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XII 


From Captain Wragge to Magdalen.

"North Shingles Villa, Aldborough, Suffolk, July 22d.

"MY DEAR GIRL -- Your letter has charmed and touched me. Your excuses have gone straight to my heart; and your confidence in my humble abilities has followed in the sa me direction. The pulse of the old militia-man throbs with pride as he thinks of the trust you have placed in him, and vows to deserve it. Don't be surprised at this genial outburst. All enthusiastic natures must explode occasionally; and my form of explosion is -- Words.

"Everything you wanted me to do is done. The house is taken; the name is found; and I am personally acquainted with Mrs. Lecount. After reading this general statement, you will naturally be interested in possessing your mind next of the accompanying details. Here they are, at your service:

"The day after leaving you in London, I traced Mr. Noel Vanstone to this curious little seaside snuggery. One of his father's innumerable bargains was a house at Aldborough -- a rising watering-place, or Mr. Michael Vanstone would not have invested a farthing in it. In this house the despicable little miser, who lived rent free in London, now lives, rent free again, on the coast of Suffolk. He is settled in his present abode for the summer and autumn; and you and Mrs. Wragge have only to join me here, to be established five doors away from him in this elegant villa. I have got the whole house for three guineas a week, with the option of remaining through the autumn at the same price. In a fashionable watering-place, such a residence would have been cheap at double the money.

"Our new name has been chosen with a wary eye to your suggestions. My books -- I hope you have not forgotten my Books? -- contain, under the heading of Skins To Jump Into, a list of individuals retired from this mortal scene, with whose names, families, and circumstances I am well acquainted. Into some of those Skins I have been compelled to Jump, in the exercise of my profession, at former periods of my career. Others are still in the condition of new dresses and remain to be tried on. The Skin which will exactly fit us originally clothed the bodies of a family named Bygrave. I am in Mr. Bygrave's skin at this moment -and it fits without a wrinkle. If you will oblige me by slipping into Miss Bygrave (Christian name, Susan); and if you will afterward push Mrs. Wragge -anyhow; head foremost if you like -- into Mrs. Bygrave (Christian name, Julia), the transformation will be complete. Permit me to inform you that I am your paternal uncle. My worthy brother was established twenty years ago in the mahogany and logwood trade at Belize, Honduras. He died in that place; and is buried on the south-west side of the local cemetery, with a neat monument of native wood carved by a self-taught negro artist. Nineteen months afterward his widow died of apoplexy at a boarding-house in Cheltenham. She was supposed to be the most corpulent woman in England, and was accommodated on the ground-floor of the house in consequence of the difficulty of getting her up and down stairs. You are her only child; you have been under my care since the sad event at Cheltenham; you are twenty-one years old on the second of August next; and, corpulence excepted, you are the living image of your mother. I trouble you with these specimens of my intimate knowledge of our new family Skin, to quiet your mind on the subject of future inquiries. Trust to me and my books to satisfy any amount of inquiry. In the meantime write down our new name and address, and see how they strike you: 'Mr. Bygrave, Mrs. Bygrave, Miss Bygrave; North Shingles Villa, Aldborough.' Upon my life, it reads remarkably well!

"The last detail I have to communicate refers to my acquaintance with Mrs. Lecount.

"We met yesterday, in the grocer's shop here. Keeping my ears open, I found that Mrs. Lecount wanted a particular kind of tea which the man had not got, and which he believed could not be procured any nearer than Ipswich. I instantly saw my way to beginning an acquaintance, at the trifling expense of a journey to that flourishing city. 'I have business to-day in Ipswich,' I said, 'and I propose returning to Aldborough (if I can get back in time) this evening. Pray allow me to take your order for the tea, and to bring it back with my own parcels.' Mrs. Lecount politely declined giving me the trouble -- I politely insisted on taking it. We fell into conversation. There is no need to trouble you with our talk. The result of it on my mind is -- that Mrs. Lecount's one weak point, if she has such a thing at all, is a taste for science, implanted by her deceased husband, the professor. I think I see a chance here of working my way into her good graces, and casting a little needful dust into those handsome black eyes of hers. Acting on this idea when I purchased the lady's tea at Ipswich, I also bought on my own account that far-famed pocket-manual of knowledge, 'Joyce's Scientific Dialogues.' Possessing, as I do, a quick memory and boundless confidence in myself, I propose privately inflating my new skin with as much ready-made science as it will hold, and presenting Mr. Bygrave to Mrs. Lecount's notice in the character of the most highly informed man she has met with since the professor's death. The necessity of blindfolding that woman (to use your own admirable expression) is as clear to me as to you. If it is to be done in the way I propose, make your mind easy -- Wragge, inflated by Joyce, is the man to do it.

"You now have my whole budget of news. Am I, or am I not, worthy of your confidence in me? I say nothing of my devouring anxiety to know what your objects really are -- that anxiety will be satisfied when we meet. Never yet, my dear girl, did I long to administer a productive pecuniary Squeeze to any human creature, as I long to administer it to Mr. Noel Vanstone. I say no more. Verbum sap. Pardon the pedantry of a Latin quotation, and believe me,

"Entirely yours,

"HORATIO WRAGGE.

"P.S. -- I await my instructions, as you requested. You have only to say whether I shall return to London for the purpose of escorting you to this place, or whether I shall wait here to receive you. The house is in perfect order, the weather is charming, and the sea is as smooth as Mrs. Lecount's apron. She has just passed the window, and we have exchanged bows. A sharp woman, my dear Magdalen; but Joyce and I together may prove a trifle too much for her."

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