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He read it again and again with a view to understand not only the words but the feelings by which they were prompted. It was the first formal letter he had ever received, and while it tended to raise him in his own estimation as a person of importance, it amazed him, for he had really entertained no suspicion of that which the venerable gentleman had intimated with so much distinctness. What could be the meaning of it? What had he done? He was sure that he had been particularly attentive of late. Besides, he had heard no complaint. Had any pernicious person succeeded in secretly subverting his fair reputation? Could it be possible?
As he sat in silent solitude upon half a truss of hay in the stall which invariably formed his studio, he weighed with the utmost nicety the bearings of each conjecture as it arose; but having been thus engaged for some time, without being able to arrive at any really satisfactory conclusion, he started up with the full determination to ascertain what it meant from the lips of his venerable friend.
It is true, very true, that in saluting Joanna the venerable gentleman had annoyed him, and yet, on serious reflection, why should he feel annoyed? What was Joanna to him? She had been kind, she had been friendly, she had made suet dumplings exclusively for him, and had prepared hot suppers almost every night during his master's parliamentary career, which was certainly very affectionate; but then, had he ever proposed to Joanna? Had he ever even led her to believe that he wished to propose? Nay, had he that wish? Decidedly not! at least not that he knew of. Why then should he feel thus annoyed? He had no right to entertain any such feeling. He would be annoyed no longer! He made up his mind at once not to be annoyed, and having done so, he started off to have this deep mystery solved.
On reaching the General's stables he beheld in one corner his venerable friend sitting studiously upon a basket duly turned upside down, with a pen in his right hand, and the forefinger of his left upon his temple, labouring to turn a bright conception into shape with an expression of the most intense thought. The very instant, however, he became conscious of Bob's presence, he relinquished his pen, and greeted him in his usual affectionate style, by striking a pugilistic attitude of a character extremely scientific and picturesque.
Having squared at each other with great ability for some considerable time, they simultaneously seized each other's hand, which they shook with remarkable fierceness and affection; and when these, and other equally indispensable preliminaries had been to their mutual satisfaction accomplished, the venerable gentleman broke silence by expressing with all his characteristic eloquence the unexampled gladness
of his heart.
'But Bobby, my Briton,' he added, 'wot's the matter atween us? Friends vich is friends shood never be onfriendly!'
'I'm not unfriendly!' said Bob.
'There you are! the hold business hover agin! the sum totle mounts ony to a misonderstandin', and cert'ny misonderstandin's is the rummest things alive. Vy, wot d'yer think the hold General did the other day now? I'll tell yer: two friends of hisn had a sort of a misonderstandin' about nothink: they wos werry cold, and coodn't ha' told vy if they'd bin arst. Werry well, wot does he do but he goes to the basket, and picks out their cards, and then sends 'em to each
other's houses as if they wos sent by theirselves! Wot wos the sconsequence? Vy they at once returned wot they both took to be the compliment boney fido, and as each flattered hisself that the other had made the fust adwances, and wos willin' for to meet him arf vay, they met in course for all the vorld as if nothink had happenned, and a reconcilementation took place.'
'Well, that wasn't a bad move, mind yer,' said Bob.
'It wos hexcellent, cos they on'y wanted for to be brought together to be all right agin. And that's the case vith these misonderstandin's atween friends. But it's all reg'lar now atween us? Eh? Give us yer 'and! Let's go over to the tap, and say nothink more about it.'
To the tap they accordingly went, and after touching slightly upon the state of the nation, and two or three important political points which were just then at issue, Bob being impatient to have explained to him the vari ous intimations contained in the venerable gentleman's epistle, produced that mysterious document, and having read it with due emphasis, begged to know what it all meant.
'Wot does it mean!' cried the venerable gentleman, elevating his eyebrows in a state of amazement. Wot! ain't you then seed your old missus's coachman?'
'No,' replied Bob, 'not lately.'
'Vell, but do you mean to say you don't know there's a screw werry loose?'
'Haven't heard nothing of it.'
'Vell, send I may live! Vy the 'stablishment's goin' to be broke up reg'lar!"
You don't mean that!"
'But I do, and nothink but! Coachman was ere last night as ever wos to explain the ole business, and the perticklers cert'ny looks werry queer. He's got vornin'; they've almost hall on 'em got vornin', and from wot I can learn things is goin' hall to smash!'
'You don't say so!' cried Bob, whose countenance developed the utmost astonishment. You stagger me regular. I thought they had a
And so they had; but coachman tells me thish ere parleymentry business 'as kicked it all down.'
'Ar, I thought they was going too fast.'
And so did I,' rejoined the venerable gentleman; and it really is amazing how prone men in general are to anticipate things when they have actually taken place, and how fully their conjectures then are borne out by facts. It struck me frequent,' he continued, that they never cood stand them air evey expences. But I'm werry sorry for it; cos, from wot I 'ear, your master's got nothink but wot he 'as from the old lady; so if she goes, he must go vith her.'
Safe!' returned Bob. 'And it hurts my sentiments very acute, 'cause he is a trump, and there can't be two opinions about it. But what I look at most is missis, 'cause she is a regular good un, and I'd go to the bottom of the sea to serve her. What must her feelings be, mind you, eh? don't think she knows a bit about it as yet; but when she comes for to be told, eh? Safe to break her heart.'
'I don' know,' said the venerable gentleman. Vimmin genelly bears these rewerses much better than men. And it likevise makes 'em more dewoted. I've seen it frequent. Ven all goes on prosperous,
they've plenty of scope to make theirselves onhappy about nothink, and feels theirselves at liberty to pitch into their husbands, cos, as they don't vont for nothink, they don' know wot they vont; but on'y let their husbands have a rewerse, and they're at once all affection. Vot is it they voodn't do then if they cood! And if they can't get 'em over it, they'll kiss 'em, and make it seem better than it is, and try to persuade 'em not to mind it, and get 'em to bear up against it like men. That's the p'int! Vimmin is rum swells to deal with.'
'I agree with you there,' rejoined Bob. But I say! ain't your principles on this here particular p'int a little changed, eh? Didn't you used to tell me, that when things went wrong, they'd pitch into you the more?'
'Ar,' replied the venerable gentleman, whom the question had slightly confused, that's ven they're reg'lar hout and hout wixens.'
Bob shook his head. He perceived at a glance the inconsistency of his venerable friend, and being anxious to know the extent to which his opinions upon the matter had changed, he took occasion to intimate gently that he had an idea that the views which he had once entertained on the subject of matrimony were not precisely those which he entertained then.
It strikes me forcible,' he added, that they're, in p'int of fact, par ticularly different; 'cause I somehow or another have a sort of a notion that you and our cook is a managing of matters, do you know.'
At this moment the venerable gentleman blushed-ay, actually blushed!--but on recovering himself a trifle, he smiled, and said, 'Vy, Bobby, vot makes you think so?'
'Cause she's a continually sighing and talking about you, and looking arter the postman, and receiving of letters, which is writ in a fist werry simular to yourn.'
Again the venerable gentleman looked extremely red. He saw at once that, in sending a letter to Bob in an undisguised hand, he had not acted with his customary caution.
You write a decent stick though,' continued Bob, playfully. i's is all dotted, and the hizzards is werry respectable.'
'I see,' said the venerable gentleman, shaking his head with great significance, I see I've let the cat out of the bag. But it ain't of much odds, cos I don't s'pose I'm puttin' your nose out of j'int?'
'Not a bit of it! Oh! it ain't no odds to me, you know. Only all I look at is this, she's a cook, you know, and cooks is all warmant, eh ?— don't you recollect?'
'She's a good un of the sort,' observed Bob, cavalierly.
A good un! I believe yer.
And so they are,' returned the venerable gentleman,- so they are, in the common course of natur'; but Joanna is one in fifty million! That's the p'int! I'll be bound to say you don't find another sich a cook in a day's march!'
But however you come to be caught after all your experience, is a thing which gets quite over me. I can't at all understand it. A deader mystery I never come across.'
Vy, look ear,' said the venerable gentleman, with a philosophic aspect. 'Did you ever 'appen to see a unexperienced young grey-hound a-playing vith a leveret, a-rolling of it over and over, and a-pawing it, and licking it, and not exactly knowin' vot to do vith it?'
'Can't say I ever did.'
'Did yer ever see a kitten a-playing vith a mouse, a-purring and singing to it reg'lar, a-letting of it run, and springing arter it agin, vile the little onfort'nate wictim is arf dead vith fright?'
'Yes, that I have seen.'
'Werry well, then, wot do they play vith 'em for? Ain't it cos they know nothink about 'em? Ain't it cos they never tasted the blood of them there animals, and don't know wot it is? Vy, in course. But let 'em jist valk their teeth into one,-let them have but one taste, and they're alvays then a-hankerin' and yarnin' arter 'em wiolent. And that's the case vith me. I never loved reg'lar afore: I never knowed wot it was to love; but now that I've tasted it, and knows wot it is, and finds it natʼral to like it, I carn't never be 'appy vithout the hobject of that love, vich is her as I knows loves me. That's the p'int.'
'Well,' said Bob, 'I hope she'll turn out a regular good un.'
'Safe to be a good un! Safe to be 'appy! She's the kindest and comfortablest creature in life. I never see her feller, and I've seed above a few on 'em in my time, you know. She's cert'ny hout-an'
'Well, all I can say, you know, is, may she never be anything but. They do, mind you, sometimes turn out queer.'
But you don't s'pose I've lived all these here 'ears for nothink! No, no, Bobby; hold birds ain't ketched vith chaff. I shood be blind if I coodn't tell wot a voman wos. I can see right clean through 'em in a hinstant. No-come, we ain't a-going to be done exactly arter all this 'ere experience, nayther!'
'Well, well,' said Bob, 'you ought to know a little about it.' 'I flatter myself,' returned his venerable friend, I just do.'
'Well, and when do you think about doing the trick?'
Vy, that depends a little upon circumstantials. If your 'stablishment's broke up, yer know, as vell as the old lady's, vy, it von't be vuth vile for her to take another place.'
'No more it won't,' observed Bob. But don't it strike you as very strange that I ain't heard nothing about it?'
'The most singularest thing alive!' returned the venerable gentleman. They ought at least to 'ave named it, if they did nothink helse.'
'But do you know, now, I don't think it'll be so after all.'
The venerable gentleman admitted that such a thought as that might be entertained, but strongly advised him, nevertheless, to prepare. He then repeated those generous offers which his gentlemanly letter contained; and when Bob had acknowledged in grateful terms the friendly feeling by which those offers were characterised, they pressed each other's hands, had another pot, and parted.
In which Stanley resolves to retrieve his fortune.
ALTHOUGH the news of the reduction of the widow's establishment travelled fast from Bob's venerable friend to the General's cook, from the cook to the lady's maid, from the maid to Miss Johnson, and from that young lady to the General, both he and Captain Joliffe, whom he subsequently told, deemed it a point of too much delicacy to justify any direct inquiry into the matter.
The first object of Stanley-when he found that all he had to depend upon was the estate, which yielded barely three hundred a year-was to conceal the altered state of affairs from Amelia; and when he had taken steps to accomplish this, at least for a time, he devoted all his energies with the view of retrieving their fortunes.
But then how was this to be done? Should he enter the army? No; that would not do. Should he endeavour to obtain some colonial appointment? He had not the slightest wish to leave England; and even if he had, where was his political influence? He thought of a hundred things by which his position might be improved, but not one which was, under the circumstances, practicable.
At length Sir William-who had never allowed a syllable having reference to these embarrassments to escape him-became acquainted with a project by which he fondly hoped that Stanley might be involved in utter ruin. At that time several men of high connections-one of whom was by courtesy an Earl-having lost on various occasions immense sums at
ay, and being experienced and highly accomplished gamesters, conceived the idea of taking a house themselves, and putting down sub rosa a bank of their own. This they fancied would be a most profitable speculation; and as the aid of Sir William, by whom they were all perfectly well known, had been solicited, he held it to be an excellent opportunity of sinking the remnant of Stanley's fortune, by inducing him to join
He accordingly lost no time in communicating with Stanley on the subject, but took especial care to proceed with the utmost caution. At first he mentioned it as a mere matter of news; but when he found that Stanley caught at the project, he gradually entered into the most minute explanations, and made the success of the scheme appear cer
'Well,' said Stanley, when the matter had been explained, 'why don't you join them?'
'Why, you see, I have at present so much on my hands, and the probability is that it would divert my attention from matters which require a deal of thought. Besides, you know, I'm not a very speculative man; and these things to succeed, must be entered into boldly.'
'Of course nothing but strict honour is intended?'
'Why, the character of those who are engaged in the scheme would alone, one would think, be a sufficient guarantee against dishonourable practices.'
'Of course! But is it not singular that men of their character and standing in society should descend to enter into a speculation of the kind?'
'Why the descent of itself is not very tremendous. The difference between playing against a bank and playing with one-except in so far as the profits are concerned-is but slight. They would not, of course, like it to be generally known that they were engaged in a speculation of this sort; nor would they, in fact, like it to be generally known that they frequented houses of that description at all; but in the abstract it certainly is as honourable to put down the bank as it is to play against it.'
'It merely struck me at the moment as being rather singular.'