Tired of the town, where the sight of the closed shutters of the nobility, my friends, makes my heart sick in my walks; afraid almost to sit in those vast Pall Mall solitudes, the Clubs, and of annoying the Club waiters, who might, I thought, be going to shoot in the country, but for me, I determined on a brief tour in the provinces, and paying some visits in the country which were long due.
My first visit was to my friend Major Ponto (H.P. of the Horse Marines), in Mangelwurzelshire. The Major, in his little phaeton, was in waiting to take me up at the station. The vehicle was not certainly splendid, but such a carriage as would accommodate a plain man (as Ponto said he was) and a numerous family. We drove by beautiful fresh fields and green hedges, through a cheerful English landscape; the high-road, as smooth and trim as the way in a nobleman’s park, was charmingly chequered with cool shade and golden sunshine. Rustics in snowy smock-frocks jerked their hats off smiling as we passed. Children, with cheeks as red as the apples in the orchards, bobbed curtsies to us at the cottage-doors. Blue church spires rose here and there in the distance: and as the buxom gardener’s wife opened the white gate at the Major’s little ivy-covered lodge, and we drove through the neat plantations of firs and evergreens, up to the house, my bosom felt a joy and elation which I thought it was impossible to experience in the smoky atmosphere of a town. ‘Here,’ I mentally exclaimed, ‘is all peace, plenty, happiness. Here, I shall be rid of Snobs. There can be none in this charming Arcadian spot.’
Stripes, the Major’s man (formerly corporal in his gallant corps), received my portmanteau, and an elegant little present, which I had brought from town as a peace-offering to Mrs. Ponto; viz., a cod and oysters from Grove’s, in a hamper about the size of a coffin.
Ponto’s house (‘The Evergreens’ Mrs. P. has christened it) is a perfect Paradise of a place. It is all over creepers, and bow-windows, and verandahs. A wavy lawn tumbles up and down all round it, with flower-beds of wonderful shapes, and zigzag gravel walks, and beautiful but damp shrubberies of myrtles and glistening laurustines, which have procured it its change of name. It was called Little Bullock’s Pound in old Doctor Ponto’s time. I had a view of the pretty grounds, and the stable, and the adjoining village and church, and a great park beyond, from the windows of the bedroom whither Ponto conducted me. It was the yellow bedroom, the freshest and pleasantest of bed-chambers; the air was fragrant with a large bouquet that was placed on the writing-table; the linen was fragrant with the lavender in which it had been laid; the chintz hangings of the bed and the big sofa were, if not fragrant with flowers, at least painted all over with them; the pen-wiper on the table was the imitation of a double dahlia; and there was accommodation for my watch in a sun-flower on the mantelpiece. A scarlet-leaved creeper came curling over the windows, through which the setting sun was pouring a flood of golden light. It was all flowers and freshness. Oh, how unlike those black chimney-pots in St. Alban’s Place, London, on which these weary eyes are accustomed to look.
‘It must be all happiness here, Ponto,’ said I, flinging myself down into the snug BERGERE, and inhaling such a delicious draught of country air as all the MILLEFLEURS of Mr. Atkinson’s shop cannot impart to any the most expensive pocket-handkerchief.
‘Nice place, isn’t it?’ said Ponto. ‘Quiet and unpretending. I like everything quiet. You’ve not brought your valet with you? Stripes will arrange your dressing things;’ and that functionary, entering at the same time, proceeded to gut my portmanteau, and to lay out the black kerseymeres, ‘the rich cut velvet Genoa waistcoat,’ the white choker, and other polite articles of evening costume, with great gravity and despatch. ‘A great dinner-party,’ thinks I to myself, seeing these preparations (and not, perhaps, displeased at the idea that some of the best people in the neighbourhood were coming to see me). ‘Hark, theres the first bell ringing! ‘said Ponto, moving away; and, in fact, a clamorous harbinger of victuals began clanging from the stable turret, and announced the agreeable fact that dinner would appear in half-an-hour. ‘If the dinner is as grand as the dinner-bell,’ thought I, ‘faith, I’m in good quarters!’ and had leisure, during the half-hour’s interval, not only to advance my own person to the utmost polish of elegance which it is capable of receiving, to admire the pedigree of the Pontos hanging over the chimney, and the Ponto crest and arms emblazoned on the wash-hand basin and jug, but to make a thousand reflections on the happiness of a country life — upon the innocent friendliness and cordiality of rustic intercourse; and to sigh for an opportunity of retiring, like Ponto, to my own fields, to my own vine and fig-tree, with a placens uxor in my domus, and a half-score of sweet young pledges of affection sporting round my paternal knee.
Clang! At the end of thirty minutes, dinner-bell number two pealed from the adjacent turret. I hastened downstairs, expecting to find a score of healthy country folk in the drawing-room. There was only one person there; a tall and Roman-nosed lady, glistering over with bugles, in deep mourning. She rose, advanced two steps, made a majestic curtsey, during which all the bugles in her awful head-dress began to twiddle and quiver — and then said, ‘Mr. Snob, we are very happy to see you at the Evergreens,’ and heaved a great sigh.
This, then, was Mrs. Major Ponto; to whom making my very best bow, I replied, that I was very proud to make her acquaintance, as also that of so charming a place as the Evergreens.
Another sigh. ‘We are distantly related, Mr. Snob,’ said she, shaking her melancholy head. ‘Poor dear Lord Rubadub!’
‘Oh!’ said I; not knowing what the deuce Mrs. Major Ponto meant.
‘Major Ponto told me that you were of the Leicestershire Snobs: a very old family, and related to Lord Snobbington, who married Laura Rubadub, who is a cousin of mine, as was her poor dear father, for whom we are mourning. What a seizure! only sixty-three, and apoplexy quite unknown until now in our family! In life we are in death, Mr. Snob. Does Lady Snobbington bear the deprivation well?’
‘Why, really, ma’am, I— I don’t know,’ I replied, more and more confused.
As she was speaking I heard a sort of CLOOP, by which well-known sound I was aware that somebody was opening a bottle of wine, and Ponto entered, in a huge white neckcloth, and a rather shabby black suit.
‘My love,’ Mrs. Major Ponto said to her husband, ‘we were talking of our cousin — poor dear Lord Rubadub. His death has placed some of the first families in England in mourning. Does Lady Rubadub keep the house in Hill Street, do you know?’
I didn’t know, but I said, ‘I believe she does,’ at a venture; and, looking down to the drawing-room table, saw the inevitable, abominable, maniacal, absurd, disgusting ‘Peerage’ open on the table, interleaved with annotations, and open at the article ‘Snobbington.’
‘Dinner is served,’ says Stripes, flinging open the door; and I gave Mrs. Major Ponto my arm.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00