Then John Jennings, holding his empty glass, would speak: “All we could taste in that last punch that Belinda Armstrong made at my house was lemon; and the time before that, allspice; and the time before that, raw rum.” John Jennings’s voice, somewhat hoarse, was yet full of sweet melancholy cadences; there was sentiment and pathos in his “lemon” and “allspice,” which waxed almost tearful in his “raw rum.” His worn, high-bred face was as instinct with gentle melancholy as his voice, yet his sunken black eyes sparkled with the light of youth as the fine aromatic fire of the punch penetrated his veins.
As for the lawyer, who was the eldest of the four, long, brown, toughly and dryly pliant as an old blade of marsh-grass, he showed in speech, look, nor manner no sign of enthusiasm, but he drank the punch.
That evening, after Jerome Edwards had run home with his prospects of two shillings a week and Squire Eben Merritt’s assistance, the friends met at the Squire’s house. At eight o’clock they came marching down the road, the three of them—John Jennings in fine old broadcloth and a silk hat, with a weak stoop in his shoulders, and a languid shakiness in his long limbs; the lawyer striding nimbly as a grasshopper, with the utter unconsciousness of one who pursues only the ultimate ends of life; and the colonel, halting on his right knee, and recovering himself stiffly with his cane, holding his shoulders back, breathing a little heavily, his neck puffing over his high stock, his face a purplish-red about his white mustache and close-cropped beard.
The Squire’s wife had the punch-bowl all ready in the south room, where the parties were held. Some pipes were laid out there too, and a great jar of fine tobacco, and the cards were on the mahogany card-table—four packs for bezique. Abigail herself opened the door, admitted the guests, and ushered them into the south room. Colonel Lamson said something about the aroma of the punch; and John Jennings, in his sweet, melancholy voice, something gallant about the fair hands that mixed it; but Eliphalet Means moved unobtrusively across the room and dipped out for himself a glass of the beverage, and wasted not his approval in empty words.
The Squire came in shortly and greeted his guests, but he had his hat in his hand.
“I have to go out on business,” he announced. “I shall not be long. Mrs. Merritt will have to take my place.”
Abigail looked at him in surprise. But she was a most discreet wife. She never asked a question, though she wondered why her husband had not spoken of this before. The truth was he had forgotten his card-party when he had made his promise to Jerome, and then he had forgotten his promise to Jerome in thinking of his card-party, and little Lucina on her way to bed had just brought it to mind by asking when he was going. She had heard the promise, and had not forgotten.
“By the Lord Harry!” said the Squire, for he heard his friends down-stairs. Then, when Lucina looked at him with innocent wonder, he said, hurriedly, “Now, Pretty—I am going now,” and went down to excuse himself to his guests.