« ZurückWeiter »
newspaper on Saturday, and next week I’ll blow up the whole concern.”
Strong carried back these words to his principal, on whom their efiect was such, that actually, on the day and hour appointed, the Chevalier made his appearance once more at Altamont’s hotel at Baymouth, with the sum of money required. Altamont was a gentleman, he said, and behaved as such; he paid his bill at the inn, and the Baymouth paper announced his departure on a foreign tour. Strong saw him embark at Dover. “ It must be forgery at the very least,” he thought, “that has put Clavering into this fellow’s power, and the Colonel has got the bill.”
Before the year was out, however, this happy country saw the Colonel once more upon its shores. A confounded run on the red had finished him, he said, at Baden Baden: no gentleman could stand against a colour coming up fourteen times. He had been obliged to draw upon Sir Francis Clavering for means of returning home: and Clavering, though pressed for money (for he had election expenses, had set up his establishment in the country, and was engaged in furnishing his London house), yet found means to accept Colonel Altamont’s bill, though evidently very much against his will ; for in Strong’s hearing, Sir Francis wished to heaven, with many curses, that the Colonel could have been locked up in a debtor’s gaol in Germany for life, so that he might never be troubled again.
These sums for the Colonel Sir Francis was obliged to raise without the knowledge of his wife; for though perfectly liberal, nay, sumptuous in her expenditure, the good lady had inherited a tolerable aptitude for business along with the large fortune of her father, Snell, and gave to her husband only such a handsome allowance as she thought befitted a gentleman of his rank. Now and again she would give him a present or pay an outstanding gambling debt; but she always exacted a pretty accurate account of the moneys so required; and respecting the subsidies to the Colonel, Clavering fairly told Strong that he couldn’t speak to his wife.
Part of Mr. Strong’s business in life was to procure this money and other sums for his patron. And in the Chevalier’s apartments, in Shepherd’s Inn, many negotiations took place between gentlemen of the moneyed world and Sir Francis Clavering ; and many valuable bank-notes and pieces of stamped paper were passed between them. When a man has been in the habit of getting in debt from his early youth, and of exchanging his promises to pay at twelve months against present sums of money, it would seem as if no piece of good fortune ever permanently benefited him: a little while after the advent of prosperity, the money-lender is pretty certain to be in the house again, and the bills with the old signature in the market. Clavering found it more convenient to see these gentry at Strong’s lodgings than at his own; and such was the Chevalier’s friendship for the Baronet, that although he did not possess a shilling of his own, his name might be seen as the drawer of almost all the bills of exchange which Sir Francis Clavering accepted. Having drawn Clavering’s bills, he got them discounted “in the City.” When they became due he parleyed with the bill-holders, and gave them instalments of their debt, or got time in exchange for fresh acceptances. Regularly or irregularly, gentlemen must live somehow: and as we read how, the other day, at Comorn, the troops forming that garrison were gay and lively, acted plays, danced at balls, and consumed their rations, though menaced with an assault from the enemy without the walls, and with a gallows if the Austrians were successful,—so there are hundreds of gallant spirits in this town, walking about in good spirits, dining every day in tolerable gaiety and plenty, and going to sleep comfortably, with a bailifi always more or less near, and a rope of debt round their necks—the which trifling inconveniences Ned Strong, the old soldier, bore very easily.
But we shall have another opportunity of making acquaintance with these and some other interesting inhabitants of Shepherd’s Inn, and in the meanwhile are keeping Lady Clavering and her friends too long waiting on the door-steps of Grosvenor Place.
First they went into the gorgeous dining-room, fitted up, Lady Clavering couldn’t for goodness gracious tell why, in the middle-aged style, “ unless,” said her good-natured Ladyship, laughing, “because me and Clavering are middle-aged people;”—and here they were offered the copious remains of the luncheon of which Lady Clavering and Blanche had just partaken. When nobody was near, our little sylphide, who scarcely ate at dinner more than the six grains of rice of Amina, the friend of the Ghouls in the Arabian Nights, was most active with her knife and fork, and consumed a very substantial portion of mutton cutlets: in which piece of hypocrisy it is believed she resembled other young ladies of fashion. Pen and his uncle declined the refection, but they admired the dining-room with fitting compliments, and pronounced it “very chaste,” that being the proper phrase. There were, indeed, high-backed Dutch chairs of the seventeenth century; there was a sculptured carved buffet of the sixteenth; there was a sideboard robbed out of the carved work of a church in the Low Countries, and a large brass cathedral lamp over the round oak table; there were old family portraits from Wardour Street, and tapestry from France, bits of armour, double-handed swords and ‘battle-axes made of carton-Pierre, looking-glasses, statuettes of saints, and Dresden china—nothing, in a word, could be chaster. Behind the dining-room was the library, fitted with busts and books all of a size, and wonderful easy-chairs, and solemn bronzes in the severe classic style. Here it was that, guarded by double doors, Sir Francis smoked cigars and read Bell’s Life in London, and went to sleep after dinner, when he was not smoking over the billiard-table at his clubs, or punting at the gambling-houses in Saint James’s.
But what could equal the chaste splendour of the drawingrooms ?—the carpets were so magnificently fluffy that your foot made no more noise on them than your shadow: on their white ground bloomed roses and tulips as big as warmingpans: about the room were high chairs and low chairs, handy-legged chairs, chairs so attenuated that it was a wonder any but a sylph could sit upon them, marqueterie tables covered with marvellous gimcracks, china ornaments of all ages and countries, bronzes, gilt daggers, Books of Beauty, yataghans, Turkish papooshes and boxes of Parisian bonbons. Wherever you sate down there were Dresden shep
herds and shepherdesses convenient at your elbow; there were, moreover, light-blue poodles and ducks and cocks and hens in porcelain ; there were nymphs by Boucher, and shepherdesses by Greuze, very chaste indeed; there were muslin curtains and brocade curtains, gilt cages with parroquets and love-birds, two squealing cockatoos, each out-squealing and out-chattering the other; a clock singing tunes on a consoletable, and another booming the hours like Great Tom, on the mantelpiece—there was, in a word, everything that comfort could desire, and the most elegant taste devise. A London drawing-room fitted up without regard to expense is surely one of the noblest and most curious sights of the present day. The Romans of the Lower Empire, the dear Marchionesses and Countesses of Louis XV., could scarcely have had a finer taste than our modern folks exhibit; and everybody who saw Lady Clavering’s reception rooms was forced to confess that they were most elegant: and that the prettiest rooms in London—Lady Harley Quin’s, Lady Hanway Wardour’s, Mrs. Hodge-Podgson’s own, the great Railroad Croesus’ wife, were not fitted up with a more consummate “ chastity.”
Poor Lady Clavering, meanwhile, knew little regarding these things, and had a sad want of respect for the splendours around her. “I only know they cost a precious deal of money, Major,” she said to her guest, “and that I don’t advise you to try one of them gossamer gilt chairs: I came down on one the night we gave our second dinner party. Why didn’t you come and see us before? We’d have asked you to it.”
“You would have liked to see Mamma break a chair, wouldn’t you, Mr. Pendennis?” dear Blanche said with a sneer. She was angry because Pen was talking and laughing with Mamma, because Mamma had made a number of blunders in describing the house—for a hundred other good reasons.
“I should like to have been by to give Lady Clavering my arm if she had need of it,” Pen answered, with a bow and a blush.
“ Quel preua: Chevalier.’” cried the Sylphide, tossing up her little head.
“ I have a fellow-feeling with those who fall, remember,” Pen said. “ I suffered myself very much from doing so once.”
“ And you went home to Laura to console you,” said Miss Amory. Pen winced. He did not like the remembrance of the consolation which Laura had given to him, nor was he very well pleased to find that his rebufi in that quarter was known to the world: so as he had nothing to say in reply, he began to be immensely interested in the furniture round about him, and to praise Lady Clavering’s taste with all his might.
“ Me : don’t praise me,” said honest Lady Clavering ; “ it’s all the upholsterer‘s doings and Captain Strong’s; they did it all while we was at the Park—and—and—Lady Rockminster has been here and says the salongs are very well,” said Lady Clavering, with an air and tone of great deference.
“My cousin Laura has been staying with her, said.
. “ It’s not the dowager: it is the Lady Rockminster.”
“Indeed!” cried Major Pendennis, when he heard this great name of fashion. “ If you have her Ladyship’s approval, Lady Clavering, you cannot be far wrong. No, no, you cannot be far wrong. Lady Rockminster, I should say, Arthur, is the very centre of the circle of fashion and taste. The rooms are beautiful indeed ! ” and the Major’s voice hushed as he spoke of this great lady, and he looked round and surveyed the apartments awfully and respectfully, as if he had been at church.
“Yes, Lady Rockminster has took us up,” said Lady Clavering.
“ Taken us up, Mamma,” cried Blanche, in a shrill voice.
“ Well, taken us up, then,” said my lady; “ it’s very kind of her, and I dare say we shall like it when we git used to it, only at first one don’t fancy being took—well, taken up, at all. She is going to give our balls for us; and wants to invite all our diners. But I won’t stand that. I will have my old friends, and I won’t let her send all the cards out, and sit mum at the head of my own table. You must come to me,