The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter XC.

Peregrine commences Minister’s Dependant — Meets by Accident with Mrs. Gauntlet — And descends gradually in the Condition of Life.

This reception, favourable as it was, did not please Peregrine, who had too much discernment to be cajoled with general promises, at a time when he thought himself entitled to the most particular assurance. He accordingly signified his disgust to his introductor, giving him to understand, that he had laid his account with being chosen representative of one of those boroughs for which he had been sacrificed. His lordship agreed to the reasonableness of his expectation, observing, however, that he could not suppose the minister would enter upon business with him on his first visit; and that it would be time enough at his next audience to communicate his demand. Notwithstanding this remonstrance, our hero continued to indulge his suspicion and chagrin, and even made a point of it with his patron, that his lordship should next day make application on his behalf, lest the two seats should be filled up, on pretence of his inclinations being unknown. Thus importuned, my lord went to his principal, and returned with an answer, importing that his honour was extremely sorry that Mr. Pickle had not signified his request before the boroughs in question were promised to two gentlemen whom he could not now disappoint, with any regard to his own credit or interest; but, as several persons who would be chosen were, to his certain knowledge, very aged and infirm, he did not doubt that there would be plenty of vacant seats in a very short time, and then, the young gentleman might depend upon his friendship.

Peregrine was so much irritated at this intimation, that, in the first transports of his anger he forgot the respect he owed his friend, and in his presence inveighed against the minister, as a person devoid of gratitude and candour, protesting, that if ever an opportunity should offer itself, he would spend the whole remains of his fortune in opposing his measures. The nobleman having given him time to exhaust the impetuosity of his passion, rebuked him very calmly for his disrespectful expressions, which were equally injurious and indiscreet; assured him that this project of revenge, if ever put in execution, would redound to his own prejudice and confusion; and advised him to cultivate and improve, with patience and assiduity, the footing he had already obtained in the minister’s good graces.

Our hero, convinced of the truth, though not satisfied with the occasion of his admonitions, took his leave in a fit of sullen discontent, and began to ruminate upon the shattered posture of his affairs. All that now remained of the ample fortune he had inherited was the sum he had deposited in his lordship’s hands, together with fifteen hundred pounds he had ventured on bottomry, and the garrison, which he had left for the use and accommodation of the lieutenant; and, on the per contra side of his account, he was debtor for the supply he had received from the receiver-general, and the money for which he was bound in behalf of his friend; so that he found himself, for the first time of his life, very much embarrassed in his circumstances. For, of the first half-year’s interest of his ten thousand, which was punctually paid, he had but fourscore pounds in bank, without any prospect of a farther supply till the other term, which was at the distance of four long months. He seriously reflected upon the uncertainty of human affairs: the ship with his fifteen hundred pounds might be lost; the gentleman for whom he was security might miscarry in this, as well as in his former projects, and the minister might one day, through policy or displeasure, expose him to the mercy of his dependant, who was in possession of his notes.

These suggestions did not at all contribute to the ease of our adventurer’s mind, already ruffled by his disappointment. He cursed his own folly and extravagance, by which he was reduced to such an uncomfortable situation. He compared his own conduct with that of some young gentlemen of his acquaintance, who, while he was squandering away the best part of his inheritance, had improved their fortunes, strengthened their interest, and increased their reputation. He was abandoned by his gaiety and good-humour, his countenance gradually contracted itself into a representation of severity and care, he dropped all his amusements and the companions of his pleasure, and turned his whole attention to the minister, at whose levees he never failed to appear.

While he thus laboured in the wheel of dependence, with all that mortification which a youth of his pride and sensibility may be supposed to feel from such a disagreeable necessity, he one day heard himself called by name, as he crossed the park; and, turning, perceived the wife of Captain Gauntlet, with another lady. He no sooner recognized the kind Sophy, than he accosted her with his wonted civility and friendship; but his former sprightly air was metamorphosed into such austerity, or rather dejection of feature, that she could scarce believe her own eyes, and, in her astonishment, “Is it possible,” said she, “that the gay Mr. Pickle should be so much altered in such a short space of time!” He made no other reply to this exclamation, but by a languid smile; and asked how long she had been in town; observing, that he would have paid his compliments to her at her own lodgings, had he been favoured with the least intimation of her arrival. After having thanked him for his politeness, she told him, it was not owing to any abatement of her friendship and esteem for him, that she had omitted to give him that notice; but his abrupt departure from Windsor, and the manner in which he quitted Mr. Gauntlet, had given her just grounds to believe that they had incurred his displeasure; which suspicion was reinforced by his long silence and neglect from that period to the present time. She observed it was still farther confirmed, by his forbearing to inquire for Emilia and her brother: “judge, then,” said she, “if I had any reason to believe that you would be pleased to hear that I was in town. However, I will not detain you at present, because you seem to be engaged about some particular business; but, if you will favour me with your company at breakfast to-morrow, I shall be much pleased, and honoured to boot, by the visit.” So saying, she gave him a direction to her lodgings; and he took his leave, with a faithful promise of seeing her at the appointed time.

He was very much affected with this advance of Sophy, which he considered as an instance of her uncommon sweetness of temper; he felt strange longings of returning friendship towards Godfrey; and the remembrance of Emilia melted his heart, already softened with grief and mortification. Next day he did not neglect his engagement, and had the pleasure of enjoying a long conversation with this sensible young lady, who gave him to understand that her husband was with his regiment; and presented to him a fine boy, the first-fruits of their love, whom they had christened by the name of Peregrine, in memory of the friendship which had subsisted between Godfrey and our youth.

This proof of their regard, notwithstanding the interruption in their correspondence, made a deep impression upon the mind of our adventurer, who having made the warmest acknowledgments for this undeserved mark of respect, took the child in his arms, and almost devoured him with kisses, protesting before God, that he should always consider him with the tenderness of a parent. This was the highest compliment he could pay to the gentle Sophy, who again kindly chid him for his disdainful and precipitate retreat, immediately after her marriage; and expressed an earnest desire of seeing him and the captain reconciled. He assured her, nothing could give him greater satisfaction than such an event, to which he would contribute all that lay in his power, though he could not help looking upon himself as injured by Captain Gauntlet’s behaviour, which denoted a suspicion of his honour, as well as contempt for his understanding. The lady undertook for the concession of her husband, who, she told him, had been extremely sorry for his own heat, after Mr. Pickle’s departure, and would have followed him to the garrison, in order to solicit his forgiveness, had he not been restrained by certain punctilios, occasioned by some acrimonious expressions that dropped from Peregrine at the inn.

After having cleared up this misunderstanding, she proceeded to give an account of Emilia, whose behaviour, at that juncture, plainly indicated a continuance of affection for her first lover; and desired, that he would give her full powers to bring that matter also to an accommodation: “For I am not more certain of my own existence,” said she, “than that you are still in possession of my sister’s heart.” At this declaration, the tear started in his eye. But he shook his head, and declined her good offices, wishing that the young lady might be much more happy than ever he should be able to make her.

Mrs. Gauntlet, confounded at these expressions, and moved by the desponding manner in which they were delivered, begged to know if any new obstacle was raised, by some late change in his sentiments or situation. And he, in order to avoid a painful explanation, told her, that he had long despaired of being able to vanquish Emilia’s resentment, and for that reason quitted the pursuit, which he would never renew, howsoever his heart might suffer by that resolution; though he took Heaven to witness, that his love, esteem, and admiration of her, were not in the least impaired. But the true motive of his laying aside his design, was the consciousness of his decayed fortune, which, by adding to the sensibility of his pride, increased the horror of another repulse. She expressed her concern for this determination, both on his own account, and in behalf of Emilia, whose happiness, in her opinion, depended upon his constancy and affection; and she would have questioned him more minutely about the state of his affairs, had not he discouraged the inquiry, by seeking to introduce another subject of conversation.

After mutual protestations of friendship and regard, he promised to visit her often, during her residence in town; and took his leave in a strange perplexity of mind, occasioned by the images of love, intruding upon the remonstrances of carking care. He had some time ago forsaken those extravagant companions with whom he had rioted in the heyday of his fortune, and begun to consort with a graver and more sober species of acquaintance. But he now found himself disabled from cultivating the society of these also, who were men of ample estates and liberal dispositions; in consequence of which, their parties were too expensive for the consumptive state of his finances; so that he was obliged to descend to another degree, and mingle with a set of old bachelors and younger brothers, who subsisted on slender annuities, or what is called a bare competency in the public funds. This association was composed of second-hand politicians and minor critics, who in the forenoon saunter in the Mall, or lounge at shows of pictures, appear in the drawing-room once or twice a week, dine at an ordinary, decide disputes in a coffee-house, with an air of superior intelligence, frequent the pit of the playhouse, and once in a month spend an evening with some noted actor, whose remarkable sayings they repeat for the entertainment of their ordinary friends.

After all, he found something comfortable enough in the company of these gentlemen, who never interested his passions to any violence of transport, nor teased him with impertinent curiosity about his private affairs. For, though many of them had maintained a very long, close, and friendly correspondence with each other, they never dreamt of inquiring into particular concerns; and if one of the two who were most intimately connected, had been asked how the other made a shift to live, he would have answered with great truth, “Really, that is more than I know.” Notwithstanding this phlegmatic indifference, which is of the true English production, they were all inoffensive, good-natured people, who loved a joke and a song, delighted in telling a merry story, and prided themselves in the art of catering, especially in the articles of fish, venison, and wild fowl.

Our young gentleman was not received among them on the footing of a common member, who makes interest for his admission; he was courted as a person of superior genius and importance, and his compliance looked upon as an honour to their society. This their idea of his pre-eminence was supported by his conversation, which, while it was more liberal and learned than that to which they had been accustomed, was tinctured with an assuming air, so agreeably diffused, that, instead of producing aversion, it commanded respect. They not only appealed to him, in all doubts relating to foreign parts, to which one and all of them were strangers, but also consulted his knowledge in history and divinity, which were frequently the topics of their debates; and, in poetry of all kinds, he decided with such magisterial authority, as even weighed against the opinions of the players themselves. The variety of characters he had seen and observed, and the high spheres of life in which he had so lately moved, furnished him with a thousand entertaining anecdotes. When he became a little familiarized to his disappointments, so that his natural vivacity began to revive, he flashed among them in such a number of bright sallies, as struck them with admiration, and constituted himself a classic in wit; insomuch that they began to retail his remnants, and even invited some particular friends to come and hear him hold forth. One of the players, who had for many years strutted about the taverns in the neighbourhood of Covent Garden as the Grand Turk of wit and humour, began to find his admirers melt away; and a certain petulant physician, who had shone at almost all the port clubs in that end of the town, was actually obliged to import his talents into the city, where he was now happily taken root.

Nor was this success to be wondered at, if we consider that, over and above his natural genius and education, our adventurer still had the opportunity of knowing everything which happened among the great, by means of his friend Cadwallader, with whom he still maintained his former intimacy, though it was now chequered with many occasional tiffs, owing to the sarcastic remonstrances of the misanthrope, who disapproved of those schemes which miscarried with Peregrine, and now took unseasonable methods of valuing himself upon his own foresight. Nay, he was between whiles like a raven, croaking presages of more ill-luck from the deceit of the minister, the dissimulation of his patron, the folly of the projector, for whom he was bound, the uncertainty of the seas, and the villainy of those with whom he had entrusted his cash, for Crabtree saw and considered everything through a perspective of spleen, that always reflected the worst side of human nature. For these reasons our young gentleman began to be disgusted, at certain intervals, with the character of this old man, whom he now thought a morose cynic, not so much incensed against the follies and vices of mankind, as delighted with the distress of his fellow-creatures. Thus he put the most unfavourable construction on the principles of his friend, because he found himself justly fallen under the lash of his animadversion. Thus self-accusation very often dissolves the closest friendship. A man, conscious of his own indiscretion, is implacably offended at the rectitude of his companion’s conduct, which he considers as an insult upon his failings, never to be forgiven, even though he has not tasted the bitterness of reproof, which no sinner can commodiously digest. The friendship, therefore, subsisting between Crabtree and Pickle, had of late suffered several symptomatic shocks, that seemed to prognosticate a total dissolution; a great deal of smart dialogue had passed in their private conversations, and the senior began to repent of having placed his confidence in such an imprudent, headstrong ungovernable youth.

It was in such paroxysms of displeasure that he prophesied misfortune to Peregrine, and even told him one morning, that he had dreamed of the shipwreck of the two East Indiamen, on board of which he had hazarded his money. But this was no other than a false vision; for in a few weeks, one of them arrived at her moorings in the river, and he received a thousand in lieu of eight hundred pounds which he had lent upon bond to one of the mates. At the same time he was informed, that the other ship, in which he was concerned, had, in all probability, lost her passage for the season, by being unable to weather the Cape. He was not at all concerned at that piece of news, knowing, that the longer he should he out of his money, he would have the more interest to receive; and, finding his present difficulties removed by this supply, his heart began to dilate, and his countenance to resume its former alacrity. This state of exultation, however, was soon interrupted by a small accident, which he could not foresee. He was visited one morning by the person who had lent his friend a thousand pounds on his security, and given to understand, that the borrower had absconded, in consequence of a disappointment, by which he had lost the whole sum and all hopes of retrieving it; so that our hero was now liable for the debt, which he besought him to discharge according to the bond, that he, the lender, might not suffer by his humanity. It may be easily conceived that Peregrine did not receive this intelligence in cold blood. He cursed his own imprudence in contracting such engagements with an adventurer, whom he did not sufficiently know. He exclaimed against the treachery of the projector; and having for some time indulged his resentment in threats and imprecations, inquired into the nature of the scheme which had miscarried.

The lender, who had informed himself of the whole affair, gratified his curiosity in this particular, by telling him that the fugitive had been cajoled by a certain knight of the post, who undertook to manage the thousand pounds in such a manner as would, in a very little time, make him perfectly independent; and thus he delineated the plan: “One half of the sum,” said he, “shall be laid out in jewels, which I will pawn to certain persons of credit and fortune, who lend money upon such pledges at an exorbitant interest. The other shall be kept for relieving them, so that they may be again deposited with a second set of those honourable usurers; and when they shall have been circulated in this manner through a variety of hands, we will extort money from each of the pawnbrokers, by threatening them with a public prosecution, for exacting illegal interest; and I know that they will bleed freely, rather than be exposed to the infamy attending such an accusation.” The scheme was feasible, and though not very honourable, made such an impression upon the needy borrower, that he assented to the proposals; and, by our hero’s credit, the money was raised. The jewels were accordingly purchased, pawned, relieved, and repledged by the agent, who undertook to manage the whole affair; and so judiciously was the project executed, that he could have easily proved each lender guilty of the charge. Having thus far successfully transacted the business, this faithful agent visited them severally on his own account, to give them intimation, that his employer intended to sue them on the statute of usury; upon which, every one for himself bribed the informer to withdraw his evidence, by which alone he could be convicted; and having received these gratifications, he had thought proper to retreat into France with the whole booty, including the original thousand that put them in motion. In consequence of this decampment, the borrower had withdrawn himself; so that the lender was obliged to have recourse to his security.

This was a very mortifying account to our young gentleman, who, in vain, reminded the narrator of his promise, importing, that he would not demand the money, until he should be called to an account by his ward; and observed, that, long before that period, the fugitive might appear and discharge the debt. But the other was deaf to these remonstrances; alleging, that his promise was provisional, on the supposition that the borrower would deal candidly and fairly; that he had forfeited all title to his friendship and trust, by the scandalous scheme in which he had embarked; and that his treacherous flight from his security was no proof of his honesty and intended return; but, on the contrary, a warning, by which he, the lender, was taught to take care of himself. He therefore insisted upon his being indemnified immediately, on pain of letting the law take its course; and Peregrine was actually obliged to part with the whole sum he had so lately received. But this payment was not made without extreme reluctance, indignation, and denunciation of eternal war against the absconder, and the rigid creditor, betwixt whom he suspected some collusion.

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