The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter CV.

He performs the last Offices to his Father, and returns to London, upon a very interesting Design.

Suits of mourning being provided for himself, his friends and adherents, and every other previous measure taken suitable to the occasion, his father was interred, in a private manner, in the parish church; and his papers being examined, in presence of many persons of honour and integrity, invited for that purpose, no will was found, or any other deed, in favour of the second son, though it appeared by the marriage settlement, that the widow was entitled to a jointure of five hundred pounds a year. The rest of his papers consisted of East India bonds, South Sea annuities, mortgages, notes, and assignments, to the amount of four score thousand seven hundred and sixty pounds, exclusive of the house, plate and furniture, horses, equipage, and cattle, with the garden and park adjacent, to a very considerable extent.

This was a sum that even exceeded his expectation, and could not fail to entertain his fancy with the most agreeable ideas. He found himself immediately a man of vast consequence among his country neighbours, who visited him with compliments of congratulation, and treated him with such respect as would have effectually spoiled any young man of his disposition, who had not the same advantages of experience as he had already purchased at a very extravagant price. Thus shielded with caution, he bore his prosperity with surprising temperance; everybody was charmed with his affability and moderation. When he made a circuit round the gentlemen of the district, in order to repay the courtesy which he owed, he was caressed by them with uncommon assiduity, and advised to offer himself as a candidate for the county at the next election, which, they supposed, would soon happen, because the present member was in a declining state of health. Nor did his person and address escape unheeded by the ladies, many of whom did not scruple to spread their attractions before him, with a view of captivating such a valuable prize: nay, such an impression did this legacy make upon a certain peer, who resided in this part of the country, that he cultivated Pickle’s acquaintance with great eagerness, and, without circumlocution, offered to him in marriage his only daughter, with a very considerable fortune.

Our hero expressed himself upon this occasion as became a man of honour, sensibility, and politeness, and frankly gave his lordship to understand, that his heart was already engaged. He was pleased with the opportunity of making such a sacrifice of his passion for Emilia, which, by this time, inflamed his thoughts to such a degree of impatience, that he resolved to depart for London with all possible speed; and for that purpose industriously employed almost every hour of his time in regulating his domestic affairs. He paid off all his father’s servants, and hired others, at the recommendation of his sister, who promised to superintend his household in his absence. He advanced the first half-yearly payment of his mother’s jointure; and as for his brother Gam, he gave him divers opportunities of acknowledging his faults, so that he might have answered to his own conscience for taking any step in his favour; but that young gentleman was not yet sufficiently humbled by misfortune, and not only forbore to make any overtures of peace, but also took all occasions to slander the conduct and revile the person of our hero, being in this practice comforted and abetted by his righteous mamma.

Everything being thus settled for the present, the triumvirate set out on their return to town in the same manner with that in which they had arrived in the country, except in this small variation, that Hatchway’s chaise-companion was now the valet-de-chambre refitted, instead of Pipes, who, with another lacquey, attended them on horseback. When they had performed two-thirds of their way to London, they chanced to overtake a country squire, on his return from a visit to one of his neighbours, who had entertained him with such hospitality, that, as the lieutenant observed, he rolled himself almost gunwale to every motion of his horse, which was a fine hunter; and when the chaise passed him at full speed, he set up the sportsman’s halloo, in a voice that sounded like a French horn, clapping spurs to Sorrel at the same time, in order to keep up with the pace of the machine.

Peregrine, who was animated with an uncommon flow of spirits, ordered his postilion to proceed more softly; and entered into conversation with the stranger, touching the make and mettle of his horse, upon which he descanted with so much learning, that the squire was astonished at his knowledge. When they approached his habitation, he invited the young gentleman and his company to halt, and drink a bottle of his ale; and was so pressing in his solicitation, that they complied with his request. He accordingly conducted them through a spacious avenue, that extended as far as the highway, to the gate of a large chateau, of a most noble and venerable appearance, which induced them to alight and view the apartments, contrary to their first intention of drinking a glass of his October at the door.

The rooms were every way suitable to the magnificence of the outside, and our hero imagined they had made a tour through the whole sweep, when the landlord gave him to understand that they had not yet seen the best apartment of the house, and immediately led them into a spacious dining-room, which Peregrine did not enter without giving manifest signs of uncommon astonishment. The panels all round were covered with portraits at full length, by Vandyke; and not one of them appeared without a ridiculous tie-periwig, in the style of those that usually hang over the shops of twopenny barbers. The straight boots in which the figures had been originally painted, and the other circumstances of attitude and drapery, so inconsistent with this monstrous furniture of the head, exhibited such a ludicrous appearance, that Pickle’s wonder, in a little time, gave way to his mirth, and he was seized with a violent fit of laughter, which had well-nigh deprived him of his breath.

The squire, half-pleased and half-offended at this expression of ridicule, “I know,” said he, “what makes you laugh so woefully; you think it strange to zee my vorefathers booted and spurred, with huge three-tailed periwigs on their pates. The truth of the matter is this: I could not abide to zee the pictures of my vamily with a parcel of loose hair hanging about their eyes, like zo many colts; and zo I employed a painter vellow from Lundon to clap decent periwigs upon their skulls, at the rate of vive shillings a head, and offered him three shillings a piece to furnish each with a handsome pair of shoes and stockings: but the rascal, thinking I must have ’em done at any price after their heads were covered, haggled with me for vour shillings a picture; and zo, rather than be imposed upon, I turned him off, and shall let ’em stand as they are, till zome more reasonable brother of the brush comes round the country.”

Pickle commended his resolution, though in his heart, he blessed himself from such a barbarous Goth; and, after they had despatched two or three bottles of his beer, they proceeded on their journey, and arrived in town about eleven at night.

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