Page images
PDF
EPUB

413

HORE OFFLEANÆ.

BY A MAN ABOUT TOWN.

BOB RAMBLETON AND HIS BROTHER SIR JOHN.

THE only points of resemblance between these gentlemen wereboth came from the north of Ireland-both literally rejoiced in the same name, for great was their pride of birth-both suffered under the constitutional affection of an everlasting thirst, which they most loved to assuage with whiskey and water-and both felt it imperatively necessary in the career of their existence to finish their evening, or rather top up their morning, at least seven days in the week, and three hundred and sixty-five days in the year, at old Frawley's. In thus appearing together, they were more to be commended than the brothers of Helena, lucida sidera; for the great room at Offley's enjoyed, in consequence, an advantage denied to the heavens. The twin stars, in spite of the Shakspearian assertion as to the impossibility of such an occurrence, did keep their motion in one sphere.* It was not, as with Castor the horse-courser, and Pollux the bruiser, necessary that Bob should set to enable Sir John to rise. On the contrary they very often rose together; and such was their unanimity in endeavouring to enlighten the company, that a simultaneous setting had always to be enforced.

In all other respects, physical and moral, they were signally dif ferent. If, too, they met constantly at Offley's, they took right good care not to meet anywhere else. There were divers matters of dispute between them, arising partly from one gentleman's having had a property bequeathed to him, which the other had marked so decidedly as his, that for a number of years he was in the daily practice of inveighing against the owner for keeping him out of it, and especially from the circumstance that each brother held the intellect of the other in the inverse ratio to the estimate he had formed of his own. Bob thought Sir John was a fool, though he had got the cousin's wealth, and although he acknowledged him to be the head of his own branch of the ducal and thrice-famous house of Rambleton; and Sir John, for his part, was positively of opinion that Bob was a fool, and something more, as he was 'a Whig, and something more;' and there was a great deal to be said upon both sides; and not unfrequently a great deal was said. Let me, however, before I proceed farther, hasten to declare that both were good-natured, goodtempered, hospitable, excellent fellows; and no men could have a nicer or loftier sense of honour, or a livelier feeling of what was in this way due to the name they boasted, than the Rambletons. Bob had been a soldier. He entered one of our gallant Highland regiments at sixteen, and served in the same corps throughout the war to the crowning glory of Waterloo. His career commenced as a volunteer, or gentleman cadet. He never had money to purchase a step; yet he succeeded in attaining the rank of Captain of Grenadiers. If proof were needed, none better could be given, that where all were brave and true, he had done his duty conspicuously. Be

* Two stars keep not their motion in one sphere.-SHAKSPEARE.

fore I knew him, he had been compelled by some pecuniary embarrassments to go on half-pay. The title of Captain, which, by the way, was never accorded to him, except upon the ceremony of some introduction to a stranger; for it was destiny unshunnable as death' that whoever sat with him for half an evening must call him ever after Bob,-a Waterloo medal, which Bob would never wear, and always declared ought to have been a Peninsular one, you know; because we deserved it better in the Peninsula, you know,' -and the half-pay, constituted all that remained to him in reward for his European and American campaigns, and his services in every climate and country of the British empire, with the exception of India only. In appearance and bearing he was every inch a grenadier. He stood some six feet two, and was built nobly in proportion. In Homeric language, he had a girth worthy of Mars, and a chest and shoulders that would not disgrace the Earth-shaker Neptune. The limbs were long, but most firmly knit. He had especially that great length and strength of arm for which the bold outlaw' of that country from which he proudly traced his descent was distinguished; and I can well believe that the claymore in his hand could have scarcely been a less formidable weapon than in that of Rob Roy himself. He was five-and-forty, or by'r Ladye,' inclining to fifty years of age, yet still as erect, and apparently of as sturdy a structure as a ramrod. All the softer parts of the human frame would seem to have been worn away; nothing but bone, brawn, and muscle, thews and sinews, remained. The face and forehead, baldish head, and the neck always half-bare, were dark, and all of one unchanging and unchangeable dark-red hue, and proclaimed him a soldier who had experienced every form of hardship and every variety of climate, until the consummation of their various influences had produced for him a composite colour, as the fusion of the metals gave forth the Corinthian brass. The form-the features bony and bold in outline, calm, impassive, well-nigh rigid-the deep grey eye, generally cold, but obviously capable of being cruel-all seemed such as would well befit the chief of a clan in his national garb, and with his foot upon his native heather.

Sir John had inherited the paternal property, with its large rental, -its scanty and precarious income, and its mortal incumbrances. For the first fifty years of his life he had lived like La Fleur, ere he fell into Yorick's service, as it pleased God.' He acquired no profession-he pursued no avocation. Probably he had not the means for the one, nor the capital necessary for the other, in any shape which his family pride would have tolerated. He had no thing to do, and he did nothing; and he did it in a very honourable and exemplary manner, just like the placemen of the old French court, of whom Madame de Sevigné said, 'Qu'il exerçoit très bien sa charge quand il n'avoit rien à faire.'

At length a cousin an ex-captain of dragoons in a crack regiment, a man of fashion, and moreover of cultivated tastes and pursuits, and, best of all, of good property, died, and to John's great surprise, and Bob's infinite dismay, left the former all he had to leave-money in the funds, house and furniture, plate and linen, library and wines, horses and dogs, yacht and appointments,-and lastly, those matters of which Jack Falstaff in his philosophizing mood seemed most to approve, 'land and beeves.' I have said to

John's surprise, and Bob's dismay, because the cousin in his lifetime had not noticed the elder brother, whereas, upon the contrary, he had been very liberal in supplying Bob's extravagances.

The Captain, however, had cut his rich relation with infinite independence and magnanimity, in consequence of his having presumptuously refused upon an emergency to honour some demand made from Castle-Slowman, Castle-Selby, Castle-Levi, or some other of those feudal keeps which, to the disgrace of the civilized age, are still to be seen in this Metropolis. Bob, however, that he might stand quite clear with the world, took the precaution of writing to his relative to express his sense of the ungentlemanly mode in which he, the Bob aforesaid, had been treated, and, moreover, to demand gentlemanly satisfaction ere he proceeded to the terrible justice of the cut-excommunicatory. In this instance the usual formula of 'stand and deliver' had been inverted; but to the refractory and obtuse individual in question it might as well have been propounded in the ordinary way. Whether the 'stand' were first or last, stand he would not; and he had already made up his mind not to deliver. The delivery was closed. Bob said his cousin was a coward, and this was cordially assented to by all Bob's pot-companions. The comfort was, that even a coward could not live for ever. The dragoon said nothing, at least in this life; but perhaps like the oyster in the fable, he thought the more. Certain it is, however, that by a voice from the grave, awful to Bob as that of the Trojan boy to Eneas, he (that is, the Englishman, not the Dux Trojanus,) gave all he had to John.

There had been in the Irish branch of the Rambleton family baronetcies both in the male and female line, but each in the name and of the house of Rambleton. To these John considered himself heir: and without troubling Prince or Parliament, Attorney-General, or Garter; or, in point of fact, asking anybody's leave but his own; and thus, of course, without conforming to the ceremony of paying fees, he assumed the title of Sir John Rambleton, Bart. And it was all as right and nice as if he had paid ten thousand pounds for the privilege. He was quite as much as boastful Falstaff 'Sir John to all Europe.' Every man he knew upon this ancient continent, from the junior waiter to the great Frawley himself (including, of course, all the intermediate ranks of the habitués, from the prentice to the peer,) styled him 'Sir John!' In truth the only piece of adverse criticism I ever heard pronounced upon his proceeding came from the lips of his brother Bob, and this related solely to the phraseology of the title. The last baronets in the line, it appeared, had been respectively Sir Charles' and 'Sir John.' Bob, after invoking the civilities of the infernal powers to his brother in honour of his stupidity, went on to say, he ought to have been "Sir Charles," you know, and not "Sir John," you know, for "Sir Charles," was the older baronet, you know.'

Such was the state and condition of Sir John when I first knew him. Sir John's personal appearance and physical powers contrasted strangely with those of his brother. The elder was scarcely of the middle size: he had fallen clumsily into flesh, and of course it was not healthy flesh he was of a somewhat bulky, and obviously unwieldy frame and he evinced in his countenance that his organization was not of the perfect order, and that his constitution was

weakly; his face was ghastly pale, and perhaps looked the more so from being slightly pitted with the small-pox: a sickly shadow seemed to dwell always in its valleys; he was very near-sighted-sooth to say, purblind and he wore perpetual spectacles-i. e. day and night-asleep and awake (that is the just collocation of the words to suit the facts,) and he had that lank, greasy, uncontortible fire-proof hair, against which no curling-iron can prevail, and which is generally supposed to be monopolized by Methodist parsons. Yet the drawing of the countenance was good and pleasant to behold, for the kind-heartedness and honesty that stood mirrored in it were undeniably visible to the most dull and cynical. Sir John possessed many of those negative qualities which are praised as adorning philosophy, and conducing to happiness. He was as much addicted to the 'nil admirari principle as any sage it was ever my fortune to meet. And has not wise Horace told us,

"Not to admire is all the art I know,
To make men happy, and to keep them so !"

or

Sir John saw little to admire, for the natural reason that he could not see much of anything; and he knew as little to admire, because his mental field of view was rather less expanded than his physical. He was accordingly as little taken with the gew-gaws of the world as Diogenes the Cynic, and as insensible to all female blandishments as Charles the Twelfth of Sweden. The only strong feelings he had in addition to those he shared with Bob, namely admiration of his pedigree, love of liquor, and love of Offley's and its glorious noises, were the utmost devotion to two isms,' (the learned reader, we trust will understand the term, and the unlearned believe in it,) and with Sir John they were strictly 'isms, and not entities, and these isms,' were Toryism and Protestantism. It is true he did not understand the least in the world about any political question creed; but this made him only the firmer an adherent of the politics in which he had been born, inasmuch as he had no doubt or qualms to trouble the serenity of his convictions. He was not much better skilled in the easier science of theology; but this, again, made him all the more disinterested and zealous as a religious partizan. When he arrived at a certain degree of potatory elevation, he never failed, no matter in what company, to endeavour to propose, 'The glori ous, pious, and immortal memory of the great and good King Wil liam, who saved us from popery, slavery, brass money, and wooden shoes!' or else another toast in elevation of the Pope, which embodied a votive wish that his Holiness might be put in the pillory, and pelted with priests by our arch-enemy in some convenient corner of his own dominions; and as Sir John had great zeal and unction, and one of the most ear-piercing voices in the world, it was very difficult for his friends to prevent him from carrying his pious designs into execution, no matter how adverse might be the majority of the company. Generally we got him off by declaring stoutly he was Sir Harcourt Lees, and thus, as it were, pleading privilege; but on more than one occasion we had to make a stand-up fight for him.

Upon the borders of Windsor Great Park he had one of the most perfect little places I ever saw in any country. The grounds were exquisite; the scenery all around charming; the house fitted up

with the utmost elegance and comfort. His cousin had laboured to make it in all its details and appointments a perfect thing of its kind; and he succeeded. There was nothing that convenience could require, or taste exact, from the library to the cellar, which was not present in variety and abundance. Yet it was not London; and oh! it was not Offley's! and he could not, accordingly, bear to exist there. Nine-tenths of his time were, as might be expected, spent in London,his days in bed at the Old Bell, Holborn,-his nights at Offley's. He confessed a short time before he died at the same Bell, that the only satisfactory week he ever passed at his beautiful lodge was one when he had contrived to fill it with a dozen of the fastest-going of his young friends from town. It was one continuous revel; and I am credibly informed that, what with whiskey-and-water, brandy-and-water, and above all, champagne and claret, there was liquor enough drunk to float the yacht of his deceased relative; and that if the songs sung and speeches made had been only, after the ballad-mongering fashion, printed by the yard, they would have stretched over the whole twenty miles to town. I cannot help recording, upon the part of Sir John, an admirable trait of prudence on that occasion, ere I turn to the more important character of the brother. Sir John, on the party's retiring to rest in a blaze of sunshine, used nevertheless to insist upon being carried by his servants into every man's room to see that the candle was safely put out. Nothing would induce the cautious baronet to seek his own repose until he had performed these rounds. I think this is in its way quite as good as the story of the man who went to light his pipe at the pump, and that of him who took out the candle to ascertain the hour on the sun-dial: besides it has the advantage of being

true.

·

I remember poor Sir John seduced me to his Tusculan retreat, on the pretence of enabling me to pass a quiet week for the sake of my health. And such a salubrious week I certainly never did put in before or since, and never perhaps in the world were there such materials for quietude congregated. Were it only the wear and tear of lung-leather in shouting and laughing, it was enough to knock a man up for a twelvemouth; and the voice of Jack Spenser in trolling forth, Fair maid of Wickham,' or 'Neil Gow's farewell to whiskey,' was in itself sufficient to rouse 'the sheeted dead,' of the largest cemetery in Europe. Then such and so constant was the popping of corks from the champagne-bottles during the whole day until the men subsided into claret, that a fanciful ear might lead you to the belief you were listening to a regiment practising to fire by single files. But to make an end, this quiet week, which fell at the commencement of August, crowned my season, and I was obliged to go regularly to grass for the next six months.

Sir John was not a stoic, though such was his horror of locomotion, that he would have at any time preferred a seat in a porch to a perambulation in the open air on the finest summer day. He was of the sedentary order of philosophers. Bob, on the contrary, was a peripatetic. A peripatetic, however, he was of a very different character from that of those ancient Greeks upon whom the title was conferred. Bob every day of his life made a progress, not much, it is true, after the model of Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, or the progresses of

'Fum the Fourth, our royal bird,'

« PreviousContinue »