Letter from Pertinax Townly

Miss Vardill

Dear Editor

We have had a set of the strangest adventures imaginable. I rose early this morning, meditating a sonnet to my Erminia’s eyebrow, but as I reached the shrubbery, was surprised to see the figure of an old woman in her night-cap and cloak running briskly across the lawn, and climbing the walls of Positive House (by the aid of its veranda) with catlike agility. I hastened back to give an alarm of thieves to Electromagus and secure my own dressing-plate, when crossing the passage from Mr Beauclerc’s room, I saw the witch again! Beauclerc himself, in more evident consternation than is consistent with his professed philosophy, came forth and complained of an apparition that had just made its way into his chamber down the chimney, bringing with it a cloud of soot which prevented him from distinguishing its shape. On the stairs we found Lady Olivia’s abigail on her knees, praying most devoutly and protesting that she had been only seeking for her lady’s marmalade when Satan leaped over her head and vanished in black smoke. A certain sulphurous scent led us to Atticus’s room which we entered but found him quietly asleep without any symptom of either earthly or infernal visitors. He rose with great expressions of amazement and assisted Beauclerc, Electromagus and myself in a search throughout the house, but in vain. The spectre, I suppose, had resolved itself into thin air; and our sage, affecting to believe it a jest, threatened us with punishment if such vagaries disturbed his rest again.

When we assembled in the laboratory, I thought Mrs Bustleton entered with a peculiar air of triumphant mystery, but firmly denied any knowledge of this horrible vision. Indeed I know not how she could have been concerned in it, as with all her attempts at youth, I have never seen any proof of her proficiency in climbing, or her fondness for performing the duties of the late Mr Montague’s protegées. Besides the figure appeared much taller and more slender. During breakfast Electromagus received a note from Lord Aircastle stating that he should be unable to reach Positive House that afternoon to inspect the students’ proficiency in poetry, having been detained to view the process of whitening paper by means of animal charcoal, and a plan to illuminate London by moons of gaslight on the 52 church steeples, but above all by a grand patent gas sun on the top of St Paul’s. He promised, however, to be with us early on Friday morning to hear the Prize Essays and decree the crown.

I know not why, yet everyone seemed confounded by the delay. Philemon Beauclerc and Lady Olivia stole glances at each other and Mrs Bustleton put on a face full of such sublime astonishment as threw Atticus into a hearty fit of laughter from which he had not recovered when a servant entered requesting to know if we could give any information of Lord Aircastle who had escaped from the Horns at Kensington where he had been in the custody of Dr Willis’s servants on their way to their master’s house with him, by his junior Brother’s order. Lord Aircastle, he added, had appeared weak and speechless; but while his nurse slept, had dextrously substituted his own hat &c. in exchange for her bonnet and cloak, and made his exit thro’ a window. Some workmen had met a strange figure in this dress on the road towards Positive House. Mrs Bustleton’s petrified stare at Dr Willis’s name again convulsed Atticus with laughter, but on further enquiry among our household, we discovered that a little old woman had been seen entering late in the evening thro’ our back-door, and Rodelinda whispered that a red cloak and mob-cap might be found in Mrs Bustleton’s closet. I make no comments, Mr Editor, on the innuendoes of a rival beauty; but it seems certain that Lord Aircastle found some convenient sanctuary in Positive House, and it is equally certain that another visitor in the likeness of an old woman took refuge in Mr Beauclerc’s. Who the latter could be, I will not hazard the honour of a gentleman by guessing but I must whisper that in our search thro’ his apartment for the supposed sorceress or thief, I saw a paper on the floor bearing Erminia’s handwriting. Tho’ addressed to Mr Beauclerc, I felt myself justified in opening it. The contents were a column of verses and these lines in the envelope.

“Erminia begs leave to return the poem sent last night by Philemon thro’ her servant’s hands. It is too unsuitable to be accepted by her.”

I lov’d thee when no eye but mine
 Upon thy rising graces dwelt;
I lov’d thee — for no heart but thine
 An exile’s guiltless sorrows felt.

Crush’d by a lordly Sire’s control
 I mourn’d, yet scorn’d his stern decree;
And pleasure to my blighted soul
 Was only known by knowing thee!

They tell thee hearts like mine are chill,
 But look on mine and thou shalt learn
How deep within a frozen hill
 A never-dying fire may burn.

O Lady! — Iceland-springs are soft — 
 The sun in polar climes is bright;
And Love’s own gentle planet oft
 Shines fairer in the coldest night.

Love has a tongue that dares not praise
 But language in its silence dwells;
Love has an eye that cannot gaze
 Yet with a glance its secret tells.

A smile, a sigh has tell-tale speech,
 The lip may plead, the eye persuade;
But hearts are dumb, and none can teach
 The rebel tongue to give them aid.

Be still unknown! no time shall tear
 Thy image from this silent heart;
Pride, doubt and fear have hid it there
 Where only thine deserves a part.

Think oft how secret and how deep
 It rests within its secret shrine,
And near thy breast my semblance keep
 As thine shall lie entomb’d in mine!

You will certainly share my surprise, Mr Editor, at this discovery. She has preferred me, you perceive, to the rich, admired, and accomplished Mr Beauclerc, who really has a fine figure and elegant manners tho’ envy and mortification (perhaps at my success) have soured his temper. I must confess this proof that Erminia had found other noble suitors notwithstanding obscure birth, removed the lingering scruples of my family pride and determined me to visit her father’s repository. I vain I knocked and rang at the house-door till a lover’s patience, never celebrated, could last no longer. Subduing my aversion to the effluvia of — of — consolidated curds, I entered the warehouse; but the tapping of my cane on the lubricated court received no reply. At length I noticed the sound of a pianoforte in the parlour beyond, and gently opening the door beheld Erminia dressed with her own peculiar elegance; but — O dire contrast! surrounded with flitches of bacon which did not then strike me as emblems of conjugal felicity, and sitting on a pile of Cheshire Cheeses! — She started, coloured and laughed — “I am in a novel situation, indeed, for a heroine! and in one not appropriate, Sir, to Sire Pertinax Townly’s taste. But my father would only permit me to play my instrument on condition that it should not disturb his stores; and I was forced to substitute it for the only two chairs the room contained.” She then, with admirable archness, pointed to a corresponding pile of cheeses and entreated me to take a seat. I obeyed, and soon found in her elegant and sprightly conversation the delectable nature of my cushion, neither stuffed with down nor perfumes with otto of roses. I shall marry her, Mr Editor! — it is some pleasure to know that Lady Olivia is forced to accept the rejected lover of my lady Townly and that Beauclerc has been successfully rivalled by

yours in haste

Pertinax Townly