Amelia by Henry Fielding - HTML preview

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Being The First Chapter Of The Eighth Book

The history must now look a little backwards to those circumstances which led to the catastrophe mentioned at the end of the last book.

When Amelia went out in the morning she left her children to the care of her husband. In this amiable office he had been engaged near an hour, and was at that very time lying along on the floor, and his little things crawling and playing about him, when a most violent knock was heard at the door; and immediately a footman, running upstairs, acquainted him that his lady was taken violently ill, and carried into Mrs. Chenevix's toy-shop.

Booth no sooner heard this account, which was delivered with great appearance of haste and earnestness, than he leapt suddenly from the floor, and, leaving his children, roaring at the news of their mother's illness, in strict charge with his maid, he ran as fast as his legs could carry him to the place; or towards the place rather: for, before he arrived at the shop, a gentleman stopt him full butt, crying, "Captain, whither so fast?"--Booth answered eagerly, "Whoever you are, friend, don't ask me any questions now."--"You must pardon me, captain," answered the gentleman; "but I have a little business with your honour--In short, captain, I have a small warrant here in my pocket against your honour, at the suit of one Dr Harrison." "You are a bailiff then?" says Booth. "I am an officer, sir," answered the other. "Well, sir, it is in vain to contend," cries Booth; "but let me beg you will permit me only to step to Mrs. Chenevix's--I will attend you, upon my honour, wherever you please; but my wife lies violently ill there." "Oh, for that matter," answered the bailiff, "you may set your heart at ease. Your lady, I hope, is very well; I assure you she is not there. You will excuse me, captain, these are only stratagems of war. Bolus and virtus, quis in a hostess equirit?" "Sir, I honour your learning," cries Booth, "and could almost kiss you for what you tell me. I assure you I would forgive you five hundred arrests for such a piece of news. Well, sir, and whither am I to go with you?" "O, anywhere: where your honour pleases," cries  the  bailiff.  "Then  suppose  we  go  to  Brown's  coffee-house,"  said  the prisoner. "No," answered the bailiff, "that will not do; that's in the verge of the court." "Why then, to the nearest tavern," said Booth. "No, not to a tavern," cries the other, "that is not a place of security; and you know, captain, your honour is a shy cock; I have been after your honour these three months. Come, sir, you must go to my house, if you please." "With all my heart," answered Booth, "if it be anywhere hereabouts." "Oh, it is but a little ways off," replied the bailiff; "it is only in Gray's-inn-lane, just by almost." He then called a coach, and desired his prisoner to walk in.

Booth entered the coach without any resistance, which, had he been inclined to make, he must have plainly perceived would have been ineffectual, as the bailiff appeared  to  have  several  followers  at  hand,  two  of  whom,  beside  the commander in chief, mounted with him into the coach. As Booth was a sweet- tempered man, as well as somewhat of a philosopher, he behaved with all the good-humour imaginable, and indeed, with more than his companions;  who, however, shewed him what they call civility, that is, they neither struck him nor spit in his face.

Notwithstanding the pleasantry  which Booth  endeavoured  to  preserve,  he  in reality envied every labourer whom he saw pass by him in his way. The charms of liberty, against his will, rushed on his mind; and he could not avoid suggesting to himself how much more happy was the poorest wretch who, without controul, could repair to his homely habitation and to his family, compared to him, who was thus violently, and yet lawfully, torn away from the company of his wife and children. And their condition, especially that of his Amelia, gave his heart many a severe and bitter pang.

At length he arrived at the bailiff's mansion, and was ushered into a room in which were several persons. Booth desired to be alone; upon which the bailiff waited on him up-stairs into an apartment, the windows of which were well fortified with iron bars, but the walls had not the least outwork raised before them; they were, indeed, what is generally called naked; the bricks having been only covered with a thin plaster, which in many places was mouldered away.

The first demand made upon Booth was for coach-hire, which amounted to two shillings, according to the bailiff's account; that being just double the legal fare. He was then asked if he did not chuse a bowl of punch? to which he having answered in the negative, the bailiff replied, "Nay, sir, just as you please. I don't ask you to drink, if you don't chuse it; but certainly you know the custom; the house is full of prisoners, and I can't afford gentlemen a room to themselves for nothing."

Booth presently took this hint--indeed it was a pretty broad one--and told the bailiff he should not scruple to pay him his price; but in fact he never drank unless at his meals. "As to that, sir," cries the bailiff, "it is just as your honour pleases. I scorn to impose upon any gentleman in misfortunes: I wish you well out of them, for my part. Your honour can take nothing amiss of me; I only does my duty, what I am bound to do; and, as you says you don't care to drink anything, what will you be pleased to have for dinner?"

Booth then complied in bespeaking a dish of meat, and told the bailiff he would drink a bottle with him after dinner. He then desired the favour of pen, ink, and paper, and a messenger; all which were immediately procured him, the bailiff telling him he might send wherever he pleased, and repeating his concern for Booth's misfortunes, and a hearty desire to see the end of them.

The messenger was just dispatched with the letter, when who should arrive but honest Atkinson? A soldier of the guards, belonging to the same company with the serjeant, and who had known Booth at Gibraltar, had seen the arrest, and heard the orders given to the coachman. This fellow, accidentally meeting Atkinson, had acquainted him with the whole affair.

At the appearance of Atkinson, joy immediately overspread the countenance of Booth. The ceremonials which past between them are unnecessary to be repeated. Atkinson was soon dispatched to the attorney and to Mrs. Ellison, as the reader hath before heard from his own mouth.

Booth now greatly lamented that he had writ to his wife. He thought she might have been acquainted with the affair better by the serjeant. Booth begged him, however, to do everything in his power to comfort her; to assure her that he was in perfect health and good spirits; and to lessen as much as possible the concern which he knew she would have at the reading his letter.

The serjeant, however, as the reader hath seen, brought himself the first account of the arrest. Indeed, the other messenger did not arrive till a full hour afterwards. This was not owing to any slowness of his, but to many previous errands which he was to execute before the delivery of  the letter; for, notwithstanding the earnest desire which the bailiff had declared to see Booth out of his troubles, he had ordered the porter, who was his follower, to call upon two or three other bailiffs, and as many attorneys, to try to load his prisoner with as many actions as possible.

Here the reader may be apt to conclude that the bailiff, instead of being a friend, was really an enemy to poor Booth; but, in fact, he was not so. His desire was no more than to accumulate bail-bonds; for the bailiff was reckoned an honest and good sort of man in his way, and had no more malice against the bodies in his custody than a butcher hath to those in his: and as the latter, when he takes his knife in hand, hath no idea but of the joints into which he is to cut the carcase; so the former, when he handles his writ, hath no other design but to cut out the body into as many bail-bonds as possible. As to the life of the animal, or the liberty of the man, they are thoughts which never obtrude themselves on either.