The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter XXXVI.

He makes a fruitless Attempt in Gallantry — Departs for Boulogne, where he spends the evening with certain English Exiles.

Having thus yielded to the hand of power, he inquired if there was any other English company in the house; when, understanding that a gentleman and lady lodged in the next apartment, and had bespoke a post-chaise for Paris, he ordered Pipes to ingratiate himself with their footman, and, if possible, learn their names and condition, while he and Mr. Jolter, attended by the lacquey, took a turn round the ramparts, and viewed the particulars of the fortification.

Tom was so very successful in his inquiry, that when his master returned he was able to give him a very satisfactory account of his fellow-lodgers, in consequence of having treated his brother with a bottle of wine. The people in question were a gentleman and his lady lately arrived from England, in their way to Paris. The husband was a man of good fortune, who had been a libertine in his youth, and a professed declaimer against matrimony. He wanted neither sense nor experience, and piqued himself in particular upon his art of avoiding the snares of the female sex, in which he pretended to be deeply versed; but, notwithstanding all his caution and skill, he had lately fallen a sacrifice to the attractions of an oyster-wench, who had found means to decoy him into the bands of wedlock; and, in order to evade the compliments and congratulations of his friends and acquaintance, he had come so far on a tour to Paris, where he intended to initiate his spouse in the beau monde. In the mean time, he chose to live upon the reserve, because her natural talents had as yet received but little cultivation; and he had not the most implicit confidence in her virtue and discretion, which, it seems, had like to have yielded to the addresses of an officer at Canterbury, who had made shift to insinuate himself into her acquaintance and favour.

Peregrine’s curiosity being inflamed by this information, he lounged about the yard, in hopes of seeing the dulcinea who had captivated the old bachelor; and at length observing her at a window, took the liberty of bowing to her with great respect. She returned the compliment with a curtsy, and appeared so decent in her dress and manner, that unless he had been previously informed of her former life and conversation, he never would have dreamt that her education was different from that of other ladies of fashion; so easy is it to acquire that external deportment on which people of condition value themselves so much. Not but that Mr. Pickle pretended to distinguish a certain vulgar audacity in her countenance, which in a lady of birth and fortune would have passed for an agreeable vivacity that enlivens the aspect, and gives poignancy to every feature; but as she possessed a pair of fine eyes, and a clear complexion overspread with a glow of health, which never fails of recommending the owner, he could not help gazing at her with desire, and forming the design of making a conquest of her heart. With this view, he sent his compliments to her husband whose name was Hornbeck, with an intimation that he proposed to set out the next day for Paris, and as he understood that he was resolved upon the same journey, he should be extremely glad of his company on the road, if he was not better engaged. Hornbeck, who in all probability did not choose to accommodate his wife with a squire of our hero’s appearance, sent a civil answer to his message, professing infinite mortification at his being unable to embrace the favour of this kind offer, by reason of the indisposition of his wife, who, he was afraid, would not be in a condition for some days to bear the fatigue of travelling.

This rebuff, which Peregrine ascribed to the husband’s jealousy, stifled his project in embryo: he ordered his French servant to take a place for himself in the diligence, where all his luggage was stowed, except a small trunk, with some linen and other necessaries, that was fixed upon the post-chaise which they hired of the landlord; and early next morning he and Mr. Jolter departed from Calais, attended by his valet-de-chambre and Pipes on horseback. They proceeded without any accident as far as Boulogne, where they breakfasted, and visited old Father Graham, a Scottish gentleman of the governor’s acquaintance, who had lived as a Capuchin in that place for the space of threescore years, and during that period conformed to all the austerities of the order with the most rigorous exactness, being equally remarkable for the frankness of his conversation, the humanity of his disposition, and the simplicity of his manners. From Boulogne they took their departure about noon; and as they proposed to sleep that night at Abbeville, commanded the postilion to drive with extra ordinary speed. Perhaps it was well for his cattle that the axletree gave way and the chaise of course overturned, before they had travelled one-third part of the stage.

This accident compelled them to return to the place from whence they had set out; and as they could not procure another conveyance, they found themselves under the necessity of staying till their chaise could be refitted. Understanding that this operation would detain them a whole day, our young gentleman had recourse to his patience, and demanded to know what they could have for dinner; the garcon or waiter, thus questioned, vanished in a moment, and immediately they were surprised with the appearance of a strange figure, which, from the extravagance of its dress and gesticulation, Peregrine mistook for a madman of the growth of France. This phantom (which, by the bye, happened to be no other than the cook) was a tall, long-legged, meagre, swarthy fellow, that stooped very much; his cheek-bones were remarkably raised, his nose bent into the shape and size of a powder-horn, and the sockets of his eyes as raw round the edges as if the skin had been pared off. On his head he wore a handkerchief, which had once been white, and now served to cover the upper part of a black periwig, to which was attached a bag at least a foot square, with a solitaire and rose that stuck upon each side of his ear; so that he looked like a criminal on the pillory. His back was accommodated with a linen waistcoat, his hands adorned with long ruffles of the same piece, his middle was girded by an apron, tucked up, that it might not conceal his white silk stockings, rolled; and at his entrance he brandished a bloody weapon full three feet in length.

Peregrine, when he first saw him approach in this menacing attitude, put himself upon his guard; but being informed of his quality, perused his bill of fare, and having bespoken three or four things for dinner, walked out with Mr. Jolter to view both towns, which they had not leisure to consider minutely before. In their return from the harbour they met with four or five gentlemen, all of whom seemed to look with an air of dejection, and perceiving our hero and his governor to be English by their dress, bowed with great respect as they passed. Pickle, who was naturally compassionate, felt an emotion of sympathy; and seeing a person, who by his habit he judged to be one of their servants, accosted him in English, and asked who the gentlemen were. The lacquey gave him to understand that they were his own countrymen, called from their native homes in consequence of their adherence to an unfortunate and ruined cause; and that they were gone to the sea-side, according to their daily practice, in order to indulge their longing eyes with a prospect of the white cliffs of Albion, which they must never more approach.

Though our young gentleman differed widely from them in point of political principles, he was not one of those enthusiasts who look upon every schism from the established articles of faith as damnable, and exclude the sceptic from every benefit of humanity and Christian forgiveness: he could easily comprehend how a man of the most unblemished morals might, by the prejudice of education, or indispensable attachments, be engaged in such a blameworthy and pernicious undertaking; and thought that they had already suffered severely for their imprudence. He was affected with the account of their diurnal pilgrimage to the sea-side, which he considered as a pathetic proof of their affliction, and invested Mr. Jolter with the agreeable office of going to them with a compliment in his name, and begging the honour of drinking a glass with them in the evening. They accepted the proposal with great satisfaction and respectful acknowledgment, and in the afternoon waited upon the kind inviter, who treated them with coffee, and would have detained them to supper, but they entreated the favour of his company at the house which they frequented so earnestly, that he yielded to their solicitations, and, with his governor, was conducted by them to the place, where they had provided an elegant repast, and regaled them with some of the best claret in France.

It was easy for them to perceive that their principal guest was no favourer of their state maxims, and therefore they industriously avoided every subject of conversation which could give the least offence: not but they lamented their own situation, which cut them off from all their dearest connections, and doomed them to perpetual banishment from their families and friends: but they did not, even by the most distant hint, impeach the justice of that sentence by which they were condemned; although one among them, who seemed to be about the age of thirty, wept bitterly over his misfortune, which had involved a beloved wife and three children in misery and distress; and, in the impatience of his grief, cursed his own fate with frantic imprecations. His companions, with a view of beguiling his sorrow, and manifesting their own hospitality at the same time, changed the topic of discourse, and circulated the bumpers with great assiduity; so that all their cares were overwhelmed and forgotten, several French drinking catches were sung, and mirth and good-fellowship prevailed.

In the midst of this elevation, which commonly unlocks the most hidden sentiment, and dispels every consideration of caution and constraint, one of the entertainers, being more intoxicated than his fellows, proposed a toast, to which Peregrine, with some warmth, excepted as an unmannerly insult. The other maintained his proposition with indecent heat; and the dispute beginning to grow very serious, the company interposed, and gave judgment against their friend, who was so keenly reproached and rebuked for his impolite behaviour, that he retired in high dudgeon, threatening to relinquish their society, and branding them with the appellation apostates from the common cause. Mortified at the behaviour of their companion, those that remained were earnest in their apologies to their guests, whom they besought to forgive his intemperance, assuring them with great confidence that he would, upon the recovery of his reflection, wait upon them in person, and ask pardon for the umbrage he had given. Pickle was satisfied with their remonstrances, resumed his good humour, and the night being pretty far advanced resisted all their importunities with which he was entreated to see another bottle go round, and was escorted to his own lodgings more than half-seas over. Next morning, about eight o’clock, he was waked by his valet-de-chambre, who told him that two of the gentlemen with whom he had spent the evening were in the house, and desired the favour of being admitted into his chamber. He could not conceive the meaning of this extraordinary visit; and, ordering his man to show them enter into his apartment, beheld the person who had affronted him enter with the gentleman who had reprehended his rudeness.

He who had given the offence, after having made an apology for disturbing Mr. Pickle, told him that his friend there present had been with him early that morning, and proposed the alternative of either fighting with him immediately, or coming to beg pardon for his unmannerly deportment over-night: that though he had courage enough to face any man in the field in a righteous cause, he was not so brutal as to disobey the dictates of his own duty and reflection, in consequence of which, and not out of any regard to the other’s menaces, which he despised, he had now taken the liberty of interrupting his repose, that he might, as soon as possible, atone for the injury he had done him, which he protested was the effect of intoxication alone, and begged his forgiveness accordingly. Our hero accepted of this acknowledgment very graciously; thanked the other gentleman for the gallant part he had acted in his behalf; and perceiving that his companion was a little irritated at his officious interposition, effected a reconciliation, by convincing him that what he had done was for the honour of the company. He then kept them to his breakfast; expressed a desire of seeing their situation altered for the better; and the chaise being repaired, took his leave of his entertainers, who came to wish him a good journey, and with his attendants left Boulogne for the second time.

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