"What!" said Miss Crawley.
"The Tom Cribb's Arms," said James, blushing deeply.
Miss Crawley burst out laughing at this title. Mr. Bowls gave one abrupt guffaw, as a confidential servant of the family, but choked the rest of the volley; the diplomatist only smiled.
"I — I didn't know any better," said James, looking down. "I've never been here before; it was the coachman told me." The young story- teller! The fact is, that on the Southampton coach, the day previous, James Crawley had met the Tutbury Pet, who was coming to Brighton to make a match with the Rottingdean Fibber; and enchanted by the Pet's conversation, had passed the evening in company with that scientific man and his friends, at the inn in question.
"I — I'd best go and settle the score," James continued. "Couldn't think of asking you, Ma'am," he added, generously.
This delicacy made his aunt laugh the more.
"Go and settle the bill, Bowls," she said, with a wave of her hand, "and bring it to me."
Poor lady, she did not know what she had done! "There — there's a little dawg," said James, looking frightfully guilty. "I'd best go for him. He bites footmen's calves."
All the party cried out with laughing at this description; even Briggs and Lady Jane, who was sitting mute during the interview between Miss Crawley and her nephew: and Bowls, without a word, quitted the room.
Still, by way of punishing her elder nephew, Miss Crawley persisted in being gracious to the young Oxonian. There were no limits to her kindness or her compliments when they once began. She told Pitt he might come to dinner, and insisted that James should accompany her in her drive, and paraded him solemnly up and down the cliff, on the back seat of the barouche. During all this excursion, she condescended to say civil things to him: she quoted Italian and French poetry to the poor bewildered lad, and persisted that he was a fine scholar, and was perfectly sure he would gain a gold medal, and be a Senior Wrangler.
"Haw, haw," laughed James, encouraged by these compliments; "Senior Wrangler, indeed; that's at the other shop."
"What is the other shop, my dear child?" said the lady.
"Senior Wranglers at Cambridge, not Oxford," said the scholar, with a knowing air; and would probably have been more confidential, but that suddenly there appeared on the cliff in a tax-cart, drawn by a bang-up pony, dressed in white flannel coats, with mother-of-pearl buttons, his friends the Tutbury Pet and the Rottingdean Fibber, with three other gentlemen of their acquaintance, who all saluted poor James there in the carriage as he sate. This incident damped the ingenuous youth's spirits, and no word of yea or nay could he be induced to utter during the rest of the drive.
On his return he found his room prepared, and his portmanteau ready, and might have remarked that Mr. Bowls's countenance, when the latter conducted him to his apartments, wore a look of gravity, wonder, and compassion. But the thought of Mr. Bowls did not enter his head. He was deploring the dreadful predicament in which he found himself, in a house full of old women, jabbering French and Italian, and talking poetry to him. "Reglarly up a tree, by jingo!" exclaimed the modest boy, who could not face the gentlest of her sex — not even Briggs — when she began to talk to him; whereas, put him at Iffley Lock, and he could out-slang the boldest bargeman.
At dinner, James appeared choking in a white neckcloth, and had the honour of handing my Lady Jane downstairs, while Briggs and Mr. Crawley followed afterwards, conducting the old lady, with her apparatus of bundles, and shawls, and cushions. Half of Briggs's time at dinner was spent in superintending the invalid's comfort, and in cutting up chicken for her fat spaniel. James did not talk much, but he made a point of asking all the ladies to drink wine, and accepted Mr. Crawley's challenge, and consumed the greater part of a bottle of champagne which Mr. Bowls was ordered to produce in his honour. The ladies having withdrawn, and the two cousins being left together, Pitt, the ex-diplomatist, be came very communicative and friendly. He asked after James's career at college — what his prospects in life were — hoped heartily he would get on; and, in a word, was frank and amiable. James's tongue unloosed with the port, and he told his cousin his life, his prospects, his debts, his troubles at the little-go, and his rows with the proctors, filling rapidly from the bottles before him, and flying from Port to Madeira with joyous activity.
"The chief pleasure which my aunt has," said Mr. Crawley, filling his glass, "is that people should do as they like in her house. This is Liberty Hall, James, and you can't do Miss Crawley a greater kindness than to do as you please, and ask for what you will. I know you have all sneered at me in the country for being a Tory. Miss Crawley is liberal enough to suit any fancy. She is a Republican in principle, and despises everything like rank or title."
"Why are you going to marry an Earl's daughter?" said James.
"My dear friend, remember it is not poor Lady Jane's fault that she is well born," Pitt replied, with a courtly air. "She cannot help being a lady. Besides, I am a Tory, you know."
"Oh, as for that," said Jim, "there's nothing like old blood; no, dammy, nothing like it. I'm none of your radicals. I know what it is to be a gentleman, dammy. See the chaps in a boat-race; look at the fellers in a fight; aye, look at a dawg killing rats — which is it wins? the good-blooded ones. Get some more port, Bowls, old boy, whilst I buzz this bottle-here. What was I asaying?"
"I think you were speaking of dogs killing rats," Pitt remarked mildly, handing his cousin the decanter to "buzz."
"Killing rats was I? Well, Pitt, are you a sporting man? Do you want to see a dawg as CAN kill a rat? If you do, come down with me to Tom Corduroy's, in Castle Street Mews, and I'll show you such a bull- terrier as — Pooh! gammon," cried James, bursting out laughing at his own absurdity — "YOU don't care about a dawg or rat; it's all nonsense. I'm blest if I think you know the difference between a dog and a duck."
"No; by the way," Pitt continued with increased blandness, "it was about blood you were talking, and the personal advantages which people derive from patrician birth. Here's the fresh bottle."
"Blood's the word," said James, gulping the ruby fluid down. "Nothing like blood, sir, in hosses, dawgs, AND men. Why, only last term, just before I was rusticated, that is, I mean just before I had the measles, ha, ha — there was me and Ringwood of Christchurch, Bob Ringwood, Lord Cinqbars' son, having our beer at the Bell at Blenheim, when the Banbury bargeman offered to fight either of us for a bowl of punch. I couldn't. My arm was in a sling; couldn't even take the drag down — a brute of a mare of mine had fell with me only two days before, out with the Abingdon, and I thought my arm was broke. Well, sir, I couldn't finish him, but Bob had his coat off at once — he stood up to the Banbury man for three minutes, and polished him off in four rounds easy. Gad, how he did drop, sir, and what was it? Blood, sir, all blood."
"You don't drink, James," the ex-attache continued. "In my time at Oxford, the men passed round the bottle a little quicker than you young fellows seem to do."
"Come, come," said James, putting his hand to his nose and winking at his cousin with a pair of vinous eyes, "no jokes, old boy; no trying it on on me. You want to trot me out, but it's no go. In vino veritas, old boy. Mars, Bacchus, Apollo virorum, hey? I wish my aunt would send down some of this to the governor; it's a precious good tap."
"You had better ask her," Machiavel continued, "or make the best of your time now. What says the bard? 'Nunc vino pellite curas, Cras ingens iterabimus aequor,'" and the Bacchanalian, quoting the above with a House of Commons air, tossed off nearly a thimbleful of wine with an immense flourish of his glass.
At the Rectory, when the bottle of port wine was opened after dinner, the young ladies had each a glass from a bottle of currant wine. Mrs. Bute took one glass of port, honest James had a couple commonly, but as his father grew very sulky if he made further inroads on the bottle, the good lad generally refrained from trying for more, and subsided either into the currant wine, or to some private gin-and-water in the stables, which he enjoyed in the company of the coachman and his pipe. At Oxford, the quantity of wine was unlimited, but the quality was inferior: but when quantity and quality united as at his aunt's house, James showed that he could appreciate them indeed; and hardly needed any of his cousin's encouragement in draining off the second bottle supplied by Mr. Bowls.