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The repast was of the richest description—J‘ What I call of the florid Gothic style,” Wagg whispered to Pen, who sate beside the humourist, in his side-wing voice. The men in creaking shoes and Berlin gloves were numerous and solemn, carrying on rapid conversations behind the guests, as they moved to and fro with the dishes. Doolan called out, “Waither,” to one of them, and blushed when he thought of his blunder. Mrs. Bungay’s own footboy was lost amidst those large and black-coated attendants. .
“ Look at that very bow-windowed man,” Wagg said. “He’s an undertaker in Amen Corner, and attends funerals and dinners. Cold meat and hot, don’t you perceive ? He’s the sham butler here, and I observe, my dear Mr. Pendennis, as you will through life, that wherever there is a sham butler at a London dinner, there is sham wine—this sherry is filthy. Bungay, my boy, where did you get this delicious brown, sherry ? ”
“I’m glad you like it, Mr. Wagg; glass with you,” said the publisher. “It’s some I got from Alderman Benning’s store, and gave a good figure for it, I can tell you. Mr. Pendennis, will you join us ? Your ’ealth, gentlemen.”
“ The old rogue, where does he expect to go to? It came from the public-house,” Wagg said. “It requires two men to carry ofi that sherry, ’tis so uncommonly strong. I wish I had a bottle of old Steyne’s wine here, Pendennis: your uncle and I have had many a one. He sends it about to people where he is in the habit of dining. I remember at poor Rawdon Crawley’s, Sir Pitt Crawley’s brother—he was Governor of Coventry Island—Steyne’s chef always came in the morning, and the butler arrived with the champagne from Gaunt House, in the ice-pails ready.”
“ How good this is! ” said Popjoy, good-naturedly. “You must have a cordon bleu in your kitchen.” .
“ Oh yes,” Mrs. Bungay said, thinking he spoke of a jackohain very likely. ;
“ I mean a French chef,” said the polite guest.
. “ Oh yes, your Lordship,” again said the lady.
“Does your artist say he’s a Frenchman, Mrs. B.?"
called out Wagg.
“Well, I’m sure I don’t know,” answered the publisher’s lady.
“ Because, if he does, he’s a qnizzin yer,” cried Mr. Wagg; but nobody saw the ‘pun, which disconcerted somewhat the bashful punster. “ The dinner is from Griggs’ in St. Paul’s Churchyard; so is Bacon’s,” he whispered Pen. “Bungay writes to give half-a-crown a head more than Bacon,—so does Bacon. They would poison each other’s ices if they could get near them ; and as for the made-dishes—they are poison. This—hum—ha—this Brimborion a la Séviyné is delicious, Mrs. B.,” he said, helping himself to a dish, which the undertaker handed to him.
“ Well, I’m glad you like it,” Mrs. Bungay answered, blushing, and not knowing whether the name of the dish was actually that which Wagg gave to it, but dimly conscious that that individual was quizzing her. Accordingly she hated Mr. Wagg with female ardour ; and would have deposed him from his command over Mr. Bungay’s periodical, but that his name was great in the trade, and his reputation in the land considerable.
By the displacement of persons, Warrington had found himself on the right hand of Mrs. Shandon, who sate in plain black silk and faded ornaments by the side of the florid publisher. The sad smile of the lady moved his rough heart to p/ity. Nobody seemed to interest himself about her: she sate looking at her husband, who himself seemed rather abashed in the presence of some of the company. Wenham and Wagg both knew him and his circumstances. He had worked with the latter, and was immeasurably his superior in wit, genius, and acquirements; but Wagg’s star was brilliant in the world, and poor Shandon was unknown there. He could not speak before the noisy talk of the coarser and more successful man ; but drank his wine in silence, and as much of it as the people would give him. He was under surveillance. Bungay had warned the undertaker not to fill the Captain’s glass too often or too full. It was a melancholy precaution that, and the more melancholy that it was necessary. Mrs. Shandon, too, cast alarmed glances across the table to see that her husband did not exceed.
Abashed by the failure of his first pun, for he was impudent and easily disconcerted, Wagg kept his conversation pretty much to Pen during the rest of dinner, and of course chiefly spoke about their neighbours. “ This is one of Bungay’s grand field-days,” he said. “We are all Bungavians here—Did you read Popjoy’s novel? It was an old magazine story written by poor Buzzard years ago, and forgotten here until Mr. Trotter (that is Trotter with the large shirt-collar) fished it out and bethought him that it was applicable to the late elopement ; so Bob wrote a few chapters it propos—Popjoy permitted the use of his name, and I dare say supplied a page here and there—and ‘Desperation, or the Fugitive Duchess ’ made its appearance. The great fun is to examine Popjoy about his own work, of which he doesn’t know a word—I say, Popjoy, what a capital passage that is in Volume Three— where the Cardinal in disguise, after being converted by the Bishop of London, proposes marriage to the Duchess’s daughter.”
“Glad you like it,” Popjoy answered; “it’s a favourite bit of my own.”
“There’s no such thing in the whole book,” whispered Wagg to Pen. “Invented it myself. Gad! it wouldn’t be a bad plot for a High-Church novel.”
“ I remember poor Byron, Hobhouse, Trelawney, and myself, dining with Cardinal Mezzocaldo, at Rome,” Captain Sumph began, “and we had some Orvieto wine for dinner, which Byron liked very much. And I remember how the Cardinal regretted that he was a single man. We went to Civita Vecchia two days afterwards, where Byron’s yacht was —and, by Jove, the Cardinal died within three weeks ; and Byron was very sorry, for he rather liked him.”
“A devilish interesting story, Sumph, indeed,” Wagg said.
“ You should publish some of those stories, Captain Sumph, you really should. Such a volume would make our friend Bungay’s fortune,” Shandon said.
“Why don’t you ask Sumph to publish ’em in your new paper—the what-d’ye-call-’em—hay, Shandon? ” bawled out Wagg.
“Why don’t you ask him to publish ’em in your old magazine, the Thingumbob ? ” Shandon replied.
“Is there going to be a new paper?” asked Wenham, ‘who knew perfectly well; but was ashamed of his connection with the press.
“ Bungay going to bring out a paper ? ” cried Popjoy, who, on the contrary, was proud of his literary reputation and acquaintances. “You must employ me. Mrs. Bungay, use your influence with him, and make him employ me. Prose or verse—what shall it be ? Novels, poems, travels, or leading articles, begad. Anything or everything—only let Bungay pay me, and I’m ready—I am now, my dear Mrs. Bungay, begad now.”
“It’s to be called the Small Beer Chronicle,” growled Wagg, “and little Popjoy is to be engaged for the infantine department.”
“It is to be called the Pall Mall Gazette, sir, and we shall be very happy to have you with us,” Shandon said.
“Pall Mall Gazette—why Pall Mall Gazette ? ” asked Wagg.
“ Because the editor was born at Dublin, the sub-editor at Cork, because the proprietor lives in Paternoster Row, and the paper is published in Catherine Street, Strand. Won’t that reason suffice you, Wagg?” Shandon said; he was getting rather angry. “Everything must have a name. My dog Ponto has got a name. You’ve got a name, and a name which you deserve, more or less, bedad. Why d’ye grudge the name to our paper ? ”
“ By any other name it would smell as sweet,” said Wagg.
“ I’ll have ye remember it’s name’s not what-d’ye-call-’em, Mr. Wagg,” said Shandon. “ You know its name well enough, and—and you know mine.”
“And I know your address, too,” said Wagg, but this was spoken in an undertone, and the good-natured Irishman was appeased almost in an instant after his ebullition of spleen, and asked Wagg to drink wine with him in a friendly voice.
When the ladies retired from the table, the talk grew louder still; and presently Wenham, in a courtly speech, proposed that everybody should drink to the health of the
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new journal, eulogising highly the talents, wit, and learning of its editor, Captain Shandon. It was his maxim never to lose the support of a newspaper man, and in the course of that evening, he went round and saluted every literary gentleman present with a privy compliment specially addressed to him ; informing this one how great an impression had been made in Downing Street by his last article, and telling that one how profoundly his good friend, the Duke of So and So, had been struck by the ability of the late numbers.
The evening came to a close, and in spite of all the precautions to the contrary, poor Shandon reeled in his walk, and went home to his new lodgings, with his faithful wife by his side, and the cabman on his box jeering at him. Wenham had a chariot of his own, which he put at Popjoy’s service; and the timid Miss Bunion seeing Mr. Wagg, who was her neighbour, about to depart, insisted upon a seat in his carriage, much to that gentleman’s discomfiture.
Pen and Warrington walked home together in the moonlight. “And now,” Warrington said, “that you have seen the men of letters, tell me, was I far wrong in saying that there are thousands of people in this town, who don’t write books, who are, to the full, as clever and intellectual as people who do ? ”
Pen was forced to confess that the literary personages with whom he had become acquainted had not said much, in the course of the night’s conversation, that was worthy to be remembered or quoted. In fact, not one word about literature had been said during the whole course of the night :—and it may be whispered to those uninitiated people who are anxious to know the habits and make the acquaintance of men of letters, that there are no race of people who talk about books, or perhaps, who read books, so little as literary men.