This, which struck me as a very passable imitation of Dickens's pathetic writings, was a poser. In default of language, I looked Miss Sawley straight in the face, and attempted a substitute for a sigh. I w as rewarded with a tender glance.
"Ah," said she, "I see you are a congenial spirit! How delightful, and yet how rare, it is to meet with any one who thinks in unison with yourself! Do you ever walk in the Necropolis, Mr. Dunshunner? It is my favourite haunt of a morning. There we can wean ourselves, as it were, from life, and beneath the melancholy yew and cypress, anticipate the setting star. How often there have I seen the procession--the funeral of some very, /very/ little child--"
"Selina, my love," said Mrs. Sawley, "have the kindness to ring for the cookies."
I, as in duty bound, started up to save the fair enthusiast the trouble, and was not sorry to observe my seat immediately occupied by a very cadaverous gentleman, who was evidently jealous of the progress I was rapidly making. Sawley, with an air of great mystery, informed me that this was a Mr. Dalgleish of Raxmathrapple, the representative of an ancient Scottish family who claimed an important heritable office. The name, I thought, was familiar to me, but there was something in the appearance of Mr. Dalgleish which, notwithstanding the smiles of Miss Selina, rendered a rivalship in that quarter utterly out of the question.
I hate injustice, so let me do the honour in description to the Sawley banquet. The tea-urn most literally corresponded to its name. The table was decked out with divers platters, containing seed-cakes cut into rhomboids, almond biscuits, and ratafia-drops. Also on the sideboard there were two salvers, each of which contained a congregation of glasses, filled with port and sherry. The former fluid, as I afterward ascertained, was of the kind advertised as "curious," and proffered for sale at the reasonable rate of sixteen shillings per dozen. The banquet, on the whole, was rather peculiar than enticing; and, for the life of me, I could not divest myself of the idea that the self-same viands had figured, not long before, as funeral refreshments at a dirgie. No such suspicion seemed to cross the mind of M'Alcohol, who hitherto had remained uneasily surveying his nails in a corner, but at the first symptom of food started forward, and was in the act of making a clean sweep of the china, when Sawley proposed the singular preliminary of a hymn.
The hymn was accordingly sung. I am thankful to say it was such a one as I never heard before, or expect to hear again; and unless it was composed by the Reverend Saunders Peden in an hour of paroxysm on the moors, I cannot conjecture the author. After this original symphony, tea was discussed, and after tea, to my amazement, more hot brandy- a nd-water than I ever remember to have seen circulated at the most convivial party. Of course this effected a radical change in the spirits and conversation of the circle. It was again my lot to be placed by the side of the fascinating Selina, whose sentimentality gradually thawed away beneath the influence of sundry sips, which she accepted with a delicate reluctance. This time Dalgleish of Raxmathrapple had not the remotest chance. M'Alcohol got furious, sang Gaelic songs, and even delivered a sermon in genuine Erse, without incurring a rebuke; while, for my own part, I must needs confess that I waxed unnecessarily amorous, and the last thing I recollect was the pressure of Mr. Sawley's hand at the door, as he denominated me his dear boy, and hoped I would soon come back and visit Mrs. Sawley and Selina. The recollection of these passages next morning was the surest antidote to my return.
Three weeks had elapsed, and still the Glenmutchkin Railway shares were at a premium, though rather lower than when we sold. Our engineer, Watty Solder, returned from his first survey of the line, along with an assistant who really appeared to have some remote glimmerings of the science and practice of mensuration. It seemed, from a verbal report, that the line was actually practicable; and the survey would have been completed in a very short time, "if," according to the account of Solder, "there had been ae hoos in the glen. But ever sin' the distillery stoppit--and that was twa year last Martinmas--there wasna a hole whaur a Christian could lay his head, muckle less get white sugar to his toddy, forby the change-house at the clachan; and the auld lucky that keepit it was sair forfochten wi' t he palsy, and maist in the dead-thraws. There was naebody else living within twal' miles o' the line, barring a taxman, a lamiter, and a bauldie."
We had some difficulty in preventing Mr. Solder from making this report open and patent to the public, which premature disclosure might have interfered materially with the preparation of our traffic tables, not to mention the marketable value of the shares. We therefore kept him steadily at work out of Glasgow, upon a very liberal allowance, to which, apparently, he did not object.
"Dunshunner," said M'Corkindale to me one day, "I suspect that there is something going on about our railway more than we are aware of.
Have you observed that the shares are preternaturally high just now?"
"So much the better. Let's sell."
"I did so this morning, both yours and mine, at two pounds ten shillings premium."
"The deuce you did! Then we're out of the whole concern."
"Not quite. If my suspicions are correct, there's a good deal more money yet to be got from the speculation. Somebody had been bulling the stock without orders; and, as they can have no information which we are not perfectly up to, depend upon it, it is done for a purpose.
I suspect Sawley and his friends. They have never been quite happy since the allocation; and I caught him yesterday pumping our broker in the back shop. We'll see in a day or two. If they are beginning a bearing operation, I know how to catch them."