The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter LXXV.

He prosecutes his Design upon Emilia with great Art and Perseverance.

Our adventurer, having by his hypocrisy obtained free access to his mistress, began the siege by professing the most sincere contrition for his former levity, and imploring her forgiveness with such earnest supplication, that, guarded as she was against his flattering arts, she began to believe his protestations, which were even accompanied with tears, and abated a good deal of that severity and distance she had proposed to maintain during this interview. She would not, however, favour him with the least acknowledgment of a mutual passion, because, in the midst of his vows of eternal constancy and truth, he did not mention one syllable of wedlock, though he was now entirely master of his own conduct, and this consideration created a doubt, which fortified her against all his attacks. Yet, what her discretion would have concealed, was discovered by her eyes, which, in spite of all her endeavours, breathed forth complacency and love; for her inclination was flattered by her own self-sufficiency, which imputed her admirer’s silence in that particular to the hurry and perturbation of his spirits, and persuaded her that he could not possibly regard her with any other than honourable intentions.

The insidious lover exulted in the tenderness of her looks, from which he presaged a complete victory; but, that he might not overshoot himself by his own precipitation, he would not run the risk of declaring himself, until her heart should be so far entangled within his snares, as that neither the suggestions of honour, prudence, nor pride, should be able to disengage it. Armed with this resolution, he restrained the impatience of his temper within the limits of the most delicate deportment. After having solicited and obtained permission to attend her to the next opera, he took her by the hand, and, pressing it to his lips, in the most respectful manner, went away, leaving her in a most whimsical state of suspense, chequered with an interesting vicissitude of hope and fear. On the appointed day, he appeared again about five o’clock in the afternoon, and found her native charms so much improved by the advantages of dress, that he was transported with admiration and delight; and, while he conducted her to the Haymarket, could scarce bridle the impetuosity of his passion, so as to observe the forbearing maxims he had adopted. When she entered the pit, he had abundance of food for the gratification of his vanity; for, in a moment, she eclipsed all the female part of the audience; each individual allowing in her own heart that the stranger was by far the handsomest woman there present, except herself.

Here it was that our hero enjoyed a double triumph; he was vain of this opportunity to enhance his reputation for gallantry among the ladies of fashion who knew him, and proud of an occasion to display his quality acquaintance to Emilia, that she might entertain the greater idea of the conquest she had made, and pay the more deference to his importance in the sequel of his addresses. That he might profit as much as possible by this situation, he went up and accosted every person in the pit, with whom he ever had least communication, whispered and laughed with an affected air of familiarity, and even bowed at a distance to some of the nobility, on the slender foundation of having stood near them at court, or presented them with a pinch of rappee at White’s chocolate-house.

This ridiculous ostentation, though now practised with a view of promoting his design, was a weakness that, in some degree, infected the whole of his behaviour; for nothing gave him so much joy in conversation, as an opportunity of giving the company to understand how well he was with persons of distinguished rank and character. He would often, for example, observe, as it were occasionally, that the Duke of G— was one of the best-natured men in the world, and illustrate this assertion by some instance of his affability, in which he himself was concerned. Then, by an abrupt transition, he would repeat some repartee of Lady T — and mention a certain bon mot of the Earl of C — which was uttered in his hearing.

Abundance of young men in this manner make free with the names, though they have never had access to the persons of the nobility; but this was not the case with Peregrine, who, in consideration of his appearance and supposed fortune, together with the advantage of his introduction, was, by this time, freely admitted to the tables of the great.

In his return with Emilia from the opera, though he still maintained the most scrupulous decorum in his behaviour, he plied her with the most passionate expressions of love, squeezed her hand with great fervency, protested that his whole soul was engrossed by her idea, and that he could not exist independent of her favour. Pleased as she was with his warm and pathetic addresses, together with the respectful manner of his making love, she yet had prudence and resolution sufficient to contain her tenderness, which was ready to run over; being fortified against his arts, by reflecting, that, if his aim was honourable, it was now his business to declare it. On this consideration, she refused to make any serious reply to his earnest expostulations, but affected to receive them as the undetermined effusions of gallantry and good breeding.

This fictitious gaiety and good-humour, though it baffled his hope of extorting from her an acknowledgment of which he might have taken immediate advantage, nevertheless encouraged him to observe, as the chariot passed along the Strand, that the night was far advanced; that supper would certainly be over before they could reach her uncle’s house; and to propose that he should wait upon her to some place, where they might be accommodated with a slight refreshment. She was offended at the freedom of this proposal, which, however, she treated as a joke, thanking him for his courteous offer, and assuring him, that when she should be disposed for a tavern treat, he alone would have the honour of bestowing it.

Her kinsman being engaged with company abroad, and her aunt retired to rest, he had the good fortune to enjoy a tete-a-tete with her during a whole hour, which he employed with such consummate skill, that her caution was almost overcome. He not only assailed her with the artillery of sighs, vows, prayers, and tears, but even pawned his honour in behalf of his love. He swore, with many imprecations, that although her heart was surrendered to him at discretion, there was a principle within him, which would never allow him to injure such innocence and beauty; and the transports of his passion had, upon this occasion so far overshot his purpose, that if she had demanded an explanation while he was thus agitated, he would have engaged himself to her wish by such ties as he could not break with any regard to his reputation. But from such expostulation she was deterred, partly by pride, and partly by the dread of finding herself mistaken in such an interesting conjecture. She therefore enjoyed the present flattering appearance of her fate, was prevailed upon to accept the jewels which he purchased with part of his winning at Bath, and, with the most enchanting condescension, submitted to a warm embrace when he took his leave, after having obtained permission to visit her as often as his inclination and convenience would permit.

In his return to his own lodgings, he was buoyed up with his success to an extravagance of hope, already congratulated himself upon his triumph over Emilia’s virtue, and began to project future conquests among the most dignified characters of the female sex. But his attention was not at all dissipated by these vain reflections; he resolved to concentrate the whole exertion of his soul upon the execution of his present plan, desisted, in the meantime, from all other schemes of pleasure, interest, and ambition, and took lodgings in the city, for the more commodious accomplishment of his purpose. While our lover’s imagination was thus agreeably regaled, his mistress did not enjoy her expectations without the intervention of doubts and anxiety. His silence, touching the final aim of his addresses, was a mystery on which she was afraid of exercising her sagacity; and her uncle tormented her with inquiries into the circumstances of Peregrine’s professions and deportment. Rather than give this relation the least cause for suspicion, which must have cut off all intercourse betwixt her and her admirer, she said everything which she thought would satisfy his care and concern for her welfare; and, in consequence of such representation, she enjoyed, without reserve, the company of our adventurer, who prosecuted his plan with surprising eagerness and perseverance.

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