chapter < | THE MYSTERIES OF
LONDON [Vol. II]
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Major Anderson was engaged in relating his terribly impressive history to the
Prince of Montoni, Lord Dunstable and Egerton were in earnest conversation
together at the lodgings of. the latter gentleman in Stratton Street.
The fact was, that Albert Egerton was placed in a most
cruel dilemma, as the following note, which he had received in the morning, will
'Pavement, March 28th, 1841.
'A month has passed, dear Albert, since I saw you; and
you promised to come and see us as soon as you had finished your little business
about buying the estate. But you have not come; and me and the girls are quite
non-plushed about it. So I tell you what we've made up our minds to do. Next
Monday is a holiday; and we intend to hire a shay and go and see your new
estate. But as we don't know where it is, we shall of course want you to go with
us; and so you may expect us next Monday, as I say, at eleven o'clock precise.
Now mind and don't disappoint us; because we've all made up our minds to go. and
we won't take any refusal. If you can't go, why then we'll go by ourselves; so
in that case send us the proper address, and a note to the servants. You see
that mc and the girls are quite determined; so no excuse,
"Your loving aunt,
"What the deuce is to he done?" asked Egerton
for the tenth time since the arrival of his friend.
"Egad! I really am at a loss to advise, my dear
boy," replied Dunstable. "The affair is so confoundedly ticklish.
Can't you write and put them off?"
"Impossible!" exclaimed Egerton: "you see
how determined they are. Even if I were to apologise for not accompanying them,
how could I refuse to give them the address of a country-seat which they so
firmly believe me to possess?"
"Then write and say that, finding the house did not
suit you after all, you have sold it again," suggested Dunstable.
"My aunt would see through the thing in a
moment," returned Egerton. "Besides, she is intimate with Storks, my
stock-broker, and would learn from him that I had not bought in any money
lately; but, on the contrary, had been selling out. I really must do
something-even if I hire a country house for the purpose."
"Ah! that might be done!" cried Dunstable.
"Or, stay!" he continued, a sudden idea striking him: "I have
it — I have it, my dear boy!"
And his lordship seemed as overjoyed as if he himself
were the individual who was unexpectedly released from a serious difficulty.
"Do not keep me in suspense," said Egerton,
imploringly: "what is it that you have thought of?"
"I'll tell you in as few words as possible, my
boy," returned the nobleman. "It was about two years ago that I passed
a short time at a place not far from London, called Ravensworth Hall. It is a
splendid mansion, and has been shut up almost ever since that period. Lady
Ravensworth is living somewhere on the continent, in great seclusion, and I
happen to know that there is only an old gardener, with his wife, residing at
"But I cannot understand how anything you are [-373-]
now telling me bears reference to my difficulty," observed Egerton,
"Why — don't you see?" ejaculated
Lord Dunstable, slapping his friend upon the shoulder. "The gardener and
his wife will not decline a five-pound note; and I dare say they are not so
mighty punctilious as to refuse to allow you to call yourself the master of
Ravensworth Hall for one day. What do you think of that ideal"
"I think it is most admirable," returned
Egerton, his countenance brightening up — "If it can only be
carried into execution."
"Will you leave it all to me?" asked Dunstable.
"I cannot possibly do better," replied Egerton.
"But remember — there is no time to lose. This cursed letter
must be answered to-day, or to-morrow morning at latest."
"I will ride out to Ravensworth as quickly as a
thorough-bred can take me thither," said Dunstable, rising to depart.
"At seven o'clock this evening I'll meet you to dine at Long's; and by that
time all shall be satisfactorily arranged, I can promise you."
Egerton wrung his friend's hand; and the nobleman had
already reached the door of the room, when he turned back as if a sudden
recollection had struck him, and said, "By the way, my dear boy, have you
any cash in the house? I must make a certain payment in the neighbourhood before
I go; and my agent in the country has been infernally slow lately in sending up
the rents of my estate."
Lord Dunstable's estate was one of those pleasing
fictions which exhibit the imaginative faculties of so many members of the
aristocracy and gentry residing at the West End of London.
"Oh! certainly," was Egerton's prompt answer
to the question put to him. "I have some four or five hundred pounds in my
pocket-book. How much do you require?"
"Four hundred pounds will just make up the amount I
have to pay," said Dunstable; and having received that sum in Bank-notes,
he took his departure, humming an opera air.
It is not necessary to detail the particulars of the
young nobleman's visit to Ravensworth Hall: suffice it to say that he was
completely successful in his proposed arrangements with the gardener, and that
he communicated this result to his friend Egerton at Long's Hotel in the
evening. Chichester, Cholmondeley, and Harborough were let into the secret; and
they insisted upon joining the party.
Accordingly, on the following day Egerton sent a
favourable reply to his aunt's letter; but his conscience reproached him — deeply
reproached him, for the cheat which he was about to practise upon his confiding
and affectionate relative.
For, in spite of the dissipated courses which he was
pursuing, — in spite of the gratification which his pride received
from the companionship of his aristocratic acquaintances, — in spite
of the lavish extravagance that marked his expenditure, this young man's good
feelings were not altogether perverted; and it required but the timely
interposition of some friendly hand to reclaim him from the ways that were
hurrying him on to ruin!
The Monday fixed upon for the excursion arrived; and at
eleven o'clock in the forenoon a huge yellow barouche, commonly called "a
glass-coach," rattled up to the door of Mr. Egerton's lodgings in Stratton
Street. The driver of this vehicle had put on his best clothes, which were,
however, of a seedy nature, and gave him the air of an insolvent coachman; and
the pair of horses which it was his duty to drive seemed as if they had been
purchased at least six months previously by a knacker who had, nevertheless,
mercifully granted them a respite during pleasure.
Egerton's countenance became as red as scarlet when this
crazy equipage stopped at his door: but his four friends, who were all posted at
the windows of his drawing-room, affected to consider the whole affair as
"a very decent turn-out;" and thus the young man's mind was somewhat
By the side of the seedy coachman upon the box sate a
tall, thin, red-haired young man, dressed in deep black, and with his
shirt-collar turned down, over a neckerchief loosely tied, after the fashion of
Lord Byron. The moment the glass-coach stopped in Stratton Street, down leapt
the aforesaid seedy coachman on one side, and the thin young man on the other;
and while the seedy coachman played a nondescript kind of tune upon the knocker
of the house, the young gentleman proceeded to hand out first Mrs. Bustard, and
then her five daughters one after the other.
This being done, and Egerton's tiger having thrown open
the front door, the thin young man offered one arm to Mrs. Bustard and the other
to Miss Clarissa Jemima Bustard, and escorted them into the house, the four
remaining young ladies following in a very interesting procession indeed.
Egerton hastened to welcome his relatives; but from the
first moment that he had set his eyes upon the red-haired young man, he had
entertained the most awful misgivings; — and those fears were fully
confirmed when Mrs. Bustard introduced that same young man by the name of
"Mr. Tedworth Jones, the intended husband of Clarissa Jemima."
The son and heir of the wealthy tripeman tendered a hand
which felt as flabby as tripe itself; and Miss Clarissa Jemima was under the
necessity of blushing deeply at her mamma's allusion to her contemplated change
Egerton gave Mr. Tedworth Jones the tip of his
fore-finger, and then conducted the party up stairs to the drawing-room, where
the ceremony of introducing his City relatives to his West End friends took
Lord Dunstable was most gallant in claiming Mrs. Bustard
as "an old acquaintance;" and he even overcame his aristocratic
prejudices so far as to shake hands with Mr. Tedworth Jones. Then the young
ladies were introduced in due order; and, though they giggled with each other a
great deal, and were dressed in very flaunting colours, they were all very
good-looking; and this circumstance rendered Lord Dunstable, Sir Rupert
Harborough, Colonel Cholmondeley, and Mr. Chichester particularly agreeable
"Well!" exclaimed Mrs. Bustard, throwing
herself into an arm-chair, and wiping the perspiration from her fat face,
"we really was scrooged up in that shay — "
"Glass-coach, mamma," said Miss Susannah
"Never mind the name, my dear," returned Mrs.
Bustard. "Your poor father always called it a shay; and he couldn't have
been wrong. But, as I was a-saying, how we was squeeged up, to be [-374-]
sure! Six of us inside, and obleeged to sit on each other's knees."
"That will be just the very thing, madam, to render
the trip more agreeable," said Mr. Chichester, with an affable smile.
"Provided the old lady doesn't sit on my
knees," whispered Sir Rupert Harborough to Colonel Cholmondeley.
But Mr. Chichester's observation had made all the young
ladies giggle, with the exception of Miss Clarissa Jemima, who blushed, and
whispered to Mr. Jones something about such a remark being very unpleasant for a
person "in her situation." Mr. Jones cast a sentimental glance upon
his intended, and sighed very poetically as he assured Miss Clarissa that she
was "a hangel."
"How are we going, Al dear!" asked Mrs.
Bustard, after a pause; "and how far off is it? because I don't think the
cattle in our shay are any very great shakes."
"On the contrary, aunt, I am afraid they are very
great shakes indeed," replied Egerton, with a miserable attempt at a joke.
"But I think you will approve of the arrangements made."
"Oh! yes-I am sure of that," hastily
interposed Lord Dunstable, who perceived that his young friend was very far from
happy. "Your nephew's establishment is not prepared for his reception yet;
but we have done all we could to make you and your amiable daughters
comfortable. Materials for an elegant collation were sent out yesterday; and my
four-in-hand and the Colonel's phaeton, in addition to your glass-coach, will
convey us all in a very short time to your nephew's country seat."
Scarcely were these words uttered when the four-in-hand
and the phaeton alluded to, dashed up the street; and the tiger entered to
announce their arrival.
Egerton immediately offered his arm to his aunt, well
knowing that if he did not take care of her no one else would: Mr. Tedworth
Jones escorted his intended; Lord Dunstable took one of the young ladies under
his protection; and the three others of course fell respectively to the lot of
Colonel Cholmondeley, Sir Rupert Harborough, and Mr. Chichester.
A fair and equitable distribution of the party took
place between the three vehicles; and the cavalcade moved rapidly away in a
northern direction, Mrs. Bustard assuring her nephew "that it was quite a
blessing to get rid of so much scrooging and squeeging as she had previously
The gentlemen were very agreeable, and the young ladies
very amiable — although they every now and then simpered and giggled
without much apparent cause; but then it must be recollected that they suddenly
found themselves for the first time in their lives in the company of a Lord, a
Baronet, and two Honourables, one of whom moreover was a Colonel.
The day was very fine: the air was as mild as If It were
the month of May instead of March; and the whole party were in excellent
spirits — for even Egerton recovered his natural gaiety when he saw
that the affair was likely to pass off without any of those annoyances which he
had feared would arise from the collision of Finsbury denizens and West End
At length the open country was gained; and in due time
the stately pile of Ravensworth Hall appeared in the distance. Nothing could
equal the gratification which Mrs. Bustard and the five Misses Bustard
experienced when the edifice was pointed out to them as Egerton's country-seat;
and, without pausing to reflect how incompatible were his means with such a
grand mansion, they felt no small degree of pride at the idea of claiming the
proprietor of Ravensworth Hall as their own near relation.
"What a beautiful place!" whispered Miss
Clarissa to Mr. Jones, who would insist on keeping her hand locked in his during
the whole ride.
"Charming, dearest — charming!"
replied the enamoured swain; "and so are you."
Miss Clarissa blushed for the thirtieth time that
morning; and, as if the squeeze of the hand which Mr. Jones gave her as a proof
of his undivided affection were not sufficient, he planted his boot upon her
foot at the same time.
This is, however, so common a token of love in all
civilised and enlightened countries, that Miss Clarissa Jemima received it as
such, although the tender pressure somewhat impaired the snow-white propriety of
"Oh! what an immense building!" exclaimed Miss
Susannah Rachel Bustard, as the three carriages now swept through Ravensworth
"Gigantic!" said another Miss Bustard.
"Very stupendous, indeed, ladies," observed
Colonel Cholmondeley, who was seated in the same vehicle with two of Mrs.
Bustard's fair daughters.
"And so this great large edifisk is yours, my dear
Al!" said the good lady herself, as she thrust her head from the window of
the glass-coach, and surveyed the building with ineffable satisfaction.
"But what a sight of chimbleys it has, to be sure!"
"Because it has a great number of rooms,
aunt," replied Egerton.
"What sweet balconies!" cried the enraptured
"Yes," said Egerton: "and they will look
very handsome when all the shutters are opened and the windows are filled with
flowers and evergreens."
"Oh! to be sure," exclaimed Mrs. Bustard,
joyfully. "Well, really, it is a most charming place; and I never did see
such lovely chimbley-pots in all my life. Quite picturesque, I declare!"
The three carriages now stopped before the entrance of
the Hall; and Lord Dunstable's lacquey gave a furious ring at the bell.
In a short time one of the folding-doors was slowly
opened to a distance of about a foot, and an old man, wearing a strange brown
wig surmounted by a paper cap, thrust his head forth. Then, having surveyed the
party with a suspicious air for some moments, he opened the door a little wider
and revealed the remainder of his form.
"Come, my good fellow," ejaculated Dunstable,
as he rushed up the steps; "don't you know your new master, who is just
handing that lady out of the glass-coach?"
This was intended as a hint to make the gardener aware
of the particular individual who was to be passed off as the owner of
"Oh! ah!" said the man, in a drawling tone, as
he took off the paper cap, and made a bow to the company; "I sees him, and
a wery nice gentleman he is, I've no doubt. But I hope he'll ex-keoze me for not
opening the gate at fust, because — "
"Because, I suppose," hastily interposed
Dunstable, "you did not know who we all were."
[-375-] "No, that I
didn't," continued the old man; "and I'm desperate afeard of
"Thieves!" cried Lord Dunstable:
"what — in the broad day-light, and riding in carriages?"
"Lor, sir," said the gardener, turning a quid
of tobacco from one side of his mouth to another, so that a swelling which at
first appeared in his left cheek was suddenly transferred to the right; "me
and my old 'ooman is wery lonesome in this great place; and we've heerd such
strange stories about the tricks of thieves, that we never know what shape they
may take a fancy to come in."
Dunstable cut short the old man's garrulity by inquiring
if the baskets, that were sent on the previous day, had arrived; and, on
receiving a round-about reply in the misty verbosity of which he perceived an
affirmative, the nobleman desired Egerton to do the honours of his new mansion.
"My good man," said Mr. [sic] Bustard,
advancing in a stately fashion towards the gardener, who had replaced the paper
cap on his head, and had tucked up his dirty apron, so that it looked like a
reefed sail hanging to his waist — "my good man, what is your
name? I don't ask through imperent curiosity; but only because I am the aunt of
your new master, and all them young ladies is my daughters, your new master's
first cousins in consequence; and it's more than likely that we shall pay a many
visits to the Hall. So it is but right and proper that we should know by what
name we're to call you."
The gardener was a little, shrivelled, stolid-looking
old man; and there was something so ludicrous in the way in which he stared at
Mrs. Bustard as she thus addressed him, that Cholmondeley and Chichester were
compelled to turn aside to prevent themselves from bursting into a roar of
"My good fellow," said Dunstable, hastening
forward to the rescue-for Egerton was trembling like a leaf through the fear of
exposure, — "this lady puts a very proper question to you; but
of course her nephew, your new master, is able to answer."
"Well, now!" cried Mrs. Bustard, struck by
this observation; "and I never thought of asking Albert! Why, it's nat'ral
that one should know the proper names of one's own servants."
"To be sure," said Lord Dunstable, hastily;
"and possibly this worthy man's name is — is — ahem!"
"Oh! yes," observed Egerton, in a faint tone,
"his name is — "
"Squiggs is my name, ma'am," said the
gardener: "leastways, that's the name I've bore these nine-and-sixty
blessed years past, come next Aperil — Abraham Squiggs at your
service. And now that I've told you my name, ma'am, p'rhaps you'll be so
obleeging as to tell me your'n?"
But Dunstable hastened to cut short this somewhat
disagreeable scene, — which, by the way, never would have occurred,
had he adopted the precaution of previously ascertaining the name of the
gardener, — by desiring Mr. Abraham Squiggs to lead the way into the
drawing-room prepared to receive the company.
This request was complied with; and the old man slowly
proceeded up the marble staircase, followed by the whole party.
Mrs. Bustard and her daughters were highly delighted at
the splendid appearance of the mansion; and their joy was expressed by repeated
exclamations of "Beautiful!" — "Charming!" — "Quite
a palace!" — "Well, I never!" — "Oh!
the sweet place!" — and other sentences of equally significant
"And this here mansion has seen a many strange
things," said the old gardener, as he admitted the company into a handsome
apartment, the shutters of which were open: "this wery room is the one
where Mr. Gilbert Vernon throwed his-self out of winder about two years
"Threw himself out of the window!" cried Mrs.
Bustard; "and what did he do that for?"
"To kill his-self, ma'am," answered the old
man. "I wasn't here at the time. I'd gone down into the country to see a
garden that a friend o' mine manured with some stuff that he bought in ajar at
the chemist's — about a pint of it to a acre. Ah! it's a wonderful
thing, to be sure, to be able to carry manure enow for a whole garden in your
veskit-pocket, as one may say."
"But you was speaking about a gentleman who threw
himself out of the window?" said Mrs. Bustard, impatiently.
"Ah! so I were," continued the gardener.
"It was told in the newspapers at the time; but no partickler cause was
given. Oh! there was a great deal of mystery about all that business; and I
don't like to say much on it, 'cos Mr. Vernon is knowed to walk."
"Known to walk!" exclaimed several of the
ladies and gentlemen, all as it were speaking in one breath.
"Yes," returned the gardener, with a solemn
shake of the head: "Gilbert Vernon sleeps in a troubled grave; and his
sperret wanders about the mansion of a night. If it wasn't that me and my wife
is old and friendless, and must go to the workus if we hadn't this place, we'd
not sleep another night in Ravensworth Hall."
"Why, my dear Al!" ejaculated Mrs. Bastard,
casting a terrified glance around, although the sun was shining gloriously and
pouring a flood of golden lustre through the windows, — "you
have gone and bought a haunted house, I do declare!"
"How charmingly poetical!" whispered the
tripe-man's son to Miss Clarissa Jemima: "only think, dearest-a haunted
"Yes, Tedworth — I do indeed
think — "
"What? beloved one!" asked the sentimental
"That I hope we shall leave it before it grows
dusk," returned the young lady, who evidently saw nothing poetical in the
matter at all.
"My dear aunt," said Egerton, in reply to the
observation which his relative had addressed to him, "I am not so silly as
to be frightened by tales of ghosts and spirits; and I would as soon sleep in
this room as in any other throughout the mansion."
"No, you wouldn't, young man — no,
indeed, you wouldn't!" exclaimed the gardener, in so earnest and impressive
a manner that the young ladles huddled together like terrified lambs, and even
the gentlemen now began to listen to the old man with more attention than they
had hitherto shown: "I say, sir, that you would not like to sleep in this
room — for, as sure as there is a God above us, have me and my wife
seen the sperret of Gilbert Vernon standing at dusk in that very balcony which
be throwed his-self from."
"Dear! dear!" whispered all the young ladies
[-376-] "And what was
he like?" asked Mrs. Bustard.
"Why, ma'am," returned the gardener, "he
was dressed all in deep black; but his face were as pale as a corpse's; and when
the moonbeams fell on it, me and my wife could see that it was the face of a
dead man as well as I can see e'er a one of you at this present speaking."
"Egad! you have bought a nice property, Egerton,"
said Lord Dunstable, turning towards his young friend. "I shall propose
that we return to London again before it grows dusk."
"Decidedly — since you are so
disposed," returned Egerton, who was rejoiced to think that the old
gardener had started a topic so well calculated to frighten his aunt and cousins
away from the Hall some hours earlier than they might have otherwise been
induced to leave it.
"'Pon my honour, all this is vastly
entertaining!" exclaimed Sir Rupert Harborough. "But how long ago was
it that you saw the ghost, my good friend?"
"How long ago?" repeated the old man, slowly:
"why, I have seen it a matter of fifty — or, may be a hundred
times. The fust time, me and my wife was together: we had been across the fields
to a farm-house to get some milk, butter, and what not; and we was a-coming home
through the Park, when we see a dark object in the balcony there. My wife
looks — and I looks — and sure enow there it were. — 'What
do you think it is?' says she. — 'I think it's a thief,' says
I. — 'No it ain't,' say she: 'it don't move; and a thief wouldn't
stand there to amuse his-self.' — ' No more he would,' says I:
'let's go near, for no one won't harm two poor old creature like us.' And we
went close under the balcony, and looked up; but never shall I forget, or my old
'ooman either, the awful pale face that stared down upon us! Then we recollected
that that wery balcony was the one which Mr. Vernon had throwed his-self from;
and that was enow for us. We knowed we had seen his sperret!"
"Oh! dear, if it should come now!" murmured
Miss Clarissa, who was so alarmed — or at least seemed to be — that
she was forced to throw herself into the arms of Mr. Tedworth Jones.
"Well — this is what I call a hectic
dilemmy that you've got into, Albert," said Mrs. Bustard; "for you'll
never be able to live in this place."
"And no one else-unless it is such poor old
helpless creaturs as me and my wife," said the gardener. "Since the
fust time we see the sperret — and that's near a year and a half
ago — we've seen him a many, many times; but he don't hurt us — we've
got used to him, as one may say."
"If this be the room that your ghost
frequents," exclaimed Colonel Cholmondeley, "why did you select it for
our reception to-day, since there, are so many other apartments in the
The gardener looked confused, and made a movement as if
he were about t0 leave the room.
"Oh! do make him tell us why he chose this
apartment of all others!" whispered Mrs. Bustard to her nephew.
"My good fellow," said Egerton, thus urged on
in a manner to which he could not reasonably object in his presumed capacity of
owner of the mansion, — "my good fellow, did you not hear the
question addressed to you by Colonel Cholmondeley?"
"Yes," replied the gardener, abruptly.
"Then, why — why do you not answer it?
said Egerton, not daring to speak in a firm or commanding tone.
"Why — if you 're koorious to know, I
han't no objection to tell you," responded the old gardener, after a few
moments' consideration. "You see, when the establishment was broke up just
after Lady Ravensworth left the Hall on a sudden, and when her lawyer come down
here to discharge the servants, except me and my wife, who was put in charge o'
the place, he goes through the whole building, has all the shutters shut, and
locks up all the rooms — "
"Yes, yes — of course," interposed
Dunstable, hastily: "because the mansion was to be sold just as it stood,
with all the furniture in it."
"But he give us the keys, in course,"
continued the gardener; "on'y he told us to keep the rooms locked, and the
shutters shut, when we wasn't dusting or cleaning. Well, the very next day arter
we see the sperret in the balcony, me and my wife come up to this room together,
and sure enow the shutters was open!"
"And they had been closed before?" asked one
of the young ladies, in a tremulous tone.
"As sure as you're there, Miss," replied the
old man, "what I now tell you is as true as true can be. But the door was
locked — and that made it more koorious still."
"It is clear that the shutters in this one
particular room had been left open when all the others were closed," said
Colonel Cholmondeley, with a contemptuous smile; for he began to grow weary of
the old man's garrulity.
"Well — and if they was," cried
Abraham Squiggs, in an angry tone, — for the Colonel's remark seemed
to convey an imputation against his veracity, — "me and my wife
shut 'em up again, and locked the door when we went out."
"And what followed?" inquired two or three of
the Misses Bustard, speaking in low voices which indicated breathless curiosity.
"Why, that next night the shutters was opened
again," answered the old man, fixing a reproachful glance upon the
The young ladies shuddered visibly, and crowded
together; — Mrs. Bustard again cast a timorous glance around; — and
the gentlemen knew not what to make of the gardener's story.
"Yes," continued the old man, now triumphing
in the impression which he had evidently made upon his audience; "and from
that moment till now I've never set foot in this here drawing-room. But the
sperret is often here; for sometimes the shutters stays open for two or three
days-sometimes they're closed for weeks together."
"But what has all that to do with your bringing us
to this very room on the present occasion?" asked Egerton, his aunt again
prompting the question.
"Now don't be angry, sir, and I'll tell you,"
replied the gardener, remembering that he was to treat Mr. Egerton as the owner
of the place. "The shutters has been shut for a matter of three weeks up to
last night; and so when I see 'em open agen, I says to my wife, says I, Now's
the time to see what the sperret raly wants, and why he troubles that room.
There's a power of fine folks a-coming to-morrow,' says I; 'and we'll just put 'em
in the haunted-room. If so be the sperret shows his-self, they're sure to speak
to him; and may be he'll tell them why he [-377-]
walks.' — Do
so,' says my old 'ooman: and by rights I shouldn't have said a word about the
sperret at all; — but it come out some how or another; and now you
"And we are very much obleeged, indeed, for being
put into a haunted room," exclaimed Mrs. Bustard, bridling up.
"Oh! the joke is a capital one!" cried
Cholmondeley; "and we will stay here by all means. If the ladles should be
frightened, the gentlemen must take them upon their knees."
"Oh! this before one in my situation!"
whispered Clarissa Jemima to her lover.
"It is too bad, my charmer," returned the
But the Colonel's observation, however grievously it
shocked the tender couple, had only produced a vast amount of giggling and
blushing on the part of the four Misses Bastards who were not engaged to be
married; and the result was that no serious opposition manifested itself to
Cholmondeley's proposal to occupy that particular room.
"Pray be seated, ladies and gentlemen," said
Egerton, now taking upon himself the duties of a host: "and excuse me for a
few minutes while I ascertain that every thing necessary for your entertainment
has been provided."
Egerton accordingly left the room, beckoning Abraham
Squiggs to follow him.
The gardener conducted his temporary master to the
kitchen, where Mrs. Squiggs was busily engaged in unpacking the hampers of wine
and cold provisions sent on the preceding day. She was as like her husband as if
she had been his sister instead of his wife; and therefore the reader is
prepared to hear that she was a little, shrivelled, dirty old woman, possessing
a face and hands apparently at open war with soap and water.
She was, however, very good-natured, and seemed quite at
home in the occupation to which her attention was at present directed.
Being unaware of the approach of her husband and a
stranger, she continued aloud the soliloquy in which she was engaged previous to
"Fine turkey, stuffed with black things — truffles
I've heerd 'em called by the cooks that used to be [-378-]
here," said the old lady, in a voice that seemed as if it sounded through a
cracked speaking-trumpet; "glorious ham — four cold
chicken — and tongues, reg'lar picturs! Two could pies-weal and ham
most likely — leastways, unless one's beef. Six lobsters — flask
of ile — and bottle of winegar. But what's this heavy feller! Cold
round of biled beef; — and here's a blessed quarter of lamb. They'll
want mint-sarse for that. What next! Four great German sassages — excellent
eating, I'll bet a penny! No end of bread — half a Cheshire
cheese — whole Stilton — and that's all in this
Mrs. Squiggs had just finished the pleasing task of
ranging all these succulent edibles upon the dresser, when she turned round and
beheld her husband, accompanied by a stranger, who was forthwith introduced as
Mr. Egerton, the temporary master of the Hall.
The old lady bobbed down and up again — thereby
meaning a curtsey; for the natural good nature of her disposition was materially
enhanced by the pleasing prospect of coming in for the remainder of the splendid
collation which she had just been admiring.
Egerton and the gardener hastened to unpack the wine;
and when this task was accomplished, the young man addressed the old one in
"My friend Lord Dunstable gave you five pounds the
other day as a slight recompense for your civility in allowing me the use of the
Hall on this occasion. Here is another five-pound note for you; but pray be upon
your guard should either of the ladies take it into their heads to question you
concerning my right to this property. I, however, perceive that you are well
disposed to aid me in this little innocent cheat upon my relations; and I really
give you great credit for the ghost-story which you told to get rid of them all
as soon as possible."
"Thank'ee kindly for the money, sir,"
exclaimed the gardener; "but as I'm a living sinner which hopes to be
saved, every word I said up stairs about the sperret is as true as the
"Ridiculous?" cried Egerton: "you cannot
seriously believe in such a thing! Who ever heard of ghosts in these
"Well, sir," said the man, in a solemn tone,
"don't let's talk any more about it — 'cos it might bring bad
luck to disbelieve in ghosts where a ghost walks."
Egerton was about to reply; but he checked
himself-remembering that it was useless to argue against a deeply-rooted
superstition. He accordingly gave some instructions relative to the collation,
which he ordered to be served up in the course of an hour; and, having renewed
his injunctions as a caution in respect to his supposed ownership of the estate,
he returned to the drawing-room where be had left the company.
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