Зображення сторінки
PDF
ePub

CAPTAIN CLUTTERBUCK'S CHAMPAGNE.

A WEST INDIAN REMINISCENCE.

PART I.--CHAPTER I.

THERE is, or was some quarter as convenience will allow. It conof a century ago, in the Port Royal tained a small oak table furnished Mountains of Jamaica, a military by his Majesty, and two strong and station called Stony Hill, about cruel - seated elm chairs from the 1300 feet above the sea. It had same gracious source. This was all been established at this altitude in the regulated furniture, but the the hope of procuring increased barrack - master had, at his own comfort and health for the troops. proper risk, lent a soldier's iron It was certainly cooler than the bedstead, mattress, and pillow, plain, and therefore answered its which, being covered with a chintz intent in respect of climate ; but envelope, answered passing well for experience had shown that it was a sofa. There was a portable armfar from being beyond the range chair — private property; and a of that scourge, the yellow fever. deal slab to hold glasses, bottles, However, it was quite in the and goblets, fixed against the wall, country, though within a moderate whose fixing, being a breach of drive of the city of Kingston, and regulation, would, on surrendering thus it afforded an agreeable change the chamber, be paid for at the rate to one who had been quartered on of twopence per nail, and a trifle a lower level.

for lime-whiting to the Royal landWe glance back over the quarter lord who, towards his military century of which mention has been tenantry, was an austere man, and made above, and introduce the kept a lot of factors, called his reader to a room in the officers' Barrack Department, to squeeze quarters. 'Twas a lodging that them of their miserable substance : had held many inmates, and seen at least this is the subaltern's verincidents well worthy, perhaps, of sion of the matter. The table stood remembrance-all absorbed into the between the sofa and the arm-chair, same voracious past whence we are each of which held an occupant humbly endeavouring to rescue this looking particularly ennuyé, and our tale. With submission to the puffing a cigar. On the board was Spectator's captious Dervise, we ven- some porter-cup, an agreeable and ture to affirm that, spite of its fre- bilious mixture, well known in the quent changes of inhabitants, this island as a promoter of good-fellowchamber was not a caravanserai, ship and yellow fever. The foamand that, if he had been silly ing beverage was contained in a enough to spread his carpet there jorum or huge glass, from which unbidden, he would have had his the parties drank at their conveholy head punched, and suffered nience, preserving each his own summary ejectment at the hands of side of the rim. For one or two Lieutenant Arthur Brune, who con- this answers very well, but when a sidered himself for the time being dozen or eighteen come to pull in its rightful and sole possessor. turn all at the same jorum, it Judged of from the fireside of a requires some familiarity with the snug English drawing - room or method before the last drinkers study, 'twould seem a bleak and become reconciled to the marks of desolate apartment; but it must thirsty lips, and plunge boldly into be borne in mind that, in tropi- the surge from which not the cal regions, coolness is comfort, and minutest arc of the crystal circle that for this reason rooms are kept is free, refreshing their souls at the as bare of furniture and hangings expense of their fastidiousness. One of our seedy subjects was contradicted him, with a thick stick, Arthur Brune, aforesaid : the other which his uncertain gait obliged was a chance guest of his-allow him to carry, and which was a wellus to introduce him.

known and celebrated staff. WhenOld Tom Gervaise was fat, indo- ever any sort of entertainment was lent, and slovenly. His counten- going on, Tom was sure to be ance was handsome, and his com- present. What made his presence plexion had probably been good acceptable it is difficult to explain, before grog blossoms established a if it were not that the fellows liked right of commonage on his person, to laugh at him and hear him and exercised their prerogative growl. Certain it is that he was without order or reserve. The always more than tolerated, and head was nearly bald on the top, allowed to say and do with imbut its contour was so good and its punity things for which another proportions so massive, that the loss man would have been called to of hair was hardly a disadvantage. severe account, but for which he At heart he was a voluptuary, but seemed to possess a general preas he had not a grain of energy or scription. One reason of this may patience, he appeared simply as a be that he had not always been the dirty, surly, lazy old sloven. In- sort of old sinner that he now was ; capable of amusing himself, he spent and possibly habit, without an effort such hours as were unavoidably of his own, kept him within bounds, solitary in lolling on a sofa, dozing and caused him in some sort to gently, or improving the minutes discriminate character, and to adapt between his slumbers by the study the intensity of his style to the of illustrated fictions, of which he person he addressed. Indeed, there possessed a small but objectionable was a tradition that Tom had once assortment. Solitude, though, he been the most fastidious dandy in invariably eschewed when company his regiment. He seldom or never could be obtained without trouble himself alluded to a period when or exertion; and he drank, gamed, he was not an eagle's talon in the or sported, not so much from love waist. Yet it could not have been of these things, as because they were so very long ago, for, though called means of procuring society. Long old Tom, and though lazy and helpcompliance with dissipated com- less enough for an octogenarian, he panions had, however, without de- had not passed middle age. Even cided excess, shaken his constitu- now, those who had known him in tion and made a wreck of him. A his exquisite days took a pride in small quantity of liquor affected his the remembrance; and, upon occahead, and he had not the self-com- sions when they desired the regimand to refrain from mixing several ment to look its best, as at a public kinds together, but recklessly swal- dinner or a governor's levée, would lowed one sort after another as they invade Tom's quarters heedless of were presented. To the agrémens the inhospitable growls and curses of companionship he contributed of the proprietor, and wash him by nothing except the opportunity of force, and dress him decently by cracking a chance joke on his contributions from their own wardpeculiarities. Too indolent even robes. A very fine old fellow Tom to talk, his custom was to loll in looked, too, at such times! His an arm - chair, smoking, and to head bore the stamp of a lawgiver speak in monosyllables or very curt or a historian, and a most audacious sentences, more remarkable for forgery it was. Nature got thimbleforce than for suavity. If his cigar rigged, and found the skull under happened to be in his mouth he which she thought she had placed would not always take the trouble a double portion of brain, lamentto remove it to make a remark, but ably empty. Poor old Tom ! It is would push or pat, sometimes not hard to read over what truth has gently, any one who rallied or compelled to be written concerning him, and still harder to explain why driven over to Stony Hill, in the any kindly feeling should exist hope that his presence would intowards him : yet the foregoing duce the officers stationed up there paragraphs were penned with re- to put on a little extra steam in his gret. He was an example, and honour; in which hope he had not unfortunately not a rare one, of the been disappointed. His cart was destructive effects of a warm climate quartered on some one who hapupon a person of undisciplined mind pened to possess the luxury of a gigand indolent disposition.

house, his leader on another, his An injustice has, however, been shaft-horse on a third, and the hondone to Tom in representing him our of entertaining his highly reas in all things listless and inert. spectable self he had conferred on Stuck on the box of any vehicle Arthur Brune, in whose sitting-room drawn by horses, with the whip and he took a shakedown if he chanced ribbons in his hands, he would to go to bed. They had had a great show you that he knew something jollification the night before, for of putting a team along : four-in- these country folks did not dislike an hand was the only style which he excuse for a chance merry-making. thought worthy of his science, but It would be unfair towards Arhe was content, faute de mieux, to thur Brune to judge him by his run a tandem ; and it was on that present appearance. He does not equipage that he commonly effected often look thus. It is wrong, the locomotion, in a most disgraceful writer knows, to introduce him in old frock-coat, and a broad - brim- this exceptional condition; but there med white beaver with an aperture are duties towards the narrative as cut on either side below the crown well as to its characters, and the hisfor ventilation, and a series of tory will have it so. Deal mildly greasy circles rising from the rim with him, however, reader that upwards, and telling of many is, if you be masculine (many soft seasons, as the age of a palm-tree eyes, we flatter ourself, will read is known to the naturalist by its Arthur Brune's story, whose owners rings. From this elevation Tom require no caution in respect of smacked his whip at all passengers, charity); say, if you like, how where he dared making its lash grieved you are to see a fine handexcite the skin a little, which, in some young man with that dethat drowsy country, where verybauched look. Pity his pale gills, light clothing is worn, was no doubt his weak-looking eyes, his jaded an agreeable stimulus. In return expression; but no lofty denunciahe would get a mango, orange, or tions, remember—no thanking God possibly a brickbat at his head. on him! You have perhaps in your Sometimes a thin'-skinned ensign virtuous mind already piled up a was known to hoard up his wrath, goodly battery of stones. Pause a and at a future meeting express moment before you discharge one. with black ingratitude his dissatis- If you were a fine, generous, warmfaction at Tom's passing notice, hearted fellow at three-and-twenty whereupon the latter would remind (which of course you were), and him that the touch did not hurt, never in your life picked yourself and explain how pungent his scien- up of a morning in a somewhat tific arm could have made it, had it similar condition, shy away! But so pleased him; which explanation if memory, spite of the ingenious would cause the ensign to marvel manner in which you have barrigreatly what the real tickler must caded your bosom against her, and be like if the one he received was puttied up the minutest chinks, considered painless.

doth ever percolate the fence, and Tom's regiment lay at Up Park lure you back, and rock you pleaCamp, about a mile from Kingston; santly in days and nights when you but their mess having been very were as other men are, then, we quiet for some days past, he had charge you, forbear! We know exactly how things are with you now; persuaded him more and more to a are we not human? have we not bolder course. The conflict was so sipped, and suffered, and profited ? grievous, that he could not bear to If you are an exemplary member of think of his trouble. society, so are we. If your spouse W ell, the immediate cause of is a paragon, and can attribute to Brune's condition was, as has been you no earthly failing, present or said, a great symposium which had past, ours is as unexceptionable in taken place last night in honour of her own attributes, and more blind old Tom's visit. It had ended in a to our demerits than we deserve. squabble, as was too often the case; Are your little people “sweet inno- and, but that some one present had cent cherubs ?” we call ours “ dear sense and influence enough to comangelic lambs ;' that is the only pose the matter before it had reachdifference. Are you orthodox? so ed the seventh cause, there would are we. Is your name respected have been a duel. The cool mornthroughout the district ? we hope ing air, which probably contributed ours is so too. Do men cut short much to the rational termination of their jokes, and take the twinkle the dispute, also disposed the party out of their eyes, when you come to dispense with going to bed. It within hearing ? 'Tis exactly the is a question whether the freshness same with us. It is possible that in inhaled without doors an hour bethe article of charities, moral asso- fore sunrise be not a stronger reciations, and philanthropic endea- storative than a feverish slumber. vours, you and we are much on a Brune and Tom appeared to think par. We will measure phylacteries that it is, and so took coffee and a with you, or enter into judgment chasse at daybreak, strolled about concerning neck-ties. In short, it is the stables and negro-paths for half plain that both of us are correctness an hour, proclaimed themselves“ all itself. This is in 1861 you know; right," and, in the strength of their but it was not always '61. We morning ramble, made a tolerable used to write the figures 35-6-7-8-9, essay at breakfast. As the sun &c. How if our biographies during mounted, however, and the air bethese years could be revealed! What gan to boil, and the shadows shrank should we feel when the many up to almost nothing, and the seacheckered and the occasional dark breeze, which chose to be a sluggard pages should come under review! that morning, was anxiously waited Shall we quote? No, not unless for, the gentlemen found that last you force us: all the sweet souls read night's account was not yet settled. Maga, therefore we forbear; but, They relapsed into a rakish discrebe charitable to Arthur Brune. ditable condition, fit only to loll

There was, as will speedily ap- about, half alive, and sip porterpear, a reason why Arthur for a cup, that they might not utterly time consented to dissipation. On waste the morning; for improvehis breast lay a heavy disappoint- ment of the fleeting hour was inment, which he sought to stifle, but sisted on by Tom Gervaise, who could not. And he called in idle remembered that with each sun company, and walked in their ways, came its appointed duty of getting to lure him from himself, and sup- tipsy before bed-time. Happier port him in a trial which his reso- than Titus, Tom never, to our lution—though he was a youth of knowledge, suffered remorse for strong mind-hardly enabled him having lost a day! to endure. The young man had “Hollo you, sir!" shouted Tom suffered cruelly in his affections, and to a negro who passed the window, was, moreover, perplexed to deter- “ come here and fetch me Massa mine how his duty required him to Brune's cigar; my light's out.” act. Hitherto he had followed the “ Yes, massa." dictates of his pride; but reflection, It did not astonish the negro, as which he could not wholly shut out, it probably does the reader, that he was called into the room to per- quarters since they came out here. form a service which, by simply In each case a youngster at the rising up, or even stretching across depôt was allowed to purchase by the table, Tom might have executed their bringing in some old sinner for himself. The sable minister from the half-pay to sell.” received as his guerdon, first a rap “Well, you'll soon be out of on the shins from Tom's stick, suspense,” said Tom; "here comes which made him hop with his leg the postman. We shall have the in his hand and cry “ Hei!” and, letters in ten minutes. I bet five secondly, a Cuban cigar, shot by dollars they've disappointed ClutBrune with the accuracy of a Tell, terbuck again.” so as to graze his scalp and bury “ Then they deserve the pains of itself in the woolly covering, which Tartarus," said Brune. “You talk made him turn on the whites of his of a peerage, Tom : all they are eyes and grin delightedly as he did likely to give one here is a grave. obeisance with his naked foot, and One's legitimate promotion is jobpocketed the prize, and went his way, bed and bartered away. Heigho !

“ 'Pon my soul !” said Tom, be- I can stand disappointment pretty tween the inspirations from his well, but patience has limits." newly lighted weed," this climate “There's one of your disappointis the devil. See how weak and ments that I fancy you may get helpless it makes us. How I have rid of and turn on your opponents borne it so many years is a marvel whenever you like," said Tom. If I had not attentively supported “What the devil do you mean, the system during my residence, I Tom ?” asked Brune sharply. must have turned up my toes long “ Mean !" answered Tom, “noago. And yet you get neither credit thing but what every fellow with nor thanks for this at home. By half an eye sees and knows as well Jove! nothing they can give is a as I do. You may cut out that sufficient reward for passing a large Melhado whenever you like-even slice of one's life in such a furnace: now his wedding - day is fixed ; a peerage wouldn't be too much !" ay, and by Jove! I'd do it too. I'd

“If they ever should give you do it for the fun of cheating that one, Tom," answered Brune, “it's creole savage, let alone the splendid to be hoped that you'll ' purge and little filly." live cleanly as a nobleman ought.'” The young man blushed scarlet

“That's a bit of chaff you picked as Tom began to speak, and then out of Hannah More or Tristram turned pale ; his colour came and Shandy. I know I saw it in print went rapidly. “ Gervaise, I can't somewhere when I used to read stand this,” said he hurriedly. books. Can't read in this climate," “Nobody wants you to stand said Tom, as if the latitude alone this or anything else. "Tisn't my stood between him and scholarship. affair.” And Tom leisurely replaced

“ You'll have the papers to read his cigar, and began coaxing back soon. You know the packet from the fire, which had nearly expired England was signaled this morn- during his exhortation. “ Devil ing,” replied Brune.

take the girl," he recommenced, “ Was she?" grunted Tom; “I puffing only interjectionally, now think little about packets now. I that he saw a cheerful glow under hardly feel that I've any connec- his nose; “let Melhado have her tion with England, except to look if he likes. I wouldn't, thoughout for the St Leger and Derby." feed me on slops if I would. I'd

“ Wonder whether Clutterbuck carry her off in spite of all. Hollo! has got poor old Swillhard's com- here's the letter-bag." pany without purchase," mused Brune was pacing the little room Arthur. “Abominable shame! he's with a flushed face and a rapt been refused two death vacancies, gaze. He seemed quite unconscious though he never left the head of the mail's arrival until Gervaise,

« НазадПродовжити »