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Chapter 18

He inquires into the Situation of this young Lady, with whom he is enamoured — Elopes from School — Is found by the Lieutenant, conveyed to Winchester, and sends a Letter with a copy of verses to his Mistress.

He was transported with pleasure at this invitation, which he assured her he should not neglect; and after a little more conversation on general topics, took his leave of the charming Emilia and her prudent mamma, who had perceived the first emotions of Mr. Pickle’s passion for her daughter, and been at some pains to inquire about his family and fortune.

Neither was Peregrine less inquisitive about the situation and pedigree of his new mistress, who, he learned, was the only daughter of a field-officer, who died before he had it in his power to make suitable provision for his children; that the widow lived in a frugal though decent manner on her pension, assisted by the bounty of her relations; that the son carried arms as a volunteer in the company which his father had commanded; and that Emilia had been educated in London, at the expense of a rich uncle, who was seized with the whim of marrying at the age of fifty-five; in consequence of which his niece had returned to her mother, without any visible dependence, except on her own conduct and qualifications.

This account, though it could not diminish his affection, nevertheless alarmed his pride; for his warm imagination had exaggerated all his own prospects; and he began to fear that his passion for Emilia might be thought to derogate from the dignity of his situation. The struggle between his interest and love produced a perplexity which had an evident effect upon his behaviour: he became pensive, solitary, and peevish; avoided public diversions; and grew so remarkably negligent in his dress, that he was scarce distinguishable by his own acquaintance. This contention of thoughts continued several weeks, at the end of which the charms of Emilia triumphed over every other consideration. Having received a supply of money from the commodore, who acted towards him with great generosity, he ordered Pipes to put up some linen and other necessaries in a sort of knapsack, which he could conveniently carry; and, thus attended, set out early one morning on foot for the village where his charmer lived, at which he arrived before two o’clock in the afternoon; having chosen this method of travelling that his route might not be so easily discovered, as it must have been had he hired horses, or taken a place in the stage-coach.

The first thing he did was to secure a convenient lodging at the inn where he dined; then he shifted himself, and, according to the direction he had received, went to the house of Mrs. Gauntlet in a transport of joyous expectation. As he approached the gate, his agitation increased; he knocked with impatience and concern, the door opened, and he had actually asked if Mrs. Gauntlet was at home, before he perceived that the portress was no other than his dear Emilia. She was not without emotion at the unexpected sight of her lover, who instantly recognising his charmer. obeyed the irresistible impulse of his love, and caught the fair creature in his arms. Nor did she seem offended at this forwardness of behaviour, which might have displeased another of a less open disposition, or less used to the freedom of a sensible education; but her natural frankness had been encouraged and improved by the easy and familiar intercourse in which she had been bred; and therefore, instead of reprimanding him with a severity of look, she with great good humour rallied him upon his assurance, which, she observed, was undoubtedly the effect of his own conscious merit; and conducted him into a parlour, where he found her mother, who, in very polite terms, expressed her satisfaction at seeing him within her house.

After tea, Miss Emy proposed an evening walk, which they enjoyed through a variety of little copses and lawns, watered by a most romantic stream, that quite enchanted the imagination of Peregrine.

It was late before they returned from this agreeable excursion, and when our lover wished the ladies good night, Mrs. Gauntlet insisted upon his staying to supper, and treated him with particular demonstrations of regard and affection. As her economy was not encumbered with an unnecessary number of domestics, her own presence was often required in different parts of the house, so that the young gentleman was supplied with frequent opportunities of promoting his suit by all the tender oaths and insinuations that his passion could suggest. He protested her idea had taken such entire possession of his heart, that finding himself unable to support her absence one day longer, he had quitted his studies, and left his governor by stealth, that he might visit the object of his adoration, and be blessed in her company for a few days without interruption.

She listened to his addresses with such affability as denoted approbation and delight, and gently chided him as a thoughtless truant, but carefully avoided the confession of a mutual flame; because she discerned, in the midst of all his tenderness, a levity of pride which she durst not venture to trust with such a declaration. Perhaps she was confirmed in this caution by her mother, who very wisely, in her civilities to him, maintained a sort of ceremonious distance, which she thought not only requisite for the honour and interest of her family, but likewise for her own exculpation, should she ever be taxed with having encouraged or abetted him in the imprudent sallies of his youth; yet, notwithstanding this affected reserve, he was treated with such distinction by both, that he was ravished with his situation, and became more and more enamoured every day.

While he remained under the influence of this sweet intoxication, his absence produced great disturbance at Winchester. Mr. Jolter was grievously afflicted at his abrupt departure, which alarmed him the more, as it happened after a long fit of melancholy which he had perceived in his pupil. He communicated his apprehensions to the master of the school, who advised him to apprise the commodore of his nephew’s disappearance, and in the mean time inquire at all the inns in town, whether he had hired horses, or any sort of carriage, for his conveyance, or was met with on the road by any person who could give an account of the direction in which he travelled.

The scrutiny, though performed with great diligence and minuteness, was altogether ineffectual; they could obtain no intelligence of the runaway. Mr. Trunnion was well distracted at the news of his flight; he raved with great fury at the imprudence of Peregrine, whom in his first transports he d — d as an ungrateful deserter; then he cursed Hatchway and Pipes, who he swore had foundered the lad by their pernicious counsels; and, lastly, transferred his execrations upon Jolter, because he had not kept a better look-out; finally, he made an apostrophe to that son of a b — the gout, which for the present disabled him from searching for his nephew in person. That he might not, however, neglect any means in his power, he immediately despatched expresses to all the sea-port towns on that coast, that he might be prevented from leaving the kingdom; and the lieutenant, at his own desire, was sent across the country, in quest of this young fugitive.

Four days had he unsuccessfully carried on his inquiries with great accuracy, when, resolving to return by Winchester, where he hoped to meet with some hints of intelligence by which he might profit in his future search, he struck off the common road to take the benefit of a nearer cut; and finding himself benighted near a village, took up his lodgings at the first inn to which his horse directed him. Having bespoke something for supper, and retired to his chamber, where he amused himself with a pipe, he heard a confused noise of rustic jollity, which being all of a sudden interrupted, after a short pause his ear was saluted with the voic............

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