The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter XX.

Peregrine is summoned to attend his Uncle — Is more and more hated by his own Mother — Appeals to his Father, whose Condescension is defeated by the Dominion of his Wife.

But, waiving these reflections, let us return to Peregrine, who received a summons to attend his uncle, and in a few days arrived with Mr. Jolter and Pipes at the garrison, which he filled with joy and satisfaction. The alteration, which, during his absence, had happened in his person, was very favourable to his appearance, which, from that of a comely boy, was converted into that of a most engaging youth. He was already taller than a middle-sized man, his shape ascertained, his sinews well knit, his mien greatly improved, and his whole figure as elegant and graceful as if it had been cast in the same mould with the Apollo of Belvedere.

Such an outside could not fail of prepossessing people in his favour. The commodore, notwithstanding the advantageous reports he had heard, found his expectation exceeded in the person of Peregrine, and signified his approbation in the most sanguine terms. Mrs. Trunnion was struck with his genteel address, and received him with uncommon marks of complacency and affection: he was caressed by all the people in the neighbourhood, who, while they admired his accomplishments, could not help pitying his infatuated mother, for being deprived of that unutterable delight which any other parent would have enjoyed in the contemplation of such an amiable son.

Divers efforts were made by some well-disposed people to conquer, if possible, this monstrous prejudice; but their endeavours, instead of curing, served only to inflame the distemper, and she never could be prevailed upon to indulge him with the least mark of maternal regard. On the contrary, her original disgust degenerated into such inveteracy of hatred, that she left no stone unturned to alienate the commodore’s affection for this her innocent child, and even practised the most malicious defamation to accomplish her purpose. Every day, did she abuse her husband’s ear with some forged instance of Peregrine’s ingratitude to his uncle, well knowing that it would reach the commodore’s knowledge at night.

Accordingly Mr. Pickle used to tell him at the club, that his hopeful favourite had ridiculed him in such a company, and aspersed his spouse on another occasion; and thus retail the little scandalous issue of his own wife’s invention. Luckily for Peregrine, the commodore paid no great regard to the authority of his informer, because he knew from what channel the intelligence flowed; besides, the youth had a staunch friend in Mr. Hatchway, who never failed to vindicate him when he was thus unjustly accused, and always found argument enough to confute the assertions of his enemies. But, though Trunnion had been dubious of the young gentleman’s principles, and deaf to the remonstrances of the lieutenant, Perry was provided with a bulwark strong enough to defend him from all such assaults. This was no other than his aunt, whose regard for him was perceived to increase in the same proportion as his own mother’s diminished; and, indeed, the augmentation of the one was, in all probability, owing to the decrease of the other; for the two ladies, with great civility, performed all the duties of good neighbourhood, and hated each other most piously in their hearts.

Mrs. Pickle, having been disobliged at the splendour of her sister’s new equipage, had, ever since that time, in the course of her visiting, endeavoured to make people merry with satirical jokes on the poor lady’s infirmities; and Mrs. Trunnion seized. the very first opportunity of making reprisals, by inveighing against her unnatural behaviour to her own child; so that Peregrine, as on the one hand he was abhorred, so on the other was he caressed, in consequence of this contention; and I firmly believe that the most effectual method of destroying his interest at the garrison, would have been the show of countenancing him at his father’s house; but, whether this conjecture be reasonable or chimerical, certain it is the experiment was never tried, and therefore Mr. Peregrine ran no risk of being disgraced. The commodore, who assumed, and justly too, the whole merit of his education, was now as proud of the youth’s improvements as if he had actually been his own offspring; and sometimes his affection rose to such a pitch of enthusiasm, that he verily believed him to be the issue of his own loins. Notwithstanding this favourable predicament in which our hero stood with his aunt and her husband, he could not help feeling the injury he suffered from the caprice of his mother; and though the gaiety of his disposition hindered him from afflicting himself with reflections of any gloomy cast, he did not fail to foresee, that if any sudden accident should deprive him of the commodore, he would in all likelihood find himself in a very disagreeable situation. Prompted by this consideration, he one evening accompanied his uncle to the club, and was introduced to his father, before that worthy gentleman had the least inkling of his arrival.

Mr. Gamaliel was never so disconcerted as at this reencounter. His own disposition would not suffer him to do anything that might create the least disturbance, or interrupt his enjoyment; so strongly was he impressed with the terror of his wife, that he durst not yield to the tranquility of his temper: and, as I have already observed, his inclination was perfectly neutral. Thus distracted between different motives, when Perry was presented to him, he sat silent and absorbed, as if he did not or would not perceive the application; and when he was urged to declare himself by the youth, who pathetically begged to know how he had incurred his displeasure, he answered, in a peevish strain, “Why, good now, child, what would you have me to do? your mother can’t abide you.”—“If my mother is so unkind, I will not call it unnatural,” said Peregrine, the tears of indignation starting from his eyes, “as to banish me from her presence and affection, without the least cause assigned; I hope you will not be so unjust as to espouse her barbarous prejudice.”

Before Mr. Pickle had time to reply to his expostulation, for which he was not at all prepared, the commodore interposed, and enforced his favourite’s remonstrance, by telling Mr. Gamaliel that he was ashamed to see any man drive in such a miserable manner under his wife’s petticoat. “As for my own part,” said he, raising his voice, and assuming a look of importance and command, “before I would suffer myself to be steered all weathers by any woman in Christendom, d’ye see, I’d raise such a hurricane about her ears, that —” Here he was interrupted by Mr. Hatchway, who thrusting his head towards the door, in the attitude of one that listens, cried, “Ahey, there’s your spouse come to pay us a visit.” Trunnion’s features that instant adopted a new disposition; fear and confusion took possession of his countenance; his voice, from a tone of vociferation, sank into a whisper of, “Sure, you must be mistaken, Jack;” and, in great perplexity, he wiped off his sweat which had started on his forehead at this false alarm. The lieutenant, having thus punished him for the rodomontade he had uttered, told him, with an arch sneer, that he was deceived with the sound of the outward door creaking upon its hinges, which he mistook for Mrs. Trunnion’s voice, and desired him to proceed with his admonitions to Mr. Pickle. It is not to be denied that this arrogance was a little unseasonable to the commodore, who was in all respects as effectually subdued to the dominion of his wife as the person whose submission he then ventured to condemn; with this difference of disposition — Trunnion’s subjection was like that of a bear, chequered with fits of surliness and rage; whereas Pickle bore the yoke like an ox, without repining. No wonder, then, that this indolence, this sluggishness, this stagnation of temper rendered Gamaliel incapable of withstanding the arguments and importunity of his friends, to which he at length surrendered. He acquiesced in the justice of their observations: and, taking his son by the hand, promised to favour him for the future with his love and fatherly protection.

But this laudable resolution did not last. Mrs. Pickle, still dubious of his constancy, and jealous of his communication with the commodore, never failed to interrogate him every night about the conversation that happened at the club, and to regulate her exhortations according to the intelligence she received. He was no sooner, therefore, conveyed to bed (that academy in which all notable wives communicate their lectures), when her catechism began; and she in a moment perceived something reluctant and equivocal in her husband’s answers. Aroused at this discovery, she employed her influence and skill with such success, that he disclosed every circumstance of what had happened; and after having sustained a most severe rebuke for his simplicity and indiscretion, humbled himself so far as to promise that he would next day annul the condescensions he had made, and for ever renounce the ungracious object of her disgust. This undertaking was punctually performed in a letter to the commodore, which she herself dictated in these words:—

“Sir — Whereas my good-nature being last night imposed upon, I was persuaded to countenance and promise I know not what to that vicious youth, whose parent I have the misfortune to be; I desire you will take notice that I will revoke all such countenance and promises, and shall never look upon that man as my friend who will, in such a cause, solicit —
Sir, yours, etc.
“Gam. Pickle.”

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