It was a very genteel entertainment, very handsomely served. But the captain and the professor still ran in Mr. Badger's head, and as Ada and I had the honour of being under his particular care, we had the full benefit of them.
"Water, Miss Summerson? Allow me! Not in that tumbler, pray. Bring me the professor's goblet, James!"
Ada very much admired some artificial flowers under a glass.
"Astonishing how they keep!" said Mr. Badger. "They were presented to Mrs. Bayham Badger when she was in the Mediterranean."
He invited Mr. Jarndyce to take a glass of claret.
"Not that claret!" he said. "Excuse me! This is an occasion, and ON an occasion I produce some very special claret I happen to have. (James, Captain Swosser's wine!) Mr. Jarndyce, this is a wine that was imported by the captain, we will not say how many years ago. You will find it very curious. My dear, I shall he happy to take some of this wine with you. (Captain Swosser's claret to your mistress, James!) My love, your health!"
After dinner, when we ladies retired, we took Mrs. Badger's first and second husband with us. Mrs. Badger gave us in the drawing-room a biographical sketch of the life and services of Captain Swosser before his marriage and a more minute account of him dating from the time when he fell in love with her at a ball on board the Crippler, given to the officers of that ship when she lay in Plymouth Harbour.
"The dear old Crippler!" said Mrs. Badger, shaking her head. "She was a noble vessel. Trim, ship-shape, all a taunto, as Captain Swosser used to say. You must excuse me if I occasionally introduce a nautical expression; I was quite a sailor once. Captain Swosser loved that craft for my sake. When she was no longer in commission, he frequently said that if he were rich enough to buy her old hulk, he would have an inscription let into the timbers of the quarter- deck where we stood as partners in the dance to mark the spot where he fell--raked fore and aft (Captain Swosser used to say) by the fire from my tops. It was his naval way of mentioning my eyes."
Mrs. Badger shook her head, sighed, and looked in the glass.
"It was a great change from Captain Swosser to Professor Dingo," she resumed with a plaintive smile. "I felt it a good deal at first. Such an entire revolution in my mode of life! But custom, combined with science--particularly science--inured me to it. Being the professor's sole companion in his botanical excursions, I almost forgot that I had ever been afloat, and became quite learned. It is singular that the professor was the antipodes of Captain Swosser and that Mr. Badger is not in the least like either!"
We then passed into a narrative of the deaths of Captain Swosser and Professor Dingo, both of whom seem to have had very bad complaints. In the course of it, Mrs. Badger signified to us that she had never madly loved but once and that the object of that wild affection, never to be recalled in its fresh enthusiasm, was Captain Swosser. The professor was yet dying by inches in the most dismal manner, and Mrs. Badger was giving us imitations of his way of saying, with great difficulty, "Where is Laura? Let Laura give me my toast and water!" when the entrance of the gentlemen consigned him to the tomb.
Now, I observed that evening, as I had observed for some days past, that Ada and Richard were more than ever attached to each other's society, which was but natural, seeing that they were going to be separated so soon. I was therefore not very much surprised when we got home, and Ada and I retired upstairs, to find Ada more silent than usual, though I was not quite prepared for her coming into my arms and beginning to speak to me, with her face hidden.
"My darling Esther!" murmured Ada. "I have a great secret to tell you!"
A mighty secret, my pretty one, no doubt!
"What is it, Ada?"
"Oh, Esther, you would never guess!"
"Shall I try to guess?" said I.
"Oh, no! Don't! Pray don't!" cried Ada, very much startled by the idea of my doing so.