Page images

whom he had murdered!--With the brisk alacrity of Frenchmen, the attendants had heaped the ample hearth with flaming faggots, and covered a round table, placed in a nook beside it, with store of goodly flasks. Having learnt the visitor's pleasure as to the morrow, they closed the door, and left him to himself.

Haply when that great mystery-that miracle, past the heart of man to conceive" the illimitable, silent, never-resting thing called Time, rolling, rushing on, swift, silent, like an all-embracing ocean tide, on which we and all the universe swim like exhalations"-haply, I say, when the foundations of Time shall be revealed to us, so also shall be the fountains of its sister wonder, Thought. As yet, lived there sage who might say whence it came, or whither departed? Lo! it is with that pale and trembling man, who, with a burning draught, doth drain goblet after goblet of strong wine, as if it was the mountain rill. As he paces with a wild and doubtful step the narrow limits of the chamber, why is it that he pauses not, save to feed the hearth already so fiercely raging-or the goblet that ministers to his fiery thirst? He stays not to look into the parchments strewn over the floor, torn from those massive coffers that even his desperate strength had all but failed to force. Money, too,dies scattered around -gold, and jewels, and notes, whose value causes his head and senses to reel. Still, hour after hour, he plies his bootless toil-more wildly, as the wine does its office with his brain; hour after hour have worn away, and now to the lurid light of the chamber is added the crimson streak of dawn, struggling through the mist which clothes hill and valley. The solitary has thrown open the lattice doors that lead to the seaward lawn, perchance seeking in the dewy fragrance of early day an elixir which might dispel the heaviness that endureth for the night.

Fresh comes the pleasant air of the autumn morning from the bright chambers of the east, as yet hidden by the curtains of silvery vapour wherewith Tithonus surrounds the couch of his bride! The cool breeze bathes his burning forehead; with the clouds of night the darkness of his spirit passes away. The visions which brought such terror to his soul-they were but the baseless fabrics of fancy. He shakes off melancholy thoughts, like a giant refreshed; his heart once more beats freely. "Joy cometh with the morning." He had thrown open the lattice doors which led to the lawn, that sloped down to the shores of the small bay. On either side this lawn was girt by downs, that rolled backwards from it to the south and the west. As he gazed unconsciously along it, the mists, which lay in masses on the nills, were drawn up slowly from the valley; at first uncovering the turf whereon they had rested, and anon exposing the small objects above the surface. Slowly the mysterious pall of nature was removed -what hath it revealed to the solitary watcher, that freezes his blood and turns his thews and sinews to stone? Hath the greedy grave of ocean surrendered its prey? do the dead walk again, "with fifty mortal murders on their heads?" A form approaches; silent as the vapours that make its drapery, it glides towards him; the strong man shouts in the agony of his terror. The shape is within his reach. See! he dashes towards it-he grasps the air! He has fallen stark and stiff at its feet !





"The mellow autumn came, and with it came

The promised party to enjoy its sweets;
The corn is cut, the manor full of game,
The pointer ranges, and the sportsman beats
In russet jacket; lynx-like his aim-

Full grows his bag, and wonderful his feats.
Ah, nut-brown partridges! Ah, brilliant pheasants!
And ah, ye poachers! "Tis no sport for peasants."


[blocks in formation]


"Happy the man, whose wish and care

A few paternal acres bound,

Content to breathe his native air

On his own ground."

So wrote Pope at the age of twelve years. Thompson, too, talks of the happiness of that man who


"Drinks the pure pleasures of the rural life;" and in the same strain have very many others written, both in poetry and prose, to prove the advantages of a country over a town life: certainly nothing can exceed the delight of a well-appointed countryhouse. I will not particularize any one of the numerous merry homes" of England, where good old hospitality prevails-where the sports of the field are carried on with unabated ardour, and where we have one considerable advantage over our ancestors, namely, the power of enjoying the society of the fairer portion of the creation, without whom life would be wearisome; and who in our time have not their feelings outraged by the noisy mirth of the boisterous squire, or three-bottled man of olden days, making the welkin ring with clamorous toasts, tally-hos, and songs, and who, fuming with wine, reeled into the drawing-room, either to drop asleep or to render themselves disgusting by their coarse merriment.

Let me now attempt a slight sketch of a week's visit to . Park. I will not give it "a local habitation or a name," because I do not approve of personalities, or of abusing the hospitality of friends by trumpeting forth their sayings and doings to the public. One sample will, however, do for the whole. Presuming, then, that


Park is situated about sixty miles from the metropolis, I will imagine a fine bright autumnal morning in October--scene, London-time, eleven o'clock; the well-packed britchka is at the door; a pair of Newman's greys are pawing the wooden pavement, ready for a start; the ostler is buckling on the double-gun case; a crowd of urchins are assembled at the door; the careful valet places the writing-box and dressing-case under the seat, stuffs the side-pockets full with the morning papers, sheet calendars, stud-book, Turf Remembrancer, Sporting Review, and last new novels; the fur cloak, travelling clock, and cigar box, are now put into the carriage; in a moment the owner descends and enters it. "Make the best of your way, boys," cries the valet, mounting the rumble, half-a-crown is thrown into the ostler's hat, and away whirls the well-turned-out-carriage at the rate of ten miles an hour. Away! away! "Fresh horses are the word, and changed as quickly as hearts after marriage." Two o'clock arrives-you pull up at the gateway of some favoured hostelrie. The smiling landlord is at the door, the step is let down, a mutton chop and a glass of sherry are as speedily ready as they are discussed. Mine host orders another" hot and hot," which the waiter brings in between two burning plates; this well-bred specimen of the fraternity of "coming, sirs,' then retires; he has been forty years in the house, and has grown grey in the service; one good old-fashioned lesson he has learned, never to be in the way, or out of it when wanted. How unlike the modern slip-shod, Macassar-oiled-hair, white-waistcoated, hobbyde-hoyish waiters, who shuffle and slide about the room, fidget about the side-board, make a clattering of knives, forks, and plates, jingle the glasses, cry" coming, sir," as they leave your presence, never answer the bell until you have pulled the bell-rope down, and invariably make a point of making their appearance when you least require them. While on the subject of waiters, I cannot refrain from giving an anecdote, which actually occurred at a fashionable inn at Richmond. A gentleman and lady had arrived to dine and pass the day at that far-famed spot. In the absence of the head waiter, a young waiterette had taken the order for dinner, and had communicated it to the bar, where sat in all his glory, with a pint of beer cup before him, the very Nestor of waiters.

"The gent and his wife wish dinner punctually at seven," said the tyro.

"Gent and his wife!" responded the other-" wife! oh no, not by no means his wife-can always tell how that is."

"How so?" exclaimed the novice.

[ocr errors]

"Why, I'll tell you what it is, and how in future you can know the difference. When a gentleman comes to the house with a lady, and hollas Waiter! waiter! Is there no one in the house?'-pulls the bell down, and says, ' Get dinner-soup, fish, entrées, flesh, fowl, vegetables, pastry, lots of dessert, a bottle of sweet champagne, and your best claret!' you may depend upon it he's a-courting-the lady is his sweetheart or his ma'am. But when he quietly touches the bell, requests a little plain dinner-anything that is in the house-says 'Jephson does not recommend soup or fish,' and adds, Sarah, my love, as you don't drink wine, I'll have a glass of weak brandy-and

[ocr errors]

water, and never mind dessert, fruit is so unwholesome in these cholera days'-be assured he is lawfully joined in holy matrimony; the proof's infallible-there can't be no mistake."*

But to resume. The luncheon is over, the landlord has grumbled at the modern innovation-rail versus wheel; has pointed out how, when he was a young man, he had seen six or eight fours, and ten or a dozen pairs in one day, when now two pairs were looked upon as a good average. The bill is paid-the waiter feed-the valet has settled for the horses and gates-not so for his luncheon off the joint in the bar, with the landlady, who cannot think " of making any charge to such a gentleman's gentleman." He expresses his gratitude by drinking her health in a glass of her own cherry brandy; runs to the carriage the door is opened-his master ascends-the landlord doffs his hat-the landlady drops a curtsey-the waiter bows respectfully -the ostler rubs his head, with the joyous satisfaction at the promise of something being sent back for him. The post-boy having received the "office" from the last (five fingers held up, which in the road freemasonry means five shillings), drops his hand, and away you trot, amidst the injunctions of the master to his "lad," an antiquated veteran of at least fifty, "to make the best of his way." As the clock strikes six, one hour having been devoted to the luncheon, you drive up to the well-kept lodge. The gate is thrown open-in less than a mile you approach the house through a finely wooded park; the carriage stops at a grand baronial hall, a peel at the bell is given, and in a few seconds the doors are thrown open, and the butler, attended by a groom of the chambers, and a couple of tall, six-feettwo, powdered, pampered footmen, are in readiness to receive you. Ushered into the library, you find your host writing against time for the post. He gives you a hearty welcome, and hopes to show you some capital sport in the morning. Other guests are scattered about the room here may be seen one ensconced in an easy chair, evidently not a little fatigued with his morning's excursion through stubble fields and ploughed lands: there is another making up his book for the last October meeting, and offering liberal odds against any outsider for the next year's Derby. Round the fire are two individuals, evidently county members, who are discussing the corn laws, and abusing Cobden and Bright in no measured terms. The young man who has fallen asleep during the argument is, by his costume-French polished boots, gloves couleur de beurre frais-a London man, who, tired with his morning ramble with the ladies through the conservatories, orangeries, and flower gardens, and the afternoon argument about Polish wheat, bonded corn, twelve shilling duty, free trade, and the anti-bread-tax League, is now enjoying his siesta previous to the exertion of adorning himself. A party from the Tennis-court now appear, highly elated at having beaten the officers of the -th Hussars, quartered in the neighbouring barracks. The dressing bell is rung; the host orders the groom of the chambers to show you to your room;

I have introduced this anecdote, slightly embroidered, in a work of fiction; I now give it as it was communicated to me by a right reverend and merry" dean" -now, alas, no more-who overheard the instructive conversation at the Hotel, Richmond.

that excellent servant first asks you whether you like to take a bath before dinner. This might sound like a very equivocal compliment to some, who are what chambermaids call at inns, "nice, clean gentlemen, that make no splashing, and give no trouble;" but still it is the correct thing in a country house, to have warm, cold, and shower baths always in readiness, morning, noon, and night; in that sort of readiness that you may walk in and make your own bath at all hours, whether after arriving per railway mail, at four o'clock in the morning, or after the fatigue of a day's shooting or hunting. I got this "wrinkle" at one of the most beautiful as well as hospitable domains in auld Ireland-Inistiogue Park, county of Kilkenny, the seat of W. Tighe, Esq. To resume. Proceeding through passages and galleries adorned with the finest specimens of Vandyke, Titian, Rubens, Corregio, Murillo, Holbein, Guido, Rembrandt, Wouvermans, Kneller, and Lely, you reach your dormitory; it is a spacious apartment, unlike some of the "dog holes" that in ill-arranged houses you are thrust into, and which are called bachelor's roomsdens of twelve feet square, with smoky fires, and ill-shutting windows, thereby adding to the misery of "single wretchedness." Your toilet is made, your white neckcloth neatly tied, for black neckcloths are on the wane; "the tocsin of the soul;" the dinner bell sounds, and you descend to the drawing-room; there the well-bred hostess receives you with smiles of welcome; the folding doors are opened, and the pompous butler announces dinner. Unlike the injunction of Macbeth's "better" half, the company stand upon the order of their going, and selecting your partner in rank, you run the gauntlet through a line of liveried servants, the rear rank (as the soldiers have it) formed of gentlemen of lords and gentlemen.

"Great things were now to be achieved at table,

But what muse since Homer's, able

To draw up in array a single day bill

Of modern dinners?"

I shall not attempt it, but pass on to the evening, where music, dancing, billiards, cards, are the order of the night.

The party are now dropping off one by one. Byron,* after comparing the evaporation of a joyous day to the last glass of champagne, without the foam-to a system coupled with a doubt-to a soda bottle with its spirit out-to a billow without the animation of the windto an opiate which brings troubled rest or none, ends by declaring that there is nothing like it, except itself. I pass, therefore, over the "woe" of "undressing and dressing," and bring my readers to the breakfast table on the following morning.

There are few scenes more cheering or exhilirating than the social repast in a country house: "the bubbling and loud-hissing urn" on the side-table, by the side of which stand three out-of-livery Ganymedes, dispensing nectar in the shape of tea, coffee, cocoa, and chocolate-for in these days of refinement that remnant of barbarism, the hostess "tea-ing" (as Fanny Kemble calls it) her guests, is quite obsolete. The table is spread with rolls, bread (brown and white), cakes,

*Don Juan, canto xvi. v. 9, 10.

« PreviousContinue »