The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter VII.

Divers Stratagems are invented and put in practice, in order to overcome the obstinacy of Trunnion, who, at length, is teased and tortured into the Noose of Wedlock.

This abrupt departure and unkind declaration affected Mrs. Grizzle so much, that she fell sick of sorrow and mortification; and after having confined herself to her bed for three days, sent for her brother, told him she perceived her end drawing near, and desired that a lawyer might be brought, in order to write her last will. Mr. Pickle, surprised at her demand, began to act the part of a comforter, assuring her that her distemper was not at all dangerous, and that he would instantly send for a physician, who would convince her that she was in no manner of jeopardy; so that there was no occasion at present to employ any officious attorney in such a melancholy task. Indeed, this affectionate brother was of opinion that a will was altogether superfluous at any rate, as he himself was heir-in-law to his sister’s whole real and personal estate. But she insisted on his compliance with such determined obstinacy, that he could no longer resist her importunities; and, a arriving, she dictated and executed her will, in which she bequeathed to Commodore Trunnion one thousand pounds, to purchase a mourning ring, which she hoped he would wear as a pledge of her friendship and affection. Her brother, though he did not much relish this testimony of her love, nevertheless that same evening gave an account of this particular to Mr. Hatchway, who was also, as Mr. Pickle assured him, generously remembered by the testatrix.

The lieutenant, fraught with this piece of intelligence, watched for an opportunity; and as soon as he perceived the commodore’s features a little unbended from that ferocious contraction they had retained so long, ventured to inform him that Pickle’s sister lay at the point of death, and that she had left him a thousand pounds in her will. This piece of news overwhelmed him with confusion; and Mr. Hatchway, imputing his silence to remorse, resolved to take advantage of that favourable moment, and counselled him to go and visit the poor young woman, who was dying for love of him. But his admonition happened to be somewhat unseasonable. Trunnion no sooner heard him mention the cause of her disorder, than his morosity recurring, he burst out into a violent fit of cursing, and forthwith betook himself again to his hammock, where he lay, uttering, in a low growling tone of voice, a repetition of oaths and imprecations, for the space of four-and-twenty hours, without ceasing. This was a delicious meal to the lieutenant, who, eager to enhance the pleasure of the entertainment, and at the same the conduce to the success of the cause he had espoused, invented a stratagem, the execution of which had all the effect he could desire. He prevailed on Pipes, who was devoted to his service, to get on the top of the chimney, belonging to the commodore’s chamber, at midnight, and lower down by a rope a bunch of stinking whitings, which being performed, he put a speaking-trumpet to his mouth, and hallooed down the vent, in a voice like thunder, “Trunnion! Trunnion! turn out and be spliced, or he still and be d —.”

This dreadful note, the terror of which was increased by the silence and darkness of the night, as well as the cello of the passage through which it was conveyed, no sooner reached the ears of the astonished commodore, than turning his eyes towards the place from whence this solemn address seemed to proceed, he beheld a glittering object that vanished in an instant. Just as his superstitious fear had improved the apparition into some supernatural messenger clothed in shining array, his opinion was confirmed by a sudden explosion, which he took for thunder, though it was no other than the noise of a pistol fired down the chimney by the boatswain’s mate, according to the instructions he had received; and he had time enough to descend before he was in any danger of being detected by his commodore, who could not for an hour recollect himself from the amazement and consternation which had overpowered his faculties.

At length, however, he got up, and rang his bell with great agitation. He repeated the summons more than once; but no regard being paid to this alarm, his dread returned with double terror, a cold sweat bedewed his limbs, his knees knocked together, his hair bristled up, and the remains of his teeth were shattered in pieces in the convulsive vibrations of his jaws.

In the midst of this agony he made one desperate effort, and, bursting open the door of apartment, bolted into Hatchway’s chamber, which happened to be on the same floor. There he found the lieutenant in a counterfeit swoon, who pretended to wake from his trance in an ejaculation of “Lord have mercy upon us!” and being questioned by the terrified commodore with regard to what had happened, assured him he had heard the same voice and clap of thunder by which Trunnion himself had been discomposed.

Pipes, whose turn it was to watch, concurred in giving evidence to the same purpose; and the commodore not only owned that he had heard the voice, but likewise communicated his vision, with all the aggravation which his disturbed fancy suggested.

A consultation immediately ensued, in which Mr. Hatchway gravely observed that the finger of Heaven was plainly perceivable in those signals, and that it would be both sinful and foolish to disregard its commands, especially as the match proposed was, in all respects, more advantageous than any that one of his years could reasonably expect; declaring that for his own part he would not endanger his soul and body by living one day longer under the same roof with a man who despised the will of Heaven; and Tom Pipes adhered to the same pious resolution.

Trunnion’s perseverance could not resist the number and diversity of considerations that assaulted it; he revolved in silence all the opposite motives that occurred to his reflection; and after having been, to all appearance, bewildered in the labyrinth of his own thoughts, he wiped the sweat from his forehead, and, heaving a piteous groan, yielded to their remonstrances in these words: “Well, since it must be so, I think we must ev’n grapple. But d — my eyes! ’tis a d — d hard case that a fellow of my years should be compelled, d’ye see, to beat up to windward all the rest of my life against the current of my own inclination.”

This important article being discussed, Mr. Hatchway set out in the morning to visit the despairing shepherdess, and was handsomely rewarded for the enlivening tidings with which he blessed her ears. Sick as she was, she could not help laughing heartily at the contrivance, in consequence of which her swain’s assent had been obtained, and gave the lieutenant ten guineas for Tom Pipes, in consideration of the part he acted in the farce.

In the afternoon the commodore suffered himself to be conveyed to her apartment, like a felon to execution, and was received by her in a languishing manner, and genteel dishabille, accompanied by her sister-in-law, who was, for very obvious reasons, extremely solicitous about her success. Though the lieutenant had tutored him touching his behaviour it this interview, he made a thousand wry faces before he could pronounce the simple salutation of “How d’ye?” to his mistress; and after his counsellor had urged him with twenty or thirty whispers, to each of which he had replied aloud, “D— your eyes, I won’t,” he got up, and halting towards the couch on which Mrs. Grizzle reclined in a state of strange expectation, he seized her hand and pressed it to his lips; but this piece of gallantry he performed in such a reluctant, uncouth, indignant manner, that the nymph had need of all her resolution to endure the compliment without shrinking; and he himself was so disconcerted at what he had done, that he instantly retired to the other end of the room, where he sat silent, and broiled with shame and vexation.

Mrs. Pickle, like a sensible matron, quitted the place, on pretence of going to the nursery; and Mr. Hatchway, taking the hint, recollected that he had left his tobacco-pouch in the parlour, whither he descended, leaving the two lovers to their mutual endearments. Never had the commodore found himself in such a disagreeable dilemma before. He sat in an agony of suspense, as if he every moment dreaded the dissolution of nature; and the imploring sighs of his future bride added, if possible, to the pangs of his distress. Impatient of this situation, he rolled his eye around in quest of some relief, and, unable to contain himself, exclaimed, “D— n seize the fellow and his pouch too! I believe he has sheered off, and left me here in the stays.”

Mrs. Grizzle, who could not help taking some notice of this manifestation of chagrin, lamented her unhappy fate in being so disagreeable to him, that he could not put up with her company for a few moments without repining; and began in very tender terms to reproach him with his inhumanity and indifference. To this expostulation he replied, “Zounds! what would the woman have? Let the parson do his office when he wool: here I am ready to be reeved in the matrimonial block, d’ye see, and d — all nonsensical palaver.” So saying, he retreated, leaving his mistress not at all disobliged at his plain dealing. That same evening the treaty of marriage was brought upon the carpet, and, by means of Mr. Pickle and the lieutenant, settled to the satisfaction of all parties, without the intervention of lawyers, whom Mr. Trunnion expressly excluded from all share in the business; making that condition the indispensable preliminary of the whole agreement. Things being brought to this bearing, Mrs. Grizzle’s heart dilated with joy; her health, which, by the bye, was never dangerously impaired. she recovered as if by enchantment; and, a day being fixed for the nuptials, employed the short period of her celibacy in choosing ornaments for the celebration of her entrance into the married state.

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