The Westminster Scholars





A few years since, some Westminster scholars received great insult from

a hackney-coachman, who treated them with the greatest scurrility,

because they would not comply with an overcharge in his fare. This

behaviour the youths did not forget, and were resolved to punish him

without danger of prosecution; upon which one of them devised the

following whimsical turn of revenge.



Four of these gentlemen, one dark evening, about nine o'clock, (having

previously learned where his coach would be) called him from off the

stand, and desired the coachman to drive over Westminster Bridge to

Newington. They had not long been seated, when one of them, with a

sportive tone of voice, said, "Come, boys, let us begin."



They then instantly dressed themselves in black clothes, and every

necessary befitting mourners at a funeral, (which articles they brought

with them in small parcels.) And the night was particularly favourable

for carrying their scheme into execution: for it was uncommonly dark,

and very still. 'Twas such a night that Apollonius Rhodius thus

describes--



"Night on the earth pour'd darkness; on the sea,

The wakesome sailor to Orion's star

And Helice turn'd heedful. Sunk to rest,

The traveller forgot his toil; his charge,

The centinel; her death-devoted babe,

The mother's painless breast. The village dog

Had ceas'd his troublous bay: each busy tumult

Was hush'd at this dread hour; and darkness slept,

Lock'd in the arms of silence."



To terrify him the more, they wore linen hat-bands and scarfs, instead

of crape. And when they had got into the loneliest part of St. George's

Fields (for at that time they were not built over as at present), they

called to him, and desired him to stop, as they wanted to get out.



They marked the side the coachman came to open the door of; and he that

sat next the other door, opened it at the same instant.



What the coachman felt on seeing the first mourner move out with the

greatest solemnity, can be better conceived than expressed: but what

were his terrors when the second approached him, a majestic spare figure

about six feet perpendicular, who passed him (as did the first) without

speaking a word.



As fast as one youth got out, he went round to the other side of the

coach, stepped in, and came out a second time at the opposite door.



In this manner they continued, till the coachman, if he had the power

of counting, might have told forty.



When they had thus passed out seemingly to the number of twenty, the

poor devil of a coachman, frightened almost to death, fell upon his

knees, and begged for mercy's sake the King of Terrors would not suffer

any more of his apparitions to appear; for, though he had a multitude of

sins to account for, he had a wife and a large family of children, who

depended upon his earnings for support.



The tallest of these young gentlemen then asked him, in a hoarse tone of

voice, what was his heaviest sin? He replied, committing his lodger, a

poor carver and gilder, to the Marshalsea, for rent due to him, which

the badness of the times, and his business in particular, would not

enable him to pay. He said, he would not have confined him so long, but

in revenge for a severe beating he gave him one day when they fell to

loggerheads and boxed. He further told them, the poor man had been six

months in captivity; and that he understood from a friend of his, the

other day, that he made out but a miserable living by making brewers'

pegs, bungs for their barrels, and watchmakers' skewers.



The young gentleman then told him, that if he did not instantly sign his

discharge, which he would write, he might rest assured of no mitigation

of the dreadful punishment he would go through in a few minutes; for

those he had seen come out of his coach were his harpies in disguise,

and were now in readiness to bear him to the infernal regions.



The trembling villain, without the least hesitation, complied. One of

the scholars fortunately having a pen and ink, the King of Terrors wrote

the discharge in a fair leaf of his pocket-book, as well as he could in

the dark, and then made the coachman sign it.



Having so done, the scholars told him he might go for the present, and

that he would find his coach in less than an hour in Piccadilly or

Oxford Street.



One of the youths then mounted the box, while the others got within, and

away they drove to the Marshalsea, but in the way they stopped till they

had taken off their disguise.



The youth who had the discharge, after making a collection among the

others, went into the prison, and gave the poor fellow what set him at

liberty the next morning.



The scholars then drove on to Oxford Street, congratulating themselves

on the success of their adventure, and all happy to a degree of rapture

at being instrumental in obtaining the captive's liberty.



About a quarter of an hour after they quitted the coach, they observed

the coachman arrive; who mounted the box, and drove home, muttering the

bitterest execrations, and damning his father confessor for bilking him

of half a guinea which he gave him that morning for an absolution, that

was to have rubbed out the entire score of his transgressions.





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