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Chapter 34

He adjusts the Method of his Correspondence with Gauntlet; meets by accident with an Italian Charlatan, and a certain Apothecary, who proves to be a noted Character.

There the two friends adjusted the articles of a future correspondence; and Peregrine, having written a letter to his mistress, wherein he renewed his former vows of eternal fidelity, it was intrusted to the care of her brother, while Mr. Jolter, at the desire of his pupil, provided an elegant supper, and some excellent Burgundy, that they might spend this eve of his departure with the greater enjoyment.

Things being thus disposed, and a servant employed in laying the cloth, their ears were of a sudden invaded by a strange tumultuous noise in the next room, occasioned by the overthrow of tables, chairs, and glasses, with odd unintelligible exclamations in broken French, and a jargon of threats in the Welsh dialect. Our young gentlemen ran immediately into the apartment from whence this clamour seemed to proceed, and found a thin, meagre, swarthy figure, gasping, in all the agony of fear, under the hands of a squat, thick, hard-featured man, who collared him with great demonstrations of wrath, saying, “If you was as mighty a magician as Owen Glendower or the witch of Entor, look you, ay, ay, or as Paul Beor himself, I will meke pold, by the assistance of Got, and in his majesty’s name, to seize and secure, and confine and confront you, until such time as you suffer and endure and undergo the pains and penalties of the law, for your diabolical practices. Shentlements,” added he, turning to our adventurers, “I take you to witness, that I protest, and assert, and avow, that this person is as pig a necromancer as you would desire to behold; and I supplicate, and beseech, and entreat of you, that he may be prought pefore his petters, and compelled to give an account of his compact and commerce with the imps of darkness, look you; for, as I am a Christian soul, and hope for joyful resurrection, I have this plessed evening seen him perform such things as could not be done without the aid and instruction and connivance of the tevil.”

Gauntlet seemed to enter into the sentiments of this Welsh reformer, and actually laid hold on the delinquent’s shoulder, crying, “D— n the rascal! I’ll lay any wager that he’s a Jesuit; for none of his order travel without a familiar.” But Peregrine, who looked upon the affair in another point of view, interposed in behalf of the stranger, whom he freed from his aggressors, observing, that there was no occasion to use violence; and asked, in French, what he had done to incur the censure of the informer. The poor foreigner, more dead than alive, answered that he was an Italian charlatan, who had practised with some reputation in Padua, until he had the misfortune to attract the notice of the Inquisition, by exhibiting certain wonderful performances by his skill in natural knowledge, which that tribunal considered as the effects of sorcery, and persecuted him accordingly; so that he had been fain to make a precipitate retreat into France, where not finding his account in his talents, he was now arrived in England, with a view of practising his art in London; and that, in consequence of a specimen which he had given to a company below, the choleric gentleman had followed him up-stairs to his own apartment, and assaulted him in that inhospitable manner: he therefore earnestly begged that our hero would take him under his protection; and, if he entertained the least suspicion of his employing preternatural means in the operations of his art, he would freely communicate all the secrets in his possession.

The youth dispelled his apprehension by assuring him that he was in no danger of suffering for his art in England, where, if ever he should he questioned by the zeal of superstitious individuals, he had nothing to do but appeal to the justice of the peace, who would immediately acquit him of the charge, and punish his accusers for their impertinence and indiscretion.

He then told Gauntlet and the Welshman that the stranger had a good action against them for an assault, by virtue of an Act of Parliament, which makes it criminal for any person to accuse another of sorcery and witchcraft, these idle notions being now justly exploded by all sensible men. Mr. Jolter, who had by this time joined the company, could not help signifying his dissent from this opinion of his pupil, which he endeavoured to invalidate by the authority of Scripture, quotations from the Fathers, and the confession of many wretches who suffered death for having carried on correspondence with evil spirits together with the evidence of “Satan’s Invisible World,” and Moreton’s “History of Witchcraft.”

The soldier corroborated these testimonies by facts that had happened within the sphere of his own knowledge, and in particular mentioned the case of an old woman of the parish in which he was born, who used to transform herself into the shapes of sundry animals, and was at last killed by small shot in the character of a hare. The Welshman, thus supported, expressed his surprise at hearing that the legislature had shown such tenderness for criminals of so dark a hue, and offered to prove, by undeniable instances, that there was not a mountain in Wales which had not been, in his memory, the scene of necromancy and witchcraft. “Wherefore,” said he, “I am assuredly more than above astonished and confounded and concerned that the Parliament of Great Britain should, in their great wisdoms, and their prudence, and their penetration, give countenance and encouragement, look you, to the works of darkness and the empire of Pelzepup — ofer and apove the evidence of holy writ, and those writers who have been quoted by that aggurate and learned shentleman, we are informed, by profane history, of the pribbles and pranks of the old serpent, in the bortents and oragles of antiquity, as you will find in that most excellent historian Bolypius, and Titus Lifius; ay, and moreofer, in the Commentaries of Julius Caesar himself, who, as the ole world knows, was a most famous, and a most faliant, and a most wise, and a most prudent, and a most fortunate chieftain, and a most renowned orator; ay, and a most elegant writer to boot.”

Peregrine did not think proper to enter the lists of dispute with three such obstinate antagonists, but contented himself with saying that he believed it would be no difficult matter to impugn the arguments they had advanced; though he did not find himself at all disposed to undertake the task, which must of course break in upon the evening’s entertainment. He therefore invited the Italian to supper, and asked the same favour of his accuser, who seemed to have something curious and characteristic in his manner and disposition, resolving to make himself an eye-witness of those surprising feats which had given offence to the choleric Briton. This scrupulous gentleman thanked our hero for his courtesy, but declined communicating with the stranger until his character should be further explained; upon which his inviter, after some conversation with the charlatan, assured him that he would himself undertake for the innocence of his art; and then he was prevailed upon to favour them with his company.

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