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Chapter 78

He projects a violent Scheme, in consequence of which he is involved in a most fatiguing Adventure, which greatly tends towards the Augmentation of his Chagrin.

Thus debarred of personal communication with his mistress, he essayed to retrieve her good graces by the most submissive and pathetic letters, which he conveyed by divers artifices to her perusal; but, reaping no manner of benefit from these endeavours, his passion acquired a degree of impatience little inferior to downright frenzy; and he determined to run every risk of life, fortune, and reputation, rather than desist from his unjustifiable pursuit. Indeed, his resentment was now as deeply concerned as his love, and each of these passions equally turbulent and loud in demanding gratification. He kept sentinels continually in pay, to give him notice of her outgoings, in expectation of finding some opportunity to carry her off; but her circumspection entirely frustrated this design, for she suspected everything of that sort from a disposition like his, and regulated her motions accordingly.

Baffled by her prudence and penetration, he altered his plan. On pretence of being called to his country house by some affair of importance, he departed from London, and, taking lodgings at a farmer’s house that stood near the road through which she must have necessarily passed in her return to her mother, concealed himself from all intercourse, except with his valet-de-chambre and Pipes, who had orders to scour the country, and reconnoitre every horse, coach, or carriage, that should appear on that highway, with a view of intercepting his Emilia in her passage.

He had waited in this ambuscade a whole week, when his valet gave him notice, that he and his fellow-scout had discovered a chaise-and-six, driving at full speed towards them; upon which they had flapped their hats over their eyes, so as they might not be known, in case they should be seen, and concealed themselves behind a hedge, from whence they could perceive in the carriage, as it passed, a young man plainly dressed, with a lady in a mask, of the exact size, shape, and air of Emilia; and that Pipes followed them at a distance, while he rode back to communicate this piece of intelligence.

Peregrine would scarce allow him time to conclude his information. He ran down to the stable, where his horse was kept ready saddled for the purpose, and, never doubting that the lady in question was his mistress, attended by one of her uncle’s clerks, mounted immediately, and rode full gallop after the chaise, which, when he had proceeded about two miles, he understood from Pipes, had put up at a neighbouring inn. Though his inclination prompted him to enter her apartment without further delay, he suffered himself to be dissuaded from taking such a precipitate step, by his privy counsellor, who observed, that it would be impracticable to execute his purpose of conveying her against her will from a public inn, that stood in the midst of a populous village, which would infallibly rise in her defence. He advised him therefore to be in wait for the chaise, in some remote and private part of the road, where they might accomplish their aim without difficulty or danger. In consequence of this admonition our adventurer ordered Pipes to reconnoitre the inn, that she might not escape another way, while he and the valet, in order to avoid being seen, took a circuit by an unfrequented path, and placed themselves in ambush, on a spot which they chose for the scene of their achievement. Here they tarried a full hour, without seeing the carriage, or hearing from their sentinel. So that the youth, unable to exert his patience one moment longer, left the foreigner in his station, and rode back to his faithful lacquey, who assured him, that the travellers had not yet hove up their anchor, or proceeded on their voyage.

Notwithstanding this information, Pickle began to entertain such alarming suspicions, that he could not refrain from advancing to the gate, and inquire for the company which had lately arrived in a chaise-and-six. The innkeeper, who was not at all pleased with the behaviour of those passengers, did not think proper to observe the instructions he had received: on the contrary, he plainly told him, that the chaise did not halt, but only entered at one door, and went out at the other, with a view to deceive those who pursued it, as he guessed from the words of the gentleman, who had earnestly desired that his route might be concealed from any person who should inquire about their motions. “As for my own peart, measter,” continued this charitable publican, “I believes as how they are no better than they should be, else they wouldn’t be in such a deadly fear of being overtaken. Methinks, said I, when I saw them in such a woundy pother to be gone, oddsheartlikins! this must be some London ‘prentice running away with his measter’s daughter, as sure as I’m a living soul. But, be he who he will, sartain it is, a has nothing of the gentleman about en; for, thof a asked such a favour, a never once put hand in pocket, or said, ‘Dog, will you drink?’ Howsomever, that don’t argufy in reverence of his being in a hurry; and a man may be sometimes a little too judgmatical in his conjectures.” In all probability, this loquacious landlord would have served the travellers effectually, had Peregrine heard him to an end; but this impetuous youth, far from listening to the sequel of his observations, interrupted him in the beginning of his career, by asking eagerly which road they followed; and, having received the innkeeper’s directions, clapped spurs to his horse, commanding Pipes to make the valet acquainted with the course, that they might attend him with all imaginable despatch.

By the publican’s account of their conduct, his former opinion was fully confirmed. He plied his steed to the height of his mettle; and so much was his imagination engrossed by the prospect of having Emilia in his power, that he did not perceive the road on which he travelled was quite different from that which led to the habitation of Mrs. Gauntlet. The valet-de-chambre was an utter stranger to that part of the country; and, as for Mr. Pipes, such considerations were altogether foreign to the economy of his reflection.

Ten long miles had our hero rode, when his eyes were blessed with the sight of the chaise ascending an hill, at the distance of a good league; upon which he doubled his diligence in such a manner, that he gained upon the carriage every minute, and at length approached so near to it, that he could discern the lady and her conductor, with their heads thrust out at the windows, looking back, and speaking to the driver alternately, as if they earnestly besought him to augment the speed of his cattle.

Being thus, as it were, in sight of port, while he crossed the road, his horse happened to plunge into a cart-rut with such violence, that he was thrown several yards over his head; and, the beast’s shoulder being slipped by the fall, he found himself disabled from plucking the fruit, which was almost within his reach; for he had left his servants at a considerable distance behind him; and although they had been at his back, and supplied him with another horse, they were so indifferently mounted, that he could not reasonably expect to overtake the flyers, who profited so much by this disaster that the chaise vanished in a moment.

It may be easily conceived how a young man of his disposition passed his time, in this tantalizing situation. He ejaculated with great fervency; but his prayers were not the effects of resignation. He ran back on foot, with incredible speed, in order to meet his valet, whom he unhorsed in a twinkling, and, taking his seat, began to exercise his whip and spurs, after having ordered the Swiss to follow him on the other gelding, and committed the lame hunter to the care of Pipes.

Matters being adjusted in this manner, our adventurer prosecuted the race with all his might; and, having made some progress, was informed by a countryman, that the chaise had struck off into another road, and, according to his judgment, was by that time about three miles ahead; though, in all probability, the horses would not be able to hold out much longer, because they seemed to be quite spent when they passed his door. Encouraged by this intimation, Peregrine pushed on with great alacrity, though he could not regain sight of the desired object, till the clouds of night began to deepen, and even then he enjoyed nothing more than a transient glimpse; for the carriage was no sooner seen, than shrouded again from his view. These vexatious circumstances animated his endeavour............

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