So they went on talking about dancers, fights, drinking, demireps, until Macmurdo came down and joined the boys and the conversation. He did not appear to think that any especial reverence was due to their boyhood; the old fellow cut in with stories, to the full as choice as any the youngest rake present had to tell — nor did his own grey hairs nor their smooth faces detain him. Old Mac was famous for his good stories. He was not exactly a lady's man; that is, men asked him to dine rather at the houses of their mistresses than of their mothers. There can scarcely be a life lower, perhaps, than his, but he was quite contented with it, such as it was, and led it in perfect good nature, simplicity, and modesty of demeanour.
By the time Mac had finished a copious breakfast, most of the others had concluded their meal. Young Lord Varinas was smoking an immense Meerschaum pipe, while Captain Hugues was employed with a cigar: that violent little devil Tandyman, with his little bull-terrier between his legs, was tossing for shillings with all his might (that fellow was always at some game or other) against Captain Deuceace; and Mac and Rawdon walked off to the Club, neither, of course, having given any hint of the business which was occupying their minds. Both, on the other hand, had joined pretty gaily in the conversation, for why should they interrupt it? Feasting, drinking, ribaldry, laughter, go on alongside of all sorts of other occupations in Vanity Fair — the crowds were pouring out of church as Rawdon and his friend passed down St. James's Street and entered into their Club.
The old bucks and habitues, who ordinarily stand gaping and grinning out of the great front window of the Club, had not arrived at their posts as yet — the newspaper-room was almost empty. One man was present whom Rawdon did not know; another to whom he owed a little score for whist, and whom, in consequence, he did not care to meet; a third was reading the Royalist (a periodical famous for its scandal and its attachment to Church and King) Sunday paper at the table, and looking up at Crawley with some interest, said, "Crawley, I congratulate you."
"What do you mean?" said the Colonel.
"It's in the Observer and the Royalist too," said Mr. Smith.
"What?" Rawdon cried, turning very red. He thought that the affair with Lord Steyne was already in the public prints. Smith looked up wondering and smiling at the agitation which the Colonel exhibited as he took up the paper and, trembling, began to read.
Mr. Smith and Mr. Brown (the gentleman with .whom Rawdon had the outstanding whist account) had been talking about the Colonel just before he came in.
"It is come just in the nick of time," said Smith. "I suppose Crawley had not a shilling in the world."
"It's a wind that blows everybody good," Mr. Brown said. "He can't go away without paying me a pony he owes me."
"What's the salary?" asked Smith.
"Two or three thousand," answered the other. "But the climate's so infernal, they don't enjoy it long. Liverseege died after eighteen months of it, and the man before went off in six weeks, I hear."
"Some people say his brother is a very clever man. I always found him a d — — - bore," Smith ejaculated. "He must have good interest, though. He must have got the Colonel the place."
"He!" said Brown. with a sneer. "Pooh. It was Lord Steyne got it.
"How do you mean?"
"A virtuous woman is a crown to her husband," answered the other enigmatically, and went to read his papers.
Rawdon, for his part, read in the Royalist the following astonishing paragraph:
GOVERNORSHIP OF COVENTRY ISLAND. — H.M.S. Yellowjack, Commander Jaunders, has brought letters and papers from Coventry Island. H. E. Sir Thomas Liverseege had fallen a victim to the prevailing fever at Swampton. His loss is deeply felt in the flourishing colony. We hear that the Governorship has been offered to Colonel Rawdon Crawley, C.B., a distinguished Waterloo officer. We need not only men of acknowledged bravery, but men of administrative talents to superintend the affairs of our colonies, and we have no doubt that the gentleman selected by the Colonial Office to fill the lamented vacancy which has occurred at Coventry Island is admirably calculated for the post which he is about to occupy."
"Coventry Island! Where was it? Who had appointed him to the government? You must take me out as your secretary, old boy," Captain Macmurdo said laughing; and as Crawley and his friend sat wondering and perplexed over the announcement, the Club waiter brought in to the Colonel a card on which the name of Mr. Wenham was engraved, who begged to see Colonel Crawley.
The Colonel and his aide-de-camp went out to meet the gentleman, rightly conjecturing that he was an emissary of Lord Steyne. "How d'ye do, Crawley? I am glad to see you," said Mr. Wenham with a bland smile, and grasping Crawley's hand with great cordiality.
"You come, I suppose, from — "
"Exactly," said Mr. Wenham.
"Then this is my friend Captain Macmurdo, of the Life Guards Green."
"Delighted to know Captain Macmurdo, I'm sure," Mr. Wenham said and tendered another smile and shake of the hand to the second, as he had done to the principal. Mac put out one finger, armed with a buckskin glove, and made a very frigid bow to Mr. Wenham over his tight cravat. He was, perhaps, discontented at being put in communication with a pekin, and thought that Lord Steyne should have sent him a Colonel at the very least.
"As Macmurdo acts for me, and knows what I mean," Crawley said, "I had better retire and leave you together."
"Of course," said Macmurdo.
"By no means, my dear Colonel," Mr. Wenham said; "the interview which I had the honour of requesting was with you personally, though the company of Captain Macmurdo cannot fail to be also most pleasing. In fact, Captain, I hope that our conversation will lead to none but the most agreeable results, very different from those which my friend Colonel Crawley appears to anticipate."
"Humph!" said Captain Macmurdo. Be hanged to these civilians, he thought to himself, they are always for arranging and speechifying. Mr. Wenham took a chair which was not offered to him — took a paper from his pocket, and resumed —
"You have seen this gratifying announcement in the papers this morning, Colonel? Government has secured a most valuable servant, and you, if you accept office, as I presume you will, an excellent appointment. Three thousand a year, delightful climate, excellent government-house, all your own way in the Colony, and a certain promotion. I congratulate you with all my heart. I presume you know, gentlemen, to whom my friend is indebted for this piece of patronage?"
"Hanged if I know," the Captain said; his principal turned very red.
"To one of the most generous and kindest men in the world, as he is one of the greatest — to my excellent friend, the Marquis of Steyne."
"I'll see him d — - before I take his place," growled out Rawdon.
"You are irritated against my noble friend," Mr. Wenham calmly resumed; "and now, in the name of common sense and justice, tell me why?"
"WHY?" cried Rawdon in surprise.
"Why? Dammy!" said the Captain, ringing his stick on the ground.