Abbildungen der Seite


my friend

[ocr errors]

“ I assure you, Mrs. Bloker, I mistook the room-I beg a thousand pardons (and here he popped two lumps of butter into his tea)-I am truly shocked, -1-a-really-'pon my word (blushing of course more and more, and breaking into a violent perspiration as he found the attention of the company riveted upon himself )—was’nt aware, wouldn't have done it for worlds,— had no sort of idea that you were'nt half dressed !!!”-and with a tilt of his elbow he upset a cream-jug over the peach-coloured satin of our well “got up” hostess, thereby creating a diversion which was somewhat in favour of


little Mrs. Bloker.

I never saw a woman so angry in my life. This was turning the tables with a vengeance ; and she rivalled Green himself in colour, as she mut. tered something about "mauvaise plaisanterie ! very impertinent! well, I'm sure !” The rest of the party were in fits; and it did not add to Mrs. Bloker's good humour, that the Cornet seemed to appreciate the joke more than any of them. But the Major's face was frightful to behold : first he looked at his wife, then at Green, then he glared round upon the choking throng, and finally bounced out of the room so violently, that we all thought he must have been taken ill.

Had the matter rested here, it would merely have added one more to the many stories current in ridicule of but the Major, who was, in his own line, a blockhead of the first water, chose to construe the whole thing into an unwarrantable liberty taken with his wife, and would hear of nothing less truculent than a dozen strides on the turf and a quiet shot in the cool of the morning. Then it was impossible to get Green to explain. Nervous men, like nervous horses, are generally high-couraged in the extreme, when it comes to a matter of absolute pluck—the same excitable temperament, that exaggerates the appearance of distant danger, impels them to rush tumultuously upon it when it actually does approach. And there is on record a case in point, that shows the efforts of gallantry of which such men are capable, when like the Berserkars of old, they are filled with a divine rage, or like the Malays of the present day, they make up

their minds to “ run a muck.” A young officer, in the Peninsula, having volunteered to lead the forlorn hope of a storming party, after rushing on at the head of his men through a shower of musketry and grape shot, waving his sword like a very Paladin, till he had planted the colours of his regiment on the deadly breach, solicited as his recompence, not his promotion, but leave to retire from the service, and the transfer of his commission to his younger brother, a lad of iron nerves ; " for," said he, “ I am conscious of being a coward at heart ; and though I have distinguished myself on this, I am much more likely to disgrace myself on a future occasion.” His request was granted, and he became an excellent country clergyman, though always notorious for extreme timidity. In the same way, Green, as soon as he heard of the Major's hostile intentions, was all for fighting. In vain I argned with him, laughed at him, and implored him. I had seen him, as a boy, stand up to be pommelled, and take an amount of punishment that would have satisfied a cabman ; and I was aware that, to use the language of those worthies, “his heart was in the right place ;" so I anticipated some difficulty in pacifying him, but nothing like the amount of wrong-headedness it was my destiny to encounter. Fortunately the seconds on these


[ocr errors]

occasions are not always as great fools as the principals, and the affair terminated in smoke without gunpowder ; but my bashful friend's gaucherie made him three enemies for life—first, pretty Mrs. Bloker, of course, who hated him as such ladies only can hate, for “shewing her up;” secondly, the Major, whose after-experience in domestic matters by no means reassured him; and though last, not least, our smart hostess, whose peach-coloured dress was destroyed by the contents of the cream-jug, and who, as she herself says, “never has forgiven him, and never will ! '

Time rolled on, and the school-boy cronies, the Damon and Pythias of incipient manhood, floated down the stream of life on their separate courses. I had almost forgotten the existence of Green and his blushes ; or if I erer thought of him, it was as of one who must now be changed like everything else around me, and though I perceived it not, doubtless like my own self. I had been out of England for years ; and forty summers, spent I fear in vain, had but increased the volume of the waistcoat, without expanding the heart that lurked beneath that ample garment. On my return to London, I took the earliest opportunity of dining with my old friend Hardbargain, in Russell Square, where not only should I enjoy a flirtation with his pretty daughter Grace, to whom I had presented a picture-book on her attaining her third year (and now she was two-and-twenty!), but I should also be sure of a perfectly good dinner--no trifling consideration to a middle-aged gentleman who really goes into the thing thoroughly. People may laugh at my friend Hardbargain, and say he is only a "professional," and that he lives on the wrong side of Oxford-street, and so on ; but I know his dry champagne is better than I get at Lord Sillery's,

1 and little Grace, besides being a charming girl, with such a pair of black eyes, will have a hundred thousand pounds if she has a farthing; so, as I said before, I make a point of dining with Hardbargain, whenever he asks me. Well, the very first time I found myself in Russell Square when I returned from abroad, on going upstairs after dinner, I discovered, as usual, a little " at home " going on in the drawing-room, for the benefit of my host's pretty daughter. For my part, I always feel bound to attend these solemnities ; and I have no idea of the modern fashion, which I see practised by sundry young gentlemen, of finishing all the dessert and as much claret as they can get, and then walking unceremoniously off, without further leave-taking, to smoke their filthy cigars in the street. Now where I dine, common gratitude demands I should lend my presence, in addition to the other ornaments in the drawingroom ; and on the night in question I loosed the buckle of my waistcoat, gave my whiskers a twirl on Grace's account, and proceeded conscientiously upstairs.

The rooms were about half-filled, the fair sex considerably predominating ; but the most conspicuous figure, by far, among the gay throng, was one of which I could not for an instant remain in doubt. There he stood, with his back to a blazing fire (servants always make enormous fires in hot weather and vice versa), hemmed in by a circle of ladies, drinking scalding tea to conceal his confusion, and in a perfect white heat of shyness : there he stood, firm at his post, with the constancy of a martyr-my retiring friend, my too-sensitive school-fellow the bashful Green!




For an instant he forgot himself, and consequently his diffidence, which originates oftener than is supposed in too great a consideration of self, in his joy at meeting once more with his old crony. Besides, my appearance was highly opportune, as extricating him from the process of roasting, which he had been voluntarily undergoing ; for he never could have found courage to break through the charmed circle without assistance, and as that little gipsey Grace Hardbargain afterwards said of him, he was dissolving like one of those wax figures, by the melting of which, the wicked Madame Tussauds of the middle ages strove to destroy their enemies. Independent, however, of the refreshing coolness I obtained for him, by leading him away to a sequestered part of the room, I am willing to believe my old friend was really glad to see me on my own account. He was always a good fellow, was Green, as a boy, and he had altered wonderfully little, either in manner or appearance, from his earlier self. He was still but the bashful boy magnified : the round, simple face had lost nothing of its simplicity; no hairy honours covered those glowing cheeks ; the chubby frame was stout and chubby, as in his jacket days, and the nervous manner to the full as ungainly, aye, and as affectionate as when we parted, nearly twenty years before. My heart has often smote me since, for the ridicule of my early friend with which I entertained Miss Hardbargain, somewhat later on that very evening—a ridicule which that malicious little damsel seemed thoroughly to enter into and fully enjoy, although she too, like the rest of her sex, could not help regarding him with a sort of pitying curiosity, almost amounting to interest. A crush in a London drawing-room is certainly favourable to that small portion of the individuals composing it who suffer from diffidence ; and Green had the temerity to accost and converse with Miss Hardbargain on his own account, long before I thought it expedient to retire from the scene. I never sleep well after dry champagne ; and Grace's black eyes haunted me the livelong night, till I almost began to doubt whether my restlessness originated in the stomach or the heart.

Ten days of weather such as we used to have at Bombay, and a regular course of dinner parties, roast saddle of mutton at one end, boiled chickens and tongue at the other, convinced me of the actual seat of my malady; and as the digestion at my time of life is less easily repaired than are the affections, I followed my doctor's advice, and proceeded to “St. Swithin's by the Sea," to try what a little salt-water bathing and the channel breezes might do for my restoration. The houses at St. Swithin's are white, so is the soil, so are the cliffs, and so sometimes is the sea. Altogether, with the exception of Malta, I think it is the hottest place I ever was in, and of course on the very day of my arrival the thermometer rose ten degrees. Oh, for a dip in that sparkling water! I used to gaze on it from my suffocating, lodginghouse bed-room, and long to be a Triton, or “ a merman bold,”" sitting alone, singing alone,” anything in short, from the old bathing woman in blue frieze to the Venus Anadyomene, that had the privilege of cooling in those broad oily waves ; but Globus says, with my habit,sea-bathing without proper preparation is destruction, Sir, destruction !'" was forced to toil about the sweltering town, swallowing chalk dust and fine sand by the mouth-full, or sit upon the hot shingle like an Indian cake baking in the embers, till I was sufficiently prepared for a swim, a consummation that did not arrive till the wind changed and the weather broke.”

My only comfort was that the Hardbargains had taken a house at St. Swithin's, which I found out from accidentally espying friend Green on the Marine Parade, attired in white garments and a straw hat. My attention was first arrested by a singular figure, walking to and fro before a handsome house, with a degree of irresolution and alarm that looked most suspicious. I was in the act of warning a Preventive man to keep his eye on that gentleman, probably an escaped lunatic, thinking that he might as well prevent the unfortunate from doing himself a mischief, as he never seemed to have anything else to prevent, when, on struggling up to the party, I recognised my old friend, at the very instant the door opened, and he bolted into the house he had been watching with such eager haste, as nearly to upset the astonished servant who admitted him. A grocer's boy, following him with a parcel, enabled me to ascertain the name, style, and title of the tenants; and although not at the moment in trim for morning visits, I rejoiced to find that my solitude would be enlivened by such a ministering angel as Grace Hardbargain.

That very evening, I walked with her till dark, listening to a brass band much out of tune, and gazing rupturously on "the dusky beach and purple sea,” with her pretty little hand resting on my arm, and her black eyes shining like stars beneath her “ugly. Once or twice a misgiving shot across me as I thought about a certain offensive adage, with regard to the relative proportion of old age and folly ; but Grace was so merry and satirical, and laughed so wickedly at Green, whom we met, still in white, and who was delighted to see me, and. convened with confusion at the presence of my companion, that felt more inclined to surrender at discretion than I have done since a certain pic-nic in Devonshire, of which it is needless to say more than that it was spoiled by the rain, and took place twenty years ago. Hardbargain never goes out after dinner (I believe it is imprudent), and I took leave of my charming little charge, with many assurances on my part and entreaties on hers, that I would come for her at the same hour every evening, “it was so pleasant, and so cool, and such fun, and after a few days I should be well enough to dine with papa, and it was so lucky I had come to St. Swithins’: Go-0-0-od night.' The pressure of that soft little palm seemed to cling to mine for hours afterwards, and I almost forgot to take my draught, so engrossed was I with the image of my old friend's charming daughter.

I am certain Globus don't understand my constitution, and makes me live too low. That night I slept worse than ever ; and when morning came, and a seven o'clock sun gave promise of the tropical heat we might expect about noon, the longing for a dip became well nigh irresistible. As the next best thing to bathing myself, I took my station on an elevated seat, commanding the machines from which others should disport themselves, the ladies' vehicles being placed at a proper distance from the gentlemen's, and one unfortunate horse doing the whole duty of both.

I had not long been settled there before I recognised the forms of Miss Hardbargain and her maid bound for their matutinal ablutions, and I am ashamed to confess that I availed myself of a very excellent


double-sighted opera-glass to bring that fascinating young lady into imaginary proximity. Pretty as she had looked the evening before, her morning beauty, even at opera-glass distance, was ten-fold more attractive. What with her watering-place toilette, a sort of gauzy creation floating on the breeze, her plain straw bonnet, and her neat little gloves and shoes, she was so charming that the very boatmen looked after her with a grim smile of approbation as she tripped past them down the Parade ; nor were these amphibious critics her only admirers--Green himself, clad in the white costume and straw hat, which had created such a sensation the day before, was so taken aback at this brigbt apparition, even at the distance of a hundred yards, that he stopped dead short on his way to the Gentlemen's Bathing-place, and looking round him in a wild scared manner for a hiding place in which to conceal his bashfulness, bolted into the very first machine that stood open, and shut the door in a state of confusion and alarm, hardly called for by the occasion,

All this I spied from my comfortable seat; and I observed, moreover, that the sanctuary in which my modest friend had taken refuge was one of those vehicles specially provided for the use of the ladies. Knowing the weak points of his character as well as I did, I was naturally anxious to see how he would ever find courage to make his escape from the awkward situation he had selected; and when Miss Hardbargain and her maid, at the instance of a deaf and stupid old bathing-woman, disappeared in two contiguous receptacles to that which Green occupied, I resolved to watch the result.

That he would not venture to stir until the ladies were out of the way, I was perfectly certain ; but that he would bear his confinement with the slightest approach to equanimity, I never for a moment ventured to suppose. The position was an awkward one for any man ; but to Green, with his sensitive ideas and scrupulous delicacy as regarded the other sex, it was positively appalling. Suppose a fresh party should come, and the old mermaid in blue frieze should throw open his hiding-place and disclose him lurking like another Peeping Tom, to the offended eyes of some adventurous nymph, panting to take the water. Such a catastrophe would kill Green on the spot ; and even if he were allowed to remain unmolested for 1 time, the moment of discovery must arrive when they should begin to clean out the machines, and the longer the delay, the more suspicious would his conduct appear in the eyes of all those visitors who by that hour would be sure to throng the Parade. That these and a thousand other apprehensions of the same nature tortured him almost to madness, he has since confessed ; although, from wbat I hear, he has smal reason to regret his temporary imprisonment in a ladies' bathing machine.

In the meanwhile, from my comfortable seat I inhaled the sea-breeze, and gladdened my eyes with the glittering waters, and the distant sails that here and there dotted the horizon. I will not deny that I had, besides, an indistinct view of sundry black heads, bobbing up and down upon the surface of the waves, in a manner more ludicrous than gracefni. One head seemed, if possible, more indefatigable than the rest --up and down, up and down it went without cessation ; and that head I have since learned was the property of Miss Hardbargain. Ladies, I have been informed, have a peculiar method of disporting themselves in the sea by which they combine a vast deal of excitement with a feeling

« ZurückWeiter »