The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter LXIII.

Peregrine artfully foments a Quarrel between Pallet and the Physician, who fight a Duel on the Ramparts.

The painter betook himself to the house of the Flemish Raphael, and the rest of the company went back to their lodgings; where the young gentleman, taking the advantage of being alone with the physician, recapitulated all the affronts he had sustained from the painter’s petulance, aggravating every circumstance of the disgrace, and advising him, in the capacity of a friend, to take care of his honour, which could not fail to suffer in the opinion of the world, if he allowed himself to be insulted with impunity, by one so much his inferior in every degree of consideration.

The physician assured him, that Pallet had hitherto escaped chastisement, by being deemed an object unworthy his resentment, and in consideration of the wretch’s family, for which his compassion was interested; but that repeated injuries would inflame the most benevolent disposition. And, though he could find no precedent of duelling among the Greeks and Romans, whom he considered as the patterns of demeanour, Pallet should no longer avail himself of his veneration for the ancients, but be punished for the very next offence he should commit.

Having thus spirited up the doctor to a resolution from which he could not decently swerve, our adventurer acted the incendiary with the other party also; giving him to understand, that the physician treated his character with such contempt, and behaved to him with such insolence, as no gentleman ought to bear: that, for his own part, he was every day put out of countenance by their mutual animosity, which appeared in nothing but vulgar expressions, more becoming shoe-boys and oyster-women than men of honour and education; and therefore he should be obliged, contrary to his inclination, to break off all correspondence with them both, if they would not fall upon some method to retrieve the dignity of their characters.

These representations would have had little effect upon the timidity of the painter, who was likewise too much of a Grecian to approve of single combat, in any other way than that of boxing, an exercise in which he was well skilled, had they not been accompanied with an insinuation, that his antagonist was no Hector, and that he might humble him into any concession, without running the least personal risk. Animated by this assurance, our second Rubens set the trumpet of defiance to his mouth, swore he valued not his life a rush, when his honour was concerned, and entreated Mr. Pickle to be the bearer of a challenge, which he would instantly commit to writing.

The mischievous fomenter highly applauded this manifestation of courage, by which he was at liberty to cultivate his friendship and society, but declined the office of carrying the billet, that his tenderness of Pallet’s reputation might not be misinterpreted into an officious desire of promoting quarrels. At the same time, he recommended Tom Pipes, not only as a very proper messenger on this occasion, but also as a trusty second in the field. The magnanimous painter took his advice, and, retiring to his chamber, penned a challenge in these terms:—

“Sir — When I am heartily provoked, I fear not the devil himself; much less — I will not call you a pedantic coxcomb, nor an unmannerly fellow, because these are the hippethets of the vulgar; but, remember, such as you are, I nyther love you nor fear you; but, on the contrary, expect satisfaction for your audacious behaviour to me on divers occasions; and will, this evening, in the twilight, meet you on the ramparts with sword and pistol, where the Lord have mercy on the soul of one of us, for your body shall find no favour with your incensed defier till death,
“Layman Pallet.”

This resolute defiance, after having been submitted to the perusal, and honoured with the approbation of our youth, was committed to the charge of Pipes, who, according to his orders, delivered it in the afternoon; and brought for answer, that the physician would attend him at the appointed time and place. The challenger was evidently discomposed at the unexpected news of this acceptance, and ran about the house in great disorder, in quest of Peregrine, to beg his further advice and assistance; but understanding that the youth was engaged in private with his adversary, he began to suspect some collusion, and cursed himself for his folly and precipitation. He even entertained some thoughts of retracting his invitation, and submitting to the triumph of his antagonist: but before he would stoop to this opprobrious condescension, he resolved to try another expedient, which might be the means of saving both his character and person. In this hope he visited Mr. Jolter, and very gravely desired he would be so good as to undertake the office of his second in a duel which he was to fight that evening with the physician.

The governor, instead of answering his expectation, in expressing fear and concern, and breaking forth into exclamations of “Good God! gentlemen, what d’ye mean? You shall not murder one another while it is in my power to prevent your purpose. I will go directly to the governor of the place, who shall interpose his authority”; — I say, instead of these and other friendly menaces of prevention, Jolter heard the proposal with the most phlegmatic tranquility, and excused himself from accepting the honour he intended for him, on account of his character and situation, which would not permit him to be concerned in any such rencontres. Indeed, this mortifying reception was owing to a previous hint from Peregrine, who, dreading some sort of interruption from his governor, had made him acquainted with his design, and assured him, that the affair should not be brought to any dangerous issue.

Thus disappointed, the dejected challenger was overwhelmed with perplexity and dismay; and, in the terrors of death or mutilation, resolved to deprecate the wrath of his enemy, and conform to any submission he should propose, when he was accidentally encountered by our adventurer, who, with demonstrations of infinite satisfaction, told him in confidence, that the billet had thrown the doctor into an agony of consternation; that his acceptance of his challenge was a mere effort of despair, calculated to confound the ferocity of the sender, and dispose him to listen to terms of accommodation; that he had imparted the letter to him with fear and trembling, on pretence of engaging him as a second, but, in reality, with a view of obtaining his good offices in promoting a reconciliation; “but, perceiving the situation of his mind,” added our hero, “I thought it would be more for your honour to baffle his expectation, and therefore I readily undertook the task of attending him to the field, in full assurance that he will there humble himself before you, even to prostration. In this security, you may go and prepare your arms, and bespeak the assistance of Pipes, who will squire you in the field, while I keep myself up, that our correspondence may not be suspected by the physician.” Pallet’s spirits, that were sunk to dejection, rose at this encouragement to all the insolence of triumph; he again declared his contempt of danger, and his pistols being loaded and accommodated with new flints, by his trusty armour-bearer, he waited, without flinching, for the hour of battle.

On the first approach of twilight, somebody knocked at his door, and Pipes having opened it at his desire, he heard the voice of his antagonist pronounce, “Tell Mr. Pallet that I am going to the place of appointment.” The painter was not a little surprised at this anticipation, which so ill agreed with the information he had received from Pickle; and his concern beginning to recur, he fortified himself with a large bumper of brandy, which, however, did not overcome the anxiety of his thoughts. Nevertheless, he set out on the expedition with his second, betwixt whom and himself the following dialogue passed, in their way to the ramparts.

“Mr. Pipes,” said the painter, with disordered accent, “methinks the doctor was in a pestilent hurry with that message of his.”—“Ey, ey,” answered Tom, “I do suppose he longs to be foul of you.”—“What,” replied the other, “d’ye think he thirsts after my blood?”—“To be sure a does,” said Pipes, thrusting a large quid of tobacco in his check, with great deliberation. “If that be the case,” cried Pallet, beginning to shake, “he is no better than a cannibal, and no Christian ought to fight him on equal footing.” Tom observing his emotion, eyed him with a frown of indignation, saying, “You an’t afraid, are you?”—“God forbid,” replied the challenger, stammering with fear; “what should I be afraid of? The worst he can do is to take my life, and then he’ll be answerable both to God and man for the murder. Don’t you think he will?”—“I think no such matter,” answered the second; “if so be as how he puts a brace of bullets through your bows, and kills you fairly, it is no more murder than if I was to bring down a noddy from the main top-sail yard.”

By this time Pallet’s teeth chattered with such violence, that he could scarce pronounce this reply: “Mr. Thomas, you seem to make very light of a man’s life; but I trust in the Almighty. I shall not be so easily brought down. Sure many a man has fought a duel without losing his life. Do you imagine that I run such a hazard of falling by the hand of my adversary?”—“You may or you may not,” said the unconcerned Pipes, “just as it happens. What then? Death is a debt that every man owes, according to the song; and if you set foot to foot, I think one of you must go to pot.”—“Foot to foot!” exclaimed the terrified painter: “that’s downright butchery; and I’ll be d — before I fight any man on earth in such a barbarous way. What! d’ye take me to be a savage beast?” This declaration he made while they ascended the ramparts.

His attendant perceiving the physician and his second at the distance of a hundred paces before them, gave him notice of their appearance, and advised him to make ready, and behave like a man. Pallet in vain endeavoured to conceal his panic, which discovered itself in a universal trepidation of body, and the lamentable tone in which he answered this exhortation of Pipes, saying, “I do behave like a man; but you would have me act the part of a brute. Are they coming this way?” When Tom told him that they had faced about, and admonished him to advance, the nerves of his arm refused their office, he could not hold out his pistol, and instead of going forward, retreated with an insensibility of motion; till Pipes, placing himself in the rear, set his own back to that of his principal, and swore he should not budge an inch farther in that direction.

While the valet thus tutored the painter, his master enjoyed the terrors of the physician, which were more ridiculous than those of Pallet, because he was more intent upon disguising them. His declaration to Pickle in the morning would not suffer him to start any objections when he received the challenge; and finding that the young gentleman made no offer of mediating the affair, but rather congratulated him on the occasion, when he communicated the painter’s billet, all his efforts consisted in oblique hints, and general reflections upon the absurdity of duelling, which was first introduced among civilised nations by the barbarous Huns and Longobards. He likewise pretended to ridicule the use of firearms, which confounded all the distinctions of skill and address, and deprived a combatant of the opportunity of signalizing his personal prowess.

Pickle assented to the justness of his observations; but, at the same time, represented the necessity of complying with the customs of this world, ridiculous as they were, on which a man’s honour and reputation depend: so that, seeing no hopes of profiting by that artifice, the republican’s agitation became more and more remarkable; and he proposed, in plain terms, that they should contend in armour, like the combatants of ancient days; for it was but reasonable that they should practise the manner of fighting, since they adopted the disposition of those iron times.

Nothing could have afforded more diversion to our hero than the sight of two such duellists cased in iron; and he wished that he had promoted the quarrel in Brussels, where he could have hired the armour of Charles the Fifth, and the valiant Duke of Parma, for their accommodation; but as there was no possibility of furnishing them cap-a-pie at Antwerp, he persuaded him to conform to the modern use of the sword, and meet the painter on his own terms; and suspecting that his fear would supply him with other excuses for declining the combat, he comforted him with some distant insinuations, to the prejudice of his adversary’s courage, which would, in all probability, evaporate before any mischief could happen.

Notwithstanding this encouragement, he could not suppress the reluctance with which he went to the field, and cast many a wishful look over his left shoulder, to see whether or not his adversary was at his heels. When, by the advice of his second, he took possession of the ground, and turned about with his face to the enemy, it was not so dark, but that Peregrine could perceive the unusual paleness of his countenance, and the sweat standing in large drops upon his forehead; nay, there was a manifest disorder in his speech, when he regretted his want of the pila and parma, with which he would have made a rattling noise, to astonish his foe, in springing forward, and singing the hymn to battle, in the manner of the ancients.

In the meantime, observing the hesitation of his antagonist, who, far from advancing, seemed to recoil, and even struggle with his second, he guessed the situation of the painter’s thoughts, and, collecting all the manhood that he possessed, seized the opportunity of profiting by his enemy’s consternation. Striking his sword and pistol together, he advanced in a sort of trot, raising a loud howl, in which he repeated, in lieu of the Spartan song, part of the strophe from one of Pindar’s Pythia, beginning with ek theon gar makanoi pasai Broteais aretais, etc. This imitation of the Greeks had all the desired effect upon the painter, who seeing the physician running towards him like a fury, with a pistol in his right hand, which was extended, and hearing the dreadful yell he uttered, and the outlandish words he pronounced, was seized with a universal palsy of his limbs. He would have dropped down upon the ground, had not Pipes supported and encouraged him to stand upon his defence. The doctor, contrary to his expectation, finding that he had not flinched from the spot, though he had now performed one half of his career, put in practice his last effort, by firing his pistol, the noise of which no sooner reached the ears of the affrighted painter, than he recommended his soul to God, and roared for mercy with great vociferation.

The republican, overjoyed at this exclamation, commanded him to yield, and surrender his arms, on pain of immediate death; upon which he threw away his pistols and sword, in spite of all the admonitions and even threats of his second, who left him to his fate, and went up to his master, stopping his nose with signs of loathing and abhorrence.

The victor, having won the spolia opima, granted him his life, on condition that he would on his knees supplicate his pardon, acknowledge himself inferior to his conqueror in every virtue and qualification, and promise for the future to merit his favour by submission and respect. These insolent terms were readily embraced by the unfortunate challenger, who fairly owned, that he was not at all calculated for the purposes of war, and that henceforth he would contend with no weapon but his pencil. He begged with great humility, that Mr. Pickle would not think the worse of his morals for this defect of courage, which was a natural infirmity inherited from his father, and suspend his opinion of his talents, until he should have an opportunity of contemplating the charms of his Cleopatra, which would be finished in less than three months.

Our hero observed, with an affected air of displeasure, that no man could be justly condemned for being subject to the impressions of fear, and therefore his cowardice might easily be forgiven: but there was something so presumptuous, dishonest, and disingenuous, in arrogating a quality to which he knew he had not the smallest pretension, that he could not forget his misbehaviour all at once, though he would condescend to communicate with him as formerly, in hopes of seeking a reformation in his conduct. Pallet protested, that there was no dissimulation in the case; for he was ignorant of his own weakness, until his resolution was put to the trial: he faithfully promised to demean himself, during the remaining part of the tour, with that conscious modesty and penitence which became a person in his condition; and, for the present, implored the assistance of Mr. Pipes, in disembarrassing him from the disagreeable consequence of his fear.

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