The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter XXXVIII.

They set out in company, breakfast at Abbeville, dine at Amiens and, about eleven o’clock, arrive at Chantilly where Peregrine executes a Plan which he had concerted upon Hornbeck.

The whole company by agreement rose and departed before day, and breakfasted at Abbeville, where they became acquainted with the finesse of their Bernay landlord, who had imposed upon them, in affirming that they would not have been admitted after the gates were shut. From thence they proceeded to Amiens, where they dined, and were pestered by begging friars; and the roads being deep, it was eleven o’clock at night before they reached Chantilly, where they found supper already dressed, in consequence of having despatched the valet-de-chambre before them on horseback.

The constitution of Hornbeck being very much impaired by a life of irregularity, he found himself so fatigued with his day’s journey, which amounted to upwards of a hundred miles, that when he sat down at table, he could scarce sit upright; and in less than three minutes began to nod in his chair. Peregrine, who had foreseen and provided for this occasion, advised him to exhilarate his spirits with a glass of wine; and the proposal being embraced, tipped his valet-de-chambre the wink, who, according to the instructions he had received, qualified the Burgundy with thirty drops of laudanum, which this unfortunate husband swallowed in one glass. The dose, cooperating with his former drowsiness, lulled him so fast to sleep, as it were instantaneously, that it was found necessary to convey him to his own chamber, where his footman undressed and put him to bed: nor was Jolter (naturally of a sluggish disposition) able to resist his propensity to sleep, without suffering divers dreadful yawns, which encouraged his pupil to administer the same dose to him, which had operated so successfully upon the other Argus. This cordial had not such gentle effect upon the rugged organs of Jolter as upon the more delicate nerves of Hornbeck; but discovered itself in certain involuntary startings, and convulsive motions in the muscles of his face; and when his nature at length yielded to the power of this medicine, he sounded the trumpet so loud through his nostrils, that our adventurer was afraid the noise would wake his other patient, and consequently the accomplishment of his aim. The governor was therefore committed to the care of Pipes, who lugged him into the next room, and having stripped off his clothes, tumbled him into his nest, while the two lovers remained at full liberty to indulge their mutual passion.

Peregrine, in the impatience of his inclination, would have finished the fate of Hornbeck immediately; but his inamorata disapproved of his intention, and represented that their being together by themselves for any length of time would be observed by her servant, who was kept as a spy upon her actions; so that they had recourse to another scheme which was executed in this manner. He conducted her into her own apartment in presence of her footman, who lighted them thither, and wishing her good rest, returned to his own chamber, where he waited till everything was quiet in the house; then stealing softly to her door, which had been left open for his admission in the dark, he found the husband still secure in the embraces of sleep, and the lady in a loose gown, ready to seal his happiness. He conveyed her to his own chamber; but his guilty passion was not gratified.

The opium which had been given to Jolter, together with the wine he had drunk, produced such a perturbation in his fancy, that he was visited with horrible dreams; and, among other miserable situations, imagined himself in danger of perishing in the flames, which he thought had taken hold on his apartment. This vision made such an impression upon his faculties, that he alarmed the whole house with repeated cries of “Fire! fire!” and even leaped out of his bed, though he still continued fast asleep. The lovers were very disagreeably disturbed by this dreadful exclamation; and Mrs. Hornbeck, running in great confusion to the door, had the mortification to see the footman, with a light in his hand, enter her husband’s chamber, in order to give him notice of this accident. She knew that she would be instantly missed, and could easily divine the consequence, unless her invention could immediately trump up some plausible excuse for her absence.

Women are naturally fruitful of expedients in cases of such emergency: she employed but a few seconds in recollection, and, rushing directly towards the apartment of the governor, who still continued to hallo in the same note, exclaimed, in a screaming tone, “Lord have mercy upon us! where! where!” By this time, all the servants were assembled in strange attire: Peregrine burst into Jolter’s room, and seeing him stalking in his shirt, with his eyes shut, bestowed such a slap upon his back, as in a moment dissolved his dream, and restored him to the use of his senses. He was astonished and ashamed at being discovered in such an indecent attitude; and, taking refuge under the clothes, asked pardon of all present for the disturbance he had occasioned; soliciting, with great humility, the forgiveness of the lady, who, to a miracle, counterfeited the utmost agitation of terror and surprise. Meanwhile Hornbeck, being awaked by the repeated efforts of his man, no sooner understood that his wife was missing, than all the chimeras of jealousy taking possession of his imagination, he started up in a sort of frenzy, and, snatching his sword, flew straight to Peregrine’s chamber; where, though he found not that which he looked for, he unluckily perceived an under-petticoat, which his wife had forgot in the hurry of her retreat. This discovery added fuel to the flame of his resentment. He seized the fatal proof of his dishonour, and, meeting his spouse in her return to bed, presented it to her view, with a most expressive countenance, “Madam, you have dropped your under-petticoat in the next room.”

Mrs. Hornbeck, who inherited from nature a most admirable presence of mind, looked earnestly at the object in question, and, with incredible serenity of countenance, affirmed that the petticoat must belong to the house, for she had none such in her possession. Peregrine, who walked behind her, hearing this asseveration, immediately interposed, and pulling Hornbeck by the sleeve into his chamber, “Gadszooks!” said he, “what business had you with that petticoat? Can’t you let a young fellow enjoy a little amour with an innkeeper’s daughter, without exposing his infirmities to your wife? Pshaw! that’s so malicious, because you have quitted these adventures yourself, to spoil the sport of other people.”

The poor husband was so confounded at the effrontery of his wife, and this cavalier declaration of the young man, that his faith began to waver; he distrusted his own conscious diffidence of temper, which, that he might not expose, he expressed no doubts of Peregrine’s veracity; but, asking pardon for the mistake he had committed, retired. He was not yet satisfied with the behaviour of his ingenious helpmate, but on the contrary determined to inquire more minutely into the circumstances of this adventure, which turned out so little to his satisfaction, that he ordered his servant to get everything ready for his departure by break of day; and when our adventurer rose next morning, he found that his fellow-travellers were gone above three hours, though they had agreed to stay all the forenoon, with a view of seeing the prince of Conde’s palace, and to proceed all together for Paris in the afternoon.

Peregrine was a little chagrined, when he understood that he was so suddenly deprived of this untasted morsel; and Jolter could not conceive the meaning of their abrupt and uncivil disappearance, which, after many profound conjectures, he accounted for, by supposing that Hornbeck was some sharper who had run away with an heiress, whom he found it necessary to conceal from the inquiry of her friends. The pupil, who was well assured of the true motive, allowed his governor to enjoy the triumph of his own penetration, and consoled himself with the hope of seeing his dulcinea again at some of the public places in Paris, which he proposed to frequent. Thus comforted, he visited the magnificent stables and palace of Chantilly, and immediately after dinner set out for Paris, where they arrived in the evening, and hired apartments at an hotel in the Faubourg St. Germaine, not far from the playhouse.

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