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and watering-places, punting at gambling-houses, dancing at boarding-house balls, and riding steeple-chases on other folks' horses.
It was at a boarding-house at Lausanne, that Francis Clavering made what he called the lucky coup of marrying the widow Amory, very lately returned from Calcutta. His father died soon after, by consequence of whose demise his wife became Lady Clavering. The title so delighted Mr. Snell of Calcutta, that he doubled his daughter's allowance; and, dying himself soon after, left a fortune to her and her children, the amount of which was, if not magnified by rumour, something very splendid indeed.
Before this time there had been, not rumours unfavourable to Lady Clavering's reputation, but unpleasant impressions regarding her ladyship. The best English people abroad were shy of making her acquaintance; her manners were not the most refined; her origin was lamentably low and doubtful. The retired East Indians, who are to be found in considerable force in most of the continental towns frequented by English, spoke with much scorn of the disreputable old lawyer and indigo-smuggler her father, and of Amory, her first husband, who had been mate of the Indiaman in which Miss Snell came out to join her father at Calcutta. Neither father nor daughter was in society at Calcutta, or had ever been heard of at Government House. Old Sir Jasper Rogers, who had been Chief Justice of Calcutta, had once said to his wife, that he could tell a queer story about Lady Clavering's first husband; but, greatly to Lady Rogers's disappointment, and that of the young ladies his daughters, the old Judge could never be got to reveal that mystery.
They were all, however, glad enough to go to Lady Clavering's parties, when her ladyship took the Hotel Bouilli in the Rue Grenelle at Paris, and blazed out in the polite world there in the winter of 183—. The Faubourg St. Germain took her up. Viscount Bagwig, our excellent ambassador, paid her marked attention. The princes of the family frequented her salons. The most rigid and noted of the English ladies resident in the French capital acknowledged and countenanced her; the virtuous Lady Elderbury, the severe Lady Rockminster, the venerable Countess of South -down—people, in a word, renowned for austerity, and of quite a dazzling moral purity:—so great and beneficent an influence had the possession of ten (some said twenty) thousand a-year exercised upon Lady Clavering's character and reputation. And her munificence and good-will were unbounded. Anybody (in society) who had a scheme of charity was sure to find her purse open. The French ladies of piety got money from her to support their schools and convents; she subscribed indifferently for the Armenian patriarch; for Father Barbarossa, who came to Europe to collect funds for his monastery on Mount Athos; for the Baptist Mission to Quashyboo, and the Orthodox Settlement in Feefawfoo, the largest and most savage of the Cannibal Islands. And it is on record of her, that, on the same day on which Madame de Cricri got five napoleons from her in support of the poor persecuted Jesuits, who were at that time in very bad odour in France, Lady Budelight put her down in her subscription-list for the Rev. J. Ramshorn, who had had a vision which ordered him to convert the Pope of Rome. And more than this, and for the benefit of the worldly, her ladyship gave the best dinners, and the grandest balls and suppers, which were known at Paris during that season.
And it was during this time, that the good-natured lady must have arranged matters with her husband's creditors in England, for Sir Francis reappeared in his native country, without fear of arrest; was announced in the Morning Post and the county paper, as having taken up his residence at Mivart's Hotel: and one day the anxious old housekeeper at Clavering House beheld a carriage and four horses drive up the long avenue and stop before the moss-grown steps in front of the vast melancholy portico.
Three gentlemen were in the carriage—an open one. On the back seat was our old acquaintance, Mr. Tatham of Chatteris, whilst in the places of honour sat a handsome and portly gentleman enveloped in mustachios, whiskers, furcollars, and braiding, and by him a pale languid man, who descended feebly from the carriage, when the little lawyer, and the gentleman in fur, had nimbly jumped out of it.
They walked up the great moss-grown steps to the halldoor, and a foreign attendant, with ear-rings and a gold-laced cap, pulled strenuously at the great bell-handle at the cracked and sculptured gate. The bell was heard clanging loudly through the vast gloomy mansion. Steps resounded presently upon the marble pavement of the hall within; and the doors opened, and finally, Mrs. Blenkinsop, the housekeeper, Polly, her aide-de-camp, and Smart, the keeper, appeared bowing humbly.
Smart, the keeper, pulled the wisp of hay-coloured hair which adorned his sunburnt forehead, kicked out his left heel, as if there were a dog biting at his calves, and brought down his head to a bow. Old Mrs. Blenkinsop dropped a curtsey. Little Polly, her aide-de-camp, made a curtsey, and several rapid bows likewise: and Mrs. Blenkinsop, with a great deal of emotion, quavered out, "Welcome to Clavering, Sir Francis. It du my poor eyes good to see one of the family once more."
The speech and the greetings were all addressed to the grand gentleman in fur and braiding, who wore his hat so magnificently on one side, and twirled his mustachios so royally. But he burst out laughing, and said, "You've saddled the wrong horse, old lady—I'm not Sir Francis Clavering what's come to revisit the halls of my ancestors. Friends and vassals! behold your rightful lord!"
And he pointed his hand towards the pale, languid gentleman, who said, "Don't be an ass, Ned."
"Yes, Mrs. Blenkinsop, I'm Sir Francis Clavering; I recollect you quite well. Forgot me, I suppose ?—How dy do?" and he took the old lady's trembling hand; and nodded in her astonished face, in a not unkind manner.
Mrs. Blenkinsop declared upon her conscience that she would have known Sir Francis anywhere; that he was the very image of Sir Francis his father, and of Sir John who had gone before.
"O yes—thanky—of course—very much obliged—and that sort of thing," Sir Francis said, looking vacantly about the hall. "Dismal old place, ain't it, Ned? Never saw it but once, when my governor quarrelled with my gwandfather, in the year twenty-thwee."
"Dismal?—beautiful!—the Castle of Otranto!—the Mysteries of Udolpho, by Jove!" said the individual addressed as Ned. "What a fire-place! You might roast an elephant in it. Splendid carved gallery! Inigo Jones, by Jove! I'd lay five to two it's Inigo Jones."
"The upper part by Inigo Jones; the lower was altered by the eminent Dutch architect, Vanderputty, in George the First his time, by Sir Richard, fourth baronet," said the housekeeper.
"O indeed," said the Baronet. "'Gad, Ned, you know everything."
"I know a few things, Frank," Ned answered. "I know that's not a Snyders over the mantelpiece—bet you three to one it's a copy. We'll restore it, my boy. A lick of varnish and it will come out wonderfully, sir. That old fellow in the red gown, I suppose, is Sir Richard?"
"Sheriff of the county, and sate in Parliament in the reign of Queen Anne," said the housekeeper, wondering at the stranger's knowledge; "that on the right is Theodosia, wife of Harbottle, second baronet, by Lely, represented in the character of Venus, the Goddess of Beauty,—her son Gregory, the third baronet, by her side, as Cupid, God of Love, with a bow and arrows; that on the next panel is Sir Rupert, made a knight banneret by Charles the First, and whose property was confuscated by Oliver Cromwell."
"Thank you—needn't go on, Mrs. Blenkinsop," said the Baronet. "We'll walk about the place ourselves. Frosch, give me a cigar. Have a cigar, Mr. Tatham?"
Little Mr. Tatham tried a cigar which Sir Francis's courier handed to him, and over which the lawyer spluttered fearfully. "Needn't come with us, Mrs.Blenkinsop. What's-hisname—you— Smart—feed the horses and wash their mouths. Sha'n't stay long. Come along, Strong,—I know the way: I was here in twenty-thwee, at the end of my gwandfather's time." And Sir Francis and Captain Strong, for such was the style and title of Sir Francis's friend, passed out of the hall into the reception-rooms, leaving the discomfited Mrs. Blenkinsop to disappear by a side-door which led to her apartments, now the only habitable rooms in the long-uninhabited mansion.
It was a place so big that no tenant could afford to live in it; and Sir Francis and his friend walked through room after room, admiring their vastness and dreary and deserted grandeur. On the right of the hall door were the saloons and drawing-rooms, and on the other side the oak room, the parlour, the grand dining-room, the library, where Pen had found books in old days. Round three sides of the hall ran a gallery, by which, and corresponding passages, the chief bedrooms were approached, and of which many were of stately proportions and exhibited marks of splendour. On the second story was a labyrinth of little discomfortable garrets, destined for the attendants of the great folks who inhabited the mansion in the days when it was first built: and I do not know any more cheering mark of the increased philanthropy of our own times, than to contrast our domestic architecture with that of our ancestors, and to see how much better servants and poor are cared for at present, than in times when my lord and my lady slept under gold canopies, and their servants lay above them in quarters not so airy or so clean as stables are now.
Up and down the house the two gentlemen wandered, the owner of the mansion being very silent and resigned about the pleasure of possessing it; whereas the Captain, his friend, examined the premises with so much interest and eagerness that you would have thought he was the master, and the other the indifferent spectator of the place. "I see capabilities in it—capabilities in it, sir," cried the Captain. "Gad, sir, leave it to me, and I'll make it the pride of the country, at a small expense. What a theatre we can have in the library here, the curtains between the columns which divide the room! What a famous room for a galop!—it will hold the whole shire. We'll hang the morning parlour with the tapestry in your second salon in the Rue de Grenelle, and furnish the oak room with the Moyen-age cabinets and the armour. Armour looks splendid against black oak, and there's a Venice glass in the Quai Voltaire, which will suit that high mantel-piece to an inch, sir. The long saloon, white and crimson, of course; the drawing-room yellow satin: and the little drawing-room light blue, with lace over—hey?"