'Rather short in the waist, ain't it?' said the stranger, screwing himself round to catch a glimpse in the glass of the waist buttons, which were half-way up his back. 'Like a general postman's coat — queer coats those — made by contract — no measuring — mysterious dispensations of Providence — all the short men get long coats — all the long men short ones.' Running on in this way, Mr. Tupman's new companion adjusted his dress, or rather the dress of Mr. Winkle; and, accompanied by Mr. Tupman, ascended the staircase leading to the ballroom.
'What names, sir?' said the man at the door. Mr. Tracy Tupman was stepping forward to announce his own titles, when the stranger prevented him.
'No names at all;' and then he whispered Mr. Tupman, 'names won't do — not known — very good names in their way, but not great ones — capital names for a small party, but won't make an impression in public assemblies — incog. the thing — gentlemen from London — distinguished foreigners — anything.' The door was thrown open, and Mr. Tracy Tupman and the stranger entered the ballroom.
It was a long room, with crimson-covered benches, and wax candles in glass chandeliers. The musicians were securely confined in an elevated den, and quadrilles were being systematically got through by two or three sets of dancers. Two card-tables were made up in the adjoining card-room, and two pair of old ladies, and a corresponding number of stout gentlemen, were executing whist therein.
The finale concluded, the dancers promenaded the room, and Mr. Tupman and his companion stationed themselves in a corner to observe the company.
'Charming women,' said Mr. Tupman.
'Wait a minute,' said the stranger, 'fun presently — nobs not come yet — queer place — dockyard people of upper rank don't know dockyard people of lower rank — dockyard people of lower rank don't know small gentry — small gentry don't know tradespeople — commissioner don't know anybody.'
'Who's that little boy with the light hair and pink eyes, in a fancy dress?'inquired Mr. Tupman.
'Hush, pray — pink eyes — fancy dress — little boy — nonsense — ensign 97th — Honourable Wilmot Snipe — great family — Snipes — very.'
'Sir Thomas Clubber, Lady Clubber, and the Misses Clubber!' shouted the man at the door in a stentorian voice. A great sensation was created throughout the room by the entrance of a tall gentleman in a blue coat and bright buttons, a large lady in blue satin, and two young ladies, on a similar scale, in fashionably-made dresses of the same hue.
'Commissioner — head of the yard — great man — remarkably great man,' whispered the stranger in Mr. Tupman's ear, as the charitable committee ushered Sir Thomas Clubber and family to the top of the room. The Honourable Wilmot Snipe, and other distinguished gentlemen crowded to render homage to the Misses Clubber; and Sir Thomas Clubber stood bolt upright, and looked majestically over his black kerchief at the assembled company.
'Mr. Smithie, Mrs. Smithie, and the Misses Smithie,' was the next announcement.
'What's Mr. Smithie?' inquired Mr. Tracy Tupman.
'Something in the yard,' replied the stranger. Mr. Smithie bowed deferentially to Sir Thomas Clubber; and Sir Thomas Clubber acknowledged the salute with conscious condescension. Lady Clubber took a telescopic view of Mrs. Smithie and family through her eye-glass and Mrs. Smithie stared in her turn at Mrs. Somebody-else, whose husband was not in the dockyard at all.
'Colonel Bulder, Mrs. Colonel Bulder, and Miss Bulder,' were the next arrivals.
'Head of the garrison,' said the stranger, in reply to Mr. Tupman's inquiring look.
Miss Bulder was warmly welcomed by the Misses Clubber; the greeting between Mrs. Colonel Bulder and Lady Clubber was of the most affectionate description; Colonel Bulder and Sir Thomas Clubber exchanged snuff-boxes, and looked very much like a pair of Alexander Selkirks — 'Monarchs of all they surveyed.'
While the aristocracy of the place — the Bulders, and Clubbers, and Snipes — were thus preserving their dignity at the upper end of the room, the other classes of society were imitating their example in other parts of it. The less aristocratic officers of the 97th devoted themselves to the families of the less important functionaries from the dockyard. The solicitors' wives, and the wine-merchant's wife, headed another grade (the brewer's wife visited the Bulders); and Mrs. Tomlinson, the post-office keeper, seemed by mutual consent to have been chosen the leader of the trade party.
One of the most popular personages, in his own circle, present, was a little fat man, with a ring of upright black hair round his head, and an extensive bald plain on the top of it — Doctor Slammer, surgeon to the 97th. The doctor took snuff with everybody, chatted with everybody, laughed, danced, made jokes, played whist, did everything, and was everywhere. To these pursuits, multifarious as they were, the little doctor added a more important one than any — he was indefatigable in paying the most unremitting and devoted attention to a little old widow, whose rich dress and profusion of ornament bespoke her a most desirable addition to a limited income.
Upon the doctor, and the widow, the eyes of both Mr. Tupman and his companion had been fixed for some time, when the stranger broke silence.
'Lots of money — old girl — pompous doctor — not a bad idea — good fun,' were the intelligible sentences which issued from his lips. Mr. Tupman looked inquisitively in his face. 'I'll dance with the widow,' said the stranger.
'Who is she?' inquired Mr. Tupman.
'Don't know — never saw her in all my life — cut out the doctor — here goes.' And the stranger forthwith crossed the room; and, leaning against a mantel-piece, commenced gazing with an air of respectful and melancholy admiration on the fat countenance of the little old lady. Mr. Tupman looked on, in mute astonishment. The stranger progressed rapidly; the little doctor danced with another lady; the widow dropped her fan; the stranger picked it up, and presented it — a smile — a bow — a curtsey — a few words of conversation. The stranger walked boldly up to, and returned with, the master of the ceremonies; a little introductory pantomime; and the stranger and Mrs. Budger took their places in a quadrille.
The surprise of Mr. Tupman at this summary proceeding, great as it was, was immeasurably exceeded by the astonishment of the doctor. The stranger was young, and the widow was flattered. The doctor's attentions were unheeded by the widow; and the doctor's indignation was wholly lost on his imperturbable rival. Doctor Slammer was paralysed. He, Doctor Slammer, of the 97th, to be extinguished in a moment, by a man whom nobody had ever seen before, and whom nobody knew even now! Doctor Slammer — Doctor Slammer of the 97th rejected! Impossible! It could not be! Yes, it was; there they were. What! introducing his friend! Could he believe his eyes! He looked again, and was under the painful necessity of admitting the veracity of his optics; Mrs. Budger was dancing with Mr. Tracy Tupman; there was no mistaking the fact. There was the widow before him, bouncing bodily here and there, with unwonted vigour; and Mr. Tracy Tupman hopping about, with a face expressive of the most intense solemnity, dancing (as a good many people do) as if a quadrille were not a thing to be laughed at, but a severe trial to the feelings, which it requires inflexible resolution to encounter.
Silently and patiently did the doctor bear all this, and all the handings of negus, and watching for glasses, and darting for biscuits, and coquetting, that ensued; but, a few seconds after the stranger had disappeared to lead Mrs. Budger to her carriage, he darted swiftly from the room with every particle of his hitherto-bottled-up indignation effervescing, from all parts of his countenance, in a perspiration of passion.
The stranger was returning, and Mr. Tupman was beside him. He spoke in a low tone, and laughed. The little doctor thirsted for his life. He was exulting. He had triumphed.
'Sir!' said the doctor, in an awful voice, producing a card, and retiring into an angle of the passage, 'my name is Slammer, Doctor Slammer, sir — 97th Regiment — Chatham Barracks — my card, Sir, my card.' He would have added more, but his indignation choked him.
'Ah!' replied the stranger coolly, 'Slammer — much obliged — polite attention — not ill now, Slammer — but when I am — knock you up.'
'You — you're a shuffler, sir,' gasped the furious doctor, 'a poltroon — a coward — a liar — a — a — will nothing induce you to give me your card, sir!' 'Oh! I see,' said the stranger, half aside, 'negus too strong here — liberal landlord — very foolish — very — lemonade much better — hot rooms — elderly gentlemen — suffer for it in the morning — cruel — cruel;' and he moved on a step or two.
'You are stopping in this house, Sir,' said the indignant little man; 'you are intoxicated now, Sir; you shall hear from me in the morning, sir. I shall find you out, sir; I shall find you out.'
'Rather you found me out than found me at home,' replied the unmoved stranger.
Doctor Slammer looked unutterable ferocity, as he fixed his hat on his head with an indignant knock; and the stranger and Mr. Tupman ascended to the bedroom of the latter to restore the borrowed plumage to the unconscious Winkle.
That gentleman was fast asleep; the restoration was soon made. The stranger was extremely jocose; and Mr. Tracy Tupman, being quite bewildered with wine, negus, lights, and ladies, thought the whole affair was an exquisite joke. His new friend departed; and, after experiencing some slight difficulty in finding the orifice in his nightcap, originally intended for the reception of his head, and finally overturning his candlestick in his struggles to put it on, Mr. Tracy Tupman managed to get into bed by a series of complicated evolutions, and shortly afterwards sank into repose.