The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter XI.

Mrs. Trunnion erects a Tyranny in the Garrison, while her Husband conceives an affection for his Nephew Perry, who manifests a peculiarity of disposition even in his tender years.

Having exercised herself three months in such pious amusements, she appeared again in the world; but her misfortune had made such an impression on her mind, that she could not bear the sight of a child, and trembled whenever conversation happened to turn upon a christening. Her temper, which was naturally none of the sweetest, seemed to have imbibed a double proportion of souring from her disappointment; of consequence, her company was not much coveted, and she found very few people disposed to treat her with those marks of consideration which she looked upon as her due. This neglect detached her from the society of an unmannerly world; she concentrated the energy of all her talents in the government of her own house, which groaned accordingly under her arbitrary sway; and in the brandy-bottle found ample consolation for all the affliction she had undergone.

As for the commodore, he in a little time weathered his disgrace, after having sustained many severe jokes from the lieutenant, and now his chief aim being to be absent from his own house as much as possible, he frequented the public-house more than ever, more assiduously cultivated the friendship of his brother-in-law, Mr. Pickle, and in the course of their intimacy conceived an affection for his nephew Perry, which did not end but with his life. Indeed it must be owned that Trunnion was not naturally deficient in the social passions of the soul, which though they were strangely warped, disguised, and overborne by the circumstance of his boisterous life and education, did not fail to manifest themselves occasionally through the whole course of his behaviour.

As all the hopes of propagating his own name had perished, and his relations lay under the interdiction of his hate, it is no wonder that through the familiarity and friendly intercourse subsisting between him and Mr. Gamaliel, he contracted a liking for the boy, who by this time entered the third year of his age, and was indeed a very handsome, healthy, and promising child; and what seemed to ingratiate him still more with his uncle, was a certain oddity of disposition, for which he had been remarkable even from his cradle. It is reported of him, that before the first year of his infancy was elapsed, he used very often, immediately after being dressed, in the midst of the caresses which were bestowed upon him by his mother, while she indulged herself in the contemplation of her own happiness, all of a sudden to alarm her with a fit of shrieks and cries, which continued with great violence till he was stripped to the skin with the utmost expedition by order of his affrighted parent, who thought his tender body was tortured by the misapplication of some unlucky pill; and when he had given them all this disturbance and unnecessary trouble, he would he sprawling and laughing in their faces, as if he ridiculed the impertinence of their concern. Nay, it is affirmed, that one day, when an old woman who attended in the nursery had by stealth conveyed a bottle of cordial waters to her mouth, he pulled his nurse by the sleeve, by a slight glance detected the theft, and tipped her the wink with a particular slyness of countenance, as if he had said, with a sneer, “Ay, ay, that is what you must all come to.” But these instances of reflection in a babe nine months old are so incredible, that I look upon them as observations, founded upon imaginary recollection, when he was in a more advanced age, and his peculiarities of temper became much more remarkable; of a piece with the ingenious discoveries of those sagacious observers, who can discern something evidently characteristic in the features of any noted personage whose character they have previously heard explained. Yet without pretending to specify at what period of his childhood this singularity first appeared, I can with great truth declare, that when he first attracted the notice and affection of his uncle, it was plainly perceivable.

One would imagine he had marked out the commodore as a proper object of ridicule, for almost all his little childish satire was leveled against him. I will not deny that he might have been influenced in this particular by the example and instruction of Mr. Hatchway, who delighted in superintending the first essays of his genius. As the gout had taken up its residence in Mr. Trunnion’s great toe, from whence it never removed, no not for a day, little Perry took great pleasure in treading by accident on this infirm member; and when his uncle, incensed by the pain, used to damn him for a hell-begotten brat, he would appease him in a twinkling, by returning the curse with equal emphasis, and asking what was the matter with old Hannibal Tough? an appellation by which the lieutenant had taught him to distinguish this grim commander.

Neither was this the only experiment he tried upon the patience of the commodore, with whose nose he used to take indecent freedoms, even. while he was fondled on his knee. In one month he put him to the expense of two guineas in seal-skin; by picking his pocket of divers tobacco-pouches, all of which he in secret committed to the flames. Nor did the caprice of his disposition abstain from the favourite beverage of Trunnion, who more than once swallowed a whole draught in which his brother’s snuff-box had been emptied, before he perceived the disagreeable infusion; and one day, when the commodore had chastised him by a gentle tap with his cane, he fell flat on the floor as if he had been deprived of all sense and motion, to the terror and amazement of the striker; and after having filled the whole house with confusion and dismay, opened his eyes, and laughed heartily at the success of his own imposition.

It would be an endless and perhaps no very agreeable task, to enumerate all the unlucky pranks he played upon his uncle and others, before he attained the fourth year of his age; about which time he was sent, with an attendant, to a day-school in the neighbourhood, that (to use his good mother’s own expression) he might be out of harm’s way. Here, however, he made little progress, except in mischief, which he practised with impunity, because the school-mistress would run no risk of disobliging a lady of fortune, by exercising unnecessary severities upon her only child. Nevertheless, Mrs. Pickle was not so blindly partial as to be pleased with such unseasonable indulgence. Perry was taken out of the hands of this courteous teacher, and committed to the instruction of a pedagogue, who was ordered to administer such correction as the boy should in his opinion deserve. This authority he did not neglect to use, his pupil was regularly flogged twice a day; and after having been subjected to this course of discipline for the space of eighteen months, declared the most obstinate, dull, and untoward genius that ever had fallen under his cultivation; instead of being reformed, he seemed rather hardened and confirmed in his vicious inclinations, and was dead to all sense of fear as well as shame.

His mother was extremely mortified at these symptoms of stupidity, which she considered as an inheritance derived from the spirit of his father, and consequently insurmountable by all the efforts of human care. But the commodore rejoiced over the ruggedness of his nature, and was particularly pleased when, upon inquiry, he found that Perry had beaten all the boys in the school; a circumstance from which he prognosticated everything that was fair and fortunate in his future fate: observing, that at his age he himself was just such another. The boy, who was now turned of six, having profited so little under the birch of his unsparing governor, Mrs. Pickle was counselled to send him to a boarding-school not far from London, which was kept by a certain person very eminent for his successful method of education. This advice she the more readily embraced, because at that time she found herself pretty far gone with another child that she hoped would console her for the disappointment she had met with in the unpromising talents of Perry, or at any rate divide her concern, so as to enable her to endure the absence of either.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:30