The powdered-headed footman slammed the door very hard, and scowled very grandly; but both the slam and the scowl were lost upon Sam, who was regarding a mahogany umbrella-stand with every outward token of critical approval.
Apparently his master's reception of the card had impressed the powdered-headed footman in Sam's favour, for when he came back from delivering it, he smiled in a friendly manner, and said that the answer would be ready directly.
'Wery good,' said Sam. 'Tell the old gen'l'm'n not to put himself in a perspiration. No hurry, six-foot. I've had my dinner.'
'You dine early, sir,' said the powdered-headed footman.
'I find I gets on better at supper when I does,' replied Sam.
'Have you been long in Bath, sir?' inquired the powdered-headed footman. 'I have not had the pleasure of hearing of you before.'
'I haven't created any wery surprisin' sensation here, as yet,' rejoined Sam, 'for me and the other fash'nables only come last night.'
'Nice place, Sir,' said the powdered-headed footman.
'Seems so,' observed Sam.
'Pleasant society, sir,' remarked the powdered-headed footman. 'Very agreeable servants, sir.'
'I should think they wos,' replied Sam. 'Affable, unaffected, say-nothin'-to-nobody sorts o' fellers.'
'Oh, very much so, indeed, sir,' said the powdered-headed footman, taking Sam's remarks as a high compliment. 'Very much so indeed. Do you do anything in this way, Sir?' inquired the tall footman, producing a small snuff-box with a fox's head on the top of it.
'Not without sneezing,' replied Sam.
'Why, it IS difficult, sir, I confess,' said the tall footman. 'It may be done by degrees, Sir. Coffee is the best practice. I carried coffee, Sir, for a long time. It looks very like rappee, sir.'
Here, a sharp peal at the bell reduced the powdered-headed footman to the ignominious necessity of putting the fox's head in his pocket, and hastening with a humble countenance to Mr. Bantam's 'study.' By the bye, who ever knew a man who never read or wrote either, who hadn't got some small back parlour which he WOULD call a study!
'There is the answer, sir,' said the powdered-headed footman. 'I'm afraid you'll find it inconveniently large.'
'Don't mention it,' said Sam, taking a letter with a small enclosure. 'It's just possible as exhausted natur' may manage to surwive it.'
'I hope we shall meet again, Sir,' said the powdered-headed footman, rubbing his hands, and following Sam out to the door-step.
'You are wery obligin', sir,' replied Sam. 'Now, don't allow yourself to be fatigued beyond your powers; there's a amiable bein'. Consider what you owe to society, and don't let yourself be injured by too much work. For the sake o' your feller-creeturs, keep yourself as quiet as you can; only think what a loss you would be!' With these pathetic words, Sam Weller departed.
'A very singular young man that,' said the powdered-headed footman, looking after Mr. Weller, with a countenance which clearly showed he could make nothing of him.
Sam said nothing at all. He winked, shook his head, smiled, winked again; and, with an expression of countenance which seemed to denote that he was greatly amused with something or other, walked merrily away.
At precisely twenty minutes before eight o'clock that night, Angelo Cyrus Bantam, Esq., the Master of the Ceremonies, emerged from his chariot at the door of the Assembly Rooms in the same wig, the same teeth, the same eye-glass, the same watch and seals, the same rings, the same shirt-pin, and the same cane. The only observable alterations in his appearance were, that he wore a brighter blue coat, with a white silk lining, black tights, black silk stockings, and pumps, and a white waistcoat, and was, if possible, just a thought more scented.
Thus attired, the Master of the Ceremonies, in strict discharge of the important duties of his all-important office, planted himself in the room to receive the company.
Bath being full, the company, and the sixpences for tea, poured in, in shoals. In the ballroom, the long card-room, the octagonal card-room, the staircases, and the passages, the hum of many voices, and the sound of many feet, were perfectly bewildering. Dresses rustled, feathers waved, lights shone, and jewels sparkled. There was the music — not of the quadrille band, for it had not yet commenced; but the music of soft, tiny footsteps, with now and then a clear, merry laugh — low and gentle, but very pleasant to hear in a female voice, whether in Bath or elsewhere. Brilliant eyes, lighted up with pleasurable expectation, gleamed from every side; and, look where you would, some exquisite form glided gracefully through the throng, and was no sooner lost, than it was replaced by another as dainty and bewitching.
In the tea-room, and hovering round the card-tables, were a vast number of queer old ladies, and decrepit old gentlemen, discussing all the small talk and scandal of the day, with a relish and gusto which sufficiently bespoke the intensity of the pleasure they derived from the occupation. Mingled with these groups, were three or four match-making mammas, appearing to be wholly absorbed by the conversation in which they were taking part, but failing not from time to time to cast an anxious sidelong glance upon their daughters, who, remembering the maternal injunction to make the best use of their youth, had already commenced incipient flirtations in the mislaying scarves, putting on gloves, setting down cups, and so forth; slight matters apparently, but which may be turned to surprisingly good account by expert practitioners.
Lounging near the doors, and in remote corners, were various knots of silly young men, displaying various varieties of puppyism and stupidity; amusing all sensible people near them with their folly and conceit; and happily thinking themselves the objects of general admiration — a wise and merciful dispensation which no good man will quarrel with.
And lastly, seated on some of the back benches, where they had already taken up their positions for the evening, were divers unmarried ladies past their grand climacteric, who, not dancing because there were no partners for them, and not playing cards lest they should be set down as irretrievably single, were in the favourable situation of being able to abuse everybody without reflecting on themselves. In short, they could abuse everybody, because everybody was there. It was a scene of gaiety, glitter, and show; of richly-dressed people, handsome mirrors, chalked floors, girandoles and wax-candles; and in all parts of the scene, gliding from spot to spot in silent softness, bowing obsequiously to this party, nodding familiarly to that, and smiling complacently on all, was the sprucely-attired person of Angelo Cyrus Bantam, Esquire, the Master of the Ceremonies.
'Stop in the tea-room. Take your sixpenn'orth. Then lay on hot water, and call it tea. Drink it,' said Mr. Dowler, in a loud voice, directing Mr. Pickwick, who advanced at the head of the little party, with Mrs. Dowler on his arm. Into the tea-room Mr. Pickwick turned; and catching sight of him, Mr. Bantam corkscrewed his way through the crowd and welcomed him with ecstasy.
'My dear Sir, I am highly honoured. Ba-ath is favoured. Mrs. Dowler, you embellish the rooms. I congratulate you on your feathers. Re-markable!'
'Anybody here?' inquired Dowler suspiciously.
'Anybody! The ELITE of Ba-ath. Mr. Pickwick, do you see the old lady in the gauze turban?'
'The fat old lady?' inquired Mr. Pickwick innocently.
'Hush, my dear sir — nobody's fat or old in Ba-ath. That's the Dowager Lady Snuphanuph.'
'Is it, indeed?' said Mr. Pickwick.
'No less a person, I assure you,' said the Master of the Ceremonies. 'Hush. Draw a little nearer, Mr. Pickwick. You see the splendidly-dressed young man coming this way?'
'The one with the long hair, and the particularly small forehead?' inquired Mr. Pickwick.
'The same. The richest young man in Ba-ath at this moment. Young Lord Mutanhed.'
'You don't say so?' said Mr. Pickwick.
'Yes. You'll hear his voice in a moment, Mr. Pickwick. He'll speak to me. The other gentleman with him, in the red under-waistcoat and dark moustache, is the Honourable Mr. Crushton, his bosom friend. How do you do, my Lord?'
'Veway hot, Bantam,' said his Lordship.
'It IS very warm, my Lord,' replied the M.C.
'Confounded,' assented the Honourable Mr. Crushton.
'Have you seen his Lordship's mail-cart, Bantam?' inquired the Honourable Mr. Crushton, after a short pause, during which young Lord Mutanhed had been endeavouring to stare Mr. Pickwick out of countenance, and Mr. Crushton had been reflecting what subject his Lordship could talk about best.
'Dear me, no,' replied the M.C.'A mail-cart! What an excellent idea. Re-markable!'
'Gwacious heavens!' said his Lordship, 'I thought evewebody had seen the new mail-cart; it's the neatest, pwettiest, gwacefullest thing that ever wan upon wheels. Painted wed, with a cweam piebald.'
'With a real box for the letters, and all complete,' said the Honourable Mr. Crushton.
'And a little seat in fwont, with an iwon wail, for the dwiver,' added his Lordship. 'I dwove it over to Bwistol the other morning, in a cwimson coat, with two servants widing a quarter of a mile behind; and confound me if the people didn't wush out of their cottages, and awest my pwogwess, to know if I wasn't the post. Glorwious — glorwious!'