The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter XXXVII.

Proceeds for the Capital — Takes up his Lodging at Bernay, where he is overtaken by Mr. Hornbeck, whose Head he longs to fortify.

During this day’s expedition, Mr. Jolter took an opportunity of imparting to his pupil the remarks he had made upon the industry of the French as an undeniable proof of which he bade him cast his eyes around, and observe with what care every spot of ground was cultivated, and from the fertility of that province, which is reckoned the poorest in France, conceive the wealth and affluence of the nation in general. Peregrine, amazed as well as disgusted at this infatuation, answered that what he ascribed to industry was the effect of mere wretchedness; the miserable peasants being obliged to plough up every inch of ground to satisfy their oppressive landlords, while they themselves and their cattle looked like so many images of famine; that their extreme poverty was evident from the face of the country, on which there was not one inclosure to be seen, or any other object, except scanty crops of barley and oats, which could never reward the toil of the husbandman; that their habitations were no better than paltry huts; that in twenty miles of extent not one gentleman’s house appeared; that nothing was more abject and forlorn than the attire of their country people; that the equipage of their travelling chaises was infinitely inferior to that of a dung-cart in England; and that the postilion who then drove their carriage had neither stockings to his legs, nor a shirt to his back.

The governor, finding his charge so intractable resolved to leave him in the midst of his own ignorance and prejudice, and reserve his observations for those who would pay more deference to his opinion: and indeed this resolution he had often made, and as often broken in the transports of his zeal, that frequently hurried him out of the plan of conduct which in his cooler moments he had laid down. They halted for refreshment at Montreuil, and about seven in the evening arrived at a village called Bernay, where, while they waited for fresh horses, they were informed by the landlord that the gates of Abbeville were shut every night punctually at eight o’clock, so that it would be impossible for them to get admittance. He said there was not another place of entertainment on the road where they could pass the night; and therefore, as a friend, he advised them to stay at his house, where they would find the best of accommodation, and proceed upon their journey betimes in the morning.

Mr. Jolter, though he had travelled on that road before, could not recollect whether or not mine host spoke truth; but his remonstrance being very plausible, our hero determined to follow his advice, and being conducted into an apartment, asked what they could have for supper. The landlord mentioned everything that was eatable in the house; and the whole being engrossed for the use of him and his attendants, he amused himself, till such time as it should be dressed, in strolling about the house, which stands in a very rural situation. While he thus loitered away the time that hung heavy on his hands, another chaise arrived at the inn, and upon inquiry he found that the new-comers were Mr. Hornbeck and his lady. The landlord, conscious of his inability to entertain this second company, came and begged with great humiliation that Mr. Pickle would spare them some part of the victuals he had bespoken; but he refused to part with so much as the wing of a partridge, though at the same time he sent his compliments to the strangers, and giving them to understand how ill the house was provided for their reception, invited them to partake of his supper. Mr. Hornbeck, who was not deficient in point of politeness, and extremely well disposed for a relishing meal, which he had reason to expect from the savoury steam that issued from the kitchen, could not resist this second instance of our young gentleman’s civility, which he acknowledged in a message, importing that he and his wife would do themselves the pleasure of profiting by his courteous offer. Peregrine’s cheeks glowed when he found himself on the eve of being acquainted with Mrs. Hornbeck, of whose heart he had already made a conquest in imagination; and he forthwith set his invention at work, to contrive some means of defeating her husband’s vigilance.

When supper was ready, he in person gave notice to his guests, and, leading the lady into his apartment, seated her in an elbow-chair at the upper end of the table, squeezing her hand, and darting a most insidious glance at the same time. This abrupt behaviour he practised on the presumption that a lady of her breeding was not to be addressed with the tedious forms that must be observed in one’s advances to a person of birth and genteel education. In all probability his calculation was just, for Mrs. Hornbeck gave no signs of discontent at this sort of treatment, but, on the contrary, seemed to consider it as a proof of the young gentleman’s regard; and though she did not venture to open her mouth three times during the whole repast, she showed herself particularly well satisfied with her entertainer, by sundry sly and significant looks, while her husband’s eyes were directed another way; and divers loud peals of laughter, signifying her approbation of the sallies which he uttered in the course of their conversation.

Her spouse began to be very uneasy at the frank demeanour of his yoke-fellow, whom he endeavoured to check in her vivacity, by assuming a severity of aspect; but whether she obeyed the dictates of her own disposition, which, perhaps, was merry and unreserved, or wanted to punish Mr. Hornbeck for his jealousy of temper; certain it is, her gaiety increased to such a degree, that her husband was grievously alarmed and, incensed at her conduct, and resolved to make her sensible of his displeasure, by treading in secret upon her toes. He was, however, so disconcerted by his indignation, that he mistook his mark, and applied the sharp heel of his shoe to the side of Mr. Jolter’s foot, comprehending his little toe that was studded with an angry corn, which he invaded with such a sudden jerk, that the governor, unable to endure the torture in silence started up, and, dancing on the floor, roared hideously with repeated bellowings, to the enjoyment of Peregrine and the lady, who laughed themselves almost into convulsions at the joke. Hornbeck, confounded at the mistake he had committed, begged pardon of the injured tutor with great contrition protesting that the blow he had so unfortunately received, was intended for an ugly cur, which he thought had posted himself under the table. It was lucky for him that there was actually a dog in the room, to justify this excuse, which Jolter admitted with the tears running over his cheeks, and the economy of the table was recomposed.

As soon, however, as the strangers could with decency withdraw, this suspicious husband took his leave of the youth, on pretence of being fatigued with his journey, after having, by way of compliment, proposed that they should travel together next day; and Peregrine handed the lady to her chamber, where he wished her good night with another warm squeeze, which she returned. This favourable hint made his heart bound with a transport of joy: he lay in wait for an opportunity of declaring himself; and seeing the husband go down into the yard with a candle, glided softly into his apartment, where he found her almost undressed. Impelled by the impetuosity of his passion, which was still more inflamed by her present luscious appearance, and encouraged by the approbation she had already expressed, he ran towards her with eagerness, crying, “Zounds! madam, your charms are irresistible!” and without further ceremony would have clasped her in his arms, had she not begged him for the love of God to retire; for should Mr. Hornbeck return and find him there, she would be undone for ever. He was not so blinded by his passion, but that he saw the reasonableness of her fear; and as he could not pretend to crown his wishes at that interview, he avowed himself her lover, assured her that he would exhaust his whole invention in finding a proper opportunity for throwing himself at her feet; and in the mean time he ravished sundry small favours, which she in the hurry of her fright, could not withhold from his impudence of address. Having thus settled the preliminaries, he withdrew to his own chamber, and spent the whole night in contriving stratagems to elude the jealous caution of his fellow-traveller.

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