The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter LXIX.

Godfrey executes a Scheme at Bath, by which a whole Company of Sharpers is ruined.

On the evening after their arrival at Bath, Godfrey, who had kept himself up all day for that purpose, went in boots to the billiard table; and, two gentlemen being at play, began to bet with so little appearance of judgment, that one of the adventurers then present was inflamed with a desire of profiting by his inexperience; and, when the table was vacant, invited him to take a game for amusement. The soldier, assuming the air of a self-conceited dupe, answered, that he did not choose to throw away his time for nothing, but, if he pleased, would piddle for a crown a game. This declaration was very agreeable to the other, who wanted to be further confirmed in the opinion he had conceived of the stranger, before he would play for anything of consequence. The party being accepted, Gauntlet put off his coat, and, beginning with seeming eagerness, won the first game, because his antagonist kept up his play with a view of encouraging him to wager a greater sum. The soldier purposely bit at the hook, the stakes were doubled, and he was again victorious, by the permission of his competitor. He now began to yawn; and observing, that it was not worth his while to proceed in such a childish manner; the other swore, in an affected passion, that he would play him for twenty guineas. The proposal being embraced, through the connivance of Godfrey, the money was won by the sharper, who exerted his dexterity to the utmost, fearing that otherwise his adversary would decline continuing the game.

Godfrey thus conquered, pretended to lose his temper, cursed his own ill-luck, swore that the table had a cast, and that the balls did not run true, changed his mast, and with great warmth, challenged his enemy to double the sum. The gamester, who feigned reluctance, complied with his desire; and having got the two first hazards, offered to lay one hundred guineas to fifty on the game. The odds were taken; and Godfrey having allowed himself to be overcome, began to rage with great violence, broke the mast to pieces, threw the balls out of the window, and, in the fury of his indignation, defied his antagonist to meet him tomorrow, when he should be refreshed from the fatigue of travelling. This was a very welcome invitation to the gamester, who, imagining that the soldier would turn out a most beneficial prize, assured him, that he would not fail to be there next forenoon, in order to give him his revenge.

Gauntlet went home to his lodgings, fully certified of his own superiority, and took his measures with Peregrine, touching the prosecution of their scheme; while his opponent made a report of his success to the brethren of the gang, who resolved to be present at the decision of the match, with a view of taking advantage of the stranger’s passionate disposition.

Affairs being thus concerted on both sides, the players met, according to appointment, and the room was immediately filled with spectators, who either came thither by accident, curiosity, or design. The match was fixed for one hundred pounds a game, the principals chose their instruments, and laid aside their coats, and one of the knights of the order proffered to lay another hundred on the head of his associate. Godfrey took him upon the instant. A second worthy of the same class, seeing him so eager, challenged him to treble the sum; and his proposal met with the same reception, to the astonishment of the company, whose expectation was raised to a very interesting pitch. The game was begun, and the soldier having lost the first hazard, the odds were offered by the confederacy with great vociferation; but nobody would run such a risk in favour of a person who was utterly unknown. The sharper having gained the second also, the noise increased to a surprising clamour, not only of the gang, but likewise of almost all the spectators, who desired to lay two to one against the brother of Emilia.

Peregrine, who was present, perceiving the cupidity of the association sufficiently inflamed, all of a sudden opened his mouth, and answered their bets, to the amount of twelve hundred pounds; which were immediately deposited, on both sides, in money and notes; so that this was, perhaps, the most important game that ever was played at billiards. Gauntlet seeing the agreement settled, struck his antagonist’s ball into the pocket in a twinkling, though it was in one of those situations which are supposed to be against the striker. The betters were a little discomposed at this event, for which, however, they consoled themselves by imputing the success to accident; but when, at the very next stroke, he sprung it over the table, their countenances underwent an instantaneous distraction of feature, and they waited, in the most dreadful suspense, for the next hazard, which being likewise taken with infinite ease by the soldier, the blood forsook their cheeks, and the interjection “Zounds!” pronounced with a look of consternation, and in a tone of despair, proceeded from every mouth at the same instant of time. They were overwhelmed with horror and astonishment at seeing three hazards taken in as many strokes, from a person of their friend’s dexterity; and shrewdly suspected, that the whole was a scheme preconcerted for their destruction. On this supposition, they changed the note, and attempted to hedge for their own indemnification, by proposing to lay the odds in favour of Gauntlet; but so much was the opinion of the company altered by that young gentleman’s success, that no one would venture to espouse the cause of his competitor, who, chancing to improve his game by the addition of another lucky hit, diminished the concern, and revived the hopes of his adherents.

But this gleam of fortune did not long continue. Godfrey collected his whole art and capacity, and, augmenting his score to number ten, indulged himself with a view of the whole fraternity. The visages of these professors had adopted different shades of complexion at every hazard he had taken: from their natural colour they had shifted into a sallow hue; from thence into pale; from pale into yellow, which degenerated into a mahogany tint; and now they saw seventeen hundred pounds of their stock depending upon a single stroke, they stood like so many swarthy Moors, jaundiced with terror and vexation. The fire which naturally glowed in the cheeks and nose of the player, seemed utterly extinct, and his carbuncles exhibited a livid appearance, as if a gangrene had already made some progress in his face; his hand began to shake, and his whole frame was seized with such trepidation, that he was fain to swallow a bumper of brandy, in order to re-establish the tranquility of his nerves. This expedient, however, did not produce the desired effect; for he aimed the ball at the lead with such discomposure, that it struck on the wrong side, and came off at an angle which directed it full in the middle hole. This fatal accident was attended with a universal groan, as if the whole universe had gone to wreck; and notwithstanding that tranquility for which adventurers are so remarkable, this loss made such an impression upon them all, that each in particular manifested his chagrin, by the most violent emotions. One turned up his eyes to heaven, and bit his nether lip; another gnawed his fingers, while he stalked across the room; a third blasphemed with horrid imprecations; and he who played the party sneaked off, grinding his teeth together, with a look that baffles all description, and as he crossed the threshold, exclaiming, “A d — d bite, by G—!”

The victors, after having insulted them, by asking, if they were disposed for another chance, carried off their winning, with the appearance of great composure, though in their hearts they were transported with unspeakable joy; not so much on account of the booty they had gained, as in consideration of having so effectually destroyed such a nest of pernicious miscreants.

Peregrine, believing that now he had found an opportunity of serving his friend, without giving offence to the delicacy of his honour, told him, upon their arrival at their lodgings, that fortune had at length enabled him to become in a manner independent, or at least make himself easy in his circumstances, by purchasing a company with the money he had won. So saying, he put his share of the success in Gauntlet’s hand, as a sum that of right belonged to him, and promised to write in his behalf to a nobleman, who had interest enough to promote such a quick rise in the service.

Godfrey thanked him for his obliging intention, but absolutely refused, with great loftiness of demeanour, to appropriate to his own use any part of the money which Pickle had gained, and seemed affronted at the other’s entertaining a sentiment so unworthy of his character. He would not even accept, in the way of loan, such an addition to his own stock, as would amount to the price of a company of foot; but expressed great confidence in the future exertion of that talent which had been blessed with such a prosperous beginning. Our hero finding him thus obstinately deaf to the voice of his own interest, resolved to govern himself in his next endeavours of friendship, by his experience of this ticklish punctilio; and, in the meantime, gave a handsome benefaction to the hospital, out of these first fruits of the success in play, and reserved two hundred pounds for a set of diamond ear-rings and solitaire, which he intended for a present to Miss Emily.

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