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Chapter 76

He prevails upon Emilia to accompany him to a Masquerade, makes a treacherous Attempt upon her Affection, and meets with a deserved Repulse.

Scarce a night elapsed in which he did not conduct her to some public entertainment. When, by the dint of his insidious carriage, he thought himself in full possession of her confidence and affection, he lay in wait for an opportunity; and, hearing her observe in conversation, that she had never been at a masquerade, begged leave to attend her to the next ball; at the same time extending his invitation to the young lady in whose company he had found her at the play, she being present when this subject of discourse was introduced. He had flattered himself, that this gentlewoman would decline the proposal, as she was a person seemingly of a demure disposition, who had been born and bred in the city, where such diversions are looked upon as scenes of lewdness and debauchery. For once, however, he reckoned without his host; curiosity is as prevalent in the city as at the court end of the town. Emilia no sooner signified her assent to his proposal, than her friend, with an air of satisfaction, agreed to make one of the party; and he was obliged to thank her for that complaisance, which laid him under infinite mortification. He set his genius at work to invent some scheme for preventing her unseasonable intrusion. Had an opportunity offered, he would have acted as her physician, and administered a medicine that would have laid her under the necessity of staying at home. But his acquaintance with her being too slight to furnish him with the means of executing this expedient, he devised another, which was practised with all imaginable success. Understanding that her grandmother had left her a sum of money independent of her parents, he conveyed a letter to her mother, intimating, that her daughter, on pretence of going to the masquerade, intended to bestow herself in marriage to a certain person, and that in a few days she would be informed of the circumstances of the whole intrigue, provided she would keep this information secret, and contrive some excuse for detaining the young lady at home, without giving her cause to believe she was apprised of her intention. This billet, subscribed “Your well-wisher, and unknown humble servant,” had the desired effect upon the careful matron, who, on the ball day, feigned herself so extremely ill, that Miss could not with any decency quit her mamma’s apartment; and therefore sent her apology to Emilia in the afternoon, immediately after the arrival of Peregrine, who pretended to be very much afflicted with the disappointment, while his heart throbbed with a transport of joy.

About ten o’clock the lovers set out for the Haymarket, he being dressed in the habit of Pantaloon, and she in that of Columbine; and they had scarce entered the house when the music struck up, the curtain was withdrawn, and the whole scene displayed at once, to the admiration of Emilia, whose expectation was infinitely surpassed by this exhibition. Our gallant having conducted her through all the different apartments, and described the economy of the place, led her into the circle, and, in their turn, they danced several minuets; then going to the sideboard, he prevailed upon her to eat some sweetmeats and drink a glass of champagne. After a second review of the company, they engaged in country dances, at which exercise they continued until our adventurer concluded that his partner’s blood was sufficiently warm for the prosecution of his design. On this supposition, which was built upon her declaring that she was thirsty and fatigued, he persuaded her to take a little refreshment and repose; and, for that purpose, handed her downstairs into the eating-room, where, having seated her on the floor, he presented her with a glass of wine and water; and, as she complained of being faint, enriched the draught with some drops of a certain elixir, which he recommended as a most excellent restorative, though it was no other than a stimulating tincture, which he had treacherously provided for the occasion. Having swallowed this potion, by which her spirits were manifestly exhilarated, she ate a slice of ham, with the wing of a cold pullet, and concluded the meal with a glass of burgundy, which she drank at the earnest entreaty of her admirer. These extraordinary cordials co-operating with the ferment of her blood, which was heated by violent motion, could not fail to affect the constitution of a delicate young creature, who was naturally sprightly and volatile. Her eyes began to sparkle with unusual fire and vivacity, a thousand brilliant sallies of wit escaped her, and every mask that accosted her underwent some smarting repartee.

Peregrine, overjoyed at the success of his administration, proposed that they should resume their places at the country dances, with a view to promote and assist the efficacy of his elixir; and, when he thought her disposition was properly adapted for the theme, began to ply her with all the elocution of love. In order to elevate his own spirits to that pitch of resolution which his scheme required, he drank two whole bottles of burgundy, which inflamed his passion to such a degree, that he found himself capable of undertaking and perpetrating any scheme for the gratification of his desire.

Emilia, warmed by so many concurring incentives, in favour of the man she loved, abated considerably of her wonted reserve, listened to his protestations with undissembled pleasure, and, in the confidence of her satisfaction, even owned him absolute master of her affections. Ravished with this confession, he now deemed himself on the brink of reaping the delicious fruits of his art and assiduity; and the morning being already pretty far advanced, assented with rapture to the first proposal she made of retiring to her lodgings. The blinds of the chariot being pulled up, he took advantage of the favourable situation of her thoughts; and, on pretence of being whimsical, in consequence of the wine he had swallowed, clasped her in his arms, and imprinted a thousand kisses on her pouting lips, a freedom which she pardoned as the privilege of intoxication. While he thus indulged himself with impunity, the carriage halted, and Pipes opening the door, his master handed her into the passage, before she perceived that it was not her uncle’s house at which they had alighted.

Alarmed at this discovery, she, with some confusion, desired to know his reason for conducting her to a strange place at these hours. But he made no reply, until he had led her into an apartment, when he gave her to understand, that, as her uncle’s family must be disturbed by her going thither so late in the night, and the streets near Temple-bar were infested by a multitude of robbers and cut-throats, he had ordered his coachman to halt at this house, which was kept by a relation of his, a mighty good sort of a gentlewoman, who would be proud of an opportunity to accommodate a person for whom he was known to entertain such tenderness and esteem.

Emilia had too much penetration to be imposed upon by this plausible pretext. In spite of her partiality for Peregrine, which had never been inflamed to such a pitch of complacency before, she comprehended his whole plan in a twinkling. Though her blood boiled with indignation, she thanked him with an affected air of serenity for his kind concern, and expressed her obligation to his cousin; but, at the same time, insisted upon going home, lest her absence should terrify her uncle............

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