The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter XXXI.

The two young Gentlemen display their talents for Gallantry, in the course of which they are involved in a ludicrous circumstance of Distress, and afterwards take Vengeance on the Author of their Mishap.

Meanwhile our hero and his new friend, together with honest Jack Hatchway, made daily excursions into the country, visited the gentlemen in the neighbourhood, and frequently accompanied them to the chase; all three being exceedingly caressed on account of their talents, which could accommodate themselves with great facility to the tempers and turns of their entertainers. The lieutenant was a droll in his way, Peregrine possessed a great fund of sprightliness and good-humour, and Godfrey, among his other qualifications already recited, sang a most excellent song; so that the company of this triumvirate was courted in all parties, whether male or female: and if the hearts of our young gentlemen had not been pre-engaged, they would have met with opportunities in abundance of displaying their address in the art of love: not but that they gave loose to their gallantry without much interesting their affections, and amused themselves with little intrigues, which, in the opinion of a man of pleasure, do not affect his fidelity to the acknowledged sovereign of his soul.

In the midst of these amusements, our hero received an intimation from his sister, that she should be overjoyed to meet him next day, at five o’clock in the afternoon, at the house of her nurse, who lived in a cottage hard by her father’s habitation, she being debarred from all opportunity of seeing him in any other place by the severity of her mother, who suspected her inclination. He accordingly obeyed the summons, and went at the time appointed to the place of rendezvous, where be met this affectionate young lady, who when he entered the room, ran towards him with all the eagerness of transport, flung her arms about his neck, and shed a flood of tears in his bosom before she could utter one word, except a repetition of My dear, dear brother! He embraced her with all the piety of fraternal tenderness, wept over her in his turn, assured her that this was one of the happiest moments of his life, and kindly thanked her for having resisted the example, and disobeyed. the injunctions, of his mother’s unnatural aversion.

He was ravished to find, by her conversation, that she possessed a great share of sensibility and prudent reflection; for she lamented the infatuation of her parents with the most filial regret, and expressed such abhorrence and concern at the villainous disposition of her younger brother as a humane sister may be supposed to have entertained. He made her acquainted with all the circumstances of his own fortune; and, as he supposed she spent her time very disagreeably at home, among characters which must be shockingly interesting, professed a desire of removing her into some other sphere, where she could live with more tranquility and satisfaction.

She objected to this proposal as an expedient that would infallibly subject her to the implacable resentment of her mother, whose favour and affection she at present enjoyed but in a very inconsiderable degree; and they had canvassed divers schemes of corresponding for the future, when the voice of Mrs. Pickle was heard at the door. Miss Julia (that was the young lady’s name), finding herself betrayed, was seized with a violent agitation of fear; and Peregrine scarce had time to encourage her with a promise of protection, before the door of the apartment being flung open, this irreconcilable parent rushed in, and, with a furious aspect, flew directly at her trembling daughter, when, the son interposing, received the first discharge of her fury.

Her eyes gleamed with all the rage of indignation, which choked up her utterance, and seemed to convulse her whole frame: she twisted her left hand in his hair, and with the other buffeted him about the face till the blood gushed from his nostrils and mouth; while he defended his sister from the cruelty of Gam, who assaulted her from another quarter, seeing his brother engaged. This attack lasted several minutes with great violence, till at length Peregrine, finding himself in danger of being overpowered if he should remain any longer on the defensive, laid his brother on his back; then he disentangled his mother’s hand from his own hair, and, having pushed her gently out of the room, bolted the door on the inside; finally, turning to Gam, he threw him out at the window, among a parcel of hogs that fed under it. By this time Julia was almost quite distracted with terror: she knew she bad offended beyond all hope of forgiveness, and from that moment considered herself as an exile from her father’s house: in vain did her brother strive to console her with fresh protestations of love and protection; she counted herself extremely miserable in being obliged to endure the eternal resentment of a parent with whom she had hitherto lived; and dreaded the censure of the world, which, from her mother’s misrepresentation, she was sensible would condemn her unheard. That she might not, however, neglect any means in her power of averting this storm, she resolved to appease, if possible, her mother’s wrath with humiliation, and even appeal to the influence of her father, weak as it was, before she would despair of being forgiven. But the good lady spared her this unnecessary application, by telling her, through the keyhole, that she must never expect to come within her father’s door again; for, from that hour, she renounced her as unworthy of her affection and regard. Julia, weeping bitterly, endeavoured to soften the rigour of this sentence by the most submissive and reasonable remonstrances; but as, in her vindication, she of necessity espoused her elder brother’s cause, her endeavours, instead of soothing, served only to exasperate her mother to a higher pitch of indignation, which discharged itself in invectives against Peregrine, whom she reviled with the epithets of a worthless, abandoned reprobate.

The youth, hearing these unjust aspersions, trembled with resentment through every limb, assuring the upbraider that he considered her as an object of compassion; “for without all doubt,” said he, “your diabolical rancour must be severely punished by the thorns of your own conscience, which this very instant taxes you with the malice and falsehood of your reproaches. As for my sister, I bless God that you have not been able to infect her with your unnatural prejudice, which, because she is too just, too virtuous, too humane to imbibe, you reject her as an alien to your blood, and turn her out unprovided into a barbarous world. But even there your vicious purpose shall be defeated: that same Providence, that screened me from the cruelty of your hate, shall extend its protection to her, until I shall find it convenient to assert by law that right of maintenance which Nature, it seems, hath bestowed upon us in vain. In the mean time, you will enjoy the satisfaction of paying an undivided attention to that darling son, whose amiable qualities have so long engaged and engrossed your love and esteem.”

This freedom of expostulation exalted his mother’s ire to mere frenzy: she cursed him with the bitterest imprecations, and raved like a bedlamite at the door, which she attempted to burst open. Her efforts were seconded by her favourite son, who denounced vengeance against Peregrine, and made furious assaults against the lock, which resisted all their applications, until our hero espying his friends Gauntlet and Pipes stepping over a stile that stood about a furlong from the window, called them to his assistance: giving them to understand how he was besieged, he desired they would keep off his mother, that he might the more easily secure his sister Julia’s retreat. The young soldier entered accordingly, and, posting, himself between Mrs. Pickle and the door, gave the signal to his friend, who, lifting up his sister in his arms, carried her safe without the clutches of this she-dragon, while Pipes, with his cudgel, kept young master at bay.

The mother, being thus deprived of her prey, sprang upon Gauntlet like a lioness robbed of her whelps; and he must have suffered sorely in the flesh, had he not prevented her mischievous intent by seizing both her wrists, and so keeping her at due distance. In attempting to disengage herself from his grasp, she struggled with such exertion, and suffered such agony of passion at the same time, that she actually fell into a severe fit, during which she was put to bed, and the confederates retired without further molestation.

In the mean time, Peregrine was not a little perplexed about the disposal of his sister, whom he had rescued. He could not endure the thoughts of saddling the commodore with a new expense; and he was afraid of undertaking the charge of Julia, without his benefactor’s advice and direction: for the present, however, he carried her to the house of a gentleman in the neighbourhood, whose lady was her godmother, where she was received with great tenderness and condolence; and he purposed to inquire for some creditable house, where she might be genteelly boarded in his absence; resolving to maintain her from the savings of his own allowance, which he thought might very well bear such reduction. But this intention was frustrated by the publication of the whole affair, which was divulged next day, and soon reached the ears of Trunnion, who chid his godson for having concealed the adventure; and, with the approbation of his wife, ordered him to bring Julia forthwith to the garrison. The young gentleman, with tears of gratitude in his eyes, explained his design of maintaining her at his own expense, and earnestly begged that he might not be deprived of that satisfaction. But his uncle was deaf to all his entreaties, and insisted upon her living in the garrison, though for no other reason than that of being company to her aunt, who, he observed, was lost for want of conversation.

Julia was accordingly brought home, and settled under the tuition of Mrs. Trunnion, who, whatever face she might put on the matter, could have dispensed with the society of her niece, though she was not without hope of gratifying her pique to Mrs. Pickle, by the intelligence she would receive from the daughter of that lady’s economy and domestic behaviour. The mother herself seemed conscious of this advantage which her sister-in-law had now gained over her, being as much chagrined at the news of Julia’s reception in the garrison, as if she had heard of her own husband’s death. She even tortured her invention to propagate calumnies against the reputation of her own daughter, whom she slandered in all companies; she exclaimed against the commodore as an old ruffian, who spirited up rebellion among her children, and imputed the hospitality of his wife, in countenancing them, to nothing else but her inveterate enmity to their mother, whom they had disobliged. She now insisted, in the most peremptory terms, upon her husband’s renouncing all commerce with the old lad of the castle and his adherents; and Mr. Gamaliel, having by this time contracted other friendships, readily submitted to her will; nay, even refused to communicate with the commodore one night, when they happened to meet by accident at the public-house.

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