Upon my word! think of the Miss Gattletons in fancy dresses, too!'
'Oh, it's too ridiculous!' said Miss Porter, hysterically.
'I'll manage to put them a little out of conceit with the business, however,' said Mrs. Porter; and out she went on her charitable errand.
'Well, my dear Mrs. Gattleton,' said Mrs. Joseph Porter, after they had been closeted for some time, and when, by dint of indefatigable pumping, she had managed to extract all the news about the play, 'well, my dear, people may say what they please; indeed we know they will, for some folks are SO ill-natured. Ah, my dear Miss Lucina, how d'ye do? I was just telling your mamma that I have heard it said, that--'
'Mrs. Porter is alluding to the play, my dear,' said Mrs. Gattleton; 'she was, I am sorry to say, just informing me that--'
'Oh, now pray don't mention it,' interrupted Mrs. Porter; 'it's most absurd--quite as absurd as young What's-his-name saying he wondered how Miss Caroline, with such a foot and ankle, could have the vanity to play Fenella.'
'Highly impertinent, whoever said it,' said Mrs. Gattleton, bridling up.
'Certainly, my dear,' chimed in the delighted Mrs. Porter; 'most undoubtedly! Because, as I said, if Miss Caroline DOES play Fenella, it doesn't follow, as a matter of course, that she should think she has a pretty foot;--and then--such puppies as these young men are--he had the impudence to say, that--'
How far the amiable Mrs. Porter might have succeeded in her pleasant purpose, it is impossible to say, had not the entrance of Mr. Thomas Balderstone, Mrs. Gattleton's brother, familiarly called in the family 'Uncle Tom,' changed the course of conversation, and suggested to her mind an excellent plan of operation on the evening of the play.
Uncle Tom was very rich, and exceedingly fond of his nephews and nieces: as a matter of course, therefore, he was an object of great importance in his own family. He was one of the best-hearted men in existence: always in a good temper, and always talking. It was his boast that he wore top-boots on all occasions, and had never worn a black silk neckerchief; and it was his pride that he remembered all the principal plays of Shakspeare from beginning to end--and so he did. The result of this parrot-like accomplishment was, that he was not only perpetually quoting himself, but that he could never sit by, and hear a misquotation from the 'Swan of Avon' without setting the unfortunate delinquent right. He was also something of a wag; never missed an opportunity of saying what he considered a good thing, and invariably laughed until he cried at anything that appeared to him mirth-moving or ridiculous.
'Well, girls!' said Uncle Tom, after the preparatory ceremony of kissing and how-d'ye-do-ing had been gone through--'how d'ye get on? Know your parts, eh?--Lucina, my dear, act II., scene I-- place, left-cue--"Unknown fate,"--What's next, eh?--Go on--"The Heavens--"'
'Oh, yes,' said Miss Lucina, 'I recollect -
"The heavens forbid But that our loves and comforts should increase Even as our days do grow!"'
'Make a pause here and there,' said the old gentleman, who was a great critic. '"But that our loves and comforts should increase"-- emphasis on the last syllable, "crease,"--loud "even,"--one, two, three, four; then loud again, "as our days do grow;" emphasis on DAYS. That's the way, my dear; trust to your uncle for emphasis. Ah! Sem, my boy, how are you?'
'Very well, thankee, uncle,' returned Mr. Sempronius, who had just appeared, looking something like a ringdove, with a small circle round each eye: the result of his constant corking. 'Of course we see you on Thursday.'
'Of course, of course, my dear boy.'
'What a pity it is your nephew didn't think of making you prompter, Mr. Balderstone!' whispered Mrs. Joseph Porter; 'you would have been invaluable.'
'Well, I flatter myself, I SHOULD have been tolerably up to the thing,' responded Uncle Tom.
'I must bespeak sitting next you on the night,' resumed Mrs. Porter; 'and then, if our dear young friends here, should be at all wrong, you will be able to enlighten me.