The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter XIII.

The Commodore takes Peregrine under his own care — The Boy arrives at the Garrison — Is strangely received by his own Mother — Enters into a Confederacy with Hatchway and Pipes, and executes a couple of waggish Enterprises upon his Aunt.

Trunnion having obtained this permission, that very afternoon despatched the lieutenant in a post-chaise to Keypstick’s house, from whence in two days he returned with our young hero, who being now in the eleventh year of his age, had outgrown the expectation of all his family, and was remarkable for the beauty and elegance of his person. His godfather was transported at his arrival, as if he had been actually the issue of his own loins: he shook him heartily by the hand, turned him round and round, surveyed him from top to bottom, bade Hatchway take notice how handsomely he was built; and squeezed his hand again, saying — “D— ye, you dog, I suppose you don’t value such an old crazy son of a b — as me a rope’s end. You have forgot how I was wont to dandle you on my knee, when you was a little urchin no bigger than a davit, and played a thousand tricks upon me, burning my ‘bacco-pouches and poisoning my rumbo. O! d — ye, you can grin fast enough I see; I warrant you have learnt more things than writing and the Latin lingo.”

Even Tom Pipes expressed uncommon satisfaction on this joyful occasion; and, coming up to Perry, thrust forth his fore paw, and accosted him with the salutation of “What cheer, my young master? I am glad to see thee with all my heart.” These compliments being passed, his uncle halted to the door of his wife’s chamber, at which he stood hallooing, “Here’s your kinsman, Perry: belike you won’t come and bid him welcome.”—“Lord, Mr. Trunnion,” said she, “why will you continually harass me in this manner with your impertinent intrusion?”-“I harrow you!” replied the commodore: “‘sblood! I believe your upper works are damaged: I only came to inform you that here was your cousin, whom you have not seen these four long years; and I’ll be d — d if there is such another of his age within the king’s dominions, d’ye see, either for make or mettle: he’s a credit to the name, d’ye see: but, d — my eyes, I’ll say no more of the matter: if you come, you may; if you won’t, you may let it alone.”—“Well, I won’t come, then,” answered his yoke-fellow, “for I am at present more agreeably employed.”—“Oho! you are. I believe so too,” cried the commodore, making wry faces and mimicking the action of dram-drinking. Then, addressing himself to Hatchway, “Prithee, Jack,” said he, “go and try thy skill on that stubborn hulk: if anybody can bring her about, I know you wool.”

The lieutenant accordingly, taking his station at the door, conveyed his persuasion in these words: “What, won’t you turn out and hail little Perry? It will do your heart good to see such a handsome young dog; I’m sure he is the very moral of you, and as like as if he had been spit out of your own mouth, as the saying is: do show a little respect for your kinsman, can’t you?” To this remonstrance she replied, in a mild tone of voice, “Dear Mr. Hatchway, you are always teasing one in such a manner: sure I am, nobody can tax me with unkindness, or want of natural affection.” So saying, she opened the door, and, advancing to the hall where her nephew stood, received him very graciously and observed that he was the very image of her papa.

In the afternoon he was conducted by the commodore to the house of his parents; and, strange to tell, no sooner was he presented to his mother, than her countenance changed, she eyed him with tokens of affliction and surprise, and, bursting into tears, exclaimed her child was dead, and this was no other than an impostor whom they had brought to defraud her sorrow. Trunnion was confounded at this unaccountable passion, which had no other foundation than caprice and whim; and Gamaliel himself was so disconcerted and unsettled in his own belief, which began to waver, that he knew not how to behave towards the boy, whom his godfather immediately carried back to the garrison, swearing all the way that Perry should never cross their threshold again with his good-will. Nay, so much was he incensed at this unnatural and absurd renunciation, that he refused to carry on any further correspondence with Pickle, until he was appeased by his solicitations and submission, and Peregrine owned as his son and heir. But this acknowledgment was made without the privity of his wife, whose vicious aversion he was obliged, in appearance, to adopt. Thus exiled from his father’s house, the young gentleman was left entirely to the disposal of the commodore, whose affection for him daily increased, insomuch that he could scarcely prevail upon himself to part with him, when his education absolutely required that he should be otherwise disposed of.

In all probability, this extraordinary attachment was, if not produced, at least riveted by that peculiar turn in Peregrine’s imagination, which we have already observed; and which, during his residence in the castle, appeared in sundry stratagems he practised upon his uncle and aunt, under the auspices of Mr. Hatchway who assisted him in the contrivance and execution of all his schemes. Nor was Pipes exempted from a share in their undertakings; for, being a trusty fellow, not without dexterity in some cases, and altogether resigned to their will, they found him a serviceable instrument for their purpose, and used him accordingly.

The first sample of their art was exhibited upon Mrs. Trunnion. They terrified that good lady with strange noises when she retired to her devotion. Pipes was a natural genius in the composition of discords: he could imitate the sound produced by the winding of a jack, the filing of a saw, and the swinging of a malefactor hanging in chains; he could counterfeit the braying of an ass, the screeching of a night-owl, the caterwauling of cats, the howling of a dog, the squeaking of a pig, the crowing of a cock; and he had learned the war-whoop uttered by the Indians in North America. These talents were exerted successively, at different times and places, to the terror of Mrs. Trunnion, the discomposure of the commodore himself, and the consternation of all the servants in the castle. Peregrine, with a sheet over his clothes, sometimes tumbled before his aunt in the twilight, when her organs of vision were a little impaired by the cordial she had swallowed; and the boatswain’s mate taught him to shoe cats with walnut-shells, so that they made a most dreadful clattering in their nocturnal excursions.

The mind of Mrs. Trunnion was not a little disturbed by these alarms, which, in her opinion, portended the death of some principal person in the family; she redoubled her religious exercises, and fortified her spirits with fresh potations; nay, she began to take notice that Mr. Trunnion’s constitution was very much broken, and seemed dissatisfied when people observed that they never saw him look better. Her frequent visits to the closet, where all her consolation was deposited, inspired the confederates with a device which had like to have been attended with tragical consequences. They found an opportunity to infuse jalap in one of her case-bottles; and she took so largely of this medicine, that her constitution had well nigh sunk under the violence of its effect. She suffered a succession of fainting fits that reduced her to the brink of the grave, in spite of all the remedies that were administered by a physician, who was called in the beginning of her disorder.

After having examined the symptoms, he declared that the patient had been poisoned with arsenic, and prescribed only draughts and lubricating injections, to defend the coats of the stomach and intestines from the vellicating particles of that pernicious mineral; at the same time hinting, with a look of infinite sagacity, that it was not difficult to divine the whole mystery. He affected to deplore the poor lady, as if she was exposed to more attempts of the same nature; thereby glancing obliquely at the innocent commodore, whom the officious son of Aesculapius suspected as the author of this expedient, to rid his hands of a yoke-fellow for whom he was well known to have no great devotion. This impertinent and malicious insinuation made some impression upon the bystanders, and furnished ample field for slander to asperse the morals of Trunnion, who was represented through the whole district as a monster of barbarity. Nay, the sufferer herself, though she behaved with great decency and prudence, could not help entertaining some small diffidence of her husband; not that she imagined he had any design upon her life, but that he had been at pains to adulterate the brandy with a view of detaching her from that favourite liquor.

On this supposition, she resolved to act with more caution for the future, without setting on foot any inquiry about the affair; while the commodore, imputing her indisposition to some natural cause, after the danger was past, never bestowed a thought upon the subject; so that the perpetrators were quit of their fear, which, however, had punished them so effectually, that they never would hazard any more jokes of the same nature.

The shafts of their wit were now directed against the commander himself, whom they teased and terrified almost out of his senses. One day, while he was at dinner, Pipes came and told him that there was a person below that wanted to speak with him immediately, about an affair of the greatest importance, that would admit of no delay; upon which he ordered the stranger to be told that he was engaged, and that he must send up his name and business. To this demand he received for answer a message importing that the person’s name was unknown to him, and his business of such a nature, that it could not be disclosed to any one but the commodore himself, whom he earnestly desired to see without loss of time.

Trunnion, surprised at this importunity, got up with great reluctance, in the middle of his meal, and descending to a parlour where the stranger was, asked him, in a surly tone, what he wanted with him in such a d — d hurry, that he could not wait till he had made an end of his mess? The other, not at all disconcerted at this rough address, advanced close up to him on his tiptoes, and, with a look of confidence and conceit, laying his mouth to one side of the commodore’s head, whispered softly in his car, “Sir, I am the attorney whom you wanted to converse with in private.”—“The attorney?” cried Trunnion, staring, and half-choked with choler. “Yes, sir, at your service,” replied this retainer of the law; “and, if you please, the sooner we despatch the affair the better; for ’tis an old observation, that delay breeds danger.”—“Truly, brother,” said the commodore, who could no longer contain himself, “I do confess that I am very much of your way of thinking, d’ye see, and therefore you shall be despatched in a trice.” So saying, he lifted up his walking-staff, which was something between a crutch and a cudgel, and discharged it with such energy on the seat of the attorney’s understanding, that if there had been anything but solid bone, the contents of his skull must have been evacuated.

Fortified as he was by nature against all such assaults, he could not withstand the momentum of the blow, which in an instant laid him flat on the floor, deprived of all sense and motion; and Trunnion hopped upstairs to dinner, applauding himself in ejaculations all the way for the vengeance he had taken on such an impudent pettifogging miscreant.

The attorney no sooner awaked from his trance, into which he had been so unexpectedly killed, than he cast his eyes around in quest of evidence, by which he might be enabled the more easily to prove the injury he had sustained, but not a soul appearing, he made shift to get upon his legs again, and, with the blood trickling over his nose, followed one of the servants into the dining-room, resolved to come to an explanation with the assailant, and either extort money from him by way of satisfaction, or provoke him to a second application before witnesses. With this view, he entered the room in a peal of clamour, to the amazement of all present, and the terror of Mrs. Trunnion, who shrieked at the appearance of such a spectacle; and addressing himself to the commodore, “I’ll tell you what, sir,” said he; “if there be law in England, I’ll make you smart for this here assault.” You think you have screened yourself from a prosecution by sending all your servants out of the way; but that circumstance will appear upon trial to be a plain proof of the malice prepense with which the fact was committed; especially when corroborated by the evidence of this here letter, under your own hand, whereby I am desired to come to your own house to transact an affair of consequence. So he produced the writing, and read the contents in these words:—

“Mr. Roger Ravine.
Sir — Being in a manner prisoner in my own house, I desire you will give me a call precisely at three o’clock in the afternoon, and insist upon seeing myself, as I have an affair of great consequence, in which your particular advice is wanted by your humble servant,
“Hawser Trunnion.”

The one-eyed commander, who had been satisfied with the chastisement he had already bestowed upon the plaintiff, hearing him read this audacious piece of forgery, which he considered as the effect of his own villainy, started up from table, and seizing a huge turkey that lay in a dish before him, would have applied it, sauce and all, by way of poultice, to his wound, had he not been restrained by Hatchway, who laid fast hold on both his arms, and fixed him to his chair again, advising the attorney to sheer off with what he had got. Far from following this salutary counsel, he redoubled his threats: set Trunnion at defiance, telling him he not a man of true courage, although he had commanded a ship of war, or else he would not have attacked any person in such a cowardly and clandestine manner. This provocation would have answered his purpose effectually, had not his adversary’s indignation been repressed by the suggestions of the lieutenant, who desired his friend, in a whisper, to be easy, for he would take care to have the attorney tossed in a blanket for his presumption. This proposal, which he received with great approbation, pacified him in a moment: he wiped the sweat from his forehead, and his features relaxed into a grim smile.

Hatchway disappeared; and Ravine proceeded with great fluency of abuse, until he was interrupted by the arrival of Pipes, who, without any expostulation, led him out by the hand, and conducted him to the yard, where he was put into a carpet, and in a twinkling sent into the air by the strength and dexterity of five stout operators, whom the lieutenant had selected from the number of domestics for that singular spell of duty.

In vain did the astonished vaulter beg, for the love of God, that they would take pity upon him, and put an end to his involuntary gambols: they were deaf to his prayers and protestations, even when he swore, in the most solemn manner, that if they would cease tormenting him, he would forget and forgive what was past, and depart in peace to his own habitation; and continued the game till they were fatigued with the exercise.

Ravine being dismissed in a most melancholy plight, brought an action of assault and battery against the commodore, and subpoenaed all the servants as evidences in the cause; but as none of them had seen what happened, he did not find his account in the prosecution, though he himself examined all the witnesses, and, among their questions, asked, whether they had not seen him come in like another man? and whether they had ever seen any other man in such condition as that in which he had crawled off. But this last interrogation they were not obliged to answer, because it had reference to the second discipline he bad undergone, in which they, and they only, were concerned; and no person is bound to give testimony against himself.

In short, the attorney was nonsuited, to the satisfaction of all who knew him, and found himself under the necessity of proving that he had received, in course of post, the letter which was declared in court a scandalous forgery, in order to prevent an indictment with which he vas threatened by the commodore, who little dreamt that the whole affair had been planned and executed by Peregrine and his associates.

The next enterprise in which this triumvirate engaged, was a scheme to frighten Trunnion with an apparition, which they prepared and exhibited in this manner: to the hide of a large ox, Pipes fitted a leathern vizor of a most terrible appearance, stretched on the jaws of a shark, which he had brought from sea, and accommodated with a couple of broad glasses instead of eyes. On the inside of these he placed two rushlights, and, with a composition of sulphur and saltpetre, made a pretty large fusee, which he fixed between two rows of the teeth. This equipage being finished, he, one dark night chosen for the purpose, put it on, and, following the commodore into a long passage, in which he was preceded by Perry with a light in his hand, kindled his firework with a match, and began to bellow like a bull. The boy, as it was concerted, looked behind him, screamed aloud, and dropped the light, which was extinguished in the fall; when Trunnion, alarmed at his nephew’s consternation, exclaimed, “Zounds! what’s the matter?” and turning about to see the cause of his dismay, beheld a hideous phantom vomiting blue flame, which aggravated the horrors of its aspect. He was instantly seized with an agony of fear, which divested him of his reason: nevertheless, he, as it were mechanically, raised his trusty supporter in his own defence, and, the apparition advancing towards him, aimed it at this dreadful annoyance with such a convulsive exertion of strength, that had not the blow chanced to light upon one of the horns Mr. Pipes would have had no cause to value himself upon his invention. Misapplied as it was, he did not fail to stagger at the shock; and, dreading another such salutation, closed with the commodore, and having tripped up his heels, retreated with great expedition.

It was then that Peregrine, pretending to recollect himself a little, ran, with all the marks of disturbance and affright, and called up the servants to the assistance of their master, whom they found in a cold sweat upon the floor, his features betokening horror and confusion. Hatchway raised him up, and having comforted him with a cup of Nantz, began to inquire into the cause of his disorder: but he could not extract one word of answer from his friend, who, after a considerable pause, during which he seemed to be wrapt in profound contemplation, pronounced aloud, “By the Lord! Jack, you may say what you wool; but I’ll be d — if it was not Davy Jones himself. I know him by his saucer eyes, his three rows of teeth, his horns and tail, and the blue smoke that came out of his nostrils. What does the blackguard hell’s baby want with me? I’m sure I never committed murder, except in the way of my profession, nor wronged any man whatsomever since I first went to sea.” This same Davy Jones, according to the mythology of sailors, is the fiend that presides over all the evil spirits of the deep, and is often seen in various shapes, perching among the rigging on the eve of hurricanes, shipwrecks, and other disasters, to which a seafaring life is exposed; warning the devoted wretch of death and woe. No wonder then that Trunnion was disturbed by a supposed visit of this demon, which, in his opinion, foreboded some dreadful calamity.

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