The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter XIX.

His Messenger meets with a Misfortune, to which he applies a very extraordinary Expedient that is attended with strange Consequences.

As a stage-coach passed within two miles of the village where she lived, Tom bargained with the driver for a seat on the box, and accordingly departed on this message, though he was but indifferently qualified for commissions of such a nature. Having received particular injunctions about the letter, he resolved to make that the chief object of his care, and very sagaciously conveyed it between the stocking and the sole of his foot, where he thought it would be perfectly secure from all injury or accident. Here it remained until he arrived at the inn where he had formerly lodged, when, after having refreshed himself with a draught of beer, he pulled off his stocking, and found the poor billet sullied with dust, and torn in a thousand tatters by the motion of his foot in walking the last two miles of his journey. Thunderstruck at this phenomenon, he uttered it loud whew! which was succeeded by an exclamation of “D— my old shoes! a bite by G—!” then he rested his elbows on the table, and his forehead upon his two fists, and in that attitude deliberated with himself upon the means of remedying this misfortune.

As he was not distracted by a vast number of ideas he soon concluded that his best expedient would be to employ the clerk of the parish, who he knew was a great scholar, to write another epistle according to the directions he should give him; and never dreaming that the mangled original would in the least facilitate this scheme, he very wisely committed it to the flames, that it might never rise up in judgment against him.

Having taken this wise step, he went in quest of the scribe, to whom he communicated his business, and promised a full pot by way of gratification. The clerk, who was also schoolmaster, proud of an opportunity to distinguish his talents, readily undertook the task; and repairing with his employer to the inn, in less than a quarter of an hour produced a morsel of eloquence so much to the satisfaction of Pipes, that he squeezed his hand by way of acknowledgment, and doubled his allowance of beer. This being discussed, our courier betook himself to the house of Mrs. Gauntlet with the haunch of venison and this succedaneous letter, and delivered his message to the mother, who received it with great respect, and many kind inquiries about the health and welfare of his master, attempting to tip the messenger a crown, which he absolutely refused to accept, in consequence of Mr. Pickle’s repeated caution. While the old gentlewoman turned to a servant in order to give directions about the disposal of the present, Pipes looked upon this as a favourable occasion to transact his business with Emilia, and therefore shutting one eye, with a jerk of his thumb towards his left shoulder, and a most significant twist of his countenance he beckoned the young lady into another room as if he had been fraught with something of consequence, which he wanted to impart. She understood the hint, howsoever strangely communicated, and, by stepping to one side of the room gave him an opportunity of slipping the epistle into her hand, which be gently squeezed at the same time in token of regard: then throwing a side-glance at the mother, whose back was turned, clapped his finger on the side of his nose, thereby recommending secrecy and discretion.

Emilia, conveying the letter into her bosom, could not help smiling at Tom’s politeness and dexterity; but lest her mamma should detect him in the execution of his pantomime, she broke off this intercourse of signs, by asking aloud when he proposed to set out on his return to Winchester? When he answered, “To-morrow morning.” Miss Gauntlet recommended him to the hospitality of her own footman, desiring him to make much of Mr. Pipes below, where he was kept to supper, and very cordially entertained. Our young heroine, impatient to read her lover’s billet, which made her heart throb with rapturous expectation, retired to her chamber as soon as possible, with a view of perusing the contents, which were these:—

“Divine Empress Of My Soul — If the refulgent flames of your beauty had not evaporated the particles of my transported brain, and scorched my intellects into a cinder of stolidity, perhaps the resplendency of my passion might shine illustrious through the sable curtain of my ink, and in sublimity transcend the galaxy itself, though wafted on the pinions of a gray goose quill! But, ah! celestial enchantress! the necromancy of thy tyrannical charms hath fettered my faculties with adamantine chains, which, unless thy compassion shall melt I must eternally remain in the Tartarean gulf of dismal despair. Vouchsafe, therefore, O thou brightest luminary of this terrestrial sphere! to warm, as well as shine; and let the genial rays of thy benevolence melt the icy emanations of thy disdain, which hath frozen up the spirits of angelic pre-eminence. — Thy most egregious admirer and superlative slave,
“Peregrine Pickle.”

Never was astonishment more perplexing than that of Emilia, when she read this curious composition, which she repeated verbatim three times before she would credit the evidence of her own senses. She began to fear in good earnest that love had produced a disorder in her lover’s understanding; but after a thousand conjectures by which she attempted to account for this extraordinary fustian of style, she concluded that it was the effect of mere levity, calculated to ridicule the passion he had formerly professed. Irritated by this supposition, she resolved to balk his triumph with affected indifference, and in the mean time endeavoured to expel him from that place which he possessed within her heart. And indeed such a victory over her inclinations might have been obtained without great difficulty; for she enjoyed an easiness of temper that could accommodate itself to the emergencies of her fate; and her vivacity, by amusing her imagination, preserved herself from the keener sensations of sorrow. Thus determined and disposed, she did not send any sort of answer, or the least token of remembrance by Pipes, who was suffered to depart with a general compliment from the mother, and arrived at Winchester the next day.

Peregrine’s eyes sparkled when he saw his messenger come in, and he stretched out his hand in full confidence of receiving some particular mark of his Emilia’s affection; but how was he confounded, when he found his hope so cruelly disappointed! In an instant his countenance fell. He stood for some time silent and abashed, then thrice repeated the interrogation of “What! not one word from Emilia?” and dubious of his courier’s discretion, inquired minutely into all the particulars of his reception. He asked if he had seen the young lady, if she was in good health, if he had found an opportunity of delivering his letter, and how she looked, when he put it into her hand? Pipes answered, that he had never seen her in better health or better spirits; that he had managed matters so as not only to present the billet unperceived, but also to ask her commands in private before he took his leave, when she told him that the letter required no reply. This last circumstance he considered as a manifest mark of disrespect, and gnawed his lips with resentment. Upon further reflection, however, he supposed that she could not conveniently write by the messenger, and would undoubtedly favour him by the post. This consideration consoled him for the present, and he waited impatiently for the fruits of his hope; but after he had seen eight days elapse without reaping the satisfaction with which he had flattered himself, his temper forsook him, he raved against the whole sex, and was seized with a fit of sullen chagrin; but his pride in a little time came to his assistance, and rescued him from the horrors of the melancholy fiend. He resolved to retort her own neglect upon her ungrateful mistress; his countenance gradually resumed its former serenity; and though by this time he was pretty well cured of his foppery, he appeared again at public diversions with an air of gaiety and unconcern, that Emilia might have a chance of hearing how much, in all likelihood, he disregarded her disdain.

There are never wanting certain officious persons, who take pleasure in promoting intelligence of this sort. His behaviour soon reached the ears of Miss Gauntlet, and confirmed her in the opinion she had conceived from his letter; so that she fortified herself in her former sentiments, and bore his indifference with great philosophy, Thus a correspondence, which had commenced with all the tenderness and sincerity of love, and every promise of duration, was interrupted in its infancy by a misunderstanding occasioned by the simplicity of Pipes, who never once reflected upon the consequences of his deceit.

Though their mutual passion was by these means suppressed for the present, it was not altogether extinguished, but glowed in secret, though even to themselves unknown, until an occasion, which afterwards offered, blew up the latent flame, and love resumed his empire in their breasts. While they moved, as it were, without the sphere of each other’s attraction, the commodore, hearing that Perry was in danger of involving himself in some pernicious engagement, resolved, by advice of Mr. Jolter and his friend the parish priest, to recall him from the place where he had contracted such imprudent connections, and send him to the university, where his education might be completed, and his fancy weaned from all puerile amusements.

This plan had been proposed to his own father, who, as hath been already observed, stood always neuter in everything that concerned his eldest son; and as for Mrs. Pickle, she had never heard his name mentioned since his departure with any degree of temper or tranquility, except when her husband informed her that he was in a fair way of being ruined by this indiscreet amour. It was then she began to applaud her own foresight, which had discerned the mark of reprobation in that vicious boy, and launched out in comparison between him and Gammy, who, she observed, was a child of uncommon parts and solidity, and, with the blessing of God, would be a comfort to his parents, and an ornament to the family.

Should I affirm that this favourite whom she commended so much, was in every respect the reverse of what she described; that he was a boy of mean capacity, and, though remarkably distorted in his body, much more crooked in his disposition; and that she had persuaded her husband to espouse her opinion, though it was contrary to common sense, as well as to his own perception; — I am afraid the reader will think I represent a monster that never existed in nature, and be apt to condemn the economy of my invention: nevertheless, there is nothing more true than every circumstance of what I have advanced; and I wish the picture, singular as it is, may not be thought to resemble more than one original.

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