The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter XCI.

Cadwallader acts the part of a Comforter to his Friend; and in his turn is consoled by Peregrine, who begins to find himself a most egregious Dupe.

This new misfortune, which he justly charged to the account of his own folly, recalled his chagrin; and though he endeavoured with all his might to conceal the affair from the knowledge of Cadwallader, that prying observer perceived his countenance overcast. The projector’s sudden disappearance alarming his suspicion, he managed his inquiries with so much art, that in a few days he made himself acquainted with every particular of the transaction, and resolved to gratify his spleen at the expense of the impatient dupe. With this view, he took an opportunity to accost him with a very serious air, saying a friend of his had immediate occasion for a thousand pounds, and as Peregrine had the exact sum lying by him, he would take it as a great favour if he would part with it for a few months on undoubted security. Had Pickle known the true motive of this demand, he would in all likelihood have made a very disagreeable answer; but Crabtree had wrappped himself up so securely in the dissimulation of his features, that the youth could not possibly penetrate into his intention; and in the most galling suspense replied, that the money was otherwise engaged. The misanthrope, not contented with this irritation, assumed the prerogative of a friend, and questioned him so minutely about the disposal of the cash, that, after numberless evasions, which cost him a world of torture to invent, he could contain his vexation no longer, but exclaimed in a rage, “D— your impertinence! ’tis gone to the devil, and that’s enough!”—“Thereafter, as it may be,” said this tormentor, with a most provoking indifference of aspect, “I should be glad to know upon what footing; for I suppose you have some expectation of advantage from that quarter.”—“’Sdeath! sir,” cried the impatient youth, “if I had any expectation from hell, I would make interest with you; for I believe, from my soul, you are one of its most favoured ministers upon earth.” With these words, he flung out of the room, leaving Cadwallader very well satisfied with the chastisement he had bestowed.

Peregrine having cooled himself with a solitary walk in the park, during which the violence of his choler gradually evaporated, and his reflection was called to a serious deliberation upon the posture of his affairs, he resolved to redouble his diligence and importunity with his patron and the minister, in order to obtain some sinecure, which would indemnify him for the damage he had sustained on their account. He accordingly went to his lordship and signified his demand, after having told him, that he had suffered several fresh losses, which rendered an immediate provision of that sort necessary to his credit and subsistence. His noble friend commended him for the regard he manifested for his own interest, which he considered as a proof of his being at last detached from the careless inadvertency of youth; he approved of his demand, which he assured him should be faithfully transmitted to the minister, and backed with all his influence; and encouraged his hope, by observing, that some profitable places were at that time vacant, and, so far as he knew, unengaged.

This conversation helped to restore the tranquility of Pickle’s breast, though he still harboured resentment against Cadwallader, on account of the last insult; and on the instant he formed a plan of revenge. He knew the misanthrope’s remittances from his estate in the country had been of late very scanty, in consequence of repairs and bankruptcies among his tenants; so that, in spite of all his frugality, he had been but barely able to maintain his credit, and even that was engaged on the strength of his running rent. Being therefore intimately acquainted with the particulars of his fortune, he wrote a letter to Crabtree, subscribed with the name of his principal farmer’s wife, importing that her husband being lately dead, and the greatest part of her cattle destroyed by the infectious distemper, she found herself utterly incapable of paying the rent which was due, or even of keeping the farm, unless he would, out of his great goodness, be pleased to give her some assistance, and allow her to sit free for a twelvemonth to come. This intimation he found means to convey by post from a market town adjoining to the farm, directed in the usual style to the cynic, who, seeing it stamped with the known marks, could not possibly suspect any imposition.

Hackneyed as he was in the ways of life, and steeled with his boasted stoicism, this epistle threw him into such an agony of vexation, that a double proportion of souring was visible in his aspect, when he was visited by the author, who, having observed and followed the postman at a proper distance, introduced a conversation upon his own disappointments, in which, among other circumstances of his own ill-luck, he told him, that his patron’s steward had desired to be excused from paying the last quarter of his interest precisely at the appointed term, for which reason he should be utterly void of cash, and therefore requested that Crabtree would accommodate him with an hundred pieces of his next remittance from the country.

This demand galled and perplexed the old man to such a degree, that the muscles of his face assumed a contraction peculiarly virulent, and exhibited the character of Diogenes with a most lively expression; he knew that a confession of his true situation would furnish Pickle with an opportunity to make reprisals upon him, with intolerable triumph; and that, by a downright refusal to supply his wants, he would for ever forfeit his friendship and esteem, and might provoke him to take ample vengeance for his sordid behaviour, by exposing him, in his native colours, to the resentment of those whom he had so long deceived. These considerations kept him some time in a most rancorous state of suspense, which Peregrine affected to misinterpret, by bidding him freely declare his suspicion, if he did not think it safe to comply with his request, and he would make shift elsewhere.

This seeming misconstruction increased the torture of the misanthrope, who, with the utmost irritation of feature, “Oons!” cried he, “what villainy have you noted in my conduct, that you treat me like a rascally usurer?” Peregrine very gravely replied, that the question needed no answer; “for,” said he, “had I considered you as a usurer, I would have come with a security under my arm; but, all evasion apart, will you stead me? will you pleasure me? shall I have the money?”—“Would it were in your belly, with a barrel of gunpowder!” exclaimed the enraged cynic; “since I must be excruciated, read that plaguy paper! ‘Sblood! why didn’t nature clap a pair of long ears and a tail upon me, that I might be a real ass, and champ thistles on some common, independent of my fellow-creatures? Would I were a worm, that I might creep into the earth, and thatch my habitation with a single straw; or rather a wasp or a viper, that I might make the rascally world feel my resentment. But why do I talk of rascality? folly, folly, is the scourge of life! Give me a scoundrel, so he be a sensible one, and I will put him in my heart of hearts! but a fool is more mischievous than famine, pestilence, and war. The idiotical hag that writes, or causes to be writ, this same letter, has ruined her family, and broke her husband’s heart, by ignorance and mismanagement; and she imputes her calamity to Providence with a vengeance; and so I am defrauded of three hundred pounds, the greatest part of which I owe to tradesmen, whom I have promised to pay this very quarter. Pox upon her! I would she were a horned beast, that the distemper might lay hold on her. The beldame has the impudence too, after she has brought me into this dilemma, to solicit my assistance to stock the farm anew! Before God, I have a good mind to send her a halter, and perhaps I might purchase another for myself, but that I would not furnish food for laughter to knaves and coxcombs.”

Peregrine having perused the billet, and listened to this ejaculation, replied with great composure, that he was ashamed to see a man of his years and pretensions to philosophy so ruffled by a trifle. “What signify all the boasted hardships you have overcome,” said he, “and the shrewd observations you pretend to have made on human nature? Where is that stoical indifference you affirm you have attained, if such a paltry disappointment can disturb you in this manner? What is the loss of three hundred pounds, compared with the misfortunes which I myself have undergone within these two years? Yet you will take upon you to act the censor, and inveigh against the impatience and impetuosity of youth, as if you yourself had gained an absolute conquest over all the passions of the heart. You were so kind as to insult me another day in my affliction, by reproaching me with indiscretion and misconduct: suppose I were now to retort the imputation, and ask how a man of your profound sagacity could leave your fortune at the discretion of ignorant peasants? How could you be so blind as not to foresee the necessity of repairs, together with the danger of bankruptcy, murrain, or thin crop? Why did you not convert your land into ready money, and, as you have no connections in life, purchase an annuity, on which you might have lived at your ease, without any fear of the consequence? Can’t you, from the whole budget of your philosophy, cull one apophthegm to console you for this trivial mischance?”

“Rot your rapidity!” said the cynic, half-choked with gall; “if the cancer or the pox were in your throat, I should not be thus tormented with your tongue; and yet a magpie shall speak infinitely more to the purpose. Don’t you know, Mr. Wiseacre, that my case does not fall within the province of philosophy? Had I been curtailed of all my members, racked by the gout and gravel, deprived of liberty, robbed of an only child, or visited with the death of a dear friend like you, philosophy might have contributed to my consolation; but will philosophy pay my debts, or free me from the burden of obligation to a set of fellows whom I despise? — speak-pronounce-demonstrate, or may Heaven close your mouth for ever!”

“These are the comfortable fruits of your misanthropy,” answered the youth; “your laudable scheme of detaching yourself from the bonds of society, and of moving in a superior sphere of your own. Had you not been so peculiarly sage, and intent upon laughing at mankind, you could never have been disconcerted by such a pitiful inconvenience; any friend would have accommodated you with the sum in question. But now the world may retort the laugh; for you stand upon such an agreeable footing with your acquaintance, that nothing could please them better than an account of your having given disappointment the slip, by the help of a noose properly applied. This I mention by way of hint, upon which I would have you chew the cud of reflection; and, should it come to that issue, I will use my whole interest with the coroner to bring in his verdict lunacy, that your carcase may have Christian burial.”

So saying, he withdrew, very well satisfied with the revenge he had taken, which operated so violently upon Crabtree, that, if it had not been for the sole consideration mentioned above, he would, in all probability, have had recourse to the remedy proposed. But his unwillingness to oblige and entertain his fellow-creatures hindered him from practising that expedient, till, by course of post, he was happily undeceived with regard to the situation of his affairs; and that information had such an effect upon him, that he not only forgave our hero for the stratagem, which he immediately ascribed to the right author, but also made him a tender of his purse; so that matters for the present were brought to an amicable accommodation.

Meanwhile Peregrine never slacked in his attendance upon the great; he never omitted to appear upon every levee day, employed his industry and penetration in getting intelligence of posts that were unfilled, and every day recommended himself to the good offices of his patron, who seemed to espouse his interest with great cordiality; nevertheless, he was always too late in his application, or the place he demanded chanced to be out of the minister’s gift. These intimations, though communicated in the most warm professions of friendship and regard, gave great umbrage to the young gentleman, who considered them as the evasions of an insincere courtier, and loudly complained of them as such to his lordship, signifying, at the same time, an intention to sell his mortgage for ready money, which he would expend to the last farthing in thwarting his honour, in the very first election he should patronize. His lordship never wanted a proper exhortation upon these occasions. He did not now endeavour to pacify him with assurances of the minister’s favour, because he perceived that these medicines had, by repeated use, lost their effect upon our adventurer, whose menaces he now combated by representing that the minister’s purse was heavier than that of Mr. Pickle; that, therefore, should he make a point of opposing his interest, the youth must infallibly fail in the contest; in which case he would find himself utterly destitute of the means of subsistence, and consequently precluded from all hope of provision.

This was an observation, the truth of which our young gentleman could not pretend to doubt, though it did not at all tend to the vindication of his honour’s conduct. Indeed, Pickle began to suspect the sincerity of his own patron, who, in his opinion, had trifled with his impatience, and even eluded, by sorry excuses, his desire of having another private audience of the first mover. His lordship also began to be less accessible than usual; and Peregrine had been obliged to dun the steward with repeated demands, before he could finger the last quarter of his interest. Alarmed by these considerations, he went and consulted the nobleman whom he had obliged in the affair of his son, and had the mortification to hear but a very indifferent character of the person in whom he had so long confided. This new adviser, who, though a courtier, was a rival of the other, gave our adventurer to understand, that he had been leaning upon a broken reed; that his professed patron was a man of shattered fortune and decayed interest, which extended no farther than a smile and a whisper; that, for his own part, he should have been proud of an opportunity to use his influence with the minister in behalf of Mr. Pickle. “But, since you have put yourself under the protection of another peer,” said he, “whose connections interfere with mine, I cannot now espouse your cause, without incurring the imputation of seducing that nobleman’s adherents; a charge which, of all others, I would most carefully avoid. However, I shall always be ready to assist you with my private advice, as a specimen of which, I now counsel you to insist upon having another interview with Sir Steady Steerwell himself, that you may in person explain your pretensions, without any risk of being misrepresented; and endeavour, if possible, to draw him into some particular promise, from which he cannot retract, with any regard to his reputation; for general profession is a necessary armour worn by all ministers in their own defence, against the importunity of those whom they will not befriend, and would not disoblige.”

This advice was so conformable to his own sentiments, that our adventurer seized the first opportunity to demand a hearing, and plainly told his patron, that, if he could not be indulged with that favour, he should look upon his lordship’s influence to be very small, and his own hopes to be altogether desperate; in which case he was resolved to dispose of the mortgage, purchase an annuity, and live independent.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00