« AnteriorContinua »
evening costume, and standing on a scarlet the company might think I was a waiter covered daïs, and by the side of a Chair, despatched from the hall to say that dinner which, so splendid were its adornments, was ready. That fiction perhaps might go might, without any amplitude of language, down with the First Lord of the Admiralty, have been termed a Throne, in the council or the Queen's Ancient Sergeant, or the chamber of the Guildhall of the City of Lon- Chilian chargé d'affaires (they were all don. It was close upon seven in the evening, close to me); but I was guiltily conscious and, my infirm health notwithstanding, I that the idea would not be for one moment had a not unpleasant persuasion that dinner- entertained by certain officials of the cortime was at hand.
poration, whom I saw standing below the But how on earth did I contrive to find “haut pas” on the floor of the council myself on that daïs? The high places are chamber. I felt that the mace-bearer's not for me; of that fact I am fully aware. eye was upon me. I shrank beneath the Below the salt, behind the screen, or in a searching gaze of the common crier. What high-up gallery looking down on festivities would I not have given to conciliate the in which I was not, personally, privileged placid old gentleman who wears the fur to participate, was, I knew full well, the porringer on his head, and carries the proper and normal position which I should sword of civic state ? They knew full well have occupied. How had I come hither that I was not present to proclaim the Physically, by means of the Metropolitan readiness of the banquet. Familiar with Railway from South Kensington to Cannon- the minutest traditions of municipal hosstreet, and thence on my legs to Guildhall. pitality, they knew that dinner would be But, morally, fortune, fate, chance, my announced by a personage in a court-suit, “ kismet," my star, my good or evil genius, and with a flourish of trumpets. When had brought me to this pass; and, being you find yourself in places where you have there, I will not conceal the fact that I no ostensible right to be present, there felt horribly uncomfortable. I am not fond always remains open the loophole of saying of thrusting myself where I am not wanted. that you are a gentleman connected with I shun the society of the great. I never the press.” But, woe is me! on the eventalk to people in omnibuses, or railway ing of the Ninth of November I had not rains, or at hotel table d'hôtes. I don't the remotest connexion with the press ; know the members of my own club. I and I had, besides, the uneasy consciousness don't know my fellow-shopmen in the esta- that several gentlemen really affiliated to blishment where I serve. I never picked up that valuable institution, and formerly my a friend at a watering-place. I never made colleagues thereupon, were surveying me bnt one chance acquaintance in my life. scornfully from afar off, and whispering He was a charming man, and gave me his among themselves, - Just like his concard; and a few days afterwards I read in founded impudence. How the deuce did the papers that he had been brought up at he get there?” It wasn't my fault. I Bow-street on a charge of bigamy. Not owed my card of invitation to the banquet but that a bigamist may be charming. to the courtesy of a deservedly popular
But I was desperately wretched on the sheriff, and at an earlier period of the dass because I happened to be the only evening, after making my way to the daïs, person there in plain evening dress. “They and paying the customary obeisances to can't take me for the American minister," the chief magistrate, I had endeavoured I reasoned with myself, because the name quietly to slip into the background, or into of his Excellency, who is standing within some quiet corridor, where, behind some half a dozen paces of me, has been twice bust, or flowering plant, I might see the called out in the hearing of the brilliant grand folks passing in procession to the assembly; and, besides, being a general banqueting - hall. Woe! I was standing officer in the American service, he is attired tranquilly on a common councillor's toes, in a uniform closely resembling that of a and behind the towering chignon of a British rear-aduniral. Nor can it be as- deputy's wife, when I was amicably taken sumed that I am the minister from Liberia; into custody by an under-sheriff, and infor, lo, he is black.” For a moment I took formed that I was to escort the daughter cowardly refuge in the thought that I of an exalted civic functionary to the hall. might pass for an M.P. for an Irish con- I do declare that, at that moment, I would stituency; but alas ! all the members of have preferred the tap on the shoulder the Honourable House on the daïs had from a sheriff's officer to the friendly meshad their styles and titles proclaimed. Isage of the under-sheriff; but mightier magindulged at last in the humble hope that niticoes remained behind. The under-sheriff himself was a sight splendid to behold. bishop-on the steps of the Athenæum, Point-lace cravat, embroidered waistcoat, and holding him in familiar converse, on cut-steel buttons, bright-bilted sword, bag. the strength of having sat next to him at wig, pink silk legs, patent leather shoes, a meeting of the Society for suppressing every sumptuary luxury had been bestowed Indigence by means of the Lash. I say pon him. “Better," I thought, inwardly that there are people who can do these groaning," the hooked nose and greasy sur- things. I aver, candidly, that I cannot; tout of Mr. Rabshekah of Chancery-lane." and I thank my stars that I have still There was no help. Clearly there was no nerves and ideas befitting the lowliness of making a run for it. I gave myself op, with my station, and that I am heartily frightdogged resignation, to Fate, as though the ened of the Lord Chancellor. On that meunder-sheriff's summons had only been pre- morable Ninth his lordship’s golden robe liminary to the apparition of another muni- rustled against me; and some of the powder cipal functionary on the scene—with the from his ambrosial wig actually came off on night-cap and the pinioning straps.
I saw his shoes—his glorious There are some people who conld have buckled shoes. Hitherto I had only known borne this kind of thing with perfect equa- chancellors from the waist upwards, as we nimity; nay, who would have found them know one of Mr. Attenborough's assistants. selves quite at home on this square island I felt faint. Reason tottered on her throne. of scarlet cloth, in the midst of an ocean of Was I, by the act of standing on that daïs, gas and watchful eyes. I don't speak of in contempt of the High Court of Chancery? those who are to the manner born. Of Should I fling myself at the cancellarian course, the Chancellor of the Exchequer can feet and cry, “Mercy. I unfile all my meet the gaze of the Home Secretary with bills; I revoke all my answers; I will conout quailing. The plenipotentiary from the sent to the costs being costs in the cause : Venezuelan Republic is not afraid of the only forgive and spare me the terrors of minister from Honduras, and the Prime the Third Seal ?" " I am not an eavesMinister is not afraid of anybody. These dropper; but from my propinquity I could good folks are upon terms of mutual not choose but hear that the Keeper of the equality; but, on the other hand, I know Queen's Conscience was talking to a Justice several Toms, and Dicks, and Harrys, in Eyre about the weather. Justices in members, as I am, of the “lower middle Eyre, bah! they were drugs in this market classes," who can stand any amount of of splendour. I mentally snapped my fingers aristocratic fill without flinching. They at them. The Corps Diplomatique, the Elder like to be among their betters, and so let Brethren of the Trinity House, the Court of them know that they, Tom, Dick, and Lieutenancy, and such small deer, I took Harry, are there. Observe Tom when, as but little account of. I had touched the secretary to the Invalided Rabbit-skin wig of the greatest personage in all this Sellers' Association, he welcomes the Duke realm of England-except the MAYOR. of Haresfoot to the annual dinner, at which Ay! there he was, in his golden prime, his
grace is to take the chair. He patronises and at once recalled the legend of the Irrethe august nobleman; I saw him once poke verent being who contemned the worshipful the peer in the ribs as his grace was taking mayor of Frogborough. That landlord who his coffee after the banquet. He was telling resented the outrage was, after all, in the him a funny story, evidently. Could you right. What were chancellors, premiers, tell a funny story to a duke? I couldn't. ambassadors, bishops, justices in Eyre, and Admire Dick, again, when he meets the elder brethren of the Trinity House, on this Earl of Sablejamb-whom he saw last instant Ninth of November in comparison year at Homburg—when he comes across with the mayor of famous London town? I him in Pall Mall. “ Halloa ! old fellow,” could not help at the same time bringing to he cries, “what a jolly time of it we had mind that drolly exaggerated account of a when we last met." Sablejamb, who is as lord mayor's career given by Theodore Hook proud as Lacifer, save when he wants to in Gilbert Gurney; and that dismally draborrow a ten-pound note, tries hard to matic scene conjured up by the novelist of cross the road; but the anabashed Dick the ex-lord mayor returning on the night of pursues him, shouting out an invitation for the expiration of his year of splendour to his my lord to come and dine with him at the drysalter's warehouse in a dingy City lane. Rollicking Rams' Club—a dreadful place, All his good fellowship with his majesty's with a nominal subscription, and where ministers and the foreign ambassadors had they drink beer from the pewter. Marvel come to an end. No more did his wife and at Harry button-holing a bishop-a live danghters dance with princes and nobles. He had reverted once more to the rank of Lord Mayor's fool to jump into it as a mere vulgar Cit; and shortly afterwards, in the olden time; and I had been taught walking on the Steyne at Brighton with by attentive study of City traditions that his family, he-only a few days since lord the guests at Guildhall on the Ninth of mayor, and the entertainer of princes— November ought to "wallow in ustard." was horrified at being accosted by a brother There were no sprats.
Should not the tradesman who reminded him that he owed first sprats of the season be served at him sundry shillings for a barrel of coal-tar the Lord Mayor's table in Guildhall? The used for painting a pigstye.
loving-cup went round; and the usual When I had gotten over my fright about expressive pantomime went on among the the dais and the big-wigs upon it, and had guests who partook of that famous walked demurely in the skirts of the pro- drinkhael," but it branched off somehow cession round the tables of the banqueting before it reached me; and I still lack hall—the lovely and accomplished daughter “some one to love,” in a parcel-gilt goblet. of the civic dignitary to whom I gave my I looked up to see whether Gog and Magog trembling arm little knew how much more were still in their old places. Yes; the in need of her smelling-bottle I was than affable giants were, as usual, on guard : she could be--when I had got comfortably but they were perfectly sober. So were wedged in my seat at table, between an the eight hundred and seventy-two guests affable gentleman in a blue coat thickly beneath them. Everybody sat demurely splashed with gold—I fear that he had at table; nobody was under it. People something to do with the r-y-l household— who should have been cracking t'other and the domestic chaplain of an alder-bottle were trifling with water-ice and manic or shrieval grandee; when the view wafer-cakes ; and shortly after the terminaof my neighbours opposite was happily ob- tion of the Premier's speech, I distinctly structed by a colossal epergne piled high heard a common councilman observe to a with grapes, and surmounted by a hot-secondary, that he should like to slip out house pine, on which, when the company and get a quiet cigar. A common councilrose at the bidding of the toast-master, I man wishing to smoke! He wore a full felt inclined to browse, as a cameleopard beard and moustache also, which increased nibbles at the topmost branches of a tall my astonishment. There were no marrowtree ; when the dishes of passing waiters bones. There were no peacocks, served behind me had been accurately dug be- with their tails displayed, nor did I see tween my eighth and ninth dorsal vertebræ; any ruffs and reeves. Vast sirloins of beef when I had heard the Guards' band dis- were indeed carved with much state and coursing sweet music in the gallery; and ceremony, in lofty pulpits on either side of when in fine the banquet, and the clatter- the porch of entrance; but the beef was ing of plates, and the chinking of glasses, cold. The entire dinner, in fact, save at and the popping of champagne corks had the upper table, where an elegant repast à come to an end, and we had leisure for a la Russe was served, was cold. It might little ice and fruit, and quiet chat before have been a collation given to inaugurate the speech-making began, I could not help the opening of a new branch of the Dan, thinking that the times—so far as civic Beersheba, and Domdaniel Railway. It festivities were concerned-had altered very much more resembled an elegant and wonderfully since the days of Theodore business-like reunion of that nature, than Hook. Where were the guttling and guz- such a revolting display of coarse gluttony zling and gormandising one used to hear and wine-bibbing as is pictured by Hogarth about as chronic at City banquets? We in his Sheriff's Feast plate in Industry and bad, it is true, turtle, both thick and clear; Idleness. but I heard no squabbles about callipash and I was quite satisfied, however, after callipee, no clamorous demands for green having frugally, but succulently, dined on fat; and I observed that an alderman at the a plate of turtle, a spoonful of lobsternext table to mine positively ordered jul. salad, a preserved greengage, some ice lienne soup and eschewed turtle altogether. pudding, and several filberts. I had never My neighbour in the coat splashed with been in Guildhall before on a festive occagold dined on the wing of a pheasant and sion. The sight to me was a really glorious a tumbler of hock-and-seltzer; and to my one; and I delighted in it because it had amazement I perceived that a decanter of been my fortune to witness some of the port by the side of the domestic chaplain most memorable of the pageantries which remained wholly antasted throughout the have occurred during my time. Yes, I had evening. There was no custard, and no witnessed very nearly all of them; and, if not as a guest, at least as a spectator I had Mrs. Ridgway of Hapsbury, I did not venwatched the pomps and vanities of most ture to write to her. Thus the links were of the great ones of the earth-except the all severed; and the little I knew of those Mayor. Having seen him, I may humbly who had been and were still so dear to me, express my opinion that, although his sur- was by rumour, some faint echo of which roundings have somewhat changed, he him- penetrated even to my solitude. self is not in the least altered, but is as The fact is, my poor friend's course was powerful and influential a chief magistrate a downward one from the time Assanta as ever a Whittington or a Gresham has married. He became utterly reckless, and been among his predecessors. The Men led a life of dissipation during the few in Brass cumber his pageant no more; months he remained with Mr. Strahan, and his barge is laid up in ordinary. after the morning when I broke the fatal He has ceased to go swan-hopping, and news to him, which divided us further it is a long time since he has shut the every day. His associates were very disgates of Temple Bar in the face of royalty. tasteful to me; but I would not have shrunk He might even, perhaps, be able to dis- from them, if my joining the parties to pense with Gog and Magog, and the City which he constantly invited me would have marshal, and the placid old retainer with done him any good; but it would not; and the fur porringer on his head; but he as I had to work very hard for
bread would still be the Head of the most ancient, at that time, the interruption of labour the most charitable, the most hospitable would have been serious. Then followed city in the world. I thought, as I wended that gradual slackening of intimacy which my way homewards after the dinner, is inevitable when the tenour of one man's smoking that cigar which the cominon life is a silent protest against his friend's. councilman had longed for, that there Between him and his uncle the feud remight be a good many things in the City mained unhealed, and he never saw the of London requiring, if not abolition, at squire again alive. Mr. Walbrooke, who least thorough reform. Perhaps the reve- might be said to be still in the prime of nues of the Battledore and Shuttlecock life, and whose obstinacy-not to speak Makers' Company are slightly mismanaged. of his affection would have suffered Perhaps St. Wapshot's Hospital is not quite keenly in disinheriting Harry, and so in the state it should be. Certainly the con- owning himself worsted in the long-susgregationless City churches should be dis- tained contest with his favourite nephew, established. Assuredly St. Paul's-church- delayed altering his will from week to yard needs re-arrangement. Indubitably week, in the hope that speedy ruin might Temple Bar should go by the board. “Re- bring the wretched boy to seek forgiveness. volution may come," I muttered somewhat The strong man, in his pride, had no sleepily alighting from my cab, "revolution thought of being dispossessed; but one may upset most things for aught I care- stronger than he came suddenly into his except the Mayor. He is a better Chief house by night, and in the morning Squire Citizen than any prefect, syndic, burgo- Walbrooke of the Grange lay dead. By a master, or gonfaloniere that I wot of.” will, dated five years before, all his landed Whereupon I went to bed, and dreamt of estates passed to Harry, charged with a that untasted loving-cup, and that every large jointure to Mrs. Walbrooke, and a body had partaken of it - except the certain sum to Lena. And so it came to Mayor.
pass that, in her bitter irony, Fortune cast this ill-deserved gift at Harry's feet-just
nine months too late to save him from lifeGEOFFREY LUTTRELL'S NARRATIVE. long ruin and misery. Ah, had Assunta BY THE AUTHOR OF “IN THAT STATE OF LIFE," &c but waited! How cruel it seemed !
The young squire went down and took IN ELEVEN CHAPTERS. CHAPTER IX.
possession of the Grange, and his connexion The course of events during the next with Strahan's of course ceased. But a four years may be briefly told. As regards number of so-called “friends," whom he my life, and those with which it had had made in his short London career, hitherto been so closely bound, circum- followed him ere long, and every fast man stances had separated us completely. Harry from Oxford, and every needy sportsman Walbrooke and I scarcely ever met now; in the county, who wanted a good mount and yet he was master of the Grange. The and cared for a good bottle of claret, found squire was dead; Mrs. Walbrooke and Lena his way to the Grange. In such comwere abroad; and as I never heard from | pany I should have been very much out of place; these men and I had no one idea in deavours to learn all I possibly could of common, and to witness their orgies, and to Mrs. Ridgway, the information I gained was see foolish, generous-hearted Harry allow-but meagre. Mr. Ridgway and his wife led ing his substance to be devoured by these a very secluded life. They had no children. vultures would have only made me angry. Mrs. Ridgway was not supposed to be a I refused all his pressing invitations. “If happy woman; but.very little seemed to be you ever are alone, and want me, I will known about her. Mr. Ridgway discouraged come to you,” I said, “but not when your intimacy with any neighbours. At certain army of swashbucklers is with you— stated intervals he received them all with don't ask me.” And he did not after a sumptuous courtesy (I believe it would be while. I heard of him, alas! from time to a misuse of the word to call it hospitality); time, and what I heard was as bad as it for, since his marriage, most of those who could well be. The life at the Grange was had kept aloof from him, had come forward, a scandal to the whole county; it was said and for the sake of the young wife were that there was scarcely a night that the disposed to forget any sinister rumours reyoung squire went to bed sober, and even garding the husband. But it was as though once in the hunting-field he had been in a he said, “Now that I have conquered these condition which necessitated his being people, they shall see that I care nothing taken home. His uncle's old friends for their society. They receive me; they (particularly those who had marriageable come to my house; it is enough." He dedaughters) bore with this state of things clined all invitations. A few savants, as long as it was possible; but when every dilettanti, and stray foreigners of various effort to lure him into the decent, if dull, kinds, stayed at Hapsbury from time to society of the neighbourhood proved abor- time; and sometimes the magnates of those tive, they gave him up; it was felt to be parts were bidden to meet them. This, as impossible for steady old fathers of families far as I could gather, was the only interto continue going to the Grange.
course between Mr. and Mrs. Ridgway and Harry and Assunta had never met, nor their neighbours. were they likely to do so, though living only It chanced in the February of 1831 that twenty-five miles apart; inasmuch as Mrs. I had occasion to make a journey to PeterRidgway, of Hapsbury, it was said, never borough on professional business. During went outside the park gates, and within my stay there, I learnt that the day coach them the young squire had, of course, never from that city to York passed within a few set foot. His animosity against Mr. Ridg- miles of Hapsbury, which was not more way was well known, and broke out on the than forty miles from Peterborough. My mere mention of that gentleman's name business concluded, I was in no special into the bitterest scoffs; but of the lady he hurry to return home, and a temptation, was never known to speak. Rumours of which will sound strange to many, urged the life she led I suppose must have reached me, now I was so near, to go on to Hapshim; he must have heard of her through bury, or at least into its immediate vicinity, Lena, who corresponded with her friend and learn what I could of my poor Assunta, from time to time. But these letters would even if I was unable to see her, for I had have told him little of the truth, as he must been given to understand that Mrs. Ridghave known; and it is certain that, from way was generally denied to morning the moment he heard of her marriage, he visitors. Acting upon this impulse, which ceased to try and hold any sort of com- I found irresistible, I took my place in munication with the object of his unhappy the coach one morning, and
was at passion. Perhaps I was the only person in the small town of L. early in the afterthe world who guessed that he had not noon. From there, with a knapsack on my forgotten her; and that he vainly imagined back, I walked over to the village of Hapsthe life of violent exercise and moral excess bury, some six miles distant. There had would act as a styptic to the wound which been a long drought, and the road was still bled when it was touched. Not that as deep in limestone dust as though it had he ever spoke to me of her, even in the been summer, the result of which was that early days of wrath and bitterness ; indeed, my old painting-blouse and cap, my hair, he expressly begged me never to allude to eyelashes, every part of my outward man, the past, or to anything that should remind was thickly powdered over, and I resembled him of his loss.
nothing so much as an indigent baker or It only remains for me to add, before I bricklayer out of work. In fact, one take up the thread of my narrative again, charitably-minded old gentleman on a cob that, in spite of constant and anxious en- I did actually throw me sixpence, for which