The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter XXX.

Mr. Sackbut and his Pupil conspire against Peregrine, who, being apprised of their Design by his Sister, takes measures for counterworking their Scheme, which is executed by mistake upon Mr. Gauntlet — this young Soldier meets with a cordial reception from the Commodore, who generously decoys him into his own interest.

When he considered the circumstances of the ambuscade, he could not persuade himself that he had been assaulted by a common thief, because it was not to be supposed that a robber would have amused himself in pummeling rather than in rifling his prey; he therefore ascribed his misfortune to the secret enmity of some person who had a design upon his life; and, upon mature deliberation, fixed his suspicion upon Peregrine, who was the only man on earth from whom he thought he deserved such treatment. He communicated his conjecture to his pupil, who readily adopted his opinion, and advised him strenuously to revenge the wrong by a like contrivance, without seeking to make a narrower inquiry, lest his enemy should be thereby put upon his guard.

This proposal being relished, they in concert revolved the means of retorting the ambush with interest, and actually laid such a villainous plan for attacking our hero in the dark, that, had it been executed according to their intention, the young gentleman’s scheme of travelling would have been effectually marred. But their machinations were overheard by Miss Pickle, who was now in the seventeenth year of her age, and, in spite of the prejudice of education, entertained in secret a most sisterly affection for her brother Perry, though she had never spoken to him, and was deterred by the precepts, vigilance and menaces of her mother, from attempting any means of meeting him in private. She was not, however, insensible to his praise, which was loudly sounded forth in the neighbourhood; and never failed of going to church, and every other place, where she thought she might have an opportunity of seeing this amiable brother. With these sentiments it cannot be supposed that she would hear the conspiracy without emotion. She was shocked at the treacherous barbarity of Gam, and shuddered at the prospect of the danger to which Peregrine would be exposed from their malice. She durst not communicate this plot to her mother, because she was afraid that lady’s unaccountable aversion for her first-born would hinder her from interposing in his behalf, and consequently render her a sort of accomplice in the guilt of his assassins. She therefore resolved to warn Peregrine of the conspiracy, on account of which she transmitted to him in an affectionate letter, by means of a young gentleman in that neighbourhood, who made his addresses to her at that time, and who, at her request, offered his service to our hero, in defeating the projects of his adversaries.

Peregrine was startled when he read the particulars of their scheme, which was no other than an intention to sally upon him when he should be altogether unprovided against such an attack, cut off his ears, and otherwise mutilate him in such a manner that he should have no cause to be vain of his person for the future. Incensed as he was against the brutal disposition of his own father’s son, he could not help being moved at the integrity and tenderness of his sister, of whose inclinations towards him he had been hitherto kept in ignorance. He thanked the gentleman for his honourable dealing, and expressed a desire of being better acquainted with his virtues; told him that now he was cautioned, he hoped there would be no necessity for giving him any further trouble, and wrote by him a letter of acknowledgment to his sister, for whom he expressed the utmost love and regard, beseeching her to favour him with an interview before his departure, that he might indulge his fraternal fondness, and be blessed with the company and countenance of one at least belonging to his own family. Having imparted this discovery to his friend Hatchway, they came to a resolution of countermining the plan of their enemies. As they did not choose to expose themselves to the insinuations of slander, which would have exerted itself at their expense, had they, even in defending themselves, employed any harsh means of retaliation, they invented a method of disappointing and disgracing their foes, and immediately set Pipes at work to forward the preparations. Miss Pickle having described the spot which the assassins had pitched upon for the scene of their vengeance, our triumvirate intended to have placed a sentinel among the corn, who should come and give them intelligence when the ambuscade was laid; and, in consequence of that information, they would steal softly towards the place, attended by three or four of the domestics, and draw a large net over the conspirators, who, being entangled in the toil, should be disarmed, fettered, heartily scourged, and suspended between two trees in the snare, as a spectacle to all passengers that should chance to travel that way.

The plan being thus digested, and the commodore acquainted with the whole affair, the spy was sent upon duty, and everybody within-doors prepared to go forth upon the first notice. One whole evening did they spend in the most impatient expectation, but on the second the scout crept into the garrison, and assured them that he had perceived three men skulking behind the hedge, on the road that led to the public-house from which Peregrine and the lieutenant used every night to return about that hour. Upon this intelligence the confederates set out immediately with all their implements. Approaching the scene with as little noise as possible, they heard the sound of blows; and, though the night was dark, perceived a sort of tumultuous conflict on the very spot which the conspirators had possessed. Surprised at this occurrence, the meaning of which he could not comprehend, Peregrine ordered his myrmidons to halt and reconnoitre; and immediately his ears were saluted with an exclamation of “You shan’t ‘scape me, rascal.” The voice being quite familiar to him, he at once divined the cause of that confusion which they had observed; and running up to the assistance of the exclaimer, found a fellow on his knees begging his life of Mr. Gauntlet, who stood over him with a naked hanger in his hand.

Pickle instantly made himself known to his friend, who told him, that having left his horse at Tunley’s, he was, in his way to the garrison, set upon by three ruffians, one of whom being the very individual person now in his power, had come behind him, and struck with a bludgeon at his head, which, however, he missed, and the instrument descended on his left shoulder; that, upon drawing his hanger, and laying about him in the dark, the other two fled, leaving their companion, whom he had disabled, in the lurch.

Peregrine congratulated him on his safety, and having ordered Pipes to secure the prisoner, conducted Mr. Gauntlet to the garrison, where he met with a very hearty reception from the commodore, to whom he was introduced as his nephew’s intimate friend; not but that, in all likelihood, he would have abated somewhat of his hospitality had he known that he was the brother of Perry’s mistress; but her name the old gentleman had never thought of asking, when he inquired into the particulars of his godson’s amour.

The captive being examined, in presence of Trunnion and all his adherents, touching the ambuscade, owned that being in the service of Gam Pickle, he had been prevailed upon, by the solicitations of his master and the Curate, to accompany them in their expedition, and undertake the part which he had acted against the stranger, whom he and his employers mistook for Peregrine. In consideration of this frank acknowledgment, and a severe wound he had received in his right arm, they resolved to inflict no other punishment on this malefactor than to detain him all night in the garrison, and next morning carry him before a justice of the peace, to whom he repeated all he had said overnight, and with his own hand subscribed his confession, copies of which were handed about the neighbourhood, to the unspeakable confusion and disgrace of the curate and his promising pupil.

Meanwhile Trunnion treated the young soldier with uncommon marks of respect, being prepossessed in his favour by this adventure, which he had so gallantly achieved, as well as by the encomiums that Peregrine bestowed upon his valour and generosity. He liked his countenance, which was bold and hardy, admired his Herculean limbs, and delighted in asking questions concerning the service he had seen. The day after his arrival, while the conversation turned on this last subject, the commodore, taking the pipe out of his month, “I’ll tell ye what, brother,” said he; “five-and-forty years ago, when I was third lieutenant of the Warwick man-of-war, there was a very stout young fellow on board, a subaltern officer of marines; his name was not unlike your own, d’ye see, being Guntlet, with a G. I remember he and I could not abide one another at first, because, d’ye see, I was a sailor and he a landsman; till we fell in with a Frenchman, whom we engaged for eight glasses, and at length boarded and took. I was the first man that stood on the enemy’s deck, and should have come scurvily off, d’ye see, if Guntlet had not jumped to my assistance; but we soon cleared ship, and drove them to close quarters, so that they were obliged to strike; and from that day Guntlet and I were sworn brothers as long as he remained on board. He was exchanged into a marching regiment, and what became of him afterwards, Lord in heaven knows; but this I’ll say of him, whether he be dead or alive, he feared no man that ever wore a head, and was, moreover, a very hearty messmate.”

The stranger’s breast glowed at this eulogium, which was no sooner pronounced than he eagerly asked if the French ship was not the Diligence? The commodore replied, with a stare, “The very same, my lad.”—“Then,” said Gauntlet, “the person of whom you are pleased to make such honourable mention was my own father.”—“The devil he was!” cried Trunnion, shaking him by the hand: “I am rejoiced to see a son of Ned Guntlet in my house.”

This discovery introduced a thousand questions, in the course of which the old gentleman learned the situation of his friend’s family, and discharged innumerable execrations upon the ingratitude and injustice of the ministry, which had failed to provide for the son of such a brave soldier. Nor was his friendship confined to such ineffectual expressions; he that same evening signified to Peregrine a desire of doing something for his friend. This inclination was so much praised, encouraged, and promoted by his godson, and even supported by his councilor Hatchway, that our hero was empowered to present him with a sum of money sufficient to purchase a commission.

Though nothing could be more agreeable to Pickle than this permission, he was afraid that Godfrey’s scrupulous disposition would hinder him from subjecting himself to any such obligation; and therefore proposed that he should be decoyed into his own interest by a feigned story, in consequence of which he would be prevailed upon to accept of the money, as a debt which the commodore had contracted of his father at sea. Trunnion made wry faces at this expedient, the necessity of which he could not conceive, without calling in question the common sense of Gauntlet; as he took it for granted that such offers as those were not to be rejected on any consideration whatever. Besides, he could not digest an artifice, by which he himself must own that he had lived so many years without manifesting the least intention of doing justice to his creditor. All these objections, however, were removed by the zeal and rhetoric of Peregrine, who represented that it would be impossible to befriend him on any other terms; that his silence hitherto would be imputed to his want of information touching the circumstances and condition of his friend; and that his remembering and insisting upon discharging the obligation, after such an interval of time, when the whole affair was in oblivion, would be the greatest compliment he could pay to his own honour and integrity.

Thus persuaded, he took an opportunity of Gauntlet’s being alone with him to broach the affair, telling the young man that his father had advanced a sum of money for him, when they sailed together, on account of the mess, as well as to stop the mouth of a clamorous creditor at Portsmouth; and that the said sum, with interest, amounted to about four hundred pounds, which he would now, with great thankfulness, repay.

Godfrey was amazed at this declaration, and, after a considerable pause, replied, that he had never heard his parents mention any such debt; that no memorandum or voucher of it was found among his father’s papers; and that, in all probability, it must have been discharged long ago, although the commodore, in such a long course of time and hurry of occupation, might have forgotten the repayment: he therefore desired to be excused from accepting what in his own conscience he believed was not his due; and complemented the old gentleman upon his being so scrupulously just and honourable.

The soldier’s refusal, which was matter of astonishment to Trunnion, increased his inclination to assist him; and, on pretence of acquitting his own character, he urged his beneficence with such obstinacy, that Gauntlet, afraid of disobliging him, was in a manner compelled to receive a draft for the money; for which he subscribed an ample discharge, and immediately transmitted the order to his mother, whom at the same time he informed of the circumstances by which they had so unexpectedly gained this accession of fortune.

Such a piece of news could not fail of being agreeable to Mrs. Gauntlet, who by the first post wrote a polite letter of acknowledgment to the commodore; another to her own son, importing that she had already sent the draft to a friend in London, with directions to deposit it in the hands of a certain banker, for the purchase of the first ensigncy to be sold; and she took the liberty of sending a third to Peregrine, couched in very affectionate terms, with a kind postscript, signed by Miss Sophy and his charming Emily.

This affair being transacted to the satisfaction of all concerned, preparations were set on foot for the departure of our hero, on whom his uncle settled an annuity of eight hundred pounds, being little less than one half of his whole income. By this time, indeed, the old gentleman could easily afford to alienate such a part of his fortune, because he entertained little or no company, kept few servants, and was remarkably plain and frugal in his housekeeping. Mrs. Trunnion being now some years on the wrong side of fifty, her infirmities began to increase; and though her pride had suffered no diminution, her vanity was altogether subdued by her avarice.

A Swiss valet-de-chambre, who had already made the tour of Europe, was hired for the care of Peregrine’s own person. Pipes being ignorant of the French language, as well as otherwise unfit for the office of a fashionable attendant, it was resolved that he should remain in garrison; and his place was immediately supplied by a Parisian lacquey engaged at London for that purpose. Pipes did not seem to relish this disposition of things; and though he made no verbal objections to it, looked remarkably sour at his successor upon his first arrival; but this sullen fit seemed gradually to wear off; and long before his master’s departure, he had recovered his natural tranquility and unconcern.

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