The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter LVI.

The French Coquette entraps the Heart of the Jew, against whom Pallet enters into a Conspiracy, by which Peregrine is again disappointed, and the Hebrew’s Incontinence exposed.

Meanwhile the French siren, balked in her design upon her English cully, who was so easily disheartened, and hung his ears in manifest despondence, rather than rather than run the risk of making a voyage that should be altogether unprofitable, resolved to practise her charms upon the Dutch merchant. She had already made such innovation upon his heart, that he cultivated her with peculiar complacency, gazed upon her with a most libidinous stare, and unbended his aspect into a grin that was truly Israelitish. The painter saw and was offended at this correspondence, which he considered as an insult upon his misfortune, as well as an evident preference of his rival; and, conscious of his own timidity, swallowed an extraordinary glass, that his invention might be stimulated, and his resolution raised to the contrivance and execution of some scheme of revenge. The wine failed in the expected effect, and, without inspiring him with the plan, served only to quicken his desire of vengeance; so that he communicated his purpose to his friend Peregrine, and begged his assistance; but our young gentleman was too intent upon his own affair to mind the concerns of any other person; and he declining to be engaged in the project, Pallet had recourse to the genius of Pickle’s valet-de-chambre, who readily embarked in the undertaking, and invented a plan, which was executed accordingly.

The evening being pretty far advanced, and the company separated into their respective apartments, Pickle repaired, in all the impatience of youth and desire, to the chamber of his charmer, and, finding the door unbolted, entered in a transport of joy. By the light of the room, which shone through the window, he was conducted to her bed, which he approached in the utmost agitation; and perceiving her to all appearance asleep, essayed to wake her with a gentle kiss; but this method proved ineffectual, because she was determined to save herself the confusion of being an accomplice in his guilt. He repeated the application, murmured a most passionate salutation in her ear, and took such other gentle methods of signifying his presence, as persuaded him that she was resolved to sleep, in spite of all his endeavours. Flushed with this supposition, he locked the door, in order to prevent interruption; and, stealing himself under the clothes, set fortune at defiance, while he held the fair creature circled in his arms.

Nevertheless, near as he seemed to be to the happy accomplishment of his desire, his hope was again frustrated with a fearful noise, which in a moment awaked his Amanda in a fright, and for the present engaged all his attention. His valet-de-chambre, whom Pallet had consulted as a confederate in his revenge against the lady of pleasure and her gallant, had hired of certain Bohemians, who chanced to lodge at the inn, a jackass adorned with bells, which, when everybody was retired to rest, and the Hebrew supposed to be bedded with his mistress, they led upstairs into a long thoroughfare, from which the chambers were detached on each side. The painter, perceiving the lady’s door ajar, according to his expectation, mounted this animal, with intention to ride into the room, and disturb the lovers in the midst of their mutual endearments; but the ass, true to its kind, finding himself bestrid by an unknown rider, instead of advancing in obedience to his conductor, retreated backward to the other end of the passage, in spite of all the efforts of the painter, who spurred, and kicked, and pummeled to no purpose. It was the noise of this contention between Pallet and the ass which invaded the ears of Peregrine and his mistress, neither of whom could form the least rational conjecture about the cause of such strange disturbance, which increased as the animal approached their apartment. At length the bourrique’s retrograde motion was obstructed by the door, which it forced open in a twinkling, with one kick, and entered with such complication of sound as terrified the lady almost into a fit, and threw her lover into the utmost perplexity and confusion.

The painter, finding himself thus violently intruded into the bed-chamber of he knew not whom, and dreading the resentment of the possessor, who might discharge a pistol at him as a robber who had broken into his apartment, was overwhelmed with consternation, and redoubled his exertion to accomplish a speedy retreat, sweating all the time with fear, and putting up petition to Heaven for his safety; but his obstinate companion, regardless of his situation, instead of submitting to his conduct, began to turn round like a millstone, the united sound of his feet and bells producing a most surprising concert. The unfortunate rider, whirling about in this manner, would have quitted his seat, and left the beast to his own amusement, but the rotation was so rapid, that the terror of a severe fall hindered him from attempting to dismount; and, in the desperation of his heart, he seized one of his ears, which he pinched so unmercifully, that the creature set up his throat, and brayed aloud.

This hideous exclamation was no sooner heard by the fair Fleming, already chilled with panic, and prepared with superstition, than, believing herself visited by the devil, who was permitted to punish her for her infidelity to the marriage-bed, she uttered a scream, and began to repeat her pater noster with a loud voice. Her lover, finding himself under the necessity of retiring, started up, and, stung with the most violent pangs of rage and disappointment, ran directly to the spot from whence this diabolical noise seemed to proceed. There encountering the ass he discharged such a volley of blows at him and his rider, that the creature carried him off at a round trot, and they roared in unison all the way. Having thus cleared the room of such disagreeable company, he went back to his mistress, and assuring her that this was only some foolish prank of Pallet, took his leave, with a promise of returning after the quiet of the inn should be re-established.

In the mean time, the noise of the bourrique, the cries of the painter, and the lady’s scream, had alarmed the whole house; and the ass, in the precipitation of his retreat, seeing people with lights before him, took shelter in the apartment for which he was at first designed, just as the Levite, aroused at the uproar, had quitted his dulcinea, and was attempting to recover his own chamber unperceived. Seeing himself opposed by such an animal, mounted by a tall, meagre, lantern-jawed figure, half naked, with a white nightcap upon his head which added to the natural paleness of his complexion — the Jew was sorely troubled in mind and believing it to be an apparition of Balaam and his ass, flew backward with a nimble pace, and crept under the bed, where he lay, concealed. Mr. Jolter and the priest, who were the foremost of those who had been aroused by the noise, were not unmoved when they saw such a spectacle rushing into the chamber, whence the lady of pleasure began to shriek. The governor made a full halt, and the Capuchin discovered no inclination to proceed. They were, however, by the pressure of the crowd that followed them, thrust forward to the door, through which the vision entered; and there Jolter, with great ceremony, complimented his reverence with the pas, beseeching him to walk in. The mendicant was too courteous and humble to accept this pre-eminence, and a very earnest dispute ensued; during which, the ass, in the course of his circuit, showed himself and rider, and in a trice decided the contest; for, struck with this second glimpse, both at one instant sprang backward with such force, as overturned their next men, who communicated the impulse to those that stood behind them, and these again to others; so that the whole passage was strewed with a long file of people, that lay in a line, like the sequel and dependence of a pack of cards.

In the midst of this havoc, our hero returned from his own room with an air of astonishment, asking the cause of this uproar. Receiving such hints of intelligence as Jolter’s consternation would permit him to give, he snatched the candle out of his hand, and advanced into the haunted chamber without hesitation, being followed by all present, who broke forth into a long and loud peal of laughter, when they perceived the ludicrous source of their disquiet. The painter himself made an effort to join their mirth; but he had been so harrowed by fear, and smarted so much with the pain of the discipline he had received from Pickle, that be could not, with all his endeavours, vanquish the ruefulness of his countenance. His attempt served only to increase the awkwardness of his situation, which was not at all mended by the behaviour of the coquette, who, furious with her disappointment, slipped on a petticoat and bedgown, and springing upon him, like mother Hecuba, with her nails deprived all one side of his nose of the skin; and would not have left him an eye to see through, if some of the company had not rescued him from her unmerciful talons. Provoked at this outrage, as well as by her behaviour to him in the diligence, he publicly explained his intention in entering her chamber in this equipage; and missing the Hebrew among the spectators, assured them that he must have absconded somewhere in the apartment. In pursuance of this intimation, the room was immediately searched, and the mortified Levite pulled up by the heels from his lurking-place; so that Pallet had the good fortune, at last, to transfer the laugh from himself to his rival and the French inamorata, who accordingly underwent the ridicule of the whole audience.

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