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CHAPTER XXIII.

THE WAY OF THE WORLD.

SHORT time after the piece of good fortune which befel Colonel Altamont at Epsom, that gentleman put into execution his projected foreign tour, and the chronicler of the polite world who goes down to London Bridge for the purpose of taking leave of the people of fashion who quit this country, announced that among the company on board the "Soho" to Antwerp last Saturday, were "Sir Robert, Lady, and the Misses Hodge; Mr. Serjeant Kewsy, and Mrs. and Miss Kewsy; Colonel Altamont, Major Coddy," &c. The Colonel travelled in state, and as became a gentleman: he appeared in a rich travelling costume; he drank brandy-and-water freely during the passage, and was not sick, as some of the other passengers were; and he was attended by his body servant, the faithful Irish legionary who had been for some time in waiting upon himself and Captain Strong in their chambers of Shepherd's Inn.

The Chevalier partook of a copious dinner at Blackwall with his departing friend the Colonel, and one or two others, who drank many healths to Altamont at that liberal gentleman's expense. "Strong, old boy," the Chevalier's worthy chum said, "if you want a little money, now's your time. I'm your man. You're a good feller, and have been a good feller to me, and a twenty-pound note more or less will make no odds to me." But Strong said, No, he didn't want any money; he was flush, quite flush—"that is, not flush enough to pay you back your last loan, Altamont, but quite able to carry on for some time to come"—and so, with a not uncordial greeting between them, the two parted. Had the possession of money really made Altamont more honest and amiable than he had hitherto been, or only caused him to seem more amiable in Strong's eyes? Perhaps he really was better; and money improved him. Perhaps it was the beauty of wealth Strong saw and respected. But he argued within himself, "This poor devil, this unlucky outcast of a returned convict, is ten times as good a fellow as my friend Sir Francis Clavering, Bart. He has pluck and honesty in his way. He will stick to a friend and face an enemy. The other never had courage to do either. And what is it that has put the poor devil under a cloud? He was only a little wild, and signed his father-in-law's name. Many a man has done worse, and come to no wrong, and holds his head up. Clavering does. No, he don't hold his head up: he never did in his best days." And Strong, perhaps, repented him of the falsehood which he had told to the freehanded Colonel, that he was not in want of money; but it was a falsehood on the side of honesty, and the Chevalier could not bring down his stomach to borrow a second time from his outlawed friend. Besides, he could get on. Clavering had promised him some; not that Clavering's promises were much to be believed, but the Chevalier was of a hopeful turn, and trusted in many chances of catching his patron, and waylaying some of those stray remittances and supplies, in the procuring of which for his principal lay Mr. Strong's chief business.

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He had grumbled about Altamont's companionship in the Shepherd's Inn chambers; but he found those lodgings more glum now without his partner than with him. The solitary life was not agreeable to his social soul: and he had got into extravagant and luxurious habits, too, having a servant at his command to run his errands, to arrange his toilettes, and to cook his meal. It was rather a grand and touching sight now to see the portly and handsome gentleman painting his own boots, and broiling his own mutton-chop. It has been before stated that the Chevalier had a wife, a Spanish lady of Vittoria, who had gone back to her friends, after a few months' union with the Captain, whose head she broke with a dish. He began to think whether he should not go back and see his Juanita. The Chevalier was growing melancholy after the departure of his friend the Colonel: or, to use his own picturesque expression, was "down on his luck." These moments of depression and intervals of ill-fortune occur constantly in the lives of heroes. Marius at Minturnae, Charles Edward in the Highlands, Napoleon before Elba:—what great man has not been called upon to face evil fortune?

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From Clavering no supplies were to be had for some time. The five-and-twenty pounds, or "pony," which the exemplary Baronet had received from Mr. Altamont, had fled out of Clavering's keeping as swiftly as many previous ponies. He had been down the river with a choice party of sporting gents, who dodged the police and landed in Essex, where they put up Billy Bluck to fight Dick the Cabman, whom the Baronet backed, and who had it all his own way for thirteen rounds, when, by an unlucky blow in the windpipe, Billy killed him. "It's always my luck, Strong," Sir Francis said; "the betting was three to one on the cabman, and I thought myself as sure of thirty pounds, as if I had it in my pocket. And dammy, I owe my man Lightfoot fourteen pound now which he's lent and paid for me: and he duns me—the confounded impudent blackguard: and I wish to Heaven I knew any way of getting a bill done, or of screwing a little out of my lady! I'll give you half, Ned, upon my soul and honour, I'll give you half if you can get anybody to do us a little fifty."

But Ned said sternly that he had given his word of honour, as a gentleman, that he would be no party to any future bill-transactions in which her husband might engage (who had given his word of honour too), and the Chevalier said that he, at least, would keep his word, and would black his own boots all his life rather than break his promise. And what is more, he vowed he would advise Lady Clavering that Sir Francis was about to break his faith towards her, upon the very first hint which he could get that such was Clavering's intention.

Upon this information Sir Francis Clavering, according to his custom, cried and cursed very volubly. He spoke of death as his only resource. He besought and implored his dear Strong, his best friend, his dear old Ned, not to throw him over: and when he quitted his dearest Ned, as he went down the stairs of Shepherd's Inn, swore and blasphemed at Ned as the most infernal villain, and traitor, and blackguard, and coward under the sun, and wished Ned was in his grave, and in a worse place, only he would like the confounded ruffian to live, until Frank Clavering had had his revenge out of him.

In Strong's chambers the Baronet met a gentleman whose visits were now, as it has been shown, very frequent in Shepherd's Inn, Mr. Samuel Huxter, of Clavering. That young fellow, who had poached the walnuts in Clavering Park in his youth, and had seen the Baronet drive through the street at home with four horses, and prance up to church with powdered footmen, had an immense respect for his Member, and a prodigious delight in making his acquaintance. He introduced himself, with much blushing and trepidation, as a Clavering man—son of Mr. Huxter, of the market-place—father attended Sir Francis's keeper, Coxwood, when his gun burst and took off three fingers—proud to make Sir Francis's acquaintance. All of which introduction Sir Francis received affably. And honest Huxter talked about Sir Francis to the chaps at Bartholomew's; and told Fanny, in the lodge, that, after all, there was nothing like a thorough-bred un, a regular good old English gentleman, one of the olden time! To which Fanny replied, that she thought Sir Francis was an ojous creature—she didn't know why—but she couldn't abear him—she was sure he was wicked, and low, and mean—she knew he was; and when Sam to this replied that Sir Francis was very affable, and had borrowed half a sov' of him quite kindly, Fanny burst into a laugh, pulled Sam's long hair (which was not yet of irreproachable cleanliness), patted his chin, and called him a stoopid, stoopid, old foolish stoopid, and said that Sir Francis was always borrering money of everybody, and that Mar had actially refused him twice, and had had to wait three months to get seven shillings which he had borrered of 'er.

"Don't say 'er but her; borrer, but borrow; actially, but actually, Fanny," Mr. Huxter replied—not to a fault in her argument, but to grammatical errors in her statement.

"Well then, her, and borrow, and hactually—there then, you stoopid," said the other; and the scholar made such a pretty face that the grammar-master was quickly appeased, and would have willingly given her a hundred more lessons on the spot, at the price which he took for that one.

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