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The Queen of Hearts

Brother Morgan's Story Of Fauntleroy
CHAPTER I.
IT was certainly a dull little dinner-party. Of the four guests, two of us were men between
fifty and sixty, and two of us were youths between eighteen and twenty, and we had no
subjects in common. We were all intimate with our host, but were only slightly
acquainted with each other. Perhaps we should have got on better if there had been some
ladies among us; but the master of the house was a bachelor, and, except the parlor-maids
who assisted in waiting on us at dinner, no daughter of Eve was present to brighten the
dreary scene.
We tried all sorts of subjects, but they dropped one after the other. The elder gentlemen
seemed to be afraid of committing themselves by talking too freely within hearing of us
juniors, and we, on our side, restrained our youthful flow of spirits and youthful freedom
of conversation out of deference to our host, who seemed once or twice to be feeling a
little nervous about the continued propriety of our behavior in the presence of his
respectable guests. To make matters worse, we had dined at a sensible hour. When the
bottles made their first round at dessert, the clock on the mantel-piece only struck eight. I
counted the strokes, and felt certain, from the expression of his face, that the other junior
guest, who sat on one side of me at the round table, was counting them also. When we
came to the final eight, we exchanged looks of despair. "Two hours more of this! What
on earth is to become of us?" In the language of the eyes, that was exactly what we said
to each other.
The wine was excellent, and I think we all came separately and secretly to the same
conclusion--that our chance of getting through the evening was intimately connected with
our resolution in getting through the bottles.
As a matter of course, we talked wine. No company of Englishmen can assemble together
for an evening without doing that. Every man in this country who is rich enough to pay
income-tax has at one time or other in his life effected a very remarkable transaction in
wine. Sometimes he has made such a bargain as he never expects to make again.
Sometimes he is the only man in England, not a peer of the realm, who has got a single
drop of a certain famous vintage which has perished from the face of the earth.
Sometimes he has purchased, with a friend, a few last left dozens from the cellar of a
deceased potentate, at a price so exorbitant that he can only wag his head and decline
mentioning it; and, if you ask his friend, that friend will wag his head, and decline
mentioning it also. Sometimes he has been at an out-of-the-way country inn; has found
the sherry not drinkable; has asked if there is no other wine in the house; has been
informed that there is some "sourish foreign stuff that nobody ever drinks"; has called for
a bottle of it; has found it Burgundy, such as all France cannot now produce, has
cunningly kept his own counsel with the widowed landlady, and has bought the whole
stock for "an old song." Sometimes he knows the proprietor of a famous tavern in
London, and he recommends his one or two particular friends, the next time they are
 
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