The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter LXXVI.

He prevails upon Emilia to accompany him to a Masquerade, makes a treacherous Attempt upon her Affection, and meets with a deserved Repulse.

Scarce a night elapsed in which he did not conduct her to some public entertainment. When, by the dint of his insidious carriage, he thought himself in full possession of her confidence and affection, he lay in wait for an opportunity; and, hearing her observe in conversation, that she had never been at a masquerade, begged leave to attend her to the next ball; at the same time extending his invitation to the young lady in whose company he had found her at the play, she being present when this subject of discourse was introduced. He had flattered himself, that this gentlewoman would decline the proposal, as she was a person seemingly of a demure disposition, who had been born and bred in the city, where such diversions are looked upon as scenes of lewdness and debauchery. For once, however, he reckoned without his host; curiosity is as prevalent in the city as at the court end of the town. Emilia no sooner signified her assent to his proposal, than her friend, with an air of satisfaction, agreed to make one of the party; and he was obliged to thank her for that complaisance, which laid him under infinite mortification. He set his genius at work to invent some scheme for preventing her unseasonable intrusion. Had an opportunity offered, he would have acted as her physician, and administered a medicine that would have laid her under the necessity of staying at home. But his acquaintance with her being too slight to furnish him with the means of executing this expedient, he devised another, which was practised with all imaginable success. Understanding that her grandmother had left her a sum of money independent of her parents, he conveyed a letter to her mother, intimating, that her daughter, on pretence of going to the masquerade, intended to bestow herself in marriage to a certain person, and that in a few days she would be informed of the circumstances of the whole intrigue, provided she would keep this information secret, and contrive some excuse for detaining the young lady at home, without giving her cause to believe she was apprised of her intention. This billet, subscribed “Your well-wisher, and unknown humble servant,” had the desired effect upon the careful matron, who, on the ball day, feigned herself so extremely ill, that Miss could not with any decency quit her mamma’s apartment; and therefore sent her apology to Emilia in the afternoon, immediately after the arrival of Peregrine, who pretended to be very much afflicted with the disappointment, while his heart throbbed with a transport of joy.

About ten o’clock the lovers set out for the Haymarket, he being dressed in the habit of Pantaloon, and she in that of Columbine; and they had scarce entered the house when the music struck up, the curtain was withdrawn, and the whole scene displayed at once, to the admiration of Emilia, whose expectation was infinitely surpassed by this exhibition. Our gallant having conducted her through all the different apartments, and described the economy of the place, led her into the circle, and, in their turn, they danced several minuets; then going to the sideboard, he prevailed upon her to eat some sweetmeats and drink a glass of champagne. After a second review of the company, they engaged in country dances, at which exercise they continued until our adventurer concluded that his partner’s blood was sufficiently warm for the prosecution of his design. On this supposition, which was built upon her declaring that she was thirsty and fatigued, he persuaded her to take a little refreshment and repose; and, for that purpose, handed her downstairs into the eating-room, where, having seated her on the floor, he presented her with a glass of wine and water; and, as she complained of being faint, enriched the draught with some drops of a certain elixir, which he recommended as a most excellent restorative, though it was no other than a stimulating tincture, which he had treacherously provided for the occasion. Having swallowed this potion, by which her spirits were manifestly exhilarated, she ate a slice of ham, with the wing of a cold pullet, and concluded the meal with a glass of burgundy, which she drank at the earnest entreaty of her admirer. These extraordinary cordials co-operating with the ferment of her blood, which was heated by violent motion, could not fail to affect the constitution of a delicate young creature, who was naturally sprightly and volatile. Her eyes began to sparkle with unusual fire and vivacity, a thousand brilliant sallies of wit escaped her, and every mask that accosted her underwent some smarting repartee.

Peregrine, overjoyed at the success of his administration, proposed that they should resume their places at the country dances, with a view to promote and assist the efficacy of his elixir; and, when he thought her disposition was properly adapted for the theme, began to ply her with all the elocution of love. In order to elevate his own spirits to that pitch of resolution which his scheme required, he drank two whole bottles of burgundy, which inflamed his passion to such a degree, that he found himself capable of undertaking and perpetrating any scheme for the gratification of his desire.

Emilia, warmed by so many concurring incentives, in favour of the man she loved, abated considerably of her wonted reserve, listened to his protestations with undissembled pleasure, and, in the confidence of her satisfaction, even owned him absolute master of her affections. Ravished with this confession, he now deemed himself on the brink of reaping the delicious fruits of his art and assiduity; and the morning being already pretty far advanced, assented with rapture to the first proposal she made of retiring to her lodgings. The blinds of the chariot being pulled up, he took advantage of the favourable situation of her thoughts; and, on pretence of being whimsical, in consequence of the wine he had swallowed, clasped her in his arms, and imprinted a thousand kisses on her pouting lips, a freedom which she pardoned as the privilege of intoxication. While he thus indulged himself with impunity, the carriage halted, and Pipes opening the door, his master handed her into the passage, before she perceived that it was not her uncle’s house at which they had alighted.

Alarmed at this discovery, she, with some confusion, desired to know his reason for conducting her to a strange place at these hours. But he made no reply, until he had led her into an apartment, when he gave her to understand, that, as her uncle’s family must be disturbed by her going thither so late in the night, and the streets near Temple-bar were infested by a multitude of robbers and cut-throats, he had ordered his coachman to halt at this house, which was kept by a relation of his, a mighty good sort of a gentlewoman, who would be proud of an opportunity to accommodate a person for whom he was known to entertain such tenderness and esteem.

Emilia had too much penetration to be imposed upon by this plausible pretext. In spite of her partiality for Peregrine, which had never been inflamed to such a pitch of complacency before, she comprehended his whole plan in a twinkling. Though her blood boiled with indignation, she thanked him with an affected air of serenity for his kind concern, and expressed her obligation to his cousin; but, at the same time, insisted upon going home, lest her absence should terrify her uncle and aunt, who, she knew, would not retire to rest till her return.

He urged her, with a thousand remonstrances, to consult her own ease and safety, promising to send Pipes into the city, for the satisfaction of her relations. But, finding her obstinately deaf to his entreaties, he assured her, that he would, in a few minutes, comply with her request; and, in the meantime, begged she would fortify herself against the cold with a cordial, which he poured out in her presence, and which, now that her suspicion was aroused, she refused to taste, notwithstanding all his importunities. He then fell on his knees before her, and the tears gushing from his eyes, swore that his passion was wound up to such a pitch of impatience, that he could no longer live upon the unsubstantial food of expectation; and that, if she would not vouchsafe to crown his happiness, he would forthwith sacrifice himself to her disdain. Such an abrupt address, accompanied with all the symptoms of frantic agitation, could not fail to perplex and affright the gentle Emilia, who, after some recollection, replied with a resolute tone, that she could not see what reason he had to complain of her reserve, which she was not at liberty to lay entirely aside, until he should have avowed his intentions in form, and obtained the sanction of those whom it was her duty to obey. “Divine creature!” cried he, seizing her hand, and pressing it to his lips, “it is from you alone I hope for that condescension, which would overwhelm me with the transports of celestial bliss. The sentiments of parents are sordid, silly, and confined. I mean not then to subject my passion to such low restrictions as were calculated for the purposes of common life. My love is too delicate and refined to wear those vulgar fetters, which serve only to destroy the merit of voluntary affection, and to upbraid a man incessantly with the articles of compulsion, under which he lies. My dear angel! spare me the mortification of being compelled to love you, and reign sole empress of my heart and fortune. I will not affront you so much as to talk of settlements; my all is at your disposal. In this pocket-book are notes to the amount of two thousand pounds; do me the pleasure to accept of them; to-morrow I will lay ten thousand more in your lap. In a word, you shall be mistress of my whole estate, and I shall think myself happy in living dependent on your bounty! ”

Heavens! what were the emotions of the virtuous, the sensible, the delicate, the tender Emilia’s heart, when she heard this insolent declaration from the mouth of a man whom she had honoured with her affection and esteem! It was not simply horror, grief, or indignation, that she felt, in consequence of this unworthy treatment, but the united pangs of all together, which produced a sort of hysteric laughter, while she told him that she could not help admiring his generosity.

Deceived by this convulsion, and the ironical compliment that attended it, the lover thought he had already made great progress in his operations, and that it was now his business to storm the fort by a vigorous assault, that he might spare her the confusion of yielding without resistance. Possessed by this vain suggestion, he started up, and, folding her in his arms, began to obey the furious dictates of his unruly and ungenerous desire. With an air of cool determination, she demanded a parley; and when, upon her repeated request, he granted it, addressed herself to him in these words, while her eyes gleamed with all the dignity of the most awful resentment:—

“Sir, I scorn to upbraid you with a repetition of your former vows and protestations, nor will I recapitulate the little arts you have practised to ensnare my heart; because, though by dint of the most perfidious dissimulation you have found means to deceive my opinion, your utmost efforts have never been able to lull the vigilance of my conduct, or to engage my affection beyond the power of discarding you without a tear, whenever my honour should demand such a sacrifice. Sir, you are unworthy of my concern or regret, and the sigh that now struggles from my breast is the result of sorrow, for my own want of discernment. As for your present attempt upon my chastity, I despise your power, as I detest your intention. Though, under the mask of the most delicate respect, you have decoyed me from the immediate protection of my friends, and contrived other impious stratagems to ruin my peace and reputation, I confide too much in my own innocence, and the authority of the law, to admit one thought of fear, much less to sink under the horror of this shocking situation, into which I have been seduced. Sir, your behaviour on this occasion is, in all respects, low and contemptible. For, ruffian as you are, you durst not harbour the thought of executing your execrable scheme, while you knew my brother was near enough to prevent or revenge the insult; so that you must not only be a treacherous villain, but also a most despicable coward.”

Having expressed herself in this manner, with a most majestic severity of aspect, she opened the door, and walking down-stairs with surprising resolution, committed herself to the care of a watchman, who accommodated her with a hackney-chair, in which she was safely conveyed to her uncle’s house.

Meanwhile, the lover was so confounded and overawed by these cutting reproaches, and her animated behaviour, that all his resolution forsook him, and he found himself not only incapable of obstructing her retreat, but even of uttering one syllable to deprecate her wrath, or extenuate the guilt of his own conduct. The nature of his disappointment, and the keen remorse that seized him, when he reflected upon the dishonourable footing on which his character stood with Emilia, raised such perturbation in his mind, that his silence was succeeded by a violent fit of distraction, during which he raved like a bedlamite, and acted a thousand extravagancies, which convinced the people of the house, a certain bagnio, that he had actually lost his wits. Pipes, with great concern, adopted the same opinion; and, being assisted by the waiters, hindered him, by main force, from running out and pursuing the fair fugitive, whom, in his delirium, he alternately cursed and commended with horrid imprecations and lavish applause. His faithful valet, having waited two whole hours, in hopes of seeing this gust of passion overblown, and perceiving that the paroxysm seemed rather to increase, very prudently sent for a physician of his master’s acquaintance, who, having considered the circumstances and symptoms of the disorder, directed that he should be plentifully blooded, without loss of time, and prescribed a draught to compose the tumult of his spirits. These orders being punctually performed, he grew more calm and tractable, recovered his reflection so far as to be ashamed of the ecstasy he had undergone, and suffered himself quietly to be undressed and put to bed, where the fatigue occasioned by his exercise at the masquerade co-operated with the present dissipation of his spirits to lull him into a profound sleep, which greatly tended to the preservation of his intellects. Not that he found himself in a state of perfect tranquility when he waked about noon. The remembrance of what had passed overwhelmed him with mortification. Emilia’s invectives still sounded in his ears. And, while he deeply resented her disdain, he could not help admiring her spirit, and his heart did homage to her charms.

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