Our good-natured Begum was at first so much enraged at this last instance of her husband’s duplicity and folly, that she refused to give Sir Francis Clavering any aid in order to meet his debts of honour, and declared that she would separate from him, and leave him to the consequences of his incorrigible weakness and waste. After that fatal day’s transactions at the Derby, the unlucky gambler was in such a condition of mind that he was disposed to avoid everybody; alike his turf-associates with whom he had made the debts which he trembled lest he should not have the means of paying, and his wife, his long-suffering banker, on whom he reasonably doubted whether he should be allowed any longer to draw. When Lady Clavering asked the next morning whether Sir Francis was in the house, she received answer that he had not returned that night, but had sent a messenger to his valet, ordering him to forward clothes and letters by the bearer. Strong knew that he should have a visit or a message from him in the course of that or the subsequent day, and accordingly got a note beseeching him to call upon his distracted friend F. C. at Short Hotel, Blackfriars, and ask for Mr. Francis there. For the Baronet was a gentleman of that peculiarity of mind that he would rather tell a lie than not, and always began a contest with fortune by running away and hiding himself. The Boots of Mr. Short’s establishment, who carried Clavering’s message to Grosvenor Place, and brought back his carpet-bag, was instantly aware who was the owner of the bag, and he imparted his information to the footman who was laying the breakfast-table, who carried down the news to the servants’-hall, who took it to Mrs. Bonner, my lady’s housekeeper and confidential maid, who carried it to my lady. And thus every single person in the Grosvenor Place establishment knew that Sir Francis was in hiding, under the name of Francis, at an inn in the Blackfriars Road. And Sir Francis’s coachman told the news to other gentlemen’s coachmen, who carried it to their masters, and to the neighbouring Tattersall’s, where very gloomy anticipations were formed that Sir Francis Clavering was about to make a tour in the Levant.
In the course of that day the number of letters addressed to Sir Francis Clavering, Bart., which found their way to his hall-table, was quite remarkable. The French cook sent in his account to my lady; the tradesmen who supplied her ladyship’s table, and Messrs. Finer and Gimcrack, the mercers and ornamental dealers, and Madame Crinoline, the eminent milliner, also forwarded their little bills to her ladyship, in company with Miss Amory’s private, and by no means inconsiderable, account at each establishment.
In the afternoon of the day after the Derby, when Strong (after a colloquy with his principal at Short’s Hotel, whom he found crying and drinking Curacoa) called to transact business according to his custom at Grosvenor Place, he found all these suspicious documents ranged in the Baronet’s study; and began to open them and examine them with a rueful countenance.
Mrs. Bonner, my lady’s maid and housekeeper, came down upon him whilst engaged in this occupation. Mrs. Bonner, a part of the family and as necessary to her mistress as the Chevalier was to Sir Francis, was of course on Lady Clavering’s side in the dispute between her and her husband, and as by duty bound even more angry than her ladyship herself.
“She won’t pay, if she takes my advice,” Mrs. Bonner said. “You’ll please to go back to Sir Francis, Captain — and he lurking about in a low public-house and don’t dare to face his wife like a man! — and say that we won’t pay his debts no longer. We made a man of him, we took him out of gaol (and other folks too perhaps), we’ve paid his debts over and over again — we set him up in Parliament and gave him a house in town and country, and where he don’t dare show his face, the shabby sneak! We’ve given him the horse he rides and the dinner he eats and the very clothes he has on his back; and we will give him no more. Our fortune, such as is left of it, is left to ourselves, and we won’t waste any more of it on this ungrateful man. We’ll give him enough to live upon and leave him, that’s what we’ll do: and that’s what you may tell him from Susan Bonner.”
Susan Bonner’s mistress hearing of Strong’s arrival sent for him at this juncture, and the Chevalier went up to her ladyship not without hopes that he should find her more tractable than her factotum Mrs. Bonner. Many a time before had he pleaded his client’s cause with Lady Clavering and caused her good-nature to relent. He tried again once more. He painted in dismal colours the situation in which he had found Sir Francis: and would not answer for any consequences which might ensue if he could not find means of meeting his engagements.
“Kill hisself,” laughed Mrs. Bonner, “kill hisself, will he? Dying’s the best thing he could do.” Strong vowed that he had found him with the razors on the table; but at this, in her turn, Lady Clavering laughed bitterly. “He’ll do himself no harm, as long as there’s a shilling left of which he can rob a poor woman. His life’s quite safe, Captain: you may depend upon that. Ah! it was a bad day that ever I set eyes on him.”
“He’s worse than the first man,” cried out my lady’s aide-de-camp. “He was a man, he was — a wild devil, but he had the courage of a man — whereas this fellow — what’s the use of my lady paying his bills, and selling her diamonds, and forgiving him? He’ll be as bad again next year. The very next chance he has he’ll be a-cheating of her, and robbing of her; and her money will go to keep a pack of rogues and swindlers — I don’t mean you, Captain — you’ve been a good friend to us enough, bating we wish we’d never set eyes on you.”
The Chevalier saw from the words which Mrs. Bonner had let slip regarding the diamonds, that the kind Begum was disposed to relent once more at least, and that there were hopes still for his principal.
“Upon my word, ma’am,” he said, with a real feeling of sympathy for Lady Clavering’s troubles, and admiration for her untiring good-nature, and with a show of enthusiasm which advanced not a little his graceless patron’s cause —“anything you say against Clavering, or Mrs. Bonner here cries out against me, is no better than we deserve, both of us, and it was an unlucky day for you when you saw either. He has behaved cruelly to you and if you were not the most generous and forgiving woman in the world, I know there would be no chance for him. But you can’t let the father of your son be a disgraced man, and send little Frank into the world with such a stain upon him. Tie him down; bind him by any promises you like: I vouch for him that he will subscribe them.”
“And break ’em,” said Mrs. Bonner.
“And keep ’em this time,” cried out Strong. “He must keep them. If you could have seen how he wept, ma’am! ‘Oh, Strong,’ he said to me, ‘it’s not for myself I feel now: it’s for my boy — it’s for the best woman in England, whom I have treated basely — I know I have.’ He didn’t intend to bet upon this race, ma’am — indeed he didn’t. He was cheated into it: all the ring was taken in. He thought he might make the bet quite safely, without the least risk. And it will be a lesson to him for all his life long. To see a man cry — oh, it’s dreadful.”
“He don’t think much of making my dear missus cry,” said Mrs. Bonner — “poor dear soul! — look if he does, Captain.”
* * * * * *
“If you’ve the soul of a man, Clavering,” Strong said to his principal, when he recounted this scene to him, “you’ll keep your promise this time: and, so help me Heaven! if you break word with her, I’ll turn against you, and tell all.”
“What all?” cried Mr. Francis, to whom his ambassador brought the news back at Short’s Hotel, where Strong found the Baronet crying and drinking curacoa.
“Psha! Do you suppose I am a fool?” burst out Strong. “Do you suppose I could have lived so long in the world, Frank Clavering, without having my eyes about me? You know I have but to speak and you are a beggar tomorrow. And I am not the only man who knows your secret.”
“Who else does?” gasped Clavering.
“Old Pendennis does, or I am very much mistaken. He recognised the man the first night he saw him, when he came drunk into your house.”
“He knows it, does he?” shrieked out Clavering. “Damn him — kill him.”
“You’d like to kill us all, wouldn’t you, old boy?” said Strong, with a sneer, puffing his cigar.
The Baronet dashed his weak hand against his forehead; perhaps the other had interpreted his wish rightly. “Oh, Strong!” he cried, “if I dared, I’d put an end to myself, for I’m the d ——— est miserable dog in all England. It’s that that makes me so wild and reckless. It’s that which makes me take to drink” (and he drank, with a trembling hand, a bumper of his fortifier — the curacoa), “and to live about with these thieves. I know they’re thieves, every one of ’em, d —— d thieves. And — and how can I help it? — and I didn’t know it, you know — and, by Gad, I’m innocent — and until I saw the d —— d scoundrel first, I knew no more about it than the dead — and I’ll fly, and I’ll go abroad out of the reach of the confounded hells, and I’ll bury myself in a forest, by Gad! and hang myself up to a tree — and, oh — I’m the most miserable beggar in all England!” And so with more tears, shrieks, and curses, the impotent wretch vented his grief and deplored his unhappy fate; and, in the midst of groans and despair and blasphemy, vowed his miserable repentance.
The honoured proverb which declares that to be an ill wind which blows good to nobody, was verified in the case of Sir Francis Clavering, and another of the occupants of Mr. Strong’s chambers in Shepherd’s Inn. The man was “good,” by a lucky hap, with whom Colonel Altamont made his bet; and on the settling day of the Derby — as Captain Clinker, who was appointed to settle Sir Francis Clavering’s book for him (for Lady Clavering by the advice of Major Pendennis, would not allow the Baronet to liquidate his own money transactions), paid over the notes to the Baronet’s many creditors — Colonel Altamont had the satisfaction of receiving the odds of thirty to one in fifties, which he had taken against the winning horse of the day.
Numbers of the Colonel’s friends were present on the occasion to congratulate him on his luck — all Altamont’s own set, and the gents who met in the private parlour of the convivial Wheeler, my host of the Harlequin’s Head, came to witness their comrade’s good fortune, and would have liked, with a generous sympathy for success, to share in it. “Now was the time,” Tom Driver had suggested to the Colonel, “to have up the specie ship that was sunk in the Gulf of Mexico, with the three hundred and eighty thousand dollars on board, besides bars and doubloons.” “The Tredyddlums were very low — to be bought for an old song — never was such an opportunity for buying shares,” Mr. Keightley insinuated; and Jack Holt pressed forward his tobacco-smuggling scheme, the audacity of which pleased the Colonel more than any other of the speculations proposed to him. Then of the Harlequin’s Head boys: there was Jack Rackstraw, who knew of a pair of horses which the Colonel must buy; Tom Fleet, whose satirical paper, The Swell, wanted but two hundred pounds of capital to be worth a thousand a year to any man —“with such a power and influence, Colonel, you rogue, and the entree of the green-rooms in London,” Tom urged; whilst little Moss Abiams entreated the Colonel not to listen to these absurd fellows with their humbugging speculations, but to invest his money in some good bills which Moss could get for him, and which would return him fifty per cent as safe as the Bank of England.
Each and all of these worthies came round the Colonel with their various blandishments; but he had courage enough to resist them, and to button up his notes in the pocket of his coat, and go home to Strong, and “sport” the outer door of the chambers. Honest Strong had given his fellow-lodger good advice about all his acquaintances; and though, when pressed, he did not mind frankly taking twenty pounds himself out of the Colonel’s winnings, Strong was a great deal too upright to let others cheat him.
He was not a bad fellow when in good fortune, this Altamont. He ordered a smart livery for Grady, and made poor old Costigan shed tears of quickly dried gratitude by giving him a five-pound note after a snug dinner at the Back Kitchen, and he bought a green shawl for Mrs. Bolton, and a yellow one for Fanny: the most brilliant “sacrifices” of a Regent Street haberdasher’s window. And a short time after this, upon her birthday, which happened in the month of June, Miss Amory received from “a friend” a parcel containing an enormous brass inlaid writing-desk, in which there was a set of amethysts, the most hideous eyes ever looked upon — a musical snuff-box, and two Keepsakes of the year before last, and accompanied with a couple of gown pieces of the most astounding colours, the receipt of which goods made the Sylphide laugh and wonder immoderately. Now it is a fact that Colonel Altamont had made a purchase of cigars and French silks from some duffers in Fleet Street about this period; and he was found by Strong in the open Auction Room in Cheapside, having invested some money in two desks, several pairs of richly-plated candlesticks, a dinner epergne, and a bagatelle-board. The dinner epergne remained at chambers, and figured at the banquets there, which the Colonel gave pretty freely. It seemed beautiful in his eyes, until Jack Holt said it looked as if it had been taken “in a bill.” And Jack Holt certainly knew.
The dinners were pretty frequent at chambers, and Sir Francis Clavering condescended to partake of them constantly. His own house was shut up: the successor of Mirobolant, who had sent in his bills so prematurely, was dismissed by the indignant Lady Clavering: the luxuriance of the establishment was greatly pruned and reduced. One of the large footmen was cashiered, upon which the other gave warning, not liking to serve without his mate, or in a family where on’y one footman was kep’. General and severe economical reforms were practised by the Begum in her whole household, in consequence of the extravagance of which her graceless husband had been guilty. The Major, as her ladyship’s friend; Strong, on the part of poor Clavering; her ladyship’s lawyer, and the honest Begum herself, executed these reforms with promptitude and severity. After paying the Baronet’s debts, the settlement of which occasioned considerable public scandal, and caused the Baronet to sink even lower in the world’s estimation than he had been before, Lady Clavering quitted London for Tunbridge Wells in high dudgeon, refusing to see her reprobate husband, whom nobody pitied. Clavering remained in London patiently, by no means anxious to meet his wife’s just indignation, and sneaked in and out of the House of Commons, whence he and Captain Raff and Mr. Marker would go to have a game at billiards and a cigar or showed in the sporting public-houses; or might be seen lurking about Lincoln’s Inn and his lawyers’, where the principals kept him for hours waiting, and the clerks winked at each other, as he sate in their office. No wonder that he relished the dinners at Shepherd’s Inn, and was perfectly resigned there: resigned? he was so happy nowhere else; he was wretched amongst his equals, who scorned him — but here he was the chief guest at the table, where they continually addressed him with “Yes, Sir Francis” and “No, Sir Francis,” where he told his wretched jokes, and where he quavered his dreary little French song, after Strong had sung his Jovial chorus, and honest Costigan had piped his Irish ditties. Such a jolly menage as Strong’s, with Grady’s Irish-stew, and the Chevalier’s brew of punch after dinner, would have been welcome to many a better man than Clavering, the solitude of whose great house at home frightened him, where he was attended only by the old woman who kept the house, and his valet who sneered at him.
“Yes, dammit,” said he to his friends in Shepherd’s Inn, “that fellow of mine, I must turn him away, only I owe him two years’ wages, curse him, and can’t ask my lady. He brings me my tea cold of a morning, with a dem’d leaden teaspoon, and he says my lady’s sent all the plate to the banker’s because it ain’t safe. — Now ain’t it hard that she won’t trust me with a single teaspoon; ain’t it ungentlemanlike, Altamont? You know my lady’s of low birth — that is — I beg your pardon — hem — that is, it’s most cruel of her not to show more confidence in me. And the very servants begin to laugh — the damn scoundrels! I break every bone in their great hulking bodies, curse ’em, I will. — They don’t answer my bell: and — and my man was at Vauxhall last night with one of my dress-shirts and my velvet waistcoat on, I know it was mine — the confounded impudent blackguard — and he went on dancing before my eyes confound him! I’m sure he’ll live to be hanged — he deserves to be hanged — all those infernal rascals of valets.”
He was very kind to Altamont now: he listened to the Colonel’s loud stories when Altamont described how — when he was working his way home once from New Zealand, where he had been on a whaling expedition — he and his comrades had been obliged to slink on board at night, to escape from their wives, by Jove — and how the poor devils put out in their canoes when they saw the ship under sail, and paddled madly after her: how he had been lost in the bush once for three months in New South Wales, when he was there once on a trading speculation: how he had seen Boney at Saint Helena, and been presented to him with the rest of the officers of the Indiaman of which he was a mate — to all these tales (and over his cups Altamont told many of them; and, it must be owned, lied and bragged a great deal) Sir Francis now listened with great attention; making a point of drinking wine with Altamont at dinner and of treating him with every distinction.
“Leave him alone, I know what he’s a-coming to,” Altamont said, laughing to Strong, who remonstrated with him, “and leave me alone; I know what I’m a-telling, very well. I was officer on board an Indiaman, so I was; I traded to New South Wales, so I did, in a ship of my own, and lost her. I became officer to the Nawaub, so I did; only me and my royal master have had a difference, Strong — that’s it. Who’s the better or the worse for what I tell? or knows anything about me? The other chap is dead — shot in the bush, and his body reckonised at Sydney. If I thought anybody would split, do you think I wouldn’t wring his neck? I’ve done as good before now, Strong — I told you how I did for the overseer before I took leave — but in fair fight, I mean — in fair fight; or, rayther, he had the best of it. He had his gun and bay’net, and I had only an axe. Fifty of ’em saw it — ay, and cheered me when I did it — and I’d do it again — him, wouldn’t I? I ain’t afraid of anybody; and I’d have the life of the man who split upon me. That’s my maxim, and pass me the liquor. — You wouldn’t turn on a man. I know you. You’re an honest feller, and will stand by a feller, and have looked death in the face like a man. But as for that lily-livered sneak — that poor lyin’ swindlin’ cringin’ cur of a Clavering — who stands in my shoes — stands in my shoes, hang him! I’ll make him pull my boots off and clean ’em, I will. Ha, ha!” Here he burst out into a wild laugh, at which Strong got up and put away the brandy-bottle. The other still laughed good-humouredly. “You’re right, old boy,” he said; “you always keep your head cool, you do — and when I begin to talk too much — I say, when I begin to pitch, I authorise you, and order you, and command you, to put away the rum-bottle.”
“Take my counsel, Altamont,” Strong said, gravely, “and mind how you deal with that man. Don’t make it too much his interest to get rid of you; or who knows what he may do?”
The event for which, with cynical enjoyment, Altamont had been on the look-out, came very speedily. One day, Strong being absent upon an errand for his principal, Sir Francis made his appearance in the chambers, and found the envoy of the Nawaub alone. He abused the world in general for being heartless and unkind to him: he abused his wife for being ungenerous to him; he abused Strong for being ungrateful — hundreds of pounds had he given Ned Strong — been his friend for life and kept him out of gaol, by Jove — and now Ned was taking her ladyship’s side against him and abetting her in her infernal unkind treatment of him. “They’ve entered into a conspiracy to keep me penniless, Altamont,” the Baronet said: “they don’t give me as much pocket money as Frank has at school,”
“Why don’t you go down to Richmond and borrow of him, Clavering?” Altamont broke out with a savage laugh. “He wouldn’t see his poor old beggar of a father without pocket-money, would he?”
“I tell you, I’ve been obliged to humiliate myself cruelly” Clavering said. “Look here, sir — look here, at these pawn-tickets! Fancy a Member of Parliament and an old English Baronet, by Gad! obliged to put a drawing-room clock and a buhl inkstand up the spout; and a gold duck’s-head paper-holder, that I dare say cost my wife five pound, for which they’d only give me fifteen-and-six! Oh, it’s a humiliating thing, sir, poverty to a man of my habits; and it’s made me shed tears, sir — tears; and that d —— d valet of mine — curse him, I wish he was hanged! — he had the confounded impudence to threaten to tell my lady: as the things in my own house weren’t my own, to sell or to keep, or fling out of window if I chose — by Gad! the confounded scoundrel.
“Cry a little; don’t mind cryin’ before me — it’ll relieve you Clavering,” the other said. “Why, I say, old feller, what a happy feller I once thought you, and what a miserable son of a gun you really are!”
“It’s a shame that they treat me so, ain’t it?” Clavering went on — for, though ordinarily silent and apathetic, about his own griefs the Baronet could whine for an hour at a time. “And — and, by Gad, sir, I haven’t got the money to pay the very cab that’s waiting for me at the door; and the porteress, that Mrs. Bolton, lent me three shillin’s, and I don’t like to ask her for any more: and I asked that d —— d old Costigan, the confounded old penniless Irish miscreant, and he hadn’t got a shillin’, the beggar; and Campion’s out of town, or else he’d do a little bill for me, I know he would.”
“I thought you swore on your honour to your wife that you wouldn’t put your name to paper,” said Mr. Altamont, puffing at his cigar.
“Why does she leave me without pocket-money, then? Damme, I must have money,” cried out the Baronet. “Oh, Am — — oh, Altamont, I’m the most miserable beggar alive.”
“You’d like a chap to lend you a twenty-pound note, wouldn’t you now?” the other asked.
“If you would, I’d be grateful to you for ever — for ever, my dearest friend,” cried Clavering.
“How much would you give? Will you give a fifty-pound bill, at six months, for half down and half in plate?” asked Altamont.
“Yes, I would, so help me — — and pay it on the day,” screamed Clavering. “I’ll make it payable at my banker’s: I’ll do anything you like.”
“Well, I was only chaffing you. I’ll give you twenty pound.”
“You said a pony,” interposed Clavering; “my dear fellow, you said a pony, and I’ll be eternally obliged to you; and I’ll not take it as a gift — only as a loan, and pay you back in six months. I take my oath, I will.”
“Well — well — there’s the money, Sir Francis Clavering. I ain’t a bad fellow. When I’ve money in my pocket, dammy, I spend it like a man. Here’s five-and-twenty for you. Don’t be losing it at the hells now. Don’t be making a fool of yourself. Go down to Clavering Park, and it’ll keep you ever so long. You needn’t ‘ave butchers’ meat: there’s pigs, I dare say, on the premises: and you can shoot rabbits for dinner, you know, every day till the game comes in. Besides, the neighbours will ask you about to dinner, you know, sometimes: for you are a Baronet, though you have outrun the constable. And you’ve got this comfort, that I’m off your shoulders for a good bit to come — p’raps this two years — if I don’t play; and I don’t intend to touch the confounded black and red: and by that time my lady, as you call her — Jimmy, I used to say — will have come round again; and you’ll be ready for me, you know, and come down handsomely to yours truly.”
At this juncture of their conversation Strong returned, nor did the Baronet care much about prolonging the talk, having got the money: and he made his way from Shepherd’s Inn, and went home and bullied his servant in a manner so unusually brisk and insolent that the man concluded his master must have pawned some more of the house furniture, or, at any rate, have come into possession of some ready money.
* * * * * *
“And yet I’ve looked over the house, Morgan, and I don’t thin he has took any more of the things,” Sir Francis’s valet said to Major Pendennis’s man, as they met at their Club soon after. “My lady locked up a’most all the bejews afore she went away, and he couldn’t take away the picters and looking-glasses in a cab and he wouldn’t spout the fenders and fire-irons — he ain’t so bad as that. But he’s got money somehow. He’s so dam’d imperent when he have. A few nights ago I sor him at Vauxhall, where I was a-polkin with Lady Hemly Babewood’s gals — a wery pleasant room that is, and an uncommon good lot in it, hall except the ‘ousekeeper, and she’s methodisticle — I was a-polkin — you’re too old a cove to polk, Mr. Morgan — and ’ere’s your ‘ealth — and I ‘appened to ‘ave on some of Clavering’s abberdashery, and he sor it too: and he didn’t dare so much as speak a word.”
“How about the house in St. John’s Wood?” Mr. Morgan asked.
“Execution in it. — Sold up heverythin: ponies, and pianna, and brougham, and all. Mrs. Montague were hoff to Boulogne — non est inwentus, Mr. Morgan. It’s my belief she put the execution in herself: and was tired of him.”
“Play much?” asked Morgan.
“Not since the smash. When your Governor, and the lawyers, and my lady and him had that tremendous scene: he went down on his knees, my lady told Mrs. Bonner, as told me — and swear as he never more would touch a card or a dice, or put his name to a bit of paper; and my lady was a-goin’ to give him the notes down to pay his liabilities after the race: only your Governor said (which he wrote it on a piece of paper, and passed it across the table to the lawyer and my lady) that some one else had better book up for him, for he’d have kep’ some of the money. He’s a sly old cove, your Gov’nor.”
The expression of “old cove,” thus flippantly applied by the younger gentleman to himself and his master, displeased Mr. Morgan exceedingly. On the first occasion, when Mr. Lightfoot used the obnoxious expression, his comrade’s anger was only indicated by a silent frown; but on the second offence, Morgan, who was smoking his cigar elegantly, and holding it on the tip of his penknife, withdrew the cigar from his lips, and took his young friend to task.
“Don’t call Major Pendennis an old cove, if you’ll ‘ave the goodness, Lightfoot, and don’t call me an old cove, nether. Such words ain’t used in society; and we have lived in the fust society, both at ‘ome and foring. We’ve been intimate with the fust statesmen of Europe. When we go abroad we dine with Prince Metternitch and Louy Philup reg’lar. We go here to the best houses, the tip-tops, I tell you. We ride with Lord John and the noble Whycount at the edd of Foring Affairs. We dine with the Hearl of Burgrave, and are consulted by the Marquis of Steyne in everythink. We ought to know a thing or two, Mr. Lightfoot. You’re a young man, I’m an old cove, as you say. We’ve both seen the world, and we both know that it ain’t money, nor bein’ a Baronet, nor ‘avin’ a town and country ’ouse, nor a paltry five or six thousand a year.”
“It’s ten, Mr. Morgan,” cried Mr. Lightfoot, with great animation.
“It may have been, sir,” Morgan said, with calm severity; “it may have been, Mr. Lightfoot, but it ain’t six now, nor five, sir. It’s been doosedly dipped and cut into, sir, by the confounded extravygance of your master, with his helbow shakin’, and his bill discountin’, and his cottage in the Regency Park, and his many wickednesses. He’s a bad un, Mr. Lightfoot — a bad lot, sir, and that you know. And it ain’t money, sir — not such money as that, at any rate, come from a Calcuttar attorney, and I dussay wrung out of the pore starving blacks — that will give a pusson position in society, as you know very well. We’ve no money, but we go everywhere; there’s not a housekeeper’s room, sir, in this town of any consiquince, where James Morgan ain’t welcome. And it was me who got you into this Club, Lightfoot, as you very well know, though I am an old cove, and they would have blackballed you without me as sure as your name is Frederic.”
“I know they would, Mr. Morgan,” said the other, with much humility.
“Well, then, don’t call me an old cove, sir. It ain’t gentlemanlike, Frederic Lightfoot, which I knew you when you was a cab-boy, and when your father was in trouble, and got you the place you have now when the Frenchman went away. And if you think, sir, that because you’re making up to Mrs. Bonner, who may have saved her two thousand pound — and I dare say she has in five-and-twenty years as she have lived confidential maid to Lady Clavering — yet, sir, you must remember who put you into that service; and who knows what you were before, sir, and it don’t become you, Frederic Lightfoot, to call me an old cove.”
“I beg your pardon, Mr. Morgan — I can’t do more than make an apology — will you have a glass, sir, and let me drink your ‘ealth?”
“You know I don’t take sperrits. Lightfoot,” replied Morgan, appeased. “And so you and Mrs. Bonner is going to put up together, are you?”
“She’s old, but two thousand pound’s a good bit, you see, Mr Morgan. And we’ll get the ‘Clavering Arms’ for a very little; and that’ll be no bad thing when the railroad runs through Clavering. And when we are there, I hope you’ll come and see us, Mr. Morgan.”
“It’s a stoopid place, and no society,” said Mr. Morgan. “I know it well. In Mrs Pendennis’s time we used to go down, reg’lar, and the hair refreshed me after the London racket.”
“The railroad will improve Mr. Arthur’s property,” remarked Lightfoot. “What’s about the figure of it, should you say, sir?”
“Under fifteen hundred, sir,” answered Morgan; at which the other, who knew the extent of poor Arthur’s acres, thrust his tongue in his cheek, but remained wisely silent.
“Is his man any good, Mr. Morgan?” Lightfoot resumed.
“Pidgeon ain’t used to society as yet; but he’s young and has good talents, and has read a good deal, and I dessay he will do very well,” replied Morgan. “He wouldn’t quite do for this kind of thing, Lightfoot, for he ain’t seen the world yet.”
When the pint of sherry for which Mr. Lightfoot called, upon Mr. Morgan’s announcement that he eclined to drink spirits, had been discussed by the two gentlemen, who held the wine up to the light, and smacked their lips, and winked their eyes at it, and rallied the landlord as to the vintage, in the most approved manner of connoisseurs, Morgan’s ruffled equanimity was quite restored, and he was prepared to treat his young friend with perfect good-humour.
“What d’you think about Miss Amory, Lightfoot — tell us in confidence, now — Do you think we should do well — you understand — if we make Miss A. into Mrs. A. P., comprendy vous?”
“She and her Ma’s always quarrellin’,” said Mr. Lightfoot. “Bonner is more than a match for the old lady, and treats Sir Francis like that — like this year spill, which I fling into the grate. But she daren’t say a word to Miss Amory. No more dare none of us. When a visitor comes in, she smiles and languishes, you’d think that butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth: and the minute he is gone, very likely, she flares up like a little demon, and says things fit to send you wild. If Mr. Arthur comes, it’s ‘Do let’s sing that there delightful Song!’ or, ‘Come and write me them pooty verses in this halbum!’ and very likely she’s been a-rilin’ her mother, or sticking pins into her maid, a minute before. She do stick pins into her and pinch her. Mary Hann showed me one of her arms quite black and blue; and I recklect Mrs. Bonner, who’s as jealous of me as a old cat, boxed her ears for showing me. And then you should see Miss at luncheon, when there’s nobody but the family! She makes b’leave she never heats, and my! you should only jest see her. She has Mary Hann to bring her up plum-cakes and creams into her bedroom; and the cook’s the only man in the house she’s civil to. Bonner says, how, the second season in London, Mr. Soppington was a-goin’ to propose for her, and actially came one day, and sor her fling a book into the fire, and scold her mother so, that he went down softly by the back droring-room door, which he came in by; and next thing we heard of him was, he was married to Miss Rider. Oh, she’s a devil, that little Blanche, and that’s my candig apinium, Mr. Morgan.”
“Apinion, not apinium, Lightfoot, my good fellow,” Mr. Morgan said, with parental kindness, and then asked of his own bosom with a sigh, why the deuce does my Governor want Master Arthur to marry such a girl as this? and the tete-a-tete of the two gentlemen was broken up by the entry of other gentlemen, members of the Club — when fashionable town-talk, politics, cribbage, and other amusements ensued, and the conversation became general.
The Gentleman’s Club was held in the parlour of the Wheel of Fortune public-house, in a snug little by-lane, leading out of one of the great streets of Mayfair, and frequented by some of the most select gentlemen about town. Their masters’ affairs, debts, intrigues, adventures; their ladies’ good and bad qualities and quarrels with their husbands; all the family secrets were here discussed with perfect freedom and confidence, and here, when about to enter into a new situation, a gentleman was enabled to get every requisite information regarding the family of which he proposed to become a member. Liveries it may be imagined were excluded from this select precinct; and the powdered heads of the largest metropolitan footmen might bow down in vain entreating admission into the Gentleman’s Club. These outcast giants in plush took their beer in an outer apartment of the Wheel of Fortune, and could no more get an entry into the Clubroom than a Pall Mall tradesman or a Lincoln’s Inn attorney could get admission into Bays’s or Spratt’s. And it is because the conversation which we have permitted to overhear here, in some measure explains the characters and bearings of our story, that we have ventured to introduce the reader into a society so exclusive.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00