Tom Jones Chapter v.

Containing more adventures which Mr Jones and his companion met on the road.

Our travellers now walked so fast, that they had very little time or breath for conversation; Jones meditating all the way on Sophia, and Partridge on the bank-bill, which, though it gave him some pleasure, caused him at the same time to repine at fortune, which, in all his walks, had never given him such an opportunity of showing his honesty. They had proceeded above three miles, when Partridge, being unable any longer to keep up with Jones, called to him, and begged him a little to slacken his pace: with this he was the more ready to comply, as he had for some time lost the footsteps of the horses, which the thaw had enabled him to trace for several miles, and he was now upon a wide common, where were several roads.

He here therefore stopt to consider which of these roads he should pursue; when on a sudden they heard the noise of a drum, that seemed at no great distance. This sound presently alarmed the fears of Partridge, and he cried out, “Lord have mercy upon us all; they are certainly a coming!” “Who is coming?” cries Jones; for fear had long since given place to softer ideas in his mind; and since his adventure with the lame man, he had been totally intent on pursuing Sophia, without entertaining one thought of an enemy. “Who?” cries Partridge, “why, the rebels: but why should I call them rebels? they may be very honest gentlemen, for anything I know to the contrary. The devil take him that affronts them, I say; I am sure, if they have nothing to say to me, I will have nothing to say to them, but in a civil way. For Heaven’s sake, sir, don’t affront them if they should come, and perhaps they may do us no harm; but would it not be the wiser way to creep into some of yonder bushes, till they are gone by? What can two unarmed men do perhaps against fifty thousand? Certainly nobody but a madman; I hope your honour is not offended; but certainly no man who hath mens sana in corpore sano——” Here Jones interrupted this torrent of eloquence, which fear had inspired, saying, “That by the drum he perceived they were near some town.” He then made directly towards the place whence the noise proceeded, bidding Partridge “take courage, for that he would lead him into no danger;” and adding, “it was impossible the rebels should be so near.”

Partridge was a little comforted with this last assurance; and though he would more gladly have gone the contrary way, he followed his leader, his heart beating time, but not after the manner of heroes, to the music of the drum, which ceased not till they had traversed the common, and were come into a narrow lane.

And now Partridge, who kept even pace with Jones, discovered something painted flying in the air, a very few yards before him, which fancying to be the colours of the enemy, he fell a bellowing, “Oh Lord, sir, here they are; there is the crown and coffin. Oh Lord! I never saw anything so terrible; and we are within gun-shot of them already.”

Jones no sooner looked up, than he plainly perceived what it was which Partridge had thus mistaken. “Partridge,” says he, “I fancy you will be able to engage this whole army yourself; for by the colours I guess what the drum was which we heard before, and which beats up for recruits to a puppet-show.”

“A puppet-show!” answered Partridge, with most eager transport. “And is it really no more than that? I love a puppet-show of all the pastimes upon earth. Do, good sir, let us tarry and see it. Besides, I am quite famished to death; for it is now almost dark, and I have not eat a morsel since three o’clock in the morning.”

They now arrived at an inn, or indeed an ale-house, where Jones was prevailed upon to stop, the rather as he had no longer any assurance of being in the road he desired. They walked both directly into the kitchen, where Jones began to enquire if no ladies had passed that way in the morning, and Partridge as eagerly examined into the state of their provisions; and indeed his enquiry met with the better success; for Jones could not hear news of Sophia; but Partridge, to his great satisfaction, found good reason to expect very shortly the agreeable sight of an excellent smoaking dish of eggs and bacon.

In strong and healthy constitutions love hath a very different effect from what it causes in the puny part of the species. In the latter it generally destroys all that appetite which tends towards the conservation of the individual; but in the former, though it often induces forgetfulness, and a neglect of food, as well as of everything else; yet place a good piece of well-powdered buttock before a hungry lover, and he seldom fails very handsomely to play his part. Thus it happened in the present case; for though Jones perhaps wanted a prompter, and might have travelled much farther, had he been alone, with an empty stomach; yet no sooner did he sit down to the bacon and eggs, than he fell to as heartily and voraciously as Partridge himself.

Before our travellers had finished their dinner, night came on, and as the moon was now past the full, it was extremely dark. Partridge therefore prevailed on Jones to stay and see the puppet-show, which was just going to begin, and to which they were very eagerly invited by the master of the said show, who declared that his figures were the finest which the world had ever produced, and that they had given great satisfaction to all the quality in every town in England.

The puppet-show was performed with great regularity and decency. It was called the fine and serious part of the Provoked Husband; and it was indeed a very grave and solemn entertainment, without any low wit or humour, or jests; or, to do it no more than justice, without anything which could provoke a laugh. The audience were all highly pleased. A grave matron told the master she would bring her two daughters the next night, as he did not show any stuff; and an attorney’s clerk and an exciseman both declared, that the characters of Lord and Lady Townley were well preserved, and highly in nature. Partridge likewise concurred with this opinion.

The master was so highly elated with these encomiums, that he could not refrain from adding some more of his own. He said, “The present age was not improved in anything so much as in their puppet-shows; which, by throwing out Punch and his wife Joan, and such idle trumpery, were at last brought to be a rational entertainment. I remember,” said he, “when I first took to the business, there was a great deal of low stuff that did very well to make folks laugh; but was never calculated to improve the morals of young people, which certainly ought to be principally aimed at in every puppet-show: for why may not good and instructive lessons be conveyed this way, as well as any other? My figures are as big as the life, and they represent the life in every particular; and I question not but people rise from my little drama as much improved as they do from the great.” “I would by no means degrade the ingenuity of your profession,” answered Jones, “but I should have been glad to have seen my old acquaintance master Punch, for all that; and so far from improving, I think, by leaving out him and his merry wife Joan, you have spoiled your puppet-show.”

The dancer of wires conceived an immediate and high contempt for Jones, from these words. And with much disdain in his countenance, he replied, “Very probably, sir, that may be your opinion; but I have the satisfaction to know the best judges differ from you, and it is impossible to please every taste. I confess, indeed, some of the quality at Bath, two or three years ago, wanted mightily to bring Punch again upon the stage. I believe I lost some money for not agreeing to it; but let others do as they will; a little matter shall never bribe me to degrade my own profession, nor will I ever willingly consent to the spoiling the decency and regularity of my stage, by introducing any such low stuff upon it.”

“Right, friend,” cries the clerk, “you are very right. Always avoid what is low. There are several of my acquaintance in London, who are resolved to drive everything which is low from the stage.” “Nothing can be more proper,” cries the exciseman, pulling his pipe from his mouth. “I remember,” added he, “(for I then lived with my lord) I was in the footman’s gallery, the night when this play of the Provoked Husband was acted first. There was a great deal of low stuff in it about a country gentleman come up to town to stand for parliament-man; and there they brought a parcel of his servants upon the stage, his coachman I remember particularly; but the gentlemen in our gallery could not bear anything so low, and they damned it. I observe, friend, you have left all that matter out, and you are to be commended for it.”

“Nay, gentlemen,” cries Jones, “I can never maintain my opinion against so many; indeed, if the generality of his audience dislike him, the learned gentleman who conducts the show might have done very right in dismissing Punch from his service.”

The master of the show then began a second harangue, and said much of the great force of example, and how much the inferior part of mankind would be deterred from vice, by observing how odious it was in their superiors; when he was unluckily interrupted by an incident, which, though perhaps we might have omitted it at another time, we cannot help relating at present, but not in this chapter.