Henry Fielding. (17071754). The History of Tom Jones.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917.
Book XII. Containing the Same Individual Time with the Former
XI. The Disasters Which Befel Jones on His Departure for Coventry
NO road can be plainer than that from the place where they now were to Coventry; and though neither Jones, nor Partridge, nor the guide, had ever travelled it before, it would have been almost impossible to have missed their way, had it not been for the two reasons mentioned in the conclusion of the last chapter.
These two circumstances, however, happening both unfortunately to intervene, our travellers deviated into a much less frequented track; and after riding full six miles, instead of arriving at the stately spires of Coventry, they found themselves still in a very dirty lane, where they saw no symptoms of approaching the suburbs of a large city.
Jones now declared that they must certainly have lost their way; but this the guide insisted upon was impossible; a word which, in common conversation, is often used to signify not only improbable, but often what is really very likely, and, sometimes, what hath certainly happened; an hyperbolical violence like that which is so frequently offered to the words infinite and eternal; by the former of which it is usual to express a distance of half a yard, and by the latter, a duration of five minutes. And thus it is as usual to assert the impossibility of losing what is already actually lost. This was, in fact, the case at present; for, notwithstanding all the confident assertions of the lad to the contrary, it is certain they were no more in the right road to Coventry, than the fraudulent, griping, cruel, canting miser is in the right road to heaven.
It is not, perhaps, easy for a reader, who hath never been in those circumstances, to imagine the horror with which darkness, rain, and wind, fill persons who have lost their way in the night; and who, consequently, have not the pleasant prospect of warm fires, dry cloaths, and other refreshments, to support their minds in struggling with the inclemencies of the weather. A very imperfect idea of this horror will, however, serve sufficiently to account for the conceits which now filled the head of Partridge, and which we shall presently be obliged to open.
Jones grew more and more positive that they were out of their road; and the boy himself at last acknowledged he believed they were not in the right road to Coventry; though he affirmed, at the same time, it was impossible they should have mist the way. But Partridge was of a different opinion. He said, When they first set out he imagined some mischief or other would happen.Did not you observe, sir, said he to Jones, that old woman who stood at the door just as you was taking horse? I wish you had given her a small matter, with all my heart; for she said then you might repent it; and at that very instant it began to rain, and the wind hath continued rising ever since. Whatever some people may think, I am very certain it is in the power of witches to raise the wind whenever they please. I have seen it happen very often in my time: and if ever I saw a witch in all my life, that old woman was certainly one. I thought so to myself at that very time; and if I had had any half-pence in my pocket, I would have given her some; for to be sure it is always good to be charitable to those sort of people, for fear what may happen; and many a person hath lost his cattle by saving a halfpenny.
Jones, though he was horridly vexed at the delay which this mistake was likely to occasion in his journey, could not help smiling at the superstition of his friend, whom an accident now greatly confirmed in his opinion. This was a tumble from his horse; by which, however, he received no other injury than what the dirt conferred on his cloaths.
Partridge had no sooner recovered his legs, than he appealed to his fall, as conclusive evidence of all he had asserted; but Jones finding he was unhurt, answered with a smile: This witch of yours, Partridge, is a most ungrateful jade, and doth not, I find, distinguish her friends from others in her resentment. If the old lady had been angry with me for neglecting her, I dont see why she should tumble you from your horse, after all the respect you have expressed for her.
It is ill jesting, cries Partridge, with people who have power to do these things; for they are often very malicious. I remember a farrier, who provoked one of them, by asking her when the time she had bargained with the devil for would be out; and within three months from that very day one of his best cows was drowned. Nor was she satisfied with that; for a little time afterwards he lost a barrel of best-drink: for the old witch pulled out the spigot, and let it run all over the cellar, the very first evening he had tapped it to make merry with some of his neighbours. In short, nothing ever thrived with him afterwards; for she worried the poor man so, that he took to drinking; and in a year or two his stock was seized, and he and his family are now come to the parish.
Partridge entirely imputed this fall, as he had done his own, to the same cause. He told Mr. Jones, It would certainly be his turn next; and earnestly entreated him to return back, and find out the old woman and pacify her. We shall very soon, added he, reach the inn; for though we have seemed to go forward, I am very certain we are in the identical place in which we were an hour ago; and I dare swear, if it was daylight, we might now see the inn we set out from.
Instead of returning any answer to his sage advice, Jones was entirely attentive to what had happened to the boy, who received no other hurt than what had before befallen Partridge, and which his cloaths very easily bore, as they had been for many years inured to the like. He soon regained his side-saddle, and by the hearty curses and blows which he bestowed on his horse, quickly satisfied Mr. Jones that no harm was done.