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Chapter 84

The Conjurer and his Associate execute a Plan of Vengeance against certain Infidels who pretend to despise their Art; and Peregrine achieves an Adventure with a young Nobleman.

By these means, the whole variety of characters undisguised passed, as it were, in review before the confederates, who, by divers ingenious contrivances, punished the most flagrant offenders with as much severity as the nature of their plan would allow. At length they projected a scheme for chastising a number of their own acquaintance, who had all along professed the utmost contempt for the talent of this conjurer, which they endeavoured to ridicule in all companies, where his surprising art was the subject of discourse; not that they had sense and discernment enough to perceive the absurdity of his pretensions, but affected a singularity of opinions, with a view of insulting the inferior understandings of those who were deceived by such an idle impostor.

Peregrine, indeed, for obvious reasons, had always espoused their judgment in this case, and joined them in reviling the public character of his friend. But he knew how far the capacities of those virtuosi extended, and had frequently caught them in the fact of recounting their exploits against the conjurer, which were the productions of their own invention only. On these considerations, his wrath was kindled against them, and he accordingly concerted measures with his coadjutor, for overwhelming them with confusion and dismay.

In the first place, a report was spread by his emissaries, that the magician had undertaken to entertain their view with the appearance of any person whom his customers should desire to see, whether dead, or at the distance of a thousand leagues. This extraordinary proposal chancing to be the subject of conversation in a place where most of those infidels were assembled, they talked of it in the usual style, and some of them swore the fellow ought to be pilloried for his presumption.

Our hero, seizing this favourable opportunity, acquiesced in their remarks, and observed, with great vehemence, that it would be a meritorious action to put the rascal to the proof, and then toss him in a blanket for non-performance. They were wonderfully pleased with this suggestion, and forthwith determined to try the experiment; though, as they understood the apparition would be produced to one only at a time, they could not immediately agree in the choice of the person who should stand the first brunt of the magician’s skill. While each of them severally excused himself from this preference on various pretences, Peregrine readily undertook the post, expressing great confidence of the conjurer’s incapacity to give him the least cause of apprehension.

This point being settled, they detached one of their number to Crabtree, in order to bespeak and adjust the hour and terms of the operation, which he insisted upon performing at his own apartment, where everything was prepared for the occasion. At the appointed time, they went thither in a body, to the number of seven, in full expectation of detecting the impostor; and were received with such gloomy formality, as seemed to have an effect upon the countenances of some among them; though they were encouraged by the vivacity of Pickle, who affected a double share of petulance, for the more effectual accomplishment of his purpose.

Cadwallader made no reply to the interrogations they uttered, in the levity of their insolence, at the first entrance, but ordered Hadgi to conduct them through the next room, that they might see there was no previous apparatus to affright their deputy with objects foreign to his undertaking. They found nothing but a couple of wax tapers burning on a table that stood with a chair by it in the middle of the apartment, and returned to the audience-chamber, leaving Peregrine by himself, to encounter the phantom of that person whom they should, without his knowledge, desire the magician to conjure up to his view,

All the doors being shut and the company seated, a profound silence ensued, together with a face of dreadful expectation, encouraged by the blue flame of the candles, which were tipped with sulphur for that purpose, and heightened by the dismal sound of a large bell, which Hadgi tolled in the ante-chamber. Cadwallader having thus practised upon their ignorance and fear, desired them to name the person to be produced. After some whispers among themselves, one of them took the pen, and, writing the name of Commodore Trunnion upon a slip of paper, put it into the hands of the magician, who rose from his seat, and, opening the door of his closet, displayed to their view a skull, with thigh bones crossed, upon a table covered with black cloth.

This melancholy spectacle made a remarkable impression upon the imaginations of the company, already prepossessed by the previous ceremony; and they began to survey one another with looks of consternation, while Cadwallader, shutting himself in the closet, that was contiguous to the chamber in which his friend Peregrine was stationed, thrust the label with his uncle’s name through a small chink in the partition. according to agreement, muttering at the time a sort of gibberish, that increased the panic of his audience; then returning to his chair, the knell was tolled again, and Pickle called aloud, “D— n your mummery: why don’t you despatch?”

This was a signal to Crabtree, who thus certified of his having received the paper, stood up and waved his wand in the figure of an S. The motion being thrice performed, their ears were all of a sudden invaded by a terrible noise in the next room, accompanied with the voice of Peregrine, who exclaimed, in a tone of horror and amazement, “Guard me, Heaven! my Uncle Trunnion!” This ejaculation had such an effect upon the hearers, that two of them swooned with fear, a third fell upon his knees and prayed aloud, while the other three, in a transport of dismay and distraction, burst open the door, and rushed into the haunted chamber, where they found the table and chair overturned, and Peregrine extended, in all appearance without sense or motion, upon the floor.

They immediately began to chafe his temples, and the first symptom of his recovery which they perceived was a hollow groan; after which he pronounced these words: “Merciful powers! if I live I saw the commodore with his black patch, in the very clothes he wore at my sister’s wedding.” This declaration completed their astonishment and terror; they observed a wildness in his looks, which he seemed to bend on something concealed from their view; and were infected by his appearance to such a pitch of superstition, that it would have been an easy matter to persuade them that the chair and table were apparitions of their forefathers. However, they conducted Peregrine into the council chamber, where the conjurer and Hadgi were employed in ministering to those who had fainted.

The patients having retrieved the use of their faculties, Cadwallader, assuming a double portion of severity in his aspect, asked if they were not ashamed of their former incredulity; declaring, that he was ready to give them more convincing proofs of his art upon the spot, and would immediately recall three generations of their progenitors from the dead, if they were disposed to relish such company. Then turning to one of them, whose grandfather had been hanged, “Are you,” said he, “ambitious of seeing the first remarkable personage of your family? Say the word and he shall appear.”

This youth, who had been the most insolent and obstreperous in the whole society, and was now depressed with the same proportion of fear, alarmed at the proposal, assured the magician he had no curiosity of that sort remaining; and that what he had already seen would, he hoped, have a good effect upon his future life and conversation. Every one of these heroes made an acknowledgment and profession of the same kind, some of which were attended with tears; and Hadgi having provided chairs for the whole company, they departed exceedingly crest-fallen. Two of the number actually sickened with the agitation they had undergone, while our hero and his associate made themselves merry with the success of their enterprise.

But this scheme of fortune-telling did not engross his whole attention; he still continued to maintain his appearance in the beau monde; and, as his expense far exceeded his income, strove to contract intimacies with............

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