Chapter 15

Nothing had been yet heard from the pole-cat man, who had gone in quest of the bog-trotter; nor from any other quarter, could the Captain learn the place of his banishment. Had he known where to find him, he could have sent him some books to read, suited to his present situation, and his state of mind. Bolingbroke on exile; Boethius, his consolation of philosophy; these, though he could not read himself, he could get others to read to him; unless indeed, he should have happened to have fallen into a very illiterate part of the country; or where the German only was spoken; and so these books which are written in English, could not be read; the last was written in Latin; but translated into English. Not having books to read, he would have to amuse himself with nine-men’s- morrice, or cross-the-crown, in the sand, or upon chalked boards. Perhaps this might answer the purpose as well to an uncultivated mind, as dissertations of wisdom in manuscript, or print. Business is perhaps the best assuager of melancholy; but the indolence of the Ourang-Outang, as he may be called, speaking characteristically, would hinder him from using this means of cheating his imagination. Laziness was his fort; and there was reason to believe, that he knew it, and would stick to it.

The Captain, however, was not unattentive in his inquiries in the mean time, and hearing of a conjurer that had come to town, not having much faith in his art, but in compliance with the wishes of some who suggested it, he thought proper to consult this wise man, and gain from him such discoveries as he might think proper to communicate. Not that he imagined Teague had got among the stars, and taken his station with the crab, or the Lion. But the conjurer, having more to do with bringing back stolen horses, or lost goods, than casting nativities, it might fall in his way, to ascertain the track of the bog-trotter.

The fact was, that O’Regan had been met with by the conjurer on his way to the village, and had been taken into his service as one that seemed to answer his purpose for an understrapper, having some knowledge of the town, and capable of acting the part of an under devil, whom he might occasionally raise, and interrogate upon the state of affairs at home, or abroad. The hair that had been intended for the devil’s tail, sufficed now; for Teague pointed it out the evening they came to the village; and the horns were at hand, which had been provided for a former service.

In the capacity of assistant conjurer, O’Regan played his part in the commencement, well; and the ladies coming to consult, had some things told them that had happened; a circumstance that gave them full confidence in the information given with regard to things to come. It was this that had raised the credit of the conjurer, and made his art the subject of general conversation. For the tongue of a woman is an excellent promulgator in all that relates to secrets.

There was a widow lady of great fortune, that wished to see her second husband. The visage of the Captain just coming in, was reflected from the mirror, and she saw him.

My dear husband, said she, it must, it will be so. If the stars have ordained it, there is no getting over it. I shall be happy how soon it can be brought about. Can you tell conjurer, how long it will be before the knot is tied. How valuable an art it is that can so easily relieve doubts. By this time she had the Captain round the neck, and was kissing him, without regard to the company.

The Captain, from natural delicacy or a good education, was unwilling to repel the caresses of a lady; at the same time, thought he could not in honour take advantage of the mistake, under which she appeared to labour; but on the contrary, explained to her on principles of optics, the manner in which his physiognomy had been reflected from the lense, and that it would require another experiment to ascertain the real husband, which the stars intended.

The conjurer admitted that his glass had not yet been applyed to discover invisibles; that in fact, he had been only bringing it to bear, when the face of the Captain intercepted the vision.

The lady was satisfied, and disposed to reconcile herself to the real designation of celestial powers, conceiving it in vain to struggle with destiny; and therefore desired the conjurer to lose no time but to manifest to her the real object of her hopes.

Applying her eye to the glass, she saw a face that she did not greatly dislike; for it had the appearance of freshness and contentment; but she saw horns. Horns! said she. What can this mean?

Mean, said the Captain; every one knows the meaning of the emblem. Antlers is a common place figure for cuckoldom; and that would seem to have been the case with the poor man, in his former wife’s time.

The lady was glad to find the allusion had passed ascant from herself, as indeed it could not well be made to her, not being yet married to the gentleman.

In fact it was the bog-trotter, who instead of raising a picture of the camera obscura, had thrust his own head into the box; and having just before affixed his tail, and put on his horns, the last were visible in that quarter, when he presented his physiognomy through the magic lantern, of the conjurer. His curiosity to see the lady, had led him to do this; and expecting that the conversation, before the scenes, would have lasted longer, before she began to look, he was surprised, and had not withdrawn his head.

The lady requested the conjurer to inform her, what length of time her future spouse, would be in coming down from the constellations.

It is not in our power to determine the orbits of fortune, said the conjurer, but simply the phases of the planetary changes.

I should like your faces better, said the lady, if you would bring them down without horns.

This face that the stars have shown, said the conjurer, is in the crescent; but if you come a day or two hence, he may be at the full, and without horns.

In the crescent, or at the full, said the lady, let us have him soon, since it is what I am to have. So saying, she withdrew.

The Captain stepped up to put his question relative to the bog-trotter; and explaining at full length the circumstance of his absconding, wished to know the place of his seclusion, and the means of his reception.

He is in my service, said the conjurer, acting the part of the devil, and is the very figure with the horns, which the lady that just now left us, has mistaken for her future husband; at the same time explained to the Captain, the circumstances under which he found the vagrant, and the manner in which he had accoutred him for the part he had to act; and also how it came to pass that he had got his head into the box, and shown his horns, which had given umbrage to the lady. He gave him also to understand, that he had found him a tolerably expert devil; that he carried his horns and his tail well; that he had raised him frequently, in the capacity of devil, since he came to town, and was to raise him that evening to some young men who had appointed to consult him on love matters; that if the Captain would wait, he might see him play his part, and judge of his dexterity in his new office.

As when in an epilepsy, the eye is fixed in the head, and presents a motionless stare, so looked the Captains’ at this crisis. He was astonished at the deception of the fortune teller, and the vagaries of his waiter; this last adventure had exceeded all the rest. He could not avoid expressing his disapprobation of the foul play which had been shown the lady; and the fraud which had been put upon her, showing his bog-trotter for a person designated by the heavenly bodies, to be her partner in matrimony; and still more the iniquity of inveigling an ignorant creature, to take upon him the character of devil; a masque which he had been endeavouring to avoid, even at the risk of leaving the village; but what especially gave him pain, was the immorality of the occupation into which he had been led, picking peoples pockets under a pretext of discovering things unknown, while in reality, the whole was an imposition. It was of lighter consideration that he had degraded himself and objects of ambition.

However, as the conjurer had him in his service, and some claim upon him, probably to fulfil his engagement, for the season, what could he say, or do? Contracts must be complied with; unless, indeed, the unlawfulness of the service, might relieve from the condition. For this, it would be necessary to consult the blind lawyer; and for which purpose, he took his leave, and withdrew.

The blind lawyer, was of opinion, no prior contract with the subordinate existing, having been but a servant at will, no habeas corpus or other legal process could lie on the part of the Captain, to take him out of the hands of the conjurer; and as to the unlawfulness of the service, that must be a plea in the bog-trotter’s own mouth, and not in that of another for him. Doubtless it was a fraud upon the public: but the people themselves became a party, by consulting the wizard, and no action would lie to recover money back so thrown away. For potior est conditio possidentis. But in foro conscientiae, it might be a question whether it was a wrong to trick people that were willing to be tricked. Si populus vult decipi, decipiatur.

The Captain thought it an immorality, to take such advantage of the credulity of the young, and the ignorant; or even of old fools; for truth, sincerity, and plain dealing, was the basis of morality.

A quid pro quo, in all contracts, said the Lawyer, is doubtless, necessary. There must be a consideration. --But it is not necessary that this be a substantial equivalent. One promise may be the consideration of another. Amusement is a consideration of a great part of our stipulations. Can any thing amuse more than fair hopes?

The pleasure is as great,
Of being cheated, as to cheat

I am not able to argue with a Lawyer, said the Captain, especially on principles of law; but this much I know, that the conjurer engages to perform what he cannot do, that is, to tell fortunes, and therefore deceives. Hence he is what I call a rogue. Now that my bog-trotter, low as he is, should be an apprentice to a rogue, or worse, an assistant and partner in iniquity, is a reflection upon me, who have brought him here; and independent of this, there is a degradation of turning devil. A printer’s devil, we all know, means the lad that cleans the types, or puts on the black-ball; but this is a different sort of personage; and actually wears horns, and is in the semblance of Belzebub, or at least in that representation of him, which the painters give.

As to the degradation, said the blind Lawyer, that is matter of opinion. If we recur to popular language, and take our ideas of an honourable calling from common parlance, we shall find nothing of higher estimation in grade of profession, than that of the conjurer; we say of a physician, he is no conjurer; of a lawyer, he is no conjurer; and so on of other occupations, meaning that however eminent any one may be, still he falls behind the conjurer. But in a republican government, the trade or employment of a man is but little considered. The great matter is the profits of it. Does it make the pot boil? If the bog-trotter finds his account in the service and makes money, the world will wink at the means.

To act the part of a devil may be sinful, as a divine would say, but as to honour, I do not know it to be any impeachment to be a devil. The greater the devil the better the fellow. It is a cause of challenge to call a man a knave; but not to say he is a devil.

The Captain discovered that the lawyer was disposed to be playful, and not serious; and dropped the conversation; still hurt in his mind at the catastrophe of his subordinate itinerant, who had been on the pinnacle of fortune, in point of expectation, having fallen so low, and gone so far astray in his pursuits. But a change was given to his meditations when, in the mean time, the bog-trotter appeared, without tail or horns, or a whole shirt upon his back. He had lost all these in a scuffle with the conjurer, about the division of the profits. A misunderstanding had also taken place on the subject of alternating offices, the deputy insisting that he should change places occasionally with the master, who should act the devil in his turn. This the principal refused to do, and hence the disagreement, which had come to blows, was the cause of a separation.