The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter XXXII.

The Commodore sends a Challenge to Gamaliel, and is imposed upon by a waggish invention of the Lieutenant, Peregrine, and Gauntlet.

This affront Trunnion could by no means digest: he advised with the lieutenant upon the subject; and the result of their consultation was a defiance which the old commander sent to Pickle, demanding that he would meet him at such a place on horseback with a brace of pistols, and give satisfaction for the slight he had put upon him. Nothing could have afforded more pleasure to Jack than the acceptance of this challenge, which he delivered verbally to Mr. Gamaliel, who was called out from the club at Tunley’s for that purpose. The nature of this message had an instantaneous effect upon the constitution of the pacific Pickle, whose bowels yearned with apprehension, and underwent such violent agitation on the spot, that one would have thought the operation proceeded from some severe joke of the apothecary which he had swallowed in his beer.

The messenger, despairing of a satisfactory answer, left him in this woeful condition; and being loath to lose any opportunity of raising the laugh against the commodore, went immediately and communicated the whole affair to the young gentlemen, entreating them, for the love of God, to concert some means of bringing old Hannibal into the field. The two friends relished the proposal; and after some deliberation, it was resolved that Hatchway should tell Trunnion his invitation was accepted by Gamaliel, who would meet him at the place appointed, with his second, to-morrow in the twilight, because, if either should fall, the other would have the chance of escaping in the dark; that Godfrey should personate old Pickle’s friend, and Peregrine represent his own father; while the lieutenant should take care in loading the pistols to keep out the shot, so that no damage might be done in the rencounter.

These circumstances being adjusted, the lieutenant returned to his principal with a most thundering reply from his antagonist, whose courageous behaviour, though it could not intimidate, did not fail to astonish the commodore, who ascribed it to the spirit of his wife, which had inspired him. Trunnion that instant desired his counsellor to prepare his cartridge-box, and order the quietest horse in the stable to be kept ready saddled for the occasion; his eye seemed to lighten with alacrity and pleasure at the prospect of smelling gunpowder once more before his death; and when Jack advised him to make his will, in case of accident, he rejected his counsel with disdain, saying, “What! dost thou think that Hawser Trunnion, who has stood the fire of so many floating batteries, runs any risk from the lousy pops of a landman? Thou shalt see, thou shalt see, how I’ll make him lower his topsails.”

Next day Peregrine and the soldier provided themselves with horses at the public-house, from whence, at the destined hour, they rode to the field of battle, each of them being muffed in a great coat, which, with the dimness of the light, effectually shielded them from the knowledge of the one-eyed commander, who, having taken horse, on pretence of enjoying the fresh air, soon appeared with Hatchway in his rear. When they came within sight of each other, the seconds advanced, in order to divide the ground, and regulate the measures of the combat; when it was determined by mutual consent, that two pistols should be discharged on each side, and that if neither should prove decisive, recourse must be had to the broad-swords, in order to ascertain the victory. These articles being settled, the opponents rode forward to their respective stations, when Peregrine, cocking his pistol, and presenting, counterfeited his father’s voice, bidding Trunnion take care of his remaining eye.

The commodore took his advice, being unwilling to hazard his daylight, and very deliberately opposed the patched side of his face to the muzzle of his antagonist’s piece, desiring him to do his duty without farther jaw. The young man accordingly fired; and the distance being small, the wad of his pistol took place with a smart stroke on the forehead of Trunnion. Mistaking it for a ball, which he thought lodged in his brain, spurred up his steed in a state of desperation towards his antagonist, and holding his piece within two yards of his body, let it off, without any regard to the laws of battle. Surprised and enraged to see it had made no impression, he halloed, in a terrible tone, “O! d-ye, you have your netting stuffed, I see;” and advancing, he discharged his second pistol so near his godson’s head, that had he not been defended by his great coat, the powder must have scorched his face. Having thus thrown away his fire, he remained at the mercy of Peregrine, who clapping the piece he had in reserve to his head, commanded him to beg his life, and ask pardon for his presumption. The commodore made no reply to this imperious injunction; but, dropping his pistol, and unsheathing his broad-sword in an instant, attacked our hero with such incredible agility, that if he had not made shift to ward off the stroke with his piece, the adventure, in all likelihood, would have turned out a very tragical joke.

Peregrine finding it would be in vain for him to think of drawing his weapon, or of standing on the defensive against this furious aggressor, very fairly clapped spurs to his nag, and sought his safety in flight. Trunnion pursued him with infinite eagerness; and his steed being the better of the two, would have overtaken the fugitive to his peril, had he not been unfortunately encountered by the boughs of a tree, that happened to stand on his blind side, and incommoded him so much, that he was fain to quit his sword, and lay hold on the mane in order to maintain his seat. Perry perceiving his disaster, wheeled about, and now finding leisure to produce his weapon, returned upon his disarmed foe, brandishing his Ferrara, threatening to make him shorter by the head if he would not immediately crave quarter and yield. There was nothing farther from the intention of the old gentleman than such submission, which he flatly refused to pay, alleging that he had already compelled his enemy to clap on all sails, and that his own present misfortune was owing to accident; all one as if a ship should be attacked, after she had been obliged to heave her guns overboard in a storm.

Before Peregrine had time to answer this remonstrance, the lieutenant interposed, and taking cognizance of the case, established a truce, until he and the other second should discuss and decide upon the merits of the case. They accordingly retired to a small distance; and after having conferred a few minutes, Hatchway returned and pronounced the commodore vanquished by the chance of war.

Never was rage more than that which took possession of old Hannibal, when he heard the sentence: it was some time before he could utter aught, except the reproachful expression, “You lie!” which he repeated more than twenty times, in a sort of delirious insensibility. When he recovered the further use of speech, he abused the arbitrators with such bitter invectives, renouncing their sentence, and appealing to another trial, that the confederates began to repent of having carried the joke so far; and Peregrine, in order to appease his choler, owned himself overcome.

This acknowledgment calmed the tumult of his wrath, though he could not for some days forgive the lieutenant; and the two young gentlemen rode back to Tunley’s, while Hatchway, taking the commodore’s horse by the bridle, reconducted him to his mansion, growling all the way to Jack for his unjust and unfriendly decree; though he could not help observing, as how he had made his words good, in making his adversary to strike his top-sails: “And yet,” said he, “before God! I think the fellow’s head is made of a wood-pack: for my shot rebounded from his face like a wad of spun-yarn from the walls of a ship. But if so be that son of a b — of a tree hadn’t come athwart my weather-bow, d’ye see, I’ll be d — d if I hadn’t snapt his main-yard in the slings, and mayhap let out his bulge-water into the bargain.” He seemed particularly vain of this exploit, which dwelt upon his imagination, and was cherished as the child of his old age; for though he could not with decency rehearse it to the young men and his wife at supper, he gave hints of his own manhood, even at these years, and attested Hatchway as a voucher for his mettle; while the triumvirate, diverted by his vanity, enjoyed in secret the success of their imposition.

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