The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter XCII.

He is indulged with a second Audience by the Minister, of whose Sincerity he is convinced — His Pride and Ambition revive, and again are mortified.

If the young gentleman’s money had been in other hands, perhaps the peer would have been at very little pains, either in gratifying his demand, or opposing his revenge; but he knew that the sale of the mortgage could not be effected without an inquiry, to which he did not wish to be exposed. He, therefore, employed all his interest in procuring the solicited audience. This being granted, Peregrine, with great warmth and elocution, expatiated upon the injury his fortune had suffered in the affair of the borough, for which he had stood candidate; he took notice of the disappointment he had sustained in the other election, reminded him of the promises with which he had been amused, and, in conclusion, desired to know what he had to expect from his favour. The minister having patiently heard him to an end, replied with a most gracious aspect, that he was very well informed of his merit and attachment, and very much disposed to convince him of the regard which he paid to both; that till of late he did not know the nature of his expectations, neither had he the power of creating posts for those whom he was inclined to serve; but if Mr. Pickle would chalk out any feasible method by which he could manifest his sentiments of friendship, he should not be backward in executing the plan.

Peregrine, laying hold on this declaration, mentioned several places which he knew to be vacant. But the old evasion was still used; one of them was not in his department of business, another had been promised to the third son of a certain earl before the death of the last possessor, and a third was encumbered with a pension that ate up a good half of the appointments. In short, such obstructions were started to all his proposals as he could not possibly surmount, though he plainly perceived they were no other than specious pretexts to cover the mortifying side of a refusal. Exasperated, therefore, at this lack of sincerity and gratitude, “I can easily foresee,” said he, “that such difficulties will never be wanting, when I have anything to ask; and for that reason will save myself the trouble of any further application.” So saying, he withdrew in a very abrupt manner, breathing defiance and revenge. But his patron, who did not think proper to drive him to extremities, found means to persuade his honour to do something for the pacification of the young man’s choler; and that same evening our adventurer received a message from his lordship, desiring to see him immediately.

In consequence of this intimation, Pickle went to his house, and appeared before him with a very cloudy aspect, which signified to whom it might concern, that his temper was at present too much galled to endure reproof; and therefore the sagacious peer forbore taking him to task for his behaviour during the audience he had obtained; but gave him to understand, that the minister, in consideration of his services, had sent him a bank-note of three hundred pounds, with a promise of the like sum yearly, until he could be otherwise provided for. This declaration in some measure appeased the youth, who condescended to accept the present; and, next levee day, made his acknowledgment to the donor, who favoured him with a smile of infinite complacency, which entirely dissipated all the remains of his resentment; for, as he could not possibly divine the true cause of his being temporized with, he looked upon this condescension as an undoubted proof of Sir Steady’s sincerity, and firmly believed that he would settle him in some place with the first opportunity, rather than continue to pay this pension out of his own pocket. In all probability, his prediction would have been verified, had not an unforeseen accident in a moment overwhelmed the barque of his interest at court.

Meanwhile, this short gleam of good fortune recalled the ideas of pride and ambition which he had formerly cherished. His countenance was again lifted up, his good-humour retrieved, and his mien reexalted. Indeed, he began to be considered as a rising man by his fellow-dependents, who saw the particular notice with which he was favoured at the public levee; and some of them, for that reason, were at pains to court his good graces. He no longer shunned his former intimates, with whom a good part of his fortune had been spent, but made up to them in all places of public resort, with the same ease and familiarity as he had been used to express, and even re-embarked in some of their excesses, upon the strength of his sanguine expectation. Cadwallader and he renewed their consultations in the court of ridicule; and divers exploits were achieved, to the confusion of those who had “sailed into the north of their displeasure.”

But these enjoyments were soon interrupted by a misfortune equally fatal and unexpected. His noble patron was seized with an apoplectic fit, from which he was recovered by the physicians, that they might despatch him according to rule, and in two months after they were called, he went the way of all flesh. Peregrine was very much afflicted at this event, not only on account of his friendship for the deceased, to whom he thought himself under many and great obligations, but also because he feared that his own interest would suffer a severe shock, by the removal of this nobleman, whom he considered as its chief support. He put himself therefore in mourning, out of regard to the memory of his departed friend, and exhibited genuine marks of sorrow and concern, though he had in reality more cause to grieve than he as yet imagined. When quarter-day came about, he applied to the steward of his lordship’s heir for the interest of his money, as usual; and the reader will readily own he had some reason to be surprised, when he was told he had no claim either to principal or interest. True it is, the manager talked very civilly as well as sensibly on the subject. “Your appearance, sir,” said he to Pickle, “screens you from all suspicion of an intended fraud; but the mortgage upon those lands you mention was granted to another person many years before you pretend to have lent that sum; and I have, this very morning, paid one quarter’s interest, as appears from this receipt, which you may peruse for your satisfaction.”

Peregrine was so thunderstruck at this information, which stripped him of his all, that he could not utter one word; a circumstance that did no great honour to his character in the opinion of the steward, who, in good earnest, began to entertain some doubts of his integrity. For, among the papers of the deceased, which he had examined, there was no writing, memorandum, or receipt relating to this encumbrance. After a long pause of stupefaction, Peregrine recollected himself so far as to observe, that either he was egregiously mistaken, or the predecessor of his lord the greatest villain upon earth. “But, Mr. Whatd’ycallum,” said he, “you must give me leave to tell you, that your bare assertion in this affair will by no means induce me to put up quietly with the loss of ten thousand pounds.”

Having thus expressed himself, he retired from the house so discontented at this demur, that he scarce knew whether he moved upon his head or heels; and the park chancing to be in his way, he sauntered about, giving vent to a soliloquy in praise of his departed friend, the burden of which was a string of incoherent curses imprecated upon himself; till his transports by degrees giving way to his reflection, he deliberated seriously and sorrowfully upon his misfortune, and resolved to consult lawyers without loss of time. But, first of all, he proposed to make personal application to the heir, who, by a candid representation of the case, might be inclined to do him justice. In consequence of this determination, he next morning put his writings in his pocket, and went in a chair to the house of the young nobleman, to whom, being admitted by virtue of his appearance, and a small gratification to the porter, he explained the whole affair, corroborating his assertions with the papers which he produced, and describing the disgrace that would be entailed upon the memory of the deceased, should he be obliged to seek redress in a public court of justice.

The executor, who was a person of good breeding, condoled him upon his loss with great good-nature, though he did not seem much surprised at his account of the matter; but wished, that, since the fraud must have been committed, the damage had fallen upon the first mortgager, who, he said, was a thievish usurer, grown rich by the distresses of his fellow-creatures. In answer to our hero’s remonstrances, he observed, that he did not look upon himself as obliged to pay the least regard to the character of his predecessor, who had used him with great barbarity and injustice, not only in excluding him from his countenance and assistance, but also in prejudicing his inheritance as much as lay in his power; so that it could not be reasonably expected that he would pay ten thousand pounds of his debt, for which he had received no value. Peregrine, in spite of his chagrin, could not help owning within himself, that there was a good deal of reason in this refusal. After having given loose to his indignation in the most violent invectives against the defunct, he took his leave of the complaisant heir, and had immediate recourse to the advice of counsel, who assured him that he had an excellent plea, and was accordingly retained in the cause.

All these measures were taken in the first vigour of his exertion, during which his spirits were so fluttered with the diversity of passions produced by his mischance, that he mistook for equanimity that which was no other than intoxication; and two whole days elapsed before he attained a due sense of his misfortune. Then, indeed, he underwent a woeful self-examination; every circumstance of the inquiry added fresh pangs to his reflection; and the result of the whole was a discovery, that his fortune was totally consumed, and himself reduced to a state of the most deplorable dependence. This suggestion alone might, in the anguish of his despondency, have driven him to some desperate course, had it not been in some measure qualified by the confidence of his lawyers, and the assurance of the minister, which, slender as the world hath generally found them, were the only bulwarks between misery and him.

The mind is naturally pliable, and, provided it has the least hope to lean upon, adapts itself wonderfully to the emergencies of fortune, especially when the imagination is gay and luxuriant. This was the case with our adventurer; instead of indulging the melancholy ideas which his loss inspired, he had recourse to the flattering delusions of hope, soothing himself with unsubstantial plans of future greatness, and endeavouring to cover what was past with the veil of oblivion. After some hesitation, he resolved to make Crabtree acquainted with his misfortune, that once for all he might pass the ordeal of his satire, without subjecting himself to a long series of sarcastic hints and doubtful allusions, which he could not endure. He accordingly took the first opportunity of telling him that he was absolutely ruined by the perfidy of his patron, and desired that he would not aggravate his affliction by those cynical remarks which were peculiar to men of his misanthropical disposition. Cadwallader listened to this declaration with internal surprise, which, however, produced no alteration in his countenance; and, after some pause, observed, that our hero had no reason to look for any new observation from him upon this event, which he had long foreseen, and daily expected, and exhorted him, with an ironical sneer, to console himself with the promise of the minister, who would doubtless discharge the debts of his deceased bosom friend.

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