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Chapter 17

He is concerned in a dangerous Adventure with a certain Gardener — Sublimes his Ideas, commences Gallant, and becomes acquainted with Miss Emily Gauntlet.

He and some of his companions one day entered a garden in the suburbs, and, having indulged their appetites, desired to know what satisfaction they must make for the fruit they had pulled. The gardener demanded what, in their opinion, was an exorbitant price, and they with many opprobrious terms refused to pay it. The peasant, being surly and untractable, insisted upon his right; neither was he deficient or sparing in the eloquence of vulgar abuse. His guests attempted to retreat; a scuffle ensued, in which Peregrine lost his cap; and the gardener, being in danger from the number of his foes, called to his wife to let loose the dog, which instantly flew to his master’s assistance, and, after having torn the leg of one and the shoulder of another, put the whole body of scholars to flight. Enraged at the indignity which had been offered them, they solicited a reinforcement of their friends, and, with Tom Pipes at their head, marched back to the field of battle. Their adversary, seeing them approach, called his apprentice, who worked at the other end of the ground, to his assistance, armed him with a mattock, while he himself wielded a hoe, bolted his door on the inside, and, flanked with his man and mastiff, waited the attack without flinching.

He had not remained three minutes in this posture of defence, when Pipes, who acted as the enemy’s forlorn hope, advanced to the gate with great intrepidity, and, clapping his foot to the door, which was none of the stoutest, with the execution and despatch of a petard, split it into a thousand pieces. This sudden execution had an immediate effect upon the apprentice, who retreated with great precipitation, and escaped at a postern; but the master placed himself, like another Hercules, in the breach; and when Pipes, brandishing his cudgel, stepped forward to engage him, leveled his weapon. with such force and dexterity at his head, that had the skull been made of penetrable stuff, the iron edge must have cleft his pate in twain. Casemated as he was, the instrument cut sheer even to the bone, on which it struck with such amazing violence, that sparks of real fire were produced by the collision. And let not the incredulous reader pretend to doubt the truth of this phenomenon, until he shall have first perused the ingenious Peter Kolben’s Natural History of the Cape of Good Hope, where the inhabitants commonly used to strike fire with the shin-bones of lions which had been killed in that part of Africa.

Pipes, though a little disconcerted, far from being disabled by the blow, in a trice retorted the compliment with his truncheon, which, had not his antagonist expeditiously slipped his head aside, would have laid him breathless across his own threshold; but, happily for him, he received the salutation upon his right shoulder, which crashed beneath the stroke, and the hoe dropped instantly from his tingling hand. Tom, perceiving, and being unwilling to forego, the advantage he had gained, darted his head into the bosom of this son of earth, and overturned him on the plain, being himself that instant assaulted by the mastiff, who fastened upon the outside of his thigh. Feeling himself incommoded by this assailant in his rear, he quitted the prostrate gardener to the resentment of his associates, who poured upon him in shoals, and turning about, laid hold with both his hands of this ferocious animal’s throat, which he squeezed with such incredible force and perseverance, that the creature quitted his hold; his tongue lolled out of his jaws, the blood started from his eyes, and he swung a lifeless trunk between the hands of his vanquisher.

It was well for his master that he did not longer exist: for by this time he was overwhelmed by such a multitude of foes, that his whole body scarce afforded points of contact to all the fists that drummed upon him; consequently, to use a vulgar phrase, his wind was almost knocked out, before Pipes had leisure to interpose in his he behalf, and persuade his offenders to desist, by representing that the wife had gone to alarm the neighbourhood, and in all probability they would be intercepted in their return. They accordingly listened to his remonstrances, and marched homewards in triumph, leaving the gardener in the embraces of his mother earth, from which he had not power to move when he was found by his disconsolate helpmate and some friends whom she had assembled for his assistance. Among these was a blacksmith and farrier, who took cognizance of his carcase, every limb of which having examined, he declared there was no bone broken, and taking out his fleam, blooded him plentifully as he lay. He was then conveyed to his bed, from which he was not able to stir during a whole month. His family coming upon the parish, a formal complaint was made to the master of the school, and Peregrine represented as the ringleader of those who committed this barbarous assault. An inquiry was immediately set on foot; and the articles of impeachment being fully proved, our hero was sentenced to be severely chastised in the face of the whole school. This was a disgrace, the thoughts of which his proud heart could not brook. He resolved to make his elopement rather than undergo the punishment to which he was doomed; and having signified his sentiments to his confederates, they promised one and all to stand by him, and either screen him from chastisement or share his fate.

Confiding in this friendly protestation, he appeared unconcerned on the day that was appointed for his punishment; and when he was called to his destiny, advanced the scene, attended by the greatest part of the scholars, who intimated their determination to the master, and proposed that Peregrine should be forgiven. The superior behaved with that dignity of demeanour which became his place, represented the folly and presumption of their demand, reprehended them for their audacious proceeding, and ordered every boy to his respective station. They obeyed his command, and our unfortunate hero was publicly horsed, in terrorem of all whom it might concern.

This disgrace had a very sensible effect upon the mind of Peregrine, who, having by this time, passed the fourteenth year of his age, began to adopt the pride and sentiments of a man. Thus dishonourably stigmatized, he was ashamed to appear in public as usual; he was incensed against his companions for their infidelity and irresolution, and plunged into a profound reverie that lasted several weeks, during which he shook off his boyish connections, and fixed his view upon objects which he thought more worthy of his attention.

In the course of his gymnastic exercises, at which he was very expert, he contracted intimacies with several youths who were greatly his superiors in point of age, and who, pleased with his aspiring genius and address, introduced him into parties of gallantry which strongly captivated his inclination. He was by nature particularly adopted for succeeding in all adventures of this kind: over and above a most engaging person that improved with his years, he possessed a dignified assurance, an agreeable ferocity which enhanced the conquest of the fair who had the good fortune to enslave him, unlimited generosity, and a fund of humour which never failed to please. Nor was he deficient in the more solid accomplishments of youth: he had profited in his studies beyond expectation; and besides that sensibility of discernment which is the foundation of taste, and in consequence of which he distinguished and enjoyed the beauties of the classics, he had already given several specimens of a very promising poetic talent.

With this complexion and these qualifications, no wonder that our hero attracted the notice and affections of the young Delias in town, whose hearts had just begun to flutter for they knew not what. Inquiries were made concerning his condition; and no sooner were his expectations known, than he was invited and caressed by all the parents, while the daughters vied with each other in treating him with particular complacency. He inspired love and emulation wherever he appeared: envy and jealous rage followed of course; so that he became a very desirable, though a very dangerous acquaintance. His moderation was not equal to his success: his vanity took the lead of his passions, dissipating his attention, which might otherwise have fixed h............

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