The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter VIII.

Preparations are made for the Commodore’s Wedding, which is delayed by an Accident that hurried him the Lord knows whither.

The fame of this extraordinary conjunction spread all over the county; and, on the day appointed for their spousals, the church was surrounded by an inconceivable multitude. The commodore, to give a specimen of his gallantry, by the advice of his friend Hatchway, resolved to appear on horseback on the grand occasion, at the head of all his male attendants, whom he had rigged with the white shirts and black caps formerly belonging to his barge’s crew; and he bought a couple of hunters for the accommodation of himself and his lieutenant. With this equipage, then, he set out from the garrison for the church, after having despatched a messenger to apprise the bride that he and his company were mounted. She got immediately into the coach, accompanied by her brother and his wife, and drove directly to the place of assignation, where several pews were demolished, and divers persons almost pressed to death, by the eagerness of the crowd that broke in to see the ceremony performed. Thus arrived at the altar, and the priest in attendance, they waited a whole half-hour for the commodore, at whose slowness they began to be under some apprehension, and accordingly dismissed a servant to quicken his pace. The valet having ridden something more than a mile, espied the whole troop disposed in a long field, crossing the road obliquely, and headed by the bridegroom and his friend Hatchway, who, finding himself hindered by a hedge from proceeding farther in the same direction, fired a pistol, and stood over to the other side, making an obtuse angle with the line of his former course; and the rest of the squadron followed his example, keeping always in the rear of each other, like a flight of wild geese.

Surprised at this strange method of journeying, the messenger came up, and told the commodore that his lady and her company expected him in the church, where they had tarried a considerable time, and were beginning to be very uneasy at his delay, and therefore desired he would proceed with more expedition. To this message Mr. Trunnion replied, “Hark ye, brother, don’t you see we make all possible speed? go back, and tell those who sent you, that the wind has shifted since we weighed anchor, and that we are obliged to make very short trips in tacking, by reason of the narrowness of the channel; and that as we be within six points of the wind, they must make some allowance for variation and leeway.”—“Lord, sir!” said the valet, “what occasion have you to go zig-zag in that manner? Do but clap spurs to your horses, and ride straight forward, and I’ll engage yea shall be at the church-porch in less than a quarter of an hour.”-“What? right in the wind’s eye?” answered the commodore; “ahey! brother, where did you learn your navigation? Hawser Trunnion is not to be taught at this time of day how to lie his course, or keep his own reckoning. And as for you, brother, you best know the trim of your own frigate.”

The courier, finding he had to do with people who would not be easily persuaded out of their own opinions, returned to the temple, and made a report of what he had seen and heard, to the no small consolation of the bride, who had begun to discover some signs of disquiet. Composed, however, by this piece of intelligence, she exerted her patience for the space of another half-hour, during which period, seeing no bridegroom arrive, she was exceedingly alarmed; so that all the spectators could easily perceive her perturbation, which manifested itself in frequent palpitations, heart-heavings, and alterations of countenance, in spite of the assistance of a smelling-bottle which she incessantly applied to her nostrils.

Various were the conjectures of the company on this occasion: some imagined he had mistaken the place of rendezvous, as he had never been at church since he first settled in that parish; others believed he had met with some accident, in consequence of which his attendants had carried him back to his own house; and a third set, in which the bride herself was thought to be comprehended, could not help suspecting that the commodore had changed his mind. But all these suppositions, ingenious as they were, happened to be wide of the true cause that detained him, which was no other than this: the commodore and his crew had, by dint of turning, almost weathered the parson’s house that stood to windward of the church, when the notes of a pack of hounds unluckily reached the ears of the two hunters which Trunnion and the lieutenant bestrode. These fleet animals no sooner heard the enlivening sound, than, eager for the chase, they sprang away all of a sudden, and strained every nerve to partake of the sport, flew across the fields with incredible speed, overleaped hedges and ditches, and everything in their way, without the least regard to their unfortunate riders. The lieutenant, whose steed had got the heels of the other, finding it would be great folly and presumption in him to pretend to keep the saddle with his wooden leg, very wisely took the opportunity of throwing himself off in his passage through a field of rich clover, among which he lay at his ease; and seeing his captain advancing, at full gallop, hailed him with the salutation of “What cheer? Ho!” The commodore, who was in infinite distress, eyeing him askance as he passed, replied, with a faltering voice, “0, d — ye! — you are safe at an anchor. I wish to God I were as fast moored.”

Nevertheless, conscious of his disabled heel, he would not venture to try the experiment which had succeeded so well with Hatchway but resolved to stick as close as possible to his horse’s back, until Providence should interpose in his behalf. With this view he dropped his whip, and with his right hand laid fast hold on the pommel, contracting every muscle in his body to secure himself in the seat, and grinning most formidably in consequence of this exertion. In this attitude he was hurried on a considerable way, when all of a sudden his view was comforted by a five-bar gate that appeared before him, as he never doubted that there the career of his hunter must necessarily end. But, alas! he reckoned without his host. Far from halting at this obstruction, the horse sprang over it with amazing agility, to the utter confusion and disorder of his owner, who lost his hat and periwig in the leap, and now began to think, in good earnest, that he was actually mounted on the back of the devil. He recommended himself to God; his reflections forsook him; his eyesight and all his other senses failed; he quitted the reins, and fastening by instinct on the mane, was in this condition conveyed into the midst of the sportsmen, who were astonished at the sight of such an apparition. Neither was their surprise to be wondered at, if we reflect on the figure that presented itself to their view. The commodore’s person was at all times an object of admiration; much more so on this occasion, when every singularity was aggravated by the circumstances of his dress and disaster.

He had put on, in honour of his nuptials, his best coat of blue broad-cloth, cut by a tailor of Ramsgate, and trimmed with five dozen of brass buttons large and small; his breeches were of the same piece, fastened at the knees with large bunches of tape; his waistcoat was of red plush lappelled with green velvet, and garnished with vellum holes; his boots bore an infinite resemblance, both in colour and shape, to a pair of leather buckets; his shoulder was graced with a broad buff belt, from whence depended a huge hanger with a hilt like that of a backsword; and on each side of his pommel appeared a rusty pistol rammed in a case covered with a bearskin. The loss of his tie-periwig and laced hat, which were curiosities of the kind, did not at all contribute to the improvement of the picture, but, on the contrary, by exhibiting his bald pate, and the natural extension of his lantern jaws, added to the peculiarity and extravagance of the whole.

Such a spectacle could not have failed of diverting the whole company from the chase had his horse thought proper to pursue a different route; but the beast was too keen a sporter to choose any other way than that which the stag followed and therefore, without stopping to gratify the curiosity of the spectators, he in a few minutes outstripped every hunter in the field. There being a deep hollow betwixt him and the hounds, rather than ride round, about the length of a furlong, in a path that crossed the lane, he transported himself at one jump, to the unspeakable astonishment and terror of a waggoner who chanced to be underneath, and saw this phenomenon fly over his carriage. This was not the only adventure he achieved. The stag, having taken a deep river that lay in his way, every man directed his course to a bridge in the neighbourhood; but our bridegroom’s courser, despising all such conveniences, plunged into the stream without hesitation, and swam in a twinkling to the opposite shore. This sudden immersion into an element of which Trunnion was properly a native, in all probability helped to recruit the exhausted spirits of his rider, at his landing on the other side gave some tokens of sensation, by hallooing aloud for assistance, which he could not possibly receive, because his horse still maintained the advantage he had gained, and would not allow himself to be overtaken.

In short, after a long chase that lasted several hours, and extended to a dozen miles at least, he was the first in at the death of the deer, being seconded by the lieutenant’s gelding, which, actuated by the same spirit, had, without a rider, followed his companion’s example.

Our bridegroom, finding himself at last brought up, or, in other words, at the end of his career, took the opportunity of this first pause, to desire the huntsmen would lend him a hand in dismounting; and by their condescension, safely placed on the grass, where he sat staring at the company as they came in, with such wildness of astonishment in his looks, as if he bad been a creature of another species, dropped among them from the clouds.

Before they had fleshed the hounds, however, he recollected himself; and, seeing one of the sportsmen take a small flask out of his pocket and apply it to his mouth, judged the cordial to be no other than neat Cognac, which it really was; and expressing a desire of participation, was immediately accommodated with a moderate dose, which perfectly completed his recovery.

By this time he and his two horses had engrossed the attention of the whole crowd: while some admired the elegant proportion and uncommon spirit of the two animals, the rest contemplated the surprising appearance of their master, whom before they had only seen en passant; and at length, one of the gentlemen, accosting him very courteously, signified his wonder at seeing him in such an equipage, and asked if he had not dropped his companion by the way. “Why look ye, brother,” replied the commodore, “mayhap you think me an odd sort of a fellow, seeing me in this trim, especially as I have lost part of my rigging; but this here is the case, d’ye see: I weighed anchor from my own house this morning, at ten A.M. with fair weather, and a favourable breeze at south-south-east, being bound to the next church on the voyage of matrimony: but howsomever, we had not run down a quarter of a league, when the wind shifting, blowed directly in our teeth; so that we were forced to tack all the way, d’ye see, and had almost been up within sight of the port, when these sons-of-b — s of horses, which I had bought but two days before (for my own part, I believe they are devils incarnate), luffed round in a trice, and then, refusing the helm, drove away like lightning with me and my lieutenant, who soon came to anchor in an exceeding good berth. As for my own part, I have been carried over rocks, and quicksands; among which I have pitched away a special good tie-periwig, and an iron-bound hat; and at last, thank God! am got into smooth water and safe riding; but if ever I venture my carcass upon such a hare’um scare’um blood-of-a-b — again, my name is not Hawser Trunnion, d — my eyes!”

One of the company, struck with this name, which lie had often heard, immediately laid hold on his declaration at the close of this singular account, and, observing that his horses were very vicious, asked how he intended to return. “As for that matter,” replied Mr. Trunnion, “I am resolved to hire a sledge or waggon, or such a thing as a jackass; for I’ll be d — d if ever I cross the back of a horse again.”—“And what do you propose to do with these creatures?” said the other, pointing to the hunters; “they seem to have some mettle; but then they are mere colts, and will take the devil-and-all of breaking: methinks this hinder one is shoulder-slipped.”—“D— them,” cried the commodore, “I wish both their necks were broke, thof the two cost me forty good yellow-boys.”.-“Forty guineas!” exclaimed the stranger, who was a squire and a jockey, as well as owner of the pack, “Lord! Lord! how a man may be imposed upon! Why, these cattle are clumsy enough to go to plough; mind what a flat counter; do but observe how sharp this here one is in the withers; then he’s fired in the further fetlock.” In short, this connoisseur in horse-flesh, having discovered in them all the defects which can possibly be found in this species of animal, offered to give him ten guineas for the two, saying he would convert them into beasts of burden. The owner, who, after what had happened, was very well disposed to listen to anything that was said to their prejudice, implicitly believed the truth of the stranger’s asseverations, discharged a furious volley of oaths against the rascal who had taken him in, and forthwith struck a bargain with the squire, who paid him instantly for his purchase; in consequence of which he won the plate at the next Canterbury races.

This affair being transacted to the mutual satisfaction of both parties, as well as to the general entertainment of the company, who laughed in their sleeves at the dexterity of their friend, Trunnion was set upon the squire’s own horse, and led by his servant in the midst of this cavalcade, which proceeded to a neighbouring village, where they had bespoke dinner, and where our bridegroom found means to provide himself with another hat and wig. With regard to his marriage, he bore his disappointment with the temper of a philosopher; and the exercise he had undergone having quickened his appetite, sat down at table in the midst of his new acquaintance, making a very hearty meal, and moistening every morsel with a draught of the ale, which he found very much to his satisfaction.

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