The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter CI.

He receives an unexpected Visit; and the Clouds of Misfortune begin to separate.

While he pined in this forlorn condition, with an equal abhorrence of the world and himself, Captain Gauntlet arrived in town in order to employ his interest for promotion in the army; and in consequence of his wife’s particular desire, made it his business to inquire for Peregrine, to whom he longed to be reconciled, even though at the expense of a slight submission. But he could hear no tidings of him, at the place to which he was directed; and, on the supposition that our hero had gone to reside in the country, applied himself to his own business, with intention to renew his inquiries, after that affair should be transacted. He communicated his demands to his supposed patron, who had assumed the merit of making him a captain, and been gratified with a valuable present on that consideration; and was cajoled with hopes of succeeding in his present aim by the same interest.

Meanwhile, he became acquainted with one of the clerks belonging to the War Office, whose advice and assistance, he was told, would be a furtherance to his scheme. As he had occasion to discourse with this gentleman upon the circumstances of his expectation, he learned that the nobleman, upon whom he depended, was a person of no consequence in the state, and altogether incapable of assisting him in his advancement. At the same time, his counsellor expressed his surprise that Captain Gauntlet did not rather interest in his cause the noble peer to whose good offices he owed his last commission.

This remark introduced an explanation, by which Godfrey discovered, to his infinite astonishment, the mistake in which he had continued so long with regard to his patron; though he could not divine the motive which induced a nobleman, with whom he had no acquaintance or connection, to interpose his influence in his behalf. Whatsoever that might be, he thought it was his duty to make his acknowledgment; and for that purpose went next morning to his house, where he was politely received, and given to understand that Mr. Pickle was the person to whose friendship he was indebted for his last promotion.

Inexpressible were the transports of gratitude, affection, and remorse that took possession of the soul of Gauntlet, when this mystery was unfolded. “Good Heaven!” cried he, lifting up his hands, “have I lived so long in a state of animosity with my benefactor? I intended to have reconciled myself at any rate before I was sensible of this obligation, but now I shall not enjoy a moment’s quiet until I have an opportunity of expressing to him my sense of his heroic friendship. I presume, from the nature of the favour conferred upon him in my behalf, that Mr. Pickle is well known to your lordship; and I should think myself extremely happy if you could inform me in what part of the country he is to be found; for the person with whom he lodged some time ago could give me no intelligence of his motions.”

The nobleman, touched with this instance of generous self-denial in Peregrine, as well as with the sensibility of his friend, lamented the unhappiness of our hero, while he gave Gauntlet to understand that he had been long disordered in his intellects, in consequence of having squandered away his fortune; and that his creditors had thrown him into the Fleet prison; but whether he still continued in that confinement, or was released from his misfortunes by death, his lordship did not know, because he had never inquired.

Godfrey no sooner received this intimation, than, his blood boiling with grief and impatience, he craved pardon for his abrupt departure; then quitting his informer on the instant, re-embarked in his hackney-coach, and ordered himself to be conveyed directly to the Fleet. As the vehicle proceeded along one side of the market, he was surprised with the appearance of Hatchway and Pipes, who stood cheapening cauliflowers at a green-stall, their heads being cased in worsted nightcaps, half covered with their hats, and a short tobacco-pipe in the mouth of each. He was rejoiced at sight of the two seamen, which he took for a happy omen of finding his friend. and, ordering the coachman to stop the carriage, called to the lieutenant by his name. Jack replying with an hilloah, looking behind him, and recognizing the face of his old acquaintance, ran up to the coach with great eagerness. Shaking the captain heartily by the hand, “Odds heart!” said he, “I am glad thou hast fallen in with us; we shall now be able to find the trim of the vessel, and lay her about on t’other tack. For my own part, I have had many a consort in my time, that is, in the way of good fellowship, and I always made a shift to ware ’em at one time or another. But this headstrong toad will neither obey the helm nor the sheet; and for aught I know, will founder where a lies at anchor.”

Gauntlet, who conceived part of his meaning, alighted immediately; and being conducted to the sailor’s lodging, was informed of everything that had passed between the lieutenant and Pickle. He, in his turn, communicated to Jack the discovery which he had made, with regard to his commission; at which the other gave no signs of surprise, but, taking the pipe from his mouth, “Why look ye, captain,” said he, “that’s not the only good turn you have owed him. That same money you received from the commodore as an old debt was all a sham, contrived by Pickle for your service; but a wool drive under his bare poles without sails and rigging, or a mess of provision on board, rather than take the same assistance from another man.”

Godfrey was not only amazed, but chagrined at the knowledge of this anecdote; which gave umbrage to his pride, while it stimulated his desire of doing something in return for the obligation. He inquired into the present circumstances of the prisoner; and understanding that he was indisposed, and but indifferently provided with the common necessaries of life, though still deaf to all offers of assistance, began to be extremely concerned at the account of this savage obstinacy and pride, which would, he feared, exclude him from the privilege of relieving him in his distress. However, he resolved to leave no expedient untried, that might have any tendency to surmount such destructive prejudice; and entering the jail, was directed to the apartment of the wretched prisoner. He knocked softly at the door, and, when it was opened, started back with horror and astonishment. The figure that presented itself to his view was the remains of his once happy friend; but so miserably altered and disguised, that his features were scarce cognisable. The florid, the sprightly, the gay, the elevated youth, was now metamorphosed into a wan, dejected, meagre, squalid spectre; the hollow-eyed representative of distemper, indigence, and despair. Yet his eyes retained a certain ferocity, which threw a dismal gleam athwart the cloudiness of his aspect, and he, in silence, viewed his old companion with a look betokening confusion and disdain. As for Gauntlet, he could not, without emotion, behold such a woeful reverse of fate, in a person for whom he entertained the noblest sentiments of friendship, gratitude, and esteem; his sorrow was at first too big for utterance, and he shed a flood of tears before he could pronounce one word.

Peregrine, in spite of his misanthropy, could not help being affected with this uncommon testimony of regard; but he strove to stifle his sensations. His brows contracted themselves into a severe frown; his eyes kindled into the appearance of live coals. He waved with his hand in signal for Godfrey to be gone, and leave such a wretch as him to the miseries of his fate; and, finding nature too strong to be suppressed, uttered a deep groan, and wept aloud.

The soldier, seeing him thus melted, unable to restrain the strong impulse of his affection, sprung towards, and clasping him in his arms, “My dearest friend, and best benefactor,” said he, “I am come hither to humble myself for the offence I was so unhappy as to give at our last parting; to beg a reconciliation, to thank you for the case and affluence I have enjoyed through your means, and to rescue you, in spite of yourself, from this melancholy situation; of which, but an hour ago, I was utterly ignorant. Do not deny me the satisfaction of acquitting myself in point of duty and obligation. You must certainly have had some regard for a person in whose favour you have exerted yourself so much; and if any part of that esteem remains, you will not refuse him an opportunity of approving himself in some measure worthy of it. Let me not suffer the most mortifying of all repulses, that of slighted friendship; but kindly sacrifice your resentment and inflexibility to the request of one who is at all times ready to sacrifice his life for your honour and advantage. If you will not yield to my entreaties, have some regard to the wishes of my Sophy, who laid me under the strongest injunctions to solicit your forgiveness, even before she knew how much I was indebted to your generosity; or, if that consideration should be of no weight, I hope you will relax a little for the sake of poor Emilia, whose resentment hath been long subdued by her affection, and who now droops in secret at your neglect.”

Every word of this address, delivered in the most pathetic manner, made an impression upon the mind of Peregrine. He was affected with the submission of his friend, who, in reality, had given him no just cause to complain. He knew that no ordinary motive had swayed him to a condescension so extraordinary in a man of his punctilious temper. He considered it, therefore, as the genuine effect of eager gratitude and disinterested love, and his heart began to relent accordingly. When he heard himself conjured in the name of the gentle Sophy, his obstinacy was quite overcome; and when Emilia was recalled to his remembrance, his whole frame underwent a violent agitation. He took his friend by the hand, with a softened look; and, as soon as he recovered the faculty of speech, which had been overpowered in the conflict of passions that transported him, protested, that he retained no vestige of animosity, but considered him in the light of an affectionate comrade, the ties of whose friendship adversity could not unbind. He mentioned Sophy in the most respectful terms; spoke of Emilia with the most reverential awe, as the object of his inviolable love and veneration; but disclaimed all hope of ever more attracting her regard, and excused himself from profiting by Godfrey’s kind intention; declaring, with a resolute air, that he had broken off all connection with mankind, and that he impatiently longed for the hour of his dissolution, which, if it should not soon arrive by the course of nature, he was resolved to hasten with his own hands, rather than be exposed to the contempt, and more intolerable pity, of a rascally world.

Gauntlet argued against this frantic determination with all the vehemence of expostulating friendship; but his remonstrances did not produce the desired effect upon our desperate hero, who calmly refuted all his arguments, and asserted the rectitude of his design from the pretended maxims of reason and true philosophy. While this dispute was carried on with eagerness on one side, and deliberation on the other, a letter was brought to Peregrine, who threw it carelessly aside unopened, though the superscription was in a handwriting to which he was a stranger; and, in all probability, the contents would never have been perused, had not Gauntlet insisted upon his waiving all ceremony, and reading it forthwith. Thus solicited, Pickle unsealed the billet, which, to his no small surprise, contained the following intimation:—

Sir — This comes to inform you, that, after many dangers and disappointments, I am, by the blessing of God, safely arrived in the Downs, on board of the Gomberoon Indiaman, having made a tolerable voyage; by which I hope I shall be enabled to repay, with interest, the seven hundred pounds which I borrowed of you before my departure from England. I take this opportunity of writing by our purser, who goes express with despatches for the Company, that you may have this satisfactory notice as soon as possible, relating to one whom I suppose you have long given over as lost. I have enclosed it in a letter to my broker, who, I hope, knows your address, and will forward it accordingly. And I am, with respect, Sir, your most humble servant,
“Benjamin Chintz.”

He had no sooner taken a cursory view of this agreeable epistle, than his countenance cleared up, and, reaching it to his friend, with a smile, “There,” said he, “is a more convincing argument, on your side of the question, than all the casuists in the universe can advance.” Gauntlet, wondering at this observation, took the paper, and, casting his eyes greedily upon the contents, congratulated him upon the receipt of it, with extravagant demonstrations of joy. “Not on account of the sum,” said he, “which, upon my honour, I would with pleasure pay three times over for your convenience and satisfaction; but because it seems to have reconciled you to life, and disposed your mind for enjoying the comforts of society.”

The instantaneous effect which this unexpected smile of fortune produced in the appearance of our adventurer is altogether inconceivable; it plumped up his cheeks in a moment, unbended and enlightened every feature of his face; elevated his head, which had begun to sink as it were, between his shoulders; and from a squeaking dispirited tone, swelled up his voice to a clear manly accent. Godfrey, taking advantage of this favourable change, began to regale him with prospects of future success. He reminded him of his youth and qualifications, which were certainly designed for better days than those he had as yet seen; he pointed out various paths by which he might arrive at wealth and reputation; he importuned him to accept of a sum for his immediate occasions; and earnestly begged that he would allow him to discharge the debt for which he was confined, observing, that Sophy’s fortune had enabled him to exhibit that proof of his gratitude, without any detriment to his affairs; and protesting that he should not believe himself in possession of Mr. Pickle’s esteem, unless he was permitted to make some such return of good-will to the man, who had not only raised him from indigence and scorn, to competence and reputable rank, but also empowered him to obtain the possession of an excellent woman, who had filled up the measure of his felicity.

Peregrine declared himself already overpaid for all his good offices, by the pleasure he enjoyed in employing them, and the happy effects they had produced in the mutual satisfaction of two persons so dear to his affection; and assured his friend, that one time or other he would set his conscience at ease, and remove the scruples of his honour, by having recourse to his assistance; but at present he could not make use of his friendship, without giving just cause of offence to honest Hatchway, who was prior to him in point of solicitation, and had manifested his attachment with surprising obstinacy and perseverance.

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