Tales of College Life/"Aeger;" or, Mistaken Identity/Chapter 4

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Tales of College Life by Cuthbert Bede
"Aeger;" or, Mistaken Identity
Chapter 4



The affable Canary had not deviated from the truth when he told Mr. Percival Wylde that Miss Fanny Douglas was at home, alone, and in the back drawing-room; for, there she was.

She was seated before a curly-legged, lady-like looking writing-table, on which were strewed, in picturesque disorder, letters answered and unanswered, together with the snowy sheets that were yet to receive the pencillings of Miss Fanny's thoughts and fancies, and were destined to carry to divers quarters all those varied sensations, and paroxysms of confidence, that tear the breast of the feminine letter-writer. The young lady appeared to have at length brought to an end a painfully-becrossed epistolary effusion; for she had folded up a letter into its envelope, and had lighted a taper, which—according to that truthful imitation of nature that distinguishes the generality of "Art-utilities,"—was inserted into the upright mouth of a blue-bell, obligingly held by a Parian Cupid, who was already encumbered with a gilt quiver and a sheaf of arrows; and there was an odour as of the burning of scented sealing-wax, as Percie was ushered into the room by the affable Canary.

Fanny was so engrossed with her occupation, that she had not heard the footsteps of the approaching visitor—muffled as they were by the moss-like carpet of the front drawing-room—and she was not aware of his entrance until the words, "Mr. Percival Wylde, Miss!" fell gratefully upon her startled ear. She started round as the affable Canary placed Percie's card upon the table, and ushered its late proprietor into the room; and, in another moment, her hand was clasped in that of her lover's. Then—the affable Canary having discreetly closed the door—a little pantomimic performance was gone through, which, though brief, was doubtless amusing and satisfactory, notwithstanding that it was accompanied by the exclamations: "there!—don't!—you rude thing!—suppose some one should come in!"

"Why! can it be you?" at length said Miss Fanny Douglas, when the pantomime had been brought to an end.

"Oh dear, no!" replied Percie; "it is n't me! it 's a man very like me. Perhaps it 's my wraith like the gentleman who so inopportunely appeared to Mrs. Auld Robin Gray. 'I saw my Jamie's wraith, but I could not think it he, until'—etcetera and so forth!"

"At any rate," said Fanny, laughing, "I am quite in her position, for I can scarcely think it you. It is only just now that I was certified of the fact that you were, at the present time, some seventy miles from here."

"Yes! but don't you remember the Corsican Brothers? and have you forgotten that never-to-be-forgotten night of happiness when we went to the Haymarket, and saw Planchè's capital burlesque, and heard that killing imitation of Charles Kean—

'I am his spirit, come to show me how
He, that is, I, was killed to-morrow—now!'

Have you forgotten that puzzling position of pronouns? There are queer things in the drama of life, as well as in that of the stage; and perhaps, after all, I am not myself!"

"Well! if it is you," laughed Fanny, "I hope I see you well—as people say; for I was certainly under the delusion, not only that you were at this present time in Oxford, but that you were very ill there."

"And so I am, my dear Fanny!" replied Percie, with mock gravity; "so I am—very ill indeed—æger. But my ghost, who is now addressing you, is pretty well, thank you."

"I am pleased to hear it, Mr. Ghost," said Miss Fanny; "for your Ghostship's Papa left this room not half-an-hour since, after giving me a most touching and affecting narrative of the malady under which your Ghostship was supposed to be labouring; and," continued Fanny, as she pointed to the letter she had been sealing, "I had even been giving myself the trouble to convey to you my condolence on your serious indisposition. It seems that I might have spared myself such useless labour."

"Dear me, no!" said the Ghost; "pray give me the valuable document, and I will see that it is duly conveyed to Percival Wilde, Esquire, who is now pining on his Oxford bed of sickness. The sight thereof will be unto him as the sight of the goddess Hygeia, and will raise him from his æger couch—æger, my dear Fanny, being a Latin word, that signifieth sick, ill, or indisposed."

"Thank you, Mr. Ghost, for the translation; and, having given me one translation, perhaps you will favour me with the explanation of another; and will condescend to explain why I am thus so unexpectedly honoured with the translation of an æger gentleman from Oxford to London." And Miss Fanny puckered up her eyes and lips, and looked unspeakably roguish.

"Certainly, my dear Fanny," replied the Ghost; "though in as few words as possible; for my time, like your own sweet self, is very precious. I was so ill—at least, not ill, but æger, you understand—that I found I must run up to town for the very best professional advice on my case. Now, we have it on most excellent authority, that the best Physician is a certain Doctor Love; so I naturally called at this house, where I knew he was to be found; and, 'Here we are!' as the clown says in the Pantomime—Physician and Patient. The Patient having stated his case, what is the advice of my Doctor Love?"

"That you immediately go back to Oxford, Sir, where you know you ought to be now, you naughty boy!" replied the Doctor.

"Is that your advice?" asked the Patient.

"Yes," said the Doctor.

"Thank you," rejoined the Patient; "I feel indebted to you. There is Dr. Love's fee!" and the Ghost positively seized upon the young lady, and kissed her!—at least he appeared to kiss her; but we had rather not commit ourselves to the declaration that his osculatory intentions were fully carried out.

"There, Sir! that is quite enough! I did not ask you to pay me in that fashion!" said Dr. Love, with a quickened breath, and a heightened flush—(so, perhaps, after all, the Ghost did kiss the young lady!) "It is fortunate for you that you did not meet your Papa here. What ever would he say if he knew you were in London—much more in Wilton Crescent?"

"Oh! he does know it," said the Ghost, calmly; "I met him at Hyde Park Corner, and, thinking that honesty was the best policy, I told him that I was on my way to Wilton Crescent."

"I admire your boldness!" remarked Doctor Love. "And was he very angry?"

"Not more so than the Old Boy usually is on this subject," replied the Patient. "He roared me 'an' 't were any nightingale.' Ahem! Shakspeare!"

"But," asked Doctor Love, "was he not horrified to find your Ghostship in London, when he thought you were lying ill in Oxford?"

"Slightly horrified, and fearfully disgusted!" replied the Ghost. "But then, you see, my dear Fanny, that it was not me that he met. At least, he would have it that it was me. But it must have been some one very like me; for, of course, it could not be me, because I was, at that very time, keeping an æger at Oxford."

"Of course not! but explain the riddle, Sir Ghost!" said Doctor Love.

The Ghost did so, in that jerky, Alfred Jingle style which he had before made use of at Hyde Park Corner; which style is a particularly useful one when you want to get over the ground quickly. In fact, it would be very advantageous to the devourers of the three-volume thirty-one-and-sixpence class of romantic novels, if the food of their imagination was drest up in this literary short-bread fashion, for it would save them the consumption of a great deal of unnecessary indigestible matter.

"So that 's the state of the case, my dear Fanny," said the Ghost, as he brought his rapid narrative to a conclusion. "And now, having gained my point in seeing you, and having been considerably refreshed thereby, and having had the excellent advice of Doctor Love on my distressing æger case, I must be off as quickly as possible to Oxford, before the Old Boy can get there."

"Decidedly the best thing you can do, Sir," said Doctor Love. "Don't let me keep you another minute; but, if you are really my patient, take my advice and go."

"And with your advice I should like to take thee! as Lover sings, and your lover says eh, Doctor Love?" said the patient, who appeared to be in a humour for composing impromptu parodies; for he immediately added, "'My cab is at the door, And my bark is on the sea, But before I go, Astore! I 've a double kiss for thee.' And," continued the Ghost, as he gave the young lady a practical illustration of the beauties of his parody, "don't let your Mammy or Daddy, or any one else, know of this visit And, pray be cautious, my dear Fanny, and don't split!"

And, with. this final injunction,—which seemed to intimate that there was some danger of the young lady coming to an untimely end, after the fashion of tight dresses and unseaworthy vessels—the Patient warmly embraced the Physician (so great was his gratitude!), and the Ghost vanished.