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Chapter 87

Peregrine sets out for the Garrison, and meets with a Nymph of the Road, whom he takes into Keeping, and metamorphoses into a fine Lady.

In the meantime, our hero jogged along in a profound reverie, which was disturbed by a beggar-woman and her daughter, who solicited him for alms, as he passed them on the road. The girl was about the age of sixteen, and, notwithstanding the wretched equipage in which she appeared, exhibited to his view a set of agreeable features, enlivened with the complexion of health and cheerfulness. The resolution I have already mentioned was still warm in his imagination; and he looked upon this young mendicant as a very proper object for the performance of his vow. He, therefore, entered into a conference with the mother, and for a small sum of money purchased her property in the wench, who did not require much courtship and entreaty, before she consented to accompany him to any place that he should appoint for her habitation.

This contract being settled to his satisfaction, he ordered Pipes to seat his acquisition behind him upon the crupper, and, alighting at the first public-house which they found upon the road, he wrote a letter to Hatchway, desiring him to receive this hedge inamorata, and direct her to be cleaned and clothed in a decent manner, with all expedition, so that she should be touchable upon his arrival, which, on that account, he would defer for the space of one day. This billet, together with the girl, he committed to the charge of Pipes, after having laid strong injunctions upon him to abstain from all attempts upon her chastity, and ordered him to make the best of his way to the garrison, while he himself crossed the country to a market town, where he proposed to spend the night.

Tom, thus cautioned, proceeded with his charge, and, being naturally taciturn, opened not his lips, until he had performed the best half of his journey. But Thomas, notwithstanding his irony appearance, was in reality composed of flesh and blood. His desire being titillated by the contact of a buxom wench, whose right arm embraced his middle as he rode, his thoughts began to mutiny against his master, and he found it almost impossible to withstand the temptation of making love. Nevertheless, he wrestled with these rebellious suggestions with all the reason that Heaven had enabled him to exert; and that being totally overcome, his victorious passion suddenly broke out in this address:

“‘Sblood! I believe master thinks I have no more stuff in my body than a dried haddock, to turn me adrift in the dark with such a spanker. D’ye think he don’t, my dear?” To this question his fellow-traveller replied, “Swanker anan!” And the lover resumed his suit, saying, “Oons! how you tickle my timber! Something shoots from your arm, through my stowage, to the very keelstone. Han’t you got quicksilver in your hand?”—“Quicksilver!” said the lady, “d — n the silver that has crossed my hand this month; d’ye think, if I had silver, I shouldn’t buy me a smock?”—“Adsooks! you baggage,” cried the lover, “you shouldn’t want a smock nor a petticoat neither, if you could have a kindness for a true-hearted sailor, as sound and strong as a nine-inch cable, that would keep all clear above board, and everything snug under the hatches.”—“Curse your gum!” said the charmer, “what’s your gay balls and your hatches to me?”—“Do but let us bring-to a little,” answered the wooer, whose appetite was by this time whetted to a most ravenous degree, “and I’ll teach you to box the compass, my dear. Ah! you strapper, what a jolly b — you are!”—“B—!” exclaimed this modern dulcinea, incensed at the opprobrious term; “such a b — as your mother, you dog! D— you, I’ve a good mind to box your jaws instead of your comepiss. I’ll let you know, as how I am meat for your master, you saucy blackguard. You are worse than a dog, you old flinty-faced, flea-bitten scrub. A dog wears his own coat, but you wear your master’s.”

Such a torrent of disgraceful epithets from a person who had no clothes at all, converted the gallant’s love into choler, and he threatened to dismount and seize her to a tree, when she should have a taste of his cat-o’-nine-tails athwart her quarters; but, instead of being intimidated by his menaces, she set him at defiance, and held forth with such a flow of eloquence, as would have entitled her to a considerable share of reputation, even among the nymphs of Billingsgate; for this young lady, over and above a natural genius for altercation, had her talents cultivated among the venerable society of weeders, podders, and hoppers, with whom she had associated from her tender years. No wonder, then, that she soon obtained a complete victory over Pipes, who, as the reader may have observed, was very little addicted to the exercise of speech. Indeed, he was utterly disconcerted by her volubility of tongue; and, being altogether unfurnished with answers to the distinct periods of her discourse, very wisely chose to save himself the expense of breath and argument, by giving her a full swing of cable, so that she might bring herself up; while he rode onwards, in silent composure, without taking any more notice of his fair fellow-traveller, than if she had been his master’s cloak-bag.

In spite of all the despatch he could make, it was late before he arrived at the garrison, where he delivered the letter and the lady to the lieutenant, who no sooner understood the intention of his friend, than he ordered all the tubs in the house to be carried into the hall, and filled with water. Tom having provided himself with swabs and brushes, divested the fair stranger of her variegated drapery, which was immediately committed to the flames, and performed upon her soft and sleek person the ceremony of scrubbing, as it is practised on board of the king’s ships of war. Yet the nymph herself did not submit to this purification without repining. She cursed the director, who was upon the spot, with many abusive allusions to his wooden leg; and as for Pipes the operator, she employed her talons so effectually upon his face, that the blood ran over his nose in sundry streams; and next morning, when those rivulets were dry, his countenance resembled the rough bark of a plum-tree, plastered with gum. Nevertheless, he did his duty with great perseverance, cut off her hair close to the scalp, handled his brushes with dexterity, applied his swabs of different magnitude and texture, as the case required; and, lastly, rinsed the whole body with a dozen pails of cold water, discharged upon her head.

These ablutions being executed, he dried her with towels, accommodated her with a clean shift, and, acting the part of a valet-de-chambre, clothed her from head to foot, in clean and decent apparel which had belonged to Mrs. Hatchway; by which means her appearance was altered so much for the better, that when Peregrine arrived next day, he could scarce believe his own eyes. He was, for that reason, extremely well pleased with his purchase, and now resolved to indulge a whim, which seized him at the very instant of his arrival.

He had, as I believe the reader will readily allow, made considerable progress in the study of character, from the highest rank to the most humble station of life, and found it diversified in the same manner, through every degree of subordination and precedency: nay, he moreover observed, that the conversation of those who are dignified with the appellation of polite company, is neither more edifying nor entertaining than that which is met with among the lower classes of mankind; and that the only essential difference, in point of demeanour, is the form of an education, which the meanest capacity can acquire, without much study or application. Possessed of this notion, he determined to take the young mendicant under his own tutorage and instruction. In consequence of which, he hoped he should, in a few weeks, be able to produce her in company, as an accomplished young lady of uncommon wit, and an excellent understanding.

This extravagant plan he forthwith began to execute with great eagerness and industry; and his endeavours succeeded even beyond his expectation. The obstacle, in surmounting of which he found the greatest difficulty, was an inveterate habit of swearing, which had been indulged from her infancy, and confirmed by the example of those among whom she had lived. However, she had the rudiments of good sense from nature, which taught her to listen to wholesome advice, and was so docile as to comprehend and retain the lessons which her governor recommended to her attention; insomuch, that he ventured, in a few days, to present her at table, among a set of country squires, to whom she was introduced as niece to the lieutenant. In that capacity she sat with becoming easiness of mien, for she was as void of the mauvaise honte as any duchess in the land; bowed very graciously to the compliments of the gentlemen; and though she said little or nothing, because she was previously cautioned on that score, she more than once gave way to laughter, and her mirth happened ............

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