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Chapter 70

The two Friends eclipse all their Competitors in Gallantry, and practise a pleasant Project of Revenge upon the Physicians of the Place.

The fame of their exploit against the sharpers was immediately diffused through all the companies at Bath; so that, when our adventurers appeared in public, they were pointed out by an hundred extended fingers, and considered as consummate artists in all the different species of finesse, which they would not fail to practise with the first opportunity. Nor was this opinion of their characters any obstacle to their reception into the fashionable parties in the place; but, on the contrary, such a recommendation, which, as I have already hinted, never fails to operate for the advantage of the possessor.

This first adventure, therefore, served them as an introduction to the company at Bath, who were not a little surprised to find their expectations baffled by the conduct of the two companions; because, far from engaging deeply at play, they rather shunned all occasions of gaming, and directed their attention to gallantry, in which our hero shone unrivalled. His external qualifications, exclusive of any other merit, were strong enough to captivate the common run of the female sex; and these, reinforced with a sprightliness of conversation, and a most insinuating address, became irresistible, even by those who were fortified with pride, caution, or indifference. But, among all the nymphs of this gay place, he did not meet with one object that disputed the empire of his heart with Emilia, and therefore he divided his attachment according to the suggestions of vanity and whim; so that, before he had resided a fortnight at Bath, he had set all the ladies by the ears, and furnished all the hundred tongues of scandal with full employment. The splendour of his appearance excited the inquiries of envy, which, instead of discovering any circumstances to his prejudice, was cursed with the information of his being a young gentleman of a good family, and heir to an immense fortune.

The countenance of some of his quality friends, who arrived at Bath, confirmed this piece of intelligence. Upon which his acquaintance was courted and cultivated with great assiduity; and he met with such advances from some of the fair sex, as rendered him extremely fortunate in his amours. Nor was his friend Godfrey a stranger to favours of the same kind; his accomplishments were exactly calculated for the meridian of female taste; and, with certain individuals of that sex, his muscular frame, and the robust connection of his limbs, were more attractive than the delicate proportions of his companion. He accordingly reigned paramount among those inamoratas who were turned of thirty, without being under the necessity of proceeding by tedious addresses, and was thought to have co-operated with the waters in removing the sterility of certain ladies, who had long undergone the reproach and disgust of their husbands; while Peregrine set up his throne among those who laboured under the disease of celibacy, from the pert miss of fifteen, who, with a fluttering heart, tosses her head, bridles up, and giggles involuntarily at sight of a handsome young man, to the staid maid of twenty-eight, who, with a demure aspect, moralizes on the vanity of beauty, the folly of youth, and simplicity of woman, and expatiates on friendship, benevolence, and good sense, in the style of a Platonic philosopher.

In such a diversity of dispositions, his conquests were attended with all the heart-burnings, animosities, and turmoils of jealousy and spite. The younger class took all opportunities of mortifying their seniors in public, by treating them with that indignity which, contrary to the general privilege of age, is, by the consent and connivance of mankind, leveled against those who have the misfortune to come under the denomination of old maids; and these last retorted their hostilities in the private machinations of slander, supported by experience and subtilty of invention. Not one day passed in which some new story did not circulate, to the prejudice of one or other of those rivals.

If our hero, in the long-room, chanced to quit one of the moralists, with whom he had been engaged in conversation, he was immediately accosted by a number of the opposite faction, who, with ironical smiles, upbraided him with cruelty to the poor lady he had left, exhorted him to have compassion on her sufferings; and, turning their eyes towards the object of their intercession, broke forth into a universal peal of laughter. On the other hand, when Peregrine, in consequence of having danced with one of the minors overnight, visited her in the morning, the Platonists immediately laid hold on the occasion, tasked their imaginations, associated ideas, and, with sage insinuations, retailed a thousand circumstances of the interview, which never had any foundation in truth. They observed, that, if girls are determined to behave with such indiscretion, they must lay their accounts with incurring the censure of the world; that she in question was old enough to act more circumspectly; and wondered that her mother would permit any young fellow to approach the chamber while her daughter was naked in bed. As for the servants peeping through the key-hole, to be sure it was an unlucky accident; but people ought to be upon their guard against such curiosity, and give their domestics no cause to employ their penetration. These and other such reflections were occasionally whispered as secrets among those who were known to be communicative; so that, in a few hours, it became the general topic of discourse; and, as it had been divulged under injunctions of secrecy, it was almost impossible to trace the scandal to its origin; because every person concerned must have promulgated her own breach of trust, in discovering her author of the report.

Peregrine, instead of allaying, rather exasperated this contention, by an artful distribution of his attention among the competitors; well knowing, that, should his regard be converged into one point, he would soon forfeit the pleasure he enjoyed in seeing them at variance; for both parties would join against the common enemy, and his favourite would be persecuted by the whole coalition. He perceived, that, among the secret agents of scandal, none were so busy as the physicians, a class of animals who live in this place, like so many ravens hovering about a carcase, and even ply for employment, like scullers at Hungerford-stairs. The greatest part of them have correspondents in London, who make it their business to inquire into the history, character, and distemper of every one that repairs to Bath, for the benefit of the waters, and if they cannot procure interest to recommend their medical friends to these patients before they set out, they at least furnish them with a previous account of what they could collect, that their correspondents may use this intelligence for their own advantage. By these means, and the assistance of flattery and assurance, they often insinuate themselves into the acquaintance of strangers, and, by consulting their dispositions, become necessary and subservient to their prevailing passions. By their connection with apothecaries and nurses, they are informed of all the private occurrences in each family, and therefore enabled to gratify the rancour of malice, amuse the spleen of peevish indisposition, and entertain the eagerness of impertinent curiosity.

In the course of these occupations, which frequently affected the reputation of our two adventurers, this whole body fell under the displeasure of our hero, who, after divers consultations with his friend, concerted a stratagem, which was practised upon the faculty in this manner. Among those who frequented the pump-room, was an old officer, whose temper, naturally impatient, was, by repeated attacks of the gout, which had almost deprived him of the use of his limbs, sublimated into a remarkable degree of virulence and perverseness. He imputed the inveteracy of his distemper............

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