Графични страници
PDF файл

I am afraid, in the midst of his fine company, my poor friend appeared to be.

“ Indeed, the company seemed so to consider him, and when he saluted them, returned him but a slight recognition the men with a distant jerk of their chins, the women with a slight bend, instead of a courtesy; no shaking of hands, but all immediately turning away to talk to the sovereign lady. Lord Gayhurst, who, from not being admitted into the younger circle, (faute d'agrémens), himself wanted employment, was the only person who seemed disposed to converse with him.

“ All this engaged me during the four or five minutes which passed before I was presented, for which I prepared myself with due resignation, yet a little wondering at the delay. For Bostock, though so generally hearty in his manner, shewed no alacrity to perform this necessary ceremony. Indeed, the lady was obliged herself to force it on, and, coming to the place where I stood at her husband's elbow, said, in a loud, decided tone, but with a visible air of condescension, promising even to be one of protection if necessary, “You are Mr. Fothergill, I suppose, my husband's tutor formerly at Oxford. I have often heard him speak of you, and your visit will make him happy. Indeed, he often wants the society of an old friend of his own set, to talk of former days, which is what he can seldom do here among so many strangers. I am quite glad you have come, for it will put him in his element, and be a comfortable change for him.'

“ Having said this, she returned to her friends in the

circle she had left, who all seemed to admire her for such proper and amiable condescension.

To own the truth, she did it vastly well ; whether friend Bostock had reason to admire her too, especially when she talked of his being among strangers in the midst of his wife's family, is another question.

“When dinner was announced, being no stranger to the etiquette which prevails in fashionable life upon these occasions, I was curious to observe what would be the proceeding; and as I knew my own place, that is, that I had no place at all, I very quietly kept behind, watching the rest of the party.

“ And here I rather felt for my timid pupil. As master of the house, there could be no doubt of his duty, which was, to offer his arm to the lady of the highest rank. This was Lady Sophia Gayhurst, who probably, knowing what custom required, could not have refused it ; but seeing him rather falter, and uncertain what to do, she, nothing loath (indeed, very willingly), took the arm of a more lively and more decided personage, a well-dressed Mr. Wilmot, who stept in critically between her and Bostock, whom he thus threw out.

“ The worst was, that as all the other guests, in expectation of his escorting Lady Sophia, as a thing of course, had matched themselves, he was left without a mate, and instead of leading the van, brought up the rear, with me for a partner ;—nor was he relieved by hearing Lady Cherubina laughingly exclaim, “That is so like Bostock's awkwardness.'

“At dinner this little accident was not without its consequences; for Lady Sophia, having secured Mr. Wilmot, forgot that Bostock, as master of the house, had a sort of right to her as a neighbour, and scudding to the upper end of the table, seized a chair next to Lady Cherubina ; and this seemed so preferable an arrangement to the lady next in precedency, that she too abandoned the lord of the feast, and the rest following the example, he was left altogether without notice, with only myself and a brother clergyman, who happened to dine with us, for his supporters.

“ Though in reality this was a relief to him, as it delivered him from the irksomeness of talking to unwilling ears, I saw plainly that he was disconcerted; and he was certainly not consoled by his lady's remark from the other end of the table, that Lady Sophia had only properly punished him for his want of attention. At this Lady Sophia laughed, the other ladies giggled, and the laugh and the giggle were echoed by the male cousins, all men of determined fashion. Bostock had nothing left for it but to laugh too, which he did, rather awkwardly, and took refuge in carving; which, and being able to talk without restraint with two musty parsons, one on each side, consoled him in the end for the seemingly total neglect of the rest of the company.

“I own I felt outraged by this gross breach of good (which I have long found is by no means the same as fine) manners, for I need not tell you that the most distinguishing feature of genuine high-breeding is to shew the respect due to every one who has not forfeited it, and not to imagine that you can elevate

yourself by an affected contempt of others : those who do this are the real vulgar.

“ Having thus taken measure both of the lady of the house, and my fellow-guests, I gave my whole attention to where alone it was due, my forlorn friend, for such he seemed. After the ladies had retired, therefore, I suited myself to the seeming wishes of the young men, who preserved their distance at the other end of the table, by making no advance towards a junction with them.

“ Whether from timidity or resentment, Bostock seemed to have the same feeling, nor did he at all join in their conversation, though it was entirely engrossed by their prospect of sport in his different manors, of which they seemed to think him the mere trustee for their use. We, however, did not refuse the alliance of the old gouty Lord Gayhurst, who hobbled to us, glass in hand, so that between the young honourables and our party, though that of their host, like that between Lazarus and Dives, a great gulf seemed fixed. Admirable proof of high civilization !

“ The same boundary line that divided the ple. beian husband and his friends from his lady wife and her relations was marked out in the drawingroom, after we had rejoined the latter at coffee. Unwilling, I suppose, to interrupt the reminiscences of former days between her husband and me, Lady Cherubina left us entirely to ourselves, and this accommodating disposition being fully shared by all her cousins, male and female, we took refuge on a sofa, which seemed to have been left vacant for that purpose at the other end of the room.

“ Meantime my brother reverend, being equally ex- cluded, seized upon a splendid edition of the Conte Moraux, which lay open on the table, though he understood not a word of French, and devoured its fine plates for want of something to do. Bostock and I, therefore, were again left alone, as in a crowd, though in his own house.

You would have been annoyed at all this; your blood would have been up; you would have complained of rudeness, and what not. At your age, I might have done the same; at mine, such things are too properly appreciated to give uneasiness. There was no rudeness intended, though there was most entire indifference; and what right had a rusty college tutor to expect any thing else ? To be sure, as her husband's friend, her husband's guest, and in her hus band's house, which house was only hers through him, she might have shewn me a little more attention ; but as she shewed none at all to her husband, and all her friends followed her example, of what could I complain ?

“ In short, instead of a guest, I turned myself into a philosophic spectator of what was exhibiting, and in truth, it let me into a secret, or rather, confirmed me in a secret I had long suspected, that poor Bostock, the wharfinger's son, had reaped no happiness from his marriage with an earl's daughter.”

« ПредишнаНапред »