The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter C.

These Associates commit an Assault upon Crabtree, for which they are banished from the Fleet — Peregrine begins to feel the effects of Confinement.

Our adventurer having dined at an ordinary, and in the afternoon retired to his own apartment, as usual, with his friend Cadwallader, Hatchway and his associate, after they had been obliged to discuss the provision for which they had paid, renewed their conference upon the old subject. Pipes giving his messmate to understand, that Peregrine’s chief confidant was the old deaf bachelor, whom he had seen at his lodging the preceding day, Mr. Hatchway, in his great penetration, discovered, that the young gentleman’s obstinacy proceeded from the advice of the misanthrope, whom, for that reason, it was their business to chastise. Pipes entered into this opinion the more willingly, as he had all along believed the senior to be a sort of wizard, or some cacodaemon, whom it was not very creditable to be acquainted with. Indeed, he had been inspired with this notion by the insinuations of Hadgi, who had formerly dropped some hints touching Crabtree’s profound knowledge in the magic art; mentioning, in particular, his being possessed of the philosopher’s stone; an assertion to which Tom had given implicit credit, until his master was sent to prison for debt, when he could no longer suppose Cadwallader lord of such a valuable secret, or else he would have certainly procured the enlargement of his most intimate friend.

With these sentiments, he espoused the resentment of Hatchway. They determined to seize the supposed conjurer, with the first opportunity, on his return from his visit to Peregrine, and, without hesitation, exercise upon him the discipline of the pump. This plan they would have executed that same evening, had not the misanthrope luckily withdrawn himself, by accident, before it was dark, and even before they had intelligence of his retreat. But, next day, they kept themselves upon the watch till he appeared, and Pipes lifting his hat, as Crabtree passed, “O d — ye, old Dunny,” said he, “you and I must grapple by and by; and a’gad I shall lie so near your quarter, that your ear-ports will let in the sound, thof they are double caulked with oakum.”

The misanthrope’s ears were not quite so fast closed, but that they received this intimation; which, though delivered in terms that he did not well understand, had such an effect upon his apprehension, that he signified his doubts to Peregrine, observing, that he did not much like the looks of that same ruffian with the wooden leg. Pickle assured him, he had nothing to fear from the two sailors, who could have no cause of resentment against him; or, if they had, would not venture to take any step, which they knew must block up all the avenues to that reconcilement, about which they were so anxious; and, moreover, give such offence to the governor of the place as would infallibly induce him to expel them both from his territories.

Notwithstanding this assurance, the young gentleman was not so confident of the lieutenant’s discretion, as to believe that Crabtree’s fears were altogether without foundation; he forthwith conjectured that Jack had taken umbrage at an intimacy from which he found himself excluded, and imputed his disgrace to the insinuations of Cadwallader, whom, in all likelihood, he intended to punish for his supposed advice. He knew his friend could sustain no great damage from the lieutenant’s resentment, in a place which he could immediately alarm with his cries, and therefore wished he might fall into the snare, because it would furnish him with a pretence of complaint; in consequence of which, the sailors would be obliged to shift their quarters, so as that he should be rid of their company, in which he at present could find no enjoyment.

Everything happened as he had foreseen; the misanthrope, in his retreat from Peregrine’s chamber, was assaulted by Hatchway and his associate, who seized him by the collar without ceremony, and began to drag him towards the pump, at which they would have certainly complimented him with a very disagreeable bath, had not he exalted his voice in such a manner, as in a moment brought a number of the inhabitants, and Pickle himself, to his aid. The assailants would have persisted in their design, had the opposition been such as they could have faced with any possibility of success; nor did they quit their prey, before a dozen, at least, had come to his rescue, and Peregrine with a menacing aspect and air of authority, commanded his old valet to withdraw. Then they thought proper to sheer off, and betake themselves to close quarters, while our hero accompanied the affrighted Cadwallader to the gate, and exhibited to the warden a formal complaint against the rioters, upon whom he retorted the charge of lunacy, which was supported by the evidence of twenty persons, who had been eye-witnesses of the outrage committed against the old gentleman. The governor, in consequence of this information, sent a message to Mr. Hatchway, warning him to move his lodging next day, on pain of being expelled. The lieutenant contumaciously refusing to comply with this intimation, was in the morning, while he amused himself in walking upon the Bare, suddenly surrounded by the constables of the court, who took him and his adherent prisoners, before they were aware, and delivered them into the hands of the turnkeys, by whom they were immediately dismissed, and their baggage conveyed to the side of the ditch.

This expulsion was not performed without an obstinate opposition on the part of the delinquents, who, had they not been surprised, would have set the whole Fleet at defiance, and, in all probability, have acted divers tragedies, before they could have been overpowered. Things being circumstanced as they were, the lieutenant did not part with his conductor without tweaking his nose, by way of farewell; and Pipes, in imitation of such a laudable example, communicated a token of remembrance, in an application to the sole eye of his attendant, who, scorning to be outdone in this kind of courtesy, returned the compliment with such good-will, that Tom’s organ performed the office of a multiplying-glass. These were mutual hints for stripping, and, accordingly, each was naked from the waist upwards in a trice. A ring of butchers from the market was immediately formed; a couple of the reverend flamens, who, in morning gowns, ply for marriages in that quarter of the town, constituted themselves seconds and umpires of the approaching contest, and the battle began without further preparation. The combatants were, in point of strength and agility, pretty equally matched; but the jailor had been regularly trained in the art of bruising: he had more than once signalized himself in public, by his prowess and skill in this exercise, and lost one eye upon the stage in the course of his exploits. This was a misfortune of which Pipes did not fail to take the advantage. He had already sustained several hard knocks upon his temples and jaws, and found it impracticable to smite his antagonist upon the victualling-office, so dexterously was it defended against assault. He then changed his battery, and being ambidexter, raised such a clatter upon the turnkey’s blind side, that this hero, believing him left-handed, converted his attention that way, and opposed the unenlightened side of his face to the right hand of Pipes, which being thus unprovided against, slyly bestowed upon him a peg under the fifth rib, that in an instant laid him senseless on the pavement, at the feet of his conqueror. Pipes was congratulated upon his victory, not only by his friend Hatchway, but also by all the by-standers, particularly the priest who had espoused his cause, and now invited the strangers to his lodgings in a neighbouring alehouse, where they were entertained so much to their liking, that they determined to seek no other habitation while they should continue in town; and, notwithstanding the disgrace and discouragement they had met with, in their endeavours to serve our adventurer, they were still resolved to persevere in their good offices, or, in the vulgar phrase, to see him out.

While they settled themselves in this manner, and acquired familiar connections round all the purlieus of the ditch, Peregrine found himself deprived of the company of Cadwallader, who signified, by letter, that he did not choose to hazard his person again in visiting him, while such assassins occupied the avenues through which he must pass; for he had been at pains to inquire into the motions of the seamen, and informed himself exactly of the harbour in which they were moored.

Our hero had been so much accustomed to the conversation of Crabtree, which was altogether suitable to the singularity of his own disposition, that he could very ill afford to be debarred of it at this juncture, when almost every other source of enjoyment was stopped. He was, however, obliged to submit to the hardships of his situation; and as the characters of his fellow-prisoners did not at all improve upon him, he was compelled to seek for satisfaction within himself. Not but that he had an opportunity of conversing with some people who neither wanted sense, nor were deficient in point of principle; yet there appeared in the behaviour of them all, without exception, a certain want of decorum, a squalor of sentiment, a sort of jailish cast contracted in the course of confinement, which disgusted the delicacy of our hero’s observation. He, therefore, detached himself from their parties as much as he could, without giving offence to those among whom he was obliged to live, and resumed his labours with incredible eagerness and perseverance, his spirits being supported by the success of some severe philippics, which he occasionally published against the author of his misfortune.

Nor was his humanity unemployed in the vacations of his revenge. A man must be void of all sympathy and compassion, who can reside among so many miserable objects, without feeling an inclination to relieve their distress. Every day almost presented to his view such lamentable scenes as were most likely to attract his notice, and engage his benevolence. Reverses of fortune, attended with the most deplorable circumstances of domestic woe, were continually intruding upon his acquaintance; his ears were invaded with the cries of the hapless wife, who, from the enjoyment of affluence and pleasure, was forced to follow her husband to this abode of wretchedness and want; his eyes were every minute assailed with the naked and meagre appearances of hunger and cold; and his fancy teemed with a thousand aggravations of their misery.

Thus situated, his purse was never shut while his heart remained open. Without reflecting upon the slenderness of his store, he exercised his charity to all the children of distress, and acquired a popularity, which, though pleasing, was far from being profitable. In short, his bounty kept no pace with his circumstances, and in a little time he was utterly exhausted. He had recourse to his bookseller, from whom, with great difficulty, he obtained a small reinforcement; and immediately relapsed into the same want of retention. He was conscious of his infirmity, and found it incurable: he foresaw that by his own industry he should never be able to defray the expense of these occasions; and this reflection sunk deep into his mind. The approbation of the public, which he had earned or might acquire like a cordial often repeated, began to lose its effect upon his imagination; his health suffered by his sedentary life and austere application, his eyesight failed, his appetite forsook him, his spirits decayed; so that he became melancholy, listless, and altogether incapable of prosecuting the only means he had left for his subsistence; and, what did not at all contribute to the alleviation of these particulars, he was given to understand by his lawyer, that he had lost his cause, and was condemned in costs. Even this was not the most mortifying piece of intelligence he received: he at the same time learned that his bookseller was bankrupt, and his friend Crabtree at the point of death.

These were comfortable considerations to a youth of Peregrine’s disposition, which was so capricious, that the more his misery increased, the more haughty and inflexible he became. Rather than be beholden to Hatchway, who still hovered about the gate, eager for an opportunity to assist him, he chose to undergo the want of almost every convenience of life, and actually pledged his wearing apparel to an Irish pawnbroker in the Fleet, for money to purchase those things, without which he must have absolutely perished. He was gradually irritated by his misfortunes into a rancorous resentment against mankind in general, and his heart so alienated from the enjoyments of life, that he did not care how soon he quitted his miserable existence. Though he had shocking examples of the vicissitudes of fortune continually before his eyes, he could never be reconciled to the idea of living like his fellow-sufferers, in the most abject degree of dependence. If he refused to accept of favours from his own allies and intimate friends, whom he had formerly obliged, it is not to be supposed that he would listen to proposals of that kind from any of his fellow-prisoners, with whom he had contracted acquaintance: he was even more cautious than ever of incurring obligations; he now shunned his former messmates, in order to avoid disagreeable tenders of friendship. Imagining that he perceived an inclination in the clergyman to learn the state of his finances, he discouraged and declined the explanation, and at length secluded himself from all society.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00