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Chapter 47

Peregrine makes himself Merry at the Expense of the Painter, who curses his Landlady, and breaks with the Doctor.

As he could easily conceive the situation of his companion in adversity, he was unwilling to leave the place until he had reaped some diversion from his distress, and with that view repaired to the dungeon of the afflicted painter, to which he had by this time free access. When he entered, the first object that presented itself to his eye was so uncommonly ridiculous, that he could scarce preserve that gravity of countenance which he had affected in order to execute the joke he had planned. The forlorn Pallet sat upright in his bed in a deshabille that was altogether extraordinary. He had laid aside his monstrous hoop, together with his stays, gown, and petticoat, wrapped his lappets about his head by way of nightcap, and wore his domino as a loose morning-dress; his grizzled locks hung down about his lack-lustre eyes and tawny neck, in all the disorder of negligence; his gray beard bristled about half-an-inch through the remains of the paint with which his visage had been bedaubed, and every feature of his face was lengthened to the most ridiculous expression of grief and dismay.

Seeing Peregrine come in, he started up in a sort of frantic ecstasy, and, running towards him with open arms, no sooner perceived the woeful appearance into which our hero had modelled his physiognomy, than he stopped short all of a sudden, and the joy which had begun to take possession of his heart was in a moment dispelled by the most rueful presages; so that he stood in a most ludicrous posture of dejection, like a malefactor at the Old Bailey, when sentence is about to be pronounced. Pickle, taking him by the hand, heaved a profound sigh; and after having protested that he was extremely mortified at being pitched upon as the messenger of bad news, told him, with an air of sympathy and infinite concern, that the French court, having discovered his sex, had resolved, in consideration of the outrageous indignity he offered in public to a prince of the blood, to detain him in the Bastille a prisoner for life; and that this sentence was a mitigation obtained by the importunities of the British ambassador, the punishment ordained by law being no other than breaking alive upon the wheel.

These tidings aggravated the horrors of the painter to such a degree that he roared aloud, and skipped about the room in all the extravagance of distraction, taking God and man to witness, that he would rather suffer immediate death than endure one year’s imprisonment in such a hideous place; and cursing the hour of his birth, and the moment on which he departed from his own country. “For my own part,” said his tormentor, in a hypocritical tone, “I was obliged to swallow the bitter pill of making submission to the prince, who, as I had not presumed to strike him, received acknowledgments, in consequence of which I shall be this day set at liberty; and there is even one expedient left for the recovery of your freedom — it is, I own, a disagreeable remedy, but one had better undergo a little mortification than be for ever wretched. Besides, upon second thoughts, I begin to imagine that you will not for such a trifle sacrifice yourself to the unceasing horrors of a dungeon; especially as your condescension will in all probability be attended with advantages which you could not otherwise enjoy.” Pallet, interrupting him with great eagerness, begged for the love of God that he would no longer keep him in the torture of suspense, but mention that same remedy, which he was resolved to follow, let it be ever so unpalatable.

Peregrine, having thus played upon his passions of fear and hope, answered, “that as the offence was committed in the habit of a woman, which was a disguise unworthy of the other sex, the French court was of opinion that the delinquent should be reduced to the neuter gender; so that there was no alternative at his own option, by which he had it in his power to regain immediate freedom.”—“What!” cried the painter, in despair, “become a singer? Gadzooks! and the devil and all that! I’ll rather be still where I am, and let myself be devoured by vermin.” Then thrusting out his throat —“Here is my windpipe,” said he; “be so good, my dear friend, as to give it a slice or two: if you don’t, I shall one of these days be found dangling in my garters. What an unfortunate rascal I am! What a blockhead, and a beast, and a fool, was I to trust myself among such a barbarous ruffian race! Lord forgive you, Mr. Pickle, for having been the immediate cause of my disaster. If you had stood by me from the beginning, according to your promise, I should not have been teased by that coxcomb who has brought me to this pass. And why did I put on this d — d unlucky dress? Lord curse that chattering Jezebel of a landlady, who advised such a preposterous disguise!— a disguise which has not only brought me to this pass, but also rendered me abominable to myself, and frightful to others; for when I this morning signified to the turnkey that I wanted to be shaved, he looked at my beard with astonishment, and, crossing himself, muttered his Pater Noster, believing me, I suppose, to be a witch, or something worse. And Heaven confound that loathsome banquet of the ancients, which provoked me to drink too freely, that I might wash away the taste of that accursed sillikicaby.”

Our young gentleman, having heard this lamentation to an end, excused himself for his conduct by representing that he could not possibly foresee the disagreeable consequences that attended it; and in the mean time strenuously counselled him to submit to the terms of his enlargement. He observed that he was now arrived at that time of life when the lusts of the flesh should be entirely mortified within him, and his greatest concern ought to be the of his soul, to which nothing could more effectually contribute than the amputation which was proposed; that his body, as well as his mind, would profit by the change; because he would have no dangerous appetite to gratify, and no carnal thoughts to divert him from the duties of his profession; and his voice, which was naturally sweet, would improve to such a degree, that he would captivate the ears of all the people of fashion and taste, and in a little time be celebrated under the appellation of the English Senesino.

These arguments did not fail to make impression upon the painter, who nevertheless started two objections to his compliance; namely, the disgrace of the punishment, and the dread of his wife. Pickle undertook to obviate these difficulties, by assuring him that the sentence would be executed so privately as never to transpire: and that his wife could not be so unconscionable, after so many years of cohabitation, as to take exceptions to an expedient by which she would not only enjoy the conversation of her husband, but even the fruits of those talents which the knife would so remarkably refine.

Pallet shook his hand at this last remonstrance, as if he thought it would not be altogether convincing to his spouse, but yielded to the proposal, provided her consent could be obtained. Just as he signified this condescension, the jailer entered, and addressing himself to the supposed lady, expressed his satisfaction in having the honour to tell her that she was no longer a prisoner. As the painter did not understand one word of what he said, Peregrine undertook the office of interpreter, and............

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