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Most people thought him handsome: tall and well-made and young and accomplished, he certainly was; of easy and graceful manners, ready and bold address, and fluent rattling conversation. He danced to the admiration of the ladies ; and that, at a time when our belles were accustomed to the incredible performances of so many Parisian partners, was no mean feat for an Englishman. He was overflowing with anecdotes of the great and the gay of London; and listening dinner tables and drawing-rooms hung upon his lips, while he discoursed about the Duchess of Devonshire, Lord Dudley and Ward, the Duke of Norfolk, Lady Louisa Mildmay, Mrs. Siddons, Lord Nelson, Kemble, and the Countess of Derby.
Still, I know not why, I liked not the man. There was something singularly disagreeable in the tone, or rather the croak, of his voice. His ready and polite laugh never came from the heart -and his smile, when by a sudden draw of the lip he showed his white teeth, contrasting with his black brow and sallow cheek, had a covert ferocity in it which almost made me shudder.
One evening, at the theatre—it was when Fennel and Cooper were contending for the palm in Othello and Iago—we were crowded together in a corner of the stage-box.
“ Mr. Herbert,” said he suddenly to me, you do not seem to know that you and I are quite old acquaintances."
“ I don't understand you, Major
“Some six or seven years ago you, then a lad, accompanied your father to the West on his mission as a commissioner to make an Indian treaty." “ Yes.”
“Do you remember among the Tuscaroras the Black Wild Cat, a youth of white blood, the adopted son of Good Peter, the great Indian orator? I mean the one who after giving you a lesson on the bow and arrow, surprised a reverend divine of your party by reading in his Greek testament, and then mortified him by correcting his pronunciation of latin, which, like other American scholars, he pronounced in a way intolerable to the ears of one who has had longs and shorts flogged into him at an English school.”
Certainly, I remember him; and it is a mystery which has often puzzled me since." Then you
have now the solution of it. I am the Black Wild Cat."
“ You-how !"
“ After leaving Harrow I accompanied my uncle to Canada. There a boyish frolic induced
me to join an Indian party, who were returning home from Montreal. Good Peter (a great man by the way, very like our Erskine,) took a fancy to me, and I spent my time pleasantly enough. It is certainly a delicious life that of savages, as we call them. But my uncle coaxed me back. I am not sure that I was not a fool for accepting his offer, but I could not resist the temptation of the red coat and an epaulette. The old man has pushed me on as fast as money and interest could promote me. The rest I can do for myself; and if Pitt will leave off his little expeditions to pick up colonies, and give us a fair chance on the continent, the major at six and twenty, will be a general and a peer at thirty.”
Here the rising of the curtain interrupted us. Business called me to Albany the next day, and before my return Major Egerton had sailed for England.
I did not, however, forget him; and I often related, as one of the odd vicissitudes of life, the contrast between the young Black Wild Cat, as I first saw him in a Tuscarora wigwam, and the elegant major, glittering in scarlet and gold, when I met him again in the British Consul's ball-room.
A year or two after this I went to England; and not long after my arrival spent a week at
Bath. All who are at all learned in English dramatic history, know that the Bath company is commonly good, the Bath audience fashionable and critical, and that there, many of the stars of the theatrical firmament have first risen. Whilst I was there, a first appearance was announced. Mr. Monfort, of whom report spoke favourably, was to make his debut as Romeo. I went with the crowd to see it. Romeo entered, and thunders of applause welcomed the handsome and graceful lover.
Could I believe my eyes ? Can this be Major Egerton? Yes-he smiles—that wicked and heartless smile cannot be mistaken; and his voice—that tuneless grating voice.--It is he. What can it mean? Is it a joke or a frolic, or some strange caprice of fortune?
That grating voice which betrayed him to me, ruined him with the house. It had sudden and most ludicrous breaks from a high hoarse croak, down at once into a shrill squeak; so that in spite of grace and figure, and a tolerable conception of his author, he was fairly laughed down. I did my best to sustain him, but I was almost alone in the good-natured attempt.
Two days after, turning short round the transept of the Abbey church, I came full upon Major
Egerton, who was standing alone, with a listless and melancholy air.
“ Major,” said I-then correcting myself, “Mr. Monfort”—with an offer of my hand. He met me boldly—“ Herbert,” said he, “ I see you know my misfortunes.” “Not at all-I saw you in Romeo, but wherefore you were Romeo I could not guess.”
“Sheer necessity--a run of ill luck and other misfortunes to which young soldiers are exposed, threw me out of favour with my uncle the old general, and into the King's Bench. At last I sold my commission, and resolved on a new profession. I had trusted to succeed on the stage; I knew that this husky throat of mine made the attempt hazardous, yet Gifford and his brother wags had laughed at “ the hoarse croak of Kemble's foggy throat," and if art and taste had overcome his defects, why might they not mine also? But it is all over now."
“ Then you do not mean to pursue the profession ?" “No the manager talks of twelve and sixpence a week, and ordered me to study Bardolph for Cooke's Falstaff on Monday. I must seek my fortune elsewhere. If nothing better offers, I'll to my old trade, and enlist as a soldier. In the meanwhile lend me a guinea for old acquaintance sake?"