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November day was drawing the first folds of night's muslin curtain over the landscape, when he espied a gig drawn by a white horse, with a dotand-go-one sort of action, hopping its way up the slumpey east entrance.
“That's Buggins the bailiff,” exclaimed he to himself, as the recollection of an unanswered lawyer's letter flashed across his mind; and he was just darting off to the bell to warn Spigot not to admit any one, when the lad's cockade, standing in relief against the sky-line, caused him to pause
gaze again at the unwonted apparition. “Who the deuce can it be?” said he to himself, looking at his watch, and seeing it was a quarter past four. “ It surely can't be
lord, or that beast Jack Spraggon coming after all?” added he, drawing out a telescope and opening a lancet-window.
“ Spraggon, as I live !" exclaimed he, as he caught Jack's harsh spectacled features, and saw him titivating his hair and arranging his collar and stock as he approached.
“Well, that beats everything !” exclaimed Jawleyford, burning with rage, as he fastened the window again.
He stood for a few seconds transfixed to the spot, not knowing what on earth to do. At last resolution came to his aid, and, rushing up stairs to his dressing-room, he quickly divested himself of his coat and waistcoat, and slipped on a dressing-gown and nightcap. He then stood door in hand listening for the arrival. He could just hear the gig grinding under the portico, and distinguish Jack's gruff voice saying to the servant from the top of the steps—We'll start directly after breakfast in the mornin', mind.” A tremendous peal of the bell immediately followed, convulsing the whole house, for nobody had seen the vehicle approaching, and the establishment had fallen into the usual state of undress partial torpor that intervenes between calling hours and dinner-time.
The bell not being answered as quickly as Jack expected, he just opened the door himself; and when Spigot arrived with such a force as he could raise at the moment (Snell to wit), Jack was in the act of “peeling" himself, as he called it.
“What time do we dine ?” asked he, with the air of a man with the right of entrée. “ Seven o'clock,
sir—that's to say, my lord," for Spigot really didn't know whether it was Jack or his master.
“ Seven o'clock !” muttered Jack. « What the deuce is the use of dinin' at such an hour as that in winter?"
Jack and my lord always dined as soon as they got home from hunting: Jack, having got himself out of his wraps, and having run his bristles backwards with a shilling pocket-comb, was ready for presentation.
“What name shall I enounce ?" asked Mr. Spigot, fearful of committing himself before the ladies.
“Mister SPRAGGon, to be sure,” exclaimed Jack, thinking, because he knew who he was, that everybody else ought to know too.
Spigot then led the way to the music-room.
The peal at the bell had caused no little, though somewhat suppressed commotion in the apartment, which, in all probability, would have burst into a downright listen, or peep at the door, had not Mr. Sponge been there.—Buried in the luxurious depths of a well-cushioned" low chair, Soapey sat, “ Mogg” in hand, with a toe cocked up, now dipping leisurely
into his work--now whispering something sweet, or something that he thought sweet, into Amelia's ear, who sat with her crochet-work at his side, while Emily played the piano, and Mrs. Jawleyford kept in the background, in the discreet way mothers do when there is a little business going on. The room was in that happy state of misty light that usually precedes the entrance of candles-a light that no one likes to admit is darkness, lest their eyes might be supposed not to be good. It is a convenient light, however, for a timid stranger, especially where there are not many man-traps of footstools set to trip him up-an exemption, we grieve to say, not accorded to every one.
Though Mr. Spraggon was such a cool, impudent fellow with men, he was the most awkward, frightened wretch among women-ladies at least—that ever was seen. His conversation consisted principally of coughing “ Hem!”—(cough)— yes, mum,”—(hem—cough, cough) “the day," -(hem-cough)—“mum, is"-(hem-cough)—“very,”(hem-cough)—“ mum, cold.” But we will introduce him to our family circle.
“ Mr. SPRAGGON!” exclaimed Spigot, in a tone equal to the one in which Jack had announced himself in the entrance; and forthwith there was such a stir in the twilit apartment—such suppressed exclamations of,
“ Mr. Spraggon !-Mr. Spraggon! What can bring him here?”
Our traveller's creaking boots and radiant leathers eclipsing the sombre habiliments of Mr. Spigot, Mrs. Jawleyford quickly rose from her Pembroke writing-desk, and proceeded to greet him.
“My daughters I think you know, Mr. Spraggon; also Mr. Soapey Sponge ? Mr. Spraggon,” continued she, with a wave of her hand to where our hero was ensconced in his form, in case they should not have made each other's speaking acquaintance. The
young ladies rose, and curtsied prettily; while Mr. Sponge gave a sort of backward hitch of his head as he sat in his chair, as much as to say,
“ I know as much of Mr. Spraggon as I want." “ Tell your master Mr. Spraggon is here," added Mrs. Jawleyford to Spigot, as that worthy was leaving the room. “ It's a cold day, Mr. Spraggon; won't you come near the fire ?" continued Mrs. Jawleyford, addressing our friend, who had come to a full stop just under the chandelier in the centre of the room.
“ Hem-cough—hem-thank ye, mum," muttered Jack; “I'm nothem-cough—cold, thank ye, mum.” His face and hands were purple notwithstanding:
“How is my Lord Scamperdale ?" asked Amelia, who had a strong inclination to keep in with all parties.
“ Hem! (cough) hem!--my lord—that's to say, my lady—hem! (cough), mean to say my lord's pretty well, thank ye,” stuttered Jack.
“ Is he coming?" asked Amelia.
“ Hem! (cough) hem !--my lord's-hem!--not well—(cough)-nohem!“I mean to say-hem! (cough)-my lord's gone-hem!—to dine -(cough) hem!—with his—(cough)—friend Lord Bubbley Jock-hem! (cough)—1 mean Barker-(cough).”
Jack and Lord Scamperdale were so in the habit of calling his lordship by this nickname, that Jack let it slip, or rather cough out, inadvertently.
In due time Spigot returned, with “ Master's compliments, and he is
very sorry, but he is laid up with a bad siek headache, which perfectly incompetates him from seeing company."
“Oh, dear!” exclaimed Mrs. Jawleyford. “Poor pa !" lisped Amelia. “What a pity!" observed Mr. Sponge. “ I must go and see him," observed Mrs. Jawleyford, hurrying off.
“ Hem! (cough) hem !-hope he's not much-hem!-damaged ?" observed Jack.
The old lady being thus got rid of, and Jawleyford disposed of apparently for the night-Mr. Spraggon felt more comfortable, and presently yielded to Amelia's entreaties to come near the fire and thaw himself. Spigot brought candles, and Mr. Sponge sat moodily in his chair, alternately studying Mogg's "Cab Fares”—“ Old Bailey, Newgatestreet, to or from Adelphi, the Terrace, 1s. 6d. ; Admiralty, 2s. ; and so on ; and hazarding promiscuous sidelong sort of observations, that might be taken up by anybody. He seemed determined to pay Mr. Jack off for his out-of-door impudence. Amelia, on the other hand, seemed desirous of making up for her suitor's rudeness, and kept talking to Jack with an assiduity that perfectly astonished her sister, who had always heard her speak of him with the utmost abhorrence.
Mrs. Jawleyford found her husband in a desperate state of excitement up stairs, his Jack sick headache being greatly aggravated by Harry having returned very drunk, with the mare's knees desperately broken " by a fall," as Harry hiccuped out, or by his “throwing her down,” as Jawleyford declared. Horses fall with their masters, servants throw them down. What a happiness it is when people can send their servants on errands by coaches or railways, instead of being kept on the fidget all day, lest a fifty-pound horse should be the price of a bodkin or a basket of fish!
Jawleyford now settled in his mind that Harry had never got to Woodmansterne—a supposition that at once accounted for Mr. Spraggon having come. What between Jack and the lad and the lawyer's letter, he was in a pretty state of mind. He insisted upon poor Jack being put into a wretched dog-hole sort of room, with a fireplace that always smoked, a window that looked against a dead wall, and furniture that had been drafted from the housekeeper's room. “ Anything,” he said,
was good enough for such a fellow as that.” Into this little dreary dark-papered dungeon Jack was shown by Spigot as soon as the thundering gong announced it was time to dress for dinner.
Poor Mrs. Jawleyford had done her best to mitigate the glaring imperfections of the room, but it was questionable whether the muslin cover she put over the old deal table, and the Indian matting with which she hid the holes in the carpet by the side of the washhand-stand, did not rather expose the wretchedness of the rest of the furniture than contribute to the comfortable appearance of the room.
Jack, however, not being much used to either space or smartness at Woodmansterne, did not think much of it, and prepared to occupy the room without observation. Perhaps the outbursts of smoke that every now and then proceeded from the fire might tend to divert his attention, or it might be that he was too intent on adonising his own person. There is no creature, however ugly, that does not think himself captivating; and it is observable that the queerist-looking objects are often the most conceited and anxious about their persons. Jack Spraggon even was not
too ugly to be exempt from the common failing. He would stand squinting at his coarse, square, vulgar-looking features and Spanish pointer nose with all the satisfaction of a girl of sixteen; and though he might occasionally think that it would be as well perhaps if he looked straight, he would nevertheless console himself with the reflection that a squint gave a very decided character to the face, and that it was all right when he had his spectacles on.
Miss Amelia's condescension, so unexpected on Jack's part, quite turned his head, and he squinted at his lordship’s best clothes, all neatly laid out for him on the bed, with inward satisfaction at having brought them.
“D-n me !” said he, " I really think that girl has a fancy for me.” Then he examined himself minutely in the glass, brushed round his whiskers into a curve on his cheek-bones, the curves almost corresponding with the curve of his spectacles above; then he gave his bristly porcupine-shaped head a backward rub with a sort of thing like a scrubbing brush. “If I'd only had the silver specs,” thought he, “I should have done."
He then began to dress—an operation that ever and anon was interrupted by the outburst of volleys of smoke from the little spluttering, smouldering fire, whose heat, if it had any, seemed to go up the chimney, and whose smoke all came into the room.
Jack tried all things-opening the window and shutting the door, shutting the window and opening the door ; but finding that, instead of curing it, he only produced the different degrees of comparison, bad, worse, worst, --he at length shut both, and applied himself vigorously to dressing. He soon got into his stockings and pumps, also his black Saxony trousers ; then came a fine black lace fringed cravat, and the damson-coloured velvet waistcoat with the cut-steel buttons.
“ Dash me, but I look pretty well in this!" said he, eyeing first one side and then the other as he buttoned it. He then stuck a chased and figured fine gold brooch, with two pendent tassel-drops, set with turquoise and agates, that he had abstracted from his lordship's dressingcase, into his, or rather his lordship's, finely-worked shirt-front, and crowned the toilette with his lordship's best new blue coat with velvet collar, silk facings, and the Flat Hat Hunt button—"a striding fox," with the letters “F. H. H." below.
" Who shall say Mr. Spraggon's not a gentleman?" said he, as he perfumed one of his lordship's fine coroneted cambric handkerchiefs with lavender-water. Scent, in Jack's opinion, was one of the criterions of a gentleman.
Somehow Jack felt quite differently towards the house of Jawleyford; and though he did not expect much pleasure in Mr. Soapey's company, he thought, nevertheless, that the ladies and he—Amelia and he at least -would get on very well. Forgetting that he had come to eject Soapey Sponge on the score of insufficiency, he really began to think he might be a very desirable match for one of them himself.
“ The Spraggons are a most respectable family,” said he, eyeing himself in the glass. “ If not very handsome, at all events devilish genteel,” added he, speaking of himself in particular. So saying, he adorned himself with his spectacles and set off to explore his way down stairs. After divers mistakes he at length found himself in the drawing-room, where the rest of the party being assembled, they presently proceeded to dinner.
Jack's amended costume did not produce any difference in Mr. Sponge's behaviour, who treated him with the utmost indifference. In truth, Sponge had rather a large balance against Jack for his impudence to him in the field. Nevertheless, the fair Amelia continued her attentions, and talked of hunting, occasionally diverging into observations on Lord Scamperdale's fine riding and general manly character and appearance, in the roundabout way ladies send their messages and compliments to their friends.
The dinner itself was rather flat. Jawleyford had stopped the champagne tap, though the needle-case glasses stood to tantalise the party till about the time that the beverage ought to have been flowing, when Spigot motioned Snell to take them off. The flatness then became flatter. Nevertheless, Jack worked away in his usual carnivorous style, and finished by paying his respects to all the sweets, jellies, and things in succession. He never got any of these, he said, at “home,” meaning at Lord Scamperdale's - Amelia thought, if she was “my lady," he would not get any meat there either.
At length Jack finished; and having discussed cheese, porter, and red herrings, the cloth was at length drawn, and a hard-featured dessert, consisting principally of apples, followed. The wine having made a couple of melancholy circuits, the strained conversation having about come to a full stop, and Spigot having considerately placed the little round table, as if to keep the
between them, the ladies left the male worthies to discuss their port and sherry together. Jack, according to Woodmansterne custom, unbuttoned his waistcoat, and stuck his legs out before him,-an example that Mr. Sponge quickly followed, and each assumed an attitude that as good as said “I don't care twopence for you.” A dead silence then prevailed, interrupted only by the snap, snap, snapping of Jack's toothpick against his chair-edge, when he was not busy exploring his mouth with it. It seemed to be a match which should keep silence longest-in short, who should be rudest to the other. Jack sat squinting his eyes inside out at Soapey, while Soapey pretended to be occupied with the fire. The wine being with Soapey, and at length wanting some, he was constrained to make the first move, by passing it over to Jack, who helped himself to port and sherry simultaneously—a glass of sherry after dinner (in Jack's opinion) denoting a gentleman. Having smacked his lips over that, he presently turned to the glass of port. He checked his hand in passing it to his mouth, and bore the glass up to his nose.
Corked, by Jove !” exclaimed he, setting the glass down on the table with a thump of disgust.
It is curious what unexpected turns things sometimes take in the world, and how completely whole trains of well-preconcerted plans are often turned aside by mere accidents such as this. If it hadn't been for the corked bottle of port, there is no saying but these two worthies would have held a quakers' meeting without the "spirit" moving either of them to speak.
Corked, by Jove !" exclaimed Jack. “ Is it?" rejoined Soapey, smelling at his half-emptied glass, and affirming the fact.
“ Better have another bottle,” observed Jack.
“Certainly,” replied Soapey, ringing the bell. “Spigot! this wine 's corked,” observed Soapey, as old Pomposo entered the room.
“ Is it?” said Spigot, with the most perfect innocence, though he knew it came out of the corked batch. “I'll bring another bottle," added he,