The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter LXXX.

He returns to London, and meets with Cadwallader, who entertains him with many curious Particulars — Crabtree sounds the Duchess, and undeceives Pickle, who, by an extraordinary Accident, becomes acquainted with another Lady of Quality.

The young gentleman having performed these last offices in honour of his deceased benefactor, and presented Mr. Jolter to the long-expected living, which at this time happened to be vacant, returned to London, and resumed his former gaiety: not that he was able to shake Emilia from his thought, or even to remember her without violent emotions; for, as he recovered his vigour, his former impatience recurred, and therefore he resolved to plunge himself headlong into some intrigue, that might engage his passions and amuse his imagination.

A man of his accomplishments could not fail to meet with a variety of subjects on which his gallantry would have been properly exercised; and this abundance distracted his choice, which at any time was apt to be influenced by caprice and whim. I have already observed, that he had lifted his view, through a matrimonial perspective, as high as a lady of the first quality and distinction: and now, that he was refused by Miss Gauntlet, and enjoyed a little respite from the agonies of that flame which her charms had kindled in his heart, he renewed his assiduities to her grace. Though he durst not yet risk an explanation, he enjoyed the pleasure of seeing himself so well received in quality of a particular acquaintance, that he flattered himself with the belief of his having made some progress in her heart; and was confirmed in this conceited notion by the assurances of her woman, whom, by liberal largesses, he retained in his interest, because she found means to persuade him that she was in the confidence of her lady. But, notwithstanding this encouragement, and the sanguine suggestions of his own vanity, he dreaded the thoughts of exposing himself to her ridicule and resentment by a premature declaration. and determined to postpone his addresses, until he should be more certified of the probability of succeeding in his attempt.

While he remained in this hesitation and suspense, he was one morning very agreeably surprised with the appearance of his friend Crabtree, who, by the permission of Pipes, to whom he was well known, entered his chamber before he was awake, and, by a violent shake of the shoulder, disengaged him from the arms of sleep. The first compliments having mutually passed, Cadwallader gave him to understand, that he had arrived in town overnight in the stage-coach from Bath, and entertained him with such a ludicrous account of his fellow-travellers, that Peregrine, for the first time since their parting, indulged himself in mirth, even to the hazard of suffocation.

Crabtree, having rehearsed these adventures, in such a peculiarity of manner as added infinite ridicule to every circumstance, and repeated every scandalous report which had circulated at Bath, after Peregrine’s departure, was informed by the youth, that he harboured a design upon the person of such a duchess, and in all appearance had no reason to complain of his reception; but that he would not venture to declare himself, until he should be more ascertained of her sentiments; and therefore he begged leave to depend upon the intelligence of his friend Cadwallader, who, he knew, was admitted to her parties.

The misanthrope, before he would promise his assistance, asked if his prospect verged towards matrimony; and our adventurer, who guessed the meaning of his question, replying in the negative, he undertook the office of reconnoitring her inclination, protesting at the same time, that he would never concern himself in any scheme that did not tend to the disgrace and deception of all the sex. On these conditions he espoused the interest of our hero; and a plan was immediately concerted, in consequence of which they met by accident at her grace’s table. Pickle having staid all the forepart of the evening, and sat out all the company, except the misanthrope and a certain widow lady who was said to be in the secrets of my lady duchess, went away on pretence of an indispensable engagement, that Crabtree might have a proper opportunity of making him the subject of conversation.

Accordingly, he had scarce quitted the apartment, when this cynic, attending him to the door with a look of morose disdain, “Were I an absolute prince,” said he, “and that fellow one of my subjects, I would order him to be clothed in sackcloth, and he should drive my asses to water, that his lofty spirit might be lowered to the level of his deserts. The pride of a peacock is downright self-denial, when compared with the vanity of that coxcomb, which was naturally arrogant, but is now rendered altogether intolerable, by the reputation he acquired at Bath, for kicking a bully, outwitting a club of raw sharpers, and divers other pranks, in the execution of which he was more lucky than wise. But nothing has contributed so much to the increase of his insolence and self-conceit, as the favour he found among the ladies; ay, the ladies, madam: I care not who knows it: the ladies, who, to their honour be it spoken, never fail to patronize foppery and folly, provided they solicit their encouragement. And yet this dog was not on the footing of those hermaphroditical animals, who may be reckoned among the number of waiting-women, who air your shifts, comb your lap-dogs, examine your noses with magnifying glasses, in order to squeeze out the worms, clean your tooth-brushes, sweeten your handkerchiefs, and soften waste paper for your occasions. This fellow Pickle was entertained for more important purposes; his turn of duty never came till all those lapwings were gone to roost; then he scaled windows, leaped over garden walls, and was let in by Mrs. Betty in the dark. Nay, the magistrates of Bath complimented him with the freedom of the corporation, merely because, through his means, the waters had gained extraordinary credit; for every female of a tolerable appearance, that went thither on account of her sterility, got the better of her complaint, during his residence at Bath. And now the fellow thinks no woman can withstand his addresses. He had not been here three minutes, when I could perceive, with half an eye, that he had marked out your grace for a conquest — I mean in an honourable way; though the rascal has impudence enough to attempt anything.”

So saying, he fixed his eyes upon the duchess, who, while her face glowed with indignation, turning to her confidant, expressed herself in these words: “Upon my life! I believe there is actually some truth in what this old ruffian says; I have myself observed that young fellow eyeing me with a very particular stare.”—“It is not to be at all wondered at,” said her friend, “that a youth of his complexion should be sensible to the charms of your grace! but I dare say he would not presume to entertain any but the most honourable and respectful sentiments.”—“Respectful sentiments!” cried my lady, with a look of ineffable disdain; “if I thought the fellow had assurance enough to think of me in any shape, I protest I would forbid him my house. Upon my honour, such instances of audacity should induce persons of quality to keep your small gentry at a greater distance; for they are very apt to grow impudent, upon the least countenance or encouragement.”

Cadwallader, satisfied with this declaration, changed the subject of discourse, and next day communicated his discovery to his friend Pickle, who upon this occasion felt the most stinging sensations of mortified pride, and resolved to quit his prospect with a good grace. Nor did the execution of this self-denying scheme cost him one moment’s uneasiness; for his heart had never been interested in the pursuit, and his vanity triumphed in the thoughts of manifesting his indifference. Accordingly, the very next time he visited her grace, his behaviour was remarkably frank, sprightly and disengaged; and the subject of love being artfully introduced by the widow, who had been directed to sound his inclinations, he rallied the passion with great ease and severity and made no scruple of declaring himself heart-whole. Though the duchess had resented his supposed affection, she was now offended at his insensibility, and even signified her disgust, by observing, that perhaps his attention to his own qualifications screened him from the impression of all other objects.

While he enjoyed this sarcasm, the meaning of which he could plainly discern, the company was joined by a certain virtuoso, who had gained free access to all the great families of the land, by his noble talent of gossiping and buffoonery. He was now in the seventy-fifth year of his age; his birth was so obscure, that he scarce knew his father’s name; his education suitable to the dignity of his descent; his character publicly branded with homicide, profligacy, and breach of trust; yet this man, by the happy inheritance of impregnable effrontery, and a lucky prostitution of all principle in rendering himself subservient to the appetites of the great, had attained to an independency of fortune, as well as to such a particular share of favour among the quality, that, although he was well known to have pimped for three generations of the nobility, there was not a lady of fashion in the kingdom who scrupled to admit him to her toilette, or even to be squired by him in any place of public entertainment. Not but that this sage was occasionally useful to his fellow-creatures, by these connections with people of fortune; for he often undertook to solicit charity in behalf of distressed objects, with a view of embezzling one-half of the benefactions. It was an errand of this kind that now brought him to the house of her grace.

After having sat a few minutes, he told the company that he would favour them with a very proper opportunity to extend their benevolence, for the relief of a poor gentlewoman, who was reduced to the most abject misery, by the death of her husband, and just delivered of a couple of fine boys: they, moreover, understood from his information, that this object was daughter of a good family, who had renounced her in consequence of her marrying an ensign without a fortune; and even obstructed his promotion with all their influence and power; a circumstance of barbarity which had made such an impression upon his mind, as disordered his brain, and drove him to despair, in a fit of which he had made away with himself, leaving his wife, then big with child, to all the horrors of indigence and grief.

Various were the criticisms on this pathetic picture, which the old man drew with great expression. My lady duchess concluded that she must be a creature void of all feeling and reflection, who could survive such aggravated misery, therefore did not deserve to be relieved, except in the character of a common beggar; and was generous enough to offer a recommendation, by which she would be admitted into an infirmary, to which her grace was a subscriber; at the same time advising the solicitor to send the twins to the Foundling Hospital, where they could be carefully nursed and brought up, so as to become useful members to the commonwealth. Another lady, with all due deference to the opinion of the duchess, was free enough to blame the generosity of her grace, which would only serve to encourage children in disobedience to their parents, and might be the means not only of prolonging the distress of the wretched creature, but also of ruining the constitution of some young heir, perhaps the hope of a great family; for she did suppose that madam, when her month should be up, and her brats disposed of, would spread her attractions to the public, provided she could profit by her person, and, in the usual way, make a regular progress from St. James’s to Drury Lane. She apprehended, for these reasons, that their compassion would be most effectually shown, in leaving her to perish in her present necessity; and that the old gentleman would be unpardonable, should he persist in his endeavours to relieve her. A third member of this tender-hearted society, after having asked if the young woman was handsome, and being answered in the negative, allowed that there was a great deal of reason in what had been said by the honourable person who had spoke last; nevertheless, she humbly conceived her sentence would admit of some mitigation. “Let the bantlings,” said she, “be sent to the hospital, according to the advice of her grace, and a small collection be made for the present support of the mother; and, when her health is recovered, I will take her into my family, in quality of an upper servant, or medium between me and my woman; for, upon my life! I can’t endure to chide or give directions to a creature, who is, in point of birth and education, but one degree above the vulgar.”

This proposal met with universal approbation. The duchess, to her immortal honour, began the contribution with a crown; so that the rest of the company were obliged to restrict their liberality to half the sum, that her grace might not be affronted. And the proposer, demanding the poor woman’s name and place of abode, the old mediator could not help giving her ladyship a verbal direction, though he was extremely mortified, on more accounts than one, to find such an issue to his solicitation.

Peregrine, who, “though humorous as winter, had a tear for pity, and a hand open as day for melting charity,” was shocked at the nature and result of this ungenerous consultation. He contributed his half-crown, however, and, retiring from the company, betook himself to the lodgings of the forlorn lady in the straw, according to the direction he had heard. Upon inquiry, he understood that she was then visited by some charitable gentlewoman, who had sent for a nurse, and waited the return of the messenger; and he sent up his respects, desiring he might be permitted to see her, on pretence of having been intimate with her late husband.

Though the poor woman had never heard of his name, she did not think proper to deny his request; and he was conducted to a paltry chamber in the third story, where he found this unhappy widow sitting upon a truckle-bed, and suckling one of her infants, with the most piteous expression of anguish in her features, which were naturally regular and sweet, while the other was fondled on the knee of a person, whose attention was so much engrossed by her little charge, that, for the present, she could mind nothing else; and it was not till after the first compliments passed betwixt the hapless mother and our adventurer, that he perceived the stranger’s countenance, which inspired him with the highest esteem and admiration. He beheld all the graces of elegance and beauty, breathing sentiment and beneficence, and softened into the most enchanting tenderness of weeping sympathy. When he declared the cause of his visit, which was no other than the desire of befriending the distressed lady, to whom he presented a bank-note for twenty pounds, he was favoured with such a look of complacency by this amiable phantom, who might have been justly taken for an angel ministering to the necessities of mortals, that his whole soul was transported with love and veneration. Nor was this prepossession diminished by the information of the widow, who, after having manifested her gratitude in a flood of tears, told him, that the unknown object of his esteem was a person of honour, who having heard by accident of her deplorable situation, had immediately obeyed the dictates of her humanity, and come in person to relieve her distress; that she had not only generously supplied her with money for present sustenance, but also undertaken to provide a nurse for her babes, and even promised to favour her with protection, should she survive her present melancholy situation. To these articles of intelligence she added, that the name of her benefactress was the celebrated Lady — to whose character the youth was no stranger, though he had never seen her person before. The killing edge of her charms was a little blunted by the accidents of time and fortune; but no man of taste and imagination, whose nerves were not quite chilled with the frost of age, could, even at that time, look upon her with impunity. And as Peregrine saw her attractions heightened by the tender office in which she was engaged, he was smitten with her beauty, and so ravished with her compassion, that he could not suppress his emotions, but applauded her benevolence with all the warmth of enthusiasm.

Her ladyship received his compliments with great politeness and affability. And the occasion on which they met being equally interesting to both, an acquaintance commenced between them, and they concerted measures for the benefit of the widow and her two children, one of whom our hero bespoke for his own godson; for Pickle was not so obscure in the beau monde, but that his fame had reached the ears of this lady, who, therefore, did not discourage his advances towards her friendship and esteem. All the particulars relating to their charge being adjusted, he attended her ladyship to her own house; and, by her conversation, had the pleasure of finding her understanding suitable to her other accomplishments. Nor had she any reason to think that our hero’s qualifications had been exaggerated by common report.

One of their adopted children died before it was baptized; so that their care concentred in the other, for whom they stood sponsors. Understanding that the old agent was becoming troublesome in his visits to the mother, to whom he now began to administer such counsel as shocked the delicacy of her virtue, they removed her into another lodging, where she would not be exposed to his machinations. In less than a month, our hero learned from a nobleman of his acquaintance, that the hoary pander had actually engaged to procure for him this poor afflicted gentlewoman; and, being frustrated in his intention, substituted in her room a nymph from the purlieus of Covent Garden, that made his lordship smart severely for the favours she bestowed.

Meanwhile, Peregrine cultivated his new acquaintance with all his art and assiduity, presuming, from the circumstances of her reputation and fate, as well as on the strength of his own merit, that, in time, he should be able to indulge that passion which had begun to glow within his breast. As her ladyship had undergone a vast variety of fortune and adventure, which he had heard indistinctly related, with numberless errors and misrepresentations, he was no sooner entitled, by the familiarity of communication, to ask such a favour, than he earnestly entreated her to entertain him with the particulars of her story; and, by dint of importunity, she was at length prevailed upon, in a select party, to gratify his curiosity, by the account given in the following chapter.

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