Having concluded his observations upon the soup, Mr. Osborne made a few curt remarks respecting the fish, also of a savage and satirical tendency, and cursed Billingsgate with an emphasis quite worthy of the place. Then he lapsed into silence, and swallowed sundry glasses of wine, looking more and more terrible, till a brisk knock at the door told of George's arrival when everybody began to rally.
"He could not come before. General Daguilet had kept him waiting at the Horse Guards. Never mind soup or fish. Give him anything — he didn't care what. Capital mutton — capital everything." His good humour contrasted with his father's severity; and he rattled on unceasingly during dinner, to the delight of all — of one especially, who need not be mentioned.
As soon as the young ladies had discussed the orange and the glass of wine which formed the ordinary conclusion of the dismal banquets at Mr. Osborne's house, the signal to make sail for the drawing-room was given, and they all arose and departed. Amelia hoped George would soon join them there. She began playing some of his favourite waltzes (then newly imported) at the great carved-legged, leather- cased grand piano in the drawing-room overhead. This little artifice did not bring him. He was deaf to the waltzes; they grew fainter and fainter; the discomfited performer left the huge instrument presently; and though her three friends performed some of the loudest and most brilliant new pieces of their repertoire, she did not hear a single note, but sate thinking, and boding evil. Old Osborne's scowl, terrific always, had never before looked so deadly to her. His eyes followed her out of the room, as if she had been guilty of something. When they brought her coffee, she started as though it were a cup of poison which Mr. Hicks, the butler, wished to propose to her. What mystery was there lurking? Oh, those women! They nurse and cuddle their presentiments, and make darlings of their ugliest thoughts, as they do of their deformed children.
The gloom on the paternal countenance had also impressed George Osborne with anxiety. With such eyebrows, and a look so decidedly bilious, how was he to extract that money from the governor, of which George was consumedly in want? He began praising his father's wine. That was generally a successful means of cajoling the old gentleman.
"We never got such Madeira in the West Indies, sir, as yours. Colonel Heavytop took off three bottles of that you sent me down, under his belt the other day."
"Did he?" said the old gentleman. "It stands me in eight shillings a bottle."
"Will you take six guineas a dozen for it, sir?" said George, with a laugh. "There's one of the greatest men in the kingdom wants some."
"Does he?" growled the senior. "Wish he may get it."
"When General Daguilet was at Chatham, sir, Heavytop gave him a breakfast, and asked me for some of the wine. The General liked it just as well — wanted a pipe for the Commander-in-Chief. He's his Royal Highness's right-hand man."
"It is devilish fine wine," said the Eyebrows, and they looked more good-humoured; and George was going to take advantage of this complacency, and bring the supply question on the mahogany, when the father, relapsing into solemnity, though rather cordial in manner, bade him ring the bell for claret. "And we'll see if that's as good as the Madeira, George, to which his Royal Highness is welcome, I'm sure. And as we are drinking it, I'll talk to you about a matter of importance."
Amelia heard the claret bell ringing as she sat nervously upstairs. She thought, somehow, it was a mysterious and presentimental bell. Of the presentiments which some people are always having, some surely must come right.
"What I want to know, George," the old gentleman said, after slowly smacking his first bumper — "what I want to know is, how you and — ah- -that little thing upstairs, are carrying on?"
"I think, sir, it is not hard to see," George said, with a self- satisfied grin. "Pretty clear, sir. — What capital wine!"
"What d'you mean, pretty clear, sir?"
"Why, hang it, sir, don't push me too hard. I'm a modest man. I — ah — I don't set up to be a lady-killer; but I do own that she's as devilish fond of me as she can be. Anybody can see that with half an eye."
"And you yourself?"
"Why, sir, didn't you order me to marry her, and ain't I a good boy? Haven't our Papas settled it ever so long?"
"A pretty boy, indeed. Haven't I heard of your doings, sir, with Lord Tarquin, Captain Crawley of the Guards, the Honourable Mr. Deuceace and that set. Have a care sir, have a care."
The old gentleman pronounced these aristocratic names with the greatest gusto. Whenever he met a great man he grovelled before him, and my-lorded him as only a free-born Briton can do. He came home and looked out his history in the Peerage: he introduced his name into his daily conversation; he bragged about his Lordship to his daughters. He fell down prostrate and basked in him as a Neapolitan beggar does in the sun. George was alarmed when he heard the names. He feared his father might have been informed of certain transactions at play. But the old moralist eased him by saying serenely:
"Well, well, young men will be young men. And the comfort to me is, George, that living in the best society in England, as I hope you do; as I think you do; as my means will allow you to do — "
"Thank you, sir," says George, making his point at once. "One can't live with these great folks for nothing; and my purse, sir, look at it"; and he held up a little token which had been netted by Amelia, and contained the very last of Dobbin's pound notes.
"You shan't want, sir. The British merchant's son shan't want, sir. My guineas are as good as theirs, George, my boy; and I don't grudge 'em. Call on Mr. Chopper as you go through the City to-morrow; he'll have something for you. I don't grudge money when I know you're in good society, because I know that good society can never go wrong. There's no pride in me. I was a humbly born man — but you have had advantages. Make a good use of 'em. Mix with the young nobility. There's many of 'em who can't spend a dollar to your guinea, my boy. And as for the pink bonnets (here from under the heavy eyebrows there came a knowing and not very pleasing leer) — why boys will be boys. Only there's one thing I order you to avoid, which, if you do not, I'll cut you off with a shilling, by Jove; and that's gambling."
"Oh, of course, sir," said George.
"But to return to the other business about Amelia: why shouldn't you marry higher than a stockbroker's daughter, George — that's what I want to know?"
"It's a family business, sir,".says George, cracking filberts. "You and Mr. Sedley made the match a hundred years ago."