The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter LIX.

Peregrine meets with Mrs. Hornbeck, and is consoled for his Loss — His Valet-de-chambre is embroiled with her Duenna, whom, however, he finds means to appease.

Everything having thus resumed its natural channel, they dined together in great tranquility. In the afternoon, Peregrine, on pretence of staying at home to write letters, while his companions were at the coffee-house, ordered a coach to be called, and, with his valet-de-chambre, who was the only person acquainted with the present state of his thoughts, set out for the promenade, to which all the ladies of fashion resort in the evening during the summer season, in hopes of seeing his fugitive among the rest.

Having made a circuit round the walk, and narrowly observed every female in the place, he perceived at some distance the livery of Hornbeck upon a lacquey that stood at the back of a coach; upon which he ordered his man to reconnoitre the said carriage, while he pulled up his glasses, that he might not be discovered before he should have received some intelligence by which he might conduct himself on this unexpected occasion, that already began to interfere with the purpose of his coming thither, though it could not dispute his attention with the idea of his charming unknown.

His Mercury, having made his observations, reported that there was nobody in the coach but Mrs. Hornbeck and an elderly woman, who had all the air of a duenna; and that the servant was not the same footman who had attended them in France. Encouraged by this information, our hero ordered himself to be driven close up to that side of their convenience on which his old mistress sat, and accosted her with the usual salutation. This lady no sooner beheld her gallant than her cheeks reddened with a double glow, and she exclaimed, “Dear brother, I am overjoyed to see you! Pray come into our coach.” He took the hint immediately, and, complying with her request, embraced this new sister with great affection.

Perceiving that her attendant was very much surprised and alarmed at this unexpected meeting, she, in order to banish her suspicion, and at the same time give her lover his cue, told him that his brother (meaning her husband) was gone to the Spa for a few weeks, by the advice of physicians, on account of his ill state of health; and that, from his last letter, she had the pleasure to tell him he was in a fair way of doing well. The young gentleman expressed his satisfaction at this piece of news; observing, with an air of fraternal concern, that if his brother had not made too free with his constitution, his friends in England would have had no occasion to repine at his absence and want of health, by which he was banished from his own country and connections. He then asked, with an affectation of surprise, why she had not accompanied her spouse, and was given to understand that his tenderness of affection would not suffer him to expose her to the fatigues of the journey, which lay among rocks that were almost inaccessible.

The duenna’s doubts being eased by this preamble of conversation, he changed the subject to the pleasures of the place; and, among other such questions, inquired if she had as yet visited Versailles. This is a public-house, situated upon the canal, at the distance of about two miles from town, and accommodated with tolerable gardens, for the entertainment of company. When she replied in the negative, he proposed to accompany her thither immediately; but the governante, who had hitherto sat silent, objected to this proposal; telling them, in broken English, that as the lady was under her care, she could not answer to Mr. Hornbeck for allowing her to visit such a suspicious place. “As for that matter, madam,” said the confident gallant, “give yourself no trouble; the consequences shall be at my peril; and I will undertake to insure you against my brother’s resentment.” So saying, he directed the coachman to the place, and ordered his own to follow, under the auspices of his valet-de-chambre; while the old gentlewoman, overruled by his assurance, quietly submitted to his authority.

Being arrived at the place, he handed the ladies from the coach, and then, for the first time, observed that the duenna was lame, a circumstance of which he did not scruple to take the advantage; for they had scarce alighted, and drunk a glass of wine, when he advised his sister to enjoy a walk in the garden; and although the attendant made shift to keep them almost always in view, they enjoyed a detached conversation, in which Peregrine learned that the true cause of her being left behind at Brussels, whilst her husband proceeded to Spa, was his dread of the company and familiarities of that place, to which his jealousy durst not expose her; and that she had lived three weeks in a convent at Lisle, from which she was delivered by his own free motion, because indeed he could no longer exist without her company; and, lastly, our lover understood that her governante was a mere dragon, who had been recommended to him by a Spanish merchant, whose wife she attended to her dying day; but she very much questioned whether or not her fidelity was proof enough against money and strong waters. Peregrine assured her the experiment should be tried before parting; and they agreed to pass the night at Versailles, provided his endeavours should succeed.

Having exercised themselves in this manner, until his duenna’s spirits were pretty much exhausted, that she might be the be the better disposed to recruit them with a glass of liqueur, they returned to their apartment, and the cordial was recommended and received in a bumper; but as it did not produce such a visible alteration as the sanguine hopes of Pickle had made him expect, and the old gentlewoman observed that it began to be late, and that the gates would be shut in a little time, he filled up a parting glass, and pledged her in equal quantity. Her blood was too much chilled to be warmed even by this extraordinary dose, which made immediate innovation in the brain of our youth, who, in the gaiety of his imagination, overwhelmed this she-Argus with such profusion of gallantry, that she was more intoxicated with his expressions than with the spirits she had drunk. When in the course of toying he dropped a purse into her bosom, she seemed to forget how the night wore, and, with the approbation of her charge, assented to his proposal of having something for supper.

This was a great point which our adventurer had gained; and yet he plainly perceived that the governante mistook his meaning, by giving herself credit for all the passion he had professed. As this error could be rectified by no other means than those of plying her with the bottle, until her distinguishing faculties should be overpowered, he promoted a quick circulation. She did him justice, without any manifest signs of inebriation, so long, that his own eyes began to reel in the sockets, and he found that before his scheme could be accomplished, he should be effectually unfitted for all the purposes of love. He therefore had recourse to his valet-de-chambre, who understood the hint as soon as it was given, and readily undertook to perform the part of which his master had played the prelude. This affair being settled to his satisfaction, and the night at odds with morning, he took an opportunity of imparting to the ear of this aged dulcinea a kind whisper, importing a promise of visiting her when his sister should be retired to her own chamber, and an earnest desire of leaving her door unlocked.

This agreeable intimation being communicated, he conveyed a caution of the same nature to Mrs. Hornbeck, as he led her to her apartment; and darkness and silence no sooner prevailed in the house, than he and his trusted squire set out on their different voyages. Everything would have succeeded according to their wish, had not the valet-de-chambre suffered himself to fall asleep at the side of his inamorata, and, in the agitation of a violent dream, exclaimed in a voice so unlike that of her supposed adorer, that she distinguished the difference at once. Waking him with a pinch and a loud shriek, she threatened to prosecute him for a rape, and reviled him with all the epithets her rage and disappointment could suggest.

The Frenchman, finding himself detected, behaved with great temper and address: be begged she would compose herself, on account of her own reputation, which was extremely dear to him; protesting that he had a most inviolable esteem for her person. His representations had weight with the duenna, who, upon recollection, comprehended the whole affair, and thought it would be her interest to bring matters to an accommodation. She therefore admitted the apologies of her bed-fellow, provided he would promise to atone by marriage for the injury she had sustained; and in this particular he set her heart at ease by repeated vows, which he uttered with surprising volubility, though without any intention to perform the least title of their contents.

Peregrine, who had been alarmed by her exclamation, and ran to the door with a view of interposing according to the emergency of the case, overhearing the affair thus compromised, returned to his mistress, who was highly entertained with an account of what had passed, foreseeing that for the future she should be under no difficulty or restriction from the severity of her guard.

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