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When the grand company began to fill the house at Clavering Park, the Chevalier Strong seldom intruded himself upon its society, but went elsewhere to seek his relaxation. "I've seen plenty of grand dinners in my time," he said, "and dined, by Jove, in a company where there was a king and royal duke at top and bottom, and every man along the table had six stars on his coat; but dammy, Glanders, this finery don't suit me; and the English ladies with their confounded buckram airs, and the squires with their politics after dinner, send me to sleep—sink me dead if they don't. I like a place where I can blow my cigar when the cloth is removed, and when I'm thirsty, have my beer in its native pewter." So on a gala day at Clavering Park, the Chevalier would content himself with superintending the arrangements of the table, and drilling the major-domo and servants; and having looked over the bill of fare with Monsieur Mirobolant, would not care to take the least part in the banquet. "Send me up a cutlet and a bottle of claret to my room," this philosopher would say, and from the windows of that apartment, which commanded the terrace and avenue, he would survey the company as they arrived in their carriages, or take a peep at the ladies in the hall through an ceil-de-bceuf which commanded it from his corridor. And the guests being seated, Strong would cross the park to Captain Glanders's cottage at Clavering, or to pay the landlady a visit at the Clavering Arms, or to drop in upon Madame Fribsby over her novel and tea. Wherever the Chevalier went he was welcome, and whenever he came away a smell of hot brandy-and-water lingered behind him.
The Butcher Boy—not the worst horse in Sir Francis's stable—was appropriated to Captain Strong's express use; and the old Campaigner saddled him and brought him home at all hours of the day or night, and drove or rode him up and down the country. Where there was a public-house with a good tap of beer—where there was a tenant with a pretty daughter who played on the piano—to Chatteris, to the play, or the barracks—to Baymouth, if any fun was on foot there; to the rural fairs or races, the Chevalier and his brown horse made their way continually; and this worthy gentleman lived at free quarters in a friendly country. The Butcher Boy soon took Pen and the Chevalier to Baymouth. The latter was as familiar with the hotel and landlord there as with every other inn round about; and having been accommodated with a bedroom to dress, they entered the ball-room. The Chevalier was splendid. He wore three little gold crosses in a brochette on the portly breast of his blue coat, and looked like a foreign field-marshal.
The ball was public and all sorts of persons were admitted and encouraged to come, young Pynsent having views upon the county, and Lady Rockminster being patroness of the ball. There was a quadrille for the aristocracy at one end, and select benches for the people of fashion. Towards this end the Chevalier did not care to penetrate far (as he said he did not care for the nobs); but in the other part of the room he knew everybody—the wine-merchants', innkeepers', tradesmen's, solicitors', squire-farmers' daughters, their sires and brothers, and plunged about shaking hands.
"Who is that man with the blue ribbon and the threepointed star ?" asked Pen. A gentleman in black with ringlets and a tuft stood gazing fiercely about him, with one hand in the arm-hole of his waistcoat and the other holding his claque.
"By Jupiter, it's Mirobolant!" cried Strong, bursting out laughing. "Bonjour, Chef!—Bon jour, Chevalier!"
"De la croix de Juillet, Chevalier!" said the Chef, laying his hand on his decoration.
"By Jove, here's some more ribbon!" said Pen, amused.
A man with very black hair and whiskers, dyed evidently with the purple of Tyre, with twinkling eyes and white eyelashes, and a thousand wrinkles in his face, which was of a strange red colour, with two under-vests, and large gloves and hands, and a profusion of diamonds and jewels in his waistcoat and stock, with coarse feet crumpled into immense shiny boots, and a piece of parti-coloured ribbon in his button-hole, here came up and nodded familiarly to the Chevalier.
The Chevalier shook hands. "My friend Mr. Pendennis," Strong said. "Colonel Altamont, of the body-guard of his Highness the Nawaub of Lucknow." That officer bowed to the salute of Pen; who was now looking out eagerly to see if the person he wanted had entered the room.
Not yet. But the band began presently performing "See the Conquering Hero comes," and a host of fashionables—Dowager Countess of Rockminster, Mr. Pynsent and Miss Bell, Sir Francis Clavering, Bart., of Clavering Park, Lady Clavering and Miss Amory, Sir Horace Fogey, Bart., Lady Fogey, Colonel and Mrs. Higgs, Wagg, Esq. (as the county paper afterwards described them), entered the room.
Pen rushed by Blanche, ran up to Laura, and seized her hand. "God bless you!" he said, "I want to speak to you—I must speak to you—Let me dance with you." "Not for three dances, dear Pen," she said, smiling: and he fell back, biting his nails with vexation, and forgetting to salute Pynsent.
After Lady Rockminster's party, Lady Clavering's followed in the procession.
Colonel Altamont eyed it hard, holding a most musky pocket-handkerchief up to his face, and bursting with laughter behind it."Who's the gal in green along with 'em, Cap'n?" he asked of Strong.
"That's Miss Amory, Lady Clavering's daughter," replied the Chevalier.
The Colonel could hardly contain himself for laughing.
CONTAINS SOME BALL-PRACTISING.
NDER somecalico draperies in the shady embrasure of a window, Arthur Pendennis chose to assume a very gloomy and frowning countenance, and to watch Miss Bell dance her first quadrille with Mr. Pynsent for a partner. Miss Laura's face was beaming with pleasure and good-nature. The lights and the crowd and music excited her. As she spread out her white robes, and performed her part of the dance, smiling and happy, her brown ringlets flowing back over her fair shoulders from her honest rosy face, more than one gentleman in the room admired and looked after her; and Lady Fogey, who had a house in London, and gave herself no small airs of fashion when in the country, asked of Lady Rockminster who the young person was, mentioned a reigning beauty in London whom, in her ladyship's opinion, Laura was rather like, and pronounced that she would "do."
Lady Rockminster would have been very much surprised if any protegee of hers would not "do," and wondered at Lady Fogey's impudence in judging upon the point at all. She surveyed Laura with majestic glances through her eye-glass. She was pleased with the girl's artless looks, and gay innocent manner. Her manner is very good, her ladyship thought. Her arms are rather red, but that is a defect of her youth. Her ton is far better than that of the little pert Miss Amory, who is dancing opposite to her.
Miss Blanche was, indeed, the vis-a-vis of Miss Laura, and smiled most killingly upon her dearest friend, and nodded to her, and talked to her, when they met during the quadrille evolutions, and patronised her a great deal. Her shoulders were the whitest in the whole room: and they were never easy in her frock for one single instant: nor were her eyes, which rolled about incessantly: nor was her little figure:— it seemed to say to all the people, "Come and look at me—not at that pink, healthy, bouncing country lass, Miss Bell, who scarcely knew how to dance till I taught her. This is the true Parisian manner—this is the prettiest little foot in the room, and the prettiest little chaussure, too. Look at it, Mr. Pynsent. Look at it, Mr. Pendennis, you who are scowling behind the curtain —I know you are longing to dance with me."
Laura went on dancing, and keeping an attentive eye upon Mr. Pen in the embrasure of the window. He did not quit that retirement during the first quadrille, nor until the second, when the good-natured Lady Clavering beckoned to him to come up to her to the dais or place of honour where the dowagers were, and whither Pen went blushing and exceedingly awkward, as most conceited young fellows are. He performed a haughty salutation to Lady Rockminster, who hardly acknowledged his bow, and then went and paid his respects to the widow of the late Amory, who was splendid in diamonds, velvet, lace, feathers, and all sorts of millinery and goldsmith's ware.
Young Mr. Fogey, then in the fifth form at Eton, and ardently expecting his beard and his commission in a dragoon regiment, was the second partner who was honoured with Miss Bell's hand. He was rapt in admiration of that young