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Chapter 82

He persuades Cadwallader to assume the Character of a Magician, in which he acquires a great Share of Reputation, by his Responses to three Females of Distinction, who severally consult the Researches of his Art.

His heart being thus, as it were, suspended between two objects that lessened the force of each other’s attraction, he took this opportunity of enjoying some respite, and for the present detached his sentiments from both, resolving to indulge himself in the exercise of that practical satire which was so agreeable and peculiar in his disposition. In this laudable determination he was confirmed by the repeated suggestions of his friend Cadwallader, who taxed him with letting his talents rust in indolence, and stimulated his natural vivacity with a succession of fresh discoveries in the world of scandal.

Peregrine was now seized with a strange whim, and when he communicated the conceit to Cadwallader, it in a moment acquired his approbation. This notion he imparted in a proposal to subject the town to their ridicule, by giving responses to the character of a professed conjurer, to be personated by the old misanthrope, whose aspect was extremely well calculated for the purpose. The plan was immediately adjusted in all its parts; an apartment hired in a house accommodated with a public stair, so that people might have free ingress and egress, without being exposed to observation; and, this tenement being furnished with the apparatus of a magician, such as globes, telescopes, a magic-lanthorn, a skeleton, a dried monkey together with the skins of an alligator, otter, and snake, the conjurer himself took possession of his castle, after having distributed printed advertisements containing the particulars of his undertaking.

These bills soon operated according to the wish of the projectors. As the price of the oracle was fixed at half a guinea, the public naturally concluded that the author was no common fortune-teller; and, the very next day, Peregrine found some ladies of his quality acquaintance infected with the desire of making an experiment upon the skill of this new conjurer, who pretended to be just arrived from the Mogul’s empire, where he had learned the art from a Brachman philosopher. Our young gentleman affected to talk of the pretensions of this sage with ridicule and contempt, and with seeming reluctance undertook to attend them to his apartment, observing, that it would be a very easy matter to detect the fellow’s ignorance, and no more than common justice to chastise him for his presumption. Though he could easily perceive a great fund of credulity in the company, they affected to espouse his opinion, and, under the notion of a frolic, agreed that one particular lady should endeavour to baffle his art, by appearing before him in the dress of her woman, who should at the same time personate her mistress, and be treated as such by our adventurer, who promised to squire them to the place. These measures being concerted, and the appointment fixed for the next audience-day, Peregrine furnished his friend with the necessary information, and, when the hour of assignation arrived, conducted his charge to this oraculous seer.

They were admitted by our hero’s valet-de-chambre, whose visage, being naturally meagre and swarthy, was adorned with artificial whiskers; so that he became the Persian dress which he wore, and seemed a very proper master of the ceremonies to an Oriental necromancer. Having crossed his arms upon his breasts, with an inclination of the head, he stalked in solemn silence before them into the penetralia of the temple, where they found the conjurer sitting at a table, provided with pen, ink, and paper, divers books, mathematical instruments, and a long white wand lying across the whole. He was habited in a black gown and fur cap. His countenance, over and above a double proportion of philosophic gravity, which he had assumed for the occasion, was improved by a thick beard, white as snow, that reached to his middle, and upon each shoulder sat a prodigious large black cat which had been tutored for the purpose.

Such a figure, which would have startled Peregrine himself, had not he been concerned in the mystery, could not fail to make an impression upon those whom he accompanied. The fictitious chambermaid, in spite of all her natural pertness and vivacity, changed colour when she entered the room, while the pretended lady, whose intellects were not quite so enlightened, began to tremble in every joint, and ejaculate petitions to Heaven for her safety. Their conductor, advancing to the table, presented his offering, and, pointing to the maid, told him, that lady desired to know what would be her destiny in point of marriage. The philosopher, without lifting up his eyes to view the person in whose behalf he was consulted, turned his ear to one of the sable familiars that purred upon his shoulder, and, taking up the pen, wrote upon a detached slip of paper these words, which Peregrine, at the desire of the ladies, repeated aloud: “Her destiny will, in a great measure, depend upon what happened to her about nine o’clock in the morning on the third day of last December.”

This sentence was no sooner pronounced, than the counterfeit lady screamed, and ran into the ante-chamber, exclaiming, “Christ have mercy upon us! Sure he is the devil incarnate!” Her mistress, who followed her with great consternation, insisted upon knowing the transaction to which the response alluded; and Mrs. Abigail, after some recollection, gave her to understand that she had an admirer, who, on that very hour and day mentioned by the cunning man, had addressed himself to her in a serious proposal of marriage. This explanation, however, was more ingenious than candid, for the admirer was no other than the identical Mr. Pickle himself, who was a mere dragon among the chambermaids, and, in his previous information communicated to his associate, had given an account of this assignation, with which he had been favoured by the damsel in question.

Our hero seeing his company very much affected with the circumstance of the wizard’s art, which had almost frightened both mistress and maid into hysteric fits, pretended to laugh them out of their fears, by observing, that there was nothing extraordinary in this instance of his knowledge, which might have been acquired by some of those secret emissaries whom such impostors are obliged to employ for intelligence, or imparted by the lover himself, who had, perhaps, come to consult him about the success of his amour. Encouraged by this observation, or rather prompted by an insatiable curiosity, which was proof against all sorts of apprehension, the disguised lady returned to the magician’s own apartment, and, assuming the air of a pert chambermaid, “Mr. Conjurer,” said she, “now you have satisfied my mistress, will you be as good as to tell me if ever I shall be married?” The sage, without the least hesitation, favoured her with an answer, in the following words: “You cannot be married before you are a widow; and whether or not that will ever be the case, is a question which my art cannot resolve, because my foreknowledge exceeds not the term of thirty years.”

This reply, which at once cut her off from her pleasing prospect of seeing herself independent in the enjoyment of youth and fortune, in a moment clouded her aspect; all her good-humour was overcast, and she went away, without further inquiry, muttering in the rancour of her chagrin, that he was a silly impertinent fellow, and a mere quack in his profession. Notwithstanding the prejudice of this resentment, her conviction soon recurred; and when the report of his answers was made to those confederates by whom she had been deputed to make trial of his skill, they were universally persuaded that his art was altogether supernatural, though each affected to treat it with contempt, resolving in her own breast to have recourse to him in private.

In the meantime, the maid, though laid under the most peremptory injunctions of secrecy, was so full of the circumstance which related to her own conduct, that she extolled his prescience, in whispers, to all acquaintances, assuring them, that he had told her all the particulars of her life; so that his fame was almost instantaneously conveyed, through a thousand different channels, to all parts of the town; and............

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