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“ I recollect my old governor caning me in that little room,” Sir Francis said, sententiously; “ he always hated me, my old governor.”
“Chintz is the dodge, I suppose, for my lady’s rooms— the suite in the landing, to the south, the bedroom, the sitting-room, and the dressing-room. We’ll throw a conservatory out, over the balcony. Where will you have your rooms ? ”
“ Put mine in the north wing,” said the Baronet, with a yawn, "and out of the reach of Miss Amory’s confounded piano. I can’t bear it. She’s scweeching from morning till night.”
The Captain burst out laughing. He settled the whole further arrangements of the house in the course of their walk through it; and, the promenade ended, they went into the steward’s room, now inhabited by Mrs. Blenkinsop, and where Mr. Tatham was sitting poring over the plan of the estate,
and the old housekeeper had prepared a collation in honour
of her lord and master.
Then they inspected the kitchen and stables, about both of which Sir Francis was rather interested, and Captain Strong was for examining the gardens ; but the Baronet said, “D— the gardens, and that sort of thing!” and finally he drove away from the house as unconcernedly as he had entered it; and that night the people of Clavering learned that Sir Francis Clavering had paid a visit to the Park, and was coming to live in the county.
When this fact came to be known at Chatteris, all the folks in the place were set in commotion: High Church and Low Church, half-pay captains and old maids and dowagers, sporting squireens of the vicinage, farmers, tradesmen, and factory-people—all the population in and round about the little place. The news was brought to Fairoaks, and received by the ladies there, and by Mr. Pen, with some excitement. “Mrs. Pybus says there is a very pretty girl in the family, Arthur,” Laura said, who was as kind and thoughtful upon this point as women generally are: “a Miss Amory, Lady Clavering’s daughter by her first marriage. Of course, you will fall in love with her as soon as she arrives.”
Helen cried out, “Don’t talk nonsense, Laura.” Pen laughed, and said, “ Well, there is the young Sir Francis for you.”
“ He is but four years old,” Miss Laura replied. “ But I shall console myself with that handsome officer, Sir Francis’s friend. He was at church last Sunday, in the Clavering pew, and his mustachios were beautiful.”
Indeed the number of Sir Francis’s family (whereof the members have all been mentioned in the above paragraphs) was pretty soon known in the town, and everything else, as .nearly as human industry and ingenuity could calculate, regarding his household. The park avenue and grounds were dotted now with town folks of the summer evenings, who made their way up to the great house, peered about the premises, and criticised the improvements which were taking place there. Loads upon loads of furniture arrived in numberless vans from Chatteris and London; and numerous as the vans were, there was not one but Captain Glanders knew what it contained, and escorted the baggage up to the Park House.
He and Captain Edward Strong had formed an intimate acquaintance by this time. The younger Captain occupied those very lodgings at Clavering, which the peaceful Smirke had previously tenanted, and was deep in the good graces of Madame Fribsby, his landlady; and of the whole town, indeed. The Captain was splendid in person and raiment; freshcoloured, blue-eyed, black-whiskered, broad-chested, athletic —a slight tendency to fulness did not take away from the comeliness of his jolly figure—a braver soldier never presented a broader chest to the enemy. As he strode down Clavering High Street, his hat on one side, his cane clanking on the pavement, or waving round him in the execution of military cuts and soldatesque manoeuvres—his jolly laughter ringing through the otherwise silent street—he was as welcome as sunshine to the place, and a comfort to every inhabitant in it.
On the first market-day he knew every pretty girl in the market; he joked with all the women; had a word with the farmers about their stock, and dined at the Agricultural Ordinary at the Clavering Arms, where he set them all dying
VOL. I. r 3
with laughter by his fun and jokes. “Tu be sure he be a vine feller, tu be sure that he be,” was the universal opinion of the gentlemen in top-boots. He shook hands with a score of them, as they rode out of the inn-yard on their old nags waving his hat to them splendidly as he smoked his cigar in the inn-gate. In the course of the evening he was free of the landlady’s bar, knew what rent the landlord paid, how many acres he farmed, how much malt he put in his strong beer; and whether he ever run in a little brandy unexcised by kings from Baymouth, or the fishing villages along the coast.
He had tried to live at the great house first; but it was so dull he couldn’t stand it. “I am a creature born for society,” he told Captain Glanders. “I’m down here to see Clavering’s house set in order, for between ourselves, Frank has no energy, sir, no energy; he’s not the chest for it, sir (and he threw out his own trunk as he spoke); but I must have social intercourse. Old Mrs. Blenkinsop goes to bed at seven, and takes Polly with her. There was nobody but me and the Ghost for the first two nights at the great house, and I own it, sir, I like company. Most old soldiers do.”
Glanders asked Strong where he had served? Captain Strong curled his moustache, and said with a laugh, that the other might almost ask where he had not served. “ I began, sir, as cadet of Hungarian Uhlans, and when the war of Greek independence broke out, quitted that service in consequence of a quarrel with my governor, and was one of seven who escaped from Missolonghi, and was blown up in one of Botzaris’s fireships, at the age of seventeen. I’ll show you my Cross of the Redeemer, if you’ll come over to my lodgings and take a glass of grog with me, Captain, this evening. I’ve a few of those baubles in my desk. I’ve the White Eagle of Poland; Skrzynecki gave it me ” (he pronounced Skrzynecki’s name with wonderful accuracy and gusto) “upon the field of Ostrolenka. I was a lieutenant of the fourth regiment, sir, and we marched through Diebitsch’s lines—bang thro’ ’em into Prussia, sir, without firing a shot. Ah, Captain, that was a mismanaged business. I received this wound by the side of the King before Oporto—where he would have pounded the stock-jobbing Pedroites, had Bourmont followed my ad
vice; and I served in Spain with the King’s troops, until the death of my dear friend, Zumalacarreguy, when I saw the game was over, and hung up my toasting-iron, Captain. Alava offered me a regiment; but I couldn’t—damme I couldn’t— and now, sir, you know Ned Strong—the Chevalier Strong, they call me abroad—as well as he knows himself.”
In this way almost everybody in Clavering came to know Ned Strong. He told Madame Fribsby, he told the landlord of the George, he told Baker at the reading-rooms, he told Mrs. Glanders and the young ones, at dinner: and finally, he told Mr. Arthur Pendennis, who, yawning into Clavering one day, found the Chevalier Strong in company with Captain Glanders, and who was delighted with his new acquaintance.
Before many days were over, Captain Strong was as much at home in Helen’s drawing-room as he was in Madame Fribsby’s first floor; and made the lonely house very gay with his good humour and ceaseless flow of talk. The two women had never before seen such a man. He had a thousand stories about battles and dangers to interest them— about Greek captives, Polish beauties, and Spanish nuns. He could sing scores of songs, in half-a-dozen languages, and would sit down to the piano and troll them ofi’ in a rich manly voice. Both the ladies pronounced him to be delightful—and so he was: though, indeed, they had not had much choice of man’s society as yet, having seen in the course of their lives but few persons, except old Portman and the Major, and Mr. Pen, who was a genius, to be sure; but then your geniuses are somewhat flat and moody at home.
And Captain Strong acquainted his new friends at Fairoaks, not only with his own biography, but with the whole history of the family now coming to Clavering. It was he who had made the marriage between his friend Frank and the widow Amory. She wanted rank, and he wanted money. What match could be more suitable ? He organised it; he made those two people happy. There was no particular romantic attachment between them; the widow was not of an age or a person for romance, and Sir Francis, if he had his game at billiards and his dinner, cared for little besides. But they were as happy as people could be. Clavering would return to his native place and country, his wife’s fortune would pay his encumbrances off, and his son and heir would be one of the first men in the county.
“And Miss Amory?” Laura asked. Laura was uncommonly curious about Miss Amory.
Strong laughed. “ Oh, Miss Amory is a muse—Miss Amory is a mystery—Miss Amory is a femmc incomprise.” “What is that?” asked simple Mrs. Pendennis—but the Chevalier gave her no answer; perhaps could not give her one. “ Miss Amory paints, Miss Amory writes poems, Miss Amory composes music, Miss Amory rides like Diana Vernon. Miss Amory is a paragon, in a word.”
“ I hate clever women,” said Pen.
“Thank you,” said Laura. For her part she was sure she should be charmed with Miss Amory, and quite longed to have such a friend. And with this she looked Pen full in the face, as if every word the little hypocrite said was Gospel truth.
Thus an intimacy was arranged and prepared beforehand between the Fairoaks family and their wealthy neighbours at the Park; and Pen and Laura were to the full as eager for their arrival, as even the most curious of the Clavering folks. A Londoner, who sees fresh faces and yawns at them every day, may smile at the eagerness with which country people expect a visitor. A cockney comes amongst them, and is remembered by his rural entertainers for years after he has left them, and forgotten them, very likely—floated far away from them on the vast London sea. But the islanders remember long after the mariner has sailed away, and can tell you what he said and what he wore, and how he looked and how he laughed. In fine, a new arrival is an event in the country not to be understood by us, who don’t, and had rather not, know who lives next door.
When the painters and upholsterers had done their work in the house, and so beautified it, under Captain Strong’s superintendence, that he might well be proud of his taste, that gentleman announced that he should go to London, where the whole family had arrived by this time, and should speedily return to establish them in their renovated mansion.