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Chapter 80

He returns to London, and meets with Cadwallader, who entertains him with many curious Particulars — Crabtree sounds the Duchess, and undeceives Pickle, who, by an extraordinary Accident, becomes acquainted with another Lady of Quality.

The young gentleman having performed these last offices in honour of his deceased benefactor, and presented Mr. Jolter to the long-expected living, which at this time happened to be vacant, returned to London, and resumed his former gaiety: not that he was able to shake Emilia from his thought, or even to remember her without violent emotions; for, as he recovered his vigour, his former impatience recurred, and therefore he resolved to plunge himself headlong into some intrigue, that might engage his passions and amuse his imagination.

A man of his accomplishments could not fail to meet with a variety of subjects on which his gallantry would have been properly exercised; and this abundance distracted his choice, which at any time was apt to be influenced by caprice and whim. I have already observed, that he had lifted his view, through a matrimonial perspective, as high as a lady of the first quality and distinction: and now, that he was refused by Miss Gauntlet, and enjoyed a little respite from the agonies of that flame which her charms had kindled in his heart, he renewed his assiduities to her grace. Though he durst not yet risk an explanation, he enjoyed the pleasure of seeing himself so well received in quality of a particular acquaintance, that he flattered himself with the belief of his having made some progress in her heart; and was confirmed in this conceited notion by the assurances of her woman, whom, by liberal largesses, he retained in his interest, because she found means to persuade him that she was in the confidence of her lady. But, notwithstanding this encouragement, and the sanguine suggestions of his own vanity, he dreaded the thoughts of exposing himself to her ridicule and resentment by a premature declaration. and determined to postpone his addresses, until he should be more certified of the probability of succeeding in his attempt.

While he remained in this hesitation and suspense, he was one morning very agreeably surprised with the appearance of his friend Crabtree, who, by the permission of Pipes, to whom he was well known, entered his chamber before he was awake, and, by a violent shake of the shoulder, disengaged him from the arms of sleep. The first compliments having mutually passed, Cadwallader gave him to understand, that he had arrived in town overnight in the stage-coach from Bath, and entertained him with such a ludicrous account of his fellow-travellers, that Peregrine, for the first time since their parting, indulged himself in mirth, even to the hazard of suffocation.

Crabtree, having rehearsed these adventures, in such a peculiarity of manner as added infinite ridicule to every circumstance, and repeated every scandalous report which had circulated at Bath, after Peregrine’s departure, was informed by the youth, that he harboured a design upon the person of such a duchess, and in all appearance had no reason to complain of his reception; but that he would not venture to declare himself, until he should be more ascertained of her sentiments; and therefore he begged leave to depend upon the intelligence of his friend Cadwallader, who, he knew, was admitted to her parties.

The misanthrope, before he would promise his assistance, asked if his prospect verged towards matrimony; and our adventurer, who guessed the meaning of his question, replying in the negative, he undertook the office of reconnoitring her inclination, protesting at the same time, that he would never concern himself in any scheme that did not tend to the disgrace and deception of all the sex. On these conditions he espoused the interest of our hero; and a plan was immediately concerted, in consequence of which they met by accident at her grace’s table. Pickle having staid all the forepart of the evening, and sat out all the company, except the misanthrope and a certain widow lady who was said to be in the secrets of my lady duchess, went away on pretence of an indispensable engagement, that Crabtree might have a proper opportunity of making him the subject of conversation.

Accordingly, he had scarce quitted the apartment, when this cynic, attending him to the door with a look of morose disdain, “Were I an absolute prince,” said he, “and that fellow one of my subjects, I would order him to be clothed in sackcloth, and he should drive my asses to water, that his lofty spirit might be lowered to the level of his deserts. The pride of a peacock is downright self-denial, when compared with the vanity of that coxcomb, which was naturally arrogant, but is now rendered altogether intolerable, by the reputation he acquired at Bath, for kicking a bully, outwitting a club of raw sharpers, and divers other pranks, in the execution of which he was more lucky than wise. But nothing has contributed so much to the increase of his insolence and self-conceit, as the favour he found among the ladies; ay, the ladies, madam: I care not who knows it: the ladies, who, to their honour be it spoken, never fail to patronize foppery and folly, provided they solicit their encouragement. And yet this dog was not on the footing of those hermaphroditical animals, who may be reckoned among the number of waiting-women, who air your shifts, comb your lap-dogs, examine your noses with magnifying glasses, in order to squeeze out the worms, clean your tooth-brushes, sweeten your handkerchiefs, and soften waste paper for your occasions. This fellow Pickle was entertained for more important purposes; his turn of duty never came till all those lapwings were gone to roost; then he scaled windows, leaped over garden walls, and was let in by Mrs. Betty in the dark. Nay, the magistrates of Bath complimented him with the freedom of the corporation, merely because, through his means, the waters had gained extraordinary credit; for every female of a tolerable appearance, that went thither on account of her sterility, got the better of her complaint, during his residence at Bath. And now the fellow thinks no woman can withstand his addresses. He had not been here three minutes, when I could perceive, with half an eye, that he had marked out your grace for a conquest,— I mean in an honourable way; though the rascal has impudence enough to attempt anything.”

So saying, he fixed his eyes upon the duchess, who, while her face glowed with indignation, turning to her confidant, expressed herself in these words: “Upon my life! I believe there is actually some truth in what this old ruffian says; I have myself observed that young fellow eyeing me with a very particular stare.”—“It is not to be at all wondered at,” said her friend, “that a youth of his complexion should be sensible to the charms of your grace! but I dare say he would not presume to entertain any but the most honourable and respectful sentiments.”—“Respectful sentiments!” cried my lady, with a look of ineffable disdain; “if I thought the fellow had assurance enough to think of me in any shape, I protest I would forbid him my house. Upon my honour, such instances of audacity should induce persons of quality to keep your small gentry at a greater distance; for they are very apt to grow impudent, upon the least countenance or encouragement.”

Cadwallader, satisfied with this declaration, changed the subject of discourse, and next day communicated his discovery to his friend Pickle, who upon this occasion felt the most stinging sensations of mortified pride, and resolved to quit his prospect with a good grace. Nor did the execution of this self-denying scheme cost him one moment’s uneasiness; for his heart had never been interested in the pursuit, and his vanity triumphed in the thoughts of manifesting his indifference. Accordingly, the very next time he visited her grace, his behaviour was remarkably frank, sprightly and disengaged; and the subject of love being artfully introduced by the widow, who had been directed to sound his inclinations, he rallied the passion with great ease and severity and made no scruple of declaring himself heart-whole. Though the duchess had resented his supposed affection, she was now offended at his insensibility, and even signified her disgust, by observing, that perhaps his attention to his own qualifications screened him from the impression of all other objects.

While he enjoyed this sarcasm, the meaning of which he could plainly discern, the company was joined by a certain virtuoso, who had gained free access to all the great families of the land, by his noble talent of gossiping and buffoonery. He was now in the seventy-fifth year of his age; his birth was so obscure, that he scarce knew his father’s name; his education suitable to the dignity of his descent; his character publicly branded with homicide, profligacy, and breach of trust; yet this man, by the happy inheritance of impregnable effrontery, and a lucky prostitution of all principle in rendering himself subservient to the appetites of the great, had attained to an independency of fortune, as well as to such a particular share of favour among the quality, that, although he was well known to have pimped for three generations of the nobility, there was not a lady of fashion in the kingdom who scrupled to admit him to her toilette, or even to be squired ............

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