The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter LX.

Hornbeck is informed of his Wife’s Adventure with Peregrine, for whom he prepares a Stratagem, which is rendered ineffectual by the Information of Pipes — The Husband is ducked for his Intention, and our Hero apprehended by the Patrol.

There was another person, however, still ungained; and that was no other than her footman, whose secrecy our hero attempted to secure in the morning by a handsome present, which he received with many professions of gratitude and devotion to his service; yet this complaisance was nothing but a cloak used to disguise the design he harboured of making his master acquainted with the whole transaction. Indeed this lacquey had been hired, not only as a spy upon his mistress, but also as a check on the conduct of the governante, with promise of ample reward if ever he should discover any sinister or suspicious practices in the course of her behaviour. As for the footman whom they had brought from England, he was retained in attendance upon the person of his master, whose confidence he had lost by advising him to gentle methods of reclaiming his lady, when her irregularities had subjected her to his wrath.

The Flemish valet, in consequence of the office he had undertaken, wrote to Hornbeck by the first post, giving an exact detail of the adventure at Versailles, with such a description of the pretended brother as left the husband no room to think he could be any other person than his first dishonourer; and exasperated him to such a degree, that he resolved to lay an ambush for this invader, and at once disqualify him from disturbing his repose, by maintaining further correspondence with his wife.

Meanwhile the lovers enjoyed themselves without restraint, and Peregrine’s plan of inquiry after his dear unknown was for the present postponed. His fellow-travellers were confounded at his mysterious motions, which filled the heart of Jolter with anxiety and terror. This careful conductor was fraught with such experience of his pupil’s disposition, that he trembled with the apprehension of some sudden accident, and lived in continual alarm, like a man that walks under the wall of a nodding tower. Nor did he enjoy any alleviations of his fears, when, upon telling the young gentleman that the rest of the company were desirous of departing for Antwerp, he answered, they were at liberty to consult their own inclinations; but, for his own part, he was resolved to stay in Brussels a few days longer. By this declaration the governor was confirmed in the opinion of his having some intrigue upon the anvil. In the bitterness of his vexation, he took the liberty of signifying his suspicion, and reminding him of the dangerous dilemmas to which he had been reduced by his former precipitation.

Peregrine took his caution in good part, and promised to behave with such circumspection as would screen him from any troublesome consequences for the future: but, nevertheless, behaved that same evening in such a manner as plainly showed that his prudence was nothing else than vain speculation. He had made an appointment to spend the night, as usual, with Mrs. Hornbeck; and about nine o’clock hastened to her lodgings, when he was accosted in the street by his old discarded friend Thomas Pipes, who, without any other preamble, told him, that for all he had turned him adrift, he did not choose to see him run full sail into his enemy’s harbour, without giving him timely notice of the danger. “I’ll tell you what,” said he; “mayhap you think I want to curry favour, that I may be taken in tow again; if you do, you have made a mistake in your reckoning. I am old enough to be laid up, and have to keep my planks from the weather. But this here is the affair: I have known you since you were no higher than a marlinspike, and shouldn’t care to see you deprived of your rigging at these years; whereby I am informed by Hornbeck’s man, whom I this afternoon fell in with by chance, as how his master has got intelligence of your boarding his wife, and has steered privately into this port with a large complement of hands, in order, d’ye see, to secure you while you are under the hatches. Now, if so be as how you have a mind to give him a salt eel for his supper, here am I, without hope of fee or reward, ready to stand by you as long as my timbers will stick together: and if I expect any recompense, may I be bound to eat oakum and drink bilge-water for life.”

Startled at this information, Peregrine examined him upon the particulars of his discourse with the lacquey; and when he understood that Hornbeck’s intelligence flowed from the canal of his Flemish footman, he believed every circumstance of Tom’s report, thanked him for his warning, and, after having reprimanded him for his misbehaviour at Lisle, assured him that it should be his own fault if ever they should part again. He then deliberated with himself whether or not he should retort the purpose upon his adversary; but when he considered that Hornbeck was not the aggressor, and made that unhappy husband’s case his own, he could not help quitting his intention of revenge; though, in his opinion, it ought to have been executed in a more honourable manner, and therefore he determined to chastise him for his want of spirit. Nothing surely can be more insolent and unjust than this determination, which induced him to punish a person for his want of courage to redress the injury which he himself had done to his reputation and peace; and yet this barbarity of decision is authorised by the opinion and practice of mankind.

With these sentiments he returned to the inn, and, putting a pair of pistols in his pocket, ordered his valet-de-chambre and Pipes to follow him at a small distance, so as that they should be within call in case of necessity, and then posted himself within thirty yards of his dulcinea’s door. There he had not been above half an hour, when he perceived four men take their station on the other side, with a view, as he guessed, to watch for his going in, that he might be taken unaware. But when they had tarried a considerable time in that corner, without reaping the fruits of their expectation, their leader, persuaded that the gallant had gained admittance by some secret means, approached the door with his followers, who, according to the instructions they had received, no sooner saw it opened, than they rushed in, leaving their employer in the street, where he thought his person would be least endangered. Our adventurer, seeing him all alone, advanced with speed, and clapping a pistol to his breast, commanded him to follow his footsteps. without noise, on pain of immediate death.

Terrified at this sudden apparition, Hornbeck obeyed in silence; and, in a few minutes, they arrived at the quay, where Pickle, halting, gave him to understand that he was no stranger to his villainous design; told him, that if he conceived himself injured by any circumstance of his conduct, he would now give him an opportunity of resenting the wrong in a manner becoming a man of honour. “You have a sword about you,” said he; “or, if you don’t choose to put the affair on that issue, here is a brace of pistols; take which you please.” Such an address could not fail to disconcert a man of his character. After some hesitation, he, in a faltering accent, denied that his design was to mutilate Mr. Pickle, but that he thought himself entitled to the benefit of the law, by which he would have obtained a divorce, if he could have procured evidence of his wife’s infidelity; and, with that view, he had employed people to take advantage of the information he had received. With regard to this alternative, he declined it entirely, because he could not see what satisfaction he should enjoy in being shot through the head, or run through the lungs, by a person who had already wronged him in an irreparable manner. Lastly, his fear made him propose that the affair should be left to the arbitration of two creditable men, altogether unconcerned in the dispute.

To these remonstrances Peregrine replied, in the style of a hot-headed young man, conscious of his own unjustifiable behaviour, that every gentleman ought to be a judge of his own honour and therefore he would submit to the decision of no umpire whatsoever; that he would forgive his want of courage, which might be a natural infirmity, but his mean dissimulation he could not pardon. That, as he was certified of the rascally intent of his ambuscade by undoubted intelligence, he would treat him, not with a retaliation of his own treachery, but with such indignity as a scoundrel deserves to suffer, unless he would make one effort to maintain the character he assumed in life. So saying, he again presented his pistols, which being rejected as before, he called his two ministers, and ordered them to duck him in the canal.

This command was pronounced and executed almost in the same breath, to the unspeakable terror and disorder of the poor shivering patient, who, having undergone the immersion, ran about like a drowned rat, squeaking for assistance and revenge. His cries were overheard by the patrol, who, chancing to pass that way, took him under their protection, and, in consequence of his complaint and information, went in pursuit of our adventurer and his attendants, who were soon overtaken and surrounded. Rash and inconsiderate as the young gentleman was, he did not pretend to stand upon the defensive against a file of musketeers, although Pipes had drawn his cutlass at their approach, but surrendered himself without opposition, and was conveyed to the main guard, where the commanding officer, engaged by his appearance and address, treated him with all imaginable respect. Hearing the particulars of his adventure, he assured him that the prince would consider the whole as a tour de jeunesse, and order him to be released without delay.

Next morning, when this gentleman gave in his report, he made such a favourable representation of the prisoner, that our hero was on the point of being discharged, when Hornbeck preferred a complaint, accusing him of a purposed assassination, and praying that such punishment should be inflicted upon him as his highness should think adequate to the nature of the crime. The prince, perplexed with this petition, in consequence of which he foresaw that he must disoblige a British subject, sent for the plaintiff, of whom he had some knowledge, and, in person, exhorted him to drop the prosecution, which would only serve to propagate his own shame. But Hornbeck was too much incensed to listen to any proposal of that kind, and peremptorily demanded justice against the prisoner, whom he represented as an obscure adventurer, who had made repeated attempts upon his honour and his life. Prince Charles told him, that what he had advised was in the capacity of a friend; but, since he insisted upon his acting as a magistrate, the affair should be examined, and determined according to the dictates of justice and truth.

The petitioner being dismissed with this promise, the defendant was, in his turn, brought before the judge, whose prepossession in his favour was in a great measure weakened by what his antagonist had said to the prejudice of his birth and reputation.

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