The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter XVII.

He is concerned in a dangerous Adventure with a certain Gardener — Sublimes his Ideas, commences Gallant, and becomes acquainted with Miss Emily Gauntlet.

He and some of his companions one day entered a garden in the suburbs, and, having indulged their appetites, desired to know what satisfaction they must make for the fruit they had pulled. The gardener demanded what, in their opinion, was an exorbitant price, and they with many opprobrious terms refused to pay it. The peasant, being surly and untractable, insisted upon his right; neither was he deficient or sparing in the eloquence of vulgar abuse. His guests attempted to retreat; a scuffle ensued, in which Peregrine lost his cap; and the gardener, being in danger from the number of his foes, called to his wife to let loose the dog, which instantly flew to his master’s assistance, and, after having torn the leg of one and the shoulder of another, put the whole body of scholars to flight. Enraged at the indignity which had been offered them, they solicited a reinforcement of their friends, and, with Tom Pipes at their head, marched back to the field of battle. Their adversary, seeing them approach, called his apprentice, who worked at the other end of the ground, to his assistance, armed him with a mattock, while he himself wielded a hoe, bolted his door on the inside, and, flanked with his man and mastiff, waited the attack without flinching.

He had not remained three minutes in this posture of defence, when Pipes, who acted as the enemy’s forlorn hope, advanced to the gate with great intrepidity, and, clapping his foot to the door, which was none of the stoutest, with the execution and despatch of a petard, split it into a thousand pieces. This sudden execution had an immediate effect upon the apprentice, who retreated with great precipitation, and escaped at a postern; but the master placed himself, like another Hercules, in the breach; and when Pipes, brandishing his cudgel, stepped forward to engage him, leveled his weapon. with such force and dexterity at his head, that had the skull been made of penetrable stuff, the iron edge must have cleft his pate in twain. Casemated as he was, the instrument cut sheer even to the bone, on which it struck with such amazing violence, that sparks of real fire were produced by the collision. And let not the incredulous reader pretend to doubt the truth of this phenomenon, until he shall have first perused the ingenious Peter Kolben’s Natural History of the Cape of Good Hope, where the inhabitants commonly used to strike fire with the shin-bones of lions which had been killed in that part of Africa.

Pipes, though a little disconcerted, far from being disabled by the blow, in a trice retorted the compliment with his truncheon, which, had not his antagonist expeditiously slipped his head aside, would have laid him breathless across his own threshold; but, happily for him, he received the salutation upon his right shoulder, which crashed beneath the stroke, and the hoe dropped instantly from his tingling hand. Tom, perceiving, and being unwilling to forego, the advantage he had gained, darted his head into the bosom of this son of earth, and overturned him on the plain, being himself that instant assaulted by the mastiff, who fastened upon the outside of his thigh. Feeling himself incommoded by this assailant in his rear, he quitted the prostrate gardener to the resentment of his associates, who poured upon him in shoals, and turning about, laid hold with both his hands of this ferocious animal’s throat, which he squeezed with such incredible force and perseverance, that the creature quitted his hold; his tongue lolled out of his jaws, the blood started from his eyes, and he swung a lifeless trunk between the hands of his vanquisher.

It was well for his master that he did not longer exist: for by this time he was overwhelmed by such a multitude of foes, that his whole body scarce afforded points of contact to all the fists that drummed upon him; consequently, to use a vulgar phrase, his wind was almost knocked out, before Pipes had leisure to interpose in his he behalf, and persuade his offenders to desist, by representing that the wife had gone to alarm the neighbourhood, and in all probability they would be intercepted in their return. They accordingly listened to his remonstrances, and marched homewards in triumph, leaving the gardener in the embraces of his mother earth, from which he had not power to move when he was found by his disconsolate helpmate and some friends whom she had assembled for his assistance. Among these was a blacksmith and farrier, who took cognizance of his carcase, every limb of which having examined, he declared there was no bone broken, and taking out his fleam, blooded him plentifully as he lay. He was then conveyed to his bed, from which he was not able to stir during a whole month. His family coming upon the parish, a formal complaint was made to the master of the school, and Peregrine represented as the ringleader of those who committed this barbarous assault. An inquiry was immediately set on foot; and the articles of impeachment being fully proved, our hero was sentenced to be severely chastised in the face of the whole school. This was a disgrace, the thoughts of which his proud heart could not brook. He resolved to make his elopement rather than undergo the punishment to which he was doomed; and having signified his sentiments to his confederates, they promised one and all to stand by him, and either screen him from chastisement or share his fate.

Confiding in this friendly protestation, he appeared unconcerned on the day that was appointed for his punishment; and when he was called to his destiny, advanced the scene, attended by the greatest part of the scholars, who intimated their determination to the master, and proposed that Peregrine should be forgiven. The superior behaved with that dignity of demeanour which became his place, represented the folly and presumption of their demand, reprehended them for their audacious proceeding, and ordered every boy to his respective station. They obeyed his command, and our unfortunate hero was publicly horsed, in terrorem of all whom it might concern.

This disgrace had a very sensible effect upon the mind of Peregrine, who, having by this time, passed the fourteenth year of his age, began to adopt the pride and sentiments of a man. Thus dishonourably stigmatized, he was ashamed to appear in public as usual; he was incensed against his companions for their infidelity and irresolution, and plunged into a profound reverie that lasted several weeks, during which he shook off his boyish connections, and fixed his view upon objects which he thought more worthy of his attention.

In the course of his gymnastic exercises, at which he was very expert, he contracted intimacies with several youths who were greatly his superiors in point of age, and who, pleased with his aspiring genius and address, introduced him into parties of gallantry which strongly captivated his inclination. He was by nature particularly adopted for succeeding in all adventures of this kind: over and above a most engaging person that improved with his years, he possessed a dignified assurance, an agreeable ferocity which enhanced the conquest of the fair who had the good fortune to enslave him, unlimited generosity, and a fund of humour which never failed to please. Nor was he deficient in the more solid accomplishments of youth: he had profited in his studies beyond expectation; and besides that sensibility of discernment which is the foundation of taste, and in consequence of which he distinguished and enjoyed the beauties of the classics, he had already given several specimens of a very promising poetic talent.

With this complexion and these qualifications, no wonder that our hero attracted the notice and affections of the young Delias in town, whose hearts had just begun to flutter for they knew not what. Inquiries were made concerning his condition; and no sooner were his expectations known, than he was invited and caressed by all the parents, while the daughters vied with each other in treating him with particular complacency. He inspired love and emulation wherever he appeared: envy and jealous rage followed of course; so that he became a very desirable, though a very dangerous acquaintance. His moderation was not equal to his success: his vanity took the lead of his passions, dissipating his attention, which might otherwise have fixed him to one object; and he was possessed with the rage of increasing the number of his conquests. With this view he frequented public walks, concerts, and assemblies, became remarkably rich and fashionable in his clothes, gave entertainments to the ladies, and was in the utmost hazard of turning out a most egregious coxcomb.

While his character thus wavered between the ridicule of some and the regard of others, an accident happened which by contracting his view to one object, detached him from those vain pursuits that would in time have plunged him into an abyss of folly and contempt. Being one evening at the ball which is always given to the ladies at the time of the races, the person acted as master of the ceremonies, knowing how fond Mr. Pickle was of every opportunity to display himself, came up, and told him, that there was a fine young creature at the other end of the room, who seemed to have a great inclination to dance a minuet, but wanted a partner, the gentleman who attended her being in boots.

Peregrine’s vanity being aroused at this intimation, he went up to reconnoitre the young lady, and was struck with admiration at her beauty. She seemed to be of his own age, was tall, though slender, exquisitely shaped; her hair was auburn, and in such plenty, that the barbarity of dress had not been able to prevent it from shading both sides of her forehead, which was high and polished; the contour of her face was oval; her nose very little raised into the aquiline form, that contributed to the spirit and dignity of her aspect; her mouth was small; her lips plump, juicy, and delicious, her teeth regular and white as driven snow, her complexion incredibly delicate, and glowing with health; and her full blue eyes beamed forth vivacity and love: her mien was at the same time commanding and engaging, her address perfectly genteel, and her whole appearance so captivating, that our young Adonis looked, and was overcome.

He no sooner recollected himself from his astonishment, than he advanced to her with a graceful air of respect, and begged she would do him the honour to walk a minuet with him. She seemed particularly pleased with his application, and very frankly complied with his request. This pair was too remarkable to escape the particular notice of the company; Mr. Pickle was well known by almost everybody in the room, but his partner was altogether a new face and of consequence underwent the criticism of all the ladies in the assembly. One whispered, “She has a good complexion, but don’t you think she is a little awry?” a second pitied her for her masculine nose; a third observed, that she was awkward for want of seeing company; a fourth distinguished something very bold in her countenance; and, in short, there was not a beauty in her whole composition which the glass of envy did not pervert into a blemish.

The men, however, looked upon her with different eyes; among them her appearance produced a universal murmur of applause: they encircled the space on which she danced, and were enchanted by her graceful motion. While they launched out in the praise of her, they expressed their displeasure at the good fortune of her partner, whom they d — d for a little finical coxcomb, that was too much engrossed by the contemplation of his own person, to discern or deserve the favour of his fate. He did not hear, therefore could not repine at these invectives; but while they imagined he indulged his vanity, a much more generous passion had taken possession of his heart.

Instead of that petulance of gaiety for which he had been distinguished in his public appearance, he now gave manifest signs of confusion and concern: he danced with an anxiety which impeded his performance, and blushed to the eyes at every false step he made. Though this extraordinary agitation was overlooked by the men, it could not escape the observation of the ladies, who perceived it with equal surprise and resentment; and when Peregrine led this fair unknown to her seat, expressed their pique in an affected titter, which broke from every mouth at the same instant — as if all of them had been informed by the same spirit.

Peregrine was nettled at this unmannerly mark of disapprobation, and, in order to increase their chagrin, endeavoured to enter into particular conversation with their fair rival. The young lady herself, who neither wanted penetration nor the consciousness of her own accomplishments, resented their behaviour, though she triumphed at the cause of it, and gave her partner all the encouragement he could desire. Her mother, who was present, thanked him for his civility in taking such notice of a stranger, and he received a compliment of the same nature from the young gentleman in boots, who was her own brother.

If he was charmed with her appearance, he was quite ravished with her discourse, which was sensible, spirited, and gay. Her frank and sprightly demeanour excited his own confidence and good-humour; and he described to her the characters of those females who had honoured them with such a spiteful mark of distinction, in terms so replete with humorous satire, that she seemed to listen with particular complacency of attention, and distinguished every nymph thus ridiculed with such a significant glance as overwhelmed her with chagrin and mortification. In short, they seemed to relish each other’s conversation, during which our young Damon acquitted himself with great skill in all the duties of gallantry: he laid hold of proper opportunities to express his admiration of her charms, had recourse to the silent rhetoric of tender looks, breathed divers insidious sighs, and attached himself wholly to her during the remaining part of the entertainment.

When the company broke up, he attended her to her lodgings, and took leave of her with a squeeze of the hand, after having obtained permission to visit her next morning, and been informed by the mother that her name was Miss Emilia Gauntlet.

All night long he closed not an eye, but amused himself with plans of pleasure, which his imagination suggested in consequence of this new acquaintance. He rose with the lark, adjusted his hair into an agreeable negligence of curl, and dressing himself in a genteel gray frock trimmed with silver binding, waited with the utmost impatience for the hour of ten, which no sooner struck than he hied him to the place of appointment, and inquiring for Miss gauntlet, was shown into a parlour. Here he had not waited above ten minutes, when Emilia entered in a most enchanting undress, with all the graces of nature playing about her person, and in a moment riveted the chains of his slavery beyond the power of accident to unbind.

Her mother being still abed, and her brother gone to give orders about the chaise, in which they proposed to return that same day to their own habitation, he enjoyed her company a whole hour, during which he declared his love in the most passionate terms, and begged that he might be admitted into the number of those admirers whom she permitted to visit and adore her.

She affected to look upon his vows and protestations as the ordinary effect of gallantry, and very obligingly assured him that were she to live in that place she should be glad to see him often; but as the spot on which she resided was at a considerable distance, she could not expect he would go so far, upon such a trifling occasion, as to take the trouble of providing himself with her mamma’s permission.

To this favourable hint he with all the eagerness of the most fervent passion, that he had uttered nothing but the genuine dictates of his heart; that he desired nothing so much as an opportunity of evincing the sincerity of his professions; and that, though he lived at the extremity of the kingdom, he would find means to lay himself at her feet, provided he could visit her with her mother’s consent, which he assured her he would not fail to solicit.

She then gave him to understand that her habitation was about sixteen miles front Winchester, in a village which she named, and where, as he could easily collect from her discourse, he would be no unwelcome guest.

In the midst of this communication they were joined by Mrs. Gauntlet, who received him with great courtesy, thanking him again for his politeness to Emy at the ball, and anticipated his intention by saying that she should be very glad to see him at her house, if ever his occasions should call him that way.

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