himself again in a jacket and trowsers; then setting out for Topsham, about three miles from the city of Exeter, he there executed the same stratagem upon Mr. Carter and the other officers there; informing them also of some great concealments at Sir Coppleston Bampfylde's house, at Poltimore, for which they rewarded him with a good treat and a couple of guineas.

            The Exeter officers (whom, as we have before said, he left without the least ceremony at Squire Gary's) having searched all the out-houses, and even in the dwelling-house, very narrowly, without finding any prohibited goods, began to suspect the sailor had outwitted them; therefore they returned in a great hurry to Newton-Bushel, all their mirth being turned into vexation, and their great expectations vanished into smoke. Soon after they had dismounted from their horses, the landlord brought in the dinner, which he said their companion had ordered to be got ready for them; but though it was a very elegant one, yet they found abundance of faults with everything; however, as it was too late to reach Exeter that night, they were obliged to take up their quarters there; but, instead of the jollity and good humour that reigned among them the night before, there now succeeded a sullen silence, interrupted now and then by some exclamations of revenge, and expressions of dislike of everything that was brought them: when they came into Exeter the next day, they had intelligence brought them of the mare, which was safe enough at the Oxford inn; but they were obliged to disburse the money Mr. Carew had made her surety for.

            From Topsham Mr. Carew proceeded to Exmouth, where he also succeeded, and from thence to Squire Stucky's, a justice of peace at Brandscombe, about four miles from Sidmouth; and, being introduced, acquainted his worship with several discoveries he could make; the justice thereupon immediately dispatched a messenger for Mr. Duke, an officer in Sidmouth; in the meantime he entertained him very handsomely, and pressed him to accept of two guineas, as a small token of kindness, often shaking him by the hand, and saying, he thought himself very much obliged to him for making this discovery: and that, as a reward for his loyalty to the king, he would engage to get him a place, having many friends at London. About two o'clock the next morning, Mr. Duke, the sailor, and servant of the squire's, set forward towards Honiton, it being at Squire Blagdon's, near the town, where they were to find the hidden treasure. Mr. Carew was mounted on a good horse of Justice Stucky's, and, while the officer and servant were very busy in searching the out-houses and stables, Mr. Carew gave them the slip, and posted away to Honiton, and took some refreshment at the Three Lions; then leaving the justice's horse to answer for it, hasted away to Lyme in Dorsetshire; where he applied to Mr. Jordan, the collector of the place, whom he sent upon the same errand some miles off, to Colonel Brown's, at Frampton; but the collector, not judging it proper for him to accompany him, for fear of creating suspicion, left him at his own house till his return, giving his servant orders to let him want for nothing; at the same time making him a handsome present, as an earnest of a greater reward when he returned. Mr. Carew enjoyed himself very contentedly at the collector's house for several hours, both eating and drinking of the best, as he knew Frampton was at too great a distance for him to return presently; but he prudently weighed his anchor when he thought the collector might be on his return, and steered his course towards Weymouth, where he made his application to the collector, and after being handsomely treated, and a present given to him, sent the officers to Squire Groves's, near White-street, and Squire Barber's, on the Chase, both in Wiltshire. And as soon as they were gone, he set out for Poole; and sent the collector and officers of that place to Sir Edward Boobey's, who lived in the road between Salisbury and Hendon; they gave him two guineas in hand, and a promise of more upon their return with the booty; in the meantime they recommended him to an inn, and gave orders that he should have anything the house afforded, and they would make satisfaction for it; but this adventure had like not to have ended so well for him as the former; for, being laid down upon a bed to nap, having drunk too freely, he heard some people drinking and talking in the next room of the great confusion there was in all the sea-ports in the west of England, occasioned by a trick put on the king's officers by one Bampfylde Carew, and that this news was brought to Poole by a Devonshire gentleman, who accidently came that way. Mr. Carew hearing this, rightly judged Poole was no proper place to make a longer stay in; he therefore instantly arose, and, by the help of a back door, got into a garden, and with much difficulty climbed over the wall belonging thereto, and made the best of his way to Christchurch, in Hampshire; here he assumed the character of a shipwrecked seaman, and raised considerable contributions.

            Coming to Ringwood, he inquired of the health of Sir Thomas Hobbes, a gentleman in that neighbourhood, who was a person of great hospitality; he was told that some of the mendicant order, having abused his benevolence, in taking away a pair of boots, after he had received a handsome present from him, it had so far prejudiced Sir Thomas, that he did not exercise the same hospitality as formerly. This greatly surprised and concerned Mr. Carew, that any of his subjects should be guilty of so ungrateful an action: he was resolved therefore to inquire strictly into it, that, if he could find out the offender, he might inflict a deserved punishment upon him; and therefore resolved to pay a visit to Sir Thomas the next morning, hoping he should get some light into the affair. When he came to the house, it was pretty early in the day, and Sir Thomas had not come out of his chamber; however, he sent up his pass, as a shipwrecked seaman, by one of the servants, who presently returned with half-a-crown. As he had been always wont to receive a large present from Sir Thomas, whenever he had applied to him, he thought there was some unfair practice at the bottom; he therefore asked the footman for a copper of ale to drink the family's health, hoping Sir Thomas might come down by that time; the servant pretended to be in so great a hurry, that he could not attend to draw any, but he was of too humane a nature to permit the poor sailor to suffer by his hurry, so gave him a shilling out of his own pocket to drink at the next public-house. This extraordinary generosity of the footman increased Mr. Carew's suspicion; he therefore kept loitering about the door, and often looking up at the window, in hopes of seeing Sir Thomas, which accordingly happened, for at length he flung up the sash, and accosted him in a free familiar manner, called him Brother Tar, and told him he was very sorry for his misfortunes, and that he had sent him a piece of money to assist him in his journey towards Bristol. Heaven bless your honour, replied he, for the half-crown your honour sent me; upon which Sir Thomas ran down in his morning gown, and with great passion seized the footman by the throat, and asked him what he had given the sailor. The fellow was struck dumb with this, and indeed there was no need for his tongue on the present occasion, as his looks, and the trembling of his limbs, sufficiently declared his guilt; however he at last owned it with his tongue; and excused himself by saying, he knew there was an ill use made of the large bounties his honour gave. Sir Thomas, enraged at the insolence of his servant, bestowed upon him the discipline of the horse-whip, for his great care and integrity in not seeing his bounty abused; adding, he now saw by whose villany he had lost his boots. He then made the footman return the whole guinea to the sailor, and discharged him from any further service in his family; upon which Mr. Carew took his leave with great thankfulness, and went his way, highly pleased with his good success in this adventure.—Here we cannot forbear wishing that there was no higher character in life than Sir Thomas's footman, to whose hands gold is apt to cling in passing through them; that there was no steward who kept back part of his master's rent, because he thinks he has more than he knows what to do with; no managers of charities, who retain part of the donors' benefactions in their own hands, because it is too much for the poor; nor officers of the public, who think they may squander the public treasure without account, because what is everybody's is nobody's.

            Mr. Carew having laid aside his sailor's habit, put on a long loose vest, placed a turban on his head, dignified his chin with a venerable long beard, and was now no other than a poor unfortunate Grecian, whose misfortunes had overtaken him in a strange country. He could not utter his sorrowful tale, being unacquainted with the language of the country; but his mute silence, his dejected countenance, a sudden tear that now and then flowed down his cheek, accompanied with a noble air of distress, all pleaded for him in more persuasive eloquence than perhaps the softest language could have done, and raised him considerable gains; and indeed benevolence can never be better exerted than towards unfortunate strangers, for no distress can be so forlorn as that of a man in necessity in a foreign country; he has no friends to apply to, no laws to shelter him under, no means to provide for his subsistence, and therefore can have no resource but in those benevolent minds who look upon the whole world as their own brethren.

Prev   Next