'Miss Lillerton, my dear,' said Mrs. Parsons, 'shall I assist you?'
'Thank you, no; I think I'll trouble Mr. Tottle.'
Watkins started--trembled--helped the rabbit--and broke a tumbler. The countenance of the lady of the house, which had been all smiles previously, underwent an awful change.
'Extremely sorry,' stammered Watkins, assisting himself to currie and parsley and butter, in the extremity of his confusion.
'Not the least consequence,' replied Mrs. Parsons, in a tone which implied that it was of the greatest consequence possible,-- directing aside the researches of the boy, who was groping under the table for the bits of broken glass.
'I presume,' said Miss Lillerton, 'that Mr. Tottle is aware of the interest which bachelors usually pay in such cases; a dozen glasses for one is the lowest penalty.'
Mr. Gabriel Parsons gave his friend an admonitory tread on the toe. Here was a clear hint that the sooner he ceased to be a bachelor and emancipated himself from such penalties, the better. Mr. Watkins Tottle viewed the observation in the same light, and challenged Mrs. Parsons to take wine, with a degree of presence of mind, which, under all the circumstances, was really extraordinary.
'Miss Lillerton,' said Gabriel, 'may I have the pleasure?'
'I shall be most happy.'
'Tottle, will you assist Miss Lillerton, and pass the decanter. Thank you.' (The usual pantomimic ceremony of nodding and sipping gone through) -
'Tottle, were you ever in Suffolk?' inquired the master of the house, who was burning to tell one of his seven stock stories.
'No,' responded Watkins, adding, by way of a saving clause, 'but I've been in Devonshire.'
'Ah!' replied Gabriel, 'it was in Suffolk that a rather singular circumstance happened to me many years ago. Did you ever happen to hear me mention it?'
Mr. Watkins Tottle HAD happened to hear his friend mention it some four hundred times. Of course he expressed great curiosity, and evinced the utmost impatience to hear the story again. Mr. Gabriel Parsons forthwith attempted to proceed, in spite of the interruptions to which, as our readers must frequently have observed, the master of the house is often exposed in such cases. We will attempt to give them an idea of our meaning.
'When I was in Suffolk--' said Mr. Gabriel Parsons.
'Take off the fowls first, Martha,' said Mrs. Parsons. 'I beg your pardon, my dear.'
'When I was in Suffolk,' resumed Mr. Parsons, with an impatient glance at his wife, who pretended not to observe it, 'which is now years ago, business led me to the town of Bury St. Edmund's. I had to stop at the principal places in my way, and therefore, for the sake of convenience, I travelled in a gig. I left Sudbury one dark night--it was winter time--about nine o'clock; the rain poured in torrents, the wind howled among the trees that skirted the roadside, and I was obliged to proceed at a foot-pace, for I could hardly see my hand before me, it was so dark--'
'John,' interrupted Mrs. Parsons, in a low, hollow voice, 'don't spill that gravy.'
'Fanny,' said Parsons impatiently, 'I wish you'd defer these domestic reproofs to some more suitable time. Really, my dear, these constant interruptions are very annoying.'
'My dear, I didn't interrupt you,' said Mrs. Parsons.
'But, my dear, you did interrupt me,' remonstrated Mr. Parsons.
'How very absurd you are, my love! I must give directions to the servants; I am quite sure that if I sat here and allowed John to spill the gravy over the new carpet, you'd be the first to find fault when you saw the stain to-morrow morning.'
'Well,' continued Gabriel with a resigned air, as if he knew there was no getting over the point about the carpet, 'I was just saying, it was so dark that I could hardly see my hand before me. The road was very lonely, and I assure you, Tottle (this was a device to arrest the wandering attention of that individual, which was distracted by a confidential communication between Mrs. Parsons and Martha, accompanied by the delivery of a large bunch of keys), I assure you, Tottle, I became somehow impressed with a sense of the loneliness of my situation--'
'Pie to your master,' interrupted Mrs.