The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter LXVIII.

He attends his Uncle with great Affection during a Fit of Illness — Sets out again for London — Meets with his Friend Godfrey, who is prevailed upon to accompany him to Bath; on the Road to which Place they chance to Dine with a Person who entertains them with a curious Account of a certain Company of Adventurers.

Thus determined, he took leave of Emilia and her mother, on pretence of going to London upon some urgent business, and returned to the garrison, leaving the good old lady very much concerned, and the daughter incensed at his behaviour, which was the more unexpected, because Godfrey had told them that the commodore approved of his nephew’s passion.

Our adventurer found his uncle so ill of the gout, which, for the first time, had taken possession of his stomach, that his life was in imminent danger, and the whole family in disorder. He therefore took the reins of government in his own hands, sent for all the physicians in the neighbourhood, and attended him in person with the most affectionate care, during the whole fit, which lasted a fortnight, and then retired before the strength of his constitution.

When the old gentleman recovered his health, he was so penetrated with Peregrine’s behaviour, that he actually would have made over to him his whole fortune, and depended upon him for his own subsistence, had not our youth opposed the execution of the deed with all his influence and might, and even persuaded him to make a will, in which his friend Hatchway, and all his other adherents, were liberally remembered, and his aunt provided for on her own terms. This material point being settled, he, with his uncle’s permission, departed for London, after having seen the family affairs established under the direction and administration of Mr. Jolter and the lieutenant; for, by this time, Mrs. Trunnion was wholly occupied with her spiritual concern.

On his first arrival at London, he sent a card to the lodgings of Gauntlet, in consequence of a direction from his mother; and that young gentleman waited on him next morning, though not with that alacrity of countenance and warmth of friendship which might have been expected from the intimacy of their former connection. Nor was Peregrine himself actuated by the same unreserved affection for the soldier which he had formerly entertained. Godfrey, over and above the offence he had taken at Pickle’s omission in point of corresponding with him, had been informed, by a letter from his mother, of the youth’s cavalier behaviour to Emilia, during his last residence at Winchester; and our young gentleman, as we have already observed, was disgusted at the supposed discovery which the soldier had made in his absence to the commodore. They, perceived their mutual umbrage at meeting, and received each other with that civility of reserve which commonly happens between two persons whose friendship is in the wane.

Gauntlet at once divined the cause of the other’s displeasure, and, in order to vindicate his own character, after the first compliments were passed, took the opportunity, on inquiring after the health of the commodore, to tell Peregrine, that, while he tarried at the garrison, on his return from Dover, the subject of the conversation, one night, happening to turn on our hero’s passion, the old gentleman had expressed his concern about that affair; and, among other observations, said, he supposed the object of his love was some paltry hussy, whom he had picked up when he was a boy at school. Upon which, Mr. Hatchway assured him, that she was a young woman of as good a family as any in the county; and, after having prepossessed him in her favour, ventured, out of the zeal of his friendship, to tell who she was. Wherefore, the discovery was not to be imputed to any other cause; and he hoped Mr. Pickle would acquit him of ail share in the transaction.

Peregrine was very well pleased to be thus undeceived; his countenance immediately cleared up, the formality of his behaviour relaxed into his usual familiarity; he asked pardon for his unmannerly neglect of Godfrey’s letter, which he protested, was not owing to any disregard, or abatement of friendship, but to a hurry of youthful engagements, in consequence of which he bad procrastinated his answer from time to time, until he was ready to return in person.

The young soldier was contented with this apology and, as Pickle’s intention, with respect to his sister, was still dubious and undeclared, he did not think it was incumbent upon him, as yet, to express any resentment on that score; but was wise enough to foresee, that the renewal of his intimacy with our young gentleman might be the means of reviving that flame which had been dissipated by a variety of new ideas. With those sentiments, he laid aside all reserve, and their communication resumed its former channel. Peregrine made him acquainted with all the adventures in which he had been engaged since their parting; and he, with the same confidence, related the remarkable incidents of his own fate; among other things, giving him to understand, that, upon obtaining a commission in the army, the father of his dear Sophy, without once inquiring about the occasion of his promotion, had not only favoured him with his countenance in a much greater degree than heretofore, but also contributed his interest, and even promised the assistance of his purse, in procuring for him a lieutenancy, which he was then soliciting with all his power; whereas, if he had not been enabled, by a most accidental piece of good fortune, to lift himself into the sphere of an officer, he had all the reason in the world to believe that this gentleman, and all the rest of his wealthy relations, would have suffered him to languish in obscurity and distress; and by turning his misfortune into reproach, made it a plea for their want of generosity and friendship.

Peregrine, understanding the situation of his friend’s affairs, would have accommodated him upon the instant with a sum to accelerate the passage of his commission through the offices; but, being too well acquainted with his scrupulous disposition, to manifest his benevolence in that manner, he found means to introduce himself to one of the gentlemen of the War Office, who was so well satisfied with the arguments used in behalf of his friend, that Godfrey’s business was transacted in a very few days, though he himself knew nothing of his interest being thus reinforced.

By this time, the season at Bath was begun; and our hero, panting with the desire of distinguishing himself at that resort of the fashionable world, communicated his design of going thither to his friend Godfrey, whom he importuned to accompany him in the excursion; and leave of absence from his regiment being obtained by the influence of Peregrine’s new quality friends, the two companions departed from London in a post-chaise, attended, as usual, by the valet-de-chambre and Pipes, who were become almost as necessary to our adventurer as any two of his own organs.

At the inn, when they alighted for dinner, Godfrey perceived a person walking by himself in the yard, with a very pensive air, and, upon observing him more narrowly, recognised him to be a professed gamester, whom he had formerly known at Tunbridge. On the strength of this acquaintance, he accosted the peripatetic, who knew him immediately; and, in the fulness of his grief and vexation, told him, that he was now on his return from Bath, where he had been stripped by a company of sharpers, who resented that he should presume to trade upon his own bottom.

Peregrine, who was extremely curious in his inquiries, imagining that he might learn some entertaining and useful anecdotes from this artist, invited him to dinner, and was accordingly fully informed of all the political systems at Bath. He understood that there was at London one great company of adventurers, who employed agents in all the different branches of imposition throughout the whole kingdom of England, allowing these ministers a certain proportion of the profits accruing from their industry and skill, and reserving the greatest share for the benefit of the common stock, which was chargeable with the expense of fitting out individuals in their various pursuits, as well as with the loss sustained in the course of their adventures. Some whose persons and qualifications are by the company judged adequate to the task, exert their talents in making love to ladies of fortune, being accommodated with money and accoutrements for that purpose, after having given their bonds payable to one or other of the directors, on the day of marriage, for certain sums, proportioned to the dowries they are to receive. Others versed in the doctrine of chances, and certain secret expediences, frequent all those places where games of hazard are allowed: and such as are masters in the arts of billiards, tennis, and bowls, are continually lying in wait, in all the scenes of these diversions, for the ignorant and unwary. A fourth class attend horse-races, being skilled in those mysterious practices by which the knowing ones are taken in. Nor is this community unfurnished with those who lay wanton wives and old rich widows under contribution, and extort money, by prostituting themselves to the embraces of their own sex, and then threatening their admirers with prosecution. But their most important returns are made by that body of their undertakers who exercise their understandings in the innumerable stratagems of the card table, at which no sharper can be too infamous to be received, and even caressed by persons of the highest rank and distinction. Among other articles of intelligence, our young gentleman learned, that those agents, by whom their guest was broke, and expelled from Bath. had constituted a bank against all sporters, and monopolized the advantage in all sorts of play. He then told Gauntlet, that, if he would put himself under his direction, he would return with them, and lay such a scheme as would infallibly ruin the whole society at billiards, as he knew that Godfrey excelled them all in his knowledge of that game.

The soldier excused himself from engaging in any party of that kind, and after dinner the travellers parted; but, as the conversation between the two friends turned upon the information they had received, Peregrine projected a plan for punishing those villainous pests of society, who prey upon their fellow-creatures; and it was put in execution by Gauntlet in the following manner.

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