The pursuit of a father to reclaim a lost child to virtue.
THO' the child could not describe the gentleman's person who handed his sis|ter into the post-chaise, yet my suspicions fell entirely upon our young landlord, whose cha|racter for such intrigues was but too well known. I therefore directed my steps towards Thornhill-castle, resolving to upbraid him, and, if possible, to bring back my daughter: but before I had reached his seat, I was met by one of my parishioners, who said he saw a young lady resembling my daughter in a post-chaise with a gentleman, whom, by the description, I could only guess to be Mr. Burchell, and that they drove very fast. This information, however, did by no Page 188 means satisfy me. I therefore went to the young 'Squire's, and though it was yet ear|ly, insisted upon seeing him immediately: he soon appeared with the most open fami|liar air, and seemed perfectly amazed at my daughter's elopement, protesting upon his honour that he was quite a stranger to it. I now therefore condemned my former suspicions, and could turn them only on Mr. Burchell, who I recollected had of late several private conferences with her: but the appearance of another witness left me no room to doubt of his villainy, who averred, that he and my daughter were ac|tually gone towards the wells, about thirty miles off, where there was a great deal of company. Hearing this, I resolved to pur|sue them there. I walked along with ear|nestness, and enquired of several by the way; but received no accounts, till enter|ing the town, I was met by a person on horseback, whom I remembered to have seen at the 'Squire's, and he assured me that if I followed them to the races, which were but thirty miles farther, I might de|pend Page 189 upon overtaking them; for he had seen them dance there the night before, and the whole assembly seemed charmed with my daughter's performance. Early the next day I walked forward to the races, and about four in the afternoon I came upon the course. The company made a very brilliant appearance, all earnestly employed in one pursuit, that of plea|sure; how different from mine, that of reclaiming a lost child to virtue! I thought I perceived Mr. Burchell at some distance from me; but, as if he dreaded an inter|view, upon my approaching him, he mixed among a crowd, and I saw him no more. I now reflected that it would be to no pur|pose to continue my pursuit farther, and resolved to return home to an innocent fa|mily, who wanted my assistance. But the agitations of my mind, and the fatigues I had undergone, threw me into a fever, the symptoms of which I perceived before I came off the course. This was another un|expected stroke, as I was more than seventy miles distant from home: however, I re|tired Page 190 to a little ale-house by the road-side, and in this place, the usual retreat of indi|gence and frugality, I laid me down pati|ently to wait the issue of my disorder. I languished here for near three weeks; but at last my constitution prevailed, though I was unprovided with money to defray the expences of my entertainment. It is possi|ble the anxiety from this last circumstance alone might have brought on a relapse, had I not been supplied by a traveller, who stopt to take a cursory refreshment. This per|son was no other than the philanthropic bookseller in St. Paul's church-yard, who has written so many little books for children: he called himself their friend; but he was the friend of all mankind. He was no sooner alighted, but he was in haste to be gone; for he was ever on busi|ness of the utmost importance, and was at that time actually compiling materials for the history of one Mr. Thomas Trip. I immediately recollected this good-natured man's red pimpled face; for he had pub|lished for me against the Deuterogamists of Page 191 the age, and from him I borrowed a few pieces, to be paid at my return. Leaving the inn, therefore, as I was yet but weak, I resolved to return home by easy journies of ten miles a day. My health and usual tranquillity were almost restored, and I now condemned that pride which had made me refractory to the hand of correction. Man little knows what calamities are beyond his patience to bear till he tries them; as in ascending the heights of ambition, which look bright from below, every step we rise shews us some new prospect of hidden dis|appointment; so in our descent to the vale of wretchedness, which, from the summits of pleasure appears dark and gloomy, the busy mind, still attentive to its own amuse|ment, finds something to flatter and sur|prise it. Still as we descend, the objects appear to brighten, unexpected prospects amuse, and the mental eye becomes adapt|ed to its gloomy situation.
I now proceeded forwards, and had walked about two hours, when I perceived Page 192 what appeared at a distance like the wag|gon, which I was resolved to overtake; but when I came up with it, found it to be a strolling company's cart, that was carrying their scenes and other theatrical furniture to the next village, where they were to exhibit. The cart was attended only by the person who drove it, and one of the company, as the rest of the players were to follow the ensuing day. Good company upon the road, says the proverb, is always the shortest cut, I therefore entered into conversation with the poor player; and as I once had some theatrical powers myself, I disserted on such topics with my usual freedom: but as I was pretty much unacquainted with the present state of the stage, I demanded who were the present theatrical writers in vogue, who the Drydens and Otways of the day.—
By this time the equipage of the strolling company was arrived at the village, which, it seems, had been apprised of our approach, and was come out to gaze at us; for my compa|nion observed, that strollers always have more spectators without doors than within. I did not consider the impropriety of my being in such company till I saw a mob ga|thered about me. I therefore took shel|ter, as fast as possible, in the first ale-house that offered, and being shewn into the common room, was accosted by a very well-drest gentleman, who demanded whether I was the real chaplain of the company, or whether it was only to be my masquerade character in the play. Upon informing him Page 195 of the truth, and that I did not belong to the company, he was condescending e|nough to desire me and the player to par|take in a bowl of punch, over which he discussed modern politics with great earnest|ness and seeming interest. I set him down in my own mind for nothing less than a par|liament-man at least; but was almost confirm|ed in my conjectures, when upon my asking what there was in the house for supper, he insisted that the player and I should sup with him at his house, with which request, after some entreaties, I was prevailed on to comply.