Henry Fielding. (17071754). The History of Tom Jones.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917.
Book VII. Containing Three Days
XII. The Adventure of a Company of Officers
THE LIEUTENANT, whom we mentioned in the preceding chapter, and who commanded this party, was now near sixty years of age. He had entered very young into the army, and had served in the capacity of an ensign at the battle of Tannieres; here he had received two wounds, and had so well distinguished himself, that he was by the Duke of Marlborough advanced to be a lieutenant, immediately after that battle.
In this commission he had continued ever since, viz., near forty years; during which time he had seen vast numbers preferred over his head, and had now the mortification to be commanded by boys, whose fathers were at nurse when he first entered into the service.
Nor was this ill success in his profession solely owing to his having no friends among the men in power. He had the misfortune to incur the displeasure of his colonel, who for many years continued in the command of this regiment. Nor did he owe the implacable ill-will which this man bore him to any neglect or deficiency as an officer, nor indeed to any fault in himself; but solely to the indiscretion of his wife who was a very beautiful woman, and who, though she was remarkably fond of her husband, would not purchase his preferment at the expense of certain favours which the colonel required of her.
The poor lieutenant was more peculiarly unhappy in this, that while he felt the effects of the enmity of his colonel, he neither knew, nor suspected, that he really bore him any; for he could not suspect an ill-will for which he was not conscious of giving any cause; and his wife, fearing what her husbands nice regard to his honour might have occasioned, contented herself with preserving her virtue without enjoying the triumphs of her conquest.
This unfortunate officer (for so I think he may be called) had many good qualities besides his merit in his profession; for he was a religious, honest, good-natured man; and had behaved so well in his command, that he was highly esteemed and beloved not only by the soldiers of his own company, but by the whole regiment.
The other officers who marched with him were a French lieutenant, who had been long enough out of France to forget his own language, but not long enough in England to learn ours, so that he really spoke no language at all, and could barely make himself understood on the most ordinary occasions. There were likewise two ensigns, both very young fellows; one of whom had been bred under an attorney, and the other was son to the wife of a noblemans butler.
As soon as dinner was ended, Jones informed the company of the merriment which had passed among the soldiers upon their march; and yet, says he, notwithstanding all their vociferation, I dare swear they will behave more like Grecians than Trojans when they come to the enemy.
Dont pretend to more ignorance than you have, Mr. Northerton, said the worthy lieutenant. I suppose you have heard of the Greeks and Trojans, though perhaps you never read Popes Homer; who, I remember, now the gentleman mentions it, compares the march of the Trojans to the cackling of geese, and greatly commends the silence of the Grecians. And upon my honour there is great justice in the cadets observation.
Dn Homo with all my heart, says Northerton; I have the marks of him on my ayet. Theres Thomas, of our regiment, always carries a Homo in his pocket; dn me, if ever I come at it, if I dont burn it. And theres Corderius, another dnd son of a whore, that hath got me many a flogging.
Ay, dn me, have I, answered he; the devil take my father for sending me thither! The old put wanted to make a parson of me, but dn me, thinks I to myself, Ill nick you there, old cull; the devil a smack of your nonsense shall you ever get into me. Theres Jemmy Oliver, of our regiment, he narrowly escaped being a pimp too, and that would have been a thousand pities; for dn me if he is not one of the prettiest fellows in the whole world; but he went farther than I with the old cull, for Jemmy can neither write nor read.
You give your friend a very good character, said the lieutenant, and a very deserved one, I dare say. But prithee, Northerton, leave off that foolish as well as wicked custom of swearing; for you are deceived, I promise you, if you think there is wit or politeness in it. I wish, too, you would take my advice, and desist from abusing the clergy. Scandalous names, and reflections cast on any body of men, must be always unjustifiable; but especially so, when thrown on so sacred a function; for to abuse the body is to abuse the function itself; and I leave to you to judge how inconsistent such behaviour is in men who are going to fight in defence of the Protestant religion.
Mr. Adderly, which was the name of the other ensign, had sat hitherto kicking his heels and humming a tune, without seeming to listen to the discourse; he now answered, O, Monsieur, on ne parle pas de la religion dans la guerre.Well said, Jack, cries Northerton: if la religion was the only matter, the parsons should fight their own battles for me.
I dont know, gentlemen, said Jones, what may be your opinion; but I think no man can engage in a nobler cause than that of his religion; and I have observed, in the little I have read of history, that no soldiers have fought so bravely as those who have been inspired with a religious zeal: for my own part, though I love my king and country, I hope, as well as any man in it, yet the Protestant interest is no small motive to my becoming a volunteer in the cause.
Northerton now winked on Adderly, and whispered to him slily, Smoke the prig, Adderly, smoke him. Then turning to Jones, said to him, I am very glad, sir, you have chosen our regiment to be a volunteer in; for if our parson should at any time take a cup too much, I find you can supply his place. I presume, sir, you have been at the university; may I crave the favour to know what college?
I presumed, cries the ensign, only upon the information of your great learning.Oh! sir, answered Jones, it is as possible for a man to know something without having been at school, as it is to have been at school and to know nothing.
Northerton did not very well relish the sarcasm of Jones; but he thought the provocation was scarce sufficient to justify a blow, or a rascal, or scoundrel, which were the only repartees that suggested themselves. He was, therefore, silent at present; but resolved to take the first opportunity of returning the jest by abuse.
It now came to the turn of Mr. Jones to give a toast, as it is called; who could not refrain from mentioning his dear Sophia. This he did the more readily, as he imagined it utterly impossible that any one present should guess the person he meant.
But the lieutenant, who was the toast-master, was not contented with Sophia only. He said, he must have her sirname; upon which Jones hesitated a little, and presently after named Miss Sophia Western. Ensign Northerton declared he would not drink her health in the same round with his own toast unless somebody would vouch for her. I knew one Sophy Western, says he, that was lain with by half the young fellows at Bath; and perhaps this is the same woman. Jones very solemnly assured him of the contrary; asserting that the young lady he named was one of great fashion and fortune. Ay, ay, says the ensign, and so she is: dn me, it is the same woman; and Ill hold half a dozen of Burgundy, Tom French of our regiment brings her into company with us at any tavern in Bridges-street. He then proceeded to describe her person exactly (for he had seen her with her aunt), and concluded with saying, that her father had a great estate in Somersetshire.
The tenderness of lovers can ill brook the least jesting with the names of their mistresses. However, Jones, though he had enough of the lover and of the heroe too in his disposition, did not resent these slanders as hastily as, perhaps, he ought to have done. To say the truth, having seen but little of this kind of wit, he did not readily understand it, and for a long time imagined Mr. Northerton had really mistaken his charmer for some other. But now, turning to the ensign with a stern aspect, he said, Pray, sir, chuse some other subject for your wit; for I promise you I will bear no jesting with this ladys character. Jesting! cries the other, dn me if ever I was more in earnest in my life. Tom French of our regiment had both her and her aunt at Bath. Then I must tell you in earnest, cries Jones, that you are one of the most impudent rascals upon earth.
He had no sooner spoken these words, than the ensign, together with a volley of curses, discharged a bottle full at the head of Jones, which hitting him a little above the right temple, brought him instantly to the ground.
The conqueror perceiving the enemy to lie motionless before him, and blood beginning to flow pretty plentifully from his wound, began now to think of quitting the field of battle, where no more honour was to be gotten; but the lieutenant interposed, by stepping before the door, and thus cut off his retreat.
Northerton was very importunate with the lieutenant for his liberty; urging the ill consequences of his stay, asking him, what he could have done less? Zounds! says he, I was but in jest with the fellow. I never heard any harm of Miss Western in my life. Have not you? said the lieutenant; then you richly deserve to be hanged, as well for making such jests, as for using such a weapon: you are my prisoner, sir; nor shall you stir from hence till a proper guard comes to secure you.
Such an ascendant had our lieutenant over this ensign, that all that fervency of courage which had levelled our poor heroe with the floor, would scarce have animated the said ensign to have drawn his sword against the lieutenant, had he then had one dangling at his side: but all the swords being hung up in the room, were, at the very beginning of the fray, secured by the French officer. So that Mr. Northerton was obliged to attend the final issue of this affair.
The French gentleman and Mr. Adderly, at the desire of their commanding officer, had raised up the body of Jones, but as they could perceive but little (if any) sign of life in him, they again let him fall, Adderly damning him for having blooded his wastecoat; and the Frenchman declaring, Begar, me no tush the Engliseman de mort: me have heard de Englise ley, law, what you call, hang up de man dat tush him last.
When the good lieutenant applied himself to the door, he applied himself likewise to the bell; and the drawer immediately attending, he dispatched him for a file of musqueteers and a surgeon. These commands, together with the drawers report of what he had himself seen, not only produced the soldiers, but presently drew up the landlord of the house, his wife, and servants, and, indeed, every one else who happened at that time to be in the inn.
To describe every particular, and to relate the whole conversation of the ensuing scene, is not within my power, unless I had forty pens, and could at once, write them all together, as the company now spoke. The reader must, therefore, content himself with the most remarkable incidents, and perhaps he may very well excuse the rest.
The first thing done was securing the body of Northerton, who, being delivered into the custody of six men with a corporal at their head, was by them conducted from a place which he was very willing to leave, but it was unluckily to a place whither he was very unwilling to go. To say the truth, so whimsical are the desires of ambition, the very moment this youth had attained the above-mentioned honour he would have been well contented to have retired to some corner of the world, where the fame of it should never have reached his ears.
It surprizes us, and so perhaps, it may the reader, that the lieutenant, a worthy and good man, should have applied his chief care, rather to secure the offender, than to preserve the life of the wounded person. We mention this observation, not with any view of pretending to account for so odd a behaviour, but lest some critic should hereafter plume himself on discovering it. We would have these gentlemen know we can see what is odd in characters as well as themselves, but it is our business to relate facts as they are; which, when we have done, it is the part of the learned and sagacious reader to consult that original book of nature, whence every passage in our work is transcribed, though we quote not always the particular page for its authority.
The company which now arrived were of a different disposition. They suspended their curiosity concerning the person of the ensign, till they should see him hereafter in a more engaging attitude. At present, their whole concern and attention were employed about the bloody object on the floor; which, being placed upright in a chair, soon began to discover some symptoms of life and motion. These were no sooner perceived by the company (for Jones was at first generally concluded to be dead) than they all fell at once to prescribing for him (for as none of the physical order was present, every one there took that office upon him).
Bleeding was the unanimous voice of the whole room; but unluckily there was no operator at hand; every one then cried, Call the barber, but none stirred a step. Several cordials were likewise prescribed in the same ineffective manner, till the landlord ordered up a tankard of strong beer, with a toast, which he said was the best cordial in England.
The person principally assistant on this occasion, indeed the only one who did any service, or seemed likely to do any, was the landlady. She cut off some of her hair and applied it to the stop the blood. She fell to chafing the youths temples with her hand, and, having expressed great contempt for her husbands prescription of beer, she despatched one of her maids to her own closet for a bottle of brandy, of which, as soon as it was brought, she prevailed on Jones, who was just returned to his senses, to drink a very large and plentiful draught.
Soon afterwards arrived the surgeon, who, having viewed the wound, having shaken his head and blamed everything which was done, ordered his patient instantly to bed; in which place we think proper to leave him some time to his repose, and shall here, therefore, put an end to this chapter.