The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter XXXV.

He embarks for France — Is overtaken by a Storm — Is surprised with the Appearance of Pipes — Lands at Calais, and has an Affray with the Officers at the Custom-house.

Scarce had the vessel proceeded two leagues on the passage, when, the wind shifting, blew directly in her teeth; so that they were obliged to haul upon a wind, and alter their course. The sea running pretty high at the same time, our hero, who was below in his cabin, began to be squeamish, and, in consequence of the skipper’s advice, went upon deck for the comfort of his stomach; while the governor, experienced in these disasters, slipped into bed, where he lay at his ease, amusing himself with a treatise on the cycloid, with algebraical demonstrations, which never failed to engage his imagination in the most agreeable manner.

In the mean time the wind increased to a very hard gale, the vessel pitched with great violence, the sea washed over the deck, the master was alarmed, the crew were confounded, the passengers were overwhelmed with sickness and fear, and universal distraction ensued. In the midst of this uproar, Peregrine holding fast by the taffrail, and looking ruefully ahead, the countenance of Pipes presented itself to his astonished view, rising, as it were, from the hold of the ship. At first he imagined it was a fear-formed shadow of his own brain; though he did not long remain in this error, but plainly perceived that it was no other than the real person of Thomas, who, jumping on the quarter-deck, took charge of the helm, and dictated to the sailors with as much authority as if he had been commander of the ship. The skipper looked upon him as an angel sent to his assistance; and the crew soon discovered him to be a thoroughbred seaman, notwithstanding his livery-frock; obeyed his orders with such alacrity, that, in a little time, the confusion vanished; and every necessary step was taken to weather the gale.

Our young gentleman immediately conceived the meaning of Tom’s appearance on board; and when the tumult was a little subsided, went up, and encouraged him to exert himself for the preservation of the ship, promising to take him again into his service, from which he should never be dismissed, except at his own desire. This assurance had a surprising effect upon Pipes, who, though he made no manner of reply, thrust the helm into the master’s hands, saying, “Here, you old bumboat-woman, take hold of the tiller, and keep her thus, boy, thus;” and skipped about the vessel, trimming the sails, and managing the ropes with such agility and skill, that everybody on deck stood amazed at his dexterity.

Mr. Jolter was far from being unconcerned at the uncommon motion of the vessel, the singing of the wind, and the uproar which he heard about him: he looked towards the cabin-door with the most fearful expectation, in hope of seeing some person who could give some account of the weather, and what was doing upon deck; but not a soul appeared, and he was too well acquainted with the disposition of his own bowels to make the least alteration in his attitude. When he bad lain a good while in all the agony of suspense, the boy tumbled headlong into his apartment, with such noise, that he believed the mast had gone by the board; and starting upright in his bed, asked, with all the symptoms of horror, what was the cause of that disturbance? The boy, half-stunned by his fall, answered in a dolorous tone, “I’m come to put up the dead-lights.” At the mention of dead-lights, the meaning of which he did not understand, the poor governor’s heart died within him: he shivered with despair, his recollection forsaking him, he fell upon his knees in the bed, and, fixing his eyes upon the book which was in his hand, began to pronounce aloud with great fervour, “The time of a complete oscillation in the cycloid, is to the time in which a body would fall through the axis of the cycloid DV, as the circumference of a circle to its diameter.”

He would in all likelihood have proceeded with the demonstration of this proposition, had he not been seized with such a qualm as compelled him to drop the book, and accommodate himself to the emergency of his distemper: he therefore stretched himself at full length, and, putting up ejaculations to Heaven, began to prepare himself for his latter end, when all of a sudden the noise above was intermitted; and as he could not conceive the cause of this tremendous silence, he imagined that either the men were washed overboard, or that, despairing of safety, they had ceased to oppose the tempest. While he was harrowed by this miserable uncertainty, which, however, was not altogether unenlightened by some scattered rays of hope, the master entered the cabin: then he asked, with a voice half-extinguished by fear, how matters went upon deck; and the skipper, with a large bottle of brandy applied to his mouth, answered, in a hollow tone, “All’s over now, master.” Upon which, Mr. Jolter, giving himself over for lost, exclaimed, with the utmost horror, “Lord have mercy upon us! Christ have mercy upon us;” and repeated this supplication, as it were mechanically, until the master undeceived him by explaining the meaning of what he had said, and assuring him that the squall was over.

Such a sudden transition from fear to joy occasioned a violent agitation both in his mind and body; and it was a full quarter of an hour, before he recovered the right use of his organs, By this time the weather cleared up, the wind began to blow again from the right corner, and the spires of Calais appeared at the distance of five leagues; so that the countenances of all on board were lighted up with joyous expectation and Peregrine, venturing to go down into the cabin, comforted his governor with an account of the happy turn of their affairs.

Jolter, transported with the thought of a speedy landing, began to launch out in praise of that country for which they were bound. he observed, that France was the land of politeness and hospitality, which were conspicuous in the behaviour of all ranks and degrees, from the peer to the peasant; that a gentleman and a foreigner, far from being insulted and imposed upon by the lower class of people, as in England, was treated with the utmost reverence, candour, and respect; and their fields were fertile, their climate pure healthy, their farmers rich and industrious, the subjects in general the happiest of men. He would have prosecuted this favourite theme still farther, had not his pupil been obliged to run upon deck, in consequence of certain warnings he received from his stomach.

The skipper seeing his condition, very honestly reminded him of the cold ham and fowls, with a basket of wine which he had ordered to be sent on board, and asked if he would have the cloth laid below. He could not have chosen a more seasonable opportunity of manifesting his own disinterestedness. Peregrine made wry faces at the mention of food, bidding him, for Heaven’s sake, talk no more on that subject. He then descended into the cabin, and put the same question to Mr. Jolter, who, he knew, entertained the same abhorrence for his proposal; and meeting with the like reception from him, went between decks, and repeated his courteous proffer to the valet-de-chambre and lacquey, who lay sprawling in all the pangs of a double evacuation, and rejected his civility with the most horrible loathing. Thus baffled in all his kind endeavours, he ordered the boy to secure the provision in one of his own lockers, according to the custom of the ship.

It being low water when they arrived on the French coast, the vessel could not enter the harbour, and they were obliged to bring to, and wait for a boat, which in less than half-an-hour came alongside from the shore. Mr. Jolter now came upon deck, and, snuffing up the French air with symptoms of infinite satisfaction, asked of the boatmen, with the friendly appellation of Mes enfants, what they demanded for transporting him and his pupil with their baggage to the pier. But how was he disconcerted, when those polite, candid, reasonable watermen demanded a louis d’or for that service! Peregrine, with a sarcastic sneer, observed, that he already began to perceive the justice of his encomiums on the French; and the disappointed governor could say nothing in his own vindication, but that they were debauched by their intercourse with the inhabitants of Dover. His pupil, however, was so much offended at their extortion, that he absolutely refused to employ them, even when they abated one half in their demand, and swore he would stay on board till the packet should be able to enter the harbour, rather than encourage such imposition.

The master, who in all probability had some sort of fellow-feeling with the boatmen, in vain represented that he could not with safety lie-to or anchor upon a lee-shore: our hero, having consulted Pipes, answered, that he had hired his vessel to transport him to Calais, and that he would oblige him to perform what he had undertaken. The skipper, very much mortified at this peremptory reply, which was not over and above agreeable to Mr. Jolter, dismissed the boat, notwithstanding the solicitations and condescension of the watermen. Running a little farther in shore, they came to an anchor, and waited till there was water enough to float them over the bar. Then they stood into the harbour; and our gentleman, with his attendants and baggage, were landed on the pier by the sailors, whom he liberally rewarded for their trouble.

He was immediately plied by a great number of porters, who, like so many hungry wolves, laid hold on his baggage, and began to carry it off piecemeal, without his order or direction. Incensed at this officious insolence, he commanded them to desist, with many oaths and opprobrious terms that his anger suggested; and perceiving, that one of them did not seem to pay any regard to what he said, but marched off with his burthen, he snatched a cudgel out of his lacquey’s hand, and overtaking the fellow in a twinkling, brought him to the ground with one blow. He was instantly surrounded by the whole congregation of this canaille, who resented the injury which their brother had sustained, and would have taken immediate satisfaction on the aggressor, had not Pipes, seeing his master involved, brought the whole crew to his assistance, and exerted himself so manfully that the enemy were obliged to retreat with many marks of defeat, and menaces of interesting the commandant in their quarrel. Jolter, who knew and dreaded the power of the French governor, began to shake with apprehension, when he heard their repeated threats, but they durst not apply to this magistrate, who, upon a fair representation of the case, would have punished them severely for their rapacious and insolent behaviour. Peregrine, without further molestation, availed himself of his own attendants, who shouldered his baggage and followed him to the gate, where they were stopped by the sentinels until their names should be registered.

Mr. Jolter, who had undergone this examination before, resolved to profit by his experience, and cunningly represented his pupil as a young English lord. This intimation, supported by the appearance of his equipage, was no sooner communicated to the officer, than he turned out the guard, and ordered his soldiers to rest upon their arms, while his lordship passed in great state to the Lion d’Argent, where he took up his lodging for the night, resolving to set out for Paris next morning in a post-chaise.

The governor triumphed greatly in this piece of complaisance and respect with which they had been honoured, and resumed his beloved topic of discourse, in applauding the method and subordination of the French government, which was better calculated for maintaining order and protecting the people, than any constitution upon earth. Of their courteous attention to strangers, there needed no other proof than the compliment which had been paid to them, together with the governor’s connivance at Peregrine’s employing his own servants in carrying the baggage to the inn, contrary to the privilege of the inhabitants.

While he expatiated with a remarkable degree of self-indulgence on this subject, the valet-de-chambre coming into the room interrupted his harangue by telling his master that their trunks and portmanteaus must be carried to the custom-house, in order to be searched, and sealed with lead, which must remain untouched until their arrival at Paris.

Peregrine made no objection to this practice, which was in itself reasonable enough; but when he understood that the gate was besieged by another multitude of porters, who insisted upon their right of carrying the goods, and also of fixing their own price, he absolutely refused to comply with their demand. Nay, he chastised some of the most clamorous among them with his foot, and told them, that if their custom-house officers had a mind to examine his baggage, they might come to the inn for that purpose. The valet-de-chambre was abashed at this boldness of his master’s behaviour, which the lacquey, shrugging up his shoulders, observed, was bien a l’Anglaise; while the governor represented it as an indignity to the whole nation, and endeavoured to persuade his pupil to comply with the custom of the place. But Peregrine’s natural haughtiness of disposition hindered him from giving ear to Jolter’s wholesome advice; and in less than half-an-hour they observed a file of musketeers marching up to the gate. At sight of this detachment the tutor trembled, the valet grew pale, and the lacquey crossed himself; but our hero, without exhibiting any other symptoms than those of indignation, met them on the threshold, and with a ferocious air demanded their business. The corporal who commanded the file answered, with great deliberation, that he had orders to convey his baggage to the custom-house; and seeing the trunks standing in the entry, placed his men between them and the owner, while the porters that followed took them up, and proceeded to the douane without opposition.

Pickle was not mad enough to dispute the authority of this message; but in order to gall and specify his contempt for those who brought it, he called aloud to his valet, desiring him, in French, to accompany his things, and see that none of his linen and effects should be stolen by the searchers. The corporal, mortified at this satirical insinuation, darted a look of resentment at the author, as if he had been interested for the glory of his nation; and told him that he could perceive he was a stranger in France, or else he would have saved himself the trouble of such a needless precaution.

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