The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter LVII.

Pallet endeavouring to unravel the Mystery of the Treatment he had received, falls out of the Frying-pan into the Fire.

Nevertheless, Pallet was still confounded and chagrined by one consideration, which was no other than that of his having been so roughly handled in the chamber, belonging, as he found upon inquiry, to the handsome young lady who was under the Capuchin’s direction. He recollected that the door was fast locked when his beast burst it open, and he had no reason to believe that any person followed him in his inruption: on the other hand, he could not imagine that such a gentle creature would either attempt to commit, or be able to execute, such a desperate assault as that which his body had sustained; and her demeanour was so modest and circumspect, that he durst not harbour the least suspicion of her virtue. These reflections bewildered him in the labyrinth of thought: he rummaged his whole imagination, endeavouring to account for what had happened. At length, he concluded, that either Peregrine, or the devil, or both must have been at the bottom of the whole affair, and determined, for the satisfaction of his curiosity, to watch our hero’s motions, during the remaining part of the night, so narrowly, that his conduct, mysterious as it was, should not be able to elude his penetration.

With these sentiments he retired to his own room, after the ass had been restored to the right owners, and the priest had visited and comforted his fair ward, who had been almost distracted with fear. Silence no sooner prevailed again, than he crawled darkling towards her door, and huddled himself up in an obscure corner, from whence he might observe the ingress or egress of any human creature. He had not long remained in this posture, when, fatigued with this adventure and that of the preceding night, his faculties were gradually overpowered with slumber; and, falling fast asleep, he began to snore like a whole congregation of Presbyterians. The Flemish beauty, hearing this discordant noise in the passage, began to be afraid of some new alarm, and very prudently bolted her door; so that when her lover wanted to repeat his visit he was not only surprised and incensed at this disagreeable serenade, the author of which he did not know; but when compelled by his passion, which was by this time wound to the highest pitch, he ventured to approach the entrance, he had the extreme mortification to find himself shut out. He durst not knock or signify his presence in any other manner, on account of the lady’s reputation, which would have greatly suffered had the snorer been waked by his endeavours. Had he known that the person who thus thwarted his views was the painter, he would have taken some effectual step to remove him; but he could not conceive what should induce Pallet to take up his residence in that corner; nor could he use the assistance of a light, to distinguish him, because there was not a candle burning in the house.

It is impossible to describe the rage and vexation of our hero, while he continued thus tantalized upon the brink of bliss, after his desire had been exasperated by the circumstances of his former disappointments. He ejaculated a thousand execrations against his own fortune, cursed all his fellow-travellers without exception, vowed revenge against the painter, who had twice confounded his most interesting scheme, and was tempted to execute immediate vengeance upon the unknown cause of his present miscarriage. In this agony of distraction did he sweat two whole hours in the passage, though not without some faint hope of being delivered from his tormentor, who, he imagined, upon waking, would undoubtedly shift his quarters, and leave the field free to his designs; but when he heard the cock repeat his salutation to the morn, which began to open on the rear of night, he could no longer restrain his indignation. Going to his own chamber, he filled a basin with cold water, and, standing at some distance, discharged it full in the face of the gaping snorer, who, over and above the surprise occasioned by the application, was almost suffocated by the liquor that entered his mouth, and ran down into his windpipe. While he gasped like a person half-drowned, without knowing the nature of his disaster, or remembering the situation in which he fell asleep, Peregrine retired to his own door, and, to his no small astonishment, from a long howl that invaded his ears, learned that the patient was no other than Pallet, who had now, for the third time, balked his good fortune.

Enraged at the complicated trespasses of this unfortunate offender, he rushed from his apartment with a horsewhip, and, encountering the painter in his flight, overturned him in the passage. There he exercised the instrument of his wrath with great severity on pretence of mistaking him for some presumptuous cur, which had disturbed the repose of the inn: nay, when he called aloud for mercy in a supplicating tone, and his chastiser could no longer pretend to treat him as a quadruped, such was the virulence of the young gentleman’s indignation, that he could not help declaring his satisfaction, by telling Pallet he had richly deserved the punishment he had undergone, for his madness, folly, and impertinence, in contriving and executing such idle schemes, as had no other tendency than that of plaguing his neighbours.

Pallet protested, with great vehemence, that he was innocent as the child unborn of an intention to give umbrage to any person whatever, except the Israelite and his doxy, who he knew had incurred his displeasure. “But as God is my Saviour,” said he, “I believe I am persecuted with witchcraft, and begin to think that d — d priest is an agent of the devil; for he has been but two nights in our company, during which I have not closed an eye; but, on the contrary, have been tormented by all the fiends of hell.” Pickle peevishly replied, that his torments had been occasioned by his own foolish imagination; and asked how he came to howl in that corner. The painter, who did not think proper to own the truth, said, that he had been transported thither by some preternatural conveyance, and soused in water by an invisible hand. The youth, in hope of profiting by his absence, advised him to retire immediately to his bed, and by sleep strive to comfort his brain, which seemed to be not a little disordered by the want of that refreshment. Pallet himself began to be very much of the same way of thinking; and, in compliance with such wholesome counsel, betook himself to rest, muttering prayers all the way for the recovery of his own understanding.

Pickle attended him to his chamber, and, locking him up, put the key in his own pocket, that he might not have it in his power to interrupt him again; but in his return he was met by Mr. Jolter and the doctor, who had been a second time alarmed by the painter’s cries, and came to inquire about this new adventure. Half-frantic with such a series of disappointments, he cursed them in his heart for their unseasonable appearance. When they questioned him about Pallet, he told them he had found him stark staring mad, howling in a corner, and wet to the skin, and conducted him to his room, where he was now abed. The physician, hearing this circumstance, made a merit of his vanity; and, under pretence of concern for the patient’s welfare, desired he might have an opportunity of examining the symptoms of his disorder, without loss of time; alleging that many diseases might have been stifled in the birth, which afterwards baffled all the endeavours of the medical art. The young gentleman accordingly delivered the key, and once more withdrew into his own chamber, with a view of seizing the first occasion that should present itself of renewing his application to his Amanda’s door; while the doctor, in his way to Pellet’s apartment, hinted to the governor his suspicion that the patient laboured under that dreadful symptom called the hydrophobia, which he observed had sometimes appeared in persons who were not previously bit by a mad dog. This conjecture he founded upon the howl he uttered when he was soused with water, and began to recollect certain circumstances of the painter’s behaviour for some days past, which now he could plainly perceive had prognosticated some such calamity. He then ascribed the distemper to the violent frights he had lately undergone, affirming that the affair of the Bastille had made such a violent encroachment upon his understanding, that his manner of thinking and speaking was entirely altered. By a theory of his own invention, he explained the effects of fear upon a loose system of nerves, and demonstrated the modus in which the animal spirits operate upon the ideas and power of imagination.

This disquisition, which was communicated at the painter’s door, might have lasted till breakfast, had not Jolter reminded him of his own maxim, Venienti occurrite morbo; upon which he put the key to immediate use, and they walked softly towards the bed, where the patient lay extended at full length in the arms of sleep. The physician took notice of his breathing hard, and his mouth being open; and from these diagnostics declared, that the liquidum nervosum was intimately affected, and the saliva impregnated with the spiculated particles of the virus, howsoever contracted. This sentence was still farther confirmed by the state of his pulse, which, being full and slow, indicated an oppressed circulation, from a loss of elasticity in the propelling arteries. He proposed that he should immediately suffer a second aspersion of water, which would not only contribute to the cure, but also certify them, beyond all possibility of doubt, with regard to the state of the disease; for it would evidently appear, from the manner in which he would bear the application, whether or not his horror of water amounted to a confirmed hydrophobia. Mr. Jolter, in compliance with his proposal, began to empty a bottle of water, which he found in the room in a basin; when he was interrupted by the prescriber, who advised him to use the contents of the chamberpot, which, being impregnated with salt, would operate more effectually than pure element. Thus directed, the governor lifted up the vessel, which was replete with medicine, and with one turn of his hand, discharged the whole healing inundation upon the ill-omened patient, who, waking in the utmost distraction of horror, yelled most hideously, just at the time when Peregrine had brought his mistress to a parley, and entertained hopes of being admitted into her chamber.

Terrified at this exclamation, she instantly broke off the treaty, beseeching him to retire from the door, that her honour might receive no injury from his being found in that place; and he had just enough of recollection left to see the necessity of obeying the order; in conformity to which he retreated well nigh deprived of his senses, and almost persuaded that so many unaccountable disappointments must have proceeded from some supernatural cause, of which the idiot Pallet was no more than the involuntary instrument.

Meanwhile, the doctor having ascertained the malady of the patient, whose cries, interrupted by frequent sobs and sighs, he interpreted into the barking of a dog, and having no more salt-water at hand, resolved to renew the bath with such materials as chance would afford. He actually laid hold of the bottle and basin; but by this time the painter had recovered the use of his senses so well as to perceive his drift, and, starting up like a frantic bedlamite, ran directly to his sword, swearing, with many horrid imprecations, that he would murder them both immediately, if he should be hanged before dinner, They did not choose to wait the issue of his threat, but retired with such precipitation that the physician had almost dislocated his shoulder by running against one side of the entry. Jolter, having pulled the door after him and turned the key, betook himself to flight, roaring aloud for assistance. His colleague, seeing the door secured, valued himself upon his resolution, and exhorted him to return; declaring that, for his own part, he was more afraid of the madman’s teeth than of his weapon, and admonishing the governor to re-enter and execute what they had left undone. “Go in,” said he, “without fear or apprehension; and if any accident shall happen to you, either from his slaver or his sword, I will assist you with my advice, which from this station I can more coolly and distinctly administer, than I should be able to supply if my ideas were disturbed, or my attention engaged in any personal concern.” Jolter, who could make no objection to the justness of the conclusion, frankly owned that he had no inclination to try the experiment; observing, that self-preservation was the first law of nature; that his connections with the unhappy lunatic were but slight; and that it could not be reasonably expected that he would run such risks for his service as were declined by one who had set out with him from England on the footing of a companion. This insinuation introduced a dispute upon the nature of benevolence, and the moral sense, which, the republican argued, existed independent of any private consideration, and could never be affected by any contingent circumstance of time and fortune; while the other, who abhorred his principles, asserted the duties and excellence of private friendship with infinite rancour of altercation.

During the hottest of the argument, they were joined by the Capuchin, who being astonished to see them thus virulently engaged at the door, and to hear the painter bellowing within the chamber, conjured them, in the name of God, to tell him the cause of that confusion which had kept the whole house in continual alarm during the best part of the night, and seemed to be the immediate work of the devil and his angels. When the governor gave him to understand that Pallet was visited with an evil spirit, he muttered a prayer of St. Antonio de Padua, and undertook to cure the painter, provided he could be secured so as that he might, without danger to himself, burn part of a certain relic under his nose, which he assured them was equal to the miraculous power of Eleazar’s ring. They expressed great curiosity to know what this treasure was; and the priest was prevailed upon to tell them in confidence, that it was a collection of the parings of the nails belonging to those two madmen, whom Jesus purged of the legion of devils that afterwards entered the swine. So saying, he pulled from one of his pockets a small box, containing about an ounce of the parings of a horse’s hoof; at sight of which the governor could not help smiling, on account of the grossness of the imposition. The doctor asked, with a supercilious smile, whether those maniacs whom Jesus cured were of the sorrel complexion, or dapple-gray; for, from the texture of these parings, he could prove that the original owners were of the quadruped order, and even distinguish that their feet had been fortified with shoes of iron.

The mendicant, who bore an inveterate grudge against this son of Esculapius ever since he had made so free with the Catholic religion, replied, with great bitterness, that he was a wretch with whom no Christian ought to communicate; that the vengeance of Heaven would one day overtake him, on account of his profanity; and that his heart was shod with a metal much harder than iron, which nothing but hell fire would be able to melt.

It was now broad day, and all the servants of the inn were afoot. Peregrine, seeing it would be impossible to obtain any sort of indemnification for the time he had lost, and the perturbation of his spirits hindering him from enjoying repose, which was moreover obstructed by the noise of Pallet and his attendants, put on his clothes at once, and, in exceeding ill-humour, arrived at the spot where this triumvirate stood debating about the means of overpowering the furious painter, who still continued his song of oaths and execrations, and made sundry efforts to break open the door. Chagrined as our hero was, he could not help laughing when he heard how the patient had been treated; and his indignation changing into compassion, he called to him through the keyhole, desiring to know the reason of his distracted behaviour. Pallet no sooner recognized his voice than, lowering his own to a whimpering tone, “My dear friend!” said he, “I have at last detected the ruffians who have persecuted me so much. I caught them in the fact of suffocating me with cold water; and by the Lord, I will be revenged, or may I never live to finish my Cleopatra. For the love of God! open the door, and I will make that conceited pagan, that pretender to taste, that false devotee of the ancients, who poisons people with sillykicabies and devil’s dung — I say, I will make him a monument of my wrath, and an example to all the cheats and impostors of the faculty; and as for that thick-headed insolent pedant, his confederate, who emptied my own jordan upon me while I slept, he had better have been in his beloved Paris, botching schemes for his friend the Pretender, than incur the effects of my resentment. Gadsbodikins! I won’t leave him a windpipe for the hangman to stop, at the end of another rebellion.”

Pickle told him his conduct had been so extravagant as to confirm the whole company in the belief that he was actually deprived of his senses: on which supposition, Mr. Jolter and the doctor had acted the part of friends, in doing that which they thought most conducive to his recovery: so that their concern merited his thankful acknowledgment, instead of his frantic menaces: that, for his own part, he would be the first to condemn him, as one utterly bereft of his wits, and give orders for his being secured as a madman, unless he would immediately give a proof of his sanity by laying aside his sword, composing his spirits, and thanking his injured friends for their care of his person.

This alternative quieted his transports in a moment: he was terrified at the apprehension of being treated like a bedlamite, being dubious of the state of his own brain; and, on the other hand, had conceived such a horror and antipathy for his tormentors, that, far from believing himself obliged by what they had done, he could not even think of them without the utmost rage and detestation. He, therefore, in the most tranquil voice he could assume, protested that he never was less out of his senses than at present, though he did not know how long he might retain them, if he should be considered in the light of a lunatic: that, in order to prove his being Compos mentis, he was willing to sacrifice the resentment he so justly harboured against those who, by their malice, had brought him to this pass; but, as he apprehended it would be the greatest sign of madness he could exhibit to thank them for the mischiefs they had brought upon him, he desired to be excused from making any such concession; and swore he would endure everything rather than be guilty of such mean absurdity.

Peregrine held a consultation upon this reply, when the governor and physician strenuously argued against any capitulation with a maniac, and proposed that some method might be taken to seize, fetter, and convey him into a dark room, where he might be treated according to the rules of art; but the Capuchin, understanding the circumstances of the case, undertook to restore him to his former state, without having recourse to such violent measures. Pickle, who was a better judge of the affair than any person present, opened the door without further hesitation, and displayed the poor painter standing with a woeful countenance, shivering in his shirt, which was as wet as if he had been dragged through the Dender:— a spectacle which gave such offence to the chaste eyes of the Hebrew’s mistress, who was by this time one of the spectators, that she turned her head another way, and withdrew to her own room, exclaiming against the indecent practices of men.

Pallet, seeing the young gentleman enter, ran to him, and, taking him by the hands, called him his best friend, and said he had rescued him from those who had a design against his life. The priest would have produced his parings and applied them to his nose, but was hindered by Pickle, who advised the patient to shift himself, and put on his clothes. This being done with great order and deliberation, Mr. Jolter who, with the doctor, had kept a wary distance, in expectation of seeing some storage effects of his distraction, began to believe that he had been guilty of a mistake, and accused the physician of having misled him by his false diagnostic. The doctor still insisted upon his former declaration assuring him, that although Pallet enjoyed a short interval for the present, the delirium would soon recur, unless they would profit by this momentary calm, and order him to be blooded, blistered, and purged with all imaginable despatch.

The governor, however, notwithstanding this caution, advanced to the injured party, and begged pardon for the share he had in giving him such disturbance. He declared, in the most solemn manner, that he had no other intention than that of contributing towards his welfare; and that his behaviour was the result of the physician’s prescription, which he affirmed was absolutely necessary for the recovery of his health.

The painter, who had very little gall in his disposition, was satisfied with this apology; but his resentment, which was before divided, now glowed with double fire against his first fellow-traveller, whom he looked upon as the author of all the mischances he had undergone, and marked out for his vengeance accordingly. Yet the doors of reconciliation were not shut against the doctor, who, with great justice, might have transferred this load of offence from himself to Peregrine, who was, without doubt, the source of the painter’s misfortune: but, in that case, he must have owned himself mistaken in his medical capacity, and he did not think the friendship of Pallet important enough to be retrieved by such condescension; so that he resolved to neglect him entirely, and gradually forget the former correspondence he had maintained with a person whom he deemed so unworthy of his notice.

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