The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter VI.

Mrs. Grizzle is indefatigable in gratifying her Sister’s Longings — Peregrine is born, and managed contrary to the Directions and Remonstrances of his Aunt, who is disgusted upon that account, and resumes the Plan which she had before rejected.

The success of this device would have encouraged Mrs. Pickle to practise more of the same sort upon her sister-in-law, had she not been deterred by a violent fever which seized her zealous ally, in consequence of the fatigue and uneasiness she had undergone; which, while it lasted, as effectually conduced to her repose, as any other stratagem she could invent. But Mrs. Grizzle’s health was no sooner restored, than the other, being as much incommoded as ever, was obliged, in her own defence, to have recourse to some other contrivance; and managed her artifices in such a manner, as leaves it at this day a doubt whether she was really so whimsical and capriccios in her appetites as she herself pretended to be; for her longings were not restricted to the demands of the palate and stomach, but also affected all the other organs of sense, and even invaded her imagination, which at this period seemed to be strangely diseased.

One time she longed to pinch her husband’s ear; and it was with infinite difficulty that his sister could prevail upon him to undergo the operation. Yet this task was easy, in comparison with another she undertook for the gratification of Mrs. Pickle’s unaccountable desire; which was no other than to persuade the commodore to submit his chin to the mercy of the big-bellied lady, who ardently wished for an opportunity of plucking three black hairs from his beard. When this proposal was first communicated to Mr. Trunnion by the husband, his answer was nothing but a dreadful effusion of oaths, accompanied with such a stare, and delivered in such a tone of voice, as terrified the poor beseecher into immediate silence; so that Mrs. Grizzle was fain to take the whole enterprise upon herself, and next day went to the garrison accordingly, where, having obtained entrance by means of the lieutenant, who, while his commander was asleep, ordered her to be admitted for the joke’s sake, she waited patiently till he turned out, and then accosted him in the yard, where he used to perform his morning walk. He was thunderstruck at the appearance of a woman in a place he had hitherto kept sacred from the whole sex, and immediately began to utter an apostrophe to Tom Pipes, whose turn it was then to watch; when Mrs. Grizzle, falling on her knees before him, conjured him, with many pathetic supplications, to hear and grant her request, which was no sooner signified, than he bellowed in such an outrageous manner that the whole court re-echoed the opprobrious term b — and the word damnation, which he repeated with surprising volubility, without any sort of propriety or connection; and retreated into his penetralia, leaving the baffled devotee in the humble posture she had so unsuccessfully chosen to melt his obdurate heart.

Mortifying as this repulse must have been to a lady of her stately disposition, she did not relinquish her aim, but endeavoured to interest the commodore’s counsellors and adherents in her cause. With this view she solicited the interest of Mr. Hatchway, who, being highly pleased with a circumstance so productive of mirth and diversion, readily entered into her measures, and promised to employ his whole influence for her satisfaction; and as for the boatswain’s mate, he was rendered propitious by the present of a guinea, which she slipped into his hand. In short, Mrs. Grizzle was continually engaged in this negotiation for the space of ten days, during which, the commodore was so incessantly pestered with her remonstrances, and the admonitions of his associates, that he swore his people had a design upon his life, which becoming a burden to him, he at last complied, and was conducted to the scene like a victim to the altar, or rather like a reluctant bear, when he is led to the stake amidst the shouts and cries of butchers and their dogs. After all, this victory was not quite so decisive as the conquerors imagined; for the patient being set, and the performer prepared with a pair of pincers, a small difficulty occurred: she could not for some time discern one black hair on the whole superficies of Mr. Trunnion’s face, when Mrs. Grizzle, very much alarmed and disconcerted, had recourse to a magnifying-glass that stood upon her toilet; and, after a most accurate examination, discovered a fibre of a dusky hue, to which the instrument being applied, Mrs. Pickle pulled it up by the roots, to the no small discomposure of the owner, who, feeling the smart much more severe than he had expected, started up, and swore he would not part with another hair to save them all from damnation.

Mr. Hatchway exhorted him to patience and resignation; Mrs. Grizzle repeated her entreaties with great humility; but finding him deaf to all her prayers, and absolutely bent upon leaving the house, she clasped his knees, and begged for the love of God that he would have compassion upon a distressed family, and endure a little more for the sake of the poor infant, who would otherwise be born with a gray beard upon its chin. Far from being melted, he was rather exasperated by this reflection; to which he replied with great indignation, “D— you for a yaw-sighted b —! I’ll be hanged, long enough before he has any beard at all:” so saying, he disengaged himself from her embraces, flung out at the door, and halted homewards with such surprising speed, that the lieutenant could not overtake him until he had arrived at his own gate; and Mrs. Grizzle was so much affected with his escape, that her sister, in pure compassion, desired she would not afflict herself, protesting that her own wish was already gratified, for she had plucked three hairs at once, having from the beginning been dubious of the commodore’s patience.

But the labours of this assiduous kinswoman did not end with the achievement of this adventure: her eloquence or industry was employed without ceasing in the performance of other tasks imposed by the ingenious craft of her sister-in-law, who at another time conceived an insuppressible affection for a fricassee of frogs, which should be the genuine natives of France; so that there was a necessity for despatching a messenger on purpose to that kingdom; but as she could not depend upon the integrity of any common servant, Mrs. Grizzle undertook that province, and actually set sail in a cutter for Boulogne, from whence she returned in eight-and-forty hours with a tub full of those live animals, which being dressed according to art, her sister did not taste them, on pretence that her fit of longing was past: but then her inclinations took a different turn, and fixed themselves upon a curious implement belonging to a lady of quality in the neighbourhood, which was reported to be a great curiosity: this was no other than a porcelain chamber-pot of admirable workmanship, contrived by the honourable owner, who kept it for her own private use, and cherished it as a utensil of inestimable value.

Mrs. Grizzle shuddered at the first hint, she received of her sister’s desire to possess this piece of furniture; because she knew it was not to be purchased; and the lady’s character, which was none of the most amiable in point of humanity and condescension, forbad all hopes of borrowing it for a season: she therefore attempted to reason down this capricious appetite, as an extravagance of imagination which ought to be combated and repressed; and Mrs. Pickle, to all appearance was convinced and satisfied by her arguments and advice; but, nevertheless, could make use of no other convenience, and was threatened with a very dangerous suppression. Roused at the peril in which she supposed her to be, Mrs. Grizzle flew to the lady’s house, and, having obtained a private audience, disclosed the melancholy situation of her sister, and implored the benevolence of her ladyship, who, contrary to expectation, received her very graciously, and consented to indulge Mrs. Pickle’s longing. Mr. Pickle began to be out of humour at the expense to which he was exposed by the caprice of his wife, who was herself alarmed at this last accident, and for the future kept her fancy within bounds; insomuch, that without being subject to any more extraordinary trouble, Mrs. Grizzle reaped the long-wished fruits of her dearest expectation in the birth of a fine boy, whom her sister in a few months brought into the world.

I shall omit the description of the rejoicings, which were infinite on this important occasion, and only observe that Mrs. Pickle’s mother and aunt stood godmothers, and the commodore assisted at the ceremony as godfather to the child, who was christened by the name of Peregrine, in compliment to the memory of a deceased uncle. While the mother confined to her bed, and incapable of maintaining her own authority, Mrs. Grizzle took charge of the infant baby double claim, and superintended, with surprising vigilance, the nurse and midwife in all the particulars of their respective offices, which were performed by her express direction. But no sooner was Mrs. Pickle in a condition to reassume the management of her own affairs, when she thought proper to alter certain regulations concerning the child, which had obtained in consequence of her sister’s orders, directing, among other innovations, that the bandages with which the infant had been so neatly rolled up, like an Egyptian mummy, should be loosened and laid aside, in order to rid nature of all restraint, and give the blood free scope to circulate; and, with her own hands she plunged him headlong every morning into a tub full of cold water. This operation seemed so barbarous to the tender-hearted Mrs. Grizzle, that she not only opposed it with all her eloquence, shedding abundance of tears over the sacrifice when it was made; and took horse immediately, and departed for the habitation of an eminent country physician, whom she consulted in these words: “Pray, doctor, is it not both dangerous and cruel to be the means of letting a poor tender infant perish by sousing it in water as cold as ice?”—“Yes,” replied the doctor, “downright murder, I affirm.”—“I see you are a person of great learning and sagacity,” said the other; “and I must beg you will be so good as to signify your opinion in your own handwriting.” The doctor immediately complied with her request, and expressed himself upon a slip of paper to this purpose:—

“These are to certify whom it may concern, that I firmly believe, and it is my unalterable opinion, that who soever letteth an infant perish, by sousing it in cold water, even though the said water should not be so cold as ice, is in effect guilty of the murder of the said infant, as witness my hand,
“Comfit Colocynth.”

Having obtained this certificate, for which the physician was handsomely acknowledged, she returned, exalting, and hoping, with such authority, to overthrow all opposition. Accordingly, next morning, when her nephew was about to undergo his diurnal baptism, she produced the commission, whereby she conceived herself empowered to overrule such inhuman proceedings, but she was disappointed in her expectation, confident as it was; not that Mrs. Pickle pretended to differ in opinion from Dr. Colocynth, “for whose character and sentiments,” said she, “I have such veneration, that I shall carefully observe the caution implied in this very certificate, by which, far from condemning my method of practice, he only asserts that killing is murder; an asseveration, the truth of which, it is to be hoped, I shall never dispute.”

Mrs. Grizzle, who, sooth to say, had rather too superficially considered the clause by which she thought herself authorized, perused the paper with more accuracy, and was confounded at her own want of penetration. Yet, though she was confuted, she was by no means convinced that her objections to the cold bath were unreasonable; on the contrary, after having bestowed sundry opprobrious epithets on the physician, for his want of knowledge and candour, she protested in the most earnest and solemn manner the pernicious practice of dipping the child — a piece of cruelty which, with God’s assistance, she should never suffer to be inflicted on her own issue; and washing her hands of the melancholy consequence that would certainly ensue, shut herself up in her closet to indulge her sorrow and vexation. She was deceived, however, in her prognostic. The boy, instead of declining in point of health, seemed to acquire fresh vigour from every plunge, as if he had been resolved to discredit the wisdom and foresight of his aunt, who in all probability could never forgive him for this want of reverence and respect. This conjecture is founded upon her behaviour to him in the sequel of his infancy, during which she was known to torture him more than once, when she had opportunities of thrusting pins into his flesh, without any danger of being detected. In short, her affections were in a little time altogether alienated from this hope of her family, whom she abandoned to the conduct of his mother, whose province it undoubtedly was to manage the nurture of her own child; while she herself resumed her operations upon the commodore, whom she was resoled at any rate to captivate and enslave. And it must be owned that Mrs. Grizzle’s knowledge of the human heart never shone so conspicuous as in the methods she pursued for the accomplishment of this important aim.

Through the rough unpolished hulk that cased the soul of Trunnion, she could easily distinguish a large share of that vanity and self-conceit that generally predominate even in the most savage beast; and to this she constantly appealed. In his presence she always exclaimed against the craft and dishonest dissimulation of the world, and never failed of uttering particular invectives against those arts of chicanery in which the lawyers are so conversant, to the prejudice and ruin of their fellow-creatures; observing that in a seafaring life, as far as she had opportunities of judging or being informed, there was nothing but friendship, sincerity, and a hearty contempt for everything that was mean or selfish.

This kind of conversation, with the assistance of certain particular civilities, insensibly made an impression on the mind of the commodore, and the more effectual as his former prepossessions were built upon very slender foundations. His antipathy to old maids, which he had conceived upon hearsay, began gradually to diminish when he found they were not quite such infernal animals as they had been presented; and it was not long before he was heard to observe, at the club, that Pickle’s sister had not so much of the core of b — in her as he had imagined. This negative compliment, by the medium of her brother, soon reached the ears of Mrs. Grizzle, who, thus encouraged, redoubled in her arts and attention; so that, in less than three months after, he in the same place distinguished her with the epithet of a d — d sensible jade.

Hatchway, taking the alarm at this declaration, which he feared foreboded something fatal to his interest, told his commander, with a sneer, that she had sense enough to bring him to under her stern; and he did not doubt but that such an old crazy vessel would be the better for being taken in tow. “But howsomever,” added this arch adviser, “I’d have you take care of your upper-works; for if once you are made fast to her poop, egad! She’ll spank it away, and make every beam in your body crack with straining.”

Our she-projector’s whole plan had like to have been ruined by the effect which this malicious hint had upon Trunnion, whose rage and suspicion being wakened at once, his colour changed from tawny to a cadaverous pale, and then shifting to a deep and dusky red, such as we sometimes observe in the sky when it is replete with thunder, he, after his usual preamble of unmeaning oaths, answered in these words:—“D— you, you jury-legg’d dog, you would give all the stowage in your hold to be as sound as I am; and as for being taken in tow, d’ye see, I’m not so disabled that I can lie my course, and perform my voyage without assistance; and, egad! no man shall ever see Hawser Trunnion lagging astern, in the wake of e’er a b — in Christendom.”

Mrs. Grizzle, who every morning interrogated her brother with regard to the subject of his night’s conversation with his friends, soon received the unwelcome news of the commodore’s aversion to matrimony; and justly imputing the greatest part of his disgust to the satirical insinuations of Mr. Hatchway, resolved to level this obstruction to her success, and actually found means to interest him in her scheme. She had indeed, on some occasions, a particular knack at making converts, being probably not unacquainted with that grand system of persuasion which is adopted by the greatest personages of the age, and fraught with maxims much more effectual than all the eloquence of Tully or Demosthenes, even when supported by the demonstrations of truth; besides, Mr. Hatchway’s fidelity to his new ally was confirmed by his foreseeing, in his captain’s marriage, an infinite fund of gratification for his own cynical disposition. Thus, therefore, converted and properly cautioned, he for the future suppressed all the virulence of his wit against the matrimonial state; and as he knew not how to open his mouth in the positive praise of any person whatever, took all opportunities of excepting Mrs. Grizzle, by name, from the censures he liberally bestowed upon the rest of her sex. “She is not a drunkard, like Nan Castick, of Deptford,” he would say; “not a nincompoop, like Peg Simper, of Woolwich; not a brimstone, like Kate Koddle, of Chatham; nor a shrew, like Nell Griffin, on the Point, Portsmouth” (ladies to whom, at different times, they had both paid their addresses); “but a tight, good-humoured, sensible wench, who knows very well how to box her compass; well-trimmed aloft, and well-sheathed alow, with a good cargo under her hatches.” The commodore at first imagined this commendation was ironical; but, hearing it repeated again and again, was filled with astonishment at this surprising change in the lieutenant’s behaviour; and, after a long fit of musing, concluded that Hatchway himself harboured a matrimonial design on the person of Mrs. Grizzle.

Pleased with this conjecture, he rallied jack in his turn, and one night toasted her health as a compliment to his passion — a circumstance which the lady learned next day by the usual canal of her intelligence; and interpreting as the result of his own tenderness for her, she congratulated herself on the victory she had obtained; and thinking it unnecessary to continue the reserve she had hitherto industriously affected, resolved from that day to sweeten her behaviour towards him with such a dash of affection as could not fail to persuade him that he had inspired her with a reciprocal flame. In consequence of this determination, he was invited to dinner, and while he stayed treated with such cloying proofs of her regard, that not only the rest of the company, but even Trunnion perceived her drift; and taking the alarm accordingly, could not help exclaiming, “Oho! I see how the land lies, and if I don’t weather the point, I’ll be d — d.” Having thus expressed himself to his afflicted inamorata, he made the best of his way to the garrison, in which he shut himself up for the space of ten days, and had no communication with his friends and domestics but by looks, which were most significantly picturesque.

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