The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter LXXVIII.

He projects a violent Scheme, in consequence of which he is involved in a most fatiguing Adventure, which greatly tends towards the Augmentation of his Chagrin.

Thus debarred of personal communication with his mistress, he essayed to retrieve her good graces by the most submissive and pathetic letters, which he conveyed by divers artifices to her perusal; but, reaping no manner of benefit from these endeavours, his passion acquired a degree of impatience little inferior to downright frenzy; and he determined to run every risk of life, fortune, and reputation, rather than desist from his unjustifiable pursuit. Indeed, his resentment was now as deeply concerned as his love, and each of these passions equally turbulent and loud in demanding gratification. He kept sentinels continually in pay, to give him notice of her outgoings, in expectation of finding some opportunity to carry her off; but her circumspection entirely frustrated this design, for she suspected everything of that sort from a disposition like his, and regulated her motions accordingly.

Baffled by her prudence and penetration, he altered his plan. On pretence of being called to his country house by some affair of importance, he departed from London, and, taking lodgings at a farmer’s house that stood near the road through which she must have necessarily passed in her return to her mother, concealed himself from all intercourse, except with his valet-de-chambre and Pipes, who had orders to scour the country, and reconnoitre every horse, coach, or carriage, that should appear on that highway, with a view of intercepting his Emilia in her passage.

He had waited in this ambuscade a whole week, when his valet gave him notice, that he and his fellow-scout had discovered a chaise-and-six, driving at full speed towards them; upon which they had flapped their hats over their eyes, so as they might not be known, in case they should be seen, and concealed themselves behind a hedge, from whence they could perceive in the carriage, as it passed, a young man plainly dressed, with a lady in a mask, of the exact size, shape, and air of Emilia; and that Pipes followed them at a distance, while he rode back to communicate this piece of intelligence.

Peregrine would scarce allow him time to conclude his information. He ran down to the stable, where his horse was kept ready saddled for the purpose, and, never doubting that the lady in question was his mistress, attended by one of her uncle’s clerks, mounted immediately, and rode full gallop after the chaise, which, when he had proceeded about two miles, he understood from Pipes, had put up at a neighbouring inn. Though his inclination prompted him to enter her apartment without further delay, he suffered himself to be dissuaded from taking such a precipitate step, by his privy counsellor, who observed, that it would be impracticable to execute his purpose of conveying her against her will from a public inn, that stood in the midst of a populous village, which would infallibly rise in her defence. He advised him therefore to be in wait for the chaise, in some remote and private part of the road, where they might accomplish their aim without difficulty or danger. In consequence of this admonition our adventurer ordered Pipes to reconnoitre the inn, that she might not escape another way, while he and the valet, in order to avoid being seen, took a circuit by an unfrequented path, and placed themselves in ambush, on a spot which they chose for the scene of their achievement. Here they tarried a full hour, without seeing the carriage, or hearing from their sentinel. So that the youth, unable to exert his patience one moment longer, left the foreigner in his station, and rode back to his faithful lacquey, who assured him, that the travellers had not yet hove up their anchor, or proceeded on their voyage.

Notwithstanding this information, Pickle began to entertain such alarming suspicions, that he could not refrain from advancing to the gate, and inquire for the company which had lately arrived in a chaise-and-six. The innkeeper, who was not at all pleased with the behaviour of those passengers, did not think proper to observe the instructions he had received: on the contrary, he plainly told him, that the chaise did not halt, but only entered at one door, and went out at the other, with a view to deceive those who pursued it, as he guessed from the words of the gentleman, who had earnestly desired that his route might be concealed from any person who should inquire about their motions. “As for my own peart, measter,” continued this charitable publican, “I believes as how they are no better than they should be, else they wouldn’t be in such a deadly fear of being overtaken. Methinks, said I, when I saw them in such a woundy pother to be gone, oddsheartlikins! this must be some London ‘prentice running away with his measter’s daughter, as sure as I’m a living soul. But, be he who he will, sartain it is, a has nothing of the gentleman about en; for, thof a asked such a favour, a never once put hand in pocket, or said, ‘Dog, will you drink?’ Howsomever, that don’t argufy in reverence of his being in a hurry; and a man may be sometimes a little too judgmatical in his conjectures.” In all probability, this loquacious landlord would have served the travellers effectually, had Peregrine heard him to an end; but this impetuous youth, far from listening to the sequel of his observations, interrupted him in the beginning of his career, by asking eagerly which road they followed; and, having received the innkeeper’s directions, clapped spurs to his horse, commanding Pipes to make the valet acquainted with the course, that they might attend him with all imaginable despatch.

By the publican’s account of their conduct, his former opinion was fully confirmed. He plied his steed to the height of his mettle; and so much was his imagination engrossed by the prospect of having Emilia in his power, that he did not perceive the road on which he travelled was quite different from that which led to the habitation of Mrs. Gauntlet. The valet-de-chambre was an utter stranger to that part of the country; and, as for Mr. Pipes, such considerations were altogether foreign to the economy of his reflection.

Ten long miles had our hero rode, when his eyes were blessed with the sight of the chaise ascending an hill, at the distance of a good league; upon which he doubled his diligence in such a manner, that he gained upon the carriage every minute, and at length approached so near to it, that he could discern the lady and her conductor, with their heads thrust out at the windows, looking back, and speaking to the driver alternately, as if they earnestly besought him to augment the speed of his cattle.

Being thus, as it were, in sight of port, while he crossed the road, his horse happened to plunge into a cart-rut with such violence, that he was thrown several yards over his head; and, the beast’s shoulder being slipped by the fall, he found himself disabled from plucking the fruit, which was almost within his reach; for he had left his servants at a considerable distance behind him; and although they had been at his back, and supplied him with another horse, they were so indifferently mounted, that he could not reasonably expect to overtake the flyers, who profited so much by this disaster that the chaise vanished in a moment.

It may be easily conceived how a young man of his disposition passed his time, in this tantalizing situation. He ejaculated with great fervency; but his prayers were not the effects of resignation. He ran back on foot, with incredible speed, in order to meet his valet, whom he unhorsed in a twinkling, and, taking his seat, began to exercise his whip and spurs, after having ordered the Swiss to follow him on the other gelding, and committed the lame hunter to the care of Pipes.

Matters being adjusted in this manner, our adventurer prosecuted the race with all his might; and, having made some progress, was informed by a countryman, that the chaise had struck off into another road, and, according to his judgment, was by that time about three miles ahead; though, in all probability, the horses would not be able to hold out much longer, because they seemed to be quite spent when they passed his door. Encouraged by this intimation, Peregrine pushed on with great alacrity, though he could not regain sight of the desired object, till the clouds of night began to deepen, and even then he enjoyed nothing more than a transient glimpse; for the carriage was no sooner seen, than shrouded again from his view. These vexatious circumstances animated his endeavours, while they irritated his chagrin. In short, he continued his pursuit, till the night was far advanced, and himself so uncertain about the object of his care, that he entered a solitary inn, with a view of obtaining some intelligence, when, to his infinite joy, he perceived the chaise standing by itself, and the horses panting in the yard.

In full confidence of his having arrived at last at the goal of all his wishes, he alighted instantaneously, and, running up to the coachman, with a pistol in his hand, commanded him, in an imperious tone, to conduct him to the lady’s chamber, on pain of death. The driver, affrighted at this menacing address, protested, with great humility, that he did not know whither his fare had retired; for that he himself was paid and dismissed from the service, because he would not undertake to drive them all night across the country without stopping to refresh his horses. But he promised to go in quest of the waiter, who would show him to their apartment. He was accordingly detached on that errand, while our hero stood sentinel at the gate, till the arrival of his valet-de-chambre, who, joining him by accident, before the coachman returned, relieved him in his watch; and then the young gentleman, exasperated at his messenger’s delay, rushed, with fury in his eyes, from room to room, denouncing vengeance upon the whole family; but he did not meet with one living soul, until he entered the garret, where he found the landlord and his wife in bed. This chicken-hearted couple, by the light of a rush candle that burned on the hearth, seeing a stranger burst into the chamber, in such a terrible attitude, were seized with consternation; and, exalting their voices, in a most lamentable strain, begged, for the passion of Christ, that he would spare their lives, and take all they had.

Peregrine guessing, from this exclamation, and the circumstance of their being abed, that they mistook him for a robber, and were ignorant of that which he wanted to know, dispelled their terror, by making them acquainted with the cause of his visit, and desired the husband to get up with all possible despatch, in order to assist and attend him in his search.

Thus reinforced, he rummaged every corner of the inn, and at last, finding the hostler in the stable, was by him informed, to his unspeakable mortification, that the gentleman and lady who arrived in the chaise, had immediately hired post-horses for a certain village at the distance of fifteen miles, and departed without halting for the least refreshment. Our adventurer, mad with his disappointment, mounted his horse in an instant, and, with his attendant, took the same road, with full determination to die, rather than desist from the prosecution of his design. He had, by this time, rode upwards of thirty miles, since three o’clock in the afternoon; so that the horses were almost quite jaded, and travelled this stage so slowly, that it was morning before they reached the place of their destination, where, far from finding the fugitives, he understood that no such persons as he described had passed that way, and that, in all likelihood, they had taken a quite contrary direction, while in order to mislead him in his pursuit, they had amused the hostler with a false route. This conjecture was strengthened by his perceiving, now for the first time, that he had deviated a considerable way from the road, through which they must have journeyed, in order to arrive at the place of her mother’s residence; and these suggestions utterly deprived him of the small remains of recollection which he had hitherto retained. His eyes rolled about, witnessing rage and distraction; he foamed at the mouth, stamped upon the ground with great violence, uttered incoherent imprecations against himself and all mankind, and would have sallied forth again, he knew not whither, upon the same horse, which he had already almost killed with fatigue, had not his confidant found means to quiet the tumult of his thoughts, and recall his reflection, by representing the condition of the poor animals, and advising him to hire fresh horses, and ride post across the country, to the village in the neighbourhood of Mrs. Gauntlet’s habitation, where they should infallibly intercept the daughter, provided they could get the start of her upon the road.

Peregrine not only relished, but forthwith acted in conformity with this good counsel. His own horses were committed to the charge of the landlord, with directions for Pipes, in case he should come in quest of his master: and, a couple of stout geldings being prepared, he and his valet took the road again, steering their course according to the motions of the post-boy, who undertook to be their guide. They had almost finished the first stage, when they descried a post-chaise just halting at the inn where they proposed to change horses; upon which our adventurer, glowing with a most interesting presage, put his beast to the full speed, and approached near enough to distinguish, as the travellers quitted the carriage, that he had at last come up with the very individual persons whom he had pursued so long.

Flushed with this discovery, he galloped into the yard so suddenly, that the lady and her conductor scarce had time to shut themselves up in a chamber, to which they retreated with great precipitation; so that the pursuer was now certain of having housed his prey. That he might, however, leave nothing to fortune, he placed himself upon the stair by which they had ascended to the apartment, and sent up his compliments to the young lady, desiring the favour of being admitted to her presence, otherwise he should be obliged to waive all ceremony, and take that liberty which she would not give. The servant, having conveyed his message through the keyhole, returned with an answer, importing that she would adhere to the resolution she had taken, and perish, rather than comply with his will. Our adventurer, without staying to make any rejoinder to this reply, ran upstairs, and, thundering at the door for entrance, was given to understand by the nymph’s attendant, that a blunderbuss was ready primed for his reception, and that he would do well to spare him the necessity of shedding blood in defence of a person who had put herself under his protection. “All the laws of the land,” said he, “cannot now untie the knots by which we are bound together; and therefore I will guard her as my own property; so that you had better desist from your fruitless attempt, and thereby consult your own safety; for, by the God that made me! I will discharge my piece upon you, as soon as you set your nose within the door; and your blood be upon your own head.”

These menaces, from a citizen’s clerk, would have been sufficient motives for Pickle to storm the breach, although they had not been reinforced by that declaration, which informed him of Emilia’s having bestowed herself in marriage upon such a contemptible rival. This sole consideration added wings to his impetuosity, and he applied his foot to the door with such irresistible force, as burst it open in an instant, entering at the same time with a pistol ready cocked in his hand. His antagonist, instead of firing his blunderbuss, when he saw him approach, started back with evident signs of surprise and consternation, exclaiming, “Lord Jesus! Sir, you are not the man! and, without doubt, are under some mistake with regard to us.” Before Peregrine had time to answer this salutation, the lady, hearing it, advanced to him, and, pulling off a mask, discovered a face which he had never seen before. The Gorgon’s head, according to the fables of antiquity, never had a more instantaneous or petrifying effect, than that which this countenance produced upon the astonished youth. His eyes were fixed upon this unknown object, as if they had been attracted by the power of enchantment, his feet seemed riveted to the ground, and, after having stood motionless for the space of a few minutes, he dropped down in an apoplexy of disappointment and despair. The Swiss, who had followed him, seeing his master in this condition, lifted him up, and, laying him upon a bed in the next room, let him blood immediately, without hesitation, being always provided with a case of lancets, against all accidents on the road. To this foresight our hero, in all probability, was indebted for his life. By virtue of a very copious evacuation, he recovered the use of his senses; but the complication of fatigues and violent transports, which he had undergone, brewed up a dangerous fever in his blood; and, a physician being called from the next market-town, several days elapsed before he would answer for his life.

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