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[-372-] 

CHAPTER CCXLV.

THE EXCURSION.

    WHILE 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 show:  
    
    '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,
    
    "BETSY BUSTARD."
    
    "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 the Hall."
    "But I cannot understand how anything you are [-373-] now telling me bears reference to my difficulty," observed Egerton, impatiently.
    "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 calmed.
    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 of situation.
    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 place.
    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 towards them.
    "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 Rachel, reprovingly.
    "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 endured."
    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 fashionables.
    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 her stocking.
    "Oh! what an immense building!" exclaimed Miss Susannah Rachel Bustard, as the three carriages now swept through Ravensworth Park.
    "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 lady.
    "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 Ravensworth Hall.
    "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."
    "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 laughter.
    "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 meaning.
    "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 ago."
    "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 house!"
    "Yes, Tedworth  I do indeed think  "
    "What? beloved one!" asked the sentimental swain.
    "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 together.
    [-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 mansion?"
    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 sceptical Colonel.
    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 know all."
    "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 poetical tripe-man.
    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 their entrance.
    "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 basket."
    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 these terms:-
    "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 Gospel."
    "Ridiculous?" cried Egerton: "you cannot seriously believe in such a thing! Who ever heard of ghosts in these times!"
    "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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