The escape of the thief. Mr Adams's disappointment. The arrival of two very extraordinary personages, and the introduction of parson Adams to parson Barnabas.
Barnabas and the surgeon, being returned, as we have said, to the inn, in order to convey the thief before the justice, were greatly concerned to find a small accident had happened, which somewhat disconcerted them; and this was no other than the thief's escape, who had modestly withdrawn himself by night, declining all ostentation, and not chusing, in imitation of some great men, to distinguish himself at the expense of being pointed at.
When the company had retired the evening before, the thief was detained in a room where the constable, and one of the young fellows who took him, were planted as his guard. About the second watch a general complaint of drought was made, both by the prisoner and his keepers. Among whom it was at last agreed that the constable should remain on duty, and the young fellow call up the tapster; in which disposition the latter apprehended not the least danger, as the constable was well armed, and could besides easily summon him back to his assistance, if the prisoner made the least attempt to gain his liberty.
The young fellow had not long left the room before it came into the constable's head that the prisoner might leap on him by surprize, and, thereby preventing him of the use of his weapons, especially the long staff in which he chiefly confided, might reduce the success of a struggle to a equal chance. He wisely, therefore, to prevent this inconvenience, slipt out of the room himself, and locked the door, waiting without with his staff in his hand, ready lifted to fell the unhappy prisoner, if by ill fortune he should attempt to break out.
But human life, as hath been discovered by some great man or other (for I would by no means be understood to affect the honour of making any such discovery), very much resembles a game at chess; for as in the latter, while a gamester is too attentive to secure himself very strongly on one side the board, he is apt to leave an unguarded opening on the other; so doth it often happen in life, and so did it happen on this occasion; for whilst the cautious constable with such wonderful sagacity had possessed himself of the door, he most unhappily forgot the window.
The thief, who played on the other side, no sooner perceived this opening than he began to move that way; and, finding the passage easy, he took with him the young fellow's hat, and without any ceremony stepped into the street and made the best of his way.
The young fellow, returning with a double mug of strong beer, was a little surprized to find the constable at the door; but much more so when, the door being opened, he perceived the prisoner had made his escape, and which way. He threw down the beer, and, without uttering anything to the constable except a hearty curse or two, he nimbly leapt out of the window, and went again in pursuit of his prey, being very unwilling to lose the reward which he had assured himself of.
The constable hath not been discharged of suspicion on this account; it hath been said that, not being concerned in the taking the thief, he could not have been entitled to any part of the reward if he had been convicted; that the thief had several guineas in his pocket; that it was very unlikely he should have been guilty of such an oversight; that his pretence for leaving the room was absurd; that it was his constant maxim, that a wise man never refused money on any conditions; that at every election he always had sold his vote to both parties, &c.
But, notwithstanding these and many other such allegations, I am sufficiently convinced of his innocence; having been positively assured of it by those who received their informations from his own mouth; which, in the opinion of some moderns, is the best and indeed only evidence.
All the family were now up, and with many others assembled in the kitchen, where Mr Tow-wouse was in some tribulation; the surgeon having declared that by law he was liable to be indicted for the thief's escape, as it was out of his house; he was a little comforted, however, by Mr Barnabas's opinion, that as the escape was by night the indictment would not lie.
Mrs Tow-wouse delivered herself in the following words: "Sure never was such a fool as my husband; would any other person living have left a man in the custody of such a drunken drowsy blockhead as Tom Suckbribe?" (which was the constable's name); "and if he could be indicted without any harm to his wife and children, I should be glad of it." (Then the bell rung in Joseph's room.) "Why Betty, John, Chamberlain, where the devil are you all? Have you no ears, or no conscience, not to tend the sick better? See what the gentleman wants. Why don't you go yourself, Mr Tow-wouse? But any one may die for you; you have no more feeling than a deal board. If a man lived a fortnight in your house without spending a penny, you would never put him in mind of it. See whether he drinks tea or coffee for breakfast." "Yes, my dear," cried Tow-wouse. She then asked the doctor and Mr Barnabas what morning's draught they chose, who answered, they had a pot of cyder-and at the fire; which we will leave them merry over, and return to Joseph.