The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter XL.

Acquires a distinct Idea of the French Government — Quarrels with a Mousquetaire, whom he afterwards fights and vanquishes, after having punished him for interfering in his amorous Recreations.

Among many other instances of the same nature, I believe it will not be amiss to exhibit a few specimens of their administration, which happened during his abode at Paris; that those who have not the opportunity of observing for themselves, or are in danger of being influenced by misrepresentation, may compare their own condition with that of their neighbours, and do justice to the constitution under which they live.

A lady of distinguished character having been lampooned by some obscure scribbler, who could not be discovered, the ministry, in consequence of her complaint, ordered no fewer than five-and-twenty abbes to be apprehended and sent to the Bastille, on the maxim of Herod, when he commanded the innocents to be murdered, hoping that the principal object of his cruelty would not escape in the general calamity; and the friends of those unhappy prisoners durst not even complain of the unjust persecution, but shrugged up their shoulders, and in silence deplored their misfortune, uncertain whether or not they should ever set eyes on them again.

About the same time a gentleman of family, who had been oppressed by a certain powerful duke that lived in the neighbourhood, found means to be introduced to the king, who, receiving his petition very graciously, asked in what regiment he served; and when the memorialist answered that he had not the honour of being in the service, returned the paper unopened, and refused to hear one circumstance of his complaint; so that, far from being redressed, he remained more than ever exposed to the tyranny of his oppressors; nay, so notorious is the discouragement of all those who presume to live independent of court favour and connections that one of the gentlemen, whose friendship Peregrine cultivated, frankly owned he was in possession of a most romantic place in one of the provinces, and deeply enamoured of a country life; and yet he durst not reside upon his own estate, lest, by slackening in his attendance upon the great, who honoured him with their protection, he should fall a prey to some rapacious intendant.

As for the common people, they are so much inured to the scourge and insolence of power, that every shabby subaltern, every beggarly cadet of the noblesse, every low retainer to the court, insults and injures them with impunity. A certain ecuyer, or horsedealer, belonging to the king, being one day under the hands of a barber, who happened to cut the head of a pimple on his face, he started up, and drawing his sword, wounded him desperately in the shoulder. The poor tradesman, hurt as he was, made an effort to retire, and was followed by this barbarous assassin, who, not contented with the vengeance he had taken, plunged his sword a second time into his body, and killed him on the spot. Having performed this inhuman exploit, he dressed himself with great deliberation, and going to Versailles, immediately obtained a pardon for what he had done; triumphing in his brutality with such insolence, that the very next time he had occasion to be shaved he sat with his sword ready drawn, in order to repeat the murder, in case the barber should commit the same mistake. Yet so tamed are those poor people to subjection, that when Peregrine mentioned this assassination to his own trimmer, with expressions of horror and detestation, the infatuated wretch replied, that without all doubt it was a misfortune, but it proceeded from the gentleman’s passion; and observed, by way of encomium on the government, that such vivacity is never punished in France.

A few days after this outrage was committed, our youth, who was a professed enemy to all oppression, being in one of the first loges at the comedy, was eye-witness of an adventure which filled him with indignation: a tall, ferocious fellow, in the parterre, without the least provocation, but prompted by the mere wantonness of pride, took hold of the hat of a very decent young man who happened to stand before him, and twirled it round upon his head. The party thus offended turned to his aggressor, and civilly asked the reason of such treatment: but he received no answer; and when he looked the other way, the insult was repeated: upon which he expressed his resentment as became a man of spirit, and desired the offender to walk out with him. No sooner did he thus signify his intention, than his adversary, swelling with rage, cocked his hat fiercely in his face, and, fixing his hands in his sides, pronounced, with the most imperious tone, “Hark ye, Mr. Round Periwig, you must know that I am a mousquetaire.” Scarce had this awful word escaped from his lips, when the blood forsook the lips of the poor challenger, who, with the most abject submission, begged pardon for his presumption, and with difficulty obtained it, on condition that he should immediately quit the place. Having thus exercised his authority, he turned to one of his companions, and, with an air of disdainful ridicule, told him he was like to have had an affair with a bourgeois; adding, by way of heightening the irony, “Egad! I believe he is a physician.”

Our hero was so much shocked and irritated at this licentious behaviour, that he could not suppress his resentment, which he manifested by saying to this Hector, “Sir, a physician may be a man of honour.” To this remonstrance, which was delivered with a very significant countenance, the mousquetaire made no other reply, but that of echoing his assertion with a loud laugh, in which he was joined by his confederates. Peregrine, glowing with resentment, called him a fanfaron, and withdrew in expectation of being followed into the street. The other understood the hint; and a rencounter must have ensued had not the officer of the guard, who overheard what passed, prevented their meeting, by putting the mousquetaire immediately under arrest. Our young gentleman waited at the door of the parterre, until he was informed of this interposition, and then went home very much chagrined at his disappointment; for he was an utter stranger to fear and diffidence on those occasions, and had set his heart upon chastising the insolence of this bully, who had treated him with such disrespect.

This adventure was not so private but that it reached the ears of Mr. Jolter by the canal of some English gentlemen who were present when it happened; and the governor, who entertained a most dreadful idea of the mousquetaires, being alarmed at a quarrel, the consequence of which might be fatal to his charge, waited on the British ambassador, and begged he would take Peregrine under his immediate protection. His excellency, having heard the circumstances of the dispute, sent one of his gentlemen to invite the youth to dinner; and after having assured him that he might depend upon his countenance and regard, represented the rashness and impetuosity of his conduct so much to his conviction, that he promised to act more circumspectly for the future, and drop all thoughts of the mousquetaire from that moment.

A few days after he had taken this laudable resolution, Pipes, who had carried a billet to his mistress, informed him that he had perceived a laced hat lying upon a marble slab in her apartment; and that when she came out of her own chamber to receive the letter, she appeared in manifest disorder. From these hints of intelligence our young gentleman suspected, or rather made no doubt of, her infidelity; and being by this time well nigh cloyed with possession, was not sorry to find she had given him cause to renounce her correspondence. That he might therefore detect her in the very breach of duty, and at the same time punish the gallant who had the presumption to invade his territories, he concerted with himself a plan which was executed in this manner. During his next interview with his dulcinea, far from discovering the least sign of jealousy or discontent, he affected the appearance of extraordinary fondness, and, after having spent the afternoon with the show of uncommon satisfaction, told her he was engaged in a party for Fountainebleau, and would set out from Paris that same evening; so that he should not have the pleasure of seeing her again for some days.

The lady, who was very well versed in the arts of her occupation, pretended to receive this piece of news with great affliction, and conjured him, with such marks of real tenderness, to return as soon as possible to her longing arms, that he went away almost convinced of her sincerity. Determined, however, to prosecute his scheme, he actually departed from Paris with two or three gentlemen of his acquaintance, who had hired a remise for a jaunt to Versailles; and having accompanied them as far as the village of Passe, he returned in the dusk of the evening on foot.

He waited impatiently till midnight, and then, arming himself with a brace of pocket-pistols, and attended by trusty Tom with a cudgel in his hand, repaired to the lodgings of his suspected inamorata. Having given Pipes his cue, he knocked gently at the door, which was no sooner opened by the lacquey, than he bolted in, before the fellow could recollect himself from the confusion occasioned by his unexpected appearance; and, leaving Tom to guard the door, ordered the trembling valet to light him upstairs into his lady’s apartment. The first object that presented itself to his view, when he entered the antechamber, was a sword upon the table, which he immediately seized, exclaiming, in a loud and menacing voice, that his mistress was false, and then in bed with another gallant, whom he would instantly put to death. This declaration, confirmed by many terrible oaths, he calculated for the hearing of his rival, who, understanding his sanguinary purpose, started up in great trepidation, and, naked as he was, dropped from the balcony into the street, while Peregrine thundered at the door for admittance, and, guessing his design, gave him an opportunity of making this precipitate retreat. Pipes, who stood sentinel at the door, observing the fugitive descend, attacked him with his cudgel; and sweating him from one end of the street to the other, at last committed him to the guet by whom he was conveyed to the officer on duty in a most disgraceful and deplorable condition.

Meanwhile Peregrine, having burst open the chamber door, found the lady in the utmost dread and consternation, and the spoils of her favourite scattered about the room; but his resentment was doubly gratified, when he learned, upon inquiry, that the person who had been so disagreeably interrupted was no other than that individual mousquetaire with whom he had quarrelled at the comedy. He upbraided the nymph with her perfidy and ingratitude; and telling her that she must not expect the continuance of his regard, or the appointments which she had hitherto enjoyed from his bounty, went home to his own lodgings, overjoyed at the issue of the adventure.

The soldier, exasperated at the disgrace he had undergone, as well as the outrageous insult of the English valet, whom he believed his master had tutored for that purpose, no sooner extricated himself from the opprobrious situation he had incurred, than, breathing vengeance against the author of the affront, he came to Peregrine’s apartment, and demanded satisfaction upon the ramparts next morning before sunrise. Our hero assured him he would not fail to pay his respects to him at the time and place appointed; and foreseeing that he might be prevented from keeping this engagement by the officious care of his governor, who saw the mousquetaire come in, he told Mr. Jolter, that the Frenchman had visited him in consequence of an order he had received from his superiors, to make an apology for his rude behaviour to him in the playhouse, and that they had parted very good friends. This assurance, together with Pickle’s tranquil and unconcerned behaviour through the day, quieted the terrors which had begun to take possession of his tutor’s imagination; so that the youth had an opportunity of giving him the slip at night, when he betook himself to the lodgings of a friend, whom he engaged as his second, and with whom he immediately took the field, in order to avoid the search which Jolter, upon missing him, might set on foot.

This was a necessary precaution; for as he did not appear at supper, and Pipes, who usually attended him in his excursions, could give no account of his motions, the governor was dreadfully alarmed at his absence, and ordered his man to run in quest of his master to all the places which he used to frequent, while he himself went to the commissaire, and, communicating his suspicions, was accommodated with a party of the horse-guards, who patrolled round all the environs of the city, with a view of preventing the rencounter. Pipes might have directed them to the lady, by whose information they could have learned the name and lodgings of the mousquetaire, and if he had been apprehended the duel would not have happened; but he did not choose to run the risk of disobliging his master by intermeddling in the affair, and was moreover very desirous that the Frenchman should be humbled; for he never doubted that Peregrine was more than a match for any two men in France. In this confidence, therefore, he sought his master with great diligence, not with a view of disappointing his intention, but in order to attend him to the battle, that he might stand by him, and see justice done.

While this inquiry was carried on, our hero and his companion concealed themselves among some weeds, that grew on the edge of the parapet, a few yards from the spot where he had agreed to meet the mousquetaire; and scarce had the morning rendered objects distinguishable when they perceived their men advancing boldly to the place. Peregrine, seeing them approach sprang forward to the ground, that he might have the glory of anticipating his antagonist; and swords being drawn, all four were engaged in a twinkling. Pickle’s eagerness had well nigh cost him his life; for, without minding his footing, he flew directly to his opposite, and, stumbling over a stone, was wounded on one side of his head before he could recover his attitude. Far from being dispirited at this check, it served only to animate him the more; being endowed with uncommon agility, he retrieved his posture in a moment; and having parried a second thrust, returned the lunge with such incredible speed, that the soldier had not time to resume his guard, but was immediately run through the bend of his right arm; and the sword dropping out of his hand, our hero’s victory was complete.

Having despatched his own business, and received the acknowledgment of his adversary who, with a look of infinite mortification, answered, that his was the fortune of the day, he ran to part the seconds, just as the weapon was twisted out of his companion’s hand: upon which he took his place; and, in all likelihood, an obstinate dispute would have ensued, had they not been interrupted by the guard, at sight of whom the two Frenchmen scampered off. Our young gentleman and his friend allowed themselves to be taken prisoners by the detachment which had been sent out for that purpose, and were carried before the magistrate, who, having sharply reprimanded them for presuming to act in contempt of the laws, set them at liberty, in consideration of their being strangers; cautioning them, at the same time, to beware of such exploits for the future.

When Peregrine returned to his own lodgings, Pipes, seeing the blood trickling down upon his master’s neckcloth and solitaire, gave evident tokens of surprise and concern; not for the consequences of the wound, which he did no suppose dangerous, but for the glory of Old England, which he was afraid had suffered in the engagement; for he could not help saying, with an air of chagrin, as he followed the youth into his chamber, “I do suppose as how you gave that lubberly Frenchman as good as he brought.”

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