The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter LV.

They depart from Ghent — Our Hero engages in a Political Dispute with his Mistress, whom he offends, and pacifies with Submission — He practises an Expedient to detain the Carriage at Alost, and confirms the Priest in his Interest.

Next day, about one o’clock, after having seen everything remarkable in town, and been present at the execution of two youths, who were hanged for ravishing a w — they took their departure from Ghent in the same carriage which had brought them thither; and the conversation turning upon the punishment they had seen inflicted, the Flemish beauty expressed great sympathy and compassion for the unhappy sufferers, who, as she had been informed, had fallen victims to the malice of the accuser. Her sentiments were espoused by all the company, except the French lady of pleasure, who, thinking the credit of the sisterhood concerned in the affair, bitterly inveighed against the profligacy of the age, and particularly the base and villainous attempts of man upon the chastity of the weaker sex; saying, with a look of indignation directed to the painter, that for her own part she should never be able to manifest the acknowledgment she owed to Providence, for having protected her last night from the wicked aims of unbridled lust. This observation introduced a series of jokes at the expense of Pallet, who hung his ears, and sat with a silent air of dejection, fearing that, through the malevolence of the physician, his adventure might reach the ears of his wife. Indeed, though we have made shift to explain the whole transaction to the reader, it was an inextricable mystery to every individual in the diligence, because the part which was acted by the Capuchin was known to himself alone, and even he was utterly ignorant of Pickle’s being concerned in the affair; so that the greatest share of the painter’s sufferings were supposed to be the exaggerations of his own extravagant imagination.

In the midst of their discourse on this extraordinary subject, the driver told them that they were now on the very spot where a detachment of the allied army had been intercepted and cut off by the French: and, stopping the vehicle, entertained them with a local description of the battle of Melle. Upon this occasion, the Flemish lady, who, since her marriage, had become a keen partisan for the French, gave a minute detail of all the circumstances, as they had been represented to her by her husband’s brother, who was in the action. This account, which sunk the number of the French to sixteen, and raised that of the allies to twenty thousand men, was so disagreeable to truth, as well as to the laudable partiality of Peregrine, that he ventured to contradict her assertions, and a fierce dispute commenced, that not only regarded the present question, but also comprehended all the battles in which the Duke of Marlborough had commanded against Louis the Fourteenth. In the course of these debates, she divested the great general of all the glory he had acquired, by affirming, that every victory he gained was purposely lost by the French in order to bring the schemes of Madame de Maintenon into discredit; and, as a particular instance, alledged, that while the citadel of Lisle was besieged, Louis said, in presence of the Dauphin, that if the allies should be obliged to raise the siege, he would immediately declare his marriage with that lady; upon which, the son sent private orders to Marshal Boufflers to surrender the place.

This strange allegation was supported by the asseveration of the priest and the courtesan, and admitted as truth by the governor, who pretended to have heard it from good authority; while the doctor sat neutral, as one who thought it scandalous to know the history of such modern events. The Israelite, being a true Dutchman, himself under the banners of our hero, who, in attempting to demonstrate the absurdity and improbability of what they had advanced, raised such a hue and cry against himself, and, being insensibly heated in the altercation, irritated his Amanda to such a degree, that her charming eyes kindled with fury, and he saw great reason to think, that if he did not fall upon some method to deprecate her wrath, she would, in a twinkling, sacrifice all her esteem for him to her own zeal for the glory of the French nation. Moved by this apprehension, his ardour cooled by degrees, and he insensibly detached himself from the argument, leaving the whole care of supporting it to the Jew, who, finding himself deserted, was fain to yield at discretion; so that the French remained masters of the field, and their young heroine resumed her good humour.

Our hero having prudently submitted to the superior intelligence of his fair enslaver, began to be harassed with the fears of losing her for ever; and set his invention at work, to contrive some means of indemnifying himself for his assiduities, presents, and the disappointment he had already undergone. On pretence of enjoying a free air, he mounted the box, and employed his elocution and generosity with such success, that the driver undertook to disable the diligence from proceeding beyond the town of Alost for that day; and, in consequence of his promise, gently overturned it when they were but a mile short of that baiting-place. He had taken his measures so discreetly, that this accident was attended with no other inconvenience than a fit of fear that took possession of the ladies, and the necessity to which they were reduced by the declaration of the coachman, who, upon examining the carriage, assured the company that the axle-tree had given way, and advised them to walk forward to the inn, while he would jog after them at a slow pace, and do his endeavour the damage should be immediately repaired.

Peregrine pretended to be very much concerned at what had happened, and even cursed the driver for his inadvertency, expressing infinite impatience to be at Brussels, and wishing that this misfortune might not detain them another night upon the road; but when his understrapper, according to his instructions, came afterwards to the inn, and gave them to understand that the workman he had employed could not possibly refit the machine in less then six hours, the crafty youth affected to lose all temper, stormed at his emissary, whom he reviled in the most opprobrious terms, and threatened to cane for his misconduct. The fellow protested, with great humility, that their being overturned was owing to the failure of the axle-tree, and not to his want of care or dexterity in driving; though rather than be thought the cause of incommoding him, he would inquire for a post-chaise, in which he might depart for Brussels immediately. This expedient Pickle rejected, unless the whole company could be accommodated in the same manner; and he had been previously informed by the driver that the town could not furnish more than one vehicle of that sort. His governor, who was quite ignorant of his scheme, represented that one night would soon be passed, and exhorted him to bear this small disappointment with a good grace, especially as the house seemed to be well provided for their entertainment, and the company so much disposed to be sociable.

The Capuchin, who had found his account in cultivating the acquaintance of the young stranger, was not ill-pleased at this event, which might, by protracting the term of their intercourse, yield him some opportunity of profiting still farther by his liberality: he therefore joined Mr. Jolter in his admonitions, congratulating himself upon the prospect of enjoying his conversation a little longer than he had expected. Our young gentleman received a compliment to the same purpose from the Hebrew, who had that day exercised his gallantry upon the French coquette, and was not without hope of reaping the fruit of his attention, his rival, the painter, being quite disgraced and dejected by the adventure of last night, As for the doctor, he was too much engrossed in the contemplation of his own importance, to interest himself in the affair or its consequences, further than by observing, that the European powers ought to establish public games, like those that were celebrated of old in Greece; in which case, every state would be supplied with such dexterous charioteers as would drive a machine, at full speed, within a hair’s breadth of a precipice, without any danger of its being overturned.

Peregrine could not help yielding to their remonstrances and united complaisance, for which he thanked them in very polite terms; and his passion seeming to subside, proposed that they should amuse themselves in walking round the ramparts. He hoped to enjoy some private conversation with his admired Fleming, who had the whole day behaved with remarkable reserve. The proposal being embraced, he, as usual, handed her into the street, and took all opportunities of promoting his suit; but they were attended so closely by her father-confessor, that he foresaw it would be impracticable to accomplish his aim without the connivance of that ecclesiastic. This he was obliged to purchase with another purse, which he offered, and was accepted, as a charitable atonement for his criminal behaviour during the interview which the friar had procured for the good of his soul. The benefaction was no sooner made, than the mendicant edged off by little and little, till he joined the rest of the company, leaving his generous patron at full liberty to prosecute his purpose.

It is not to be doubted that our adventurer made a good use of this occasion: he practised a thousand flowers of rhetoric, and actually exhausted his whole address, in persuading her to have compassion upon his misery, and indulge him with another private audience, without which he should run distracted, and be guilty of extravagancies which, in the humanity of her disposition, she would weep to see. But, instead of complying with his request, she chid him severely for his presumption in persecuting her with his vicious addresses: she assured him, that although she had secured a chamber for herself in this place, because she had no ambition to be better acquainted with the other lady, he would be in the wrong to disturb her with another nocturnal visit, for she was determined to deny him admittance. The lover was comforted by this hint, which he understood in the true acceptation; and his passion being inflamed by the obstacles he had met with, his heart beat high with the prospect of possession. These raptures of expectation produced an inquietude, which disabled him from bearing that share of the conversation for which he used to be distinguished. His behaviour at supper was a vicissitude of startings and reveries. The Capuchin, imputing the disorder to a second repulse from his charge, began to be invaded with the apprehension of being obliged to refund, and in a whisper forbade our hero to despair.

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