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Chapter 91

Cadwallader acts the part of a Comforter to his Friend; and in his turn is consoled by Peregrine, who begins to find himself a most egregious Dupe.

This new misfortune, which he justly charged to the account of his own folly, recalled his chagrin; and though he endeavoured with all his might to conceal the affair from the knowledge of Cadwallader, that prying observer perceived his countenance overcast. The projector’s sudden disappearance alarming his suspicion, he managed his inquiries with so much art, that in a few days he made himself acquainted with every particular of the transaction, and resolved to gratify his spleen at the expense of the impatient dupe. With this view, he took an opportunity to accost him with a very serious air, saying a friend of his had immediate occasion for a thousand pounds, and as Peregrine had the exact sum lying by him, he would take it as a great favour if he would part with it for a few months on undoubted security. Had Pickle known the true motive of this demand, he would in all likelihood have made a very disagreeable answer; but Crabtree had wrappped himself up so securely in the dissimulation of his features, that the youth could not possibly penetrate into his intention; and in the most galling suspense replied, that the money was otherwise engaged. The misanthrope, not contented with this irritation, assumed the prerogative of a friend, and questioned him so minutely about the disposal of the cash, that, after numberless evasions, which cost him a world of torture to invent, he could contain his vexation no longer, but exclaimed in a rage, “D— your impertinence! ’tis gone to the devil, and that’s enough!”—“Thereafter, as it may be,” said this tormentor, with a most provoking indifference of aspect, “I should be glad to know upon what footing; for I suppose you have some expectation of advantage from that quarter.”—“’Sdeath! sir,” cried the impatient youth, “if I had any expectation from hell, I would make interest with you; for I believe, from my soul, you are one of its most favoured ministers upon earth.” With these words, he flung out of the room, leaving Cadwallader very well satisfied with the chastisement he had bestowed.

Peregrine having cooled himself with a solitary walk in the park, during which the violence of his choler gradually evaporated, and his reflection was called to a serious deliberation upon the posture of his affairs, he resolved to redouble his diligence and importunity with his patron and the minister, in order to obtain some sinecure, which would indemnify him for the damage he had sustained on their account. He accordingly went to his lordship and signified his demand, after having told him, that he had suffered several fresh losses, which rendered an immediate provision of that sort necessary to his credit and subsistence. His noble friend commended him for the regard he manifested for his own interest, which he considered as a proof of his being at last detached from the careless inadvertency of youth; he approved of his demand, which he assured him should be faithfully transmitted to the minister, and backed with all his influence; and encouraged his hope, by observing, that some profitable places were at that time vacant, and, so far as he knew, unengaged.

This conversation helped to restore the tranquility of Pickle’s breast, though he still harboured resentment against Cadwallader, on account of the last insult; and on the instant he formed a plan of revenge. He knew the misanthrope’s remittances from his estate in the country had been of late very scanty, in consequence of repairs and bankruptcies among his tenants; so that, in spite of all his frugality, he had been but barely able to maintain his credit, and even that was engaged on the strength of his running rent. Being therefore intimately acquainted with the particulars of his fortune, he wrote a letter to Crabtree, subscribed with the name of his principal farmer’s wife, importing that her husband being lately dead, and the greatest part of her cattle destroyed by the infectious distemper, she found herself utterly incapable of paying the rent which was due, or even of keeping the farm, unless he would, out of his great goodness, be pleased to give her some assistance, and allow her to sit free for a twelvemonth to come. This intimation he found means to convey by post from a market town adjoining to the farm, directed in the usual style to the cynic, who, seeing it stamped with the known marks, could not possibly suspect any imposition.

Hackneyed as he was in the ways of life, and steeled with his boasted stoicism, this epistle threw him into such an agony of vexation, that a double proportion of souring was visible in his aspect, when he was visited by the author, who, having observed and followed the postman at a proper distance, introduced a conversation upon his own disappointments, in which, among other circumstances of his own ill-luck, he told him, that his patron’s steward had desired to be excused from paying the last quarter of his interest precisely at the appointed term, for which reason he should be utterly void of cash, and therefore requested that Crabtree would accommodate him with an hundred pieces of his next remittance from the country.

This demand galled and perplexed the old man to such a degree, that the muscles of his face assumed a contraction peculiarly virulent, and exhibited the character of Diogenes with a most lively expression; he knew that a confession of his true situation would furnish Pickle with an opportunity to make reprisals upon him, with intolerable triumph; and that, by a downright refusal to supply his wants, he would for ever forfeit his friendship and esteem, and might provoke him to take ample vengeance for his sordid behaviour, by exposing him, in his native colours, to the resentment of those whom he had so long deceived. These considerations kept him some time in a most rancorous state of suspense, which Peregrine affected to misinterpret, by bidding him freely declare his suspicion, if he did not think it safe to comply with his request, and he would make shift elsewhere.

This seeming misconstruction increased the torture of the misanthrope, who, with the utmost irritation of feature, “Oons!” cried he, “what villainy have you noted in my conduct, that you treat me like a rascally usurer?” Peregrine very gravely replied, that the question needed no answer; “for,” said he, “had I considered you as a usurer, I would have come with a security under my arm; but, all evasion apart, will you stead me? will you pleasure me? shall I have the money?”—“Would it were in your belly, with a barrel of gunpowder!” exclaimed the enraged cynic; “since I must be excruciated, read that plaguy paper! ‘Sblood! why didn’t nature clap a pair of long ears and a tail upon me, that I might be a real ass, and champ thistles on some common, independent of my fellow-creatures? Would I were a worm, that I might creep into the earth, and thatch my habitation with a single straw; or rather a wasp or a viper, that I might make the rascally world feel my resentment. But why do I talk of rascality? folly, folly, is the scourge of life! Give me a scoundrel, so he be a sensible one, and I will put him in my heart of hearts! but a fool is more mischievous than famine, pestilence, and war. The idiotical hag that writes, or causes to be writ, this same letter, has ruined her family, and broke her husband’s heart, by ignorance and mismanagement; and she imputes her calamity to Providence with a vengeance; and so I am defrauded of three hundred pounds, the greatest part of which I owe to tradesmen, whom I have promised to pay this very quarter. Pox upon her! I would she were a horned beast, that the distemper might lay hold on her. The beldame has the impudence too, after she has brought me into this dilemma, to solicit my assistance to stock the farm anew! Before God, I have a good mind to send............

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