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Chapter 96

Peregrine, finding himself neglected by Sir Steady Steerwell, expostulates with him in a Letter; in consequence of which he is forbid his House, loses his Pension, and incurs the charge of Lunacy.

This prospect of success, together with his expectations from the minister, whom he did not neglect, helped to comfort him under the reverse of fortune which he had undergone, and the uncertainty of the lawsuit, which he still maintained for the recovery of his ten thousand pounds. The lawyers, indeed, continued to drain his pocket of money, while they filled his brain with unsubstantial hope; and he was actually obliged to borrow money from his bookseller, on the strength of the translation, in order to satisfy the demands of those ravenous harpies, rather than lay the misanthrope under any difficulties, or have recourse to his friend Hatchway, who lived at the garrison, entirely ignorant of his distress. This was not at all alleviated by the arrival of the Indiaman, in which he had ventured seven hundred pounds, as we have already observed; for he was given to understand, that the borrower was left dangerously ill at Bombay when the ship sailed, and that his chance for retrieving his money was extremely slender.

So situated, it is not to be supposed that he led a life of tranquility, though he made a shift to struggle with the remonstrances of misfortune. Yet such a gush of affliction would sometimes rush upon his thought, as overwhelmed all the ideas of his hope, and sunk him to the very bottom of despondence. Every equipage that passed him in the street, every person of rank and fortune that occurred to his view, recalled the gay images of his former life, with such mortifying reflection as stabbed him to the very soul. He lived, therefore, incessantly exposed to all the pangs of envy and disquiet. When I say envy, I do not mean that sordid passion, in consequence of which a man repines at his neighbour’s success, howsoever deserved: but that self-tormenting indignation which is inspired by the prosperity of folly, ignorance, and vice. Without the intervening gleams of enjoyment, which he felt in the conversation of a few friends, he could not have supported his existence; or, at least, he must have suffered some violent discomposure of the brain. But one is still finding some circumstance of alleviation, even in the worst of conjunctures, and Pickle was so ingenious in these researches, that he maintained a good battle with disappointment, till the revolution of the term at which he had received his pension of three hundred pounds.

However, seeing the day elapse without touching his allowance, notwithstanding his significant method of presenting himself at the minister’s levee, when the year was expired, he wrote a letter to Sir Steady, reminding him of his situation and promise, and giving him to understand, that his occasions were such as compelled him to demand his salary for the ensuing year. In the morning after this letter was conveyed, the author went to his honour’s house, in expectation of being admitted by particular order; but was mistaken in his hope, the minister not being visible. He then made his appearance at the levee, in hopes of being closeted; but, though he took all opportunities of watching Sir Steady’s eyes, he could not obtain one glance, and had the pleasure of seeing him retire, without being favoured with the least notice. These circumstances of wilful neglect were not over and above agreeable to our young hero, who, in the agonies of vexation and resentment, went home, and composed a most acrimonious remonstrance to his honour; in consequence of which he was not only deprived of all pretensions to a private audience, but expressly denied admittance on a public day, by Sir Steady’s own order.

This prohibition, which announced his total ruin, filled him with rage, horror, and despair. He insulted the porter who signified the minister’s command, threatening to chastise him upon the spot for his presumption, and vented the most virulent imprecations upon his master, to the astonishment of those who chanced to enter during this conference. Having exhausted himself in these vain exclamations, he returned to his lodgings in a most frantic condition, biting his lips so that the blood ran from his mouth, dashing his head and fists against the sides of his chimney, and weeping with the most bitter expressions of woe. Pipes, whose perception had been just sufficient to let him see that there was some difference between the present and former situation of his master, overhearing his transports, essayed to enter his apartment, with a view of administering consolation; and, finding the door locked on the inside, desired admittance, protesting, that otherwise he would down with the bulkhead in the turning of a handspike. Peregrine ordered him to retire, on pain of his displeasure, and swore, that if he should offer to break open the door, he would instantly shoot him through the head. Tom, without paying the least regard to this injunction, set himself at work immediately. His master, exasperated at his want of reverence and respect, which in his present paroxysm appeared with the most provoking aggravation, flew into his closet, and snatching up one of his pistols already loaded, no sooner saw his valet enter the apartment, in consequence of having forced the lock, than he presented it full at his face, and drew the trigger. Happily the priming flashed in the pan, without communicating with the charge; so that his furious purpose did not take effect upon the countenance of honest Pipes, who, disregardful of the attempt, though he knew the contents of the piece, asked, without the least alteration of feature, if it must be foul weather through the whole voyage.

Peregrine, mad as he was, repented of his mischievous intent against such a faithful adherent, in the very moment of execution; and had it proved fatal, according to the design, in all probability he would have applied another to his own head. There are certain considerations that strike upon the mind with irresistible force, even in the midst of its distraction; the momentary recollection of some particular scene, occasioned by the features of the devoted victim, hath often struck the dagger from the assassin’s hand. By such an impulse was Pipes protected from any repeated effort of his master’s rage; the friendly cause of his present disobedience flashed upon the conviction of Peregrine, when he beheld the rugged front of his valet, in which also stood disclosed his long and faithful service together with the recommendation of the deceased commodore. Though his wrath was immediately suppressed, and his heart torn with remorse for what he had done, his brows remained still contracted, and darting a most ferocious regard at the intruder, “Villain!” said he, “how dare you treat me with such disrespect?”

“Why shouldn’t I lend a hand for the preservation of the ship,” answered the unruffled Pipes, “when there is more sail than ballast aboard, and the pilot quits the helm in despair? What signifies one or two broken voyages, so long as our timbers are strong, and our vessel in good trim? If she loses upon one tack, mayhap she may gain upon t’other; and I’ll be d — d, if one day or other we don’t fetch up our leeway. As for the matter of provision, you have started a pretty good stock of money into my hold, and you are welcome to hoist it up again when you wool.”

Here Tom was interrupted by the arrival of Mr. Crabtree, who seeing Peregrine with a pistol in his hand, and such wild disorder in his looks, his head, hands, and mouth besmeared with blood, and, moreover, smelling the gunpowder which had been burnt, actually believed he had either committed, or was bent upon murder, and accordingly retreated down-stairs with infinite despatch. All his speed could not convey him without the reach of Pipes, who, overtaking him in his passage, carried him back into his master’s apartment, observing by the way, that this was no time to sheer off, when his consort stood in need of his assistance.

There was something so ruefully severe in the countenance of Cadwallader, thus compelled, that, at any other time, our hero would have laughed at his concern; but at the present there was nothing risible in his disposition. He had, however, laid aside his pistol, and endeavoured, though in vain, to compose his internal disturbance; for he could not utter one syllable to the misanthrope, but stood staring at him in silence, with a most delirious aspect. This did not tend to dispel the dismay of his friend, who, after some recollection, “I wonder,” said he, “that you have never killed your man before. Pray how may you have disposed of the body?” Pickle having recovered the faculty of speech, ordered his lacquey out of the room, and, in a most incoherent detail, made Crabtree acquainted with the perfidious conduct of the minister.

The confidant was very glad to find his fears disappointed; for he had really concluded that some life was lost. Perceiving the youth too much agitated to be treated by him in his usual style, he owned that Sir Steady was a rascal, and encouraged Pickle with the hope of being one day able to make reprisals upon him; in the mean time offered him money for his immediate occasions, exhorted him to exert his own qualifications in rendering himself independent of such miscreants, and finally counselled him to represent his wrongs to the nobleman whom he had formerly obliged, with a view of interesting that peer in his behalf or at least of obtaining a satisfactory explanation from the minister, that he might take no premature measures of revenge.

These admonitions were so much milder and more agreeable than our hero expected from the misanthrope, that they had a very favourable effect upon his transports, which gradually subsided, until he became so tractable as to promise that he would conform to his advice; in consequence of which, he next morning waited upon his lordship, who received him very politely, as usual, and with great patience heard his complaint, which, by the bye, he could not repeat without some hasty ebullitions of passionate resentment. This peer, after having gently disapproved of the letter of expostulation, which had produced such unfortunate effects, kindly undertook to recommend his case to the minister, and actually performed his promise that same day, when Sir Steady informed him, to his utter astonishment, that the poor young gentleman was disordered in his brain, so that he could not possibly be provided for in a place of importance, with any regard to the service; and it could not be expected that he (Sir Steady) would support his extravagance from his own private purse; that he had, indeed at the solicitation of a nobleman deceased, made him a present of three hundred pounds, in consideration of some loss that he pretended to have sustained in an election; but, since that time, had perceived in him such indisputable marks of lunacy, both by his distracted letters and personal behaviour, as obliged him to give order that he should not be admitted into the house. To corroborate this assertion, the minister actually called in the evidence of his own porter, and one of the gentlemen of his household, who had heard the execrations that escaped our youth, when he first found himself excluded. In short, the nobleman was convinced that Peregrine was certainly and bona fide mad as a March hare; and, by the help of this intimation, began to recollect some symptoms of distraction which appeared in his last visit; he remembered a certain incoherence in his speech, a violence of gesture and wildness of look, that now evidently denoted a disturbed understanding; and he determined, for his own credit and security, to disentangle himself from such a dangerous acquaintance.

With this view, he, in imitation of Sir Steady, commanded his gate to be shut against our adventurer; so that, when he went to know the result of his lordship’s conference with the minister, the door was flung in his face, and the janitor told him through an iron grate, that he needed not to give himself the trouble of calling again, for his lord desired to be excused from seeing him. He spoke not a word in answer to this declaration, which he immediately imputed to the ill offices of the minister, against whom he breathed defiance and revenge, in his way to the lodgings of Cadwallader; who, being made acquainted with the manner of his reception, begged he would desist from all schemes of vengeance, until he, Crabtree, should be able to unriddle the mystery of the whole, which he did not doubt of unveiling by means of his acquaintance with a family in which his lordship often spent the evening at whist.

It was not long before he had the desired opportunity: the nobleman being under no injunctions or obligation to keep the affair secret, discovered the young gentleman’s misfortune, by way of news, to the first company in which he happened to be; and Peregrine’s name was not so obscure in the fashionable world, but that his disorder became the general topic of conversation for a day; so that his friend soon partook of the intelligence, and found............

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