We had the fish, which, as the kind reader may remember, I had brought down in a delicate attention to Mrs. Ponto, to variegate the repast of next day; and cod and oyster-sauce, twice laid, salt cod and scolloped oysters, formed parts of the bill of fare until I began to fancy that the Ponto family, like our late revered monarch George II., had a fancy for stale fish. And about this time, the pig being consumed, we began upon a sheep.
But how shall I forget the solemn splendour of a second course, which was served up in great state by Stripes in a silver dish and cove; a napkin round his dirty thumbs; and consisted of a landrail, not much bigger than a corpulent sparrow.
‘My love, will you take any game?’ says Ponto, with prodigious gravity; and stuck his fork into that little mouthful of an island in the silver sea. Stripes, too, at intervals, dribbled out the Marsala with a solemnity which would have done honour to a Duke’s butler. The Bamnecide’s dinner to Shacabac was only one degree removed from these solemn banquets.
As there were plenty of pretty country places close by; a comfortable country town, with good houses of gentlefolks; a beautiful old parsonage, close to the church whither we went (and where the Carabas family have their ancestral carved and monumented Gothic pew), and every appearance of good society in the neighbourhood, I rather wondered we were not enlivened by the appearance of some of the neighbours at the Evergreens, and asked about them.
‘We can’t in our position of life — we can’t well associate with the attorney’s family, as I leave you to suppose,’ says Mrs. Ponto, confidentially. ‘Of course not,’ I answered, though I didn’t know why. ‘And the Doctor?’ said I.
‘A most excellent worthy creature,’ says Mrs. P. saved Maria’s life — really a learned man; but what can one do in one’s position? One may ask one’s medical man to one’s table certainly: but his family, my dear Mr. Snob!’
‘Half-a-dozen little gallipots,’ interposed Miss Wirt, the governess: ‘he, he, he!’ and the young ladies laughed in chorus.
‘We only live with the county families,’ Miss Wirt (1) continued, tossing up her head. ‘The Duke is abroad: we are at feud with the Carabases; the Ringwoods don’t come down till Christmas: in fact, nobody’s here till the hunting season — positively nobody.’
‘Whose is the large red house just outside of the town?’
‘What! the CHATEAU-CALICOT? he, he, he! That purse-proud ex-linendraper, Mr. Yardley, with the yellow liveries, and the wife in red velvet? How CAN you, my dear Mr. Snob, be so satirical? The impertinence of those people is really something quite overwhelming.’
‘Well, then, there is the parson, Doctor Chrysostom. He’s a gentleman, at any rate.’ At this Mrs. Ponto looked at Miss Wirt. After their eyes had met and they had wagged their heads at each other. They looked up to the ceiling. So did the young ladies. They thrilled. It was evident I had said something terrible. Another black sheep in the Church? thought I with a little sorrow; for I don’t care to own that I have a respect for the cloth. ‘I— hope there’s nothing wrong?
‘Wrong?’ says Mrs. P., clasping her hands with a tragic air.
‘Oh!’ says Miss Wirt, and the two girls, gasping in chorus.
‘Well,’ says I, ‘I’m very sorry for it. I never saw a nicer-looking old gentleman, or a better school, or heard a better sermon.’
‘He used to preach those sermons in a surplice,’ hissed out Mrs. Ponto. ‘He’s a Puseyite, Mr. Snob.’
‘Heavenly powers!’ says I, admiring the pure ardour of these female theologians; and Stripes came in with the tea. It’s so weak that no wonder Ponto’s sleep isn’t disturbed by it.
Of mornings we used to go out shooting. We had Ponto’s own fields to sport over (where we got the landrail), and the non-preserved part of the Hawbuck property: and one evening in a stubble of Ponto’s skirting the Carabas woods, we got among some pheasants, and had some real sport. I shot a hen, I know, greatly to my delight. ‘Bag it,’ says Ponto, in rather a hurried manner: ‘here’s somebody coming.’ So I pocketed the bird.
‘You infernal poaching thieves!’ roars out a man from the hedge in the garb of a gamekeeper. ‘I wish I could catch you on this side of the hedge. I’d put a brace of barrels into you, that I would.’
‘Curse that Snapper,’ says Ponto, moving off; ‘he’s always watching me like a spy.’
‘Carry off the birds, you sneaks, and sell ’em in London,’ roars the individual, who it appears was a keeper of Lord Carabas. ‘You’ll get six shillings a brace for ’em.’
‘YOU know the price of ’em well enough, and so does your master too, you scoundrel,’ says Ponto, still retreating.
‘We kill ’em on our ground,’ cries Mr. Snapper. ‘WE don’t set traps for other people’s birds. We’re no decoy ducks. We’re no sneaking poachers. We don’t shoot ‘ens, like that ’ere Cockney, who’s got the tail of one a-sticking out of his pocket. Only just come across the hedge, that’s all.’
‘I tell you what,’ says Stripes, who was out with us as keeper this day, (in fact he’s keeper, coachman, gardener, valet, and bailiff, with Tummus under him,) ‘if YOU’LL come across, John Snapper, and take your coat off, I’ll give you such a whopping as you’ve never had since the last time I did it at Guttlebury Fair.’
‘Whop one of your own weight,’ Mr. Snapper said, whistling his dogs and disappearing into the wood. And so we came out of this controversy rather victoriously; but I began to alter my preconceived ideas of rural felicity.
(1) I have since heard that this aristocratic lady’s father was a livery-button maker in St. Martin’s Lane: where he met with misfortunes, and his daughter acquired her taste for heraldry. But it may be told to her credit, that out of her earnings she has kept the bed-ridden old bankrupt in great comfort and secrecy at Pentonville; and furnished her brother’s outfit for the Cadetship which her patron, Lord Swigglebiggle, gave her when he was at the Board of Control. I have this information from a friend. To hear Miss Wirt herself, you would fancy that her Papa was a Rothschild, and that the markets of Europe were convulsed when he went into the GAZETTE.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00