The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter XLVI.

By the Fidelity of Pipes, Jolter is informed of his Pupil’s fate — Confers with the Physician — Applies to the Ambassador, who, with great difficulty, obtains the Discharge of the Prisoners on certain Conditions.

This plan he executed, notwithstanding the pain of his wound, and the questions of the city-guard, both horse and foot, to which he could make no other answer than “Anglais, anglais;” and as soon as it was light, taking an accurate survey of the castle (for such it seemed to be) into which Peregrine and Pallet had been conveyed, together with its situation in respect to the river, he went home to the lodgings, and, waking Mr. Jolter, gave him an account of the adventure. The governor wrung his hands in the utmost grief and consternation when he heard this unfortunate piece of news: he did not doubt that his pupil was imprisoned in the Bastille for life; and, in the anguish of his apprehension, cursed the day on which he had undertaken to superintend the conduct of such an imprudent young man, who had, by reiterated insults, provoked the vengeance of such a mild, forbearing administration. That he might not, however, neglect any means in his power to extricate him from his present misfortune, he despatched Thomas to the doctor, with an account of his companion’s fate, that they might join their interest in behalf of the captives; and the physician, being informed of what had happened, immediately dressed himself, and repaired to Jolter, whom he accosted in these words:—

“Now, sir, I hope you are convinced of your error in asserting that oppression can never be the effect of arbitrary power. Such a calamity as this could never have happened under the Athenian democracy: nay, even when the tyrant Pisistratus got possession of that commonwealth, he durst not venture to rule with such absolute and unjust dominion. You shall see now that Mr. Pickle and my friend Pallet will fall a sacrifice to the tyranny of lawless power; and, in my opinion, we shall be accessory to the ruin of this poor enslaved people if we bestir ourselves in demanding or imploring the release of our unhappy countrymen; as we may thereby prevent the commission of a flagrant crime, which would fill up the vengeance of Heaven against the perpetrators, and perhaps be the means of restoring the whole nation to the unspeakable fruition of freedom. For my own part, I should rejoice to see the blood of my father spilt in such a glorious cause, provided such a victim would furnish me with the opportunity of dissolving the chains of slavery, and vindicating that liberty which is the birthright of man. Then would my name be immortalised among the patriot heroes of antiquity, and my memory, like that of Harmodius and Aristogiton, be honoured by statues erected at the public expense.”

This rhapsody, which was delivered with great emphasis and agitation, gave so much offence to Jolter, that, without saying one word, he retired in great wrath to his own chamber; and the republican returned to his lodging, in full hope of his prognostic being verified in the death and destruction of Peregrine and the painter, which must give rise to some renowned revolution, wherein he himself would act a principal part. But the governor whose imagination was not quite so warm and prolific, went directly to the ambassador, whom he informed of his pupil’s situation, and besought to interpose with the French ministry, that he and the other British subject might obtain their liberty.

His excellency asked, if Jolter could guess at the cause of his imprisonment, that he might be the better prepared to vindicate or excuse his conduct: but neither he nor Pipes could give the smallest hint of intelligence on that subject; though he furnished himself from Tom’s own mouth with a circumstantial account of the manner in which his master had been arrested, as well as of his own behaviour, and the disaster he had received on that occasion. His lordship never doubted that Pickle had brought this calamity upon himself by some unlucky prank he had played at the masquerade; when he understood that the young gentleman had drunk freely in the afternoon, and been so whimsical as to go thither with a man in woman’s apparel; and he that same day waited on the French minister, in full confidence of obtaining his discharge; but met with more difficulty than he expected, the court of France being extremely punctilious in everything that concerns a prince of the blood: the ambassador was therefore obliged to talk in very high terms; and, though the present circumstances of the French politics would not allow them to fall out with the British administration for trifles, all the favour he could procure was to promise that Pickle should L set at liberty, provided he would ask pardon of the prince to whom he bad given offence.

His excellency thought this was but a reasonable condescension, supposing Peregrine to have been in the wrong; and Jolter was admitted to him in order to communicate and reinforce his lordship’s advice, which was, that he comply with the terms proposed. The governor, who did not enter this gloomy fortress without fear and trembling, found his pupil in a dismal apartment, void of all furniture but a stool and a truckle-bed. The moment he was admitted, he perceived the youth whistling with great unconcern, and working with his pencil at the bare wall, on which he had delineated a ludicrous figure labelled with the name of the nobleman, whom he had affronted, and an English mastiff with his leg lifted up, in the attitude of making water in his shoe. He had been even so presumptuous as to explain the device with satirical inscriptions in the French language, which, when Jolter perused, his hair stood on end with affright. The very turnkey was confounded and overawed by the boldness of his behaviour, which he had never seen matched by any inhabitant of that place; and actually joined his friend in persuading him to submit to the easy demand of the minister. But our hero, far from embracing the counsel of this advocate, handed him to the door with great ceremony, and dismissed him with a kick on the breeches; and, to all the supplications, and even tears of Jolter, made no other reply than that he would stoop to no condescension, because he had committed no crime, but would leave his case to the cognisance and exertion of the British court, whose duty it was to see justice done to its own subjects: he desired, however, that Pallet, who was confined in another place, might avail himself of his own disposition, which was sufficiently pliable; but when the governor desired to see his fellow-prisoner, the turnkey gave him to understand that he had received no orders relating to the lady, and therefore could not admit him into her apartment; though he was complaisant enough to tell him that she seemed very much mortified at her confinement, and at certain times behaved as if her brain was not a little disordered.

Jolter, thus baffled in all his endeavours, quitted the Bastille with a heavy heart, and reported his fruitless negotiation to the ambassador, who could not help breaking forth into some acrimonious expressions against the obstinacy and insolence of the young man, who, he said, deserved to suffer for his folly. Nevertheless, he did not desist from his representations to the French ministry, which he found so unyielding, that he was obliged to threaten, in plain terms, to make it a national concern; and not only wrote to his court for instructions, but even advised the council to make reprisals, and send some French gentleman in London to the Tower.

This intimation had an effect upon the ministry at Versailles, who, rather than run the risk of incensing a people whom it was neither their interest nor inclination to disoblige, consented to discharge the offenders, on condition that they should leave Paris in three days after their enlargement. This proposal was readily agreed to by Peregrine, who was now a little more tractable, and heartily tired of being cooped up in such an uncomfortable abode, for the space of three long days, without any sort of communication or entertainment but that which his own imagination suggested.

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