Letter from Pertinax Townly

Miss Porden

Positive House

Dear Editor,

Do you remember a tree in the Arabian Nights which has all its leaves black on one side and white on the other? I think it might as well be applied to the events of life as the days and nights which compose the year, for there are few occurrences, however dismal, that have not their bright side, and few of the most brilliant without a shade. Mrs Bustleton has indulged her malicious jealousy at my expense, and I have enjoyed a hearty laugh at the expense of Mrs Bustleton.

You must know, Mr Editor, my muse is as capricious as the rest of her sex, and though ready enough with her smiles when unsolicited, has a most repulsive frown at the very idea of compulsion. She was, the day before yesterday, in one of these froward humours, yet Lady Olivia’s complimentary fragment required an answer, so after spoiling a quarter of a hundred of pens, and half a quire of gilt-edged paper, I at length had recourse to the steel pen of Atticus, who soon, for value received, accommodated me with the following fragment which I produced yesterday morning after my accustomed visit to the Machine; for I thought it was as well on a principle of economy, to make them serve two purposes.

Miss Vardill

To the Fairest

(By and Inmate of Positive House)

When Norway’s Monarch knelt to gain
The spell of love from Runa’s fane
A wither’d Sybil heard his prayer,
And wove the gift with mystic care.
A web of silken hair she spun,
Dip’t in the dew from roses won.
She gemm’d her work with saphirs blue
And tinged it with the ruby’s hue:
Then hid a pearl within its fold,
And closed it by a ring of gold
In consecrated fire refined
The mighty talisman to bind.

Thou hast the web of silken hair,
Thy lips the honied dew may spare
The saphir sparkles in thine eye,
Thy blush excels the ruby’s dye,
Within — the purest pearl is shrined,
But who the magic ring shall find?
The potent circlet’s powers retire
Without the touch of holy fire:
But Lady! — trust the ring’s control — 
The sacred flame is in my soul!

Miss Porden

Lady Olivia did not I thought receive these line so graciously as I had expected, but what was my consternation when Mrs Bustleton said she had seen them before, and in a few minutes gave us to understand that they were either the same lines, or very like some addressed to her by the defunct Mr Bustleton, which she had in her bureau upstairs. I thought it best to put a good face on the matter, and gain time to concert measures with young Atticus, with whom however I felt very seriously displeased. I therefore said I believed she would find herself mistaken. I was no plagiarist, nor had I had the honour of Mr Bustleton’s acquaintance, and I dared her to produce them the next morning.

In vain all the day did I strive to get a moment’s speech with Atticus, and the evening was devoted to one of Electromagus’s stupid scientific lectures, and he was engaged as an assistant. When all were retired to rest, however, I proceeded to his chamber to require advice and explanation. To my great astonishment I heard voices. At first Atticus appeared reading some part of a poem. He was interrupted in a half whisper, “That will not do. I must have a simile introduced here.” He stopped as if writing and then read aloud. “Excellent,” said the voice, “but do not forget to ring Lord Aircastle’s praises. He failed, but that is not our business.” I believe I have an innate propensity to mischief and inherit all my mother’s curiosity, for had I had no errand I would certainly have invented one. I opened the door abruptly and discovered to my no small amusement Mrs Bustleton and Atticus tête-a-tête over an inch of candle. The night was cold and she was wrapped in a large furred pelisse, and an immense bonnet decorated with one of the largest trees I have yet seen sported by a Bond Street Belle, and which reminded me of Munchaussen’s story, with the cherry tree growing out of his back. Atticus, warmed by the fire of poesy alone, was taking directions as I suppose for her Prize Poem. They were both in great confusion at my entrance, and I instantly perceived this accident might redound to my advantage. In short, I acknowledged having purchased the lines of Atticus and called him to account to Mrs Bustleton as well as myself for the accident. He said, that being much pressed for time he had occasionally made use of a few [work] poems left by his father, who having always made a rule of indorsing his papers with the name of the person to whom they were sold and the sums received, he had thought he might with perfect safety use those which wanted such credentials of their employment. He had no reason to suppose these verses had ever been sold, as they had no such marks upon them, possibly because payment had been neglected. He concluded by begging pardon both of Mrs Bustleton and myself. In short, it was agreed that I should keep Mrs Bustleton’s secret on condition of her keeping mine, and this morning, when the moment came, I boldly asked her if she had found the verses. She said yes! but that though there was some similarity in the turn of thought she found I had not been guilty of plagiarism. I on my part commended her daily lucubration, and dropped no hint of the situation in which I had discovered her.

Lady Olivia continues her unamicable coldness to me, but has become unusually gracious to Philemon, which I do not understand. She may find it not safe to trust to my jealousy. I wish I could meet with my Incognita.

Dear Editor

Faithfully yours

Pertinax Townly