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Chapter 40

Acquires a distinct Idea of the French Government — Quarrels with a Mousquetaire, whom he afterwards fights and vanquishes, after having punished him for interfering in his amorous Recreations.

Among many other instances of the same nature, I believe it will not be amiss to exhibit a few specimens of their administration, which happened during his abode at Paris; that those who have not the opportunity of observing for themselves, or are in danger of being influenced by misrepresentation, may compare their own condition with that of their neighbours, and do justice to the constitution under which they live.

A lady of distinguished character having been lampooned by some obscure scribbler, who could not be discovered, the ministry, in consequence of her complaint, ordered no fewer than five-and-twenty abbes to be apprehended and sent to the Bastille, on the maxim of Herod, when he commanded the innocents to be murdered, hoping that the principal object of his cruelty would not escape in the general calamity; and the friends of those unhappy prisoners durst not even complain of the unjust persecution, but shrugged up their shoulders, and in silence deplored their misfortune, uncertain whether or not they should ever set eyes on them again.

About the same time a gentleman of family, who had been oppressed by a certain powerful duke that lived in the neighbourhood, found means to be introduced to the king, who, receiving his petition very graciously, asked in what regiment he served; and when the memorialist answered that he had not the honour of being in the service, returned the paper unopened, and refused to hear one circumstance of his complaint; so that, far from being redressed, he remained more than ever exposed to the tyranny of his oppressors; nay, so notorious is the discouragement of all those who presume to live independent of court favour and connections that one of the gentlemen, whose friendship Peregrine cultivated, frankly owned he was in possession of a most romantic place in one of the provinces, and deeply enamoured of a country life; and yet he durst not reside upon his own estate, lest, by slackening in his attendance upon the great, who honoured him with their protection, he should fall a prey to some rapacious intendant.

As for the common people, they are so much inured to the scourge and insolence of power, that every shabby subaltern, every beggarly cadet of the noblesse, every low retainer to the court, insults and injures them with impunity. A certain ecuyer, or horsedealer, belonging to the king, being one day under the hands of a barber, who happened to cut the head of a pimple on his face, he started up, and drawing his sword, wounded him desperately in the shoulder. The poor tradesman, hurt as he was, made an effort to retire, and was followed by this barbarous assassin, who, not contented with the vengeance he had taken, plunged his sword a second time into his body, and killed him on the spot. Having performed this inhuman exploit, he dressed himself with great deliberation, and going to Versailles, immediately obtained a pardon for what he had done; triumphing in his brutality with such insolence, that the very next time he had occasion to be shaved he sat with his sword ready drawn, in order to repeat the murder, in case the barber should commit the same mistake. Yet so tamed are those poor people to subjection, that when Peregrine mentioned this assassination to his own trimmer, with expressions of horror and detestation, the infatuated wretch replied, that without all doubt it was a misfortune, but it proceeded from the gentleman’s passion; and observed, by way of encomium on the government, that such vivacity is never punished in France.

A few days after this outrage was committed, our youth, who was a professed enemy to all oppression, being in one of the first loges at the comedy, was eye-witness of an adventure which filled him with indignation: a tall, ferocious fellow, in the parterre, without the least provocation, but prompted by the mere wantonness of pride, took hold of the hat of a very decent young man who happened to stand before him, and twirled it round upon his head. The party thus offended turned to his aggressor, and civilly asked the reason of such treatment: but he received no answer; and when he looked the other way, the insult was repeated: upon which he expressed his resentment as became a man of spirit, and desired the offender to walk out with him. No sooner did he thus signify his intention, than his adversary, swelling with rage, cocked his hat fiercely in his face, and, fixing his hands in his sides, pronounced, with the most imperious tone, “Hark ye, Mr. Round Periwig, you must know that I am a mousquetaire.” Scarce had this awful word escaped from his lips, when the blood forsook the lips of the poor challenger, who, with the most abject submission, begged pardon for his presumption, and with difficulty obtained it, on condition that he should immediately quit the place. Having thus exercised his authority, he turned to one of his companions, and, with an air of disdainful ridicule, told him he was like to have had an affair with a bourgeois; adding, by way of heightening the irony, “Egad! I believe he is a physician.”

Our hero was so much shocked and irritated at this licentious behaviour, that he could not suppress his resentment, which he manifested by saying to this Hector, “Sir, a physician may be a man of honour.” To this remonstrance, which was delivered with a very significant countenance, the mousquetaire made no other reply, but that of echoing his assertion with a loud laugh, in which he was joined by his confederates. Peregrine, glowing with resentment, called him a fanfaron, and withdrew in expectation of being followed into the street. The other understood the hint; and a rencounter must have ensued had not the officer of the guard, who overheard what passed, prevented their meeting, by putting the mousquetaire immediately under arrest. Our young gentleman waited at the door of the parterre, until he was informed of this interposition, and then went home very much chagrined at his disappointment; for he was an utter stranger to fear and diffidence on those occasions, and had set his heart upon chastising the insolence of this bully, who had treated him with such disrespect.

This adventure was not so private but that it reached the ears of Mr. Jolter by the canal of some English gentlemen who were present when it happened; and the governor, who entertained a most dreadful idea of the mousquetaires, being alarmed at a quarrel, the consequence of which might be fatal to his charge, waited on the British ambassador, and begged he would take Peregrine under his immediate protection. His excellency, having heard the circumstances of the dispute, sent one of his gentlemen to invite the youth to dinner; and after having assured him that he might depend upon his countenance and regard, represented the rashness and impetuosity of his conduct so much to his conviction, that he promised to act more circumspectly for the future, and drop all thoughts of the mousquetaire from that moment.

A few days after he had taken this laudable resolution, Pipes, who had carried a billet to his mistress, informed him that he had perceived a laced hat lying upon a marble slab in her apartment; and that when she came out of her own chamber to receive the letter, she appeared in manifest disorder. From these hints of intelligence our young gentleman suspected, or rather made no doubt of, her infidelity; and being by this time well nigh cloyed with possession, was not sorry to find she had given him cause to renounce her correspondence. That he might therefore detect her in the very breach of duty, and at the same time punish the gallant who had the presumption to invade his territories, he concerted with himself a plan which was executed in this manner. During his next interview with his dulcinea, far from discovering the least sign of jealousy or discontent, he affected the appeara............

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