« AnteriorContinuar »
A LINE IN THE “ TIMES :"
WHO DID IT, AND WHO WAS DONE BY IT.
NORWICH BELLES CAPITULATE TO THE ROYAL ARTILLERY.
“LIEUTENANT-COLONEL FAIRLIE's troop of Horse Artillery is ordered to Norwich to replace the 12th Lancers, en route to Bombay.". Those three lines in the papers spread dismay into the souls of Norfolk young ladies, and no less horror into ours, for we were very jolly at Woolwich, were bien reçus by all the nicest-looking women in Charlton, Lee, and Lewisham, could run up to the clubs and down to Epsom, and were far too material not to prefer ball-room belles to bluebells, strawberry-ice to fresh hautboys, the sparkle of champagne-cup to all the murmurs of the brooks, and the flutter of ballet-girls' wings to all the rustle of forest leaves. But, unhappily, the Ordnance-office is no more given to considering the feelings of their Royal Gunners than the Horse Guards the individual desires of the two other arms; and off we went to Norwich, repining bitterly, or, in modern English, swearing hard at our destinies, creating an immense sensation with our 6-pounders, as we flatter ourselves the Royals always contrive to do, whether on fair friends or fierce foes, and were looked upon spitefully by the one or two young ladies whose hearts were gone eastwards with the Twelfth, smilingly by the one or two hundred who, having fruitlessly laid out a great deal of tackle on the Twelfth, proceeded to manufacture fresh flies to catch us, and made ourselves comfortable in the old city, as wise men do, always drinking the Bass we could get with a relish, and not spoiling it by pining after the Falernian that was out of our reach. We soon
I think, to the Norwich girls for the loss of the Twelfth. Catch women being over-constant when fidelity is a losing concern! What sort of rivals the Twelfth, present, might have been, I cannot say-tough ones, I dare say, for your cavalry dogs are shocking Lotharios—I can only say the Twelfth, absent, were very easily defeated, for they were no longer catchable, and we were. We were made very welcome in Norwich, and no wonder, for the Artillery are always favourite flirts. They set dead upon Fairlie, our captain, á Brevet LieutenantColonel, and a C.B. for “services in India,” where he had rivalled Norman Ramsay at Fuentes d'Onor, had had a ball put in his hip, and had come home again to be worshipped by the women for his romantic reputation, his beautiful figure, and his general soft, courtly way with them all. They made an immense deal, too, of Levison Courtenay, the belle of the troop, and called Belle in consequence; who did not want any flummery or flirtation to increase his opinion of himself, being as vain of his petites mains blanches, his wavy locks, and his almond eyes, as any girl just entered as the favourite for the season. There were Tom Gower, too, a capital fellow, with no nonsense about him, who made no end of chaff of Belle Courtenay; and Little Nell, otherwise Harcourt Poulteney Nelson, a little chap up to every devilry under the sun, and who had by some miracle escaped expulsion both from Carshalton and the college, and votre humble serviteur Phil Hardinge, then a first lieutenant, and one or two other fellows, who, having cut dashing figures at our Woolwich reviews, cantering across Blackheath Common, or waltzing with dainty beauties down our mess-room, made the Artillery welcome in that city of shawls and oratorios, where, according to the Gazetteer, no virtuous person ought to dwell, that volume, with characteristic lucidity, pronouncing its streets “ill deposed.”
The clergy asked us to their rectories, and nipped out of their tithe dinner to give us claret good enough to tempt us to go there and sing second with Lucy or read to Arabella—a temptation we were often proof against, there being three noticeable facts in rectories, that the talk is always slow," the Church” being present, and having much the same chilling effect as the presence of a chaperone at a tête-à-tête or a governor at an oyster supper ; the daughters generally ugly, and, from leading the choir at morning services, perfectly convinced that they sing like Clara Novello, and that the harmonium is a most delightful instrument; and, last and worst, the wines are almost always poor, except the port which the reverend host drinks himself, but which, Dieu merci ! we rarely or never touch.
The County asked us, too; and there we went for good hock, tolerablelooking women, and first-rate billiard-tables. For the first month we were in Norfolk we voted it unanimously as the most infernally slow and hideous county going; and so, with the exception of its twin province, Suffolk, I still hold it is. I dare say we made ourselves uncommonly disagreeable, as people, if they are not pleased, be they ever so well bred, have a knack of doing. Fairlie, who was difficile to the last extent, and never exerted himself unless he was rewarded for it by being amused, went about stroking his moustaches and dropping monosyllables, so that a lady of the Chapter remarked, “ he was a handsome statue, certainly; but she might just as well have a statue at her dinner-table, for he opened his lips to nobody.” Belle spent the chief of his hours lying on his sofa and drinking sherry and Seltzer, and occasionally woke up to make an exquisite toilette, and knock over the best-looking of these poor little Norfolk birds, as a man accustomed to prime sport might, faute de mieux, take to sparrow-shooting, thinking it kept his hand in, but feeling a supreme scorn for his own humiliation.
Things were thus quiescent and stagnant, when Fairlie one night at mess told us a bit of news.
“Old fellows, whom do you think I met to-day at Doctor Coverdale's?"
“Have you been calling on the Doctor ?” cried Gower. “What pluck you have. I can't stand those daughters of his-six unmarried women, and all blues !-they do put one so through the paces about graptolites, oolites, square roots, Greek roots, pachyderms and gylptodons, triforiums and clerestories, that they make me feel as I did when I went up at Woolwich and was examined in Charles the Twelfth. If they had made •Les Trois Mousquetaires’ the examination book, I could have told 'em twenty pages straight off at a canter.”
“Bas bleus are dreadful,” assented Fairlie. “ Women are unbearable and unintelligible enough in all conscience when they talk at all, but when they come to talk science it is ten times worse; they read a page of Graham, and think they know as well as Brodie; and half a page of Ansted, and shut Owen up completely; and a line or two of Miss Martineau, and pooh-pooh Adam Smith as a baby. But whom do you
think I met there?”
“How should we know ? Cut along." “ The Swan and her Cygnets."
" The Vanes? Oh, bravo !" we shouted at a chorus, for the dame and demoiselles in question we had known in town that winter, and a nicer, pleasanter, faster set of women I never came across. 6 What's bringing them down here, and how's Geraldine?”
“Vane's come into his baronetcy, and his place is close by Norwich," said Fairlie; "his wife's health has been bad, and so they left town early; and Geraldine is quite well, and counting on haymaking, she informed me."
“Come, that is good news,” said Belle, yawning. “There'll be one pretty woman in the county, thank Heaven! Poor little Geraldine ! I must go and call on her to-morrow.
“She has existed without your calls, Belle,” said Fairlie, dryly, “and don't look as if she'd pined after you.'
“My dear fellow, how should you know?” said Belle, in no wise disconcerted. “A little rouge soon makes 'em look well, and as for smiles, they'll smile while they're dying for you. Little Vane and I were always good friends, and shall be again—if I care.” “Conceited owl!" said Fairlie, under his moustaches.
“ I'm sorry to hurt your feelings, then, but your pretty 'friend' never asked after you.” “I dare say not,” said Belle, complacently.
" Where a woman's most interested she's always quietest, and Geraldine”
“ Lady Vane begged me to tell you you will always be welcome over there, old fellows,” said Fairlie, remorselessly cutting him short.
“ Perhaps we shall find something to amuse us better than these stiltified Chapter dinners—Fern Chase is the name of the place—it's only three miles off here. I say, Nell, a pretty story I hear of you! So you were found kissing the girl that poured out the coffee at the Denisons' ball last night! What a shocking fellow you are! All Norwich is up in arms about it. We shall have the morals of the Twelfth most disad. vantageously contrasted with Ours if you don't take care.”
“Never did 'take care in my life, Colonel,” responded Little Nell, recklessly, who was a privileged person in the corps." Those fellows who are always taking care never get any fun at all. If I'd always been
taking care' not to get into scrapes when I was a little chap, I wonder how many orchards, and birds’-nests, and private pipes I should have enjoyed. "Pass the wine, Tom. By George! this sherry's as would-be as that 'South African of the Rev. Hildebrand's that he passes to you as rather good Sauterne, I fancy.'"
The Vanes of whom we talked were an uncommonly pleasant set of people whom we had known at Woolwich, where Vane, a Q.C., then hung out, his prospective baronetcy being at that time held by a third or fourth cousin, who, when we left Woolwich, had given no intimation of dying. Fairlie had known the family since his boyhood; there were four daughters, tall, graceful women, who had gained them their pickname among us of
The Swan and her Cygnets; and then there were twins, a boy of eighteen, who'd just left Eton, as mischievous a dog, except Little Nell, as ever lived; and the girl Geraldine, who had come home from school about six weeks before we came to Norwich, a charming young lady, who had been the belle of our last ball, whom Belle admired more warmly than that dandy often admired anybody besides himself, and whom Fairlie liked cordially, having had many a familiar bit of fun with her, as he had known her ever since he was a dashing cadet, and she made her debut in life in the first column of the Times. Her sisters were handsome women; but Geraldine was bewitching. She and her young imp of a brother were exactly alike. To his own immeasurable disgust he was called Pretty Face at Eton, and, on my life, when she put on his straw hat, and he her bonnet and cobweb lace veil, the delicate colouring, brilliant eyes, soft hair, and mischievous mouth, were so identical, that even bets might have been laid on which was the boy or the girl. A very pleasant family they
and a vast acquisition to us. Fern Chase was a capital place, and there was always some lark or other going on. Fairlie was no statue with the Vanes; he opened his lips to very good purpose when he chose, and silent as Doctor Coverdale's daughters and the rest of Norwich had found him, he was quite the contrary up at Fern Chase. Little Nell and Montague Vane (“ Pretty Face” being in a transition state from Eton to Ch. Ch.) struck up a fervent fraternisation. Miss Geraldine flirted to a certain extent with us all, but chiefly with the Colonel, whenever he was to be had, those two having a very free-and-easy, familiar, pleasant style of intercourse, owing to old acquaintance; and Belle spent two hours every evening on his toilette when we were going to dine, and vowed she was a "deuced pretty little puss. Perhaps she might-he wasn't sure, but perhaps (it would be a horrid sacrifice), if he was with her much longer, he wasn't sure she mightn't persuade him to take compassion upon her, he was so weak where women were concerned !"
“What a conceited owl!” said Fairlie, with a contemptuous twist of his moustaches and a shrug of his shoulders to me. “ If there is one thing more ridiculous to me than another, it is vanity; if a man has nothing better to be proud of than his beauty and his conquests, he must be very badly off indeed. I must say, if I were a woman, I shouldn't feel over-fattered by a lover who admired his own beauty first, and mine afterwards ; would you, Hardinge? Not that I pretend to understand women; Heaven forefend! they're a volume as difficult to read as black letter, and about as worthless trash when you've contrived to translate it.”
By which speech I argued that his old playmate Geraldine hadn't thrown hay over the Colonel, and been taught billiards by hirn, and ridden his bay mare over the park in her evening dress, without interesting him slightly; and that—though I don't think he knew it-he was deigning to be a trifle jealous of his Second Captain, the all-mighty conqueror Belle.
AN ADVERTISEMENT FOR A WIFE, AND WHAT WE ALL THOUGHT OF IT.
“What fools they must be that put in these things!" yawned Belle one morning, reading over his breakfast coffee and devil one of those
" advertisements for a wife” that one comes across sometimes in the papers, and that make us, like a good many other things, agree with Goldsmith:
Reason, they say, belongs to man,
“What fools they must be!" yawned Belle, wrapping his dressing-gown round him, and coaxing his perfumy whiskers under his velvet smokingcap. Belle was always inundated by smoking-caps in cloth and velvet, silk and beads, with blue tassels, and red tassels, and gold tassels, embroidered and filigreed, rounded and pointed; he had them sent to him by the dozen, and pretty good chaff he made of the donors. “ Awful fools! The idea of advertising for a wife, when the only difficulty a man has is to keep from being tricked into taking one. What I'd advertise for, if you like, is a sort of patent armour for protecting good-natured men from the attacks made upon them to beguile them into those worst sloughs of despond, family boots. But to advertise for a wife, when wives are as plentiful as oysters in October, and as unpalatable as the natives in May! Advertise for a wife! Good Heavens! if I were to do such a thing I should have scores of poor devils about me immediately, got up in their stiffest crinoline and their smallest bonnets, and hoping for preferment as fervently as the clergy, who remember one of their texts at the least, and never forget to set their affections on things above them. I bet you, if I advertised like this owl here, I should have a hundred answers ; and if it was known it was I.
“Little Geraldine's self for a candidate, eh ?” asked Tom Gower. He and I had just dropped in to talk over a trotting match between Belle's chesnut colt and a Norwich man's two-year-old, to come off the next Tuesday, for 100 sovs. “Very possibly," said Belle, with a self-complacent smile.
“ She's a fast little thing, don't check at much, and she's deucedly in love with me, poor little dear-almost as much trouble to me as Julia Sedley was last season.
That girl all but proposed to me; she did, indeed. Never was nearer coming to grief in my life. What will you bet me that, if I advertise for a wife, I don't hoax lots of women ?"
"I'll bet you ten pounds,” said I, “ that you don't hoax one !"
"Done !” said Belle, stretching out his hand for a dainty memorandum-book, gift of the identical Julia Sedley aforesaid, and entering the bet in it—" done! If I'm not asked to walk in the Close at noon and look out for a pink bonnet and a black lace cloak, and to loiter up the market-place till I come across a black hat and blue muslin dress; if I'm not requested to call at No. 20, and to grant an interview at No. 84; if I'm not written to by Agatha A. with hazel, and Belinda B. with black, eyes-all coming after me like flies after a sugar-cask, why you shall have your ten guineas, my boy, and my colt into the bargain. Come, write out the advertisement TomI can't, it's too much trouble ;