The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter XLIX.

Nor is the Physician sacred from his Ridicule — They reach Arras, where our Adventurer engages in Play with two French Officers, who, next Morning, give the Landlord an interesting Proof of their Importance.

The doctor remained sullen and dejected during the whole journey: not but that he attempted to recover his importance by haranguing upon the Roman highways, when Mr. Jolter desired the company to take notice of the fine pavement upon which they travelled from Paris into Flanders; but Pallet, who thought he had now gained the ascendency over the physician, exerted himself in maintaining the superiority he had acquired, by venting various sarcasms upon his self-conceit and affectation of learning, and even tittering puns and conundrums upon the remarks which the republican retailed. When he talked of the Flaminian Way, the painter questioned if it was a better pavement than the Fleminian Way on which they travelled: and the doctor having observed, that this road was made for the convenience of drawing the French artillery into Flanders, which was often the seat of war, his competitor in wit replied, with infinite vivacity, “There are more great guns than the French king knows of drawn along this causeway, doctor.”

Encouraged by the success of these efforts, which tickled the imagination of Jolter, and drew smiles (as he imagined) of approbation from our hero, he sported in many other equivoques of the same nature; and at dinner, told the physician, that he was like the root of the tongue, as being cursedly down in the mouth.

By this time, such was the animosity subsisting between these quondam friends, that they never conversed together, except with a view of exposing each other to the ridicule or contempt of their fellow-travellers. The doctor was at great pains to point out the folly and ignorance of Pallet in private to Peregrine, who was often conjured in the same manner by the painter, to take notice of the physician’s want of manners and taste. Pickle pretended to acquiesce in the truth of their mutual severity, which, indeed, was extremely just; and. by malicious insinuations blew up their contention, with a view of bringing it to open hostility. But both seemed so averse to deeds of mortal purpose, that for a long time his arts were baffled, and he could not spirit them up to any pitch of resentment higher than scurrilous repartee.

Before they reached Arras, the city gates were shut, so that they were obliged to take up their lodgings at an indifferent house in the suburbs, where they found a couple of French officers, who had also rode post from Paris so far on their way to Lisle. These gentlemen were about the age of thirty, and their deportment distinguished by such an air of insolence, as disgusted our hero, who, nevertheless, accosted them politely in the yard, and proposed that they should sup together. They thanked him for the honour of his invitation, which, however, they declined upon pretence of having ordered something for themselves; but promised to wait upon him and his company immediately after their repast.

This they accordingly performed; and, after having drunk a few glasses of Burgundy, one of them asked, if the young gentleman would, for pastime, take a hand at quadrille. Peregrine easily divined the meaning of this proposal, which was made with no other view than that of fleecing him and his fellow-travellers; for he well knew to what shifts a subaltern in the French service is reduced, in order to maintain the appearance of a gentleman, and had reason to believe that most of them were sharpers from their youth: but, as he depended a good deal upon his own penetration and address, he gratified the stranger’s desire; and a party was instantly formed of the painter, the physician, the proposer, and himself, the other officer having professed himself utterly ignorant of the game; in the course of the play, he took his station at the back of Pickle’s chair, which was opposite to his friend, on pretence of amusing himself with seeing his manner of conducting the cards. The youth was not such a novice but that he perceived the design of this palpable piece of behaviour, which, notwithstanding, he overlooked for the present, with a view of flattering their hopes in the beginning, that they might be the more effectually punished by their disappointment in the end.

The game was scarce begun, when, by the reflection of a glass, he discerned the officer at his back making signs to his companion, who, by preconcerted gestures, was perfectly informed of the contents of Peregrine’s hand, and, of consequence, fortunate in the course of play. Thus they were allowed to enjoy the fruits of their dexterity, until their money amounted to some louis; when our young gentleman, thinking it high time to do himself justice, signified in very polite terms to the gentleman who stood behind him, that he could never play with ease and deliberation when he was overlooked by any bystander, and begged that he would have the goodness to be seated.

As this was a remonstrance which the stranger could not, with my show of breeding, resist, he asked pardon, and retired to the chair of the physician, who frankly told him, that it was not the fashion of his country for one to submit his hand to the perusal of a spectator; and when, in consequence of this rebuff, he wanted to quarter himself upon the painter, he was refused by a wave of the hand, and shake of the head, with an exclamation of pardonnez moi; which was repeated with such emphasis, as discomposed this effrontery; and he found himself obliged to sit down in a state of mortification.

The odds being thus removed, fortune proceeded in her usual channel; and though the Frenchman, deprived of his ally, endeavoured to practise divers strokes of finesse, the rest of the company observed him with such vigilance and caution, as baffled all his attempts, and in a very little time he was compelled to part with his winning: but, having engaged in the match with an intention of taking all advantages, whether fair or unfair, that his superior skill should give him over the Englishman, the money was not refunded without a thousand disputes, in the course of which he essayed to intimidate his antagonist with high words, which were retorted by our hero with such interest as convinced him that he had mistaken his man, and persuaded him to make his retreat in quiet. Indeed, it was not without cause that they repined at the bad success of their enterprise; because, in all likelihood, they had nothing to depend upon for the present but their own industry, and knew not how to defray their expenses on the road, except by some acquisition of this kind.

Next morning they rose at daybreak, and resolving to anticipate their fellow-lodgers, bespoke post-horses as soon as they could be admitted into the city; so that, when our company appeared, their beasts were ready in the yard, and they only waited to discuss the bill, which they had ordered to be made out. The landlord of the inn presented his carte with fear and trembling to one of those ferocious cavaliers, who no sooner cast his eye upon the sum total, than he discharged a volley of dreadful oaths, and asked if the king’s officers were to be treated in that manner? The poor publican protested, with great humility, that he had the utmost respect for his majesty, and everything that belonged to him; and that, far from consulting his own interest, all that he desired was, to be barely indemnified for the expense of their lodging.

This condescension seemed to have no other effect than that of encouraging their arrogance. They swore his extortion should be explained to the commandant of the town, who would, by making him a public example, teach other innkeepers how to behave towards men of honour; and threatened with such confidence of indignation, that the wretched landlord, dreading the consequence of their wrath, implored pardon in the most abject manner, begging, with many supplications, that he might have the pleasure of lodging them at his own charge. This was a favour which he with great difficulty obtained: they chid him severely for his imposition; exhorted him to have more regard for his own conscience, as well as to the convenience of his guests; and, cautioning him in particular touching his behaviour to the gentlemen of the army, mounted their horses, and rode off in great state, leaving him very thankful for having so successfully appeased the choler of two officers, who wanted either inclination or ability to pay their bill; for experience had taught him to be apprehensive of all such travellers, who commonly lay the landlord under contribution, by way of atonement for the extravagance of his demands, even after he has professed his willingness to entertain them on their own terms.

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