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Chapter 19

His Messenger meets with a Misfortune, to which he applies a very extraordinary Expedient that is attended with strange Consequences.

As a stage-coach passed within two miles of the village where she lived, Tom bargained with the driver for a seat on the box, and accordingly departed on this message, though he was but indifferently qualified for commissions of such a nature. Having received particular injunctions about the letter, he resolved to make that the chief object of his care, and very sagaciously conveyed it between the stocking and the sole of his foot, where he thought it would be perfectly secure from all injury or accident. Here it remained until he arrived at the inn where he had formerly lodged, when, after having refreshed himself with a draught of beer, he pulled off his stocking, and found the poor billet sullied with dust, and torn in a thousand tatters by the motion of his foot in walking the last two miles of his journey. Thunderstruck at this phenomenon, he uttered it loud whew! which was succeeded by an exclamation of “D— my old shoes! a bite by G—!” then he rested his elbows on the table, and his forehead upon his two fists, and in that attitude deliberated with himself upon the means of remedying this misfortune.

As he was not distracted by a vast number of ideas he soon concluded that his best expedient would be to employ the clerk of the parish, who he knew was a great scholar, to write another epistle according to the directions he should give him; and never dreaming that the mangled original would in the least facilitate this scheme, he very wisely committed it to the flames, that it might never rise up in judgment against him.

Having taken this wise step, he went in quest of the scribe, to whom he communicated his business, and promised a full pot by way of gratification. The clerk, who was also schoolmaster, proud of an opportunity to distinguish his talents, readily undertook the task; and repairing with his employer to the inn, in less than a quarter of an hour produced a morsel of eloquence so much to the satisfaction of Pipes, that he squeezed his hand by way of acknowledgment, and doubled his allowance of beer. This being discussed, our courier betook himself to the house of Mrs. Gauntlet with the haunch of venison and this succedaneous letter, and delivered his message to the mother, who received it with great respect, and many kind inquiries about the health and welfare of his master, attempting to tip the messenger a crown, which he absolutely refused to accept, in consequence of Mr. Pickle’s repeated caution. While the old gentlewoman turned to a servant in order to give directions about the disposal of the present, Pipes looked upon this as a favourable occasion to transact his business with Emilia, and therefore shutting one eye, with a jerk of his thumb towards his left shoulder, and a most significant twist of his countenance he beckoned the young lady into another room as if he had been fraught with something of consequence, which he wanted to impart. She understood the hint, howsoever strangely communicated, and, by stepping to one side of the room gave him an opportunity of slipping the epistle into her hand, which be gently squeezed at the same time in token of regard: then throwing a side-glance at the mother, whose back was turned, clapped his finger on the side of his nose, thereby recommending secrecy and discretion.

Emilia, conveying the letter into her bosom, could not help smiling at Tom’s politeness and dexterity; but lest her mamma should detect him in the execution of his pantomime, she broke off this intercourse of signs, by asking aloud when he proposed to set out on his return to Winchester? When he answered, “To-morrow morning.” Miss Gauntlet recommended him to the hospitality of her own footman, desiring him to make much of Mr. Pipes below, where he was kept to supper, and very cordially entertained. Our young heroine, impatient to read her lover’s billet, which made her heart throb with rapturous expectation, retired to her chamber as soon as possible, with a view of perusing the contents, which were these:—

“Divine Empress Of My Soul,— If the refulgent flames of your beauty had not evaporated the particles of my transported brain, and scorched my intellects into a cinder of stolidity, perhaps the resplendency of my passion might shine illustrious through the sable curtain of my ink, and in sublimity transcend the galaxy itself, though wafted on the pinions of a gray goose quill! But, ah! celestial enchantress! the necromancy of thy tyrannical charms hath fettered my faculties with adamantine chains, which, unless thy compassion shall melt I must eternally remain in the Tartarean gulf of dismal despair. Vouchsafe, therefore, O thou brightest luminary of this terrestrial sphere! to warm, as well as shine; and let the genial rays of thy benevolence melt the icy emanations of thy disdain, which hath frozen up the spirits of angelic pre-eminence.— Thy most egregious admirer and superlative slave,
“Peregrine Pickle.”

Never was astonishment more perplexing than that of Emilia, when she read this curious composition, which she repeated verbatim three times before she would credit the evidence of her own senses. She began to fear in good earnest that love had produced a disorder in her lover’s understanding; but after a thousand conjectures by which she attempted to account for this extraordinary fustian of style, she concluded that it was th............

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