The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter V.

Mrs. Pickle assumes the Reins of Government in her own Family — Her Sister-in-law undertakes an Enterprise of great Moment, but is for some time diverted from her Purpose by a very interesting Consideration.

Whatever deference, not to say submission, she had paid to Mrs. Grizzle before she nearly allied to her family, she no sooner became Mrs. Pickle, than she thought it encumbent on her to act up to the dignity of the character; and, the very day after the marriage, ventured to dispute with her sister-in-law on the subject of her own pedigree, which she affirmed to be more honourable in all respects than that of her husband; observing that several younger brothers of her house had arrived at the station of lord-mayor of London, which was the highest pitch of greatness that any of Mr. Pickle’s predecessors had ever attained.

This presumption was like a thunderbolt to Mrs. Grizzle, who began to perceive that she had not succeeded quite so well as she imagined, in selecting for her brother a gentle and obedient yoke-fellow, who would always treat her with that profound respect which she thought due to her superior genius, and be entirely regulated by her advice and direction: however, she still continued to manage the reins of government in the house, reprehending the servants as usual; an office she performed with great capacity, and in which she seemed to take singular delight, until Mrs. Pickle, on pretence of consulting her ease, told her one day she would take that trouble on herself, and for the future assume the management of her own family. Nothing could be more mortifying to Mrs. Grizzle than such a declaration; to which, after a considerable pause, and strange distortion of look, she replied: “I shall never refuse or repine at any trouble that may conduce to my brother’s advantage.”—“Dear madam,” answered the sister, “I am infinitely obliged for your kind concern for Mr. Pickle’s interest, which I consider as my own, but I cannot bear to see you a sufferer by your friendship; and, therefore, insist on exempting you from the fatigue you have borne so long.”

In vain did the other protest that she took pleasure in the task: Mrs. Pickle ascribed the assurance to her excess of complaisance; and expressed such tenderness of zeal for her dear sister’s health and tranquility, that the reluctant maiden found herself obliged to resign her authority, without enjoying the least pretext for complaining of her being deposed.

This disgrace was attended by a fit of peevish devotion that lasted three or four weeks; during which period she had the additional chagrin of seeing the young lady gain an absolute ascendency over the mind of her brother, who was persuaded to set up a gay equipage, and improve his housekeeping, by an augmentation in his expense, to the amount of a thousand a year at least: though his alteration in the economy of his household effected no change in his own disposition, or manner of life; for as soon as the painful ceremony of receiving and returning visits was performed, he had recourse to the company of his sea friends, with whom he spent the best part of his time. But if he was satisfied with his condition, the case was otherwise with Mrs. Grizzle, who, finding her importance in the family greatly diminished, her attractions neglected by all the male sex in the neighbourhood, and the withering hand of time hang threatening over her head, began to feel the horror of eternal virginity, and, in a sort of desperation, resolved at any rate to rescue herself from that reproachful and uncomfortable situation.

Thus determined, she formed a plan, the execution of which to a spirit less enterprising and sufficient than hers, would have appeared altogether impracticable: this was no other than to make a conquest of the commodore’s heart, which the reader will easily believe was not very susceptible of tender impressions; but, on the contrary, fortified with insensibility and prejudice against the charms of the whole sex, and particularly prepossessed to the prejudice of that class distinguished by the appellation of old maids, in which Mrs. Grizzle was by this time unhappily ranked. She nevertheless took the field, and having invested this seemingly impregnable fortress, began to break ground one day, when Trunnion dined at her brother’s, by springing certain ensnaring commendations on the honesty and sincerity of sea-faring people, paying a particular attention to his plate, and affecting a simper of approbation at everything which he said, which by any means she could construe into a joke, or with modesty be supposed to hear: nay, even when he left decency on the left hand, which was often the case, she ventured to reprimand his freedom of speech with a grin, saying, “Sure you gentlemen belonging to the sea have such an odd way with you.” But all this complacency was so ineffectual, that, far from suspecting the true cause of it, the commodore, that very evening, at the club, in presence of her brother, with whom by this time he could take any manner of freedom, did not scruple to d — her for a squinting, block-faced, chattering p — kitchen; and immediately after drank “Despair to all old maids.” The toast Mr. Pickle pledged without the least hesitation, and next day intimated to his sister, who bore the indignity with surprising resignation, and did not therefore desist from her scheme, unpromising as it seemed to be, until her attention was called off, and engaged in another care, which for some time interrupted the progress of this design.

Her sister had not been married many months, when she exhibited evident symptoms of pregnancy, to the general satisfaction of all concerned, and the inexpressible joy of Mrs. Grizzle, who, as we have already hinted, was more interested in the preservation of the family name than in any other consideration whatever. She therefore no sooner discovered appearances to justify and confirm her hopes, than, postponing her own purpose, and laying aside that pique and resentment she had conceived from the behaviour of Mrs. Pickle, when she superseded her authority; or perhaps, considering her in no other light than that of the vehicle which contained, and was destined to convey, her brother’s heir to light, she determined to exert her uttermost in nursing, tending, and cherishing her during the term of her important charge. With this view she purchased Culpepper’s Midwifery, which with that sagacious performance dignified with Aristotle’s name, she studied with indefatigable care; and diligently perused the Complete Housewife, together with Quincy’s Dispensatory, culling every jelly, marmalade, and conserve which these authors recommend as either salutary or toothsome, for the benefit and comfort of her sister-in-law, during her gestation. She restricted her from eating roots, pot-herbs, fruit, and all sorts of vegetables; and one day, when Mrs. Pickle had plucked a peach with her own hand, and was in the very act of putting it between her teeth, Mrs. Grizzle perceived the rash attempt, and running up to her, fell on her knees in the garden, entreating her, with tears in her eyes, to desist such a pernicious appetite. Her request was no sooner complied with, than recollecting, that if her sister’s longing was balked, the child might be affected with some disagreeable mark or deplorable disease, she begged as earnestly that she would swallow the fruit, and in the mean time ran for some cordial water of her own composing, which she forced on her sister, as an antidote to the poison she had received.

This excessive zeal and tenderness did not fail to be very troublesome to Mrs. Pickle, who, having resolved divers plans for the recovery of her own ease, at length determined to engage Mrs. Grizzle in such employment as would interrupt that close attendance, which she found so teasing and disagreeable. Neither did she wait long for an opportunity of putting her resolution in practice. The very next day a gentleman happening to dine with Mr. Pickle, unfortunately mentioned a pine-apple, part of which he had eaten a week before at the house of a nobleman, who lived in another part of the country, at the distance of a hundred miles at least.

The name of this fatal fruit was no sooner pronounced, than Mrs. Grizzle, who incessantly watched her sister’s looks, took the alarm, because she thought they gave certain indications of curiosity and desire; and after having observed that she herself could never eat pine-apples, which were altogether unnatural productions, extorted by the force of artificial fire out of filthy manure, asked, with a faltering voice, if Mrs. Pickle was not of her way of thinking? This young lady, who wanted neither slyness nor penetration, at once divined her meaning, and replied, with seeming unconcern, that for her own part she should never repine if there was no pine-apple in the universe, provided she could indulge herself with the fruits of her own country.

This answer was calculated for the benefit of the stranger, who would certainly have suffered for his imprudence by the resentment of Mrs. Grizzle, had her sister expressed the least relish for the fruit in question. It had the desired effect, and re-established the peace of the company, which was not a little endangered by the gentleman’s want of consideration. Next morning, however, after breakfast, the pregnant lady, in pursuance of her plan, yawned, as it were by accident, full in the face of her maiden sister, who being infinitely disturbed by this convulsion, affirmed it was a symptom of longing, and insisted upon knowing the object in desire; when Mrs. Pickle affecting a smile told her she had eaten a most delicious pine-apple in her sleep. This declaration was attended with an immediate scream, uttered by Mrs. Grizzle, who instantly perceiving her sister surprised at the exclamation, clasped her in her arms, and assured her, with a sort of hysterical laugh, that she could not help screaming with joy, because she had it in her power to gratify her dear sister’s wish; a lady in the neighbourhood having promised to send her, as a present, a couple of delicate pine-apples, which she would on that very day go in quest of.

Mrs. Pickle would by no means consent to this proposal, on pretence of sparing the other unnecessary fatigue; and assured her, that if she had any desire to eat a pine-apple, it was so faint, that the disappointment could produce no bad consequence. But this assurance was conveyed in a manner, which she knew very well how to adopt, that, instead of dissuading, rather stimulated Mrs. Grizzle to set out immediately, not on a visit to that lady, whose promise she herself had feigned with a view of consulting her sister’s tranquility, but on a random Search through the whole country for this unlucky fruit, which was like to produce so much vexation and prejudice to her and her father’s house.

During three whole days and nights did she, attended by a valet, ride from place to place without success, unmindful of her health, and careless of her reputation, that began to suffer from the nature of her inquiry, which was pursued with such peculiar eagerness and distraction, that everybody with whom she conversed, looked upon her as an unhappy person, whose intellects were not a little disordered.

Baffled in all her researches within the country, she at length decided to visit that very nobleman at whose house the officious stranger had been (for her) so unfortunately regaled, and actually arrived, in a post-chaise, at the place of his habitation, when she introduced her business as an affair on which the happiness of a whole family depended. By virtue of a present to his lordship’s gardener, she procured the Hesperian fruit, with which she returned in triumph.

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