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Chapter 71

Peregrine humbles a noted Hector, and meets with a strange Character at the House of a certain Lady.

Among those who never failed to reside at Bath during the season, was a certain person, who, from the most abject misery, had, by his industry and art at play, amassed about fifteen thousand pounds; and though his character was notorious, insinuated himself so far into the favour of what is called the best company, that very few private parties of pleasure took place in which he was not principally concerned. He was of a gigantic stature, a most intrepid countenance; and his disposition, naturally overbearing, had, in the course of his adventures and success, acquired a most intolerable degree of insolence and vanity. By the ferocity of his features, and audacity of his behaviour, he had obtained a reputation for the most undaunted courage, which had been confirmed by divers adventures, in which he had humbled the most assuming heroes of his own fraternity; so that he now reigned chief Hector of the place with unquestioned authority.

With this son of fortune was Peregrine one evening engaged at play, and so successful, that he could not help informing his friend of his good luck. Godfrey, hearing the description of the loser, immediately recognized the person, whom he had known at Tunbridge; and, assuring Pickle that he was a sharper of the first water, cautioned him against any further connection with such a dangerous companion, who, he affirmed, had suffered him to win a small sum, that he might be encouraged to lose a much greater sum upon some other occasion.

Our young gentleman treasured up this advice; and though he did not scruple to give the gamester an opportunity of retrieving his loss, when he next day demanded his revenge, he absolutely refused to proceed after he had refunded his winning. The other, who considered him as a hot-headed unthinking youth, endeavoured to inflame his pride to a continuance of the game, by treating his skill with scorn and contempt; and, among other sarcastic expressions, advised him to go to school again, before he pretended to engage with masters of the art. Our hero, incensed at his arrogance, replied with great warmth, that he knew himself sufficiently qualified for playing with men of honour, who deal upon the square, and hoped he should always deem it infamous either to learn or practise the tricks of a professed gamester. “Blood and thunder! meaning me, sir?” cried this artist, raising his voice, and curling his visage into a most intimidating frown. “Zounds! I’ll cut the throat of any scoundrel who has the presumption to suppose that I don’t play as honourably as e’er a nobleman in the kingdom: and I insist upon an explanation from you, sir; or, by hell and brimstone! I shall expect other sort of satisfaction.” Peregrine (whose blood by this time boiled within him) answered without hesitation, “Far from thinking your demand unreasonable, I will immediately explain myself without reserve, and tell you, that, upon unquestionable authority, I believe you to be an impudent rascal and common cheat.”

The Hector was so amazed and confounded at the freedom of this declaration, which he thought no man on earth would venture to make in his presence, that, for some minutes, he could not recollect himself; but at length whispered a challenge in the ear of our hero, which was accordingly accepted. When they arrived next morning upon the field, the gamester, arming his countenance with all its terrors, advanced with a sword of a monstrous length, and, putting himself in a posture, called out aloud in a most terrific voice, “Draw, d — n ye, draw; I will this instant send you to your fathers.” The youth was not slow in complying with his desire; his weapon was unsheathed in a moment, and he began the attack with such unexpected spirit and address, that his adversary, having made shift with great difficulty to parry the first pass, retreated a few paces, and demanded a parley, in which he endeavoured to persuade the young man, that to lay a man of his character under the necessity of chastising his insolence, was the most rash and inconsiderate step that he could possibly have taken; but that he had compassion upon his youth, and was willing to spare him if he would surrender his sword, and promise to ask pardon in public for the offence he had given. Pickle was so much exasperated at this unparalleled effrontery, that, without deigning to make the least reply, he flung his own hat in the proposer’s face, and renewed the charge with such undaunted agility, that the gamester, finding himself in manifest hazard of his life, betook himself to his heels, and fled homewards with incredible speed, being closely pursued by Peregrine, who, having sheathed his sword, pelted him with stones as he ran, and compelled him to go, that same day, into banishment from Bath, where he had domineered so long.

By this achievement, which was the subject of astonishment to all the company, who had looked upon the fugitive as a person of heroic courage, our adventurer’s reputation was rendered formidable in all its circumstances; although he thereby disobliged a good many people of fashion, who had contracted an intimacy of friendship with the exile, and who resented his disgrace, as if it had been the misfortune of a worthy man. These generous patrons, however, bore a very small proportion to those who were pleased with the event of the duel; because, in the course of their residence at Bath, they had either been insulted or defrauded by the challenger. Nor was this instance of our hero’s courage unacceptable to the ladies, few of whom could now resist the united force of such accomplishments. Indeed, neither he nor his friend Godfrey would have found much difficulty in picking up an agreeable companion for life; but Gauntlet’s heart was pre-engaged to Sophy; and Pickle, exclusive of his attachment to Emily, which was stronger than he himself imagined, possessed such a share of ambition as could not be satisfied with the conquest of any female he beheld at Bath.

His visi............

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