Gamaliel Pickle is the son of a prosperous London merchant who bequeaths his son a fortune of no small degree. Later, having lost a part of his inheritance in several unsuccessful ventures of his own, Gamaliel prudently decides to retire from business and to live on the interest of his fortune rather than risk his principal in the uncertainties of trade. With his sister Grizzle, who kept his house for him since his father’s death, he goes to live in a mansion in the country.
In the region to which he retires, Gamaliel’s nearest neighbor is Commodore Hawser Trunnion, an old sea dog who keeps his house like a seagoing ship and who possesses an endless list of quarterdeck oaths to be used on any occasion against anyone who offends him. Other members of his household are Lieutenant Hatchway, a one-legged veteran, and a seaman named Tom Pipes.
Shortly after he settles in his new home, Gamaliel meets Sally Appleby, the daughter of a gentleman in a nearby parish. After a brief courtship, the two are married. Before long, Gamaliel discovers that his wife is determined to dominate him completely. Sally takes such a dislike to Grizzle that she tries in every way possible to embarrass and humiliate her sister-in-law. During Sally’s pregnancy Peregrine, the oldest son of the ill-starred union, Grizzle realizes that she is no longer wanted in her brother’s household, and she begins a campaign to win the heart of old Commodore Trunnion.
Ignoring his distrust of women in general, she wins out at last over his obstinacy. The wedding is not without humor; on his way to the church, the Commodore’s horse runs away with him and carries him eleven miles with a hunting party. Upset by his experience, he insists that the postponed ceremony be performed in his own house. The wedding night is also not without excitement: The ship’s hammocks, in which the bride and groom are to sleep, collapse and drop them to the floor. The next morning, wholly indifferent to her husband’s displeasure, Grizzle proceeds to refurnish and reorganize the Commodore’s house according to her own notions.
In order to silence his protests, Grizzle pretends to be pregnant. The Commodore’s hopes for an heir, however, are short-lived; his wife employs her ruse only to make herself absolute mistress of the Trunnion household. Lacking an heir of his own, the gruff but kindly old seaman turns his attention to young Peregrine, his nephew and godson. Peregrine is an unfortunate child. While he is still very young, his mother takes an unnatural and profound dislike to him, and the boy is often wretched from the harsh treatment he receives. Under the influence of his wife, weak-willed Gamaliel does little to improve the unhappy situation. As a result, Peregrine grows into a headstrong, rebellious boy who shows his high spirits in pranks that mortify and irritate his parents. He is sent away to school, and he rebels against his foolish and hypocritical teachers; at last, he writes to the Commodore to request removal from the school. The Commodore feels pity for the boy and admires his spirit of independence, so he takes him out of school and adopts him as his son and heir.
When Peregrine’s pranks and escapades become more than his indulgent uncle can stand, the boy is sent to Winchester School. Pipes accompanies him as his servant. Mindful of his uncle’s kindness, Peregrine studies and makes steady progress until he meets Emilia Gauntlet and falls in love with her. Emilia is visiting in Winchester; her home is in a village about a day’s journey away. Peregrine’s infatuation is so great that soon after she returns home, he runs away from school and takes lodgings in the village in order to be near her. His absence is reported by the school authorities, and Hatchway is sent to look for him. The boy is summoned to visit his uncle, who is alarmed by his heir’s interest in a penniless young woman. Peregrine’s mother grows even more spiteful, and his father disowns him for his youthful folly. Indignant at the parents’ harsh treatment of their son, the Commodore sends Peregrine to Oxford to continue his studies. There he encounters Emilia again and renews his courtship. Hoping to make a good match for...
(The entire section is 1725 words.)