Tho’ an answer renders an anonymous accusation too important, I cannot neglect what you have condescended to publish. The elegance of the packet sent from Castle Gowrie might have tempted me to acknowledge a share in it, if I had not an old-fashioned respect for truth. Benevolent hints have been circulated that Margaret’s Tale was written and sent by myself to enhance my reputation for gallantry: or that it was composed by Atticus Scriblerus at the instigation of some secret enemy to my repose. But I am not yet such a forward graduate in Allfool’s College as to think a fair lady’s disappointment any addition to my honour; and tho’ we have many human curiosities among us, I have never seen that unnatural fossil, a mischievous heart.
You are an adept in physiology, Mr Editor; and when fossils are mentioned, I must confess that Lady Olivia Gossamer’s character seems a curious specimen of the asbestos kind. It grows, you know, like a soft web; but it grows upon a rock, and no warmth can penetrate it. I study it because I love lusus naturae; but I prefer the sensitive mimosa to the incombustible amianthus. You, who have entered all the recesses of science, can tell me whether this peevish analyzing spirit is the natural consequence of chemical researches. The fumes of the laboratory seem to gave blackened my heart, for every thing disturbs and irritates me. Sir Pertinax Townly, who must have been created for no purpose but to show of what light materials a man’s head may be made, is in raptures with the fairy song which Olivia Gossamer produced yesterday morning after her usual visit to the voltaic battery. He chooses to consider it a favorable reply to some verses which he composed for her, I suppose, with the help of Atticus Scriblerus. “Faith, Beauclerc,” said the vain fop as we came out of the laboratory. “Lord Aircastle’s new way of making wits and unmasking dunces may be very useful in the female world. The dear creatures are so quickened by a few scintillations from this electric machine that they will persecute us with odes and sonnets instead of waiting for ours. If your honour had agreed with your name, Philemon, you might have amused yourself with the pretty poetesses in our society: I can spare two very conveniently. Widow Bustleton’s heart resembles one of Lord Aircastle’s earthen jars, hermetically sealed: Rodelinda’s reminds me of an empty tin canister, fit for a puppy’s plaything; but Olivia’s is like a glass decanter — one may see through it, and I should be sorry to break it.”
This was too much to endure, Mr Editor! And when he proceeded, with an air of indolent pity, to complain that Olivia expected him to sneeze and sigh in a damp garden at twilight, I half determined to provide a remedy for the cold he apprehended. It was not difficult to find an ally. Atticus Scriblerus, who has never digested the penalty imposed upon him for his supposed share in the fracas in the laboratory, was charmed with an opportunity to retaliate on Sir Pertinax. The “curfew hour” approached, and I stationed myself in the “whispering grove” near the canopy of wild roses so ingeniously described by the fairy Gossipia. Contrary to my hopes and almost to my expectations, I found Lady Olivia walking slowly there; and a few fine flushes in her face announced the confusion caused by my appearance. I have a philosophical interest in the development of her character, and determining to observe by what stratagem she would dismiss me, I began a very serious discussion of the newest system of astronomy, and of Lord Aircastle’s patent method of gilding needles. As Olivia answered very briefly and in a tone of angry surprise, these topics soon failed; but the book which she held furnished me with another. “Your author tells us,” said I, “that metals may be extracted from gas; but where is the philosopher who can extract any substance from the fumes of vanity?”
“A dull philosopher and a pert fop,” she replied with a very singular kind of smile, “are equally vain. Acid and alkali, you know, have the same basis.”
Without waiting for my answer, she opened the garden-gate and disappeared. I ought to have despised the pertness and the pedantry of her sarcasm, but it piqued me more than philosophers ought to confess. Will women never learn that an invidious jest is seldom forgiven even by a man who does not deserve it? It is good nature which renders wit attractive, as the violet ray of the sun gives magnetic power to the needle.
But the disappointment of Sir Pertinax consoled me, and I returned to my station[^1]. According to the fairy’s kind hint, he promenaded among the wild roses, coughing and muttering the first verse of a sonnet, till absolute darkness prevailed. An hour’s delay had chilled both his hopes and his courage, but a white veil floating among the trees seemed to restore them. The phantom glided before him, beckoning graciously, and Sir Pertinax followed in all the confidence of hope, till the supposed Lady Olivia unclosed the door of a secluded building usually reserved for our patron’s philosophical purposes. Probably supposing that Lord Aircastle’s absence rendered this a secure rendezvous, our Narcissus entered without hesitation — the door was instantly closed upon him and Lady Olivia’s representative disappeared thro’ another which was soon firmly secured. In five minutes Sir Pertinax was assailed by the intolerable heat of a concealed furnace and a stream of oxygen gas forced thro’ a spirit lamp. As the brass of a beau’s forehead seems nearly as indissoluble as platina, A.S. made no scruple to advance the temperature of his prison very considerably above boiling heat, till he had undergone fumigation enough to cure an Otaheitan in an ague. When our captive’s groan and outcries became too outrageous to be neglected, Atticus threw off Lady Olivia’s pelise and veil which her obliging Abigail had lent him, and folding himself in our mystagogue’s fur-cloak, rushed into the oven where Sir Pertinax lay half-liquified like a relic of St. Ianuarius. He took care that the spirit lamp should be extinguished at the moment of his entrance, and being in total darkness, Atticus pretended to mistake Sir Pertinax for a thief busied amongst the silver and other precious metals collected for the crucible. In vain the baronet deprecated and protested; Atticus did not release him till he had requited his long fast by a discipline equally beneficial. Having benefited the cause of science by ascertaining how much heat the platinum of a beau’s head can endure, Atticus returned home, leaving Sir Pertinax to recover his proper temperament at leisure. Both Atticus and myself accosted him this morning with an air of friendly nonchalance, and his vanity or his prudence induces him to conceal his penance. But Olivia overwhelms me with an avalanche of coldness. Well! let her reject, if she pleases, my officious zeal to save her from a speculative guardian and a heartless lounger. A bottle of Professor Blinkensop’s acid air will soon disperse the chagrin of her
[^1:] In the drawing room thro’ the darkest avenue of the grove, certain that Atticus would not be inactive.