James Payn.

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For a single instant the young man hesitated to reply; then answered,
"Never."

"You are quite sure of that?" inquired the other, suspiciously.

"Quite sure."

"Good! Here, come with me."

His host led the way along an ample corridor, hung with tall pictures of
their common ancestors, and opened the door of another bedroom. It was
of a vast size; and even when the Squire had lit the candles upon the
mantle-piece, and those which clustered on either side of the great
pier-glass, the darkness did but give place to a sort of shining gloom:
the cause of this strange effect was the peculiarity of the furniture;
the walls were of bog-oak, relieved, like those of a ball-room, by
silver sconces; the chairs were of the same material. The curiosity of
the room was, however, the bedstead; this was of an immense size, and
adorned above with ostrich feathers, which gave it the appearance of a
funeral car; the pillars were of solid ebony, as were also the carved
head and foot boards; it was hung with crimson damask curtains, trimmed
with gold braid; and upon its coverlet of purple silk lay a quilt of
Brussels point lace of exquisite design.

"I will have your traps brought in here," said Carew, throwing away the
end of his cigar, and drawing from his pocket a heap of filberts; "it
will be more convenient. You will find a room through yonder door, where
you can sit and paint to your heart's content."

"You lodge me so splendidly, Sir, that I shall feel like Christopher
Sly," observed the young fellow, gratefully.

"Ay, sly enough, I'll warrant," returned the Squire, who had just
cracked a nut and found it a bad one. "That's Bred in the Bone with you,
I reckon. Look yonder!" As he spoke, a porcelain vase clock upon the
chimney-piece struck the half hour, and a gilt serpent sprang from the
pedestal, showing its fang, which was set in brilliants. "That's my
serpent clock, which always reminds me of Madam, your mother, and the
more so, because it goes for a twelvemonth, which was just the time she
and I went in double harness. But here are your clothes, and you must be
quick in getting into them, for we dine sharp at Crompton. - Watson, go
to my man, and bid him fetch a red coat for this gentleman. - You'll
hear the gong, Mr. Yorke, five minutes before dinner is served." And
with a careless nod to his guest, and a whistle to his four-footed
companion, Carew sauntered off.

The young man would have given much to have had half an hour at his
disposal to think over the events of the last few minutes, and to
reflect upon his present position; but there was no time to lose, if he
would avoid giving umbrage to his host by being late. He therefore
dressed in haste, and before the first note of the gong was heard was
fully equipped. If the Squire, in introducing him to this splendid
lodging, had had it in his mind to overcome him by a mere exhibition of
magnificence, the design had failed; it was only Yorke's artistic sense
that had been impressed; the fact was that the young fellow was of that
character on whom superiority of any sort has small effect; while in the
present case the signs of wealth about him gave him self-confidence,
rather than any feeling of inferiority; insomuch as he considered
himself "by rights," as the Squire had said, the heir of all he saw, and
by no means despaired of becoming so, not only _de jure_, but _de
facto_. Certainly, as he now regarded himself in the pier-glass in his
scarlet coat, it was not to be wondered at that he reflected
complacently that, so far as personal appearance went, he was not likely
to find a superior in any of the company he was about to meet. A
handsomer young fellow had indeed never answered the importunate summons
of the Crompton gong.

He had no difficulty about finding his way to the drawing-room, for a
stream of red-coated guests was already setting thither from their
respective chambers, and he entered it with them unannounced. This was
the only apartment in the house which did not bear traces of mischievous
damage, because, as on the present occasion, it was used for exactly
five minutes every evening, and at no other time whatever. After dinner
the Squire's guests invariably adjourned to the billiard-table or the
library, and the yellow drawing-room was left alone in its magnificence.
This neglected apartment had probably excited more envy in the female
mind than any at Crompton, although there were drawing-rooms galore
there, as well as one or two such exquisite boudoirs as might have
tempted a nun from her convent. It was a burning shame, said the matrons
of Breakneckshire, that the finest room in the county should not have a
lawful mistress to grace it; and it was not their fault (as has been
hinted) that that deficiency had not been supplied. It was really a
splendid room, not divided in any way, as is usual with rooms of such
vast extent, but comprehending every description of architectural
vagary - bay-windows, in each of which half a dozen persons might sit and
move, and recesses where as many could ensconce themselves, without
their presence being dreamed of by the occupants of the central space.

At present, however, the flood of light that poured from chandelier and
bracket, and flashed upon the gorgeous furniture and on the red coats of
the guests, seemed to forbid concealment, and certainly afforded a
splendid spectacle - a diplomatic reception, or a fancy-ball, could for
brilliancy scarcely have exceeded it, though the parallel went no
farther; for, with all this pomp and circumstance, there was not the
slightest trace of ceremony. New guests, like Yorke himself, flocked in,
and stood and stared, or paraded the room; while the less recent
arrivals laughed and chatted together noisily, with their backs to the
fires - of which there were no less than three alight - or lolled at full
length upon the damask sofas. These persons were not, upon the whole, of
an aristocratic type; many of them, indeed, were of good birth, and all
had taken the usual pains with their costume, but a life of dissipation
had set its vulgarizing mark on them: on the seniors the pallid and
exhausted look of the _roué_ was indeed rarely seen - country air and
rough exercise had forbidden that - but drink and hard living had written
their autographs upon them in another and worse handwriting. Blotches
and pimples had indeed so erased their original likeness to gentlemen
that it was even whispered by the scandalous that it was to prevent the
confusion with his menials, that must needs have otherwise arisen, that
the Squire of Crompton compelled his guests to wear red coats. The
_habitués_ of the place, who were the contemporaries of the Squire, had,
as it were, gone to seed. But there was a sprinkling of a better class,
or, at all events, of a class that had not as yet sunk so low as they in
the mire of debauchery: a young lord or two in their minority, whom
their parents or guardians could not coerce into keeping better company;
and other young gentlemen of fashion, in whose eyes Carew was "A
devilish good fellow at bottom;" "Quite a character, by Jove!" and "A
sort of man to know." Among these last was Mr. Frederick Chandos, who
had so lately got among the chrysanthemums with his gig-wheels, and Mr.
Theodore Fane, his bosom friend, who always sat beside him on his
driving-seat, and in return for sharing his perils, was reported to have
the whip-hand of him. Nor was old age itself without its representative
in the person of Mr. Byam Byll, once a master of fox-hounds, now a
pauperized gourmand, who, in consideration of his coarse wit and
"gentlemen's stories," was permitted to have the run of his teeth at
Crompton. This Falstaff to the Squire's Prince Hal was a rotund and
portly man, like his great prototype, but singularly handsome. His smile
was winning yet, and, in spite of his load of years and fat, he still
considered himself agreeable to the fair sex.

For this information and much more, respecting the character of his
fellow-guests, Yorke was indebted to a very singular personage, who had
introduced himself to him as "Parson Whymper," and whom he now knew to
be the Squire's chaplain. The reverend divine was as proud of that
office (and infinitely more comfortable in it) as though he had been
chaplain to an archbishop. He was the only man present who wore a black
coat, and he had a grave voice and insinuating manner, which really did
smack something of the pulpit.

"Mr. Yorke," said he, blandly, "I make no apology for introducing myself
to you; Carew and I have been just having a talk about you, and he has
no secrets from his ghostly adviser. I take your hand with pleasure. I
seem to feel it is the flesh and blood of my best friend. Sooner or
later, mark me, he will own as much, and, be sure, no effort of mine
shall be wanting to insure so desirable a consummation."

Yorke flushed with pleasure, not at the honeyed terms, nor the good-will
they evidenced, but at the news itself - the fact of his father having
revealed their relationship to him seemed so full of promise - and yet he
resented the man's professions, the audacity of which seemed certainly
to imply that he was taken for a fool.

"I am sure, Mr. Whymper," said he, stiffly, "I ought to be greatly
obliged to you."

"Hush! Not Mr. Whymper, if you please, for that's a fine here. Every
body at Crompton calls me 'Parson.' Obliged, Sir! Not at all. It is only
natural that, being what I am, I should wish you well. The law, it is
true, has decided against your legitimacy, but the Church is bound to
think otherwise. In my eyes you are the Squire's only son" - here he made
a whispering-trumpet of his brawny hands, and added with great
significance - "and heir."

"I see," said Yorke, smiling in spite of himself.

"Of course you do; did you think I was trifling with your intelligence?
I tell you that it is quite on the cards that you may recover your lost
position, and regain what is morally your own again. Carew is delighted
with you, not so much because you saved his stags as because you fought
such a good battle with him by the Decoy Pond. He has been consulting me
professionally as to whether it would be contrary to the tables of
affinity to have another set-to with you. I am sorry my reply was in the
negative, for, now I look at you, I do believe you would have thrashed
him; but I was so afraid of his getting the better of you, which might
have ruined your fortunes."

Richard could only repeat his thanks for the good clergyman's kindness.
"You know nobody here, I suppose," observed the latter, "and, with a few
exceptions, which I will name to you, that is not of much consequence.
It is a shifting lot: they are here to-day and gone to-morrow, as says
the Scripture, and I wish they were all going to-morrow except Byam
Ryll. That's old Byam yonder, with the paunch and his hands behind him;
he has nowhere else to put them, poor fellow." And here Parson Whymper
launched into biography as aforesaid.

The clock on the chimney-piece, on which the two were leaning, broke in
upon the divine's scarcely less dulcet accents with its silver quarter.

"This is the first time," said Whymper, "that I have ever known your
father late; and to you belongs the honor of having caused him to
transgress his own immutable rule."

While he was yet speaking a hunting-horn was blown in the hall beneath,
and the whole company turned _en masse_, like a field of poppies before
a sudden wind, to the door where Carew was standing.




CHAPTER VI.

THE FEAST OF LAPITHAE


The host himself led the way down stairs; while the rear of the party
was brought up by Mr. Whymper, to whom Yorke attached himself.

When they reached the dining-room, and before they took their seats at
the ample table, the chaplain, with sonorous voice, gave a view holloa!
which was the Crompton grace.

"It is very distressing to me to have to act in this way," whispered he
to his young friend, whose countenance betrayed considerable
astonishment; but it is the custom of the house; and, after all, there
is no great harm in it. _De minimis non curat lex_, you know."

"That does not hold good with respect to the law of affiliation,
parson," observed Mr. Byam Ryll, who sat on the other side of him, "if,
at least, I have not forgotten my _Burns_."

"I always understood that Burns had very loose views upon such matters,"
returned the chaplain, demurely.

"My dear parson, your remark is like that excellent condiment which I
wish I could see at this otherwise well-provided table - caviare to the
multitude. Why is it not furnished? You have only to say the word." Here
he addressed himself to Yorke: "This worthy divine who sits at the
bottom of the table, young gentleman, and who has neglected his duty in
not having introduced us, is all-powerful here; and we all endeavor to
make friends of him; nor is that circumstance, it is whispered, the only
respect in which he resembles the mammon of unrighteousness."

A shadow of annoyance crossed the parson's smiling face.

"Mr. Richard Yorke," said he, "this is Mr. Byam Ryll, our unlicensed
jester."

"The parson, on the contrary," retorted the other, with twinkling eyes,
"is our Vice, and gives himself every license. What is the matter with
Carew to-night? He looks glum. I dare say he has been eating greens and
bacon at some farm-house, and is now regretting the circumstance. He has
no moral courage, poor fellow, and knows not how to deny his appetite."

"You never did such a wasteful thing in your life, Byam, I'll warrant,"
said the parson, smiling; "and yet some say that you have been a
profligate."

"I know it," replied the gourmand, shaking his head; "and I forgive
them. They call me a slave to my stomach; if it be so, I at least serve
a master of some capacity, which is not the case with every body."

"You are saying something about _me_, you big fat man," cried Carew,
from the other end of the table, and his voice had a very unpleasant
grasp in it. "Come, out with it!"

"If our venerable friend does not stoop to deception," whispered the
parson into Yorke's ear, "he will now find himself in an ugly hole."

"I was observing that you did not eat your lamperns, Squire," said the
stout gentleman, "and remarked that you were in no want of a feeder."

"What's a feeder?" returned the host, ill-temperedly. "If it's a bib,
you'll soon want one yourself, for, egad, you're getting near your
second childhood!"

"It must have been my plumpness and innocence which suggested that
idea," responded the other, smiling. "But if you have never known a
feeder, you have missed a great advantage, Squire. When you dine with my
Lord Mayor the question is always asked, will you have a feeder, or will
you not? If you say 'Yes,' you pay your half-guinea, and get him. He is
generally a grave old gentleman like myself, and much resembles a
beneficed clergyman. He stands behind your chair throughout the feast,
and delicately suggests what it is best for you to eat, to drink, and to
avoid. 'No; _no_ salmon,' he murmurs, if you have had turbot already;
and, '_Now_, a glass of Burgundy, _if_ you please, Sir;'
or, '_Now_, a glass of sherry.' If an indigestible or ill-compounded
_entree_ is handed, he will whisper 'No, Sir: neither now nor never,'
with quite an outburst of honest indignation; nor will he suffer you to
take Gruyere cheese, nor port with your Stilton. The consequence is,
that the next morning you feel as lively as though you had not feasted
on the previous evening, and convinced that you made a good investment
of your half-guinea in securing his services. If there was a feeder at
Crompton," concluded the old gourmand, sighing, and with a hypocritical
look, "it would be a boon to some of you young fellows, and might
produce a healthy and devout old age."

"That's a good one!" "Well done, Byam!" "You won't beat that!" resounded
from all sides, for such were the terms in which the gallery at Crompton
expressed their approbation, whether of man or beast; but Mr. Frederick
Chandos and a few others, inclusive of Mr. Theodore Fane, kept a
dignified silence, as over a joke that was beyond their capacities - they
reserved their high approval for "gentlemen's stories" only. As for the
grim Squire, for whom alone the narrative had been served and garnished,
at so very short a notice, he observed upon it, that "when he had used
up old Byam's brains he should now have the less scruple in turning him
out-of-doors, inasmuch as it seemed there was a profession in town that
was just suited to him."

How wondrous is the power of naked wealth - of the mere money! Simply
because he had a large rent-roll, this mad Carew could find not only
companions of his own calibre - reckless good-for-naughts, or dull
debauchees - but could command gray beard experience, wit, the art of
pleasing, in one man; and in another (what he was not less destitute of,
and needed more), politic management and common-sense. We do not say, as
the Squire himself sometimes did, when in a good-humor with his two
satellites, that Parson Whymper and Byam Ryll had more brains in their
little fingers than all his other friends had in their whole bodies, but
it was certain that, even when drunk, they were wiser than the others
when sober; the one had astuteness enough for a great statesman (or what
has passed for such in England) to hold the most discordant elements
together, and to make what is rotten seem almost sound; and, indeed,
without his chaplain's dextrous skidding, Carew would long ago have
irretrievably lost social caste, and dissipated his vast means to the
last shilling. On the other hand, Byam Ryll was gifted with even rarer
qualities; he was essentially a man of mark and character, and might
have made his fortune in any pursuit by his own wits; but his fortune
had been ready-made when he came of age, and he had occupied himself
very agreeably instead in getting through it, in which he had quite
succeeded. Parson Whymper, who had never known what it was to have a
ten-pound note to call his own, was now no worse off than he. They would
both have frankly owned, had they been asked, that they detested work of
any kind. Yet the chaplain had almost as much business on his hands as
the bursar of a great college, in the administration of Carew's affairs,
besides filling an office which was by no means a sinecure, in that of
his master of the ceremonies. Many a rudeness in that house would have
been bitterly avenged, and many a quarrel would have had a serious
termination, but for the good offices of Parson Whymper. Nor would Mr.
Byam Ryll have been considered by every body to earn an easy livelihood
in making jests out of every occasion, to tickle the fancy of a
dull-witted audience and of a patron, as often as not, morose; yet the
flesh-pots of Egypt had attracted both these men to the Squire's
service, their poverty as well as their will consenting; and in exchange
for meat and drink, and lodging of the best, they had sold themselves
into slavery. Upon the whole, they were well disposed to one another;
the bond of intelligence united them against the rich "roughs" with whom
they had to deal; they tilted together, side by side, against the
_canaille_; yet each, from the bitter consciousness of his own
degradation, took pleasure in the humiliation or discomfiture of the
other, at the rude hands of their common master.

"Profession," said Chandos, in reply to Carew's last remark; "gad, your
ancient friend is lucky to have found one in these days. They tell me
that no young gentleman can now get his living without answering
questions, writing down things, drawing maps, and passing - What the
deuce do they call them?"

"Hanged if _I_ know," said the Squire. "Ask Byam; he knows every thing."

"I say, Mr. Byam," drawled the young man, somewhat insolently, but
without being aware that he was addressing a stranger by his Christian
name, "Carew says you know every thing. What is it that a gentleman is
now obliged to go through before he can get any of these snug things one
used to get for the asking? What is the confounded thing one has to
pass?"

"Muster," answered Ryll, derisively, as though it was a riddle.

Carew laughed aloud. The nearer a retort approached to a practical joke,
provided it was not at his own expense, the better he liked it.

"What did the old beggar say?" inquired Mr. Frederick Chandos, his fair
face crimson with anger.

"He asked for the mustard; he didn't hear you," answered the Squire,
mischievously; "he never does hear a fellow who lisps."

"I asked you, Mr. Byam," repeated the young man with tipsy gravity,
"what is the name of those examinations?"

"The name of the gentleman on my left, Mr. Chandos, is Ryll, and not
Byam - except to his intimate friends," interposed the chaplain; "and the
name you are in want of is competitive."

"That's it," said the young man, slapping the table, and forgetting both
his mistake and his anger in the unaccustomed acquisition of an idea.
"Competitive examination is what they call it Well, you know, there was
my young brother - confound him! - looking to me to pay his bills; and, in
fact, having nothing to live upon, poor devil, except what I gave him.
So, of course, I was anxious to get him off my hands."

"Very natural," assented Carew. "For my part, I could never see what
younger brothers were born for."

"You'd see it less if you had one to keep," continued Chandos. "In old
times, now, I could have got Jack something warm and snug under
government, or in the colonies; and so I should now, but for one
thing - that he had to pass one of these cursed examinations first.
However, as it had to be done, and as Jack, according to his own
account, was as much out of form for one as another of them, I
recommended him to try his luck for something in India; for as long as
you can keep a fellow on the other side of the world he can't dun
you - not to hurt; it ain't like coming and calling _himself_; and you
needn't read his letters unless you like. Well, 'India be it,' says
Jack; 'that's as good a place as another;' though, in my opinion, he
never expected to go there. He thought he had no chance whatever of
pulling through, and so did I, for the fact is, Jack is a born fool."

"Did you say he was your brother, or only your half-brother?" inquired
Mr. Byam Ryll, with an appearance of great interest.

"My very own brother, Sir," replied the unconscious Chandos, flattered
to find such attention paid to him; "and as like to me as one thimble, I
mean as one pea, is to another. Well, the strange thing is, the deuce
alone knows how it happened, but _Jack got through_." Here he took a
bumper of port, as though in honor of that occasion. "It's a perfect
marvel, but the best thing for _him_ (as well as for me) in the world.
Nobody ever went out under better auspices, for the governor of Bengal
is our cousin, and Jack was to school with his private sec.: it's a
first-rate connection. Our family has been connected with India for ever
so long. I'll tell you how."

"It is a most admirable connection," observed Mr. Byam Ryll; "and the
whole circumstances of the case will, I have no doubt, be interesting in
the highest degree to the natives of Bengal. Your brother should embody
them in a neat speech, and deliver it from the deck of the steamer
before he lands."

It is probable that Mr. Frederick Chandos would have so far
misunderstood the nature of this observation as to have accepted it as a
compliment had not Carew burst into a series of wild laughs, which
betokened high approval, and was one of his few tokens of enjoyment. He
had evinced unmistakable signs of discontent and boredom before his
intellectual henchman had thus struck in on his behalf; and he was
really gratified for the rescue. Chandos was muttering some drunken
words of insolence and anger; but Carew bore him down.

"Pooh, pooh! Old Byam was right!" cried he, with boisterous mirth. "I
dare say all that long story of yours _may_ interest those black
fellows; but for me, I care nothing about it. It's all rubbish. Be
quiet, you young fool, I say; it's too early yet for buffets. Here,
bring the beaker."

This was a magnificent tankard, the pride of Crompton, which, at the
conclusion of dinner, was always filled with port-wine, and passed round
the table. It was lined with silver gilt, but made of ivory, and had a
cover of the same, both finely carved. On the bowl was portrayed a
Forest Scene, with Satyrs pursuing Nymphs; on the lid was the Battle of
the Centaurs; while the stem was formed by a sculptured figure of
Hercules. If the artist, Magnus Berg, who had fashioned it long ago in



Online LibraryJames PaynBred in the Bone → online text (page 4 of 34)