The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter LXXIV.

The young Gentleman, having settled his domestic Affairs, arrives in London, and sets up a gay Equipage — He meets with Emilia, and is introduced to her Uncle.

His aunt, at the earnest solicitations of Julia and her husband, took up her quarters at the house of that affectionate kinswoman, who made it her chief study to comfort and cherish the disconsolate widow; and Jolter, in expectation of the living, which was not yet vacant, remained in garrison, in quality of land-steward upon our hero’s country estate. As for the lieutenant, our young gentleman communed with him in a serious manner, about the commodore’s proposal of taking Mrs. Trunnion to wife; and Jack, being quite tired of the solitary situation of a bachelor, which nothing but the company of his old commander could have enabled him to support so long, far from discovering aversion from the match, observed with an arch smile, that it was not the first time he had commanded a vessel in the absence of Captain Trunnion; and therefore, if the widow was willing, he would cheerfully stand by her helm, and, as he hoped the duty would not be of long continuance, do his endeavour to steer her safe into port, where the commodore might come on board, and take charge of her again.

In consequence of this declaration, it was determined that Mr. Hatchway should make his addresses to Mrs. Trunnion as soon as decency would permit her to receive them; and Mr. Clover and his wife promised to exert their influence on his behalf. Meanwhile, Jack was desired to live at the castle as usual, and assured, that it should be put wholly in his possession, as soon as he should be able to accomplish this matrimonial scheme.

When Peregrine had settled all these points to his own satisfaction, he took leave of all his friends, and, repairing to the great city, purchased a new chariot and horses, put Pipes and another lacquey into rich liveries, took elegant lodgings in Pall Mall, and made a most remarkable appearance among the people of fashion.

It was owing to this equipage, and the gaiety of his personal deportment, that common fame, which is always a common liar, represented him as a young gentleman who had just succeeded to an estate of five thousand pounds per annum, by the death of an uncle; that he was entitled to an equal fortune at the decease of his own father, exclusive of two considerable jointures, which would devolve upon him at the demise of his mother and aunt. This report, false and ridiculous as it was, he could not find in his heart to contradict. Not but that he was sorry to find himself so misrepresented; but his vanity would not allow him to take any step that might diminish his importance in the opinion of those who courted his acquaintance, on the supposition that his circumstances were actually as affluent as they were said to be. Nay, so much was he infatuated by this weakness, that he resolved to encourage the deception, by living up to the report; and accordingly engaged in the most expensive parties of pleasure, believing that, before his present finances should be exhausted, his fortune would be effectually made, by the personal accomplishments he should have occasion to display to the beau monde in the course of his extravagance. In a word, vanity and pride were the ruling foibles of our adventurer, who imagined himself sufficiently qualified to retrieve his fortune in various shapes, long before he could have any idea of want or difficulty. He thought he should have it in his power, at any time, to make a prize of a rich heiress, or opulent widow; his ambition had already aspired to the heart of a young handsome duchess dowager, to whose acquaintance he had found means to be introduced; or, should matrimony chance to be unsuitable to his inclinations, he never doubted, that, by the interest he might acquire among the nobility, he should be favoured with some lucrative post, that would amply recompense him for the liberality of his disposition. There are many young men who entertain the same expectations, with half the reason he had to be so presumptuous.

In the midst of these chimerical calculations, his passion for Emilia did not subside; but, on the contrary, began to rage with such an inflammation of desire, that her idea interfered with every other reflection, and absolutely disabled him from prosecuting the other lofty schemes which his imagination had projected. He therefore laid down the honest resolution of visiting her in all the splendour of his situation, in order to practise upon her virtue with all his art and address, to the utmost extent of his affluence and fortune. Nay, so effectually had his guilty passion absorbed his principles of honour, conscience, humanity, and regard for the commodore’s last words, that he was base enough to rejoice at the absence of his friend Godfrey, who, being then with his regiment in Ireland, could not dive into his purpose, or take measures for frustrating his vicious design.

Fraught with these heroic sentiments, he determined to set out for Sussex in his chariot and six, attended by his valet-de-chambre and two footmen; and as he was now sensible that in his last essay he had mistaken his cue, he determined to change his battery, and sap the fortress, by the most submissive, soft, and insinuating behaviour.

On the evening that preceded this proposed expedition, he went into one of the boxes at the playhouse, as usual, to show himself to the ladies; and reconnoitring the company through a glass (for no other reason but because it was fashionable to be purblind), perceived his mistress very plainly dressed, in one of the seats above the stage, talking to another young woman of a very homely appearance. Though his heart beat the alarm with the utmost impatience at sight of his Emilia, he was for some minutes deterred from obeying the impulse of his love, by the presence of some ladies of fashion, who, he feared, would think the worse of him, should they see him make his compliment in public to a person of her figure. Nor would the violence of his inclination have so far prevailed over his pride, as to lead him thither, had he not recollected, that his quality friends would look upon her as some handsome Abigail, with whom he had an affair of gallantry, and of consequence give him credit for the intrigue.

Encouraged by this suggestion, he complied with the dictates of love, and flew to the place where his charmer sat. His air and dress were so remarkable, that it was almost impossible he should have escaped the eyes of a curious observer, especially as he had chosen a time for coming in, when his entrance could not fail to attract the notice of the spectators; I mean, when the whole house was hushed in attention to the performance on the stage. Emilia, therefore, perceived him at his first approach; she found herself discovered by the direction of his glass, and, guessing his intention by his abrupt retreat from the box, summoned all her fortitude to her aid, and prepared for his reception. He advanced to her with an air of eagerness and joy, tempered with modesty and respect, and expressed his satisfaction at seeing her, with a seeming reverence of regard. Though she was extremely well pleased at this unexpected behaviour, she suppressed the emotions of her heart, and answered his compliments with affected ease and unconcern, such as might denote the good humour of a person who meets by accident with an indifferent acquaintance. After having certified himself of her own good health, he very kindly inquired about her mother and Miss Sophy, gave her to understand that he had lately been favoured with a letter from Godfrey; that he had actually intended to set out next morning on a visit to Mrs. Gauntlet, which, now that he was so happy as to meet with her, he would postpone, until he should have the pleasure of attending her to the country. After having thanked him for his polite intention, she told him, that her mother was expected in town in a few days, and that she herself had come to London some weeks ago, to give attendance upon her aunt, who had been dangerously ill, but was now pretty well recovered.

Although the conversation of course turned upon general topics, during the entertainment he took all opportunities of being particular with his eyes, through which he conveyed a thousand tender protestations. She saw and inwardly rejoiced at the humility of his looks; but, far from rewarding it with one approving glance, she industriously avoided this ocular intercourse, and rather coquetted with a young gentleman that ogled her from the opposite box. Peregrine’s penetration easily detected her sentiments, and he was nettled at her dissimulation, which served to confirm him in his unwarrantable designs upon her person. He persisted in his assiduities with indefatigable perseverance; when the play was concluded, handed her and her companion into a hackney-coach, and with difficulty was permitted to escort them to the house of Emilia’s uncle, to whom our hero was introduced by the young lady, as an intimate friend of her brother Godfrey.

The old gentleman, who was no stranger to the nature of Peregrine’s connection with his sister’s family, prevailed upon him to stay supper, and seemed particularly well pleased with his conversation and deportment, which, by the help of his natural sagacity, he wonderfully adapted to the humour of his entertainer. After supper, when the ladies were withdrawn, and the citizen called for his pipe, our sly adventurer followed his example. Though he abhorred the plant, he smoked with an air of infinite satisfaction, and expatiated upon the virtues of tobacco, as if he had been deeply concerned in the Virginia trade. In the progress of the discourse, he consulted the merchant’s disposition; and the national debt coming upon the carpet, held forth upon the funds like a professed broker. When the alderman complained of the restrictions and discouragements of trade, his guest inveighed against exorbitant duties, with the nature of which he seemed as well acquainted as any commissioner of the customs; so that the uncle was astonished at the extent of his knowledge, and expressed his surprise that a gay young gentleman like him should have found either leisure or inclination to consider subjects so foreign to the fashionable amusements of youth.

Pickle laid hold on this opportunity to tell him, that he was descended from a race of merchants; and that, early in life, he had made it his business to instruct himself in the different branches of trade, which he not only studied as his family profession, but also as the source of all our national riches and power. He then launched out in praise of commerce, and the promoters thereof; and, by way of contrast, employed all his ridicule in drawing such ludicrous pictures of the manners and education of what is called high life, that the trader’s sides were shaken by laughter, even to the danger of his life; and he looked upon our adventurer as a miracle of sobriety and good sense. Having thus ingratiated himself with the uncle, Peregrine took his leave, and next day, in the forenoon, visited the niece in his chariot, after she had been admonished by her kinsman to behave with circumspection, and cautioned against neglecting or discouraging the addresses of such a valuable admirer.

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