Despite the pouring in of the flood of guests about the tables, Mrs. Chump and Mr. Pole sat apparently unconcerned in their places, and, as if to show their absolute indifference to observation and opinion, went through the ceremony of drinking to one another, upon which they nodded and chuckled: a suspicious eye had the option of divining that they used the shelter of the table cloth for an interchange of squeezes. This would have been further strengthened by Mrs. Chump’s arresting exclamation, “Pole! Company!” Mr. Pole looked up. He recognized Lady Gosstre, and made an attempt, in his usual brisk style, to salute her. Mrs. Champ drew him back. “Nothin’ but his legs, my lady,” she whispered. “There’s nothin’ sets ’m up like champagne, my dears!” she called out to the Three of Brookfield.
Those ladies were now in the hall, gazing, as mildly as humanity would allow, at their common destiny, thus startlingly displayed. There was no doubt in the bosom of either one of them that exposure was to follow this prelude. Mental resignation was not even demanded of them—merely physical. They did not seek comfort in an interchange of glances, but dropped their eyes, and masked their sight as they best could. Caesar assassinated did a similar thing.
“My dears!” pursued Mrs. Chump, in Irish exaggerated by wine, “I’ve found ’m for ye! And if ye’d seen ’m this afternoon—the little peaky, shaky fellow that he was! and a doctor, too, feelin’ his pulse. ‘Is ut slow,’ says I, ‘doctor?’ and draws a bottle of champagne. He could hardly stand before his first glass. ’Pon my hon’r, my lady, ye naver saw s’ch a change in a mortal bein.—Pole, didn’t ye go ‘ha, ha!’ now, and seem to be nut-cracking with your fingers? He did; and if ye aver saw an astonished doctor! ‘Why,’ says I, ’doctor, ye think ut’s maguc! Why, where’s the secret? drink with ’m, to be sure! And you go and do that, my lord doctor, my dear Mr. Doctor! Do ut all round, and your patients ’ll bless your feet.” Why, isn’t cheerful society and champagne the vary best of medicines, if onnly the blood ’ll go of itself a little? The fault’s in his legs; he’s all right at top!—if he’d smooth his hair a bit.
Checking her tongue, Mrs. Chump performed this service lightly for him, in the midst of his muttered comments on her Irish.
The fact was manifest to the whole assembly, that they had indeed been drinking champagne to some purpose.
Wilfrid stepped up to two of his sisters, warning them hurriedly not to go to their father: Adela he arrested with a look, but she burst the restraint to fulfil a child’s duty. She ran up gracefully, and taking her father’s hand, murmured a caressing “Dear papa!”
“There—all right—quite right—quite well,” Mr. Pole repeated. “Glad to see you all: go away.”
He tried to look kindly out of the nervous fit into which a word, in a significant tone, from one of his daughters had instantly plunged him. Mrs. Chump admonished her: “Will ye undo all that I’ve been doin’ this blessed day?”