Tabby Hall, May 31st 1813
I am called a moody Humourist, but you will think me an honest physician when I tell you that I love laughing. Mirth is the true gas or rarified air which refreshes and invigorates the lungs. We have had an ample supply since the arrival of an Irishman who gained admittance here by invincible effrontery and a title claimed from a sixtieth cousin. A fop causes as much commotion in this sisterhood as you may have seen in a colony of ants when they have caught an aphis: the poor insect has no rest till he has divided his honey among them. Sir Patrick McSinister, finding himself baffled by Miss Botherem, discovered that a large estate belongs to our senior member Cassandra Croaker. This lady is one of those good friends to my profession who are called nervous and imagine a thousand distempers for which we are tormented to find names. She is also a prophetic dreamer and is now employed in writing an ancient legend which may reach the Attic Chest. As she scarcely ever quits her bed-chamber, Sir Patrick was perplexed how to convey his overtures: but one morning I observed a label of extraordinary size attached to a phial just placed in her apartment. I unfolded it and found this valuable morceau.
I see you so seldom, beautifullest Cassandra, because you are always invisible, that I write this whether you read it or not, to tell you that I shall die with living in silence. I had never such a flame in my heart since before I was born: and it would only be a little matter of kindness in you to let me see you for half and hour just to squinch it.
Now, tho’ a billet-doux has often performed surprising cures in nervous cases, I did not choose to expose my patient to this trial. Therefore, throwing this paper into the fire, I wrote three lines with my pencil on another slip which I fastened round an empty phial and gave to Cassandra’s maid, whose arch eye assured me of her connivance with Sir Patrick. This was my answer to his note.
I am not surprised at your confession, for I dreamt last night of a calf’s heart roasted. As my nerves are too delicate to endure the hazard of an interview in my apartment, you may expect to meet me tonight in Miss Botherem’s balloon, which will be the most secret and appropriate place for your ethereal passion.”
P.S. Place your letters hereafter under the Etruscan vase in the gallery.
The place of rendezvous thus appointed was an aerostatic machine constructed on the principles of a balloon and placed on the roof of Miss Barbara’s laboratory, to promote her intended experiments in the art of flying. At night the adventurous enamorato ascended to this roof by the aid of a ladder, and crept into the cavity of the machine which might have held two visitors very conveniently. This was beyond my hopes. I begged admission into my fair friend Barbara’s laboratory, and informed her that I had found a plan suggested by Professor Blumenbach to produce the semblance of a human form by combining certain kinds of rarified air. I quoted Beaumur and Monboddo in favor of this attempt. The sprightly student of philosophy was enchanted with their system and eager for an experiment. Accordingly we closed the valve of the balloon and introduced a tube which was soon filled with the smoke arising from pitcoal, camphor, and chipp’d iron. After enduring this delicious fumigation with heroic fortitude for some time, our prisoner rent the valve and showed a face which fear and agony rendered hardly human. Overwhelmed with awe and amazement at this marvellous result of science, Barbara ran shrieking away, and I followed, that his escape might be uninterrupted. She would have renewed her chemical process, but I assured her that the boldest experimentalists had never succeeded more than once.
The next morning, according to my expectations, I found a billet from Sir Patrick in the appointed recess, complaining bitterly of his disappointment and demanding redress from his diving Cassandra, in whose style I composed a reply intimating that her absence was unavoidable. But Sir Patrick determined to choose the next place of rendezvous himself. My valet (a shrewd rogue of some importance in the servant’s hall) informed me that our adventurer, with the advice of Lady Belle Bluemantle’s abigail, proposed to avail himself of a certain tradition current at Tabby Hall respecting the ghost of a suicide who is supposed to visit it. Equipped in a white nightgown with a few leeches round his throat to give it an appearance sufficiently sanguinary, Sir Patrick determined to knock at Cassandra’s chamber-door when the hour of ghosts arrived. I chose to provide for his reception. In the evening when I visited her as usual to fix the state of her health, she began a narrative of certain horrible visions which had appeared on the roof of Miss Botherem’s laboratory, and gravely told me of the awful presentiments and prognostications which she felt. I listened with a solemn countenance and replied by acquainting her that certain Greek words possessed the power of banishing evil spirits. Having taught the good lady to pronounce these magic words, I departed to a proper station. “The iron hand of midnight had tolled twelve” when the ghost, admitted by Kitty Maltravers, gave three soft knocks on the fair one’s door. Cassandra, having fortified her nerves by a cup of noyau, exclaimed in a shrill voice as she had been instructed —
“Epe ka, ka, ko-ax ko-ax — oop, oop!”
This famous line of Aristothenes failed in deterring her visitor, who not knowing how to interpret it, opened the door and advanced. I doubt whether the tall figure of Sir Patrick in his spectral habiliments was more terrific than Cassandra’s as she sat upright on her couch; her pen behind her ear, her Ms. grasped in her hand, while the rays of a nightlamp fell on her haggard forehead on which her spectacles were fixed. Both gazed at each other a moment but the strength of noyau ceasing, Cassandra screamed like her namesake and my valet, receiving my signal, rung the alarm-bell violently. Sir Patrick hearing a cry of Thieves and Murder, fled from Cassandra’s room, and finding the stairs barricaded against him, took refuge in a closet where he met another ghost who exercised his hands and feet upon him with so little spiritual clemency that our knight chose rather to encounter his pursuers. He ran the gauntlet thro’ a throng of brooms, pokers, and other domestic weapons with great skill, till he found an open window which had been purposely left for his escape. The bruises received in this adventure disabled him for some days; but at length the Etruscan vase was entrusted with a letter of no ordinary length, expostulating with his capricious Cassandra and begging an explanation of her mysterious words. My reply assured him that his defeat was a proper punishment for his ill-contrived visit; that her Greek ejaculation meant “Bring up a coach,” and finally if he would provide one on the following night, that his beloved Cassandra would enter it at the park-gate and admit him as her travelling companion to Gretna Green, tho’ decorum would not permit her to be seen voluntarily departing with him. This bait succeeded. The indefatigable lover sent a chaise to the appointed place and lurked among the trees at a little distance. A wooden skeleton of very ingenious mechanism taken from my cabinet and dressed in Miss Cassandra’s style, was lifted into the chaise by my man (whom Sir P. considered his accomplice) with a trunk well-filled by some worn-out articles of my apparel. The carriage then drove away, and at a convenient distance the knight leaped into it and was received, no doubt, with an intolerable gripe and a most catlike yell. If he returns to Tabby Hall after this disappointment, he has more courage and patience than becomes a man. The sisterhood are impatient for the arrival of a solicitor to protect them from a renewal of these attempts which have caused as much noise here as the cackle of certain Roman fowl to defend the capital. If Sir Patrick is disposed to challenge me, I warn him thus publicly, that more ways of killing than professional ones are known to
W: B: Cardamom