The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter XIV.

He is also, by their device, engaged in an Adventure with the Exciseman, who does not find his Account in his own Drollery.

Howsomever preposterous and unaccountable that passion may be which prompts persons, otherwise generous and sympathizing, to afflict and perplex their fellow-creatures, certain it is, our confederates entertained such a large proportion of it, that not satisfied with the pranks they had already played, they still persecuted the commodore without ceasing. In the course of his own history, the particulars of which he delighted to recount, he had often rehearsed an adventure of deer-stealing, in which, during the unthinking impetuosity of his youth, he had been unfortunately concerned. Far from succeeding in that achievement, he and his associates had, it seems, been made prisoners, after an obstinate engagement with the keepers, and carried before a neighbouring justice of the peace, who used Trunnion with great indignity, and with his companions committed him to jail.

His own relations, and in particular an uncle on whom he chiefly depended, treated him during his confinement with great rigour and inhumanity and absolutely refused to interpose his influence in his behalf, unless he would sign a writing, obliging himself to go to sea within thirty days after his release, under the penalty of being proceeded against as a felon. The alternative was, either to undergo this voluntary exile, or remain in prison disowned and deserted by everybody, and, after all, suffer an ignominious trial, that might end in a sentence of transportation for life. He therefore, without much hesitation, embraced the proposal of his kinsman, and, as he observed, was, in less than a month after his discharge, turned adrift to the mercy of the wind and waves.

Since that period he had never maintained any correspondence with his relations, all of whom had concurred in sending him off; nor would he ever pay the least regard to the humiliations and supplications of some among them, who had prostrated themselves before him, on the advancement of his fortune: but he retained a most inveterate resentment against his uncle, who was still in being, though extremely old and infirm, and frequently mentioned his name with all the bitterness of revenge.

Perry being perfectly well acquainted with the particulars of this story, which he had heard so often repeated, proposed to Hatchway that a person should be hired to introduce himself to the commodore, with a supposititious letter of recommendation from this detested kinsman; an imposition that, in all likelihood, would afford abundance of diversion.

The lieutenant relished the scheme and young Pickle having composed an epistle for the occasion, the exciseman of the parish, a fellow of great impudence and some humour, in whom Hatchway could confide, undertook to transcribe and deliver it with his own hand, and also personate the man in whose favour it was feigned to be written. He, accordingly, one morning arrived on horseback at the garrison, two hours at least before Trunnion used to get up, and gave Pipes, who admitted him, to understand, that he had a letter from his master, which he was ordered to deliver to none but the commodore himself. This message was no sooner communicated, than the indignant chief (who had been waked for the purpose) began to curse the messenger for breaking his rest, and swore he would not budge till his usual time of turning out. This resolution being conveyed to the stranger, he desired the carrier to go back and tell him, he had such joyful tidings to impart, that he was sure the commodore would think himself amply rewarded for his trouble, even if he had been raised from the grave to receive them.

This assurance, flattering as it was, would not have been powerful enough to persuade him, had it not been assisted with the exhortations of his spouse, which never failed to influence his conduct. He therefore crept out of bed, though not without great repugnance; and wrapping himself in his morning gown, was supported down-stairs, rubbing his eye, yawning fearfully, and grumbling in the way. As soon as he popped his head into the parlour, the supposed stranger made divers awkward bows, and with a grinning aspect accosted him in these words: “Your most humble servant, most noble commodore! I hope you are in good health; you look pure and hearty; and if it was not for that misfortune of your eye, one would not desire to see a more pleasant countenance in a summer’s day. Sure as I am a living soul, one would take you to be on this side of threescore. Lord help us, I should have known you to be a Trunnion, if I had met with one in the midst of Salisbury Plain, as the saying is.”

The commodore, who was not at all in the humour of relishing such an impertinent preamble, interrupted him in this place, saying, with a peevish accent, “Pshaw! pshaw! brother, there’s no occasion to bowse out so much unnecessary gun; if you can’t bring your discourse to bear on the right subject, you had much better clap a stopper on your tongue, and bring yourself up, d’ye see; I was told you had something to deliver.”—“Deliver!” cried the waggish impostor, “odds heart! I have got something for you that will make your very entrails rejoice within your body. Here’s a letter from a dear and worthy friend of yours. Take, read it, and be happy. Blessings on his old heart! one would think he had renewed his age, like the eagle’s.” Trunnion’s expectation being thus raised, he called for his spectacles, adjusted them to his eye, took the letter, and being curious to know the subscription, no sooner perceived his uncle’s name, then he started back, his lip quivered, and he began to shake in every limb with resentment and surprise; eager to know the subject of an epistle from a person who had never before troubled him with any sort of address, he endeavoured to recollect himself, and perused the contents, which were these; —

“Loving Nephew — I doubt not but you will be rejoiced to hear of my welfare; and well you may, considering what a kind uncle I have been to you in the days of your youth, and how little you deserved any such thing; for yet, was always a graceless young man, given to wicked courses and bad company, whereby you would have come to a shameful end, had it not been for my care in sending you out of mischief’s way. But this is not the cause of my present writing. The bearer, Mr. Timothy Trickle, is a distant relation of yours, being the son of the cousin of your aunt Margery, and is not over and above well as to worldly matters. He thinks of going to London, to see for some post in the excise or customs if so be that you will recommend him to some great man of your acquaintance, and give him a small matter to keep him till he is provided. I doubt not, nephew, but you will be glad to serve him, if it was no more but for the respect you bear to me, who am — Loving nephew, your affectionate uncle, and servant to command,
“Tobiah Trunnion.”

It would be a difficult task for the inimitable Hogarth himself to exhibit the ludicrous expression of the commodore’s countenance while he read this letter. It was not a stare of astonishment, a convulsion of rage, or a ghastly grin of revenge; but an association of all three, that took possession of his features. At length, he hawked up, with incredible straining, the interjection, “Ah!” that seemed to have stuck some time in his windpipe; and thus gave vent to his indignation: “Have I come alongside of you at last, you old stinking curmudgeon? You lie, you lousy hulk! ye lie! you did all in your power to founder me when I was a stripling; and as for being graceless and wicked, and keeping bad company, you tell a d — d lie again, you thief! there was not a more peaceable lad in the county, and I kept no bad company but your own, d’ye see. Therefore, you Trickle, or what’s your name, tell the old rascal that sent you hither, that I spit in his face, and call him horse; that I tear his letter into rags, so; and that I trample upon it as I would upon his own villainous carcase, d’ye see.” So saying, he danced in a sort of frenzy upon the fragments of the paper, which he had scattered about the room, to the inexpressible satisfaction of the triumvirate, who beheld the scene.

The exciseman having got between him and the door, which was left open for his escape, in case of necessity, affected great confusion and surprise at his behaviour, saying, with an air of mortification, “Lord be merciful unto me! is this the way you treat your own relations, and the recommendation of your best friend? Surely all gratitude and virtue has left this sinful world! What will cousin Tim, and Dick, and Tom, and good mother Pipkin; and her daughters cousin Sue, and Prue, and Peg, with all the rest of our kinsfolks, say, when they hear of this unconscionable reception that I have met with? Consider, sir, that ingratitude is worse than the sin of witchcraft, as the Apostle wisely observes; and do not send me away with such unchristian usage, which will lay a heavy load of guilt upon your poor miserable soul.”—“What, you are on a cruise for a post, brother Trickle, an’t ye?” said Trunnion, interrupting him, “we shall find a post for you in a trice, my boy. Here, Pipes, take this saucy son of a b — and help him to the whipping-post in the yard. I’ll teach you to rouse me in the morning with such impertinent messages.”

Pipes, who wanted to carry the joke farther than the exciseman dreamt of, laid hold of him in a twinkling, and executed the orders of his commander, notwithstanding all his nods, winking, and significant gestures, which the boatswain’s mate would by no means understand; so that he began to repent of the part he acted in this performance, which was like to end so tragically; and stood fastened to the stake, in a very disagreeable state of suspense; casting many a rueful look over his left shoulder, while Pipes was absent in quest of a cat-o’-nine-tails, in expectation of being relieved by the interposition of the lieutenant, who did not, however, appear. Tom, returning with the instrument of correction, undressed the delinquent in a trice, and whispering in his ear, that he was very sorry for being employed in such an office, but durst not for his soul disobey the orders of his commander, flourished the scourge about his head, and with admirable dexterity made such a smarting application to the offender’s back and shoulders, that the distracted gauger performed sundry new cuts with his feet, and bellowed hideously with pain, to the infinite satisfaction of the spectators. At length, when he was almost flayed from his rump to the nape of his neck, Hatchway, who had purposely absented himself hitherto, appeared in the yard, and interposing in his behalf, prevailed upon Trunnion to call off the executioner, and ordered the malefactor to be released.

The exciseman, mad with the catastrophe he had undergone, threatened to be revenged upon his employers, by making a candid confession of the whole plot; but the lieutenant giving him to understand, that in so doing, he would bring upon himself a prosecution for fraud, forgery, and imposture, he was fain to put up with his loss; and sneaked out of the garrison, attended with a volley of curses discharged upon him by the commodore, who was exceedingly irritated by the disturbance and disappointment he had undergone.

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