The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter XLVIII.

Pallet conceives a hearty Contempt for his Fellow-traveller, and attaches himself to Pickle, who, nevertheless, persecutes him with his mischievous Talent upon the Road to Flanders.

In the mean time, his companion, having employed divers pailfuls of water in cleansing himself from the squalor of jail, submitted his face to the barber, tinged his eye-brows with a sable hue, and, being dressed in his own clothes, ventured to visit Peregrine, who was still under the hands of his valet-de-chambre, and who gave him to understand that his escape had been connived at, and that the condition of their deliverance was their departure from Paris in three days.

The painter was transported with joy, when he learned that he ran no risk of being retaken, and, far from repining at the terms of his enlargement, would have willingly set out on his return to England that same afternoon; for the Bastille had made such an impression upon him, that he started at the sound of every coach, and turned pale at the sight of a French soldier. In the fulness of his heart, he complained of the doctor’s indifference, and related what had passed at their meeting with evident marks of resentment and disrespect; which were not at all diminished, when Jolter informed him of the physician’s behaviour when he sent for him, to confer about the means of abridging their confinement. Pickle himself was incensed at his want of bowels; and, perceiving how much he had sank in the opinion of his fellow-traveller, resolved to encourage these sentiments of disgust, and occasionally foment the division to a downright quarrel, which he foresaw would produce some diversion, and perhaps expose the poet’s character in such a light, as would effectually punish him for his arrogance and barbarity. With this view, he leveled several satirical jokes at the doctor’s pedantry and want of taste, which had appeared so conspicuous in the quotation he had got by heart, from ancient authors; in his affected disdain of the best pictures of the world, which, had he been endowed with the least share of discernment, he could not have beheld with such insensibility; and, lastly, in his ridiculous banquet, which none but an egregious coxcomb, devoid of all elegance and sense, would have prepared, or presented to rational beings. In a word, our young gentleman played the artillery of his wit against him with such success, that the painter seemed to wake from a dream, and went home with the most hearty contempt for the person he had formerly adored.

Instead of using the privilege of a friend, to enter his apartment without ceremony, he sent in his servant with a message, importing, that he intended to set out from Paris the next day, in company with Mr. Pickle; and desiring to know whether or not he was, or would be, prepared for the journey. The doctor, struck with the manner as well as the matter of this intimation, went immediately to Pallet’s room and demanded to know the cause of such a sudden determination without his privity or concurrence; and when he understood the necessity of their affairs, rather than travel by himself, he ordered his baggage to be packed up, and signified his readiness to conform to the emergency of the case; though he was not at all pleased with the cavalier behaviour of Pallet, to whom he threw out some hints on his own importance, and the immensity of his condescension in favouring him with such marks of regard. But by this time these insinuations had lost their effect upon the painter who told him, with an arch sneer, that he did not at all question his learning and abilities, and particularly his skill in cookery, which he should never forget while his palate retained its function; but nevertheless advised him, for the sake of the degenerate eaters of these days, to spare a little of his sal ammoniac in the next sillykicaby he should prepare; and abate somewhat of the devil’s dung, which he had so plentifully crammed into the roasted fowls, unless he had a mind to convert his guests into patients, with a view of licking himself whole for the expense of the entertainment.

The physician, nettled at these sarcasms, eyed him with a look of indignation and disdain; and, being, unwilling to express himself in English, lest, in the course of the altercation, Pallet should be so much irritated as to depart without him, he vented his anger in Greek. The painter, though by the sound he supposed this quotation to be Greek, complimented his friend upon his knowledge in the Welsh language, and found means to rally him quite out of temper; so that he retired to his own chamber in the utmost wrath and mortification, and left his antagonist exulting over the victory he had won.

While these things passed between these originals, Peregrine waited upon the ambassador, whom he thanked for his kind interposition, acknowledging the indiscretion of his own conduct with such appearance of conviction and promises of reformation, that his excellency freely forgave him for all the trouble he had been put to on his account, fortified him with sensible advices and, assuring him of his continual favour and friendship, gave him at parting, letters of introduction to several persons of quality belonging to the British court.

Thus distinguished, our young gentleman took leave of all his French acquaintance, and spent the evening with some of those who had enjoyed the greatest share of his intimacy and confidence; while Jolter superintended his domestic concerns, and with infinite joy bespoke a post-chaise and horse, in order to convey him from a place where he lived in continual apprehension of suffering by the dangerous disposition of his pupil. Everything being adjusted according to their plan, they and their fellow-travellers next day dined together, and about four in the afternoon took their departure in two chaises, escorted by the valet-de-chambre, Pipes, and the doctor’s lacquey on horseback, well furnished with arms and ammunition, in case of being attacked by robbers on the road.

It was about eleven o’clock at night when they arrived at Senlis, which was the place at which they proposed to lodge, and where they were obliged to knock up the people of the inn, before they could have their supper prepared. All the provision in the house was but barely sufficient to furnish one indifferent meal: however, the painter consoled himself for the quantity with the quality of the dishes, one of which was a fricassee of rabbit, a preparation that he valued above all the dainties that ever smoked upon the table of the sumptuous Heliogabalus.

He had no sooner expressed himself to this effect, than our hero, who almost incessantly laying traps for diversion at his neighbour’s expense, laid hold on the declaration; and, recollecting the story of Scipio and the muleteer in Gil Blas, resolved to perpetrate a joke upon the stomach of Pallet, which seemed well disposed to a hearty supper. He, accordingly, digested his plan; and the company being seated at table, affected to stare with peculiar eagerness at the painter, who had helped himself to a large portion of the fricassee, and began to swallow it with infinite relish. Pallet, notwithstanding the keenness of his appetite, could not help taking notice of Pickle’s demeanour; and, making a short pause in the exercise of his grinders, “You are surprised,” said he, “to see me make so much despatch; but I was extremely hungry, and this is one of the best fricassees I ever tasted: the French are very expert in these dishes, that I must allow; and, upon my conscience, I would never desire to eat a more delicate rabbit than this that lies upon my plate.”

Peregrine made no other reply to this encomium, than the repetition of the word rabbit, with a note of admiration, and such a significant shake of the head, as effectually alarmed the other, who instantly suspended the action of his jaws, and, with the morsel half chewed in his mouth, stared round him with a certain stolidity of apprehension, which is easier conceived than described; until his eyes encountered the countenance of Thomas Pipes, who, being instructed, and posted opposite to him for the occasion, exhibited an arch grin, that completed the painter’s disorder. Afraid of swallowing his mouthful, and ashamed to dispose of it any other way, he sat some time in a most distressed state of suspense; and being questioned by Mr. Jolter touching his calamity, made a violent effort of the muscles of his gullet, which with difficulty performed their office; and then, with great confusion and concern, asked if Mr. Pickle suspected the rabbit’s identity. The young gentleman, assuming a mysterious air, pretended ignorance of the matter, observing that he was apt to suspect all dishes of that kind, since he had been informed of the tricks which were commonly played at inns in France, Italy, and Spain; and recounted three passage in Gil Blas, which. we have hinted it above, saying, he did not pretend to be a connoisseur in animals, but the legs of the creature which composed that diet which composed the fricassee, did not, in his opinion, resemble those of the rabbits he had usually seen. This observation had an evident effect upon the features of the painter, who, with certain signs of loathing and astonishment, exclaimed, “Lord Jesus!” and appealed to Pipes for the discovery of the truth by asking if he knew anything of the affair. Tom very gravely replied, “he did suppose the food was wholesome enough, for he had seen the skin and feet of a special ram-cat, new flayed, hanging upon the door of a small pantry adjoining to the kitchen.”

Before this sentence was uttered, Pallet’s belly seemed to move in contact with his back-bone, his colour changed, no part but the whites of his eyes were to be seen, he dropped his lower jaw, and, fixing his hands in his sides, retched with such convulsive agonies, as amazed and disconcerted the whole company: and what augmented his disorder, was the tenacious retention of the stomach, which absolutely refused to part with its contents, notwithstanding all the energy of his abhorrence, which threw him into a cold sweat, and almost into a swoon.

Pickle, alarmed at his condition, assured him it was a genuine rabbit, and that he had tutored Pipes to say otherwise for the joke’s sake. But this confession he considered as a friendly artifice of Pickle’s compassion, and therefore it had little effect upon his constitution. By the assistance, however, of a large bumper of brandy, his spirits were recruited, and his recollection so far recovered, that he was able to declare, with divers contortions of face, that the dish had a rankness of taste, which he had imparted partly to the nature of the French covey, and partly to the composition of their sauces; then he inveighed against the infamous practices of French publicans, attributing such imposition to their oppressive government, which kept them so necessitous, that they were tempted to exercise all manner of knavery upon their unwary guests.

Jolter, who could not find in his heart to let slip any opportunity of speaking in favour of the French, told him, that he was a very great stranger to their police; else he would know, that if, upon information to the magistrate, it should appear that any traveller, native or foreigner, had been imposed upon or ill-treated by a publican, the offender would be immediately obliged to shut up his house; and, if his behaviour had been notorious, he himself would be sent to the galleys, without the least hesitation: “and as for the dish which has been made the occasion of your present disorder,” said he, “I will take upon me to affirm it was prepared of a genuine rabbit, which was skinned in my presence; and, in confirmation of what I assert, though such fricassees are not the favourites of my taste, I will eat a part of this without scruple.”

So saying, he swallowed several mouthfuls of the questioned coney, and Pallet seemed to eye it again with inclination; nay, he even resumed his knife and fork; and being just on the point of applying them, was seized with another qualm of apprehension, that broke out in an exclamation of, “After all, Mr. Jolter, if it should be a real ram-cat? Lord have mercy upon me! here is one of the claws.” With these words he presented the tip of a toe, of which Pipes had snipped off five or six from a duck that was roasted, and purposely scattered them in the fricassee: and the governor could not behold this testimonial without symptoms of uneasiness and remorse; so that he and the painter sat silenced and abashed, and made faces at each other, while the physician, who hated them both, exulted over their affliction, bidding them be of good cheer, and proceed with their meal; for he was ready to demonstrate, that the flesh of a cat was as nourishing and delicious as veal or mutton, provided they could prove that the said cat was not of the boar kind, and had fed chiefly on vegetable diet, or even confined its carnivorous appetite to rats and mice, which he affirmed to be dainties of exquisite taste and flavour. He said, it was a vulgar mistake to think that all flesh-devouring creatures were unfit to be eaten: witness the consumption of swine and ducks, animals that delight in carriage as well as fish, and prey upon each other, and feed on bait and carrion; together with the demand for bear, of which the best hams in the world are made. He then observed that the negroes on the coast of Guinea, who are healthy and vigorous people, prefer cats and dogs to all other fare; and mentioned. from history several sieges, during which the inhabitants, who were blocked up, lived upon these animals, and had recourse even to human flesh, which, to his certain knowledge, was in all respects preferable to pork; for, in the course of his studies, he had, for the experiment’s sake, eaten a steak cut from the buttock of a person who had been hanged.

This dissertation, far from composing, increased the disquiet in the stomachs of the governor and painter, who, hearing the last illustration, turned their eyes upon the orator, at the same instant, with looks of horror and disgust; and the one muttering the term “cannibal,” and the other pronouncing the word “abomination,” they rose from table in a great hurry, and. running towards another apartment, jostled with such violence in the passage, that both were overturned by the shock, which also contributed to the effect of their nausea that mutually defiled them as they lay.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:59