The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter CIII.

He is engaged in a very extraordinary Correspondence, which is interrupted by a very unexpected Event.

While this affair was in agitation, the captain told him in the course of conversation, that Emilia was arrived in town, and had inquired about Mr. Pickle with such an eagerness of concern, as seemed to proclaim that she was in some measure informed of his misfortune: he therefore desired to know if he might be allowed to make her acquainted with his situation, provided he should be again importuned by her on that subject, which he had at first industriously waived. This proof, or rather presumption, of her sympathizing regard, did not fail to operate powerfully upon the bosom of Peregrine, which was immediately filled with those tumults which love, ill-stifled, frequently excites. He observed, that his disgrace was such as could not be effectually concealed; therefore he saw no reason for depriving himself of Emilia’s compassion, since he was for ever excluded from her affection; and desired Godfrey to present to his sister the lowly respects of a despairing lover.

But, notwithstanding his declaration of despondence on this head, his imagination involuntarily teemed with more agreeable ideas. The proposal of Crabtree had taken root in his reflection, and he could not help forming plans of pastoral felicity in the arms of the lovely Emilia, remote from those pompous scenes which he now detested and despised. He amused his fancy with the prospect of being able to support her in a state of independency, by means of the slender annuity which it was in his power to purchase, together with the fruits of those endeavours which would profitably employ his vacant hours; and foresaw provision for his growing family in the friendship of the lieutenant, who had already constituted him his heir. He even parcelled out his hours among the necessary cares of the world, the pleasures of domestic bliss, and the enjoyments of a country life; and spent the night in ideal parties with his charming bride, sometimes walking by the sedgy bank of some transparent stream, sometimes pruning the luxuriant vine, and sometimes sitting in social converse with her in a shady grove of his own planting.

These, however, were no more than the shadowy phantoms of imagination, which, he well knew, would never be realized: not that he believed such happiness unattainable by a person in his circumstances, but because he would not stoop to propose a scheme which might, in any shape, seem to interfere with the interest of Emilia, or subject himself to a repulse from that young lady, who had rejected his addresses in the zenith of his fortune.

While he diverted himself with these agreeable reveries, an unexpected event intervened, in which she and her brother were deeply interested. The uncle was tapped for the dropsy, and died in a few days after the operation, having bequeathed, in his will, five thousand pounds to his nephew, and twice that sum to his niece, who had always enjoyed the greatest share of his favour.

If our adventurer, before this occurrence, looked upon his love for Emilia as a passion which it was necessary, at any rate, to conquer or suppress, he now considered her accession of fortune as a circumstance which confirmed that necessity, and resolved to discourage every thought on that subject which should tend to the propagation of hope. One day, in the midst of a conversation calculated for the purpose, Godfrey put into his hand a letter directed to Mr. Pickle, in the handwriting of Emilia, which the youth no sooner recognized, than his cheeks were covered with a crimson dye, and he began to tremble with violent agitation; for he at once guessed the import of the billet, which he kissed with great reverence and devotion, and was not at all surprised when he read the following words:—

Sir — l have performed a sufficient sacrifice to my reputation, in retaining hitherto the appearance of that resentment which I had long ago dismissed; and as the late favourable change in my situation empowers me to avow my genuine sentiments, without fear of censure, or suspicion of mercenary design, I take this opportunity to assure you, that, if I still maintain that place in your heart which I was vain enough to think I once possessed, I am willing to make the first advances to an accommodation, and have actually furnished my brother with full powers to conclude it in the name of your appeased “Emilia.”

Pickle, having kissed the subscription with great ardour, fell upon his knees, and lifting up his eyes, “Thank Heaven!” cried he, with an air of transport, “I have not been mistaken in my opinion of that generous maid. I believed her inspired with the most dignified and heroic sentiments, and now she gives me a convincing proof of her magnanimity. It is now my business to approve myself worthy of her regard. May Heaven inflict upon me the keenest arrows of its vengeance, if I do not, at this instant, contemplate the character of Emilia with the most perfect love and adoration; yet, amiable and enchanting as she is, I am, more than ever, determined to sacrifice the interest of my passion to my glory, though my life should fail in the contest; and even to refuse an offer, which, otherwise, the whole universe should not bribe me to forego.”

This declaration was not so unexpected as unwelcome to his friend Gauntlet, who represented that his glory was not at all interested in the affair; because he had already vindicated his generosity in repeated proffers to lay his whole fortune at Emilia’s feet, when it was impossible that anything selfish could enter into the proposal; but that, in rejecting her present purpose, he would give the world an opportunity to say, that his pride was capricious, his obstinacy invincible; and his sister would have undeniable reason to believe, that either his passion for her was dissembled, or the ardour of it considerably abated.

In answer to these remonstrances, Pickle observed, that he had long set the world at defiance; and, as to the opinion of Emilia, he did not doubt that she would applaud in her heart the resolution he had taken, and do justice to the purity of his intention. It was not an easy task to divert our hero from his designs at any time of life; but, since his confinement, his inflexibility was become almost insurmountable. The captain, therefore, after having discharged his conscience, in assuring him that his sister’s happiness was at stake, that his mother had approved of the step she had taken, and that he himself should be extremely mortified at his refusal, forbore to press him with further argument, which served only to rivet him the more strongly in his own opinion, and undertook to deliver this answer to Emilia’s letter:—

Madam — That I revere the dignity of your virtue with the utmost veneration, and love you infinitely more than life, I am at all times ready to demonstrate; but the sacrifice to honour it is now my turn to pay; and such is the rigour of my destiny, that, in order to justify your generosity, I must refuse to profit by your condescension. Madam, I am doomed to be for ever wretched; and to sigh without ceasing for the possession of that jewel, which, though now in my offer, I dare not enjoy. I shall not pretend to express the anguish that tears my heart, whilst I communicate this fatal renunciation, but appeal to the delicacy of your own sentiments, which can judge of my sufferings, and will, doubtless, do justice to the self-denial of your forlorn “P. Pickle.”

Emilia, who knew the nicety of our hero’s pride, had foreseen the purport of this epistle before it came to her hands; she did not, therefore, despair of success, nor desist from the prosecution of her plan, which was no other than that of securing her own happiness, in espousing the man upon whom she had fixed her unalterable affection. Confident of his honour, and fully satisfied of the mutual passion with which they were inspired, she gradually decoyed him into a literary correspondence, wherein she attempted to refute the arguments on which he grounded his refusal; and, without doubt, the young gentleman was not a little pleased with the enjoyment of such delightful commerce, in the course of which he had, more than ever, an opportunity of admiring the poignancy of her wit, and the elegance of her understanding.

The contemplation of such excellency, while it strengthened the chains with which she held him enslaved, added emulation to the other motives that induced him to maintain the dispute; and much subtlety of reasoning was expended upon both sides of this very particular question, without any prospect of conviction on either part, till, at last, she began to despair of making him a proselyte to her opinion by dint of argument; and resolved for the future to apply herself chiefly to the irresistible prepossessions of his love, which were not at all diminished or impaired by the essays of her pen. With this view she proposed a conference, pretending that it was impossible to convey all her reflections upon this subject in a series of short letters; and Godfrey undertook to bail him for the day. But, conscious of her power, he would not trust himself in her presence, though his heart throbbed with all the eagerness of desire to see her fair eyes disrobed of that resentment which they had worn so long, and to enjoy the ravishing sweets of a fond reconciliation.

Nature could not have held out against such powerful attacks, had not the pride and caprice of his disposition been gratified to the full in the triumph of his resistance; he looked upon the contest as altogether original, and persevered with obstinacy, because he thought himself sure of favourable terms, whenever he should be disposed to capitulate. Perhaps he might have overshot himself in the course of his perseverance. A young lady of Emilia’s fortune and attractions could not fail to find herself surrounded by temptations, which few women can resist. She might have misinterpreted the meaning of some paragraph or taken umbrage at an unguarded expression in one of Peregrine’s letters. She might have been tired out by his obstinate peculiarity, or, at the long run, construed it into madness, slight, or indifference; or, rather than waste her prime in fruitless endeavours to subdue the pride of a headstrong humourist, she might have listened to the voice of some admirer, fraught with qualifications sufficient to engage her esteem and affection. But all these possibilities were providentially prevented by an accident attended with more important consequences than any we have hitherto recounted.

Early one morning Pipes was disturbed by the arrival of a messenger, who had been sent express from the country by Mr. Clover, with a packet for the lieutenant, and arrived in town overnight; but as he was obliged to have recourse to the information of Jack’s correspondent in the city, touching the place of his abode, before he demanded entrance at the Fleet. the gate was shut; nor would the turnkeys admit him, although he told them that he was charged with a message of the utmost consequence; so that he was fain to tarry till daybreak, when he, at his earnest solicitation, was allowed to enter.

Hatchway, opening the packet, found a letter enclosed for Peregrine, with an earnest request that he should forward it to the hands of that young gentleman with all possible despatch. Jack, who could not dive into the meaning of this extraordinary injunction, began to imagine that Mrs. Clover lay at the point of death, and wanted to take a last farewell of her brother; and this conceit worked so strongly upon his imagination, that, while he huddled on his clothes, and made the best of his way to the apartment of our hero, he could not help cursing, within himself, the folly of the husband in sending such disagreeable messages to a man of Peregrine’s impatient temper, already soured by his own uneasy situation. This reflection would have induced him to suppress the letter, had not he been afraid to tamper with the ticklish disposition of his friend, to whom, while he delivered it, “As for my own part,” said he, “mayhap I may have as much natural affection as another, but when my spouse parted, I bore my misfortune like a British man, and a Christian. For why? He’s no better than a fresh-water sailor, who knows not how to stem the current of mischance.”

Pickle being waked from a pleasant dream, in which the fair Emilia was principally concerned, and hearing this strange preamble, sat up in his bed, and unsealed the letter, in a state of mortification and disgust. But what were the emotions of his soul, when he read the following intimation:—

Dear Brother — It hath pleased God to take your father suddenly off by a fit of apoplexy; and as he has died intestate, I give you this notice, that you may, with all speed, come down and take possession of your right, in despite of Master Gam and his mother, who, you may be sure, do not sit easy under this unexpected dispensation of Providence. I have, by virtue of being a justice of the peace, taken such precautions as I thought necessary for your advantage; and the funeral shall be deferred until your pleasure be known. Your sister, though sincerely afflicted by her father’s fate, submits to the will of Heaven with laudable resignation, and begs you will set out for this place without delay; in which request she is joined by, sir, your affectionate brother, and humble servant, “Charles Clover.”

Peregrine at first looked upon this epistle as a mere illusion of the brain, and a continuation of the reverie in which he had been engaged. He read it ten times over, without being persuaded that he was actually awake. He rubbed his eyes, and shook his head, in order to shake off the drowsy vapours that surrounded him. He hemmed thrice with great vociferation, snapped his fingers, tweaked his nose, started up from his bed, and, opening the casement, took a survey of the well-known objects that appeared on each side of his habitation. Everything seemed congruous and connected, and he said within himself, “Sure this is the most distinct dream that ever sleep produced.” Then he had recourse again to the paper, which he carefully perused, without finding any variation from his first notion of the contents.

Hatchway, seeing all his extravagances of action, accompanied with a wild stare of distraction, began to believe that his head was at length fairly turned, and was really meditating means for securing his person, when Pickle, in a tone of surprise, exclaimed, “Good God! am I or am I not awake?”—“Why look ye, cousin Pickle,” replied the lieutenant, “that is a question which the deep sea-line of my understanding is not long enough to sound; but howsomever, thof I can’t trust to the observation I have taken, it shall go hard but I will fall upon a way to guess whereabouts we are.” So saying, he lifted up a pitcher full of cold water, that stood behind the outward door, and discharged it in the face of Peregrine without ceremony or hesitation. This remedy produced the desired effect. Unpalatable as it was, the young gentleman no sooner recovered his breath, which was endangered by such a sudden application, than he thanked his friend Jack for the seasonable operation he had performed. Having no longer any just reason to doubt the reality of what appeared so convincingly to his senses, he shifted himself on the instant, not without hurry and trepidation; and, putting on his morning dress, sallied forth to the Bare, in order to deliberate with himself on the important intelligence he had received.

Hatchway, not yet fully convinced of his sanity, and curious to know the purport of the letter, which had affected him in such an extraordinary manner, carefully attended his footsteps in this excursion, in hope of being favoured with his confidence, in the course of their perambulation. Our hero no sooner appeared at the street door, than he was saluted by the messenger, who having posted himself in the way for that purpose, “God bless your noble honour, Squire Pickle,” cried he, “and give you joy of succeeding to your father’s estate.” These words had scarce proceeded from his mouth, when the lieutenant, hopping eagerly towards the countryman, squeezed his hand with great affection, and asked if the old gentleman had actually taken his departure. “Ay, Master Hatchway,” replied the other, “in such a woundy haste, that he forgot to make a will.”—“Body of me!” exclaimed the seaman; “these are the best tidings I have ever heard since I first went to sea. Here, my lad, take my purse, and stow thyself chuck full of the best liquor in the land.” So saying, he tipped the peasant with ten pieces, and immediately the whole place echoed the sound of Tom’s instrument. Peregrine, repairing to the walk, communicated the billet to his honest friend, who at his desire went forthwith to the lodgings of Captain Gauntlet, and returned in less than an hour with that gentleman, who, I need not say, was heartily rejoiced at the occasion.

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