The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter XXIII.

After sundry unsuccessful Efforts, he finds means to come to an Explanation with his Mistress; and a Reconciliation ensues.

Peregrine, disconcerted at their sudden disappearance, stood for some minutes gaping in the street, before he could get the better of his surprise; and then deliberated with himself whether he should demand immediate admittance to his mistress, or choose some other method of application. Piqued at her abrupt behaviour, though pleased with her spirit, he set his invention to work, in order to contrive some means of seeing her: and in a fit of musing arrived at the inn, where he found his companions, whom he had left at the castle-gate. They had already made inquiry about the ladies; in consequence of which he learnt that Miss Sophy was daughter of a gentleman in town to which his mistress was related; that an intimate friendship subsisted between the two young ladies; that Emilia had lived almost a month with her cousin, and appeared at the last assembly, where she was universally admired: and that several young gentlemen of fortune had since that time teased her with addresses.

Our hero’s ambition was flattered, and his passion inflamed with this intelligence; and he swore within himself that he would not quit the spot until he should have obtained an undisputed victory over all his rivals.

That same evening he composed a most eloquent epistle, in which he earnestly entreated that she would favour him with an opportunity of vindicating his conduct: but she would neither receive his billet, nor see his messenger. Balked in this effort, he inclosed it in a new cover directed by another hand, and ordered Pipes to ride next morning to London, on purpose to deliver it at the post-office; that coming by such conveyance she might have no suspicion of the author, and open it before she should be aware of the deceit.

Three days he waited patiently for the effect of this stratagem, and, in the afternoon of the fourth, ventured to hazard a formal visit, in quality of an old acquaintance. But here too he failed in his attempt: she was indisposed, and could not see company. These obstacles served only to increase his eagerness: he still adhered to his former resolution; and his companions, understanding his determination, left him next day to his own inventions. Thus relinquished to his own ideas, he doubled his assiduity, and practised every method his imagination could suggest, in order to promote his plan.

Pipes was stationed all day long within sight of her door, that he might be able to give his master an account of her motions; but she never went abroad except to visit in the neighbourhood, and was always housed before Peregrine could be apprised of her appearance. He went to church with a view of attracting her notice, and humbled his deportment before her; but she was so mischievously devout as to look at nothing but her book, so that he was not favoured with one glance of regard. He frequented the coffee-house, and attempted to contract an acquaintance with Miss Sophy’s father, who, he hoped, would invite him to his house: but this expectation was also defeated. That prudent gentleman looked upon him as one of those forward fortune-hunters who go about the country seeking whom they may devour, and warily discouraged all his advances. Chagrined by so many unsuccessful endeavours, he began to despair of accomplishing his aim; and, as the last suggestion of his art, paid off his lodging, took horse at noon, and departed, in all appearance, for the place from whence he had come. He rode, but a few miles, and in the dusk of the evening returned unseen, alighted at another inn, ordered Pipes to stay within doors, and keeping himself incognito, employed another person as a sentinel upon Emilia.

It was not long before he reaped the fruits of his ingenuity. Next day in the afternoon he was informed by his spy that the two young ladies were gone to walk in the park, whither he followed them on the instant, fully determined to come to an explanation with his mistress, even in presence of her friend, who might possibly be prevailed upon to interest herself in his behalf.

When he saw them at such a distance that they could not return to town before he should have an opportunity of putting his resolution in practice, he mended his pace, and found means to appear before them so suddenly, that Emilia could not help expressing her surprise in a scream. Our lover, putting on a mien of humility and mortification, begged to know if her resentment was implacable; and asked why she had so cruelly refused to grant him the common privilege that every criminal enjoyed. “Dear Miss Sophy,” said he, addressing himself to her companion, “give me leave to implore your intercession with your cousin. I am sure you have humanity enough to espouse my cause, did you but know the justice of it; and I flatter myself that by your kind interposition I may be able to rectify that fatal misunderstanding which hath made me wretched.”—“ Sir,” said Sophy, “you appear like a gentleman, and I doubt not but your behaviour has been always suitable to your appearance; but you must excuse me from undertaking any such office in behalf of a person whom I have not the honour to know.”—“Madam,” answered Peregrine, “I hope Miss Emy will justify my pretensions to that character, notwithstanding the mystery of her displeasure, which, upon my honour, I cannot for my soul explain.”—“Lord! Mr. Pickle,” said Emilia, who had by this time recollected herself, “I never questioned your gallantry and taste; but I am resolved that you shall never have cause to exercise your talents at my expense; so that you tease yourself and me to no purpose. Come, Sophy, let us walk home again.”—“Good God! madam,” cried the lover, with great emotion, “why will you distract me with such barbarous indifference? Stay, dear Emilia! — I conjure you on my knees to stay and hear me. By all that is sacred, I was not to blame. You must have been imposed upon by some villain who envied my good fortune, and took some treacherous method to ruin my love.”

Miss Sophy, who possessed a large stock of good nature, and to whom her cousin had communicated the cause of her reserve, seeing the young gentleman so much affected with that disdain which she knew to be feigned, laid hold on Emilia’s sleeve, saying, with a smile, “Not quite so fast, Emily. I begin to perceive that this is a love-quarrel, and therefore there may be hopes of a reconciliation; for I suppose both parties are open to conviction.”—“For my own part,” cried Peregrine, with great eagerness, “I appeal to Miss Sophy’s decision. But why do I say appeal? Though I am conscious of having committed no offence, I am ready to submit to any penance, let it be never so rigorous, that my fair enslaver herself shall impose, provided it will entitle me to her favour and forgiveness at last.” Emily, well nigh overcome by this declaration, told him, that as she taxed him with no guilt, she expected no atonement, and pressed her companion to return to town. But Sophy, who was too indulgent to her friend’s real inclination to comply with her request, observed that the gentleman seemed so reasonable in his concessions, that she began to think her cousin was in the wrong, and felt herself disposed to act as umpire in the dispute.

Overjoyed at this condescension, Mr. Pickle thanked her in the most rapturous terms, and, in the transport of his expectation, kissed the hand of his kind mediatrix — a circumstance which had a remarkable effect on the countenance of Emilia, who did not seem to relish the warmth of his acknowledgment.

After many supplications on one hand, and pressing remonstrances on the other, she yielded at length, and, turning to her lover. while her face was overspread with blushes — “Well, sir,” said she, “supposing I were to put the difference on that issue, how could you excuse the ridiculous letter which you sent to me from Winchester?” This expostulation introduced a discussion of the whole affair, in which all the circumstances were canvassed; and Emilia still affirmed, with great heat, that the letter must have been calculated to affront her; for she could not suppose the author was so weak as to design it for any other purpose.

Peregrine, who still retained in his memory the substance of this unlucky epistle, as well as the verses which were inclosed, could recollect no particular expression which could have justly given the least umbrage; and therefore, in the agonies of perplexity, begged that the whole might be submitted to the judgment of Miss Sophy, and faithfully promised to stand to her award. In short, this proposal was, with seeming reluctance, embraced by Emilia, and an appointment made to meet next day in the place, whither both parties were desired to come provided with their credentials, according to which definitive sentence would be pronounced.

Our lover, having succeeded thus far, overwhelmed Sophy with acknowledgments on account of her generous mediation; and in the course of their walk, which Emilia was now in no hurry to conclude, whispered a great many tender protestations in the ear of his mistress, who nevertheless continued to act upon the reserve, until her doubts should be more fully resolved.

Mr. Pickle, having found means to amuse them in the fields till the twilight, was obliged to wish them good even, after having obtained a solemn repetition of their promise to meet him at the appointed time and place, and then retreated to his apartment, where he spent the whole night in various conjectures on the subject of the letter, the Gordian knot of which he could by no means untie. One while he imagined that some wag had played a trick on his messenger, in consequence of which Emilia had received a supposititious letter; but, upon farther reflection, he could not conceive the practicability of any such deceit. Then he began to doubt the sincerity of his mistress, who perhaps had only made that a handle for discarding him, at the request of some favoured rival; but his own integrity forbade him to harbour this mean suspicion; and therefore he was again involved in the labyrinth of perplexity. Next day he waited on the rack of impatience for the hour of five in the afternoon, which no sooner struck than he ordered Pipes to attend him, in case there should be occasion for his evidence, and repaired to the place of rendezvous, where he had not tarried five minutes before the ladies appeared. Mutual compliments being passed, and the attendant stationed at a convenient distance, Peregrine persuaded them to sit down upon the grass, under the shade of a spreading oak, that they might be more at their ease; while he stretched himself at their feet, and desired that the paper on which his doom depended might be examined. It was accordingly put into the hand of his fair arbitress, who read it immediately with an audible voice. The first two words of it were no sooner pronounced, than he started, with great emotion, and raised himself upon his hand and knee, in which posture he listened to the rest of the sentence; then sprang upon his feet in the utmost astonishment, and, glowing with resentment at the same time, exclaimed, “Hell and the devil! what’s all that? Sure you make a jest of me, madam!”—“Pray, sir,” said Sophy, “give me the hearing for a few moments, and then urge what you shall think proper in your own defence.” Having thus cautioned him, she proceeded; but before she had finished one-half of the performance, her gravity forsook her, and she was seized with a violent fit of laughter, in which neither of the lovers could help joining, notwithstanding the resentment which at that instant prevailed in the breasts of both. The judge, however, in a little time, resumed her solemnity, and having read the remaining part of this curious epistle, all three continued staring at each other alternately for the space of half a minute, and then broke forth at the same instant in another paroxysm of mirth. From this unanimous convulsion, one would have thought that both parties were extremely well pleased with a joke, yet this was by no means the case.

Emilia imagined that, notwithstanding his affected surprise, her lover, in spite of himself, had received the laugh at her expense, and in so doing applauded his own unmannerly ridicule. This supposition could not fail of raising and reviving her indignation, while Peregrine highly resented the indignity, with which he supposed himself treated, in their attempting to make him the dupe of such a gross and ludicrous artifice. This being the situation of their thoughts, their mirth was succeeded by a mutual gloominess of aspect; and the judge, addressing herself to Mr. Pickle, asked if he had anything to offer why sentence should not be pronounced? “Madam,” answered the culprit, “I am sorry to find myself so low in the opinion of your cousin as to be thought capable of being deceived by such shallow contrivance.”—“Nay, sir,” said Emilia, the contrivance is your own; and I cannot help admiring your confidence in imputing it to me.”—“Upon my honour, Miss Emily, resumed our hero, “you wrong my understanding, as well as my love, in accusing me of having written such a silly, impertinent performance. The very appearance and address of it is so unlike the letter which I did myself the honour to write, that I dare say my man, even at this distance of time, will remember the difference.”

So saying, he extended his voice, and beckoned to Pipes, who immediately drew near. His mistress seemed to object to the evidence, by observing that to be sure Mr. Pipes had his cue; when Peregrine, begging she would spare him the mortification of considering him in such a dishonourable light, desired his valet to examine the outside of the letter, and recollect if it was the same which he had delivered to Miss Gauntlet about two years ago. Pipes, having taken a superficial view of it, pulled up his breeches, saying, “Mayhap it is, but we have made so many trips, and been in so many creeks and corners since that time, that I can’t pretend to be certain; for I neither keep journal nor log-book of our proceedings.” Emilia commended him for his candour, at the same time darting a sarcastic look at his master, as if she thought he had tampered with his servant’s integrity in vain; and Peregrine began to live and curse his fate for having subjected him to such mean suspicion, attesting heaven and earth in the most earnest manner, that far from having composed and conveyed that stupid production, he had never seen it before, nor been privy to the least circumstance of the plan.

Pipes, now, for the first time, perceived the mischief which he had occasioned; and, moved with the transports of his master, for whom he had a most inviolable attachment, frankly declared he was ready to make oath that Mr. Pickle had no hand in the letter which he delivered. All three were amazed at this confession, the meaning of which they could not comprehend. Peregrine, after some pause, leaped upon Pipes, and seizing him by the throat, exclaimed, in an ecstasy of rage. “Rascal! tell me this instant what became of the letter I entrusted to your care.” The patient valet, half-strangled as he was, squirted a collection of tobacco-juice out of one corner of his mouth, and with great deliberation replied, “Why, burnt it, you wouldn’t have me to give the young woman a thing that shook all in the wind in tatters, would you?” The ladies interposed in behalf of the distressed squire, from whom, by dint of questions which he had neither art nor inclination to evade, they extorted an explanation of the whole affair.

Such ridiculous simplicity and innocence of intention appeared in the composition of his expedient, that even the remembrance of all the chagrin which it had produced, could not rouse their indignation, or enable the to resist a third eruption of laughter which they forthwith underwent. Pipes was dismissed, with many menacing injunctions to beware of such conduct for the future; Emilia stood with a confusion of joy and tenderness in her countenance; Peregrine’s eyes kindled into rapture, and, when Miss Sophy pronounced the sentence of reconciliation, advanced to his mistress, saying, “Truth is mighty, and will prevail;” then clapping her in his arms, very impudently ravished a kiss, which she had not power to refuse. Nay, such was the impulse of his joy, that he took the same freedom with the lips of Sophy, calling her his kind mediatrix and guardian angel; and behaved with such extravagance of transport, as plainly evinced the fervour and sincerity of his love.

I shall not pretend to repeat the tender protestations that were uttered on one side, or describe the bewitching glances of approbation with which they were received on the other, suffice it to say that the endearing intimacy of their former connection was instantly renewed, and Sophy, who congratulated them on the happy termination of their quarrel, favoured with their mutual confidence. In consequence of this happy pacification, they deliberated upon the means of seeing each other often; and as he could not, without some previous introduction, visit her openly at the house of her relation, they agreed to meet every afternoon in the park till the next assembly, at which he would solicit her as a partner, and she be unengaged, in expectation of his request. By this connection he would be entitled to visit her next day, and thus an avowed correspondence would of course commence. This plan was actually put in execution, and attended with a circumstance which had well-nigh produced some mischievous consequence, had not Peregrine’s good fortune been superior to his discretion.

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