The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter LIV.

He makes another Effort to towards the Accomplishment of his Wish, which is postponed by a strange Accident.

He directed his valet-de-chambre, who was a thorough-paced pimp, to kindle some straw in the yard, and then pass by the door of her apartment, crying with a loud voice that the house was on fire. This alarm brought both ladies out of their chamber in a moment, and Peregrine, taking the advantage of their running to the street door, entered the room, concealed himself under a large table that stood in an unobserved corner. The nymphs, as soon as they understood the cause of his Mercury’s supposed affright, returned to their apartment, and, having said their prayers, undressed themselves, and went to bed. This scene, which fell under the observation of Pickle, did not at all contribute to the cooling of his concupiscence, but on the contrary inflamed him to such a degree, that he could scarce restrain his impatience, until, by her breathing deep, he concluded the fellow-lodger of his Amanda was asleep. This welcome note no sooner saluted his ears, than he crept to his charmer’s bedside, and placing himself on his knees, gently laid hold on her white hand, and pressed it to his lips. She had just begun to close her eyes, and enjoy the agreeable oppression of slumber, when she was roused by this rape, at which she started, pronouncing, in a tone of surprise and dismay, “My God! who’s that?”

The lover, with the most insinuating humility, besought her to hear him; vowing that his intention, in approaching her thus, was not to violate the laws of decency, or that indelible esteem which she had engraved on his heart; but to manifest his sorrow and contrition for the umbrage he had given, to pour forth the overflowings of his soul, and tell her that he neither could nor would survive her displeasure. These and many more pathetic protestations, accompanied with sighs and tears and other expressions of grief, which our hero had at command, could not fail to melt the tender heart of the Fleming, already prepossessed in favour of his qualifications. She sympathized so much with his affliction, as to weep in her turn, when she represented the impossibility of her rewarding his passion; and he, seizing the moment, reinforced his solicitations with such irresistible transports, that her resolution gave way, she began to breathe quick, expressed her fear of being overheard by the other lady, with an ejaculation of “O heavens! I’m undone,” suffered him, after a faint struggle, to make a lodgment upon the covered way of her bed. Her honour, however, was secured for the present, by a strange sort of knocking upon the wainscot, at the other end of the room, hard by the bed in which the female adventurer lay.

Surprised at this circumstance, the lady begged him for heaven’s sake to retreat, or her reputation would be ruined for ever; but when he represented to her, that her character would run a much greater risk if he should be detected in withdrawing, she consented, with great trepidation, to his stay, and they listened in silence to the sequel of the noise that alarmed them. This was no other than an expedient of the painter to awaken his dulcinea, with whom he had made an assignation, or at least interchanged such signals as he thought amounted to a firm appointment. His nymph, being disturbed in her first sleep, immediately understood the sound, and, true to the agreement, rose; and, unbolting the door, as softly as possible, gave him admittance; leaving it open for his more commodious retreat.

While this happy gallant was employed in disengaging himself from the deshabille in which he had entered, the Capuchin, suspecting that Peregrine would make another attempt upon his charge, had crept silently to the apartment in order to reconnoitre, lest the adventure should be achieved without his knowledge; a circumstance that would deprive him of the profits he might expect from his privity and concurrence. Finding the door unlatched, his suspicion was confirmed, and he made no scruple of creeping into the chamber on all four; so that the painter, having stripped himself to the shirt, in groping about for his dulcinea’s bed, chanced to lay his hand upon the shaven crown of the father’s head, which, by a circular motion, the priest began to turn round in his grasp, like a ball in a socket, to the surprise and consternation of poor Pallet, who, neither having penetration to comprehend the case, nor resolution to withdraw his fingers from this strange object of his touch, stood sweating in the dark, and venting ejaculations with great devotion.

The friar, tired with this exercise, and the painful posture in which he stooped, raised himself gradually upon his feet, heaving up at the same time the hand of the painter, whose terror and amazement increased to such a degree at this unaccountable elevation, that his faculties began to fail; and his palm, in the confusion of his fright, sliding over the priest’s forehead, one of his fingers happened to slip into his mouth, and was immediately secured between the Capuchin’s teeth with as firm a fixture as if it had been screwed in a blacksmith’s vice.

The painter was so much disordered by this sudden snap, which tortured him to the bone, that, forgetting all other considerations, he roared aloud, “Murder! a fire! a trap, a trap! help, Christians, for the love of God, help!” Our hero, confounded by these exclamation, which he knew would soon fill the room with spectators, and incensed at his own mortifying disappointment, was obliged to quit the untasted banquet, and, approaching the cause of his misfortune, just as his tormentor had thought proper to release his finger, discharged such a hearty slap between his shoulders, as brought him to the ground with hideous bellowing; then, retiring unperceived to his own chamber, was one of the first who returned with a light, on pretence of having been alarmed with his cries. The Capuchin had taken the same precaution, and followed Peregrine into the room, pronouncing benedicite, and crossing himself with many marks of astonishment. The physician and Jolter appearing at the same time, the unfortunate painter was found lying naked on the floor, in all the agony of horror and dismay, blowing upon his left hand, that hung dangling from the elbow. The circumstance of his being found in that apartment, and the attitude of his affliction, which was extremely ridiculous, provoked the doctor to a smile, and produced a small relaxation in the severity of the governor’s countenance; while Pickle, testifying his surprise and concern, lifted him from the ground, and inquired into the cause of his present situation.

Having, after some recollection, and fruitless endeavours to speak, recovered the use of his tongue, he told them that the house was certainly haunted by evil spirits, by which he had been conveyed, he knew not how, into that apartment, and afflicted with all the tortures of hell: that one of them had made itself sensible to his feeling, in the shape of a round ball of smooth flesh, which turned round under his hand, like an astronomer’s globe; and then, rising up to a surprising height, was converted into a machine that laid hold on his finger, by a snap; and having pinned him to the spot, he continued for some moments in unspeakable agony. At last, he said, the engine seemed to melt away from his finger, and he received a sudden thwack upon his shoulders, as if discharged by the arm of a giant, which overthrew him in an instant upon the floor.

The priest, hearing this strange account, pulled out of one of his pouches a piece of consecrated candle, which he lighted immediately, and muttered certain mysterious conjurations. Jolter, imagining that Pallet was drunk, shook his head, saying, he believed the spirit was nowhere but in his own brain. The physician for once condescended to be a wag, and, looking towards one of the beds, observed, that, in his opinion, the painter had been misled by the flesh, and not by the spirit. The fair Fleming lay in silent astonishment and affright; and her fellow in order to acquit herself of all suspicion, exclaimed with incredible volubility against the author of this uproar, who, she did not doubt, had concealed himself in the apartment with a view of perpetuating some wicked attempt upon her precious virtue, and was punished and prevented by the immediate interposition of heaven. At her desire, therefore, and at the earnest solicitation of the other lady, he was conducted to his own bed; and the chamber being evacuated, they locked their door, fully resolved to admit no more visitants for that night: while Peregrine, mad with seeing the delicious morsel snatched, as it were, from his very lip, stalked through the passage like a ghost, in hope of finding some opportunity of re-entering; till the day beginning to break, he was obliged to retire, cursing the idiotical conduct of the painter, which had so unluckily interfered with his delight.

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