In those days distinctions of dress were still clear and unmistakable. Between the peruke--often forty guineas' worth--the tie-wig, the scratch, and the man who went content with a little powder, the intervals were measurable. Ruffles cost five pounds a pair; and velvets and silks, cut probably in Paris, were morning wear. Moreover, the dress of the man who lost or won his thousand in a night at Almack's, and was equally well known at Madame du Deffand's in Paris and at Holland House, differed as much from the dress of the ordinary well-to-do gentleman as that again differed from the lawyer's or the doctor's. The Mitre, therefore, saw in Sir George a very fine gentleman indeed, set him down to an excellent supper in its best room, and promised a post-chaise-and-four for the following morning--all with much bowing and scraping, and much mention of my lord to whose house he would post. For in those days, if a fine gentleman was a very fine gentleman, a peer was also a peer. Quite recently they had ventured to hang one; but with apologies, a landau-and-six, and a silken halter.
Sir George would not have had the least pretension to be the glass of fashion and the mould of form, which St. James's Street considered him, if he had failed to give a large share of his thoughts while he supped to the beautiful woman he had quitted. He knew very well what steps Lord March or Tom Hervey would take, were either in his place; and though he had no greater taste for an irregular life than became a man in his station who was neither a Methodist nor Lord Dartmouth, he allowed his thoughts to dwell, perhaps longer than was prudent, on the girl's perfections, and on what might have been were his heart a little harder, or the not over-rigid rule which he observed a trifle less stringent. The father was dead. The girl was poor: probably her ideal of a gallant was a College beau, in second-hand lace and stained linen, drunk on ale in the forenoon. Was it likely that the fortress would hold out long, or that the maiden's heart would prove to be more obdurate than Danäe's?
Soane, considering these things and his self-denial, grew irritable over his Chambertin. He pictured Lord March's friend, the Rena, and found this girl immeasurably before her. He painted the sensation she would make and the fashion he could give her, and vowed that she was a Gunning with sense and wit added; to sum up all, he blamed himself for a saint and a Scipio. Then, late as it was, he sent for the landlord, and to get rid of his thoughts, or in pursuance of them, inquired of that worthy if Mr. Thomasson was in residence at Pembroke.
'Yes, Sir George, he is,' the landlord answered; and asked if he should send for his reverence.
'No,' Soane commanded. 'If there is a chair to be had, I will go to him.'
'There is one below, at your honour's service. And the men are waiting.'
So Sir George, with the landlord, lighting him and his man attending with his cloak, descended the stairs in state, entered the sedan, and was carried off to Pembroke.
Doctor Samuel Johnson, of Johnson's Court, Fleet Street, had at this time some name in the world; but not to the pitch that persons entering Pembroke College hastened to pay reverence to the second floor over the gateway, which he had vacated thirty years earlier--as persons do now. Their gaze, as a rule, rose no higher than the first-floor oriel, where the shapely white shoulder of a Parian statue, enhanced by a background of dark-blue silken hanging, caught the wandering eye. What this lacked of luxury and mystery was made up--almost to the Medmenham point in the eyes of the city--by the gleam of girandoles, and the glow, rather felt than seen, of Titian-copies in Florence frames. Sir George, borne along in his chair, peered up at this well-known window--well-known, since in the Oxford of 1767 a man's rooms were furnished if he had tables and chairs, store of beef and October, an apple-pie and Common Room port--and seeing the casement brilliantly lighted, smiled a trifle contemptuously.
'The Reverend Frederick is not much changed,' he muttered. 'Lord, what a beast it was! And how we hazed him! Ah! At home, is he?'--this to the servant, as the man lifted the head of the chair. 'Yes, I will go up.'
To tell the truth, the Reverend Frederick Thomasson had so keen a scent for Gold Tufts or aught akin to them, that it would have been strange if the instinct had not kept him at home; as a magnet, though unseen, attracts the needle. The same prepossession brought him, as soon as he heard of his visitor's approach, hurrying to the head of the stairs; where, if he had had his way, he would have clasped the baronet in his arms, slobbered over him, after the mode of Paris--for that was a trick of his--and perhaps even wept on his shoulder. But Soane, who knew his ways, coolly defeated the manoeuvre by fending him off with his cane; and the Reverend Frederick was reduced to raising his eyes and hands to heaven in token of the joy which filled him at the sight of his old pupil.
'Lord! Sir George, I am inexpressibly happy!' he cried. 'My dear sir, my very dear sir, welcome to my poor rooms! This is joy indeed! Gaudeamus! Gaudeamus! To see you once more, fresh from the groves of Arthur's and the scenes of your triumphs! Pardon me, my dear sir, I must and will shake you by the hand again!' And succeeding at last in seizing Sir George's hand, he fondled and patted it in both of his--which were fat and white--the while with every mark of emotion he led him into the room.
'Gad!' said Sir George, standing and looking round. 'And where is she, Tommy?'
'That old name! What a pleasure it is to hear it!' cried the tutor, affecting to touch his eyes with the corner of a dainty handkerchief; as if the gratification he mentioned were too much for his feelings.
'But, seriously, Tommy, where is she?' Soane persisted, still looking round with a grin.
'My dear Sir George! My honoured friend! But you would always have your joke.'
'And, plainly, Tommy, is all this frippery yours?'
'Tut, tut!' Mr. Thomasson remonstrated. 'And no man with a finer taste. I have heard Mr. Walpole say that with a little training no man would excel Sir George Soane as a connoisseur. An exquisite eye! A nice discrimination! A--'
'Now, Tommy, to how many people have you said that?' Sir George retorted, dropping into a chair, and coolly staring about him. 'But, there, have done, and tell me about yourself. Who is the last sprig of nobility you have been training in the way it should grow?'
'The last pupil who honoured me,' the Reverend Frederick answered, 'as you are so kind as to ask after my poor concerns, Sir George, was my Lord E----'s son. We went to Paris, Marseilles, Genoa, Florence; visited the mighty monuments of Rome, and came home by way of Venice, Milan, and Turin. I treasure the copy of Tintoretto which you see there, and these bronzes, as memorials of my lord's munificence. I brought them back with me.'
'And what did my lord's son bring back?' Sir George asked, cruelly. 'A Midianitish woman?'
'My honoured friend!' Mr. Thomasson remonstrated. 'But your wit was always mordant--mordant! Too keen for us poor folk!'
'D'ye remember the inn at Cologne, Tommy?' Sir George continued, mischievously reminiscent. 'And Lord Tony arriving with his charmer? And you giving up your room to her? And the trick we played you at Calais, where we passed the little French dancer on you for Madame la Marquise de Personne?'
Mr. Thomasson winced, and a tinge of colour rose in his fat pale face. 'Boys, boys!' СКАЧАТЬ