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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesSandra Belloni - Book 1 - Chapter 9. The Rival Clubs
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Sandra Belloni - Book 1 - Chapter 9. The Rival Clubs Post by :Nice81 Category :Long Stories Author :George Meredith Date :May 2012 Read :3531

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Sandra Belloni - Book 1 - Chapter 9. The Rival Clubs

BOOK I CHAPTER IX. THE RIVAL CLUBS

Hardly had the last sound of the drum passed out of hearing, when the elastic thunder of a fresh one claimed attention. The truth being, that the Junction Club of Ipley and Hillford, whose colours were yellow and blue, was a seceder from the old-established Hillford Club, on which it had this day shamefully stolen a march by parading everywhere in the place of it, and disputing not only its pasture-grounds but its identity.

There is no instrument the sound of which proclaims such a vast internal satisfaction as the drum. I know not whether it be that the sense we have of the corpulency of this instrument predisposes us to imagine it supremely content: as when an alderman is heard snoring the world is assured that it listens to the voice of its own exceeding gratulation. A light heart in a fat body ravishes not only the world but the philosopher. If monotonous, the one note of the drum is very correct. Like the speaking of great Nature, what it means is implied by the measure. When the drum beats to the measure of a common human pulsation it has a conquering power: inspiring us neither to dance nor to trail the members, but to march as life does, regularly, and in hearty good order, and with a not exhaustive jollity. It is a sacred instrument.

Now the drum which is heard to play in this cheerful fashion, while at the same time we know that discomfiture is cruelly harrying it: that its inmost feelings are wounded, and that worse is in store for it, affects the contemplative mind with an inexpressibly grotesque commiseration. Do but listen to this one, which is the joint corporate voice of the men of Hillford. Outgeneraled, plundered, turned to ridicule, it thumps with unabated briskness. Here indeed might Sentimentalism shed a fertile tear!

Anticipating that it will eventually be hung up among our national symbols, I proceed. The drum of Hillford entered the Brookfield grounds as Ipley had done, and with a similar body of decorated Clubmen; sounding along until it faced the astonished proprietor, who held up his hand and requested to know the purpose of the visit. One sentence of explanation sufficed.

"What!" cried Mr. Pole, "do you think you can milk a cow twice in ten minutes?"

Several of the Hillford men acknowledged that it would be rather sharp work.

Their case was stated: whereupon Mr. Pole told them that he had just been 'milked,' and regretted it, but requested them to see that he could not possibly be equal to any second proceeding of the sort. On their turning to consult together, he advised them to bear it with fortitude. "All right, sir!" they said: and a voice from the ranks informed him that their word was 'Jolly.' Then a signal was given, and these indomitable fellows cheered the lord of Brookfield as lustily as if they had accomplished the feat of milking him twice in an hour. Their lively hurrahs set him blinking in extreme discomposure of spirit, and he was fumbling at his pocket, when the drum a little precipitately thumped: the ranks fell into order, and the departure was led by the tune of the 'King of the Cannibal islands:' a tune that is certain to create a chorus on the march. On this occasion, the line:--

"Oh! didn't you know you were done, sir?"

became general at the winding up of the tune. Boys with their elders frisked as they chimed it, casting an emphasis of infinite relish on the declaration 'done'; as if they delighted in applying it to Mr. Pole, though at their own expense.

Soon a verse grew up:--


"We march'd and call'd on Mister Pole,
Who hadn't a penny, upon his soul,
For Ipley came and took the whole,
And didn't you know you were done, sir!"


I need not point out to the sagacious that Hillford and not Mr. Pole had been 'done;' but this was the genius of the men who transferred the opprobrium to him. Nevertheless, though their manner of welcoming misfortune was such, I, knowing that there was not a deadlier animal than a 'done' Briton, have shudders for Ipley.

We relinquished the stream of an epic in turning away from these mighty drums.

Mr. Pole stood questioning all who surrounded him: "What could I do? I couldn't subscribe to both. They don't expect that of a lord, and I'm a commoner. If these fellows quarrel and split, are we to suffer for it? They can't agree, and want us to pay double fines. This is how they serve us."

Mr. Barrett, rather at a loss to account for his excitement, said, that it must be admitted they had borne the trick played upon them, with remarkable good humour.

"Yes, but," Mr. Pole fumed, "I don't. They put me in the wrong, between them. They make me uncomfortable. I've a good mind to withdraw my subscription to those rascals who came first, and have nothing to do with any of them. Then, you see, down I go for a niggardly fellow. That's the reputation I get. Nothing of this in London! you make your money, pay your rates, and nobody bothers a man."

"You should have done as our darling here did, papa," said Adela. "You should have hinted something that might be construed a promise or not, as we please to read it."

"If I promise I perform," returned Mr. Pole.

"Our Hillford people have cause for complaint," Mr. Barrett observed. And to Emilia: "You will hardly favour one party more than another, will you?"

"I am for that poor man Jim," said Emilia, "He carried my harp evening after evening, and would not even take sixpence for the trouble."

"Are you really going to sing there?"

"Didn't you hear? I promised."

"To-night?"

"Yes; certainly."

"Do you know what it is you have promised?"

"To sing."

Adela glided to her sisters near at hand, and these ladies presently hemmed Emilia in. They had a method of treating matters they did not countenance, as if nature had never conceived them, and such were the monstrous issue of diseased imaginations. It was hard for Emilia to hear that what she designed to do was "utterly out of the question and not to be for one moment thought of." She reiterated, with the same interpreting stress, that she had given her promise.

"Do you know, I praised you for putting them off so cleverly," said Adela in tones of gentle reproach that bewildered Emilia.

"Must we remind you, then, that you are bound by a previous promise?" Cornelia made a counter-demonstration with the word. "Have you not promised to dine with us at Lady Gosstre's to-night?"

"Oh, of course I shall keep that," replied Emilia. "I intend to. I will sing there, and then I will go and sing to those poor people, who never hear anything but dreadful music--not music at all, but something that seems to tear your flesh!"

"Never mind our flesh," said Adela pettishly: melodiously remonstrating the next instant: "I really thought you could not be in earnest."

"But," said Arabella, "can you find pleasure in wasting your voice and really great capabilities on such people?"

Emilia caught her up--"This poor man? But he loves music: he really knows the good from the bad. He never looks proud but when I sing to him."

The situation was one that Cornelia particularly enjoyed. Here was a low form of intellect to be instructed as to the precise meaning of a word, the nature of a pledge. "There can be no harm that I see, in your singing to this man," she commenced. "You can bid him come to one of the out-houses here, if you desire, and sing to him. In the evening, after his labour, will be the fit time. But, as your friends, we cannot permit you to demean yourself by going from our house to a public booth, where vulgar men are smoking and drinking beer. I wonder you have the courage to contemplate such an act! You have pledged your word. But if you had pledged your word, child, to swing upon that tree, suspended by your arms, for an hour, could you keep it? I think not; and to recognize an impossibility economizes time and is one of the virtues of a clear understanding. It is incompatible that you should dine with Lady Gosstre, and then run away to a drinking booth. Society will never tolerate one who is familiar with boors. If you are to succeed in life, as we, your friends, can conscientiously say that we most earnestly hope and trust you will do, you must be on good terms with Society. You must! You pledge your word to a piece of folly. Emancipate yourself from it as quickly as possible. Do you see? This is foolish: it, therefore, cannot be. Decide, as a sensible creature."

At the close of this harangue, Cornelia, who had stooped slightly to deliver it, regained her stately posture, beautified in Mr. Barrett's sight by the flush which an unwonted exercise in speech had thrown upon her cheeks.

Emilia stood blinking like one sensible of having been chidden in a strange tongue.

"Does it offend you--my going?" she faltered.

"Offend!--our concern is entirely for you," observed Cornelia.

The explanation drew out a happy sparkle from Emilia's eyes. She seized her hand, kissed it, and cried: "I do thank you. I know I promised, but indeed I am quite pleased to go!"

Mr. Barrett swung hurriedly round and walked some paces away with his head downward. The ladies remained in a tolerant attitude for a minute or so, silent. They then wheeled with one accord, and Emilia was left to herself.

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