The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter LXXVII.

He endeavours to Reconcile himself to his Mistress, and Expostulates with the Uncle, who forbids him the House.

In this state of division, he went home to his own lodgings in a chair; and while he deliberated with himself whether he should relinquish the pursuit, and endeavour to banish her idea from his breast, or go immediately and humble himself before his exasperated mistress, and offer his hand as an atonement for his crime, his servant put in his hand a packet, which had been delivered by a ticket porter at the door. He no sooner perceived that the superscription was in Emilia’s handwriting, than he guessed the nature of the contents; and, opening the seal with disordered eagerness, found the jewels he had given to her enclosed in a billet, couched in these words:—

“That I may have no cause to reproach myself with having retained the least memorial of a wretch whom I equally despise and abhor, I take this opportunity of restoring these ineffectual instruments of his infamous design upon the honour of “Emilia.”

His chagrin was so much galled and inflamed at the bitterness of this contemptuous message, that he gnawed his fingers till the blood ran over his nails, and even wept with vexation. Sometimes he vowed revenge against her haughty virtue, and reviled himself for his precipitate declaration, before his scheme was brought to maturity; then he would consider her behaviour with reverence and regard, and bow before the irresistible power of her attractions. In short, his breast was torn by conflicting passions: love, shame, and remorse, contended with vanity, ambition, and revenge; and the superiority was still doubtful when headstrong desire interposed, and decided in favour of an attempt towards a reconciliation with the offended fair.

Impelled by this motive, he set out in the afternoon for the house of her uncle, not without hopes of that tender enjoyment, which never fails to attend an accommodation betwixt two lovers of taste and sensibility. Though the consciousness of his trespass encumbered him with an air of awkward confusion, he was too confident of his own qualifications and address to despair of forgiveness; and, by that time he arrived at the citizen’s gate, he had conned a very artful and pathetic harangue, which he proposed to utter in his own behalf, laying the blame of his conduct on the impetuosity of his passion, increased by the burgundy which he had too liberally drunk; but he did not meet with an opportunity to avail himself of this preparation. Emilia, suspecting that he would take some step of this kind to retrieve her favour, had gone abroad on pretence of visiting, after having signified to her kinsman her resolution to avoid the company of Peregrine, on account of some ambiguities which, she said, were last night remarkable in his demeanour at the masquerade. She chose to insinuate her suspicion in these hints, rather than give an explicit detail of the young man’s dishonourable contrivance, which might have kindled the resentment of the family to some dangerous pitch of animosity and revenge.

Our adventurer, finding himself baffled in his expectation of seeing her, inquired for the old gentleman, with whom he thought he had influence enough to make his apology good, in case he should find him prepossessed by the young lady’s information. But here too he was disappointed, the uncle having gone to dine in the country, and his wife was indisposed; so that he had no pretext for staying in the house till the return of his charmer. Being, however, fruitful of expedients, he dismissed his chariot, and took possession of a room in a tavern, the windows of which fronted the merchant’s gate; and there he proposed to watch until he should see her approach. This scheme he put in practice with indefatigable patience, though it was not attended with the expected success.

Emilia, whose caution was equally vigilant and commendable, foreseeing that she might be exposed to the fertility of his invention, came home by a private passage, and entered by a postern, which was altogether unknown to her admirer; and her uncle did not arrive until it was so late that he could not, with any decency, demand a conference.

Next morning, he did not fail to present himself at the door, and his mistress being denied by her own express direction, insisted upon seeing the master of the house, who received him with such coldness of civility, as plainly gave him to understand that he was acquainted with the displeasure of his niece. He, therefore, with an air of candour, told the citizen, he could easily perceive by his behaviour that he was the confidant of Miss Emily, of whom he was come to ask pardon for the offence he had given; and did not doubt, if he could be admitted to her presence, that he should be able to convince her that he had not erred intentionally, or at least propose such reparation as would effectually atone for his fault.

To this remonstrance the merchant, without any ceremony or circumlocution, answered, that though he was ignorant of the nature of his offence, he was very certain, that it must have been something very flagrant that could irritate his niece to such a degree, against a person for whom she had formerly a most particular regard. He owned, she had declared her intention to renounce his acquaintance for ever, and, doubtless, she had good reason for so doing; neither would he undertake to promote an accommodation, unless he would give him full power to treat on the score of matrimony, which he supposed would be the only means of evincing his own sincerity, and obtaining Emilia’s forgiveness. Peregrine’s pride was kindled by this blunt declaration, which he could not help considering as the result of a scheme concerted betwixt the young lady and her uncle, in order to take advantage of his heat. He therefore replied, with manifest signs of disgust, that he did not apprehend there was any occasion for a mediator to reconcile the difference betwixt Emilia and him; and that all he desired was an opportunity of pleading in his own behalf. The citizen frankly told him, that, as his niece had expressed an earnest desire of avoiding his company, he would not put the least constraint upon her inclination; and, in the meantime, gave him to know, that he was particularly engaged. Our hero, glowing with indignation at this supercilious treatment, “I was in the wrong,” said he, “to look for good manners so far on this side of Temple-bar; but you must give me leave to tell you, sir, that unless I am favoured with an interview with Miss Gauntlet, I shall conclude that you have actually laid a constraint upon her inclination, for some sinister purposes of your own.”—“Sir,” replied the old gentleman, “you are welcome to make what conclusions shall seem good unto your own imagination; but pray be so good as to allow me the privilege of being master in my own house.” So saying, he very complaisantly showed him to the door; and our lover being diffident of his own temper, as well as afraid of being used with greater indignity, in a place where his personal prowess would only serve to heighten his disgrace, quitted the house in a transport of rage, which he could not wholly suppress, telling the landlord, that if his age did not protect him, he would have chastised him for his insolent behaviour.

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