Peg Plunkett's Memoirs - CHAP. XXXI.

Memoirs of Mrs. Margaret Leeson

CHAP. XXXI.

            A DAY or two after my arrival from this pleasant and never to be forgotten excursion, I had discovered that during my absence, Miss Grove and Miss Philips, two ladies that I had as boarders, led such a life of riot and dissipation as really to be a nuisance to the neighbourhood; this circumstance gave me a considerable share of anxiety, as my house was ever known to be as quiet and regular as anyone in town, and upon a more minute examination, I found the former of these ladies, had made free with a large quantity of my furniture, which she contrived to get out of the house, under pretence of exchanging them by my directions, for some of more new and fashionable patterns, she sure enough made the exchange, but it was for money, to Mr. F—— of Bride's-alley, who, Jew-like, gave about the eighth of the value. This conduct determined me to lessen my family, and as God had assisted my industrious endeavours, with what a moderate person would call independence, I began to reflect that it was high time for me to think of retiring from business, I accordingly agreed with a gentleman in the building line, to complete a house for me on a lot of ground I had taken on the Black Rock road, it was to be finished in a year in the most complete and comfortable manner, and for which I contracted to pay five hundred guineas. I determined to have one year or two more of pleasure, and then take my leave of public business, and get into the shade of retirement, to pass the remainder of my days in ease and independence. This resolution I was fully determined to carry into execution, and the first step I was induced to take was, to not only contract my family, but also to select my visitors, and by degrees to wean myself from the round of company and dissipation I was accustomed to move in; I therefore instantly discharged Miss Grove and her vicious companion Philips, and took into my house Fanny Beresford, of whom I made former mention; this young woman was of a sweet disposition, and in whose company I found real pleasure—she was of a most reputable family, who gave her an excellent education; she was my principal amanuensis, and who prepared these my adventures for the press. Just at this time, she was engaged in an amorous and whimsical adventure, the relation of which amused me very much, and as she was the principal actress in it, I shall beg leave to give it a place here.

            She had been taken into keeping by a Lieutenant B——e, and lived very pleasant and happily with him at the barrack in Arklow, where he was quartered, 'till this adventure caused a temporary separation. I shall give it to the reader in her own words.—

"I was surprised with a visit from two of my old friends in Dublin, who came to Arklow on purpose to see me; one was a young printer, and the other the son of a very eminent tea-merchant, Mr. H——n. It was in the Whitsun holidays that these young bloods, well mounted, made their appearance, assuming the character of Peers, with their stars and other symbols of nobility, and to do them but common justice, they acted their parts to admiration, as they were vastly more generous, and had more cash, than many of our sprigs of fashion and rank; these, I say, arrived about eleven o'clock in the morning, and as my gentleman had dined that day at Wicklow, insisted that I should dine with them at the inn, to which invitation I consented; they prevailed on me to take advantage of the absence of my friend and accompany them to Dublin, and I not much liking a secluded country life, and fond of variety, agreed to the proposal with pleasure; and while dinner was getting ready, every preparation was made, a horse hired, and I took an opportunity of equipping myself for the journey, which I had some difficulty of doing, as our movements were beginning to take wind;—however, after dinner, on pretence of taking a ride, we took to the road, caring little for what I left behind, and knowing my friend was too generous to withhold my clothes and trunks, we pursued our way to Wicklow: indeed a thousand times I was sorry for the precipitate step I had taken, for if we had met my gentleman coming home from Wicklow, I knew the consequence must have terminated very unpleasantly; however on we went, but to our very great amazement, after we were from Arklow about four miles, and on getting on a rising ground, we perceived a troop of horse after us; no doubt my flight being discovered, and the fear of the vengeance of the Lieutenant, was the cause of the pursuit; however my two friends were not at all dismayed, prevailed on me to quit the high road, and take refuge with them in a cabin that lay at the end of a field near hand, and my friend Type, whose presence of mind never forsook him, gave half-a crown to a countryman, to tell, when enquiry was made from him by the troop, that he saw us return to Arklow through a bye-road (very fortunately one offered itself to his view) which he pointed out; this had the desired effect, and after our pursuers returned, and was out of sight, we set spurs to our horses, continued our journey, and arrived safe at Wicklow at ten o'clock that night; we immediately called for supper, and in the interim a quarrel arose between my conductors, relative to me, each insisting on the possession of me for the night; it was referred to myself, and as it would be unjust to give a preference to one, I recommended they should draw lots for the prize: this idea was immediately adopted, and my friend the Grocer was the happy man; this was no sooner settled, than we were surprized with the voice of the Lieutenant; we knew he had been in the house, as my two friends breakfasted there in the morning, and had seen him, and as they were intimately acquainted, the Lieutenant expressed his sorrow, that he could not be in Arklow to receive them at dinner; and on our arrival the first question we asked was, whether he was in the house, and was answered by the waiters, that he was, and in company with a club of gentlemen: this you may be sure made us more circumspect; however to put the best face on the matter, I went to my bed-chamber where I ordered my supper, after binding the waiters to secrecy; and the Lieutenant supped with my two friends, they assuring him, his fair mistress was quite inconsolable for his company at Arklow, and he was determined to set off at the first light, so as to surprise her at breakfast. You may be sure my dear friend, my situation was not of the pleasantest; but to corn-pleat this chapter of accidents, my friend Type played a deep game; after getting his friend dead drunk, he slipped from table and took possession of my chamber, where he fortified himself by placing a chest of drawers and half a dozen chairs against the door, and then very soberly stripped himself and slipped into my bed, where I had been about a hour. I was not very sorry for this trick upon the grocer, but I was apprehensive in revenge he would "peach," and so make terrible work; however he was so completely intoxicated he had not the power to stir, and he was left on the floor by the Lieutenant, who retired to his own room, and who at the peep of day set out for Arklow: about three o'clock in the morning, Tea and Sugar came to my door and demanded admittance, but he was soon cooled by Type, who very deliberately got up, opened the door, and dragged him by the feet down two pair of stairs, and left him to ruminate on his adventures in a flagged hall. However at breakfast all animosity was forgot, and I reconciled the friends by assuring my Tea-selling spark, he should to a certainty have all his wishes gratified in Dublin;—we after breakfast continued our way to town through Bray, and arrived in town the same evening."

            Here my friend Beresford concluded her story, and I was well pleased with the favourable issue of this adventure, as I was ever an enemy to quarrels of every kind, and I also had the satisfaction by my interference, of reconciling the Lieutenant to Fanny, with whom she lived 'till his regiment was ordered to his own country (Scotland), and my fair friend was too much attached to hers, to accept of his invitation to accompany him, after which she returned to my house.

            At a large party one night at my house, we had the pleasure of the company of Colonel Mercer, who among a number of pleasant stories, related the following, which is not generally known. It happened in the 49th regiment, of which he was the Colonel. There was a private soldier, whose mother nursed the colonel; this man had several times deserted, but was by the good colonel got off from punishment; it happened that the corporal, another soldier and himself, not only had deserted but actually took away some articles belonging to the regiment; it was during the American war, where delinquents of this nature seldom escaped; they were soon apprehended, tried by a general court martial, and sentenced to be shot; this man as usual made application to the colonel, but he declared, that to save him was totally out of his power, and advised him to prepare for death;—the evening before the fatal day, he entreated the favour of seeing the colonel, who did accordingly attend him; he asked, was there no hope, no possibility of changing the punishment, but the colonel solemnly declared that his fate was fixed, and die he must; "Then sir," says the soldier, "I am perfectly well reconciled to my fate, I have only one request to beg of you, which I cannot die in peace till you grant, and which you must pledge your honour to fulfil, it will not be attended with trouble, and the expense will not amount to a guinea." The colonel imagining, it was some request he had to make relative to his body, and without hesitation gave his honour, his request should be complied with, "well then," says the man, "you are a man of honour, and I shall die in peace, well knowing you will be equal to your promise,—my request is, that when I am shot dead, you will instantly in presence of the whole regiment, turn up my body and kiss my a—e."

            The colonel's promise was sacred and he could not be off; he however so effectually exerted himself, as to prevent so disagreeable an exhibition, and got a free pardon for the three soldiers: he added, that after so narrow an escape the soldier reformed, and turned out afterwards one of the best in the regiment.

            My readers must have recollected the celebrated Doctor Bell, the magnetizer; among the rest of my visitors at that period he was one, and a libidinous little dog he was; he frequently gave me and my friends admission tickets, to hear his lectures and see his experiments on somnambulism and sleep-walking; it was really astonishing to see how the people (and the most sensible and best informed too) were gulled by this foreign Chevalier d'Industrie; he affected to show his mighty powers on a Miss W——r and several others, and from his absolutely persuading them they were actually asleep, strange to tell, they affected to nod. A gentleman requested of the Doctor, to try his magnetic powers on him, and send him to the regions of Morpheus, his answer was, that the gentleman being in rude health, and having an athletic constitution and strong nerves, he could not grant him his wish immediately, but if he wished to be put in contact with a Mr. Godsell a madman, who was then in company, he should be instantly gratified with a paroxysm of madness, or if it was more agreeable to him, he should have a raging fit of the gout, an inveterate venereal complaint, or a burning fever, "which, sir, do you prefer, either shan't last more than a hour?" The gentleman, who was no other but Mr. L——e, made a precipitate retreat, almost chilled with horror at the proposal, and left the doctor to exult in his success; indeed the doctors fame was so industriously spread about by his female disciples, Mrs. Fitzm——, Lady G——, Mrs. S——, and a few old tabbies, who imagined he was the great Lama, just come to diffuse universal knowledge and the cure of all distempers. I shall forbear to mention the names of a number of gentlemen who paid large premiums to this follower of Mesmer, to be initiated into the occult sciences; among a variety of the distempered who attracted my attention, round his wooden oval machine, filled with coal ashes and dirt, and having crooked bars of iron all round, opposite to each of which there was a chair, and a patient, conveying the animal fluid, with their hands into the system; I discovered a worthy old friend of mine, of whose worth and abilities in his line, I was long acquainted with, it was Mr. Charles C——, a celebrated watch-maker, who came for advice for a complaint in his eyes, the Doctor after taking his guinea, sent for a glass of water, and made him squat down on the floor, and first opening the lash of the blind eye (he was then blind of one eye) and after stroking it over with his magnet, closed it again, he then opened the other, and dipping his magnet in the water, let one drop fall into the eye, and then with a consequential look and voice, pronounced "rise up sir, I pronounce you a cure:" He then gave him the magnetized water, with strong injunctions to expose it to the rays of the sun every morning to retain its magnetic powers, and to use it as a lotion to strengthen the cure; however: this curious eye water had such an effect upon poor C——g, that a few weeks afterwards he was stone blind, in which melancholy situation he continues to this day. The Doctor soon after this wonderful cure, terminated his career in Dublin, being detected in an amour with one of his fair disciples, whom he had prevailed on to admit his animal fluid into the proper receiver, which he assured her, would give her all the knowledge she wished for, without the trouble of study; the discovery compelled him to make a precipitate retreat: he then shifted his quarters to Cork, where the novelty of his amazing art, gave him a kind reception into the families of some of the first people in that city, who immediately formed a club for propagating the rudiments of that wonderful metaphysical science; his particular intimates were, Doctors Longfield, Callanan, and Gibbings; Sir Henry Mannix, Mr. Bousfreld, Mr. M.R. Westrop, Sir Robert Warren, Mr. Leslie, Mr. Morrison, Messrs Hearvey and Deaves, Edmond R. Kinselagh, Hickman and Grey, Sir R. Kellett, Mr. Bonwell, and Father Synan, the celebrated Protestant Priest, &c. &c. &c. his disciples and followers in that very hospitable city, and who paid the Doctor largely for their initiation into the mysteries of somnambulism, were very numerous; among which were Mr. White, Mr. J. Franklin, Mr. Snowe, Mr. Bastable, and the Roscius Mr. Dan. Connell;—Mr. Pope, Mr. George Jack, and the facetious Tommy Howard; Messrs St Leger, Travers, T. Jones,—Wassy, Durden, Haly, and Knapp, with numberless others whose names are not worth enumerating;—but notwithstanding the powerful encouragement he met with, from some fatality or other, he contracted debts he was unable to satisfy, in consequence of which he was thrust into gaol, where all his friends deserted him, which gave him an opportunity of studying the occult sciences at his leisure: He was afterwards liberated by the interference of the Humane Cork Society, and went back to France (his native country) where Robespierre's magnet (i.e. the guillotine) soon terminated his career, and put him into a state of somnambulism from which he will never awake.

 

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