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tescue was known to be an excellent forced the melancholy event upon swimmer, and startling as the acci- their memory. dent was, they felt certain he would There are few sorrows so stubborn regain the vessel. They could not as to resist the united influence of see him. They listened. They wine, a circle of select friends, and a heard the sound of his hands and feet. season of prescriptive gaiety. Even They hailed him. An answer was those pinching troubles of life, which returned, but in a faint gurgling voice, come home to a man's own bosom, and the exclamation « Oh God!” will light up a smile, in such moments, struck upon their ears. In an instant at the beaming countenances and jotwo or three, who were expert swim- cund looks of all the rest of the world; mers, plunged into the river, and while your mere sympathetic or sentiswam towards the spot whence the mental distress, gives way, like the exclamation had proceeded. One of inconsolable affliction of a widow of them was within an arm's length of twenty, closely besieged by a lover of Fortescue: he saw him; he was thirty. struggling and buffeting the water; A decorous sigh or two, a few bebefore he could be reached, he went coming ejaculations, and an instrucdown, and his distracted friend beheld tive observation upon the uncertainty the eddying circles of the wave just of life, made up the sum of tender over the spot where he had sunk. He posthumous “offerings to the manes dived after him, and touched the bot- of poor George Fortescue,” as they tom; but the tide must have drifted proceeded to discharge the more imthe body onwards, for it could not be portant duties for which they had met. found !
By the time the third glass of chamThey proceeded to one of the near- pagne had gone round, in addition to est stations where drags were kept, sundry potations of fine old hock, and and having procured the necessary" capital madeira,” they had ceased apparatus, they returned to the fatal to discover anything so very pathetic spot. After the lapse of above an in the inequality of the two sides of hour, they succeeded in raising the the table, or so melancholy in their lifeless body of their lost friend. All crippled number of eleven. the usual remedies were employed for The rest of the evening passed off restoring suspended animation, but to their hearts' content. Conversain vain ; and they now pursued the tion was briskly kept up amid the remainder of their course to London, usual fire of pun, repartee, anecdote, in mournful silence, with the corpse of politics, toasts, healths, jokes, broad him who had commenced the day of laughter, erudite disquisitions upon pleasure with them in the fulness of the vintage of the wines they were health, of spirits, and of life! Amid drinking, and an occasional song, their severer grief, they could not but Towards twelve o'clock, when it reflect how soon one of the joyous might be observed that they emptied twelve had slipped out of the little their glasses with less symptoms of festive circle.
palating the quality of what they The months rolled on, and cold quaffed, and filled them again, with December came with all its cheering less anxiety as to which bottle or deround of kindly greetings and merry canter they laid hold of, they gradualhospitalities : and with it came a soft- ly waxed moral and tender; sensibiened recollection of the fate of poor lity began to ooze out ;“ poor George Fortescue; eleven of the twelve as- Fortescue !” was once more rememsembled on the last day of the year, bered; those who could count, sighed and it was impossible not to feel their to think there were only eleven of loss as they sat down to dinner. The them; and those who could see, felt very irregularity of the table, five on the tears come into their eyes, as they one side, and only four on the other, dimly noted the inequality of the two
sides of the table. They all agreed, anniversaries, as they might aptly at parting, however, that they had enough be called, with scarcely any never passed such a happy day, con- perceptible change. But, alas ! there gratulated each other upon having in- came one dinner at last, which was stituted so delightful a meeting, and darkened by a calamity they never promised to be punctual to their ap- expected to witness, for on that very pointment the ensuing evening, when day, their friend, companion, brother they were to celebrate the new-year, almost, was hanged! Yes! Stephen whose entrance they had welcomed in Rowland, the wit, the oracle, the life bumpers of claret, as the watchman of their little circle, had, on the mornbawled “past twelve !” beneath the ing of that day, forseited bis life upon window.
a public scaffold, for having made one They met accordingly ; and their single stroke of his pen in a wrong gaiety was without any alloy or draw. place. In other words, a bill of exback. It was only the first time of change which passed into his hands their assembling, after the death of for L.700, passed out of it for L.1700! “poor George Fortescue,” that made he having drawn the important little the recollection of it painful ; for, prefix to the hundreds, and the bill though but a few hours had intervened, being paid at the banker's without exthey now took their seats at the table, amining the words of it. The forgery as if eleven had been their original was discovered,-brought home to number, and as if all were there that Rowland,-and though the greatest bad been ever expected to be there. interest was used to obtain a remission
It is tbus in everything. The first of the fatal penalty, (the particular time a man enters a prison-the first female favorite of the prime minister book an author writes—the first paint- himself interfering,) poor Stephen ing an artist executes—the first battle Rowland was banged. Every body a general wins-nay, the first time a pitied him; and nobody could tell why rogue is hanged, (for a rotten rope may he did it. He was not poor ; he was provide a second performance, even of not a gambler; he was not a speculathat ceremony, with all its singleness tor; but phrenology settled it. The of character,) differ inconceivably organ of acquisitiveness was discovered from their first repetition. There is in his head, after his execution, as a charm, a spell, a novelty, a fresh- large as a pigeon's egg. He could ness, a delight, inseparable from the not help it. first experience, (hanging always ex- It would be injustice to the ten to cepted, be it remembered,) which no say, that even wine, friendship, and a art or circumstance can impart to the merry season, could dispel the gloom second. And it is the same in all the which pervaded this dinner. It was darker traits of life. There is a de- agreed beforehand, that they should gree of poignancy and anguish in the not allude to the distressing and mefirst assaults of sorrow, which is ne- lancholy theme; and having thus inver found afterwards. Ask the weep- terdicted the only thing which really ing widow, who, “ like Niobe all occupied all their thoughts, the natural tears," follows her fifth husband to the consequence was, that silent contemgrave, and she will tell you that the plation took the place of dismal disfirst time she performed that melan- course ; and they separated long becholy office, it was with at least five fore midnight. An embarrassing retimes more lamentations than she last straint, indeed, pervaded the little discharged it. In every case, it is conversation which grew up at intersimply that the first fine edge of our vals. The champagne was not in feelings has been taken off, and that good order, but no one liked to comit can never be restored.
plain of its being ropy. A beautiful Several years had elapsed, and our painting of Vandyke which was in the eleven friends kept up their double room, became a topic of discussion.
They who thought it was hung in a val of the cloth. At parting, too, bad place, shrunk from saying so; and there was now a long ceremony in the not one ventured to speak of the exe- hall, buttoning up great-coats, tying cution of that great master. Their on woollen-comforters, fixing silkhost was having the front of his house handkerchiefs over the mouth and up repaired, and at any other time he to the ears, and grasping sturdy walkwould have cautioned them, when they ing-canes to support unsteady feet. went away, as the night was very Their fiftieth anniversary came, and dark, to take care of the scaffold; death had indeed been busy. One but no, they might have stumbled had been killed by the overturning of right and left before he would have the mail, in which he had taken his pronounced that word, or told them place in order to be present at the not to break their necks. One, in dinner, having purchased an estate in particular, even abstained from using Monmouthshire, and retired thither his customary phrase, “this is a drop with his family. Another had underof good wine ;” and another forbore gone the terrific operation for the to congratulate the friend who sat stone, and expired beneath the knife next him, and who had been married a third had yielded up a broken spirit since he last saw him, because he was two years after the loss of an only accustoined on such occasions to em- surviving and beloved daughter-a ploy figurative language, and talk of fourth was carried off in a few days the holy noose of wedlock.
by a cholera morbus-a fifth had Some fifteen years had now glided breathed his last the very morning be away since the fate of poor Rowland, obtained a judgment in his favor by the and the ten remained; but the steal- Lord Chancellor, which had cost him ing hand of time had written sundry his last shilling nearly to get, and changes in most legible characters. which, after a litigation of eighteen Raven locks had become grizzled-- years, declared him the rightsul postwo or three heads had not as many sessor of ten thousand a year,-ten locks altogether as may be reckoned minutes after he was no more. A in a walk of half a mile along the Re- sixth had perished by the hand of a gent's Canal-one was actually cover- midnight assassin, who broke into his ed with a brown wig--the crow's-feet house for plunder, and sacrificed the were visible in the corner of the eye owner of it, as he grasped convulsively good old port and warm inadeira car- a bundle of Exchequer bills, which ried it against hock, claret, red bur- the robber was drawing from beneath gundy, and champagne-stews, hash. his pillow, where he knew they were es, and ragouts, grew into favor- every night placed for better security. crusts were rarely called for to relish Four little old men, of withered the cheese after dinner-conversation appearance and decrepit walk, with was less boisterous, and it turned cracked voices, and dim, rayless eyes, chiefly upon politics and the state of sat down, by the mercy of Heaven, the funds, or the value of landed pro- (as they themselves tremulously deperty-apologies were made for com- clared,) to celebrate, for the fiftieth ing in thick shoes and warm stockings time, the first day of the year ; to ob-the doors and windows were more serve the frolic compact, which, half carefully provided with list and sand- a century before, they had entered bags—the fire more in request-and a into at the Star and Garter at Richquiet game of whist filled up the mond! Eight were in their graves! hours that were wont to be devoted to The four that remained stood upon its drinking, singing, and riotous merri- confines. Yet they chirped cheerily ment. Two rubbers, a cup of coffee, over their glass, though they could and at home by eleven o'clock, was scarcely carry it to their lips, if more the usual cry, when the fifth or sixth than half full; and cracked their glass had gone round after the remo- jokes, though they articulated their words with difficulty, and beard each moment memory was faithful to her other with still greater difficulty. office. She threw open the long visThey mumbled, they chattered, they ta of buried years; and his heart tra laughed, (if a sort of strangled velled through them all: Their lusty wheezing might be called a laugh ;) and blithesome spring,--their bright and when the wines sent their icy and fervid summer,-their ripe and blood in warmer pulse through their' temperate autumn,-their chill, but veins, they talked of their past as if it not too frozen winter. He saw, as in were but a yesterday that had slipped a mirror, how, one by one, the laughby them,-and of their future, as if it ing companions of that merry hour, at were a busy century that lay before Richmond, had dropped into eternity. them.
He felt all the loneliness of his condiThey were just the number for a tion, (for he had eschewed marriage, quiet rubber of whist; and for three and in the veins of no living creature successive years they sat down to one. ran a drop of blood whose source was The fourth came, and then their rub- in his own); and as he drained the ber was played with an open duinmy; glass which he had filled, “ to the a fifth, and whist was no longer prac- memory of those who were gone,” the ticable ; two could play only at crib- tears slowly trickled down the deep bage, and cribbage was the game. furrows of his aged face. But it was little more than the mock- He had thus fulfilled one part of ery of play. Their palsied hands bis vow, and he prepared bimself to could hardly hold, or their fading discharge the other, by sitting the ususight distinguish, the cards, while al number of hours at his desolate tatheir torpid faculties made them doze ble. With a heavy heart he resigned between each deal.
himself to the gloom of his own At length came the LAST dinner; thoughts-a lethargic sleep stole over and the survivor of the twelve, upon him his head sell upon his bosomwhose head four score and ten winters confused images crowded into his had showered their snow, ate his soli- mind-be babbled to himself—was sitary meal. It so chanced that it was lent and when his servant entered the in his house, and at his table, they room, alarmed by a noise which he had celebrated the first. In his cellar, heard, he found his master stretched too, had remained, for eight and fifty upon the carpet at the foot of the years, the bottle they had then un- easy-chair, out of which he had slipcorked, re-corked, and which he was ped in an apoplectic fit. He never that day to uncork again. It stood spoke again, nor once opened his eyes, beside him. With a feeble and reluc- though the vital spark was not extinct tant grasp he took the “frail meino- till the following day. And this was rial” of a youthful vow; and for a the LAST DINNER!
THE BEST BAT IN THE SCHOOL.
“ It is the best bat in the school. I that drives. I hit a ball yesterday call it Mercandotti, for its shape. from this very spot to the wickets in Look at its face ; run your hand over the upper shooting fields; six runs the plane. It is smoother than a look- clear, and I scarcely touched it. ing-glass. I was a month suiting Hodgson said it was not the first time myself; and I chose it out of a hun- a Ball had been wonderfully struck by dred. I would not part with it for its Mercandotti. There is not such anweight in gold; and that exquisite other piece of wood in England. Colknot !-lovelier, to me, than a beau- lyer would give his ears for it; and ty's dimple. You may fancy how that would be a long price, as Go
lightly says. Do take it in your flushed and feverish delight. He had hand, Courtenay; but, plague on your kept his wicket up two hours, and clumsy knuckles ! you know as much made a score of seventy-three. “I of a bat, as a Hottentot of the longi- may thank my bat for it,” quoth be, tude, or a guinea-pig of the German shouldering it as Hercules might have flute.”
shouldered his club, “it is the best So spoke the Honorable Ernest bat in the school.” Alas, for the inAdolphus Volant; the “ decus colu- stability of human affections ! The menque" that day of his Dame's Ele- exquisite knot had been superseded. ven; proud of the red silk that girded Mercandotti had been sold for half his loins, and the white hose that de- price ; and the Honorable Ernest corated his ancles; proud of his undis- Adolphus Volant was again to be eloputed prowess, and of his anticipated quent, and again to be envied; he had victory; but prouder far of the pos - still the best bat in the school. session of this master-piece of Na- I believe I was a tolerably goodture's and Thompson's workshop, than natured boy. I am sure I was always which no pearl was ever more pre- willing to acquiesce in the estimation cious-no phænix more unique. As my companions set upon their treahe spoke, a bail dropped. The Ho- sures, because they were generally norable Ernest Adolphus Volant walk- such that I felt myself a vastly inadeed smilingly to the vacant wicket. quate judge of their actual value. What elegance in his attitude! What But the Honorable Ernest Adolphus ease in his motions! Keep that little Volant was exorbitant in the frequency colleger out of the way; for we shall and the variety of bis drafts upon my have the ball walking this road pre- sympathy. He turned off five hocksently. Three to one on Rague. ey-sticks in a fortnight, and each in neau's ! Now !-There was a mo- its turn was unrivalled. He wore ment's pause of anxious suspense : seven waistcoats in a week, and each, the long fag rubbed his hands, and for its brief day, was as single in its drew up his shirt-sleeve ; the wicket- beauty as the rainbow. In May, keeper stooped expectantly over the Milward's shoes were unequalled ; in bails ; the bowler trotted leisurely up June, Ingalton's were divine. He to the bowling-crease, and off went lounged in Poet's Walk, over a duothe ball upon its successive errands; decimo, and it was the sweetest edi
-from the hand of the bowler to the tion that ever went into a waistcoat exquisite knot in the bat of the Ho- pocket; he pored in his study over a norable Ernest Adolphus Volant ; folio, and there was no other copy exfrom the said exquisite knot to the tant but Lord Spencer's, and the muunerring fingers of the crouching long tilated one at Heidelberg. At Easter nips ; and from those fingers up into there were portraits hanging round his the blue firmament of heaven, with room; Titian nerer painted their the velocity of a sky-rocket. What equal : at Michaelmas, landscapes had a mistake! How did he manage it! occupied their place; Claude would His feet slipped, or the ball was have owned himself outdone. The twisted, or the sun dazzled him. It colt they were breaking for him in could not be the fault of the bat! It Leicestershire, the detonator be bad is the best bat in the school.
bespoken of Charles Moore, the fishA week afterwards I met my talent- ing-rod which had come from Bermued and enthusiastic friend crawling to da, the flageolet he had won at the absence through the playing fields, as raffle,-they were all, for a short seatired as a post-horse, and as hot as a son, perfection : he had always “ the salamander, with many applauding best bat in the school.” . associates on his right and on his left, The same whimsical propensity folwho exhibited to him certain pencil- lowed him through life. Four years led scrawls, on which he gazed with after we had made our last voyage to