The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter XXIX.

He projects a plan of Revenge, which is executed against the Curate.

Our hero, exasperated at the villainy of the curate, in the treacherous misrepresentation he had made of this encounter, determined to rise upon him a method of revenge, which should be not only effectual but also unattended any bad consequence to himself. For this purpose he and Hatchway, to whom he imparted his plan, went to the ale-house one evening, and called for an empty room, knowing there was no other but that which they had chosen for the scene of action. This apartment was a sort of a parlour that fronted the kitchen, with a window towards the yard, where after they had sat some time, the lieutenant found means to amuse the landlord in discourse, while Peregrine, stepping out into the yard, by the talent of mimickry, which he possessed in a surprising degree, counterfeited a dialogue between the curate and Tunley’s wife. This reaching the ears of the publican, for whose hearing it was calculated, inflamed his naturally jealous disposition to such a degree, that he could not conceal his emotion, but made a hundred efforts to quit the room; while the lieutenant, smoking his pipe with great gravity, as if he neither heard what passed nor took notice of the landlord’s disorder, detained him on the spot by a succession of questions, which he could not refuse to answer, though he stood sweating with agony all the time, stretching his neck every instant towards the window through which the voices were conveyed, scratching his head, and exhibiting sundry other symptoms of impatience and agitation. At length the supposed conversation came to such a pitch of amorous complaisance, that the husband, quite frantic with his imaginary disgrace, rushed out of the door crying, “Coming, sir;” but as he was obliged to make a circuit round one-half of the house, Peregrine had got in by the window before Tunley arrived in the yard.

According to the feigned intelligence he had received, he ran directly to the barn, in expectation of making some very extraordinary discovery; and having employed some minutes in rummaging the straw to no purpose, returned in a state of distraction to the kitchen, just as his wife chanced to enter at the other door. The circumstance of her appearance confirmed him in the opinion that the deed was done. As the disease of being henpecked was epidemic in the parish, he durst not express the least hint of his uneasiness to her, but resolved to take vengeance on the libidinous priest, who he imagined had corrupted the chastity of his spouse.

The two confederates, in order to be certified that their scheme had taken effect, as well as to blow up the flame which they had kindled, called for Tunley, in whose countenance they could easily discern his confusion. Peregrine, desiring him to sit down and drink a glass with them, began to interrogate him about his family, and, among other things, asked him how long he had been married to that handsome wife. This question, which was put with an arch significance of look, alarmed the publican, who began to fear that Pickle had overheard his dishonour; and this suspicion was not at all removed when the lieutenant, with a sly regard, pronounced “Tunley warn’t you noosed by the curate?” “Yes, is was,” replied the landlord, with an eagerness and perplexity of tone, as if he thought the lieutenant knew that thereby hang a tale: and Hatchway supported the suspicion by “Nay, as for that matter, the curate may be a very sufficient man in his way.” This transition from his wife to the curate convinced him that his shame was known to his guests; and, in the transport of his indignation, he pronounced with great emphasis, “A sufficient man! Odds heart! I believe they are all wolves in sheep’s clothing. I wish to God I could see the day, master, when there shall not be a priest, an exciseman, or a custom-house officer in the kingdom. As for that fellow of a curate, if I do catch him — It don’t signify talking — But, by the Lord! — Gentlemen, my service to you.”

The associates being satisfied, by these abrupt insinuations, that they had so far succeeded in their aim, waited with impatience two or three days in expectation of hearing that Tunley had fallen upon some method of being revenged for this imaginary wrong; but finding that either his invention was too shallow, or his inclination too languid, to gratify their desire of his own accord, they determined to bring the affair to such a crisis, that he should not be able to withstand the opportunity of executing his vengeance. With this view, they one evening hired a boy to run to Mr. Pickle’s house, and tell the curate that Mrs. Tunley being taken suddenly ill, her husband desired he would come immediately and pray with her. They had taken possession of a room in the house and Hatchway engaging the landlord in conversation, Peregrine, in his return from the yard, observed, as if by accident, that the parson was gone into the kitchen, in order, as he supposed, to catechise Tunley’s wife.

The publican started at this intelligence, and, under pretence of serving another company in the next room, went out to the barn, where, arming himself with a flail, he repaired to a lane through which the curate was under a necessity of passing in his way home. There he lay in ambush with fell intent; and when the supposed author of his shame arrived, greeted him in the dark with such a salutation as forced him to stagger backward three paces at least. If the second application had taken effect, in all probability that spot would have been the boundary of the parson’s mortal peregrination; but luckily for him, his antagonist was not expert in the management of his weapon, which, by a twist of the thong that connected the legs, instead of pitching upon the head of the astonished curate, descended in an oblique direction on his own pate, with such a swing that the skull actually rang like an apothecary’s mortar, and ten thousand lights seemed to dance before his eyes. The curate recollecting himself during the respite he obtained from this accident, and believing his aggressor to be some thief who lurked in that place for prey, resolved to make a running fight, until he should arrive within cry of his habitation. With this design he raised up his cudgel for the defence of his head, and, betaking himself to his heels, began to roar for help with the lungs of a Stentor. Tunley, throwing away the flail, which he durst no longer trust with the execution of his revenge, pursued the fugitive with all the speed he could exert; and the other, either unnerved by fear or stumbling over a stone, was overtaken before he had run a hundred paces. He no sooner felt the wind of the publican’s fist that whistled round his ears, than he fell flat upon the earth at full length, and the cudgel flew from his unclasping hand; when Tunley, springing like a tiger on his back, rained such a shower of blows upon his carcase, that he imagined himself under the discipline of ten pairs of fists at least; yet the imaginary cuckold, not satisfied with annoying the priest in this manner, laid hold of one of his ears with his teeth, and bit so unmercifully, that the curate was found almost entranced with pain by two labourers, at whose approach the assailant retreated unperceived.

The lieutenant had posted himself at the window, in order to see the landlord at his first return: and no sooner perceived him enter the yard, than he called him into the apartment, impatient to learn the effects of their stratagem. Tunley obeyed the summons, and appeared before his guests in all the violence of rage, disorder, and fatigue: his nostrils were dilated more than one-half beyond their natural capacity, his eyes rolled, his teeth chattered, he snored in breathing as if he had been oppressed by the nightmare, and streams of sweat flowed down each side of his forehead.

Peregrine, affecting to start at the approach of such an uncouth figure, asked if he had been with a spirit; upon which he answered, with great vehemence, “Spirit! No, no, master, I have had a roll and tumble with the flesh. A dog. I’ll teach him to come a caterwauling about my doors.” Guessing from this reply, that his aim was accomplished, and curious to know the particulars of the rencounter, “Well, then,” said the youth, “I hope you have prevailed against the flesh, Tunley.”—“Yes, yes,” answered the publican, “I have cooled his capissens, as the saying is: I have played such a tune about his ears, that I’ll be bound he shan’t long for music this month. A goatish, man-faced rascal! Why, he’s a perfect parish bull, as I hope to live.”

Hatchway, observing that he seemed to have made a stout battle, desired he would sit down and recover wind; and after he had swallowed a brace of bumpers, his vanity prompted him to expatiate upon his own exploit in such a manner, that the confederates, without seeming to know the curate was his antagonist, became acquainted with every circumstance of the ambuscade.

Tunley had scarce got the better of his agitation, when his wife, entering the room, told them, by way of news, that some waggish body had sent Mr. Sackbut the curate to pray with her. This name inflamed the husband’s choler anew; and, forgetting all his complaisance for his spouse, he replied with a rancorous grin, “Add rabbit him! I doubt not but you found his admonitions deadly comfortable!” The landlady, looking at her vassal with a sovereign aspect, “What crotchets,” said she, “have you got in your fool’s head, I trow? I know no business you have to sit here like a gentleman with your arms akimbo, there’s another company in the house to be served.” The submissive husband took the hint, and without further expostulation sneaked out of the room.

Next day it was reported that Mr. Sackbut had been waylaid and almost murdered by robbers, and an advertisement was pasted upon the church-door, offering a reward to any person that should discover the assassin; but he reaped no satisfaction from this expedient, and was confined to his chamber a whole fortnight, by the bruises he had received.

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