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Chapter 59

Peregrine meets with Mrs. Hornbeck, and is consoled for his Loss — His Valet-de-chambre is embroiled with her Duenna, whom, however, he finds means to appease.

Everything having thus resumed its natural channel, they dined together in great tranquility. In the afternoon, Peregrine, on pretence of staying at home to write letters, while his companions were at the coffee-house, ordered a coach to be called, and, with his valet-de-chambre, who was the only person acquainted with the present state of his thoughts, set out for the promenade, to which all the ladies of fashion resort in the evening during the summer season, in hopes of seeing his fugitive among the rest.

Having made a circuit round the walk, and narrowly observed every female in the place, he perceived at some distance the livery of Hornbeck upon a lacquey that stood at the back of a coach; upon which he ordered his man to reconnoitre the said carriage, while he pulled up his glasses, that he might not be discovered before he should have received some intelligence by which he might conduct himself on this unexpected occasion, that already began to interfere with the purpose of his coming thither, though it could not dispute his attention with the idea of his charming unknown.

His Mercury, having made his observations, reported that there was nobody in the coach but Mrs. Hornbeck and an elderly woman, who had all the air of a duenna; and that the servant was not the same footman who had attended them in France. Encouraged by this information, our hero ordered himself to be driven close up to that side of their convenience on which his old mistress sat, and accosted her with the usual salutation. This lady no sooner beheld her gallant than her cheeks reddened with a double glow, and she exclaimed, “Dear brother, I am overjoyed to see you! Pray come into our coach.” He took the hint immediately, and, complying with her request, embraced this new sister with great affection.

Perceiving that her attendant was very much surprised and alarmed at this unexpected meeting, she, in order to banish her suspicion, and at the same time give her lover his cue, told him that his brother (meaning her husband) was gone to the Spa for a few weeks, by the advice of physicians, on account of his ill state of health; and that, from his last letter, she had the pleasure to tell him he was in a fair way of doing well. The young gentleman expressed his satisfaction at this piece of news; observing, with an air of fraternal concern, that if his brother had not made too free with his constitution, his friends in England would have had no occasion to repine at his absence and want of health, by which he was banished from his own country and connections. He then asked, with an affectation of surprise, why she had not accompanied her spouse, and was given to understand that his tenderness of affection would not suffer him to expose her to the fatigues of the journey, which lay among rocks that were almost inaccessible.

The duenna’s doubts being eased by this preamble of conversation, he changed the subject to the pleasures of the place; and, among other such questions, inquired if she had as yet visited Versailles. This is a public-house, situated upon the canal, at the distance of about two miles from town, and accommodated with tolerable gardens, for the entertainment of company. When she replied in the negative, he proposed to accompany her thither immediately; but the governante, who had hitherto sat silent, objected to this proposal; telling them, in broken English, that as the lady was under her care, she could not answer to Mr. Hornbeck for allowing her to visit such a suspicious place. “As for that matter, madam,” said the confident gallant, “give yourself no trouble; the consequences shall be at my peril; and I will undertake to insure you against my brother’s resentment.” So saying, he directed the coachman to the place, and ordered his own to follow, under the auspices of his valet-de-chambre; while the old gentlewoman, overruled by his assurance, quietly submitted to his authority.

Being arrived at the place, he handed the ladies from the coach, and then, for the first time, observed that the duenna was lame, a circumstance of which he did not scruple to take the advantage; for they had scarce alighted, and drunk a glass of wine, when he advised his sister to enjoy a walk in the garden; and although the attendant made shift to keep them almost always in view, they enjoyed a detached conversation, in which Peregrine learned that the true cause of her being left behind at Brussels, whilst her husband proceeded to Spa, was his dread of the company and famili............

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