The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter LXXXVII.

Peregrine sets out for the Garrison, and meets with a Nymph of the Road, whom he takes into Keeping, and metamorphoses into a fine Lady.

In the meantime, our hero jogged along in a profound reverie, which was disturbed by a beggar-woman and her daughter, who solicited him for alms, as he passed them on the road. The girl was about the age of sixteen, and, notwithstanding the wretched equipage in which she appeared, exhibited to his view a set of agreeable features, enlivened with the complexion of health and cheerfulness. The resolution I have already mentioned was still warm in his imagination; and he looked upon this young mendicant as a very proper object for the performance of his vow. He, therefore, entered into a conference with the mother, and for a small sum of money purchased her property in the wench, who did not require much courtship and entreaty, before she consented to accompany him to any place that he should appoint for her habitation.

This contract being settled to his satisfaction, he ordered Pipes to seat his acquisition behind him upon the crupper, and, alighting at the first public-house which they found upon the road, he wrote a letter to Hatchway, desiring him to receive this hedge inamorata, and direct her to be cleaned and clothed in a decent manner, with all expedition, so that she should be touchable upon his arrival, which, on that account, he would defer for the space of one day. This billet, together with the girl, he committed to the charge of Pipes, after having laid strong injunctions upon him to abstain from all attempts upon her chastity, and ordered him to make the best of his way to the garrison, while he himself crossed the country to a market town, where he proposed to spend the night.

Tom, thus cautioned, proceeded with his charge, and, being naturally taciturn, opened not his lips, until he had performed the best half of his journey. But Thomas, notwithstanding his irony appearance, was in reality composed of flesh and blood. His desire being titillated by the contact of a buxom wench, whose right arm embraced his middle as he rode, his thoughts began to mutiny against his master, and he found it almost impossible to withstand the temptation of making love. Nevertheless, he wrestled with these rebellious suggestions with all the reason that Heaven had enabled him to exert; and that being totally overcome, his victorious passion suddenly broke out in this address:

“‘Sblood! I believe master thinks I have no more stuff in my body than a dried haddock, to turn me adrift in the dark with such a spanker. D’ye think he don’t, my dear?” To this question his fellow-traveller replied, “Swanker anan!” And the lover resumed his suit, saying, “Oons! how you tickle my timber! Something shoots from your arm, through my stowage, to the very keelstone. Han’t you got quicksilver in your hand?”—“Quicksilver!” said the lady, “d — n the silver that has crossed my hand this month; d’ye think, if I had silver, I shouldn’t buy me a smock?”—“Adsooks! you baggage,” cried the lover, “you shouldn’t want a smock nor a petticoat neither, if you could have a kindness for a true-hearted sailor, as sound and strong as a nine-inch cable, that would keep all clear above board, and everything snug under the hatches.”—“Curse your gum!” said the charmer, “what’s your gay balls and your hatches to me?”—“Do but let us bring-to a little,” answered the wooer, whose appetite was by this time whetted to a most ravenous degree, “and I’ll teach you to box the compass, my dear. Ah! you strapper, what a jolly b — you are!”—“B—!” exclaimed this modern dulcinea, incensed at the opprobrious term; “such a b — as your mother, you dog! D— you, I’ve a good mind to box your jaws instead of your comepiss. I’ll let you know, as how I am meat for your master, you saucy blackguard. You are worse than a dog, you old flinty-faced, flea-bitten scrub. A dog wears his own coat, but you wear your master’s.”

Such a torrent of disgraceful epithets from a person who had no clothes at all, converted the gallant’s love into choler, and he threatened to dismount and seize her to a tree, when she should have a taste of his cat-o’-nine-tails athwart her quarters; but, instead of being intimidated by his menaces, she set him at defiance, and held forth with such a flow of eloquence, as would have entitled her to a considerable share of reputation, even among the nymphs of Billingsgate; for this young lady, over and above a natural genius for altercation, had her talents cultivated among the venerable society of weeders, podders, and hoppers, with whom she had associated from her tender years. No wonder, then, that she soon obtained a complete victory over Pipes, who, as the reader may have observed, was very little addicted to the exercise of speech. Indeed, he was utterly disconcerted by her volubility of tongue; and, being altogether unfurnished with answers to the distinct periods of her discourse, very wisely chose to save himself the expense of breath and argument, by giving her a full swing of cable, so that she might bring herself up; while he rode onwards, in silent composure, without taking any more notice of his fair fellow-traveller, than if she had been his master’s cloak-bag.

In spite of all the despatch he could make, it was late before he arrived at the garrison, where he delivered the letter and the lady to the lieutenant, who no sooner understood the intention of his friend, than he ordered all the tubs in the house to be carried into the hall, and filled with water. Tom having provided himself with swabs and brushes, divested the fair stranger of her variegated drapery, which was immediately committed to the flames, and performed upon her soft and sleek person the ceremony of scrubbing, as it is practised on board of the king’s ships of war. Yet the nymph herself did not submit to this purification without repining. She cursed the director, who was upon the spot, with many abusive allusions to his wooden leg; and as for Pipes the operator, she employed her talons so effectually upon his face, that the blood ran over his nose in sundry streams; and next morning, when those rivulets were dry, his countenance resembled the rough bark of a plum-tree, plastered with gum. Nevertheless, he did his duty with great perseverance, cut off her hair close to the scalp, handled his brushes with dexterity, applied his swabs of different magnitude and texture, as the case required; and, lastly, rinsed the whole body with a dozen pails of cold water, discharged upon her head.

These ablutions being executed, he dried her with towels, accommodated her with a clean shift, and, acting the part of a valet-de-chambre, clothed her from head to foot, in clean and decent apparel which had belonged to Mrs. Hatchway; by which means her appearance was altered so much for the better, that when Peregrine arrived next day, he could scarce believe his own eyes. He was, for that reason, extremely well pleased with his purchase, and now resolved to indulge a whim, which seized him at the very instant of his arrival.

He had, as I believe the reader will readily allow, made considerable progress in the study of character, from the highest rank to the most humble station of life, and found it diversified in the same manner, through every degree of subordination and precedency: nay, he moreover observed, that the conversation of those who are dignified with the appellation of polite company, is neither more edifying nor entertaining than that which is met with among the lower classes of mankind; and that the only essential difference, in point of demeanour, is the form of an education, which the meanest capacity can acquire, without much study or application. Possessed of this notion, he determined to take the young mendicant under his own tutorage and instruction. In consequence of which, he hoped he should, in a few weeks, be able to produce her in company, as an accomplished young lady of uncommon wit, and an excellent understanding.

This extravagant plan he forthwith began to execute with great eagerness and industry; and his endeavours succeeded even beyond his expectation. The obstacle, in surmounting of which he found the greatest difficulty, was an inveterate habit of swearing, which had been indulged from her infancy, and confirmed by the example of those among whom she had lived. However, she had the rudiments of good sense from nature, which taught her to listen to wholesome advice, and was so docile as to comprehend and retain the lessons which her governor recommended to her attention; insomuch, that he ventured, in a few days, to present her at table, among a set of country squires, to whom she was introduced as niece to the lieutenant. In that capacity she sat with becoming easiness of mien, for she was as void of the mauvaise honte as any duchess in the land; bowed very graciously to the compliments of the gentlemen; and though she said little or nothing, because she was previously cautioned on that score, she more than once gave way to laughter, and her mirth happened to be pretty well timed. In a word, she attracted the applause and admiration of the guests, who, after she was withdrawn, complimented Mr. Hatchway upon the beauty, breeding, and good-humour of his kinswoman.

But what contributed more than any other circumstance to her speedy improvement, was some small insight into the primer, which she had acquired at a day-school, during the life of her father, who was a day-labourer in the country. Upon this foundation did Peregrine build a most elegant superstructure; he culled out choice sentences from Shakespeare, Otway, and Pope, and taught her to repeat them with an emphasis and theatrical cadence. He then instructed her in the names and epithets of the most celebrated players, which he directed her to pronounce occasionally, with an air of careless familiarity; and, perceiving that her voice was naturally clear, he enriched it with remnants of opera tunes, to be hummed during a pause in conversation, which is generally supplied with a circulation of a pinch of snuff. By means of this cultivation she became a wonderful proficient in the polite graces of the age; she, with great facility, comprehended the scheme of whist, though cribbage was her favourite game, with which she had amused herself in her vacant hours, from her first entrance into the profession of hopping; and brag soon grew familiar to her practice and conception.

Thus prepared, she was exposed to the company of her own sex, being first of all visited by the parson’s daughter, who could not avoid showing that civility to Mr. Hatchway’s niece, after she had made her public appearance at church. Mrs. Clover, who had a great share of penetration, could not help entertaining some doubts about this same relation, whose name she had never heard the uncle mention, during the whole term of her residence at the garrison. But as the young lady was treated in that character, she would not refuse her acquaintance; and, after having seen her at the castle, actually invited Miss Hatchway to her house. In short, she made a progress through almost all the families in the neighbourhood; and by dint of her quotations, which, by the bye, were not always judiciously used, she passed for a sprightly young lady, of uncommon learning and taste.

Peregrine having in this manner initiated her in the beau monde of the country, conducted her to London, where she was provided with private lodgings and a female attendant; and put her immediately under the tuition of his valet-de-chambre, who had orders to instruct her in dancing, and the French language. He attended her to plays and concerts three or four times a week; and when our hero thought her sufficiently accustomed to the sight of great company, he squired her in person to a public assembly, and danced with her among all the gay ladies of fashion; not but that there was still an evident air of rusticity and awkwardness in her demeanour, which was interpreted into an agreeable wildness of spirit, superior to the forms of common breeding. He afterwards found means to make her acquainted with some distinguished patterns of her own sex, by whom she was admitted into the most elegant parties, and continued to make good her pretensions to gentility, with great circumspection. But one evening, being at cards with a certain lady whom she detected in the very fact of unfair conveyance, she taxed her roundly with the fraud, and brought upon herself such a torrent of sarcastic reproof, as overbore all her maxims of caution, and burst open the floodgates of her own natural repartee, twanged off with the appellation of b — and w — which she repeated with great vehemence, in an attitude of manual defiance, to the terror of her antagonist, and the astonishment of all present; nay, to such an unguarded pitch was she provoked, that, starting up, she snapped her fingers, in testimony of disdain, and, as she quitted the room, applied her hand to that part which was the last of her that disappeared, inviting the company to kiss it by one of its coarsest denominations.

Peregrine was a little disconcerted at this oversight in her behaviour, which, by the demon of intelligence, was in a moment conveyed to all the private companies in town; so that she was absolutely excluded from all polite communication, and Peregrine, for the present, disgraced among the modest part of his female acquaintance, many of whom not only forbade him their houses, on account of the impudent insult he had committed upon their honour, as well as understanding, in palming a common trull upon them, as a young lady of birth and education; but also aspersed his family, by affirming that she was actually his own cousin-german, whom he had precipitately raised from the most abject state of humility and contempt. In revenge for this calumny, our young gentleman explained the whole mystery of her promotion, together with the motives that induced him to bring her into the fashionable world; and repeated among his companions the extravagant encomiums which had been bestowed upon her by the most discerning matrons of the age.

Meanwhile, the infanta herself being rebuked by her benefactor for this instance of misbehaviour, promised faithfully to keep a stricter guard for the future over her conduct, and applied herself with great assiduity to the studies, in which she was assisted by the Swiss, who gradually lost the freedom of his heart, while she was profiting by his instruction. In other words, she made a conquest of her preceptor, who yielding to the instigations of the flesh, chose a proper opportunity to declare his passion, which was powerfully recommended by his personal qualifications; and his intentions being honourable, she listened to his proposals of espousing her in private. In consequence of this agreement, they made an elopement together; and, being buckled at the Fleet, consummated their nuptials in private lodgings, by the Seven Dials, from which the husband next morning sent a letter to our hero begging forgiveness for the clandestine step he had taken, which he solemnly protested was not owing to any abatement in his inviolable regard for his master, whom he should always honour and esteem to his latest breath, but entirely to the irresistible charms of the young lady, to whom he was now so happy as to be joined in the silken bonds of marriage.

Peregrine, though at first offended at his valet’s presumption, was, upon second thoughts, reconciled to the event by which he was delivered from an encumbrance; for by this time he had performed his frolic, and began to be tired of his acquisition. He reflected upon the former fidelity of the Swiss, which had been manifested in a long course of service and attachment; and, thinking it would be cruelly severe to abandon him to poverty and distress for one venial trespass, he resolved to pardon what he had done, and enable him in some shape to provide for the family which he had entailed upon himself.

With these sentiments, he sent a favourable answer to the delinquent, desiring to see him as soon as his passion should permit him to leave the arms of his spouse for an hour or two; and Hadgi, in obedience to this intimation, repaired immediately to the lodgings of his master, before whom he appeared with a most penitential aspect. Peregrine, though he could scarce help laughing at his rueful length of face, reprimanded him sharply, for his disrespect and ingratitude in taking that by stealth which he might have had for asking. The culprit assured him, that next to the vengeance of God, his master’s displeasure was that which of all evils he dreaded to incur; but that love had distracted his brain in such a manner, as to banish every other consideration but that of gratifying his desire; and he owned, that he should not have been able to preserve his fidelity and duty to his own father, had they interfered with the interest of his passion. He then appealed to his master’s own heart for the remission of his guilt, alluding to certain circumstances of our hero’s conduct, which evinced the desperate effects of love. In short, he made such an apology as extorted a smile from his offended judge, who not only forgave his transgression, but also promised to put him in some fair way of earning a comfortable subsistence.

The Swiss was so much affected with this instance of generosity, that he fell upon his knees, and kissed his hand, praying to heaven, with great fervour, to make him worthy of such goodness and condescension. His scheme, he said, was to open a coffee-house and tavern in some creditable part of the town, in hopes of being favoured with the custom of a numerous acquaintance he had made among upper servants and reputable tradesmen, not doubting that his wife would be an ornament to his bar, and a careful manager of his affairs. Peregrine approved of the plan, towards the execution of which he made him and his wife a present of five hundred pounds, together with a promise of erecting a weekly club among his friends, for the reputation and advantage of the house.

Hadgi was so transported with his good fortune, that he ran to Pipes, who was in the room, and having hugged him with great cordiality, and made his obeisance to his master, hied him home to his bride, to communicate his happiness, cutting capers, and talking to himself all the way.

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