Charles James Lever.

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Dempsey, and you bounce in as if the house was on

" It's just himsel's wanted," replied the northern
maiden ; " the leddie canna get on ava without him, he
maun come up to number ' eight,' as soon as he can."

" I'm ready," quoth Paul, as he turned to arrange his
cravat, and run his hand through his hair ; " I'm at their

" Remember, Mr. Dempsey, remember, that what I've
spoken to you this day is in the strictest confidence. If
matters have proceeded far with the young lady upstairs,
if your heart, if hers be really engaged, forget everything
forget me."

Mrs. Fumbally's emotion had so overpowered her to-
wards the end of her speech, that she rushed into an
adjoining closet and clapped-to the door, an obstacle that
only acted as a sound- board to her sobs, and from which
Paul hastened with equal rapidity to escape.

An entire hemisphere might have separated the small
chamber where Mr. Dempsey's late interview took place
from the apartment on the first floor, to which he now
was summoned, and so, to do him justice, did Paul him-
self feel ; and not all the stimulating properties of that
pleasant cordial could allay certain tremors of the heart,
as he turned the handle of the door.

Lady Eleanor was seated at a writing-table, and Helen
beside her, working, as Mr. Dempsey entered, and. after
a variety of salutations, took a chair, about the middle of
the room, depositing his hat and nmbrella beside him.

" It would seem, Mr. Dempsey," said Lady Eleanor,
with a very benign smile, " it would seem that we have
made a very silly mistake ; one, I am bound to say, you
are quite exonerated from any share in, and the confession
of which will, doubtless, exhibit my own and my
daughter's cleverness in a very questionable light before
you. Do you know, Mr. Dempsey, we believed this to be
an inn."

"An inn ! " broke in Paul, with uplifted hands.

" Yes, and it was only by mere accident we have dis-


covered our error, and that we are actually in a boarding-
house. Pray now, Helen, do not laugh, the blunder is
quite provoking enough already."

Why Miss Darcy should laugh, and what there could
be to warrant the use of the epithet, " provoking," Paul
might have been broken on the wheel without being able
to guess, while Lady Eleanor went on,

" Now, it would seem customary for the guests to adopt,
here, certain hours in common breakfasting, dining to-
gether, and associating like the members of one family."

Paul nodded an assent, and she resumed.

"I need scarcely observe to you, Mr. Dempsey, how
very unsuited either myself or Miss Darcy would be to
such an assembly, if even present circumstances did not
more than ever enjoin a life of strict retirement."

" Dear me ! " exclaimed Paul, in a tone of deprecation,
" there never was anything more select than this. Mother
Fum never admits without a reference ; I can show you
the advertisement in the Derry papers. We kept the
Collector out for two months, till he brought us a regular
bill of health, as a body might say."

" Could you persuade them to let us remain in ' Quar-
antine,' then, for a few days ? " said Helen, smiling.

" Oh, no ! Helen, nothing of the kind ; Mr. Dempsey
must not be put to any troublesome negotiations, on our
account. There surely must be an hotel of some sort in
the town."

" This is a nice mess ! " muttered Paul, who began to
anticipate some of the miseries his good nature might
cost him.

" A few days, a week at furthest, I hope, will enable us
to communicate with our law adviser, and decide upon
some more suitable abode. Could you, then, for the mean-
while, suggest a comfortable inn, or if not, a lodging in
the town ? "

Paul wrung his hands in dismay, but uttered not a

" To be candid, Mr. Dempsey," said Helen, " my father
has a horror of these kind of places, and you could re-
commend us no country inn, however humble, where he
would not be better pleased to hear of our taking refuge."

A BIT OP " BY-PLAY." 233

" But, Fumbally's ! the best-known boarding-house in
the North."

" I should be sincerely grieved, to be understood as
uttering one syllable in its disparagement," rejoined Lady
Eleanor ; " I could not ask for a more satisfactory
voucher of its respectability ; but, ours are peculiar cir-

" Only a pound a week," struck in Paul, " with extras."

" Nothing could be more reasonable ; but pray under-
stand me, I speak of course in great ignorance, but it
would appear to me that persons living together, in this
fashion, have a kind of right to know something of those
who present themselves, for the first time, amongst them.
Now, there are many reasons why neither my daughter
nor myself would like to submit to this species of in-

" I'll settle all that," broke in Paul ; " leave that to me,
and you'll have no further trouble about it."

" You must excuse my reliance even on such dis-
cretion," said Lady Eleanor, with more hauteur than before.

" Are we to understand that there is neither inn nor
lodging-house to be found ? " said Helen.

" Plenty of both, but full of bagmen," ejaculated Paul,
vhose contrivances were all breaking down beneath him.

" What is to be done ?" exclaimed Lady Eleanor to her

" Lord bless you ! " cried Paul, in a whining voice, " if
you only come down amongst them with that great frill
round your neck you wore the first day I saw you at the
Corvy, you'll scare them, so, they'll never have courage
to utter a word. There was Miss Daly when she was
here "

" Miss Daly Miss Maria Daly ! " exclaimed both ladies

" Miss Maria Daly," repeated Dempsey, with an undue
emphasis on every syllable. " She spent the summer with
us on the coast."

" Where had she resided up to that time, may I ask ?"
said Lady Eleanor, hastily.

" At the Corvy always at the Corvy, until your arri-


" Oh ! Helen, think of this," whispered Lady Eleanor, in
a voice tremulous with agitation. " Think what sacrifices
we have exacted from our friends and now, to learn, that
while we stand hesitating about encountering the incon-
veniences of our lot, that we have been subjecting another
to that very same difficulty from which we shrink." Then,
turning to Mr. Dempsey, she added,

" I need not observe, sir, that while I desire no mystery
to be thrown around our arrival here, I will not be the less
grateful for any restraint the good company may impose
on themselves as to inquiries concerning us. We are
really not worth the attention, and I should be sorry to
impose upon kind credulity by any imaginary claim to dis-

" You'll dine below, then ? " asked Paul, far more eager
to ascertain this fact than any reasons that induced it.

Lady Eleanor bowed, and Dempsey, with a face beaming
with delight, arose to withdraw and communicate the
happy news to Mrs. Fumbally.




GREAT as Lady Eleanor's objection was to subjecting her-
self or her daughter to the contact of a boarding-house
party, when the resolve was once taken the matter cost her
far less thought or anxiety than it occasioned to the other
inmates of the " Establishment." It is only in such seg-
ments of the great world that curiosity reaches its true
intensity, and the desire to know every circumstance of
one's neighbour becomes an absorbing passion. A dis-
trustful impression that nobody is playing on " the square "
that every one has some special cause of concealment
some hidden shame, seems the presiding tone of these

Mrs. Fumbally's was no exception to the rule, and now
that the residents had been so long acquainted, that the
personal character and fortune of each was known to all,
the announcement of a new arrival caused the most lively
sensations of anxiety.

Directories were ransacked for the name of Gwynne, and
every separate owner of the appellation canvassed and
discussed. Army lists were interrogated and conned over.
Dempsey himself was examined for two hours before a
" Committee of the whole house," and though his inventive
powers were no mean gifts, certain discrepancies, cer-
tain unexplained difficulties, did not fail to strike the acute
tribunal, and he was dismissed as unworthy of credit.
Baffled, not beaten, each retired to dress for dinner a
ceremony, be it remarked, only in use on great occasions
fully impressed with the conviction that the Gwynne
case was a legitimate object of search and discovery.

It is not necessary here to allude to the strange display


of costume that day called forth, nor what singular ex-
travagances in dress each drew from the armoury of his
fascinations. The collector closed the Custom-house an
hour earlier, that he might be properly powdered for the
occasion. Miss Boyle abandoned, "for the nonce," her
accustomed walk on the Banside, where the officers used
to lounge, and in the privacy of her chamber prepared for
the event. There is a tradition of her being seen, with a
formidable array of curl-papers, so late as four in the
afternoon. Mr. Dunlop was in a perpetual trot all day,
between his tailor and his bootmaker, sundry alterations
being required at a moment's notice. Mrs. Fumbally
herself, however, eclipsed all competitors, as, in a robe of
yellow satin, spotted with red, she made her appearance
in the drawing-room ; her head-dress being a turban of
the same prevailing colours, but ornamented by a droop-
ing plume of feathers and spangles so very umbrageous
and pendant, that she looked like a weeping ash clad in
tinsel. A crimson brooch of vast proportions which, on
near inspection, turned out to be a portrait of the departed
Fumbally, but whose colours were, unhappily, not " fast
ones " confined a scarf of green velvet, from which en-
vious time had worn off all the pile, and left a " sear and
yellow " stubble everywhere perceptible.

Whether Mrs. Fum's robe had been devised at a period
when dresses were worn much shorter, or that, from being
very tall, a sufficiency of the material could not be ob-
tained but true it is, her costume would have been almost
national in certain Scotch regiments, and necessitated, for
modesty's sake, a peculiar species of ducking trip, that,
with the nodding motion of her head, gave her the gait
of a kangaroo.

Scarcely had the various individuals time to give a cur-
sory glance at their neighbours' finery, when Lady Eleanor
appeared leaning on her daughter's arm. Mr. Dempsey
had waited for above half an hour outside the door to offer
his escort, whiah being coldly but civilly declined, the
ladies entered.

Mrs. Fumbally rose to meet her guests, and was about
to proceed in due form with a series of introducings, when
Lady Eleanor cut her short by a very slight but courteous


salutation to the company collectively, and then sat

The most insufferable assumption of superiority is never
half so chilling in its effect upon underbred people as the
calm quietude of good manners.

And thus the party were more repelled by Lady Eleanor
and her daughter's easy bearing than they would have felt
at any outrageous pretension. The elegant simplicity of
their dress, too, seemed to rebuke the stage finery of the
others, and very uneasy glances met and were interchanged
at this new companionship. A few whispered words, an
occasional courageous effort to talk aloud, suddenly end-
ing in a cough, and an uneasy glance at the large silver
watch over the chimney, were all that took place, when the
uncombed head of a waiter, hired specially for the day,
gave the announcement that dinner was served.

"Mr. Dempsey Mr. Dunlop," said Mrs. Fumbally, with
a gesture towards Lady Eleanor and her daughter. The
gentlemen both advanced a step and then stood stock still,
as Lady Eleanor, drawing her shawl around her with one
hand, slipped the other within her daughter's arm. Every
eye was now turned towards Mr. Dunlop, who was a kind
of recognized type of high life and he, feeling the urgency
of the moment, made a step in advance, and with ex-
tended arm, said, " May I have the honour to offer my

" With your leave, I'll take my daughter's, sir," said
Lady Eleanor, coldly ; and without paying the least atten-
tion to the various significant glances around her, she
walked forward to the dinner- room.

The chilling reserve produced by the new arrivals had
given an air of decorous quietude to the dinner, which,
if gratifying to Lady Eleanor and Helen, was very far
from being so to the others, and as the meal proceeded,
certain low mutterings the ground swell of a coming
storm announced the growing feeling of displeasure
amongst them. Lady Eleanor and Miss Darcy were too
unconscious of having offered any umbrage to the party
to notice these indications of discontent ; nor did they
remark that Mr. Dempsey himself was becoming over-
whelmed by the swelling waves of popular indignation.


A very curt monosyllable had met Lady Eleanor in the
two efforts she had made at conversation with her neigh-
bour, and she was perhaps not very sorry to find that
table-talk was not a regulation of the " Establish-

Had Lady Eleanor or Helen been disposed to care for
it, they might have perceived that the dinner itself was
not less anomalous than the company, and like them suf-
fered sorely from being over-dressed. They, however, af-
fected to eat, and seemed satisfied with everything, resolved
that, having encountered the ordeal, they would go through
with it to the last. The observances of the table had one
merit in the Fumbally household ; they were conducted
with no unnecessary tediousness. The courses if we dare
so apply the name to an irregular skirmish of meats, hot,
cold, and rechauffe followed rapidly, the guests ate equally
so, and the table presented a scene, if not of convivial enjoy-
ment, at least of bustle and animation, that supplied its
place. This movement, so to call it, was sufficiently new
to amuse Helen Darcy, who, less pained than her mother
at their companionship, could not help relishing many of
the eccentric features of the scene. Everything in the
dress, manner, tone of voice, and bearing of the company
presenting such a striking contrast to all she had been used
to. This enjoyment on her part, although regulated by
the strictest good-breeding, was perceived, or rather sus-
pected, by some of the ladies present, and looks of very
unmistakable anger were darted towards her from the end
of the table, so that both mother and daughter felt the
moment a very welcome one when a regiment of small
decanters were set down on the board, and the ladies rose
to withdraw.

If Lady Eleanor had consulted her own ardent wishes,
she would at once have retired to her room, but she had
resolved on the whole sacrifice, and took her place in the
drawing-room, determined to follow in every respect the
usages around her. Mrs. Fumbally addressed a few civil
words to her, and then left the room to look after the cares
of the household. The group of seven ladies who re-
mained, formed themselves into a coterie apart, and pro-
ducing from sundry bags and baskets little specimens of


female handiwork, began arranging their cottons and
worsteds with a most praiseworthy activity.

While Lady Eleanor sat with folded hands, and half-
closed lids, sunk in her own meditations, Helen arose
and walked towards a book-shelf, where some well-
thumbed volumes were lying. An odd volume of " Del-
phine," a " Treatise on Domestic Cookery," and " Moore's
Zeluco," were not attractive, and she sauntered to the
piano, on which were scattered some of the songs from
the " Siege of Belgrade," the then popular piece ; certain
comic melodies lay also among them, inscribed with the
name of Lawrence M'Farland, a gentleman whom they
hnd heard addressed several times during dinner. While
Helen turned over the music pages, the eyes of the
others were riveted on her, and when she ran her fingers
over the keys of the cracked old instrument, and burst
into an involuntary laugh at its discordant tones, a burst
of unequivocal indignation could no longer be restrained.

" I declare, Miss M'Corde," said an old lady with a
paralytic shake, in her head, and a most villanous expres-
sion in her one eye " I declare I would speak to her, if
I was in your place."

" Unquestionably," exclaimed another, whose face was
purple with excitement; and thus encouraged, a very
thin and very tall personage, with a long, slender nose
tipped with pink, and light red hair in ringlets, arose
from her seat, and approached where Helen was stand-

" You are perhaps not aware, ma'am," said she, with
a mincing, lisping accent, the very essence of gentility,
" that this instrument is not a ' house piano.' "

Helen blushed slightly at the address, but could not
for her life guess what the words meant. She had heard
of grand pianos and square pianos, of cottage pianos, but
never of "house pianos," and she answered in the most
simple of voices, " Indeed."

" Wo, ma'am, it is not ; it belongs to your very humble
servant" here she curtseyed to the ground "who
regrets deeply that its tone should not have more of your

" And I, ma'am," said a fat old lady, waddling over,


and wheezing as though she should choke, " I have to
express my sorrow that the book-shelf, which you have
just ransacked, should not present something worthy of
your notice. The volumes are mine."

"And perhaps, ma'am," cried a third, a little meagre
figure, with a voice like a nutmeg-grater, " you could
persuade the old lady, who I presume is your mother,
to take her feet off that worked stool. When I made it,
I scarcely calculated on the honour it now enjoys ! "

Lady Eleanor looked up at this instant, and although,
unconscious of what was passing, seeing Helen, whose
face was now crimson, standing in the midst of a very
excited group, she arose hastily, and said,

" Helen, dearest, is there anything the matter ? "

" I should say there was, ma'am," interposed the very
fat lady " I should be disposed to say there was a great
deal the matter. That to make use of private articles
as if they were for house use to thump one lady's piano
to toss another lady's books to make oneself com-
fortable in a chair specially provided for the oldest
boarder with one's feet on another lady's footstool
these are liberties, ma'am, which become something more
than freedoms when taken by unknown individuals."

"I beg you will forgive my daughter and myself,"
eaid Lady Eleanor, with an air of real regret ; " our total
ignorance ' '

" I thought as much, indeed," muttered she of the
shaking head ; " there is no other word for it."

"You are quite correct, ma'am," said Lady Eleanor,
at once addressing her in the most apologetic of voices
" I cannot but repeat the word ; our very great ignorance
of the usages observed here is our only excuse, and I
beg you to belive us incapable of taking such liberties in

If anything could have disarmed the wrath of this
Holy Alliance, the manner in which these words were
uttered might have done so. Far from it, however.
When the softer sex are deficient in breeding, mercy is
scarcely one of their social attributes. Had Lady Eleanor
assumed towards them the manner with which, in other
days, she had repelled vulgar attempts at familiarity, they


would, in all probability, have shrunk back, abashed and
ashamed ; but, her yielding suggested boldness, and they
advanced, with something like what in Cossack warfare
is termed a " Hurra," an indiscriminate clang of voices
being raised, in reprobation of every supposed outrage
the unhappy strangers had inflicted on the company.
Amid this Babel of accusation, Lady Eleanor could dis-
tinguish nothing, and while, overwhelmed by the torrent,
she was preparing to take her daughter's arm and with-
draw, the door, which led into the dining-room, was
suddenly thrown open, and the convivial party entered
en masse.

" Here's a shindy by George ! " cried Mr. M'Farland
the Pickle, and the wit of the Establishment " I say,
see how the new ones are getting it ! "

While Mr. Demsey hurried away to seek Mrs. Fum-
bally herself, the confusion and uproar increased. The
loud, coarse laughter of the " Gentlemen " being added
to the wrathful violence of the softer sex. Lady Eleanor,
however, had drawn her daughter to her side, and with-
out uttering a word, proceeded to leave the room. To this
course a considerable obstacle presented itself in the
shape of the Collector, who, with expanded legs, and hands
thrust deep into his side-pockets, stood against the door.

" Against the ninth general rule, ma'am, which you may
read in the frame over the chimney ! " exclaimed he, in a
voice somewhat more faltering and thicker than became a
respectable official. " No lady or gentleman can leave the
room, while any dispute in which they are concerned
remains unsettled. Isn't that it, M'Farland ? " cried he,
as the young gentleman alluded to took down the law-
table from its place.

" All right," replied M'Farland ; " the very best rule in
the house. Without it, all the rows would take place in
private ! Now for a court of inquiry. Mr. Dunlop, you
are for the prosecution, and can't sit."

" May I beg, sir, you will permit us to pass out ? " said
Lady Eleanor, in a voice whose composure was slightly

" Can't be, ma'am; in contravention of all law," re-
joined the Collector.

VOL. ii. R


" Where is Mr. Dempsey ? " whispered Helen, in her
despair ; and though the words were uttered in a low
voice, one of the ladies overheard them. A general titter
ran immediately around, only arrested by the fat lady ex-
claiming aloud, " Shameless minx ! "

A very loud hubbub of voices outside now rivalled the
tumult within, amid which one moct welcome was distin-
quished by Helen.

" Oh, mamma, how fortunate, I hear Tate's voice."

" It's me it's Mrs. Funibally," cried that lady, at the
same moment tapping sharply at the door.

" No matter, can't open the door now. Court is about
to sit," replied the Collector. " Mrs. Gwynne stands
arraigned for for what is't ? There's no use in making
that clatter ; the door shall not be opened."

This speech was scarcely uttered, when a tremendous
bang was heard, and the worthy Collector, with the door
over him, was hurled on his face in the midst of the apart-
ment, upsetting in his progress a round table and a lamp
over the assembled group of ladies.

Screams of terror, rage, pain, and laughter, were now
commingled, and while some assisted the prostrate official
to rise, and sprinkled his temples with water, others
bestowed their attentions on the discomfited fair, whose
lustre was sadly diminished by lamp-oil and bruises, while
a third section, of which M'Farland was chief, lay back in
their chairs and laughed vociferously. Meanwhile, how
and when nobody could tell, Lady Eleanor and her
daughter had escaped and gained their apartments in

A more rueful scene than the room presented need not
be imagined. The Collector, whose nose bled profusely,
sat pale, half fainting, in one corner, while some kind
friends laboured to stop the bleeding, and restore him to
animation. Lamentations of the most poignant grief
were uttered over silks, satins, and tabinets, irretrievably
ruined ; while the paralytic lady, having broken the ribbon
of her cap, her head rolled about fearfully, and even
threatened to come clean ofi' altogether. As for poor Mrs.
Fumbally, she flew from place to place, in a perfect agony
of affliction ; now, wringing her hands over the prostrate


door, now, over the fragments of the lamp, and now
endeavouring to restore the table, which, despite all her
efforts, would not stand upon two legs. But the most
miserable figure of all was Paul Dempsey, who saw no
footing for himself anywhere. Lady Eleanor and Helen
must detest him to the day of his death. The boarders
could never forgive him. Mrs. Fum would as certainly
regard him as the author of all evil, and the Collector
would inevitably begin dunning him for an unsettled
balance of fourteen and ninepence, lost at " Spoiled five,"
two winters before.

Already, indeed, symptoms of his unpopularity began
to show themselves. Angry looks and spiteful glances
were directed towards him, amidst muttered expressions

Online LibraryCharles James Lever[Charles Lever's novels (Volume 13) → online text (page 20 of 35)