The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter II.

He is made acquainted with the Characters of Commodore Trunnion and his Adherents — Meets with them by Accident, and contracts an Intimacy with that Commander.

This loquacious publican soon gave him sketches of all the characters in the county; and, among others, described that of his next neighbour, Commodore Trunnion, which was altogether singular and odd. “The commodore and your worship,” said he, “will in a short time be hand and glove, he has a power of money, and spends it like a prince — that is, in his own way — for to be sure he is a little humorsome, as the saying is, and swears woundily; though I’ll be sworn he means no more harm than a sucking babe. Lord help us! it will do your honour’s heart good to hear him tell a story, as how he lay alongside of the French, yard-arm and yard-arm, board and board, and of heaving grapplings, and stink-pots, and grapes, and round and double-headed partridges, crows and carters. Lord have mercy upon us! he has been a great warrior in his time, and lost an eye and a heel in the service. Then he does not live like any other Christian land-man; but keeps garrison in his house, as if he were in the midst of his enemies, and makes his servants turn out in the night, watch and watch as he calls it, all the year round. His habitation is defended by a ditch, over which he has laid a draw-bridge, and planted his court-yard with patereroes continually loaded with shot, under the direction of one Mr. Hatchway, who had one of his legs shot away while he acted as lieutenant on board the commodore’s ship; and now, being on half-pay, lives with him as his companion. The lieutenant is a very brave man, a great joker, and, as the saying is, hath got the length of his commander’s foot — though he has another favourite in the house called Tom Pipes, that was his boatswain’s mate, and now keeps the servants in order. Tom is a man of few words, but an excellent hand at a song concerning the boatswain’s whistle, hustle-cap, and chuck-farthing — there is not such another pipe in the county — so that the commodore lives very happy in his own manner; though he be sometimes thrown into perilous passions and quandaries, by the application of his poor kinsmen, whom he can’t abide, because as how some of them were the first occasion of his going to sea. Then he sweats with agony at the sight of an attorney, just, for all the world, as some people have an antipathy to a cat: for it seems he was once at law, for striking one of his officers, and cast in a swinging sum. He is, moreover, exceedingly afflicted with goblins that disturb his rest, and keep such a racket in his house, that you would think (God bless us!) all the devils in hell had broke loose upon him. It was no longer ago than last year about this time, that he was tormented the livelong night by the mischievous spirits that got into his chamber, and played a thousand pranks about his hammock, for there is not one bed within his walls. Well, sir, he rang his bell, called up all his servants, got lights, and made a thorough search; but the devil a goblin was to be found. He had no sooner turned in again, and the rest of the family gone to sleep, than the foul fiends began their game anew. The commodore got up in the dark, drew his cutlass, and attacked them both so manfully, that in five minutes everything in the apartment went to pieces, The lieutenant, hearing the noise, came to his assistance. Tom Pipes, being told what was the matter, lighted his match, and going down to the yard, fired all the patereroes as signals of distress. Well, to be sure the whole parish was in a pucker: some thought the French had landed; others imagined the commodore’s house was beset by thieves; for my own part, I called up two dragoons that are quartered upon me, and they swore, with deadly oaths, it was a gang of smugglers engaged with a party of their regiment that lies in the next village; and mounting their horses like lusty fellows, rode up into the country as fast as their beasts could carry them. Ah, master! These are hard times, when an industrious body cannot earn his bread without fear of the gallows. Your worship’s father (God rest his soul!) was a good gentleman, and as well respected in this parish as e’er a he that walks upon neat’s leather; and if your honour should want a small parcel of fine tea, or a few ankers of right Nantes, I’ll be bound you shall be furnished to your heart’s content. But, as I was saying, the hubbub continued till morning, when the parson being sent for, conjured the spirits into the Red Sea; and the house has been pretty quiet ever since. True it is, Mr. Hatchway makes a mock of the whole affair; and told his commander, in this very blessed spot, that the two goblins were no other than a couple of jackdaws which had fallen down the chimney, and made a flapping with their wings up and down the apartment. But the commodore, who is very choleric, and does not like to be jeered, fell into a main high passion, and stormed like a perfect hurricane, swearing that he knew a devil from a jackdaw as well as e’er a man in the three kingdoms. He owned, indeed, that the birds were found, but denied that they were the occasion of the uproar. For my own part, master, I believe much may be said on both sides of the question; though to be sure, the devil is always going about, as the saying is.”

This circumstantial account, extraordinary as it was, never altered one feature in the countenance of Mr. Pickle, who, having heard it to an end, took the pipe from his mouth, saying, with a look of infinite sagacity and deliberation, “I do suppose he is of the Cornish Trunnions. What sort of a woman is his spouse?” “Spouse!” cried the other; “odds-heart! I don’t think he would marry the queen of Sheba. Lack-a-day! sir, he won’t suffer his own maids to be in the garrison, but turns them into an out-house every night before the watch is set. Bless your honour’s soul, he is, as it were, a very oddish kind of a gentleman. Your worship would have seen him before now; for, when he is well, he and my good master Hatchway come hither every evening, and drink a couple of cans of rumbo a piece; but he has been confined to his house this fortnight by a plaguy fit of the gout, which, I’ll assure your worship, is a good penny out of my pocket.”

At that instant, Mr. Pickle’s ears were saluted with such a strange noise, as even discomposed the muscles of his face, which gave immediate indications of alarm. This composition of notes at first resembled the crying of quails, and croaking of bull-dogs; but as it approached nearer, he could distinguish articulate sounds pronounced with great violence, in such a cadence as one would expect to hear from a human creature scolding through the organs of an ass; it was neither speaking nor braying, but a surprising mixture of both, employed in the utterance of terms absolutely unintelligible to our wondering merchant, who had just opened his mouth to express his curiosity, when the starting up at the well-known sound, cried, “Odd’s niggers! there is the commodore with his company, as sure as I live,” and with his apron began to wipe the dust off an elbow-chair placed at one side of the fire, and kept sacred for the ease and convenience of this infirm commander. While he vas thus occupied, a voice, still more uncouth than the former, bawled aloud, “Ho! the house, a-hoy!” Upon which the publican, clapping a hand to each side of his head with his thumbs fixed to his ears, rebellowed in the same tone, which he had learned to imitate, “Hilloah.” The voice again exclaimed, “Have you got any attorneys aboard?” and when the landlord replied, “No, no,” this man of strange expectation came in, supported by his two dependents, and displayed a figure every way answerable to the oddity of his character. He was in stature at least six feet high, though he had contracted a habit of stooping, by living so long on board; his complexion was tawny, and his aspect rendered hideous by a large scar across his nose, and a patch that covered the place of one eye. Being seated in his chair, with great formality the landlord complimented him upon his being able to come abroad again; and having in a whisper communicated the name of his fellow-guest, whom the commodore already knew by report, went to prepare, with all imaginable despatch, the first allowance of his favourite liquor, in three separate cans (for each was accommodated with his own portion apart), while the lieutenant sat down on the blind side of his commander; and Tom Pipes, knowing his distance, with great modesty took his station in the rear.

After a pause of some minutes, the conversation was begun by this ferocious chief, who, fixing his eye upon the lieutenant with a sternness of countenance not to be described, addressed him in these words: “D— my eyes! Hatchway, I always took you to be a better seaman than to overset our chaise in such fair weather. Blood! didn’t I tell you we were running bump ashore, and bid you set in the ice-brace, and haul up a wind?”—“Yes,” replied the other, with an arch sneer, “I do confess as how you did give such orders, after you had run us foul of a post, so as that the carriage lay along, and could not right herself.”—“I run you foul of a post!” cried the commander: “d — my heart! you’re a pretty dog, an’t you, to tell me so above-board to my face? Did I take charge of the chaise? Did I stand at the helm?”—“No,” answered Hatchway; “I must confess you did not steer; but, howsomever, you cunned all the way, and so, as you could not see how the land lay, being blind of your larboard eye, we were fast ashore before you knew anything of the matter, Pipes, who stood abaft, can testify the truth of what I say.”—“D— my limbs!” resumed the commodore, “I don’t value what you or Pipes say a rope-yarn. You’re a couple of mutinous — I’ll say no more; but you shan’t run your rig upon me, d — ye, I am the man that learnt you, Jack Hatchway, to splice a rope and raise a perpendicular.”

The lieutenant, who was perfectly well acquainted with the trim of his captain, did not choose to carry on the altercation any further; but taking up his can, drank to the health of the stranger, who very courteously returned the compliment, without, however, presuming to join in the conversation, which suffered a considerable pause. During this interruption, Mr. Hatchway’s wit displayed itself in several practical jokes upon the commodore, with whom he knew it was dangerous to tamper in any other way. Being without the sphere of his vision, he securely pilfered his tobacco, drank his rumbo, made wry faces, and, to use the vulgar phrase, cocked his eye at him, to the no small entertainment of the spectators, Mr. Pickle himself not excepted, who gave evident tokens of uncommon satisfaction at the dexterity of this marine p pantomime.

Meanwhile, the captain’s choler gradually subsided, and he was pleased to desire Hatchway, by the familiar and friendly diminutive of Jack, to read a newspaper that lay on the table before him. This task was accordingly undertaken by the lame lieutenant, who, among paragraphs, read that which follows, with an elevation of voice which seemed to prognosticate something extraordinary: “We are informed, that Admiral Bower will very soon be created a British peer, for his eminent services during the war, particularly in his late engagement with the French fleet.”

Trunnion was thunderstruck at this piece of intelligence: the ring dropped front his hand, and shivered into a thousand pieces; his eye glistened like that of a rattle-snake; and some minutes elapsed before he could pronounce, “Avast! overhaul that article again!”

It was no sooner read the second time, than, smiting the table with his fist, he started up, and, with the most violent emphasis of rage and indignation, exclaimed, “D— my heart and liver! ’tis a land lie, d’ye see; and I will maintain it to be a lie, from the sprit-sail yard to the mizen-top-sail haulyards! Blood and thunder! Will. Bower a peer of this realm! a fellow of yesterday, that scarce knows a mast from a manger! a snotty-nose boy, whom I myself have ordered to the gun, for stealing eggs out of the hen-coops! and I, Hawser Trunnion, who commanded a ship before be could keep a reckoning, am laid aside, d’ye see, and forgotten! If so be as this be the case, there is a rotten plank in our constitution, which ought to be hove down and repaired, d — my eyes! For my own part, d’ye see, I was none of your Guinea pigs: I did not rise in the service by parlamenteering interest, or a handsome b — of a wife. I was not over the bellies of better men, nor strutted athwart the quarter-deck in a laced doublet, and thingumbobs at the wrists. D— my limbs! I have been a hard-working man, and served all offices on board from cook’s shifter to the command of a vessel. Here, you Tunley, there’s the hand of a seaman, you dog.”

So saying, he laid hold on the landlord’s fist, and honoured him with such a squeeze, as compelled him to roar with great vociferation, to the infinite satisfaction of the commodore, whose features were a little unblended by this acknowledgment of his vigour; and he thus proceeded, in a less outrageous strain: “They make a d — d noise about this engagement with the French: but, egad! it was no more than a bumboat battle, in comparison with some that I have seen. There was old Rook and Jennings, and another whom I’ll be d — d before I name, that knew what fighting was. As for my own share, d’ye see, I am none of those that hallo in their own commendation: but if so be that I were minded to stand my own trumpeter, some of those little fellows that hold their heads so high would be taken all aback, as the saying is: they would be ashamed to show their colours, d — my eyes! I once lay eight glasses alongside of the Flour de Louse, a French man-of-war, though her mettle was heavier, and her complement larger by a hundred hands than mine. You, Jack Hatchway, d — ye, what d’ye grin at! D’ye think I tell a story, because you never heard it before?”

“Why, look ye, sir,” answered the lieutenant, “I am glad to find you can stand your own trumpeter on occasion; though I wish you would change the tune, for that is the same you have been piping every watch for these ten months past. Tunley himself will tell you he has heard it five hundred times.”—“God forgive you! Mr. Hatchway,” said the landlord, interrupting him; “as I am an honest man and a housekeeper, I never heard a syllable of the matter.”

This declaration, though not strictly true, was extremely agreeable to Mr. Trunnion, who, with an air of triumph, observed, “Aha! Jack, I thought I should bring you up, with your gibes and your jokes: but suppose you had heard it before, is that any reason why it shouldn’t be told to another person? There’s the stranger, belike he has heard it five hundred times too; han’t you, brother? addressing himself to Mr. Pickle; who replying, with a look expressing curiosity, “No, never;” he thus went on: “Well, you seem to be an honest, quiet sort of a man; and therefore you must know, as I said before, I fell in with a French man-of-war, Cape Finistere bearing about six leagues on the weather bow, and the chase three leagues to leeward, going before the wind: whereupon I set my studding sails; and coming up with her, hoisted my jack and ensign, and poured in a broadside, before you could count three rattlins in the mizen shrouds; for I always keep a good look-out, and love to have the first fire.”

“That I’ll be sworn,” said Hatchway: “for the day we made the Triumph you ordered the men to fire when she was hull-to, by the same token we below pointed the guns at a flight of gulls; and I won a can of punch from the gunner by killing the first bird.”

Exasperated at this sarcasm, he replied, with great vehemence, “You lie, lubber! D— your bones! what business have you to come always athwart my hawse in this manner? You, Pipes, was upon deck, and can bear witness whether or not I fired too soon. Speak, you blood of a — — and that upon the word of a seaman: how did the chase bear of us when I gave orders to fire?”

Pipes, who had hitherto sat silent, being thus called upon to give his evidence, after divers strange gesticulations, opened his mouth like a gasping cod, and with a cadence like that of the east wind singing through a cranny, pronounced, “Half a quarter of a league right upon our lee-beam.”

“Nearer, you porpuss-faced swab,” cried the commodore, “nearer by twelve fathom: but, howsomever, that’s enough to prove the falsehood of Hatchway’s jaw — and so, brother, d’ye see,” turning to Pickle, “I lay alongside of the Flour de Louse, yard-arm and yard-arm, plying out great guns and small arms, and heaving in stink-pots, powder-bottles, and hand-grenades, till our shot was all expended, double-headed, partridge and grape: then we loaded with iron crows, marlin-spikes, and old nails; but finding the Frenchman took a good deal of drubbing, and that he had shot away all our rigging, and killed and wounded a great number of our men, d’ye see, I resolved to run him on board upon his quarter, and so ordered our grapplings to be got ready; but monsieur, perceiving what we were about, filled his topsails and sheered off, leaving us like a log upon the water, and our scuppers running with blood.”

Mr. Pickle and the landlord paid such extraordinary attention to the rehearsal of this exploit, that Trunnion was encouraged to entertain them with more stories of the same nature; after which he observed, by way of encomium on the government, that all he had gained in the service was a lame foot and the loss of an eye. The lieutenant, who could not find in his heart to lose any opportunity of being witty at the expense of his commander, gave a loose to his satirical talent once more, saying — “I have heard as how you came by your lame foot, by having your upper decks over-stowed with liquor, whereby you became crank, and rolled, d’ye see, in such a manner, that by a pitch of the ship your starboard heel was jammed in one of the scuppers; and as for the matter of your eye, that was knocked out by your own crew when the Lightning was paid off: there’s poor Pipes, who was beaten into all the colours of the rainbow for taking your part, and giving you time to sheer off; and I don’t find as how you have rewarded him according as he deserves.”

As the commodore could not deny the truth of these anecdotes, however unseasonably they were introduced, he affected to receive them with good humour, as jokes of the lieutenant’s own inventing; and replied, “Ay, ay, Jack, everybody knows your tongue is no slander; but, howsomever, I’ll work you to an oil for this, you dog.” So saying, he lifted up one of his crutches, intending to lay it gently across Mr. Hatchway’s pate; but Jack, with great agility, tilted up his wooden leg, with which he warded off the blow, to the no small admiration of Mr. Pickle, and utter astonishment of the landlord, who, by the bye, had expressed the same amazement, at the same feet, at the same hour, every night, for three months before. Trunnion then, directing his eye to the boatswain’s mate, “You, Pipes,” said he, “do you go about and tell people that I did not reward you for standing by me, when I was bustled by these rebellious rapscallions? D— you, han’t you been rated on the books ever since?”

Tom, who indeed had no words to spare, sat smoking his pipe with great indifference, and never dreamed of paying any regard to these interrogations; which being repeated and reinforced with many oaths, that, however, produced no effect, the commodore pulled out his purse, saying, “Here, you b — baby, here’s something better than a smart ticket;” and threw it at his silent deliverer, who received and pocketed his bounty, without the least demonstration of surprise or satisfaction; while the donor, turning to Mr. Pickle, “You see, brother,” said he, “I make good the old saying; we sailors get money like horses, and spend it like asses: come, Pipes, let’s have the boatswain’s whistle, and be jovial.”

This musician accordingly applied to his mouth the silver instrument that hung at the button-hole of his jacket, by a chain of the same metal, and though not quite so ravishing as the pipe of Hermes, produced a sound so loud and shrill, that the stranger, as it were instinctively, stopped his ears, to preserve his organs of hearing from such a dangerous invasion. The prelude being thus executed, Pipes fixed his eyes upon the egg of an ostrich that depended from the ceiling, and without once moving them from that object, performed the whole cantata in a tone of voice that seemed to be the joint issue of an Irish bagpipe and a sow-gelder’s horn: the commodore, the lieutenant, and landlord, joined in the chorus, repeating this elegant stanza:—

Bustle, bustle, brave boys!
Let us sing, let us toil,
And drink all the while,
Since labour’s the price of our joys.

The third line was no sooner pronounced, than the can was lifted to every man’s mouth with admirable uniformity; and the next word taken up at the end of their draught with a twang equally expressive and harmonious. In short, the company began to understand one another; Mr. Pickle seemed to relish the entertainment, and a correspondence immediately commenced between him and Trunnion, who shook him by the hand, drank to further acquaintance, and even invited him to a mess of pork and pease in the garrison. The compliment was returned, good-fellowship prevailed, and the night was pretty far advanced, when the merchant’s man arrived with a lantern to light his master home; upon which, the new friends parted, after a mutual promise of meeting next evening in the same place.

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