The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter LVIII.

Peregrine, almost distracted with his Disappointment, conjures the fair Fleming to permit his Visits at Brussels — She withdraws from his Pursuit.

Things being thus adjusted, and all the company dressed, they went to breakfast about five in the morning; and in less than an hour after were seated in the diligence, where a profound silence prevailed. Peregrine, who used to be the life of the society, was extremely pensive and melancholy on account of his mishap, the Israelite and his dulcinea dejected in consequence of their disgrace, the poet absorbed in lofty meditation, the painter in schemes of revenge; while Jolter, rocked by the motion of the carriage, made himself amends for the want of rest he had sustained; and the mendicant, with his fair charge, were infected by the cloudy aspect of our youth, in whose disappointment each of them, for different reasons, bore no inconsiderable share. This general languor and recess from all bodily exercise disposed them all to receive the gentle yoke of slumber; and in half-an-hour after they had embarked, there was not one of them awake, except our hero and his mistress, unless the Capuchin was pleased to counterfeit sleep, in order to indulge our young gentleman with an opportunity of enjoying some private conversation with his beauteous ward.

Peregrine did not neglect the occasion; but, on the contrary, seized the first minute, and, in gentle murmurs, lamented his hard hap in being thus the sport of fortune. He assured her, and that with great sincerity, that all the cross accidents of his life had not cost him one half of the vexation and keenness of chagrin which he had suffered last night; and that now he was on the brink of parting from her, he should be overwhelmed with the blackest despair, if she would not extend her compassion so far as to give him an opportunity of sighing at her feet in Brussels, during the few days his affairs would permit him to spend in that city. This young lady, with an air of mortification, expressed her sorrow for being the innocent cause of his anxiety; said she hoped last night’s adventure would be a salutary warning to both their souls; for she was persuaded, that her virtue was protected by the intervention of Heaven; that whatever impression it might have made upon him, she was enabled by it to adhere to that duty from which her passion had begun to swerve; and, beseeching him to forget her for his own peace, gave him to understand, that neither the plan she had laid down for her own conduct, nor the dictates of her honour, would allow her to receive his visits, or carry on any other correspondence with him, while she was restricted by the articles of her marriage-vow.

This explanation produced such a violent effect upon her admirer, that he was for some minutes deprived of the faculty of speech; which he no sooner recovered, than he gave vent to the most unbridled transports of passion. He taxed her with barbarity and indifference; told her, that she had robbed him of his reason and internal peace; that he would follow her to the ends of the earth, and cease to live sooner than cease to love her; that he would sacrifice the innocent fool who had been the occasion of all this disquiet, and murder every man whom he considered as an obstruction to his views. In a word, his passions, which had continued so long in a state of the highest fermentation, together with the want of that repose which calms and quiets the perturbation of the spirits, had wrought him up to a pitch of real distraction. While he uttered these delirious expressions, the tears ran down his cheeks; and he underwent such agitation that the tender heart of the fair Fleming was affected with his condition: and, while her own face was bedewed with the streams of sympathy, she begged him, for Heaven’s sake, to be composed; and promised, for his satisfaction, to abate somewhat of the rigour of her purpose. Consoled by this kind declaration, he recollected himself; and, taking out his pencil, gave her his address, when she had assured him, that he should hear from her in four-and-twenty hours, at farthest, after their separation.

Thus soothed, he regained the empire of himself, and, by degrees, recovered his serenity. But this was not the case with his Amanda, who, from this sample of his disposition, dreaded the impetuosity of his youth, and was effectually deterred from entering into any engagements that might subject her peace and reputation to the rash effects of such a violent spirit. Though she was captivated by his person and accomplishments, she had reflection enough to foresee, that the longer she countenanced his passion, her own heart would be more and more irretrievably engaged, and the quiet of her life the more exposed to continual interruption. She therefore profited by these considerations, and a sense of religious honour, which helped her to withstand the suggestions of inclination; and resolved to amuse her lover with false hopes, until she should have it in her power to relinquish his conversation, without running any risk of suffering by the inconsiderate sallies of his love. It was with this view that she desired he would not insist upon attending her to her mother’s house, when they arrived at Brussels; and he, cajoled by her artifice, took a formal leave of her, together with the other strangers, fixing his habitation at the inn to which he and his fellow-travellers had been directed, in the impatient expectation of receiving a kind summons from her within the limited time.

Meanwhile, in order to divert his imagination, he went to see the stadthouse, park, and arsenal, took a superficial view of the booksellers’ cabinet of curiosities, and spent the evening at the Italian opera, which was at that time exhibited for the entertainment of Prince Charles of Lorraine, then governor of the Low Countries. In short, the stated period was almost lapsed when Peregrine received a letter to this purport:—

“Sir — If you knew what violence I do my own heart, in declaring, that I have withdrawn myself for ever from your addresses, you would surely applaud the sacrifice I make to virtue, and strive to imitate this example of self-denial. Yes, sir, Heaven hath lent me grace to struggle with my guilty passion, and henceforth to avoid the dangerous sight of him, who inspired it. I therefore conjure you, by the regard you ought to have to the eternal welfare of us both, as well as by the esteem and affection you profess, to war with your unruly inclination, and desist from all attempts of frustrating the laudable resolution I have made. Seek not to invade the peace of one who loves you, to disturb the quiet of a family that never did you wrong, and to alienate the thoughts of a weak woman from a deserving man, who, by the most sacred claim, ought to have the full possession of her heart.”

This billet, without either date or subscription, banished all remains of discretion from the mind of our hero, who ran instantly to the landlord in all the ecstasy of madness, and demanded to see the messenger who brought the letter on pain of putting his whole family to the sword. The innkeeper, terrified by his looks and menaces, fell upon his knees, protesting in the face of Heaven that he was utterly ignorant and innocent of anything that could give him offence, and that the billet was brought by a person whom he did not know, and who retired immediately, saying it required no answer. He then gave utterance to his fury in a thousand imprecations and invectives against the writer, whom he dishonoured with the appellations of a coquette, a jilt, an adventurer, who, by means of a pimping priest, had defrauded him of his money. He denounced vengeance against the mendicant, whom he swore he would destroy if ever he should set eyes on him again.

The painter unluckily appearing during this paroxysm of rage, he seized him by the throat, saying he was ruined by his accursed folly; and in all likelihood poor Pallet would have been strangled had not Jolter interposed in his behalf, beseeching his pupil to have mercy upon the sufferer, and, with infinite anxiety, desiring to know the cause of this violent assault. He received no answer but a string of incoherent curses. When the painter, with unspeakable astonishment, took God to witness that he bad done nothing to disoblige him, the governor began to think, in sad earnest, that Peregrine’s vivacity had at length risen to the transports of actual madness, and was himself almost distracted with this supposition. That he might the better judge what remedy ought to be applied, he used his whole influence, and practised all his eloquence upon the youth, in order to learn the immediate cause of his delirium. He employed the most pathetic entreaties, and even shed tears in the course of his supplication; so that Pickle, the first violence of the hurricane being blown over, was ashamed of his own imprudence, and retired to his chamber in order to recollect his dissipated thoughts; there he shut himself up, and for the second time perusing the fatal epistle, began to waver in his opinion of the author’s character and intention. He sometimes considered her as one of those nymphs, who, under the mask of innocence and simplicity, practise upon the hearts and purses of unwary and inexperienced youths: this was the suggestion of his wrath inflamed by disappointment; but when he reflected upon the circumstances of her behaviour, and recalled her particular charms to his imagination, the severity of his censure gave way and his heart declared in favour of her sincerity.

Yet even this consideration aggravated the sense of his loss, and he was in danger of relapsing into his former distraction, when his passion was a little becalmed by the hope of seeing her again, either by accident or in the course of a diligent and minute inquiry, which he forthwith resolved to set on foot. He had reason to believe that her own heart would espouse his cause in spite of her virtue’s determination; and did not despair of meeting with the Capuchin, whose good offices he knew he could at any time command. Comforted with these reflections, the tempest of his soul subsided. In less than two hours he joined his company with an air of composure, and asked the painter’s forgiveness for the freedom he had taken, the cause of which he promised hereafter to explain. Pallet was glad of being reconciled on any terms to one whose countenance supported him in equilibrio with his antagonist the doctor; and Mr. Jolter was rejoiced beyond measure at his pupil’s recovery.

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