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harmonious, and upon which the inhabitants particularly piqued themselves, appeared to me to be of a most singular and somewhat perilous order as to their construction and arrangement; for the Sundays they were so managed that they gave us psalm-tunes for the quarters, and halves, and three-quarters of hours, but during the week they varied extremely from that orthodox style of harmony. On Mondays they played “ Charley over the water ; on Tuesdays that favourite air from “The Beggar's Opera,” “I'm like a ship on the ocean toss'd ;" on Wednesdays “ Nancy Dawson ;" on Thursdays “Rule Britannia ;" and so on for the other days : and it certainly appeared to me somewhat more curious than agreeable as a coincidence that, when we were entering the churchyard on the funeral of Gunpowder Tom (as Wells always called him), these melodious carillons should strike up, as if at the particular moment for the particular purpose, another of the popular airs from Gay’s travestie
“ If thus much bolder a man can die
With brandy," which really happened; and, even now, “ I'm like a ship on the ocean toss'd,” sounded somewhat apposite : nevertheless, however well the air might accord with my circumstances, I could find no peal to chime in with my feelings, and when the clock struck ten I came to the resolution that I was doomed, if not to disappointment, at least to a day of suspense, and walked despondingly into the breakfast-parlour, when the first object that met my eyes, lying on the table, was the letter-bag itself, which, it appears, had arrived at the usual time, but nobody had imagined that I should care enough about an event which happened in the house seven times in every week to desire to be called in from my walk to open it, and so I was left to perambulate. “ The boy never came by the lodge ”—"always came across the fields,” and so on; and there had I been fuming and fidgeting myself for one hour and a half through the tender solicitude of the servants, who were too delicate to disturb me in my promenade up and down a gravel drive between two hedges of evergreens.
I was vexed and cross, and I might have said I will not write it --suffice it to say it was quite enough to have convicted me in a fiveshilling penalty before my reverend father-in-law in his magisterial capacity. The storm, however, soon blew over, and, with a hand trembling more from anxiety than anger, I opened my Pandora's box. There were several letters, the writers of whom I knew by their calligraphy, and one or two which at any other time might have interested me, but the one-single-(there I am wrong, for it was double) letter for which my eyes cagerly searched was, when seen, the only one upon which I pounced with eagerness and almost agony. It was the one I so much dreaded, yet so much desired. I broke the seal and read :
“ Bath, Monday. “ Dear Gilbert --Strange things have happened. One of the leiters which you forwarded to me, as I requested, contained some thundering news for Cuthbertwhich I cannot tell you, because it probably might involve the reputation of other people. I may, however, say that it is likely to prolong my stay here; it will take time to explain the particulars to your poor rickety brother, who seems to me very likely to be
killed with Mother Brandyball's kindness: as for the sincerity of her devotion to him time will show that, and, rely upon it, I will not quit him without assuring myself that she is a very different sort of person from what I think, or opening his eyes to her character as I take it to be. I have not written to Mrs. N. because you can tell her of my stopping here, which will save double postage, and also spare her the trouble of reading a letter, which, to a purblind beauty who is above wearing spectacles, is no joke.
“ Give my love to your wife, and remember me to Jane, who is a jewel compared with her sister. I think, if I am not mistaken, I shall be able to make you stare before you are three days older. I'll do my best.
“ Yours truly,
“ N. NUBLEY.”
The perusal of this letter puzzled me exceedingly; I could (to use a colloquial phrase) make neither head nor tail of it. How would he surprise me ?-what in the world connected with the affair could surprise me? Still I could not help seeing that something upon which he relied as likely to be of service to us detained him at Bath. Gratified by finding another straw to catch at, I resolved to live upon hope, and give my wife and father-in-law the benefit of a perusal of the old gentleman's letter. Considering the allusions made to Mrs. Nubley's imperfect vision and resolute abjuration of assistance, I thought it wiser merely to convey his excuses for not writing, verbally.
“Lauk, Mr. Gurney,” screamed Mrs. Nubley,“ What a man you are! I believe Nubley is ashamed of writing-he-he-he!—he is such a giddy goose when he once gets away from me—there's no getting him back-he-he-he!
The idea of poor old Mr. Nubley being likened to a giddy goose was nearly too much for my gravity.
“Oh,” said Harriet, speaking graciously, in order to conceal or rather justify a smile,—“ he will be quite safe.”
“Lauk, I don't know, dear,” said Mrs. N., " I don't think a young lady's boarding-school is a safe place for a very susceptible gentlemanhe-he-he!-you don't know my dear Nub.”
The fact is, that thirty or forty years before, Mrs. Nubley had begun to be exceedingly jealous of her dear Nubley, and, although he had grown far beyond the reach even of a suspicion of infidelity to his excellent spouse-she had gone on during the whole period, day after day, continuing her doubts and uncertainties, wholly unconscious of the march of Time or the effects of his incessant attentions to both herself and her feeble mate.
“Hope springs eternal in the human breast," and I confess that I derived, at least, a strong negative satisfaction from the old gentleman's letter. It was clear that something had occurred to strengthen the probability, or at least the possibility, of rescuing Cuthbert from the trammels of his hypocritical tyrant; and, upon re-reading the welcome epistle-especially the passage in which Nubley declined enlightening me further at the moment, lest he should “involve the reputation of other people ”-I could not help fancying that he might have received such information regarding the lady as he considered likely to open my poor infatuated brother's eyes to the real character of the present arbitress of his fate. Something, it was clear, had occurred—and for the first time almost in my life I was feverishly anxious for the arrival of the next day's post, which might relieve me from my present state of suspense.
Upon a further examination of my morning's letters, I found one from an old friend of whom I had heard nothing since we last parted, and of whom I never expected to hear what his epistle communicated. My correspondent was Daly; and, although a very little time had elapsed since his visit to Blissfold, à most extraordinary change had taken place in his pursuits, prospects and principles : indeed, knowing the turn of his mind, and his affection for fun, I could scarcely make up my mind whether he were in jest or in earnest in his communication. One fact he had ascertained, that he was a widower—the fair, frail, fickle object of my early devotion was no more. She died in Ireland, whence she never returned after her separation from her husband; but, in addition to this intelligence, Daly permitted me to understand that he was not likely long to remain in a state of sorrowing singleness; he more than hinted that his second marriage would be more advantageous in a pecuniary point of view than his first; but neither mentioned the name, age, or circumstances of the lady, indeed there was a strange precision in his style of writing, and a mysterious solemnity in his hints and suggestions, which (as I presumed he meant they should do) puzzled me exceedingly; and the most puzzling part of his allusions were those in which, speaking of himself, he said he was thankful to Providence for the great change which a short time had worked in him, and that, sinner as he had been-he now trusted he had obtained a true sense of his own weakness, and that he should improve the opportunity which had been afforded him in so blessed a manner, of knowing his own unworthiness.
Reading a man's letter is a very different thing from listening to his conversation. Upon paper, the same words which, if delivered vivâ voce, might be either serious or ironical, according to the tone and look and manner of the speaker, go for no more than they literally express; and when I found my volatile friend dealing in language such as I never had heard him employ, I was at a loss to comprehend what he really meant; and most assuredly, if I had set myself to guessing for a week, I never should have hit upon the real state of the case. I was, however, spared the trouble of long consideration by the unexpected arrival at Ashmead, at an early period of the day, of no less a personage than my old, worthy, and omniscient friend, Hull.
His appearance, so wholly unlooked for, startled while it pleased me. His kindness and hospitality in my earlier days had made a due impression upon me, and I never ceased to esteem him—but, knowing the activity of his movements, and his inextinguishable anxiety to be the expounder and explainer of everything of every sort that happened to be going on, I could not help associating in my mind his impromptu visit with some yet unknown circumstance connected with my own affairs which he had thought of sufficient importance to justify a journey of seventy miles in order to communicate it.
Never did I see such an evergreen-or ever-red-as my worthy friend; as for time or age, they had no more effect upon him than an April shower would have upon Portland stone; nay, even the powder which, when I first knew him, whitened his hair, had been discarded, and the natural colour of his curls shone in all its pristine brownness-still, when he approached me, I felt more and more convinced that the mere pleasure of a visit to me did not altogether constitute its object.
“My dear friend,” said Hull, eyeing me through his glass—" why, what a fellow you are !-how well you are looking !-what a paradise you have got !—often have promised myself to come-heard much about iteh-a certain friend of yours told me—but-pooh! pooh!--all stuff and nonsense-you know what I mean-eh?—Daly—all that—but never gave me a notion-splendid-magnificent-why, my dear friendStowe or Blenheim are nothing to it!"
“ The cabin is convenient,” said I; but, with a pang which went to my heart, when I thought how frail my tenure of it was.
“ Cabin-pooh! poob!-don't tell me—and Mrs. G.-eh?” said Hull, his large blue eyes twinkling with an expression of mingled interest and waggery—“ eh ?- '-never saw her-beautiful woman-child surprising creature-eh ?—come, come, no joke, I happen to knowlovely boy-eh ?-don't tell me—how is her father ?”
“ Quite well,” said I ; “ but is he an acquaintance of yours?"
“ Acquaintance!” said Hull; my dear Sir, I have known him these forty years. His father was curate of Crumpleby, in Cheshire, where my great aunt was born. Pooh! pooh!- I have a little property in the North-go there every year-vanish-abscond, and am absent—1 happen to know all his relations."
“I am sure he will be delighted to renew his acquaintance with you,” said I.
My dear friend,” said Hull, “I don't know him. When I say I know him, I speak of his connexions ; but I know he is an excellent fellow—ay, and a remarkable good scholar. Did he ever tell you the story of his wedding-day and the soldiers? He !-he-he!"
Whereupon I stared, and Hull stuck his thumb into my ribs to make “ assurance double sure," and I again received the most certain conviction that my omniscient friend was—what some horrible infidels sometimes doubted-always correct in his facts, and authentic in bis histories.
“ You will meet Wells at dinner,” said I.
“ I am off to Portsmouth, where we last met, on most particular business-most particular; and you know what it is about.” “ I!” said I;
indeed, no.” “ Pooh! pooh!” said Hull; “ don't tell me you know everything -eh ?"
“ Upon my word I do not,” said I in return.
“ What !” exclaimed my friend, growing almost blue with excitement, “ not know !—You don't mean to say you don't know? I'm going to Mr. Dingygreen, the agent, about matters in which you are deeply interested.”
The moment he uttered these words I felt conscious that all my forebodings were to be verified, and that something connected with myself was actually mixed up with his visit.
“My dear friend,” said Hull, "haven't you heard ?” “ What ?” said I.
“Why, my old friend Cuthbert, your brother, is utterly ruined. Pooh! pooh! you dog, you knew that?”
“ Upon my honour, no,” said I.
“Why, then,” said Hull, screwing up his mouth into a circular form, and reducing it to a size inconceivably minute, “ I am afraid you must have wondered at what I have been 'saying; but you do know-eh?I know you do-don't tell me.”
“ All I know of my brother," said I, “ is, that he is at Bath, and on the verge of ruin I readily admit; but I was not prepared to hear that it was consummated. Has she really secured him ?”
“ She!” exclaimed Hull, “who is she?—what d’ye mean by she ? My dear friend, you don't mean to tell me that you are in the darkhasn't he written to you?”
“ No,” said I, falteringly, for I did not like to let even Hull know how sadly I had been deprived of a fond and kind-hearted brother's affection and confidence," he has told me nothing about it."
“Dear, dear!” said Hull, wiping his forehead, which exhibited signs of unseasonable heat, evidences of warmth of interest rather than of weather; “My dear Gurney, he is ruined-lost-done ; instead of investing his money in the funds here, or in buying estates, or what not, he left it all in the hands of Messrs. Chipp, Rice, and Hiccory, of Calcutta, and they have smashed. Cuthbert has not a shilling to bless himself with—not a penny.”
Now came upon me the whole truth of Nubley's statements—now did I see the reasonableness of his mystery, and the justness of his apprehension lest he should involve the characters of respectable people—now did I see the fallacy of my hopes, that Mrs. Brandyball's reputation was the one of which he was so tender—and now, moreover, did I see, in the strongest possible colours, my own doom and destitution.
I suppose, being of a candid disposition, and the countenance being the index of the mind, the expression of mine did not appear to Hull as conveying anything like a sense of obligation, or a feeling of gratitude, in return for the information with which he had favoured me, for he forthwith dressed his laughing face in a garb of sorrow, and, holding his glass in his hand at an angle of forty-five from his nose, made that sort of noise which people are in the habit of adopting when they are very sorry for having said or done something which they ought not to have said or done, and which cannot be spelled or written, but which is produced by a sort of clucking monosyllabic sound against the roof of the mouth of S’t -s't. It is as useless to endeavour to put it upon paper as it would be to reduce to writing the encouraging somethings which a coachman says to his horses when he performs a certain evolution upon his tongue against his teeth, or sucks in a mouthful of air to give them a cheering “ chirrup," something in the nature of whistling reversed.
At the moment when I saw Hull puzzled, I was puzzled also. I was quite undecided whether his apparent vexation at having abruptly imparted to me the ruin of my poor brother, was or was not more than counterbalanced by the delight he constitutionally felt at being the first bearer of the earliest intelligence of an event, the eventual effect of which was to a newsmonger not of the slightest importance; at all events one feeling of my heart at the moment could not be transcended-poor dear Ashmead must be surrendered-poor Cuthbert would fall into dis