Saint Ronan's Well, by Walter Scott

Chapter 7

The Tea-Table.

—— While the cups,

Which cheer, but not inebriate, wait on each.


It was common at the Well, for the fair guests occasionally to give tea to the company — such at least as from their rank and leading in the little society, might be esteemed fit to constitute themselves patronesses of an evening; and the same lady generally carried the authority she had acquired into the ball-room, where two fiddles and a bass, at a guinea a night, with a quantum sufficit of tallow candles, (against the use of which Lady Penelope often mutinied,) enabled the company — to use the appropriate phrase —“to close the evening on the light fantastic toe.”

On the present occasion, the lion of the hour, Mr. Francis Tyrrel, had so little answered the high-wrought expectations of Lady Penelope, that she rather regretted having ever given herself any trouble about him, and particularly that of having manoeuvred herself into the patronage of the tea-table for the evening, to the great expenditure of souchong and congo. Accordingly, her ladyship had no sooner summoned her own woman, and her fille de chambre, to make tea, with her page, footman, and postilion, to hand it about, (in which duty they were assisted by two richly-laced and thickly-powdered footmen of Lady Binks’s, whose liveries put to shame the more modest garb of Lady Penelope’s, and even dimmed the glory of the suppressed coronet upon the buttons,) than she began to vilipend and depreciate what had been so long the object of her curiosity.

“This Mr. Tyrrel,” she said, in a tone of authoritative decision, “seems after all a very ordinary sort of person, quite a commonplace man, who, she dared say, had considered his condition, in going to the old alehouse, much better than they had done for him, when they asked him to the Public Rooms. He had known his own place better than they did — there was nothing uncommon in his appearance or conversation — nothing at all frappant — she scarce believed he could even draw that sketch. Mr. Winterblossom, indeed, made a great deal of it; but then all the world knew that every scrap of engraving or drawing, which Mr. Winterblossom contrived to make his own, was, the instant it came into his collection, the finest thing that ever was seen — that was the way with collectors — their geese were all swans.”

“And your ladyship’s swan has proved but a goose, my dearest Lady Pen,” said Lady Binks.

My swan, dearest Lady Binks! I really do not know how I have deserved the appropriation.”

“Do not be angry, my dear Lady Penelope; I only mean, that for a fortnight and more you have spoke constantly of this Mr. Tyrrel, and all dinner-time you spoke to him.”

The fair company began to collect around, at hearing the word dear so often repeated in the same brief dialogue, which induced them to expect sport, and, like the vulgar on a similar occasion, to form a ring for the expected combatants.

“He sat betwixt us, Lady Binks,” answered Lady Penelope, with dignity. “You had your usual headache, you know, and, for the credit of the company, I spoke for one.”

“For two, if your ladyship pleases,” replied Lady Binks. “I mean,” she added, softening the expression, “for yourself and me.”

“I am sorry,” said Lady Penelope, “I should have spoken for one who can speak so smartly for herself, as my dear Lady Binks — I did not, by any means, desire to engross the conversation — I repeat it, there is a mistake about this man.”

“I think there is,” said Lady Binks, in a tone which implied something more than mere assent to Lady Penelope’s proposition.

“I doubt if he is an artist at all,” said the Lady Penelope; “or if he is, he must be doing things for some Magazine, or Encyclopedia, or some such matter.”

I doubt, too, if he be a professional artist,” said Lady Binks. “If so, he is of the very highest class, for I have seldom seen a better-bred man.”

“There are very well-bred artists,” said Lady Penelope. “It is the profession of a gentleman.”

“Certainly,” answered Lady Binks; “but the poorer class have often to struggle with poverty and dependence. In general society, they are like commercial people in presence of their customers; and that is a difficult part to sustain. And so you see them of all sorts — shy and reserved, when they are conscious of merit — petulant and whimsical, by way of showing their independence — intrusive, in order to appear easy — and sometimes obsequious and fawning, when they chance to be of a mean spirit. But you seldom see them quite at their ease, and therefore I hold this Mr. Tyrrel to be either an artist of the first class, raised completely above the necessity and degradation of patronage, or else to be no professional artist at all.”

Lady Penelope looked at Lady Binks with much such a regard as Balaam may have cast upon his ass, when he discovered the animal’s capacity for holding an argument with him. She muttered to herself —

“Mon ane parle, et même il parle bien!“

But, declining the altercation which Lady Binks seemed disposed to enter into, she replied, with good-humour, “Well, dearest Rachel, we will not pull caps about this man — nay, I think your good opinion of him gives him new value in my eyes. That is always the way with us, my good friend! We may confess it, when there are none of these conceited male wretches among us. We will know what he really is — he shall not wear fern-seed, and walk among us invisible thus — what say you, Maria?”

“Indeed, I say, dear Lady Penelope,” answered Miss Digges, whose ready chatter we have already introduced to the reader, “he is a very handsome man, though his nose is too big, and his mouth too wide — but his teeth are like pearl — and he has such eyes! — especially when your ladyship spoke to him. I don’t think you looked at his eyes — they are quite deep and dark, and full of glow, like what you read to us in the letter from that lady, about Robert Burns.”

“Upon my word, miss, you come on finely!” said Lady Penelope. —“One had need take care what they read or talk about before you, I see — Come, Jones, have mercy upon us — put an end to that symphony of tinkling cups and saucers, and let the first act of the tea-table begin, if you please.”

“Does her leddyship mean the grace?” said honest Mrs. Blower, for the first time admitted into this worshipful society, and busily employed in arranging an Indian handkerchief, that might have made a mainsail for one of her husband’s smuggling luggers, which she spread carefully on her knee, to prevent damage to a flowered black silk gown from the repast of tea and cake, to which she proposed to do due honour —“Does her leddyship mean the grace? I see the minister is just coming in. — Her leddyship waits till ye say a blessing, an ye please, sir.”

Mr. Winterblossom, who toddled after the chaplain, his toe having given him an alert hint to quit the dining-table, though he saw every feature in the poor woman’s face swoln with desire to procure information concerning the ways and customs of the place, passed on the other side of the way, regardless of her agony of curiosity.

A moment after, she was relieved by the entrance of Dr. Quackleben, whose maxim being, that one patient was as well worth attention as another, and who knew by experience, that the honoraria of a godly wife of the Bow-head were as apt to be forthcoming, (if not more so,) as my Lady Penelope’s, he e’en sat himself quietly down by Mrs. Blower, and proceeded with the utmost kindness to enquire after her health, and to hope she had not forgotten taking a table-spoonful of spirits burnt to a residuum, in order to qualify the crudities.

“Indeed, Doctor,” said the honest woman, “I loot the brandy burn as lang as I dought look at the gude creature wasting itsell that gate — and then, when I was fain to put it out for very thrift, I did take a thimbleful of it, (although it is not the thing I am used to, Dr. Quackleben,) and I winna say but that it did me good.”

“Unquestionably, madam,” said the Doctor, “I am no friend to the use of alcohol in general, but there are particular cases — there are particular cases, Mrs. Blower — My venerated instructor, one of the greatest men in our profession that ever lived, took a wine-glassful of old rum, mixed with sugar, every day after his dinner.”

“Ay? dear heart, he would be a comfortable doctor that,” said Mrs. Blower. “He wad maybe ken something of my case. Is he leevin’ think ye, sir?”

“Dead for many years, madam,” said Dr. Quackleben; “and there are but few of his pupils that can fill his place, I assure ye. If I could be thought an exception, it is only because I was a favourite. Ah! blessings on the old red cloak of him! — It covered more of the healing science than the gowns of a whole modern university.”

“There is ane, sir,” said Mrs. Blower, “that has been muckle recommended about Edinburgh — Macgregor, I think they ca’ him — folk come far and near to see him.”15

“I know whom you mean, ma’am — a clever man — no denying it — a clever man — but there are certain cases — yours, for example — and I think that of many that come to drink this water — which I cannot say I think he perfectly understands — hasty — very hasty and rapid. Now I— I give the disease its own way at first — then watch it, Mrs. Blower — watch the turn of the tide.”

“Ay, troth, that’s true,” responded the widow; “John Blower was aye watching turn of tide, puir man.”

“Then he is a starving doctor, Mrs. Blower — reduces diseases as soldiers do towns — by famine, not considering that the friendly inhabitants suffer as much as the hostile garrison — ahem!”

Here he gave an important and emphatic cough, and then proceeded.

“I am no friend either to excess or to violent stimulus, Mrs. Blower — but nature must be supported — a generous diet — cordials judiciously thrown in-not without the advice of a medical man — that is my opinion, Mrs. Blower, to speak as a friend — others may starve their patients if they have a mind.”

“It wadna do for me, the starving, Dr. Keekerben,” said the alarmed relict — “it wadna do for me at a’— Just a’ I can do to wear through the day with the sma’ supports that nature requires — not a soul to look after me, Doctor, since John Blower was ta’en awa. — Thank ye kindly, sir,” (to the servant who handed the tea,)—“thank ye, my bonny man,” (to the page who served the cake)—“Now, dinna ye think, Doctor,” (in a low and confidential voice,) “that her leddyship’s tea is rather of the weakliest — water bewitched, I think — and Mrs. Jones, as they ca’ her, has cut the seedcake very thin?”

“It is the fashion, Mrs. Blower,” answered Dr. Quackleben; “and her ladyship’s tea is excellent. But your taste is a little chilled, which is not uncommon at the first use of the waters, so that you are not sensible of the flavour — we must support the system — reinforce the digestive powers — give me leave — you are a stranger, Mrs. Blower, and we must take care of you — I have an elixir which will put that matter to rights in a moment.”

So saying, Dr. Quackleben pulled from his pocket a small portable case of medicines —“Catch me without my tools,”— he said; “here I have the real useful pharmacopoeia — the rest is all humbug and hard names — this little case, with a fortnight or month, spring and fall, at St. Ronan’s Well, and no one will die till his day come.”

Thus boasting, the Doctor drew from his case a large vial or small flask, full of a high-coloured liquid, of which he mixed three tea-spoonfuls in Mrs. Blower’s cup, who, immediately afterwards, allowed that the flavour was improved beyond all belief, and that it was “vera comfortable and restorative indeed.”

“Will it not do good to my complaints, Doctor?” said Mr. Winterblossom, who had strolled towards them, and held out his cup to the physician.

“I by no means recommend it, Mr. Winterblossom,” said Dr. Quackleben, shutting up his case with great coolness; “your case is oedematous, and you treat it your own way — you are as good a physician as I am, and I never interfere with another practitioner’s patient.”

“Well, Doctor,” said Winterblossom, “I must wait till Sir Bingo comes in-he has a hunting-flask usually about him, which contains as good medicine as yours to the full.”

“You will wait for Sir Bingo some time,” said the Doctor; “he is a gentleman of sedentary habits — he has ordered another magnum.”

“Sir Bingo is an unco name for a man o’ quality, dinna ye think sae, Dr. Cocklehen?” said Mrs. Blower. “John Blower, when he was a wee bit in the wind’s eye, as he ca’d it, puir fallow — used to sing a sang about a dog they ca’d Bingo, that suld hae belanged to a farmer.”

“Our Bingo is but a puppy yet, madam — or if a dog, he is a sad dog,” said Mr. Winterblossom, applauding his own wit, by one of his own inimitable smiles.

“Or a mad dog, rather,” said Mr. Chatterly, “for he drinks no water;” and he also smiled gracefully at the thoughts of having trumped, as it were, the president’s pun.

“Twa pleasant men, Doctor,” said the widow, “and so is Sir Bungy too, for that matter; but O! is nae it a pity he should bide sae lang by the bottle? It was puir John Blower’s faut too, that weary tippling; when he wan to the lee-side of a bowl of punch, there was nae raising him. — But they are taking awa the things, and, Doctor, is it not an awfu’ thing that the creature-comforts should hae been used without grace or thanksgiving? — that Mr. Chitterling, if he really be a minister, has muckle to answer for, that he neglects his Master’s service.”

“Why, madam,” said the Doctor, “Mr. Chatterly is scarce arrived at the rank of a minister plenipotentiary.”

“A minister potentiary — ah, Doctor, I doubt that is some jest of yours,” said the widow; “that’s sae like puir John Blower. When I wad hae had him gie up the lovely Peggy, ship and cargo, (the vessel was named after me, Doctor Kittleben,) to be remembered in the prayers o’ the congregation, he wad say to me, ‘they may pray that stand the risk, Peggy Bryce, for I’ve made insurance.’ He was a merry man, Doctor; but he had the root of the matter in him, for a’ his light way of speaking, as deep as ony skipper that ever loosed anchor from Leith Roads. I hae been a forsaken creature since his death — O the weary days and nights that I have had! — and the weight on the spirits — the spirits, Doctor! — though I canna say I hae been easier since I hae been at the Wall than even now — if I kend what I was awing ye for elickstir, Doctor, for it’s done me muckle heart’s good, forby the opening of my mind to you.”

“Fie, fie, ma’am,” said the Doctor, as the widow pulled out a seal-skin pouch, such as sailors carry tobacco in, but apparently well stuffed with bank-notes — “Fie, fie, madam — I am no apothecary — I have my diploma from Leyden — a regular physician, madam — the elixir is heartily at your service; and should you want any advice, no man will be prouder to assist you than your humble servant.”

“I am sure I am muckle obliged to your kindness, Dr. Kickalpin,” said the widow, folding up her pouch; “this was puir John Blower’s spleuchan,16 as they ca’ it — I e’en wear it for his sake. He was a kind man, and left me comfortable in warld’s gudes; but comforts hae their cumbers — to be a lone woman is a sair weird, Dr. Kittlepin.”

Dr. Quackleben drew his chair a little nearer that of the widow, and entered into a closer communication with her, in a tone doubtless of more delicate consolation than was fit for the ears of the company at large.

One of the chief delights of a watering-place is, that every one’s affairs seem to be put under the special surveillance of the whole company, so that, in all probability, the various flirtations, liaisons, and so forth, which naturally take place in the society, are not only the subject of amusement to the parties engaged, but also to the lookers on; that is to say, generally speaking, to the whole community, of which for the time the said parties are members. Lady Penelope, the presiding goddess of the region, watchful over all her circle, was not long of observing that the Doctor seemed to be suddenly engaged in close communication with the widow, and that he had even ventured to take hold of her fair plump hand, with a manner which partook at once of the gallant suitor, and of the medical adviser.

“For the love of Heaven,” said her ladyship, “who can that comely dame be, on whom our excellent and learned Doctor looks with such uncommon regard?”

“Fat, fair, and forty,” said Mr. Winterblossom; “that is all I know of her — a mercantile person.”

“A carrack, Sir President,” said the chaplain, “richly laden with colonial produce, by name the Lovely Peggy Bryce — no master — the late John Blower of North Leith having pushed off his boat for the Stygian Creek, and left the vessel without a hand on board.”

“The Doctor,” said Lady Penelope, turning her glass towards them, “seems willing to play the part of pilot.”

“I dare say he will be willing to change her name and register,” said Mr. Chatterly.

“He can be no less in common requital,” said Winterblossom. “She has changed his name six times in the five minutes that I stood within hearing of them.”

“What do you think of the matter, my dear Lady Binks?” said Lady Penelope.

“Madam?” said Lady Binks, starting from a reverie, and answering as one who either had not heard, or did not understand the question.

“I mean, what think you of what is going on yonder?”

Lady Binks turned her glass in the direction of Lady Penelope’s glance, fixed the widow and the Doctor with one bold fashionable stare, and then dropping her hand slowly, said with indifference, “I really see nothing there worth thinking about.”

“I dare say it is a fine thing to be married,” said Lady Penelope; “one’s thoughts, I suppose, are so much engrossed with one’s own perfect happiness, that they have neither time nor inclination to laugh like other folks. Miss Rachel Bonnyrigg would have laughed till her eyes ran over, had she seen what Lady Binks cares so little about — I dare say it must be an all-sufficient happiness to be married.”

“He would be a happy man that could convince your ladyship of that in good earnest,” said Mr. Winterblossom.

“Oh, who knows — the whim may strike me,” replied the lady; “but no — no — no; — and that is three times.”

“Say it sixteen times more,” said the gallant president, “and let nineteen nay-says be a grant.”

“If I should say a thousand Noes, there exists not the alchymy in living man that could extract one Yes out of the whole mass,” said her ladyship. “Blessed be the memory of Queen Bess! — She set us all an example to keep power when we have it — What noise is that?”

“Only the usual after-dinner quarrel,” said the divine. “I hear the Captain’s voice, else most silent, commanding them to keep peace, in the devil’s name and that of the ladies.”

“Upon my word, dearest Lady Binks, this is too bad of that lord and master of yours, and of Mowbray, who might have more sense, and of the rest of that claret-drinking set, to be quarrelling and alarming our nerves every evening with presenting their pistols perpetually at each other, like sportsmen confined to the house upon a rainy 12th of August. I am tired of the Peace-maker — he but skins the business over in one case to have it break out elsewhere. — What think you, love, if we were to give out in orders, that the next quarrel which may arise, shall be bona fide fought to an end? — We will all go out and see it, and wear the colours on each side; and if there should a funeral come of it, we will attend it in a body. — Weeds are so becoming! — Are they not, my dear Lady Binks? Look at Widow Blower in her deep black — don’t you envy her, my love?”

Lady Binks seemed about to make a sharp and hasty answer, but checked herself, perhaps under the recollection that she could not prudently come to an open breach with Lady Penelope. — At the same moment the door opened, and a lady dressed in a riding-habit, and wearing a black veil over her hat, appeared at the entry of the apartment.

“Angels and ministers of grace!” exclaimed Lady Penelope, with her very best tragic start —“my dearest Clara, why so late? and why thus? Will you step to my dressing-room — Jones will get you one of my gowns — we are just of a size, you know — do, pray — let me be vain of something of my own for once, by seeing you wear it.”

This was spoken in the tone of the fondest female friendship, and at the same time the fair hostess bestowed on Miss Mowbray one of those tender caresses, which ladies — God bless them! — sometimes bestow on each other with unnecessary prodigality, to the great discontent and envy of the male spectators.

“You are fluttered, my dearest Clara — you are feverish — I am sure you are,” continued the sweetly anxious Lady Penelope; “let me persuade you to lie down.”

“Indeed you are mistaken, Lady Penelope,” said Miss Mowbray, who seemed to receive much as a matter of course her ladyship’s profusion of affectionate politeness:—“I am heated, and my pony trotted hard, that is the whole mystery. — Let me have a cup of tea, Mrs. Jones, and the matter is ended.”

“Fresh tea, Jones, directly,” said Lady Penelope, and led her passive friend to her own corner, as she was pleased to call the recess, in which she held her little court — ladies and gentlemen curtsying and bowing as she passed; to which civilities the new guest made no more return, than the most ordinary politeness rendered unavoidable.

Lady Binks did not rise to receive her, but sat upright in her chair, and bent her head very stiffly; a courtesy which Miss Mowbray returned in the same stately manner, without farther greeting on either side.

“Now, wha can that be, Doctor?” said the Widow Blower —“mind ye have promised to tell me all about the grand folk — wha can that be that Leddy Penelope hauds such a racket wi’? — and what for does she come wi’ a habit and a beaver-hat, when we are a’ (a glance at her own gown) in our silks and satins?”

“To tell you who she is, my dear Mrs. Blower, is very easy,” said the officious Doctor. “She is Miss Clara Mowbray, sister to the Lord of the Manor — the gentleman who wears the green coat, with an arrow on the cape. To tell why she wears that habit, or does any thing else, would be rather beyond doctor’s skill. Truth is, I have always thought she was a little — a very little — touched — call it nerves — hypochondria — or what you will.”

“Lord help us, puir thing!” said the compassionate widow. —“And troth it looks like it. But it’s a shame to let her go loose, Doctor — she might hurt hersell, or somebody. See, she has ta’en the knife! — O, it’s only to cut a shave of the diet-loaf. She winna let the powder-monkey of a boy help her. There’s judgment in that though, Doctor, for she can cut thick or thin as she likes. — Dear me! she has not taken mair than a crumb, than ane would pit between the wires of a canary-bird’s cage, after all. — I wish she would lift up that lang veil, or put off that riding-skirt, Doctor. She should really be showed the regulations, Doctor Kickelshin.”

“She cares about no rules we can make, Mrs. Blower,” said the Doctor; “and her brother’s will and pleasure, and Lady Penelope’s whim of indulging her, carry her through in every thing. They should take advice on her case.”

“Ay, truly, it’s time to take advice, when young creatures like her caper in amang dressed leddies, just as if they were come from scampering on Leith sands. — Such a wark as my leddy makes wi’ her, Doctor! Ye would think they were baith fools of a feather.”

“They might have flown on one wing, for what I know,” said Dr. Quackleben; “but there was early and sound advice taken in Lady Penelope’s case. My friend, the late Earl of Featherhead, was a man of judgment — did little in his family but by rule of medicine — so that, what with the waters, and what with my own care, Lady Penelope is only freakish — fanciful — that’s all — and her quality bears it out — the peccant principle might have broken out under other treatment.”

“Ay — she has been weel-friended,” said the widow; “but this bairn Mowbray, puir thing! how came she to be sae left to hersell?”

“Her mother was dead — her father thought of nothing but his sports,” said the Doctor. “Her brother was educated in England, and cared for nobody but himself, if he had been here. What education she got was at her own hand — what reading she read was in a library full of old romances — what friends or company she had was what chance sent her — then no family-physician, not even a good surgeon, within ten miles! And so you cannot wonder if the poor thing became unsettled.”

“Puir thing! — no doctor! — nor even a surgeon! — But, Doctor,” said the widow, “maybe the puir thing had the enjoyment of her health, ye ken, and, then”——

“Ah! ha, ha! — why then, madam, she needed a physician far more than if she had been delicate. A skilful physician, Mrs. Blower, knows how to bring down that robust health, which is a very alarming state of the frame when it is considered secundum artem. Most sudden deaths happen when people are in a robust state of health. Ah! that state of perfect health is what the doctor dreads most on behalf of his patient.”

“Ay, ay, Doctor? — I am quite sensible, nae doubt,” said the widow, “of the great advantage of having a skeelfu’ person about ane.”

Here the Doctor’s voice, in his earnestness to convince Mrs. Blower of the danger of supposing herself capable of living and breathing without a medical man’s permission, sunk into a soft pleading tone, of which our reporter could not catch the sound. He was, as great orators will sometimes be, “inaudible in the gallery.”

Meanwhile, Lady Penelope overwhelmed Clara Mowbray with her caresses. In what degree her ladyship, at her heart, loved this young person, might be difficult to ascertain — probably in the degree in which a child loves a favourite toy. But Clara was a toy not always to be come by — as whimsical in her way as her ladyship in her own, only that poor Clara’s singularities were real, and her ladyship’s chiefly affected. Without adopting the harshness of the Doctor’s conclusions concerning the former, she was certainly unequal in her spirits; and her occasional fits of levity were chequered by very long intervals of sadness. Her levity also appeared, in the world’s eye, greater than it really was; for she had never been under the restraint of society which was really good, and entertained an undue contempt for that which she sometimes mingled with; having unhappily none to teach her the important truth, that some forms and restraints are to be observed, less in respect to others than to ourselves. Her dress, her manners, and her ideas, were therefore very much her own; and though they became her wonderfully, yet, like Ophelia’s garlands, and wild snatches of melody, they were calculated to excite compassion and melancholy, even while they amused the observer.

“And why came you not to dinner? — We expected you — your throne was prepared.”

“I had scarce come to tea,” said Miss Mowbray, “of my own freewill. But my brother says your ladyship proposes to come to Shaws-Castle, and he insisted it was quite right and necessary, to confirm you in so flattering a purpose, that I should come and say, Pray do, Lady Penelope; and so now here am I to say, Pray, do come.”

“Is an invitation so flattering limited to me alone, my dear Clara? — Lady Binks will be jealous.”

“Bring Lady Binks, if she has the condescension to honour us”—[a bow was very stiffly exchanged between the ladies]—“bring Mr. Springblossom — Winterblossom — and all the lions and lionesses — we have room for the whole collection. My brother, I suppose, will bring his own particular regiment of bears, which, with the usual assortment of monkeys seen in all caravans, will complete the menagerie. How you are to be entertained at Shaws-Castle, is, I thank Heaven, not my business, but John’s.”

“We shall want no formal entertainment, my love,” said Lady Penelope; “a déjeûner à la fourchette — we know, Clara, you would die of doing the honours of a formal dinner.”

“Not a bit; I should live long enough to make my will, and bequeath all large parties to old Nick, who invented them.”

“Miss Mowbray,” said Lady Binks, who had been thwarted by this free-spoken young lady, both in her former character of a coquette and romp, and in that of a prude which she at present wore —“Miss Mowbray declares for

‘Champagne and a chicken at last.’”

“The chicken without the champagne, if you please,” said Miss Mowbray; “I have known ladies pay dear to have champagne on the board. — By the by, Lady Penelope, you have not your collection in the same order and discipline as Pidcock and Polito. There was much growling and snarling in the lower den when I passed it.”

“It was feeding-time, my love,” said Lady Penelope; “and the lower animals of every class become pugnacious at that hour — you see all our safer and well-conditioned animals are loose, and in good order.”

“Oh, yes — in the keeper’s presence, you know — Well, I must venture to cross the hall again among all that growling and grumbling — I would I had the fairy prince’s quarters of mutton to toss among them if they should break out — He, I mean, who fetched water from the Fountain of Lions. However, on second thoughts, I will take the back way, and avoid them. — What says honest Bottom? —

‘For if they should as lions come in strife

Into such place, ’twere pity of their life.’”

“Shall I go with you, my dear?” said Lady Penelope.

“No — I have too great a soul for that — I think some of them are lions only as far as the hide is concerned.”

“But why would you go so soon, Clara?”

“Because my errand is finished — have I not invited you and yours? and would not Lord Chesterfield himself allow I have done the polite thing?”

“But you have spoke to none of the company — how can you be so odd, my love?” said her ladyship.

“Why, I spoke to them all when I spoke to you and Lady Binks — but I am a good girl, and will do as I am bid.”

So saying, she looked round the company, and addressed each of them with an affectation of interest and politeness, which thinly concealed scorn and contempt.

“Mr. Winterblossom, I hope the gout is better — Mr. Robert Rymar —(I have escaped calling him Thomas for once)— I hope the public give encouragement to the muses — Mr. Keelavine, I trust your pencil is busy — Mr. Chatterly, I have no doubt your flock improves — Dr. Quackleben, I am sure your patients recover — These are all the especials of the worthy company I know — for the rest, health to the sick, and pleasure to the healthy!”

“You are not going in reality, my love?” said Lady Penelope; “these hasty rides agitate your nerves — they do, indeed — you should be cautious — Shall I speak to Quackleben?”

“To neither Quack nor quackle, on my account, my dear lady. It is not as you would seem to say, by your winking at Lady Binks — it is not, indeed — I shall be no Lady Clementina, to be the wonder and pity of the spring of St. Ronan’s — No Ophelia neither — though I will say with her, Good-night, ladies — Good night, sweet ladies! — and now — not my coach, my coach — but my horse, my horse!”

So saying, she tripped out of the room by a side passage, leaving the ladies looking at each other significantly, and shaking their heads with an expression of much import.

“Something has ruffled the poor unhappy girl,” said Lady Penelope; “I never saw her so very odd before.”

“Were I to speak my mind,” said Lady Binks, “I think, as Mrs. Highmore says in the farce, her madness is but a poor excuse for her impertinence.”

“Oh fie! my sweet Lady Binks,” said Lady Penelope, “spare my poor favourite! You, surely, of all others, should forgive the excesses of an amiable eccentricity of temper. — Forgive me, my love, but I must defend an absent friend — My Lady Binks, I am very sure, is too generous and candid to

‘Hate for arts which caused herself to rise.’”

“Not being conscious of any high elevation, my lady,” answered Lady Binks, “I do not know any arts I have been under the necessity of practising to attain it. I suppose a Scotch lady of an ancient family may become the wife of an English baronet, and no very extraordinary great cause to wonder at it.”

“No, surely — but people in this world will, you know, wonder at nothing,” answered Lady Penelope.

“If you envy me my poor quiz, Sir Bingo, I’ll get you a better, Lady Pen.”

“I don’t doubt your talents, my dear, but when I want one, I will get one for myself. — But here comes the whole party of quizzes. — Joliffe, offer the gentlemen tea — then get the floor ready for the dancers, and set the card-tables in the next room.”

15 The late Dr. Gregory is probably intimated, as one of the celebrated Dr. Cullen’s personal habits is previously mentioned. Dr. Gregory was distinguished for putting his patients on a severe regimen.

16 A fur pouch for keeping tobacco.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00