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affability; and he had had his own history, too, before his accession to good fortune; and had seen the inside of more prisons than one, and written his name on many a stamped paper.
When Altamont first returned from Paris, and after he had communicated with Sir Francis Clavering from the hotel at which he had taken up his quarters (and which he had reached in a very denuded state, considering the wealth of diamonds and rubies with which this honest man was entrusted), Strong was sent to him by his patron the Baronet; paid his little bill at the inn, and invited him to come and sleep for a night or two at the chambers, where he subsequently took up his residence. To negotiate with this man was very well, but to have such a person settled in his rooms, and to be constantly burthened with such society, did not suit the Chevalier's taste much; and he grumbled not a little to his principal.
"I wish you would put this bear into somebody else's cage," he said to Clavering. "The fellow's no gentleman. I don't like walking with him. He dresses himself like a nigger on a holiday. I took him to the play the other night; and, by Jove, sir, he abused the actor who was doing the part of villain in the play, and swore at him so, that the people in the boxes wanted to turn him out. The after-piece was the 'Brigand,' where Wallack comes in wounded, you know, and dies. When he died, Altamont began to cry like a child,
and said it was a d d shame, and cried and swore so, that
there was another row, and everybody laughing. Then I had to take him away, because he wanted to take his coat off to one fellow who laughed at him; and bellowed to him to stand up like a man.—Who is he? Where the deuce does he come from? You had best tell me the whole story, Frank; you must one day. You and he have robbed a church together, that's my belief. You had better get it off your mind at once, Clavering, and tell me what this Altamont is, and what hold he has over you."
"Hang him! I wish he was dead!" was the Baronet's only reply ; and his countenance became so gloomy, that Strong did not think fit to question his patron any further at that time; but resolved, if need were, to try and discover for himself what was the secret tie between Altamont and Clavering.
IN WHICH THE COLONEL NARRATES SOME OF HIS ADVENTURES.
ARLY in the forenoon of the day after the dinner in GrosTenor Place, at which Colonel Altamont had chosen to appear, the Colonel emerged from his chamber in the upper story at Shepherd's Inn, and entered into Strong's sitting-room, where the Chevalier sate in his easy chair with the newspaper and his cigar. He was a man who made his tent comfortable wherever he pitched it, and long before Altamont's arrival, had done justice to a copious breakfast of fried eggs and broiled rashers, which Mr. Grady had prepared secundum artem. Good-humoured and talkative, he preferred any company rather than none; and though he had not the least liking for his fellow-lodger, and would not have grieved to hear that the accident had befallen him which Sir Francis Clavering desired so fervently, yet kept on fair terms with him. He had seen Altamont to bed with great friendliness on the night previous, and taken away his candle for fear of accidents; and finding a spirit-bottle empty, upon which he had counted for his nocturnal refreshment, had drunk a glass of water with perfect contentment over his pipe, before he turned into his own crib and to sleep. That enjoyment never failed him: he had always an easy temper, a faultless digestion, and a rosy cheek; and whether he was going into action the next morning or to prison (and both had been his lot), in the camp or the Fleet, the worthy Captain snored healthfully through the night, and woke with a good heart and appetite, for the struggles or difficulties or pleasures of the day.
The first act of Colonel Altamont was to bellow to Grady for a pint of pale ale, the which he first poured into a pewter flagon, whence he transferred it to his own lips. He put down the tankard empty, drew a great breath, wiped his mouth on his dressing-gown (the difference of the colour of his beard from his dyed whiskers had long struck Captain Strong, who had seen too that his hair was fair under his black wig, but made no remarks upon these circumstances)— the Colonel drew a great breath, and professed himself immensely refreshed by his draught. "Nothing like that beer," he remarked, "when the coppers are hot. Many a day I've drunk a dozen of Bass at Calcutta, and—and"
"And at Lucknow, I suppose," Strong said with a laugh. "I got the beer for you on purpose: knew you'd want it after last night." And the Colonel began to talk about his adventures of the preceding evening.
"I cannot help myself," the Colonel said, beating his head with his big hand. "I'm a madman when I get the liquor on board me; and ain't fit to be trusted with a spirit-bottle. When I once begin I can't stop till I've emptied it; and when I've swallowed it, Lord knows what I say or what I don't say. I dined at home here quite quiet. Grady gave me just my two tumblers, and I intended to pass the evening at the Black and Bed as sober as a parson. Why did you leave that confounded sample-bottle of Hollands out of the cupboard, Strong? Grady must go out too, and leave me the kettle a-boiling for tea. It was of no use, I couldn't keep away from it. Washed it all down, sir, by Jingo. And it's my belief I had some more, too, afterwards at that infernal little thieves' den."
"What, were you there too?" Strong asked, "and before you came to Grosvenor Place? That was beginning betimes."
"Early hours to be drunk and cleared out before nine o'clock, eh? But so it was. Yes, like a great big fool, I must go there; and found the fellows dining, Blackland and young Moss, and two or three more of the thieves. If we'd gone to Eouge et Noir, I must have won. But we didn't try the black and red. No, hang 'em, they know'd I'd have beat 'em at that—I must have beat em—I can't help beating 'em, I tell you. But they was too cunning for me. That rascal Blackland got the bones out, and we played hazard on the dining-table. And I dropped all the money I had from you in the morning, be hanged to my luck. It was that that set me wild, and I suppose I must have been very hot about the head, for I went off thinking to get some more money from Clavering, I recollect; and then—and then I don't much remember what happened till I woke this morning, and heard old Bows at No. 4 playing on his pianner."
Strong mused for a while as he lighted his cigar with a coal. "I should like to know how you always draw money from Clavering, Colonel," he said.
The Colonel burst out with a laugh—" Ha, ha! he owes it me," he said.
"I don't know that that's a reason with Frank for paying," Strong answered. "He owes plenty besides you."
"Well, he gives it me.because he is so fond of me," the other said with the same grinning sneer. "He loves me like a brother; you know he does, Captain.—No ?—He don't ?— Well, perhaps he don't; and if you ask me no questions, perhaps I'll tell you no lies, Captain Strong—put that in your pipe and smoke it, my boy."
"But I'll give up that confounded brandy-bottle," the Colonel continued, after a pause. "I must give it up, or it'll be the ruin of me."
"It makes you say queer things," said the Captain, looking Altamont hard in the face. "Eemember what you said last night, at Clavering's table."
"Say? What did I say?" asked the other hastily. "Did I split anything? Dammy, Strong, did I split anything?"
"Ask me no questions, and I will tell you no lies," the Chevalier replied on his part. Strong thought of the words Mr. Altamont had used, and his abrupt departure from the Baronet's dining-table and house as soon as he recognised Major Pendennis, or Captain Beak, as he called the Major. But Strong resolved to seek an explanation of these words otherwise than from Colonel Altamont, and did not choose to recall them to the other's memory. "No," he said then, "you didn't split, as you call it, Colonel; it was only a trap of mine to see if I could make you speak; but you didn't say a word that anybody could comprehend—you were too far gone for that."
So much the better, Altamont thought; and heaved a great sigh as if relieved. Strong remarked the emotion, but took no notice, and the other, being in a communicative mood, went on speaking.
"Yes, I own to my faults," continued the Colonel. "There is some things I can't, do what I will, resist: a bottle of brandy, a box of dice, and a beautiful woman. No man of pluck and spirit, no man as was worth his salt ever could, as I know of. There's hardly p'raps a country in the world in which them three ain't got me into trouble."
"Indeed?" said Strong.
"Yes, from the age of fifteen, when I ran away from home, and went cabin-boy on board an Indiaman, till now, when I'm fifty year old, pretty nigh, them women have always been my ruin. Why, it was one of 'em, and with such black eyes and jewels on her neck, and sattens and ermine like a duchess, I tell you—it was one of 'em at Paris that swept off the best part of the thousand pound as I went off with. Didn't I ever tell you of it? Well, I don't mind. At first I was very cautious, and having such a lot of money kep it close and lived like a gentleman—Colonel Altamont, Meurice's hotel, and that sort of thing—never played, except at the public tables, and won more than I lost. Well, sir, there was a chap that I saw at the hotel and the Palace Eoyal too, a regular swell fellow, with white kid gloves and a tuft to his chin, Bloundell-Bloundell his name was, as I made acquaintance with somehow, and he asked me to dinner, and took me to