The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter LXXXIV.

The Conjurer and his Associate execute a Plan of Vengeance against certain Infidels who pretend to despise their Art; and Peregrine achieves an Adventure with a young Nobleman.

By these means, the whole variety of characters undisguised passed, as it were, in review before the confederates, who, by divers ingenious contrivances, punished the most flagrant offenders with as much severity as the nature of their plan would allow. At length they projected a scheme for chastising a number of their own acquaintance, who had all along professed the utmost contempt for the talent of this conjurer, which they endeavoured to ridicule in all companies, where his surprising art was the subject of discourse; not that they had sense and discernment enough to perceive the absurdity of his pretensions, but affected a singularity of opinions, with a view of insulting the inferior understandings of those who were deceived by such an idle impostor.

Peregrine, indeed, for obvious reasons, had always espoused their judgment in this case, and joined them in reviling the public character of his friend. But he knew how far the capacities of those virtuosi extended, and had frequently caught them in the fact of recounting their exploits against the conjurer, which were the productions of their own invention only. On these considerations, his wrath was kindled against them, and he accordingly concerted measures with his coadjutor, for overwhelming them with confusion and dismay.

In the first place, a report was spread by his emissaries, that the magician had undertaken to entertain their view with the appearance of any person whom his customers should desire to see, whether dead, or at the distance of a thousand leagues. This extraordinary proposal chancing to be the subject of conversation in a place where most of those infidels were assembled, they talked of it in the usual style, and some of them swore the fellow ought to be pilloried for his presumption.

Our hero, seizing this favourable opportunity, acquiesced in their remarks, and observed, with great vehemence, that it would be a meritorious action to put the rascal to the proof, and then toss him in a blanket for non-performance. They were wonderfully pleased with this suggestion, and forthwith determined to try the experiment; though, as they understood the apparition would be produced to one only at a time, they could not immediately agree in the choice of the person who should stand the first brunt of the magician’s skill. While each of them severally excused himself from this preference on various pretences, Peregrine readily undertook the post, expressing great confidence of the conjurer’s incapacity to give him the least cause of apprehension.

This point being settled, they detached one of their number to Crabtree, in order to bespeak and adjust the hour and terms of the operation, which he insisted upon performing at his own apartment, where everything was prepared for the occasion. At the appointed time, they went thither in a body, to the number of seven, in full expectation of detecting the impostor; and were received with such gloomy formality, as seemed to have an effect upon the countenances of some among them; though they were encouraged by the vivacity of Pickle, who affected a double share of petulance, for the more effectual accomplishment of his purpose.

Cadwallader made no reply to the interrogations they uttered, in the levity of their insolence, at the first entrance, but ordered Hadgi to conduct them through the next room, that they might see there was no previous apparatus to affright their deputy with objects foreign to his undertaking. They found nothing but a couple of wax tapers burning on a table that stood with a chair by it in the middle of the apartment, and returned to the audience-chamber, leaving Peregrine by himself, to encounter the phantom of that person whom they should, without his knowledge, desire the magician to conjure up to his view,

All the doors being shut and the company seated, a profound silence ensued, together with a face of dreadful expectation, encouraged by the blue flame of the candles, which were tipped with sulphur for that purpose, and heightened by the dismal sound of a large bell, which Hadgi tolled in the ante-chamber. Cadwallader having thus practised upon their ignorance and fear, desired them to name the person to be produced. After some whispers among themselves, one of them took the pen, and, writing the name of Commodore Trunnion upon a slip of paper, put it into the hands of the magician, who rose from his seat, and, opening the door of his closet, displayed to their view a skull, with thigh bones crossed, upon a table covered with black cloth.

This melancholy spectacle made a remarkable impression upon the imaginations of the company, already prepossessed by the previous ceremony; and they began to survey one another with looks of consternation, while Cadwallader, shutting himself in the closet, that was contiguous to the chamber in which his friend Peregrine was stationed, thrust the label with his uncle’s name through a small chink in the partition. according to agreement, muttering at the time a sort of gibberish, that increased the panic of his audience; then returning to his chair, the knell was tolled again, and Pickle called aloud, “D— n your mummery: why don’t you despatch?”

This was a signal to Crabtree, who thus certified of his having received the paper, stood up and waved his wand in the figure of an S. The motion being thrice performed, their ears were all of a sudden invaded by a terrible noise in the next room, accompanied with the voice of Peregrine, who exclaimed, in a tone of horror and amazement, “Guard me, Heaven! my Uncle Trunnion!” This ejaculation had such an effect upon the hearers, that two of them swooned with fear, a third fell upon his knees and prayed aloud, while the other three, in a transport of dismay and distraction, burst open the door, and rushed into the haunted chamber, where they found the table and chair overturned, and Peregrine extended, in all appearance without sense or motion, upon the floor.

They immediately began to chafe his temples, and the first symptom of his recovery which they perceived was a hollow groan; after which he pronounced these words: “Merciful powers! if I live I saw the commodore with his black patch, in the very clothes he wore at my sister’s wedding.” This declaration completed their astonishment and terror; they observed a wildness in his looks, which he seemed to bend on something concealed from their view; and were infected by his appearance to such a pitch of superstition, that it would have been an easy matter to persuade them that the chair and table were apparitions of their forefathers. However, they conducted Peregrine into the council chamber, where the conjurer and Hadgi were employed in ministering to those who had fainted.

The patients having retrieved the use of their faculties, Cadwallader, assuming a double portion of severity in his aspect, asked if they were not ashamed of their former incredulity; declaring, that he was ready to give them more convincing proofs of his art upon the spot, and would immediately recall three generations of their progenitors from the dead, if they were disposed to relish such company. Then turning to one of them, whose grandfather had been hanged, “Are you,” said he, “ambitious of seeing the first remarkable personage of your family? Say the word and he shall appear.”

This youth, who had been the most insolent and obstreperous in the whole society, and was now depressed with the same proportion of fear, alarmed at the proposal, assured the magician he had no curiosity of that sort remaining; and that what he had already seen would, he hoped, have a good effect upon his future life and conversation. Every one of these heroes made an acknowledgment and profession of the same kind, some of which were attended with tears; and Hadgi having provided chairs for the whole company, they departed exceedingly crest-fallen. Two of the number actually sickened with the agitation they had undergone, while our hero and his associate made themselves merry with the success of their enterprise.

But this scheme of fortune-telling did not engross his whole attention; he still continued to maintain his appearance in the beau monde; and, as his expense far exceeded his income, strove to contract intimacies with people of interest and power; he showed himself regularly at court, paid his respects to them in all places of public diversion, and frequently entered into their parties, either of pleasure or cards. In the course of this cultivation, he happened one evening, at a certain chocolate-house, to overlook a match of piquet, in which he perceived a couple of sharpers making a prey of a young nobleman, who had neither temper nor skill sufficient to cope with such antagonists.

Our hero, being a professed enemy to all knights of industry, could not bear to see them cheat in public with such insolent audacity. Under pretence of communicating some business of importance, he begged the favour of speaking to the young gentleman in another corner of the room, and in a friendly manner cautioned him against his opponents. This hot-headed representative, far from thinking or owning himself obliged to Pickle for his good counsel, looked upon his advice as an insult upon his understanding; and replied, with an air of ferocious displeasure, that he knew how to take care of his own concerns, and would not suffer either him or them to bubble him out of a shilling.

Peregrine. offended at the association, as well as at the ingratitude and folly of this conceited coxcomb, expressed his resentment, by telling him, that he expected at least an acknowledgment for his candid intention; but he found his intellects too much warped by his vanity to perceive his own want of capacity and experience. Inflamed by this reproof, the young nobleman challenged him to play for five hundred pounds, with many opprobrious, or at least contemptuous terms of defiance, which provoked our hero to accept the proposal. After the other had disengaged himself from the old rooks, who were extremely mortified at the interruption, the two young champions sat down, and fortune acting with uncommon impartiality, Pickle, by the superiority of his talents, in two hours won to the amount of as many thousand pounds, for which he was obliged to take his antagonist’s note, the sharpers having previously secured his ready money.

Frantic with his loss, the rash young man would have continued the game, and doubled stakes every time; so that Peregrine might have increased his acquisition to ten times the sum he had gained; but he thought he had already sufficiently chastised the presumption of the challenger, and was unwilling to empower fortune to ravish from him the fruits of his success; he therefore declined my lord’s proposal, unless he would play for ready money; and his lordship having in vain tried his credit among the company, our adventurer withdrew, leaving him in an ecstasy of rage and disappointment.

As the insolence of his behaviour had increased with his ill-luck, and he had given vent to divers expressions which Peregrine took amiss, our young gentleman resolved to augment his punishment, by teasing him with demands which could not, he knew, be immediately satisfied; and next day sent Pipes to his father’s house with the note, which was drawn payable upon demand. The debtor, who had gone to bed half-distracted with his misfortune, finding himself waked with such a disagreeable dun, lost all patience, cursed Pickle, threatened his messenger, blasphemed with horrible execrations, and made such a noise as reached the ears of his father, who, ordering his son to be called into his presence, examined him about the cause of that uproar, which had disturbed the whole family. The young gentleman, after having essayed to amuse him with sundry equivocations, which served only to increase his suspicion and desire of knowing the truth, acknowledged that he had lost some money overnight at cards, to a gamester who had been so impertinent as to send a message, demanding it that morning, though he had told the fellow that it would not suit him to pay him immediately. The father, who was a man of honour, reproached him with great severity for his profligate behaviour in general, and this scandalous debt in particular, which he believed to be some trifle; then giving him a bank-note for five hundred pounds, commanded him to go and discharge it without loss of time. This well-principled heir took the money; but, instead of waiting upon his creditor, he forthwith repaired to the gaming-house, in hopes of retrieving his loss; and, before he rose from the table, saw his note mortgaged for seven-eighths of its value.

Meanwhile, Pickle, incensed at the treatment which his servant had received, and informed of his lordship’s second loss, which aggravated his resentment, determined to preserve no medium; and, taking out a writ the same day, put it immediately in execution upon the body of his debtor, just as he stepped into his chair at the door of White’s chocolate-house. The prisoner, being naturally fierce and haughty, attempted to draw upon the bailiffs, who disarmed him in a twinkling; and this effort served only to heighten his disgrace; which was witnessed by a thousand people, most of whom laughed very heartily at the adventure of a lord’s being arrested.

Such a public transaction could not long escape the knowledge of his father, who that very day had the satisfaction to hear that his son was in a spunging-house. In consequence of this information, he sent his steward to learn the particulars of the arrest, and was equally offended, surprised, and concerned, when he understood the nature of the debt, which he imagined his son had already discharged. Unwilling to pay such a considerable sum for a spendthrift, whom he had but too much indulged, and who in less than one week might involve himself in such another difficulty, the old gentleman wrote a letter to Peregrine, representing what a hardship it would be upon him to forfeit such sums by the indiscretion of a son, whose engagements he was not bound to fulfil, and desiring some mitigation in his demand, as it was not a debt contracted for value received, but incurred without subjecting him to the least damage or inconvenience.

Our adventurer no sooner received this letter, than he went in person to wait upon the author, to whom he, in a candid manner, related the particular circumstances of the match, together with the ingratitude and audacity of his son, which he owned had stimulated him to such measures as he otherwise would have scorned to take. The nobleman acknowledged that the revenge was hardly adequate to the provocation, and condemned the conduct of his son with such justice and integrity, as disarmed Peregrine of his resentment, and disposed him to give an undoubted proof of his own disinterestedness, which he immediately exhibited, by producing the note, and tearing it to pieces, after having assured his lordship that the writ should be withdrawn, and the prisoner discharged before night.

The earl, who perfectly well understood the value of money, and was no stranger to the characters of mankind, stood amazed at the sacrifice, which Pickle protested was offered by his esteem for his lordship; and, after having complimented him upon his generosity, in a very uncommon strain of encomium, begged the favour of his acquaintance, and insisted upon his dining with him next day. The youth, proud of having met with such an opportunity to distinguish himself, in less than an hour performed every article of his promise; and in the morning was visited by the debtor, who came, by the express order of his father, to thank him for the obligation under which he was laid, and to ask pardon for the offence he had given.

This condescension was very glorious for our hero, who graciously received his submission, and accompanied him to dinner, where he was caressed by the old earl with marks of particular affection and esteem. Nor was his gratitude confined to exterior civility; he offered him the use of his interest at court, which was very powerful, and repeated his desire of serving him so pressingly, that Peregrine thought he could not dispense with the opportunity of assisting his absent friend Godfrey, in whose behalf he begged the influence of his lordship.

The earl, pleased with this request, which was another proof of the young gentleman’s benevolence, said, he would not fail to pay the utmost regard to his recommendation; and in six weeks a captain’s commission was actually signed for the brother of Emilia, who was very agreeably surprised at the intimation he received from the War Office, though he was utterly ignorant of the canal through which he obtained that promotion.

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