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Chapter 83

Peregrine and his friend Cadwallader proceed in the Exercise of the Mystery of Fortune-telling, in the course of which they achieve various Adventures.

These preliminaries being adjusted, our hero forthwith repaired to a card assembly, which was frequented by some of the most notable gossips in town, and, having artfully turned the conversation upon the subject of the fortune-teller, whose talents he pretended to ridicule, incensed their itch of knowing secrets to such a degree of impatience, that their curiosity became flagrant, and he took it for granted, that all or some of them would visit Albumazar on his very first visiting-day. While Peregrine was thus engaged, his associate made his appearance in another convocation of fashionable people, where he soon had the pleasure of hearing the conjurer brought upon the carpet by an elderly gentlewoman, remarkable for her inquisitive disposition, who, addressing herself to Cadwallader, asked, by the help of the finger-alphabet, if he knew anything of the magician that made such a noise in town. The misanthrope answered, as usual, in a surly tone: “By your question you must either take me for a pimp or an idiot. What, in the name of nonsense, should I know of such a rascal, unless I were to court his acquaintance with a view to feast my own spleen, in seeing him fool the whole nation out of their money? Though, I suppose, his chief profits arise from his practice, in quality of pander. All fortune-tellers are bawds, and, for that reason, are so much followed by people of fashion. This fellow, I warrant, has got sundry convenient apartments for the benefit of procreation; for it is not to be supposed that those who visit him on the pretence of consulting his supernatural art, can be such fools, such drivellers, as to believe that he can actually prognosticate future events.”

The company, according to his expectation, imputed his remarks to the rancour of his disposition, which could not bear to think that any person upon earth was wiser than himself; and his ears were regaled with a thousand instances of the conjurer’s wonderful prescience, for which he was altogether indebted to fiction. Some of these specimens being communicated to him by way of appeal to his opinion, “They are,” said he, “mere phantoms of ignorance and credulity, swelled up in the repetition, like those unsubstantial bubbles which the boys blow up in soap-suds with a tobacco-pipe. And this will ever be the case in the propagation of all extraordinary intelligence. The imagination naturally magnifies every object that falls under its cognizance, especially those that concern the passions of fear and admiration; and when the occurrence comes to be rehearsed, the vanity of the relater exaggerates every circumstance in order to enhance the importance of the communication. Thus an incident, which is but barely uncommon, often gains such accession in its progress through the fancies and mouths of those who represent it, that the original fact cannot possibly be distinguished. This observation might be proved and illustrated by a thousand undeniable examples, out of which I shall only select one instance, for the entertainment and edification of the company.” A very honest gentleman, remarkable for the gravity of his deportment, was one day in a certain coffee-house accosted by one of his particular friends, who, taking him by the hand, expressed uncommon satisfaction in seeing him abroad, and in good health, after the dangerous and portentous malady he had undergone. Surprised at this salutation, the gentleman replied, it was true he had been a little out of order overnight, but there was nothing at all extraordinary in his indisposition. “Jesu! not extraordinary!” cried the other, “when you vomited three black crows.” This strange exclamation the grave gentleman at first mistook for raillery, though his friend was no joker; but, perceiving in him all the marks of sincerity and astonishment, he suddenly changed his opinion, and, after a short reverie, taking him aside, expressed himself in these words: “Sir, it is not unknown to you that I am at present engaged in a treaty of marriage, which would have been settled long ago, had it not been retarded by the repeated machinations of a certain person who professed himself my rival. Now I am fully persuaded that this affair of the three crows is a story of his invention, calculated to prejudice me in the opinion of the lady, who, to be sure, would not choose to marry a man who has a rookery in his bowels; and, therefore, I must insist upon knowing the author of this scandalous report, that I may be able to vindicate my character from the malicious aspersion.” His friend, who thought the demand was very reasonable, told him, without hesitation, that he was made acquainted with the circumstances of his distemper by Mr. Such-a-one, their common acquaintance: upon which the person who conceived himself injured went immediately in quest of his supposed defamer, and having found him: “Pray, sir,” said he, with a peremptory tone, “who told you that I vomited three black crows?”—“Three?” answered the gentleman, “I mentioned two only.”—“Zounds! Sir,” cried the other, incensed at his indifference, “you will find the two too many, if you refuse to discover the villainous source of such calumny.” The gentleman, surprised at his heat, said he was sorry to find he had been the accidental instrument of giving him offence, but translated the blame, if any there was, from himself to a third person, to whose information he owed his knowledge of the report. The plaintiff, according to the direction he received, repaired to the house of the accused; and his indignation being inflamed at finding the story had already circulated among his acquaintance, he told him, with evident marks of displeasure, that he was come to pluck the same brace of crows which he said he had disgorged. The defendant, seeing him very much irritated, positively denied that he had mentioned a brace: “One indeed,” said he, “I own I took notice of, upon the authority of your own physician, who gave me an account of it this morning.”—“By the Lord!” cried the sufferer, in a rage, which he could no longer contain, “that rascal has been suborned by my rival to slander my character in this manner: but I’ll be revenged, if there be either law or equity in England.” He had scarce pronounced these words, when the doctor happened to enter the room: when his exasperated patient lifting up his cane, “Sirrah,” said he, “if I live, I’ll make that black crow the blackest circumstance of thy whole life and conversation.” The physician, confounded at this address, assured him that he was utterly ignorant of his meaning, and, when the other gentleman explained it, absolutely denied the charge, affirming he had said no more than that he had vomited a quantity of something as black as a crow. The landlord of the house acknowledged that he might have been mistaken; and thus the whole mystery was explained.”

The company seeming to relish the story of the three black crows, which they considered as an impromptu of Cadwallader’s own invention; but, granting it to be true, they unanimously declared that it could have no weight in invalidating the testimony of divers persons of honour, who had been witnesses of the magician’s supernatural skill. On the next day of consultation, the necromancer being in the chair, and his friend behind the curtain, the outward door was scarce opened, when a female visitant flounced in, and discovered to the magician the features of one of those inquisitive ladies, whose curiosity, he knew, his confederate had aroused in the matter above described. She addressed herself to him with a familiar air, observing, that she had heard much of his great knowledge, and was come to be a witness of his art, which she desired him to display, in declaring what he knew to be her ruling passion.

Cadwallader, who was no stranger to her disposition, assumed the pen without hesitation, and furnished her with an answer, importing, that the love of money predominated, and scandal possessed the next place in her heart. Far from being offended at his freedom, she commended his frankness with a smile; and, satisfied of his uncommon talents, expressed a desire of being better acquainted with his person; nay, she began to catechise him upon the private history of divers great families, in which he happened to be well versed: and he, in a mysterious manner, dropped such artful hints of his knowledge, that she was amazed at his capacity, and actually asked if his art was communicable. The conjurer replied in the affirmative; but, at the same time, gave her to understand, that it was attainable by those only who were pure and undefiled in point of chastity and honour, or such as, by a long course of penitence, had weaned themselves from all attachments to the flesh. She not only disapproved, but seemed to doubt the truth of this assertion; telling him, with a look of disdain, that his art was not worth having, if one could not use it for the benefit of one’s pleasure; she had even penetration enough to take notice of an inconsistency in what he had advanced; and asked, why he himself exercised his knowledge for hire, if he was so much detached from all worldly concerns. “Come, come, doctor,” added she, “you are in the right to be cautious against impertinent curiosity, but, perhaps, I may make it worth your while to be communicative.”

These overtures were interrupted by a rap at the door, signifying the approach of another client; upon which the lady inquired for his private passage, through which she might retire, without the risk of being seen. When she understood he was deficient in that convenience, she withdrew into an empty room adjoining to the audience-chamber, in order to conceal herself from the observation of the new-comer. This was no other than the inamorata, who came, by appointment, to receive the solution of her doubts; and the misanthrope, glad of an opportunity to expose her to the censure of such an indefatigable minister of fame as the person who he knew would listen from the next apartment, laid her under the necessity of refreshing his remembrance with a recapitulation of her former confession, which was almost finished, when she was alarmed by a noise at the door, occasioned by two gentlemen, who attempted to enter by force.

Terrified at this uproar, which disconcerted the magician himself, she ran for shelter into the place which was preoccupied by the other lady, who, hearing this disturbance, had closed the window-shutters, that she might have the better chance of remaining unknown. Here they ensconced themselves in the utmost consternation, while the necromancer, after some recollection, ordered Hadgi to open the door, and admit the rioters, who, he hoped, would be over-awed by the authority of his appearance. The janitor had no sooner obeyed his instructions, than in rushed a young libertine, who had been for some time upon the town, together with his tutor, who was a worn-out debauchee, well known to the magician. They were both in that degree of intoxication necessary to prepare such dispositions for what they commonly call frolics, and the sober part of mankind feel to be extravagant outrages against the laws of their country, and the peace of their fellow-subjects. Having staggered up to the table, the senior, who undertook to be spokesman, saluted Cadwallader with, “How dost do, old Capricorn? Thou seem’st to be a most venerable pimp, and, I doubt not, hast abundance of discretion. Here is this young whoremaster, a true chip of the old venereal block his father, and myself, come for a comfortable cast of thy function. I don’t mean that stale pretence of conjuring — d — futurity; let us live for the present, old Haly. Conjure me up a couple of hale wenches, and I warrant we shall get into the magic circle in a twinkling. What says Galileo? What says the Reverend Brahe? Here is a purse, you pimp. Hark, how it chinks! This is sweeter than the music of spheres.”

Our necromancer, perplexed at this rencontre, made no reply; but, taking up his wand, waved it around his head in a very mysterious motion, with a view of intimidating these forward visitants, who, far from being awed by this sort of evolution, became more and more obstreperous, and even threatened to pull him by the beard, if he would not immediately comply with their desire. Had he called his associate, or even Hadgi, to his aid, he knew he could have soon calmed their turbulence; but, being unwilling to run the risk of a discovery, or even of a riot, he bethought himself of chastising their insolence in another manner, that would be less hazardous, and rather more effectual. In consequence of this suggestion, he pointed his wand towards the door of the apartment in which the ladies had taken sanctuary; and the two rakes, understanding the hint, rushed in without hesitation.

The females, finding their place of retreat taken by assault, ran about the room in great consternation, and were immediately taken prisoners by the assailants, who, pulling them towards the windows, opened the shutters at the same instant of time, when, strange to tell! one of the heroes discovered in the prize he had made, the very wife of his bosom; and his companion perceived that he had stumbled in the dark upon his own mother. Their mutual astonishment was unspeakable at this eclaircissement, which produced a universal silence for the space of several minutes. During this pause, the ladies having recollected themselves, an expostulation was begun by the elder of the two, who roundly took her son to task for his disorderly life, which laid her under the disagreeable necessity of watching his motions, and detecting him in such an infamous place.

While the careful mother thus e............

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