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"Hush, my dear, hush! don't make such a noise," rejoined Mrs. Blunt, soothingly, little doubting that her daughter, as was the fact, was now occupying her recent post of honour, listening.
"Well, well," growled the colonel, shaking his great cannon-ballshaped head, "it makes no odds who hears what I say-I tell you, woman, it's not credible-it's not credible-wouldn't believe it if you were to swear to it."
"Well," mused Mrs. Blunt, "it'll be difficult to persuade you-it'll be difficult to persuade you, I dare say."
"I know it will," growled the man of war, sousing himself on the old hired horse-hair sofa in a way that made it creak again; "(bad word) difficult," added he, hoisting his legs up.
"Don't 'xactly see why it should, though," rejoined Mrs. Blunt, meekly.
"Don't ye," growled the colonel—“ don't ye; devilish difficult to make me believe that a disreputable old dotard like that, who ought to be 'shamed to be seen out of his grave, is a goin' to commit matrimony." "Well, but Angelena assures me he does," asserted Mrs. Blunt.
"She's mistaken, I tell ye," snarled the colonel; "she's mistakendoesn't know her man."
"He's offered to her certainly," replied Mrs. Blunt, boldly.
"Offered to her!" exclaimed the colonel, startled at the information ; "offered to her!" repeated he—" how, when, where?"
"Well, he's just been here," observed Mrs. Blunt, handing the colonel a card.
"Humph!" grunted the monster, taking and eyeing it. "Humph!" repeated he, dropping it down, with a-" what did he say ?"
"Oh, why (hem)-I wasn't (hem) present to (cough) hear 'xactly, that's to say-but (cough, hem, cough)-I know he's offered."
"Don't believe it," fumed the colonel again—“ don't believe a word of it, (bad word) me if I do."
"Well, you may," replied Mrs. Blunt, significantly.
"May believe a vast of things, if I'm fool enough," retorted the gallant officer; "believe black's white, if I like, but I won't. I'll tell ye how it'll be," continued he; "I'll tell ye how it'll be," repeated he, raising his stentorian voice; "you'll make a mess of it atween ye as sure as you're born-it'll be a reg'lar case of two stools—she'll never get him, and she'll lose Tom Hall to a certainty, and then I shall have to hand over the cheque for the mare, and there'll be no end of bother with the Christmas bills, and I don't know what," continued he, throwing out his right fin in a fury at the thought.
"Well, but you surely wouldn't have her throw away the chance ?" observed Mrs. Blunt.
"Don't believe she has a chance. Don't believe the man has the slightest intention of anything of the sort," replied the colonel. "He's a reg'lar bad old goat-always has been-always will be. He's as wicked an old man as ever walked-don't know a worse.
Well, but he may mend," replied Mrs. Blunt, who never despaired of the men, provided they had plenty of money.
"Mend! (bad word) him; he's too bad to mend-too bad for anything, 'cept a halter. Pretty thing it would be to lose Hall, with all his
nice comfortable independence-'specially after the old usurer and I have talked matters over- -for the chance of gettin' sich an arrant old deceiver as that—a man whose very name is a by-word in society."
Well, but Hall could be easily manished," replied Mrs. Blunt; "there's nothin' bindin' there, you know."
"Nothin' bindin'!" ejaculated the colonel, flaring up-" nothin' bindin'! Is the honour of an English officer's daughter nothin'?"
"Well, but Tom may change his mind, you know," observed Mrs. Blunt; "indeed, they do say he's gone to Carol Hill Green, and you may rely upon it he's not asked there for nothin'."
"Carol Hill Green, is he?" replied the colonel, staring, and dryshaving his great chin-" Carol Hill Green, is he?" repeated he, considering how that would cut with regard to the cheque. Laura was the toast of the mess, and Tom Hall was under age, and altogether the colonel began to be uneasy, and to see things differently. If the Guineafowles caught Hall, Angelena was regularly thrown over; for Jug would never be worth looking after for any one-at least, not unless a whole row of other Jugs were disposed of. The colonel was inclined to pause. Perhaps the Heartycheer spec. might be worth consideration after all.
"Well, but what makes you think he's offered ?" asked the colonel, in a more pacific tone.
"Think!" replied Mrs. Blunt-"think!" repeated she. "Why (hem-cough-hem), because, in the fust place, Ângelena says he did; and in the second place (cough-hem-cough), I overheard as much as makes me think so too."
"You did, did you?" replied the colonel, staring wide his bloodshot eyes-"you did, did you?" repeated he; adding, "that alters the case." "Yes," said Mrs. Blunt, "I was in our room, you see, lookin' over the washin', and I heard kissin' goin' on, so I stopped and listen'd, and distinctly heard the words, 'When shall it be, then?—when shall it be?' repeated several times, and then there was kissin' again; indeed, I saw it through the crack in the wainscot."
Humph!" mused the colonel, pondering it over. The man was old -old certainly; but then there was a saying, that there is no fool like an old fool, and more improbable things had happened. Might mean to take up, and reform-fresh man, though he was old, and age, after all, went more by constitution than by years; just as a horse, after a certain time of life, was to be judged more by his legs than his teeth. Then he thought what a fine thing it would be if Angelena did get him. What a dashing countess she would make! How he would have a room at the castle, and luxuriate on fat slices of venison, peaches, and wall-fruit without end. He wasn't sure that he wouldn't leave the army, and go and live there altogether.
And Mrs. Blunt, having sworn the colonel to secrecy at all events, sworn him not to mention the subject to Angelena until she gave him leave-chimed in with him in discussing all the pros and cons, and expatiating on the magnificence of the prospect, mingled with occasional digressional speculations what Mrs. Vainfield, Mrs. Mouser, and Miss Quiz would think, and wished that she could see the Empress of Morocco's face when she heard it. Mrs. Blunt was dying to be at her cream-laid note-paper, announcing the fact to all old friends and acquaintance.
So things gradually got into a more encouraging match-making mood,
though when the colonel heard of the projected excursion to the castle with Jug, he put his foot upon it at once, unless Mrs. Blunt accompanied them; and, after various ingenious efforts to shake off the old lady, Angelena was at length obliged to submit to be driven over, habited and garibaldied, in the old jingling mail-phaeton with posters, instead of cantering joyfully there with the cornet, who occupied a place in the rumble. And now, having got them so far advanced on their interesting excursion, we will take a peep at Lord Heartycheer's preparations for their reception.
"WELL, Dicky," said his lordship, in high glee to his peculiar-dutied huntsman, as they jogged homewards together after a capital run, with a kill, from Honeyball Hill, in which his well-mounted lordship had distinguished himself, as usual-"well, Dicky, d'ye think you can manage us a quiet bye on Wednesday?"
Rayther quick, I fear, my lord-rayther quick," replied Dicky, with a half-supplicatory look; "these hounds 'll go into a very small compass to-night," added he, looking down on the somewhat lagging pack as he spoke.
Well, but you could manage us something that would pass muster with a lady, at all events," observed his lordship, with a smile.
"Oh, certainly, by all means," rejoined Dicky, brightening up-" certainly-might take out a mixed pack for that matter, with a few of these we don't care much about; Lazarus there, for instance, and Lapwig, and Flasher; Benedict, too, might go, and Dangerous, also Royalty and Ferryman, and Baronet and Harbinger; oh yes," added he, "we'll soon make up a lady's pack."
"I'll tell you what I want, then," said his lordship, thinking it better to make a confidant of Dicky at once-"I'll tell you what I want," said he, sidling his horse alongside of Dicky's; "you see, Miss Blunt, the colonel's daughter, is coming over to have a quiet hunt on the sly, and I want to arrange matters so as to have as much of her society as possible -you understand, eh ?"
"Jest so," replied Dicky, who was an adept at amatory matters-" jest so," repeated he. "Well, then, I was thinking," said he, after a pause, "the best plan will be to have it near home-say at Lovejoy Grove, or Kiss-me-quick Hill-and then she could come in when she tired, you know, poor thing-she could come in, you know, when she's tired, you know."
"That's just my idea," exclaimed his lordship—"that's just my idea; have a little luncheon, show them the pictures, and things, and then have things ready to turn out just when we like."
"By all means," assented Dicky, with a touch of his сар. "Keep it snug, you know," observed his lordship, with a wink. "By all means, my lord," assented Dicky. "Shall we go in mufty or hunting things?" asked he, looking at his own smartly-fitting scarlet.
"Oh-why-ha-hem-haw-let me see," mused his lordship, thinking how it would act. "Perhaps," said he, after a pause-" perhaps the best plan will be to give exercising orders, and then change all of a sudden, so that it mayn't ooze out that we are going to hunt.”
"By all means," assented Dicky, with another touch of his cap; adding, "there are people who come out on by-days who don't come out on no other, jest, I believe, for the sake of appearin' knowin'.”
"There are,” replied his lordship-" there are ;" adding, "monstrous bores they are, too; however, we'll trick them this time. Have all things ready, you know, to suit either order."
"By all means," assented Dicky.
"And tell Spurrier to exercise Lady Jane in a side-saddle, with a rug, you know, like a habit-Miss Blunt will ride her; and tell him to have a steady horse for Captain Jug, say old Solomon, or Brick's brown-❞ "By all means, my lord," again assented Dicky, and the Cherryfield and Nutworth Chase cross-roads here intervening, his lordship availed himself of the open for mounting his hack and cantering off homewards, leaving the complaisant Dicky to follow with the hounds.
"CON FOUND it! I do believe there's that nasty old woman coming," exclaimed his lordship, as, having got himself up in his most killing attire, he raked the distant sweeps of the long-winding approach with a strong-sighted telescope from his sumptuously-furnished dressingroom in the western tower. Coming, by Jove!" repeated he, in an agony of despair, after taking a second look, and seeing the now grinning Mrs. Blunt, decked out like a cockatoo in all the colours of the rainbow. "Well, con-found it," continued he, swinging himself furiously into the room, and upsetting a chair as he caught it with his spur66 con- found it, but that's the stoopidest, most asinine thing I ever knew done in the whole course of my life;" and thereupon he slapped his forehead and white cords in an agony of despair.
He knew what it was to have an old woman coupled with a young one. While yet he meditated irresolutely what to do, the deep-sounding notes of the door-bell announced the arrival, and he hurried off almost mechanically to meet them.
My dear Mrs. Blunt! my dear Mrs. Blunt! I'm charmed-I'm overjoyed to see you!" exclaimed the old peer, meeting her in the middle of the spacious entrance-hall, which the old lady was surveying in a very ownership sort of way. "This is, indeed, an unexpected, a most gratifying pleasure," continued he, seizing both her sky-blue, red-back stitched gloved hands, and shaking them cordially. Then, glancing onwards, he exclaimed, "And the lovely Lady Angelena!" to our fair, sprucely-habited garibaldied friend, who contrived to show his diamond pin in her delicate pink and white neckerchief-" and the lovely Lady Angelena," repeated he, to the delight of both mother and daughter, as he now seized the ungloved hand of the latter. And Jug, my dear Jug!" continued he, addressing him, too, with the utmost glee, as the queerly put-on cornet stood a little behind the dirty mass of ermine, pea-green hat, and pinktipped white feathers, that enveloped the now joint-stock mother-in-law. Then, turning to Old Mother Hubbard again, his lordship [offered her his red-coated arm, and, preceded by a highly-scented, luxuriantlywhiskered groom of the chamber, and two gigantic, quivering-calved footmen, they entered a sumptuous sky-blue satined drawing-room,
radiant with mirrors, gilding, and ornaments from all parts of the globe. "Come to the fire, my dear Mrs. Blunt," continued his lordship, leading her towards the first one, for the room was large enough to require twocome to the fire, my dear Mrs. Blunt, for there's a coolness in the air, and you must have felt in your phaeton, though," glancing ardently at Angelena, "it seems to have agreed with mademoiselle, who really looks quite bewitching," his lordship wishing he could put the old curiosity up the chimney, or anywhere else, to get rid of her.
"You've a beautiful-a splendid place here, certainly, my lord," simpered Mrs. Blunt, staring about her in bewilderment, and thinking what a set down it was for her daughter.
"Glad you like it ma'am-glad you like it," bowed the gallant old cock; "hope you'll come and stay here very often."
"I'm sure I shall be most happy," replied the matter-of-fact mammain-law.
"And the colonel, my old friend the colonel," continued his lordship, getting desperate, thinking, as it was over shoes, it might as well be over boots too.
Oh, the colonel! I'm sure the colonel 'll be happy, too—nothin' he likes so much as a quiet billet i' the country."
His lordship bowed again, thinking he would be very sly if he got one there.
"Never thought to see the place under such (hem) circumstances," simpered Mrs. Blunt, now unfolding one of her daughter's best lacefringed kerchiefs.
Angelena, seeing her mamma was approaching tender ground, exclaimed, with glance out of a deeply mullioned window in an apparently impregnable wall, "What a lovely dye it is!"
Charming!" exclaimed the old peer-" charming;" adding, “ shall we have a saunter round the terrace-into the garden-or would you prefer seeing the pictures first? Perhaps you'd prefer seeing the pictures first, continued he, adding, as he spoke, "I'll ring for Mrs. Mansell-I'll ring for Mrs. Mansell."
The lady so designated was the housekeeper, now somewhat advanced in life, but still retaining symptoms of the beauty that recommended her to his lordship, and raised her from the dairy to the head of the establishment.
Considering the questionable nature of her services, and the sort of people with whom she had to deal, Mrs. Mansell was a very respectablelooking person; and it was not until visited with the scrutinising search of male eyes that the wince of deviation was apparent.
But though she was most decorous and respectful to all the guests before his lordship's face, treating them as if she thought they were what the servants call " quite quality," she took her change out of them behind his back, and let them see what she really thought of them.
"Well, I s'pose you'll be wantin' to see all the ins and outs of our place?" observed she, as, having received mamma and miss from his lordship, she led the way across the spacious entrance-hall-" I s'pose you'll be wantin' to see all the ins and outs of our place ?" adding, generally like to poke their noses into all the holes and corners they can." "We want to see the castle, certainly," replied Mrs. Blunt, bridling up,