Sketches by Boz
Part 9 out of 15
'How d'ye do, dear?' said the Misses Briggs to the Misses Taunton.
(The word 'dear' among girls is frequently synonymous with
'Quite well, thank you, dear,' replied the Misses Taunton to the
Misses Briggs; and then, there was such a kissing, and
congratulating, and shaking of hands, as might have induced one to
suppose that the two families were the best friends in the world,
instead of each wishing the other overboard, as they most sincerely
Mr. Percy Noakes received the visitors, and bowed to the strange
gentleman, as if he should like to know who he was. This was just
what Mrs. Taunton wanted. Here was an opportunity to astonish the
'Oh! I beg your pardon,' said the general of the Taunton party,
with a careless air.--'Captain Helves--Mr. Percy Noakes--Mrs.
Mr. Percy Noakes bowed very low; the gallant captain did the same
with all due ferocity, and the Briggses were clearly overcome.
'Our friend, Mr. Wizzle, being unfortunately prevented from
coming,' resumed Mrs. Taunton, 'I did myself the pleasure of
bringing the captain, whose musical talents I knew would be a great
'In the name of the committee I have to thank you for doing so, and
to offer you welcome, sir,' replied Percy. (Here the scraping was
renewed.) 'But pray be seated--won't you walk aft? Captain, will
you conduct Miss Taunton?--Miss Briggs, will you allow me?'
'Where could they have picked up that military man?' inquired Mrs.
Briggs of Miss Kate Briggs, as they followed the little party.
'I can't imagine,' replied Miss Kate, bursting with vexation; for
the very fierce air with which the gallant captain regarded the
company, had impressed her with a high sense of his importance.
Boat after boat came alongside, and guest after guest arrived. The
invites had been excellently arranged: Mr. Percy Noakes having
considered it as important that the number of young men should
exactly tally with that of the young ladies, as that the quantity
of knives on board should be in precise proportion to the forks.
'Now, is every one on board?' inquired Mr. Percy Noakes. The
committee (who, with their bits of blue ribbon, looked as if they
were all going to be bled) bustled about to ascertain the fact, and
reported that they might safely start.
'Go on!' cried the master of the boat from the top of one of the
'Go on!' echoed the boy, who was stationed over the hatchway to
pass the directions down to the engineer; and away went the vessel
with that agreeable noise which is peculiar to steamers, and which
is composed of a mixture of creaking, gushing, clanging, and
'Hoi-oi-oi-oi-oi-oi-o-i-i-i!' shouted half-a-dozen voices from a
boat, a quarter of a mile astern.
'Ease her!' cried the captain: 'do these people belong to us,
'Noakes,' exclaimed Hardy, who had been looking at every object far
and near, through the large telescope, 'it's the Fleetwoods and the
Wakefields--and two children with them, by Jove!'
'What a shame to bring children!' said everybody; 'how very
'I say, it would be a good joke to pretend not to see 'em, wouldn't
it?' suggested Hardy, to the immense delight of the company
generally. A council of war was hastily held, and it was resolved
that the newcomers should be taken on board, on Mr. Hardy solemnly
pledging himself to tease the children during the whole of the day.
'Stop her!' cried the captain.
'Stop her!' repeated the boy; whizz went the steam, and all the
young ladies, as in duty bound, screamed in concert. They were
only appeased by the assurance of the martial Helves, that the
escape of steam consequent on stopping a vessel was seldom attended
with any great loss of human life.
Two men ran to the side; and after some shouting, and swearing, and
angling for the wherry with a boat-hook, Mr. Fleetwood, and Mrs.
Fleetwood, and Master Fleetwood, and Mr. Wakefield, and Mrs.
Wakefield, and Miss Wakefield, were safely deposited on the deck.
The girl was about six years old, the boy about four; the former
was dressed in a white frock with a pink sash and dog's-eared-
looking little spencer: a straw bonnet and green veil, six inches
by three and a half; the latter, was attired for the occasion in a
nankeen frock, between the bottom of which, and the top of his
plaid socks, a considerable portion of two small mottled legs was
discernible. He had a light blue cap with a gold band and tassel
on his head, and a damp piece of gingerbread in his hand, with
which he had slightly embossed his countenance.
The boat once more started off; the band played 'Off she goes:' the
major part of the company conversed cheerfully in groups; and the
old gentlemen walked up and down the deck in pairs, as
perseveringly and gravely as if they were doing a match against
time for an immense stake. They ran briskly down the Pool; the
gentlemen pointed out the Docks, the Thames Police-office, and
other elegant public edifices; and the young ladies exhibited a
proper display of horror at the appearance of the coal-whippers and
ballast-heavers. Mr. Hardy told stories to the married ladies, at
which they laughed very much in their pocket-handkerchiefs, and hit
him on the knuckles with their fans, declaring him to be 'a naughty
man--a shocking creature'--and so forth; and Captain Helves gave
slight descriptions of battles and duels, with a most bloodthirsty
air, which made him the admiration of the women, and the envy of
the men. Quadrilling commenced; Captain Helves danced one set with
Miss Emily Taunton, and another set with Miss Sophia Taunton. Mrs.
Taunton was in ecstasies. The victory appeared to be complete; but
alas! the inconstancy of man! Having performed this necessary
duty, he attached himself solely to Miss Julia Briggs, with whom he
danced no less than three sets consecutively, and from whose side
he evinced no intention of stirring for the remainder of the day.
Mr. Hardy, having played one or two very brilliant fantasias on the
Jews'-harp, and having frequently repeated the exquisitely amusing
joke of slily chalking a large cross on the back of some member of
the committee, Mr. Percy Noakes expressed his hope that some of
their musical friends would oblige the company by a display of
'Perhaps,' he said in a very insinuating manner, 'Captain Helves
will oblige us?' Mrs. Taunton's countenance lighted up, for the
captain only sang duets, and couldn't sing them with anybody but
one of her daughters.
'Really,' said that warlike individual, 'I should be very happy,
'Oh! pray do,' cried all the young ladies.
'Miss Emily, have you any objection to join in a duet?'
'Oh! not the slightest,' returned the young lady, in a tone which
clearly showed she had the greatest possible objection.
'Shall I accompany you, dear?' inquired one of the Miss Briggses,
with the bland intention of spoiling the effect.
'Very much obliged to you, Miss Briggs,' sharply retorted Mrs.
Taunton, who saw through the manoeuvre; 'my daughters always sing
'And without voices,' tittered Mrs. Briggs, in a low tone.
'Perhaps,' said Mrs. Taunton, reddening, for she guessed the tenor
of the observation, though she had not heard it clearly--'Perhaps
it would be as well for some people, if their voices were not quite
so audible as they are to other people.'
'And, perhaps, if gentlemen who are kidnapped to pay attention to
some persons' daughters, had not sufficient discernment to pay
attention to other persons' daughters,' returned Mrs. Briggs, 'some
persons would not be so ready to display that ill-temper which,
thank God, distinguishes them from other persons.'
'Persons!' ejaculated Mrs. Taunton.
'Persons,' replied Mrs. Briggs.
'Hush! hush!' interrupted Mr. Percy Noakes, who was one of the very
few by whom this dialogue had been overheard. 'Hush!--pray,
silence for the duet.'
After a great deal of preparatory crowing and humming, the captain
began the following duet from the opera of 'Paul and Virginia,' in
that grunting tone in which a man gets down, Heaven knows where,
without the remotest chance of ever getting up again. This, in
private circles, is frequently designated 'a bass voice.'
'See (sung the captain) from o-ce-an ri-sing
Bright flames the or-b of d-ay.
From yon gro-ove, the varied so-ongs--'
Here, the singer was interrupted by varied cries of the most
dreadful description, proceeding from some grove in the immediate
vicinity of the starboard paddle-box.
'My child!' screamed Mrs. Fleetwood. 'My child! it is his voice--I
Mr. Fleetwood, accompanied by several gentlemen, here rushed to the
quarter from whence the noise proceeded, and an exclamation of
horror burst from the company; the general impression being, that
the little innocent had either got his head in the water, or his
legs in the machinery.
'What is the matter?' shouted the agonised father, as he returned
with the child in his arms.
'Oh! oh! oh!' screamed the small sufferer again.
'What is the matter, dear?' inquired the father once more--hastily
stripping off the nankeen frock, for the purpose of ascertaining
whether the child had one bone which was not smashed to pieces.
'Oh! oh!--I'm so frightened!'
'What at, dear?--what at?' said the mother, soothing the sweet
'Oh! he's been making such dreadful faces at me,' cried the boy,
relapsing into convulsions at the bare recollection.
'He!--who?' cried everybody, crowding round him.
'Oh!--him!' replied the child, pointing at Hardy, who affected to
be the most concerned of the whole group.
The real state of the case at once flashed upon the minds of all
present, with the exception of the Fleetwoods and the Wakefields.
The facetious Hardy, in fulfilment of his promise, had watched the
child to a remote part of the vessel, and, suddenly appearing
before him with the most awful contortions of visage, had produced
his paroxysm of terror. Of course, he now observed that it was
hardly necessary for him to deny the accusation; and the
unfortunate little victim was accordingly led below, after
receiving sundry thumps on the head from both his parents, for
having the wickedness to tell a story.
This little interruption having been adjusted, the captain resumed,
and Miss Emily chimed in, in due course. The duet was loudly
applauded, and, certainly, the perfect independence of the parties
deserved great commendation. Miss Emily sung her part, without the
slightest reference to the captain; and the captain sang so loud,
that he had not the slightest idea what was being done by his
partner. After having gone through the last few eighteen or
nineteen bars by himself, therefore, he acknowledged the plaudits
of the circle with that air of self-denial which men usually assume
when they think they have done something to astonish the company.
'Now,' said Mr. Percy Noakes, who had just ascended from the fore-
cabin, where he had been busily engaged in decanting the wine, 'if
the Misses Briggs will oblige us with something before dinner, I am
sure we shall be very much delighted.'
One of those hums of admiration followed the suggestion, which one
frequently hears in society, when nobody has the most distant
notion what he is expressing his approval of. The three Misses
Briggs looked modestly at their mamma, and the mamma looked
approvingly at her daughters, and Mrs. Taunton looked scornfully at
all of them. The Misses Briggs asked for their guitars, and
several gentlemen seriously damaged the cases in their anxiety to
present them. Then, there was a very interesting production of
three little keys for the aforesaid cases, and a melodramatic
expression of horror at finding a string broken; and a vast deal of
screwing and tightening, and winding, and tuning, during which Mrs.
Briggs expatiated to those near her on the immense difficulty of
playing a guitar, and hinted at the wondrous proficiency of her
daughters in that mystic art. Mrs. Taunton whispered to a
neighbour that it was 'quite sickening!' and the Misses Taunton
looked as if they knew how to play, but disdained to do it.
At length, the Misses Briggs began in real earnest. It was a new
Spanish composition, for three voices and three guitars. The
effect was electrical. All eyes were turned upon the captain, who
was reported to have once passed through Spain with his regiment,
and who must be well acquainted with the national music. He was in
raptures. This was sufficient; the trio was encored; the applause
was universal; and never had the Tauntons suffered such a complete
'Bravo! bravo!' ejaculated the captain;--'bravo!'
'Pretty! isn't it, sir?' inquired Mr. Samuel Briggs, with the air
of a self-satisfied showman. By-the-bye, these were the first
words he had been heard to utter since he left Boswell-court the
'De-lightful!' returned the captain, with a flourish, and a
'Sweet instrument!' said an old gentleman with a bald head, who had
been trying all the morning to look through a telescope, inside the
glass of which Mr. Hardy had fixed a large black wafer.
'Did you ever hear a Portuguese tambourine?' inquired that jocular
'Did YOU ever hear a tom-tom, sir?' sternly inquired the captain,
who lost no opportunity of showing off his travels, real or
'A what?' asked Hardy, rather taken aback.
'Nor a gum-gum?'
'What IS a gum-gum?' eagerly inquired several young ladies.
'When I was in the East Indies,' replied the captain--(here was a
discovery--he had been in the East Indies!)--'when I was in the
East Indies, I was once stopping a few thousand miles up the
country, on a visit at the house of a very particular friend of
mine, Ram Chowdar Doss Azuph Al Bowlar--a devilish pleasant fellow.
As we were enjoying our hookahs, one evening, in the cool verandah
in front of his villa, we were rather surprised by the sudden
appearance of thirty-four of his Kit-ma-gars (for he had rather a
large establishment there), accompanied by an equal number of Con-
su-mars, approaching the house with a threatening aspect, and
beating a tom-tom. The Ram started up--'
'Who?' inquired the bald gentleman, intensely interested.
'The Ram--Ram Chowdar--'
'Oh!' said the old gentleman, 'beg your pardon; pray go on.'
'--Started up and drew a pistol. "Helves," said he, "my boy,"--he
always called me, my boy--"Helves," said he, "do you hear that tom-
tom?" "I do," said I. His countenance, which before was pale,
assumed a most frightful appearance; his whole visage was
distorted, and his frame shaken by violent emotions. "Do you see
that gum-gum?" said he. "No," said I, staring about me. "You
don't?" said he. "No, I'll be damned if I do," said I; "and what's
more, I don't know what a gum-gum is," said I. I really thought
the Ram would have dropped. He drew me aside, and with an
expression of agony I shall never forget, said in a low whisper--'
'Dinner's on the table, ladies,' interrupted the steward's wife.
'Will you allow me?' said the captain, immediately suiting the
action to the word, and escorting Miss Julia Briggs to the cabin,
with as much ease as if he had finished the story.
'What an extraordinary circumstance!' ejaculated the same old
gentleman, preserving his listening attitude.
'What a traveller!' said the young ladies.
'What a singular name!' exclaimed the gentlemen, rather confused by
the coolness of the whole affair.
'I wish he had finished the story,' said an old lady. 'I wonder
what a gum-gum really is?'
'By Jove!' exclaimed Hardy, who until now had been lost in utter
amazement, 'I don't know what it may be in India, but in England I
think a gum-gum has very much the same meaning as a hum-bug.'
'How illiberal! how envious!' cried everybody, as they made for the
cabin, fully impressed with a belief in the captain's amazing
adventures. Helves was the sole lion for the remainder of the day-
-impudence and the marvellous are pretty sure passports to any
The party had by this time reached their destination, and put about
on their return home. The wind, which had been with them the whole
day, was now directly in their teeth; the weather had become
gradually more and more overcast; and the sky, water, and shore,
were all of that dull, heavy, uniform lead-colour, which house-
painters daub in the first instance over a street-door which is
gradually approaching a state of convalescence. It had been
'spitting' with rain for the last half-hour, and now began to pour
in good earnest. The wind was freshening very fast, and the
waterman at the wheel had unequivocally expressed his opinion that
there would shortly be a squall. A slight emotion on the part of
the vessel, now and then, seemed to suggest the possibility of its
pitching to a very uncomfortable extent in the event of its blowing
harder; and every timber began to creak, as if the boat were an
overladen clothes-basket. Sea-sickness, however, is like a belief
in ghosts--every one entertains some misgivings on the subject, but
few will acknowledge any. The majority of the company, therefore,
endeavoured to look peculiarly happy, feeling all the while
'Don't it rain?' inquired the old gentleman before noticed, when,
by dint of squeezing and jamming, they were all seated at table.
'I think it does--a little,' replied Mr. Percy Noakes, who could
hardly hear himself speak, in consequence of the pattering on the
'Don't it blow?' inquired some one else.
'No, I don't think it does,' responded Hardy, sincerely wishing
that he could persuade himself that it did not; for he sat near the
door, and was almost blown off his seat.
'It'll soon clear up,' said Mr. Percy Noakes, in a cheerful tone.
'Oh, certainly!' ejaculated the committee generally.
'No doubt of it!' said the remainder of the company, whose
attention was now pretty well engrossed by the serious business of
eating, carving, taking wine, and so forth.
The throbbing motion of the engine was but too perceptible. There
was a large, substantial, cold boiled leg of mutton, at the bottom
of the table, shaking like blancmange; a previously hearty sirloin
of beef looked as if it had been suddenly seized with the palsy;
and some tongues, which were placed on dishes rather too large for
them, went through the most surprising evolutions; darting from
side to side, and from end to end, like a fly in an inverted wine-
glass. Then, the sweets shook and trembled, till it was quite
impossible to help them, and people gave up the attempt in despair;
and the pigeon-pies looked as if the birds, whose legs were stuck
outside, were trying to get them in. The table vibrated and
started like a feverish pulse, and the very legs were convulsed--
everything was shaking and jarring. The beams in the roof of the
cabin seemed as if they were put there for the sole purpose of
giving people head-aches, and several elderly gentlemen became ill-
tempered in consequence. As fast as the steward put the fire-irons
up, they WOULD fall down again; and the more the ladies and
gentlemen tried to sit comfortably on their seats, the more the
seats seemed to slide away from the ladies and gentlemen. Several
ominous demands were made for small glasses of brandy; the
countenances of the company gradually underwent most extraordinary
changes; one gentleman was observed suddenly to rush from table
without the slightest ostensible reason, and dart up the steps with
incredible swiftness: thereby greatly damaging both himself and
the steward, who happened to be coming down at the same moment.
The cloth was removed; the dessert was laid on the table; and the
glasses were filled. The motion of the boat increased; several
members of the party began to feel rather vague and misty, and
looked as if they had only just got up. The young gentleman with
the spectacles, who had been in a fluctuating state for some time--
at one moment bright, and at another dismal, like a revolving light
on the sea-coast--rashly announced his wish to propose a toast.
After several ineffectual attempts to preserve his perpendicular,
the young gentleman, having managed to hook himself to the centre
leg of the table with his left hand, proceeded as follows:
'Ladies and gentlemen. A gentleman is among us--I may say a
stranger--(here some painful thought seemed to strike the orator;
he paused, and looked extremely odd)--whose talents, whose travels,
'I beg your pardon, Edkins,' hastily interrupted Mr. Percy Noakes,-
-'Hardy, what's the matter?'
'Nothing,' replied the 'funny gentleman,' who had just life enough
left to utter two consecutive syllables.
'Will you have some brandy?'
'No!' replied Hardy in a tone of great indignation, and looking as
comfortable as Temple-bar in a Scotch mist; 'what should I want
'Will you go on deck?'
'No, I will NOT.' This was said with a most determined air, and in
a voice which might have been taken for an imitation of anything;
it was quite as much like a guinea-pig as a bassoon.
'I beg your pardon, Edkins,' said the courteous Percy; 'I thought
our friend was ill. Pray go on.'
'Pray go on.'
'Mr. Edkins IS gone,' cried somebody.
'I beg your pardon, sir,' said the steward, running up to Mr. Percy
Noakes, 'I beg your pardon, sir, but the gentleman as just went on
deck--him with the green spectacles--is uncommon bad, to be sure;
and the young man as played the wiolin says, that unless he has
some brandy he can't answer for the consequences. He says he has a
wife and two children, whose werry subsistence depends on his
breaking a wessel, and he expects to do so every moment. The
flageolet's been werry ill, but he's better, only he's in a
All disguise was now useless; the company staggered on deck; the
gentlemen tried to see nothing but the clouds; and the ladies,
muffled up in such shawls and cloaks as they had brought with them,
lay about on the seats, and under the seats, in the most wretched
condition. Never was such a blowing, and raining, and pitching,
and tossing, endured by any pleasure party before. Several
remonstrances were sent down below, on the subject of Master
Fleetwood, but they were totally unheeded in consequence of the
indisposition of his natural protectors. That interesting child
screamed at the top of his voice, until he had no voice left to
scream with; and then, Miss Wakefield began, and screamed for the
remainder of the passage.
Mr. Hardy was observed, some hours afterwards, in an attitude which
induced his friends to suppose that he was busily engaged in
contemplating the beauties of the deep; they only regretted that
his taste for the picturesque should lead him to remain so long in
a position, very injurious at all times, but especially so, to an
individual labouring under a tendency of blood to the head.
The party arrived off the Custom-house at about two o'clock on the
Thursday morning dispirited and worn out. The Tauntons were too
ill to quarrel with the Briggses, and the Briggses were too
wretched to annoy the Tauntons. One of the guitar-cases was lost
on its passage to a hackney-coach, and Mrs. Briggs has not scrupled
to state that the Tauntons bribed a porter to throw it down an
area. Mr. Alexander Briggs opposes vote by ballot--he says from
personal experience of its inefficacy; and Mr. Samuel Briggs,
whenever he is asked to express his sentiments on the point, says
he has no opinion on that or any other subject.
Mr. Edkins--the young gentleman in the green spectacles--makes a
speech on every occasion on which a speech can possibly be made:
the eloquence of which can only be equalled by its length. In the
event of his not being previously appointed to a judgeship, it is
probable that he will practise as a barrister in the New Central
Captain Helves continued his attention to Miss Julia Briggs, whom
he might possibly have espoused, if it had not unfortunately
happened that Mr. Samuel arrested him, in the way of business,
pursuant to instructions received from Messrs. Scroggins and
Payne, whose town-debts the gallant captain had condescended to
collect, but whose accounts, with the indiscretion sometimes
peculiar to military minds, he had omitted to keep with that dull
accuracy which custom has rendered necessary. Mrs. Taunton
complains that she has been much deceived in him. He introduced
himself to the family on board a Gravesend steam-packet, and
certainly, therefore, ought to have proved respectable.
Mr. Percy Noakes is as light-hearted and careless as ever.
CHAPTER VIII--THE GREAT WINGLEBURY DUEL
The little town of Great Winglebury is exactly forty-two miles and
three-quarters from Hyde Park corner. It has a long, straggling,
quiet High-street, with a great black and white clock at a small
red Town-hall, half-way up--a market-place--a cage--an assembly-
room--a church--a bridge--a chapel--a theatre--a library--an inn--a
pump--and a Post-office. Tradition tells of a 'Little Winglebury,'
down some cross-road about two miles off; and, as a square mass of
dirty paper, supposed to have been originally intended for a
letter, with certain tremulous characters inscribed thereon, in
which a lively imagination might trace a remote resemblance to the
word 'Little,' was once stuck up to be owned in the sunny window of
the Great Winglebury Post-office, from which it only disappeared
when it fell to pieces with dust and extreme old age, there would
appear to be some foundation for the legend. Common belief is
inclined to bestow the name upon a little hole at the end of a
muddy lane about a couple of miles long, colonised by one
wheelwright, four paupers, and a beer-shop; but, even this
authority, slight as it is, must be regarded with extreme
suspicion, inasmuch as the inhabitants of the hole aforesaid,
concur in opining that it never had any name at all, from the
earliest ages down to the present day.
The Winglebury Arms, in the centre of the High-street, opposite the
small building with the big clock, is the principal inn of Great
Winglebury--the commercial-inn, posting-house, and excise-office;
the 'Blue' house at every election, and the judges' house at every
assizes. It is the head-quarters of the Gentlemen's Whist Club of
Winglebury Blues (so called in opposition to the Gentlemen's Whist
Club of Winglebury Buffs, held at the other house, a little further
down): and whenever a juggler, or wax-work man, or concert-giver,
takes Great Winglebury in his circuit, it is immediately placarded
all over the town that Mr. So-and-so, 'trusting to that liberal
support which the inhabitants of Great Winglebury have long been so
liberal in bestowing, has at a great expense engaged the elegant
and commodious assembly-rooms, attached to the Winglebury Arms.'
The house is a large one, with a red brick and stone front; a
pretty spacious hall, ornamented with evergreen plants, terminates
in a perspective view of the bar, and a glass case, in which are
displayed a choice variety of delicacies ready for dressing, to
catch the eye of a new-comer the moment he enters, and excite his
appetite to the highest possible pitch. Opposite doors lead to the
'coffee' and 'commercial' rooms; and a great wide, rambling
staircase,--three stairs and a landing--four stairs and another
landing--one step and another landing--half-a-dozen stairs and
another landing--and so on--conducts to galleries of bedrooms, and
labyrinths of sitting-rooms, denominated 'private,' where you may
enjoy yourself, as privately as you can in any place where some
bewildered being walks into your room every five minutes, by
mistake, and then walks out again, to open all the doors along the
gallery until he finds his own.
Such is the Winglebury Arms, at this day, and such was the
Winglebury Arms some time since--no matter when--two or three
minutes before the arrival of the London stage. Four horses with
cloths on--change for a coach--were standing quietly at the corner
of the yard surrounded by a listless group of post-boys in shiny
hats and smock-frocks, engaged in discussing the merits of the
cattle; half a dozen ragged boys were standing a little apart,
listening with evident interest to the conversation of these
worthies; and a few loungers were collected round the horse-trough,
awaiting the arrival of the coach.
The day was hot and sunny, the town in the zenith of its dulness,
and with the exception of these few idlers, not a living creature
was to be seen. Suddenly, the loud notes of a key-bugle broke the
monotonous stillness of the street; in came the coach, rattling
over the uneven paving with a noise startling enough to stop even
the large-faced clock itself. Down got the outsides, up went the
windows in all directions, out came the waiters, up started the
ostlers, and the loungers, and the post-boys, and the ragged boys,
as if they were electrified--unstrapping, and unchaining, and
unbuckling, and dragging willing horses out, and forcing reluctant
horses in, and making a most exhilarating bustle. 'Lady inside,
here!' said the guard. 'Please to alight, ma'am,' said the waiter.
'Private sitting-room?' interrogated the lady. 'Certainly, ma'am,'
responded the chamber-maid. 'Nothing but these 'ere trunks,
ma'am?' inquired the guard. 'Nothing more,' replied the lady. Up
got the outsides again, and the guard, and the coachman; off came
the cloths, with a jerk; 'All right,' was the cry; and away they
went. The loungers lingered a minute or two in the road, watching
the coach until it turned the corner, and then loitered away one by
one. The street was clear again, and the town, by contrast,
quieter than ever.
'Lady in number twenty-five,' screamed the landlady.--'Thomas!'
'Letter just been left for the gentleman in number nineteen. Boots
at the Lion left it. No answer.'
'Letter for you, sir,' said Thomas, depositing the letter on number
'For me?' said number nineteen, turning from the window, out of
which he had been surveying the scene just described.
'Yes, sir,'--(waiters always speak in hints, and never utter
complete sentences,)--'yes, sir,--Boots at the Lion, sir,--Bar,
sir,--Missis said number nineteen, sir--Alexander Trott, Esq.,
sir?--Your card at the bar, sir, I think, sir?'
'My name IS Trott,' replied number nineteen, breaking the seal.
'You may go, waiter.' The waiter pulled down the window-blind, and
then pulled it up again--for a regular waiter must do something
before he leaves the room--adjusted the glasses on the side-board,
brushed a place that was NOT dusty, rubbed his hands very hard,
walked stealthily to the door, and evaporated.
There was, evidently, something in the contents of the letter, of a
nature, if not wholly unexpected, certainly extremely disagreeable.
Mr. Alexander Trott laid it down, and took it up again, and walked
about the room on particular squares of the carpet, and even
attempted, though unsuccessfully, to whistle an air. It wouldn't
do. He threw himself into a chair, and read the following epistle
'Blue Lion and Stomach-warmer,
'Sir. Immediately on discovering your intentions, I left our
counting-house, and followed you. I know the purport of your
journey;--that journey shall never be completed.
'I have no friend here, just now, on whose secrecy I can rely.
This shall be no obstacle to my revenge. Neither shall Emily Brown
be exposed to the mercenary solicitations of a scoundrel, odious in
her eyes, and contemptible in everybody else's: nor will I tamely
submit to the clandestine attacks of a base umbrella-maker.
'Sir. From Great Winglebury church, a footpath leads through four
meadows to a retired spot known to the townspeople as Stiffun's
Acre.' [Mr. Trott shuddered.] 'I shall be waiting there alone, at
twenty minutes before six o'clock to-morrow morning. Should I be
disappointed in seeing you there, I will do myself the pleasure of
calling with a horsewhip.
'PS. There is a gunsmiths in the High-street; and they won't sell
gunpowder after dark--you understand me.
'PPS. You had better not order your breakfast in the morning until
you have met me. It may be an unnecessary expense.'
'Desperate-minded villain! I knew how it would be!' ejaculated the
terrified Trott. 'I always told father, that once start me on this
expedition, and Hunter would pursue me like the Wandering Jew.
It's bad enough as it is, to marry with the old people's commands,
and without the girl's consent; but what will Emily think of me, if
I go down there breathless with running away from this infernal
salamander? What SHALL I do? What CAN I do? If I go back to the
city, I'm disgraced for ever--lose the girl--and, what's more, lose
the money too. Even if I did go on to the Browns' by the coach,
Hunter would be after me in a post-chaise; and if I go to this
place, this Stiffun's Acre (another shudder), I'm as good as dead.
I've seen him hit the man at the Pall-mall shooting-gallery, in the
second button-hole of the waistcoat, five times out of every six,
and when he didn't hit him there, he hit him in the head.' With
this consolatory reminiscence Mr. Alexander Trott again ejaculated,
'What shall I do?'
Long and weary were his reflections, as, burying his face in his
hand, he sat, ruminating on the best course to be pursued. His
mental direction-post pointed to London. He thought of the
'governor's' anger, and the loss of the fortune which the paternal
Brown had promised the paternal Trott his daughter should
contribute to the coffers of his son. Then the words 'To Brown's'
were legibly inscribed on the said direction-post, but Horace
Hunter's denunciation rung in his ears;--last of all it bore, in
red letters, the words, 'To Stiffun's Acre;' and then Mr. Alexander
Trott decided on adopting a plan which he presently matured.
First and foremost, he despatched the under-boots to the Blue Lion
and Stomach-warmer, with a gentlemanly note to Mr. Horace Hunter,
intimating that he thirsted for his destruction and would do
himself the pleasure of slaughtering him next morning, without
fail. He then wrote another letter, and requested the attendance
of the other boots--for they kept a pair. A modest knock at the
room door was heard. 'Come in,' said Mr. Trott. A man thrust in a
red head with one eye in it, and being again desired to 'come in,'
brought in the body and the legs to which the head belonged, and a
fur cap which belonged to the head.
'You are the upper-boots, I think?' inquired Mr. Trott.
'Yes, I am the upper-boots,' replied a voice from inside a
velveteen case, with mother-of-pearl buttons--'that is, I'm the
boots as b'longs to the house; the other man's my man, as goes
errands and does odd jobs. Top-boots and half-boots, I calls us.'
'You're from London?' inquired Mr. Trott.
'Driv a cab once,' was the laconic reply.
'Why don't you drive it now?' asked Mr. Trott.
'Over-driv the cab, and driv over a 'ooman,' replied the top-boots,
'Do you know the mayor's house?' inquired Mr. Trott.
'Rather,' replied the boots, significantly, as if he had some good
reason to remember it.
'Do you think you could manage to leave a letter there?'
'Shouldn't wonder,' responded boots.
'But this letter,' said Trott, holding a deformed note with a
paralytic direction in one hand, and five shillings in the other--
'this letter is anonymous.'
'A--what?' interrupted the boots.
'Anonymous--he's not to know who it comes from.'
'Oh! I see,' responded the reg'lar, with a knowing wink, but
without evincing the slightest disinclination to undertake the
charge--'I see--bit o' Sving, eh?' and his one eye wandered round
the room, as if in quest of a dark lantern and phosphorus-box.
'But, I say!' he continued, recalling the eye from its search, and
bringing it to bear on Mr. Trott. 'I say, he's a lawyer, our
mayor, and insured in the County. If you've a spite agen him,
you'd better not burn his house down--blessed if I don't think it
would be the greatest favour you could do him.' And he chuckled
If Mr. Alexander Trott had been in any other situation, his first
act would have been to kick the man down-stairs by deputy; or, in
other words, to ring the bell, and desire the landlord to take his
boots off. He contented himself, however, with doubling the fee
and explaining that the letter merely related to a breach of the
peace. The top-boots retired, solemnly pledged to secrecy; and Mr.
Alexander Trott sat down to a fried sole, maintenon cutlet,
Madeira, and sundries, with greater composure than he had
experienced since the receipt of Horace Hunter's letter of
The lady who alighted from the London coach had no sooner been
installed in number twenty-five, and made some alteration in her
travelling-dress, than she indited a note to Joseph Overton,
esquire, solicitor, and mayor of Great Winglebury, requesting his
immediate attendance on private business of paramount importance--a
summons which that worthy functionary lost no time in obeying; for
after sundry openings of his eyes, divers ejaculations of 'Bless
me!' and other manifestations of surprise, he took his broad-
brimmed hat from its accustomed peg in his little front office, and
walked briskly down the High-street to the Winglebury Arms; through
the hall and up the staircase of which establishment he was ushered
by the landlady, and a crowd of officious waiters, to the door of
'Show the gentleman in,' said the stranger lady, in reply to the
foremost waiter's announcement. The gentleman was shown in
The lady rose from the sofa; the mayor advanced a step from the
door; and there they both paused, for a minute or two, looking at
one another as if by mutual consent. The mayor saw before him a
buxom, richly-dressed female of about forty; the lady looked upon a
sleek man, about ten years older, in drab shorts and continuations,
black coat, neckcloth, and gloves.
'Miss Julia Manners!' exclaimed the mayor at length, 'you astonish
'That's very unfair of you, Overton,' replied Miss Julia, 'for I
have known you, long enough, not to be surprised at anything you
do, and you might extend equal courtesy to me.'
'But to run away--actually run away--with a young man!'
remonstrated the mayor.
'You wouldn't have me actually run away with an old one, I
presume?' was the cool rejoinder.
'And then to ask me--me--of all people in the world--a man of my
age and appearance--mayor of the town--to promote such a scheme!'
pettishly ejaculated Joseph Overton; throwing himself into an arm-
chair, and producing Miss Julia's letter from his pocket, as if to
corroborate the assertion that he HAD been asked.
'Now, Overton,' replied the lady, 'I want your assistance in this
matter, and I must have it. In the lifetime of that poor old dear,
Mr. Cornberry, who--who--'
'Who was to have married you, and didn't, because he died first;
and who left you his property unencumbered with the addition of
himself,' suggested the mayor.
'Well,' replied Miss Julia, reddening slightly, 'in the lifetime of
the poor old dear, the property had the incumbrance of your
management; and all I will say of that, is, that I only wonder it
didn't die of consumption instead of its master. You helped
yourself then:- help me now.'
Mr. Joseph Overton was a man of the world, and an attorney; and as
certain indistinct recollections of an odd thousand pounds or two,
appropriated by mistake, passed across his mind he hemmed
deprecatingly, smiled blandly, remained silent for a few seconds;
and finally inquired, 'What do you wish me to do?'
'I'll tell you,' replied Miss Julia--'I'll tell you in three words.
Dear Lord Peter--'
'That's the young man, I suppose--' interrupted the mayor.
'That's the young Nobleman,' replied the lady, with a great stress
on the last word. 'Dear Lord Peter is considerably afraid of the
resentment of his family; and we have therefore thought it better
to make the match a stolen one. He left town, to avoid suspicion,
on a visit to his friend, the Honourable Augustus Flair, whose
seat, as you know, is about thirty miles from this, accompanied
only by his favourite tiger. We arranged that I should come here
alone in the London coach; and that he, leaving his tiger and cab
behind him, should come on, and arrive here as soon as possible
'Very well,' observed Joseph Overton, 'and then he can order the
chaise, and you can go on to Gretna Green together, without
requiring the presence or interference of a third party, can't
'No,' replied Miss Julia. 'We have every reason to believe--dear
Lord Peter not being considered very prudent or sagacious by his
friends, and they having discovered his attachment to me--that,
immediately on his absence being observed, pursuit will be made in
this direction:- to elude which, and to prevent our being traced, I
wish it to be understood in this house, that dear Lord Peter is
slightly deranged, though perfectly harmless; and that I am,
unknown to him, awaiting his arrival to convey him in a post-chaise
to a private asylum--at Berwick, say. If I don't show myself much,
I dare say I can manage to pass for his mother.'
The thought occurred to the mayor's mind that the lady might show
herself a good deal without fear of detection; seeing that she was
about double the age of her intended husband. He said nothing,
however, and the lady proceeded.
'With the whole of this arrangement dear Lord Peter is acquainted;
and all I want you to do, is, to make the delusion more complete by
giving it the sanction of your influence in this place, and
assigning this as a reason to the people of the house for my taking
the young gentleman away. As it would not be consistent with the
story that I should see him until after he has entered the chaise,
I also wish you to communicate with him, and inform him that it is
all going on well.'
'Has he arrived?' inquired Overton.
'I don't know,' replied the lady.
'Then how am I to know!' inquired the mayor. 'Of course he will
not give his own name at the bar.'
'I begged him, immediately on his arrival, to write you a note,'
replied Miss Manners; 'and to prevent the possibility of our
project being discovered through its means, I desired him to write
anonymously, and in mysterious terms, to acquaint you with the
number of his room.'
'Bless me!' exclaimed the mayor, rising from his seat, and
searching his pockets--'most extraordinary circumstance--he has
arrived--mysterious note left at my house in a most mysterious
manner, just before yours--didn't know what to make of it before,
and certainly shouldn't have attended to it.--Oh! here it is.' And
Joseph Overton pulled out of an inner coat-pocket the identical
letter penned by Alexander Trott. 'Is this his lordship's hand?'
'Oh yes,' replied Julia; 'good, punctual creature! I have not seen
it more than once or twice, but I know he writes very badly and
very large. These dear, wild young noblemen, you know, Overton--'
'Ay, ay, I see,' replied the mayor.--'Horses and dogs, play and
wine--grooms, actresses, and cigars--the stable, the green-room,
the saloon, and the tavern; and the legislative assembly at last.'
'Here's what he says,' pursued the mayor; '"Sir,--A young gentleman
in number nineteen at the Winglebury Arms, is bent on committing a
rash act to-morrow morning at an early hour." (That's good--he
means marrying.) "If you have any regard for the peace of this
town, or the preservation of one--it may be two--human lives"--What
the deuce does he mean by that?'
'That he's so anxious for the ceremony, he will expire if it's put
off, and that I may possibly do the same,' replied the lady with
'Oh! I see--not much fear of that;--well--"two human lives, you
will cause him to be removed to-night." (He wants to start at
once.) "Fear not to do this on your responsibility: for to-morrow
the absolute necessity of the proceeding will be but too apparent.
Remember: number nineteen. The name is Trott. No delay; for life
and death depend upon your promptitude." Passionate language,
certainly. Shall I see him?'
'Do,' replied Miss Julia; 'and entreat him to act his part well. I
am half afraid of him. Tell him to be cautious.'
'I will,' said the mayor.
'Settle all the arrangements.'
'I will,' said the mayor again.
'And say I think the chaise had better be ordered for one o'clock.'
'Very well,' said the mayor once more; and, ruminating on the
absurdity of the situation in which fate and old acquaintance had
placed him, he desired a waiter to herald his approach to the
temporary representative of number nineteen.
The announcement, 'Gentleman to speak with you, sir,' induced Mr.
Trott to pause half-way in the glass of port, the contents of which
he was in the act of imbibing at the moment; to rise from his
chair; and retreat a few paces towards the window, as if to secure
a retreat, in the event of the visitor assuming the form and
appearance of Horace Hunter. One glance at Joseph Overton,
however, quieted his apprehensions. He courteously motioned the
stranger to a seat. The waiter, after a little jingling with the
decanter and glasses, consented to leave the room; and Joseph
Overton, placing the broad-brimmed hat on the chair next him, and
bending his body gently forward, opened the business by saying in a
very low and cautious tone,
'Eh?' said Mr. Alexander Trott, in a loud key, with the vacant and
mystified stare of a chilly somnambulist.
'Hush--hush!' said the cautious attorney: 'to be sure--quite
right--no titles here--my name is Overton, sir.'
'Yes: the mayor of this place--you sent me a letter with anonymous
information, this afternoon.'
'I, sir?' exclaimed Trott with ill-dissembled surprise; for, coward
as he was, he would willingly have repudiated the authorship of the
letter in question. 'I, sir?'
'Yes, you, sir; did you not?' responded Overton, annoyed with what
he supposed to be an extreme degree of unnecessary suspicion.
'Either this letter is yours, or it is not. If it be, we can
converse securely upon the subject at once. If it be not, of
course I have no more to say.'
'Stay, stay,' said Trott, 'it IS mine; I DID write it. What could
I do, sir? I had no friend here.'
'To be sure, to be sure,' said the mayor, encouragingly, 'you could
not have managed it better. Well, sir; it will be necessary for
you to leave here to-night in a post-chaise and four. And the
harder the boys drive, the better. You are not safe from pursuit.'
'Bless me!' exclaimed Trott, in an agony of apprehension, 'can such
things happen in a country like this? Such unrelenting and cold-
blooded hostility!' He wiped off the concentrated essence of
cowardice that was oozing fast down his forehead, and looked aghast
at Joseph Overton.
'It certainly is a very hard case,' replied the mayor with a smile,
'that, in a free country, people can't marry whom they like,
without being hunted down as if they were criminals. However, in
the present instance the lady is willing, you know, and that's the
main point, after all.'
'Lady willing,' repeated Trott, mechanically. 'How do you know the
'Come, that's a good one,' said the mayor, benevolently tapping Mr.
Trott on the arm with his broad-brimmed hat; 'I have known her,
well, for a long time; and if anybody could entertain the remotest
doubt on the subject, I assure you I have none, nor need you have.'
'Dear me!' said Mr. Trott, ruminating. 'This is VERY
'Well, Lord Peter,' said the mayor, rising.
'Lord Peter?' repeated Mr. Trott.
'Oh--ah, I forgot. Mr. Trott, then--Trott--very good, ha! ha!--
Well, sir, the chaise shall be ready at half-past twelve.'
'And what is to become of me until then?' inquired Mr. Trott,
anxiously. 'Wouldn't it save appearances, if I were placed under
'Ah!' replied Overton, 'very good thought--capital idea indeed.
I'll send somebody up directly. And if you make a little
resistance when we put you in the chaise it wouldn't be amiss--look
as if you didn't want to be taken away, you know.'
'To be sure,' said Trott--'to be sure.'
'Well, my lord,' said Overton, in a low tone, 'until then, I wish
your lordship a good evening.'
'Lord--lordship?' ejaculated Trott again, falling back a step or
two, and gazing, in unutterable wonder, on the countenance of the
'Ha-ha! I see, my lord--practising the madman?--very good indeed--
very vacant look--capital, my lord, capital--good evening, Mr.--
Trott--ha! ha! ha!'
'That mayor's decidedly drunk,' soliloquised Mr. Trott, throwing
himself back in his chair, in an attitude of reflection.
'He is a much cleverer fellow than I thought him, that young
nobleman--he carries it off uncommonly well,' thought Overton, as
he went his way to the bar, there to complete his arrangements.
This was soon done. Every word of the story was implicitly
believed, and the one-eyed boots was immediately instructed to
repair to number nineteen, to act as custodian of the person of the
supposed lunatic until half-past twelve o'clock. In pursuance of
this direction, that somewhat eccentric gentleman armed himself
with a walking-stick of gigantic dimensions, and repaired, with his
usual equanimity of manner, to Mr. Trott's apartment, which he
entered without any ceremony, and mounted guard in, by quietly
depositing himself on a chair near the door, where he proceeded to
beguile the time by whistling a popular air with great apparent
'What do you want here, you scoundrel?' exclaimed Mr. Alexander
Trott, with a proper appearance of indignation at his detention.
The boots beat time with his head, as he looked gently round at Mr.
Trott with a smile of pity, and whistled an adagio movement.
'Do you attend in this room by Mr. Overton's desire?' inquired
Trott, rather astonished at the man's demeanour.
'Keep yourself to yourself, young feller,' calmly responded the
boots, 'and don't say nothing to nobody.' And he whistled again.
'Now mind!' ejaculated Mr. Trott, anxious to keep up the farce of
wishing with great earnestness to fight a duel if they'd let him.
'I protest against being kept here. I deny that I have any
intention of fighting with anybody. But as it's useless contending
with superior numbers, I shall sit quietly down.'
'You'd better,' observed the placid boots, shaking the large stick
'Under protest, however,' added Alexander Trott, seating himself
with indignation in his face, but great content in his heart.
'Oh, certainly!' responded the boots; 'anything you please. If
you're happy, I'm transported; only don't talk too much--it'll make
'Make me worse?' exclaimed Trott, in unfeigned astonishment: 'the
'You'd better be quiet, young feller,' remarked the boots, going
through a threatening piece of pantomime with the stick.
'Or mad!' said Mr. Trott, rather alarmed. 'Leave the room, sir,
and tell them to send somebody else.'
'Won't do!' replied the boots.
'Leave the room!' shouted Trott, ringing the bell violently: for
he began to be alarmed on a new score.
'Leave that 'ere bell alone, you wretched loo-nattic!' said the
boots, suddenly forcing the unfortunate Trott back into his chair,
and brandishing the stick aloft. 'Be quiet, you miserable object,
and don't let everybody know there's a madman in the house.'
'He IS a madman! He IS a madman!' exclaimed the terrified Mr.
Trott, gazing on the one eye of the red-headed boots with a look of
'Madman!' replied the boots, 'dam'me, I think he IS a madman with a
vengeance! Listen to me, you unfortunate. Ah! would you?' [a
slight tap on the head with the large stick, as Mr. Trott made
another move towards the bell-handle] 'I caught you there! did I?'
'Spare my life!' exclaimed Trott, raising his hands imploringly.
'I don't want your life,' replied the boots, disdainfully, 'though
I think it 'ud be a charity if somebody took it.'
'No, no, it wouldn't,' interrupted poor Mr. Trott, hurriedly, 'no,
no, it wouldn't! I--I-'d rather keep it!'
'O werry well,' said the boots: 'that's a mere matter of taste--
ev'ry one to his liking. Hows'ever, all I've got to say is this
here: You sit quietly down in that chair, and I'll sit hoppersite
you here, and if you keep quiet and don't stir, I won't damage you;
but, if you move hand or foot till half-past twelve o'clock, I
shall alter the expression of your countenance so completely, that
the next time you look in the glass you'll ask vether you're gone
out of town, and ven you're likely to come back again. So sit
'I will--I will,' responded the victim of mistakes; and down sat
Mr. Trott and down sat the boots too, exactly opposite him, with
the stick ready for immediate action in case of emergency.
Long and dreary were the hours that followed. The bell of Great
Winglebury church had just struck ten, and two hours and a half
would probably elapse before succour arrived.
For half an hour, the noise occasioned by shutting up the shops in
the street beneath, betokened something like life in the town, and
rendered Mr. Trott's situation a little less insupportable; but,
when even these ceased, and nothing was heard beyond the occasional
rattling of a post-chaise as it drove up the yard to change horses,
and then drove away again, or the clattering of horses' hoofs in
the stables behind, it became almost unbearable. The boots
occasionally moved an inch or two, to knock superfluous bits of wax
off the candles, which were burning low, but instantaneously
resumed his former position; and as he remembered to have heard,
somewhere or other, that the human eye had an unfailing effect in
controlling mad people, he kept his solitary organ of vision
constantly fixed on Mr. Alexander Trott. That unfortunate
individual stared at his companion in his turn, until his features
grew more and more indistinct--his hair gradually less red--and the
room more misty and obscure. Mr. Alexander Trott fell into a sound
sleep, from which he was awakened by a rumbling in the street, and
a cry of 'Chaise-and-four for number twenty-five!' A bustle on the
stairs succeeded; the room door was hastily thrown open; and Mr.
Joseph Overton entered, followed by four stout waiters, and Mrs.
Williamson, the stout landlady of the Winglebury Arms.
'Mr. Overton!' exclaimed Mr. Alexander Trott, jumping up in a
frenzy. 'Look at this man, sir; consider the situation in which I
have been placed for three hours past--the person you sent to guard
me, sir, was a madman--a madman--a raging, ravaging, furious
'Bravo!' whispered Mr. Overton.
'Poor dear!' said the compassionate Mrs. Williamson, 'mad people
always thinks other people's mad.'
'Poor dear!' ejaculated Mr. Alexander Trott. 'What the devil do
you mean by poor dear! Are you the landlady of this house?'
'Yes, yes,' replied the stout old lady, 'don't exert yourself,
there's a dear! Consider your health, now; do.'
'Exert myself!' shouted Mr. Alexander Trott; 'it's a mercy, ma'am,
that I have any breath to exert myself with! I might have been
assassinated three hours ago by that one-eyed monster with the
oakum head. How dare you have a madman, ma'am--how dare you have a
madman, to assault and terrify the visitors to your house?'
'I'll never have another,' said Mrs. Williamson, casting a look of
reproach at the mayor.
'Capital, capital,' whispered Overton again, as he enveloped Mr.
Alexander Trott in a thick travelling-cloak.
'Capital, sir!' exclaimed Trott, aloud; 'it's horrible. The very
recollection makes me shudder. I'd rather fight four duels in
three hours, if I survived the first three, than I'd sit for that
time face to face with a madman.'
'Keep it up, my lord, as you go down-stairs,' whispered Overton,
'your bill is paid, and your portmanteau in the chaise.' And then
he added aloud, 'Now, waiters, the gentleman's ready.'
At this signal, the waiters crowded round Mr. Alexander Trott. One
took one arm; another, the other; a third, walked before with a
candle; the fourth, behind with another candle; the boots and Mrs.
Williamson brought up the rear; and down-stairs they went: Mr.
Alexander Trott expressing alternately at the very top of his voice
either his feigned reluctance to go, or his unfeigned indignation
at being shut up with a madman.
Mr. Overton was waiting at the chaise-door, the boys were ready
mounted, and a few ostlers and stable nondescripts were standing
round to witness the departure of 'the mad gentleman.' Mr.
Alexander Trott's foot was on the step, when he observed (which the
dim light had prevented his doing before) a figure seated in the
chaise, closely muffled up in a cloak like his own.
'Who's that?' he inquired of Overton, in a whisper.
'Hush, hush,' replied the mayor: 'the other party of course.'
'The other party!' exclaimed Trott, with an effort to retreat.
'Yes, yes; you'll soon find that out, before you go far, I should
think--but make a noise, you'll excite suspicion if you whisper to
me so much.'
'I won't go in this chaise!' shouted Mr. Alexander Trott, all his
original fears recurring with tenfold violence. 'I shall be
assassinated--I shall be--'
'Bravo, bravo,' whispered Overton. 'I'll push you in.'
'But I won't go,' exclaimed Mr. Trott. 'Help here, help! They're
carrying me away against my will. This is a plot to murder me.'
'Poor dear!' said Mrs. Williamson again.
'Now, boys, put 'em along,' cried the mayor, pushing Trott in and
slamming the door. 'Off with you, as quick as you can, and stop
for nothing till you come to the next stage--all right!'
'Horses are paid, Tom,' screamed Mrs. Williamson; and away went the
chaise, at the rate of fourteen miles an hour, with Mr. Alexander
Trott and Miss Julia Manners carefully shut up in the inside.
Mr. Alexander Trott remained coiled up in one corner of the chaise,
and his mysterious companion in the other, for the first two or
three miles; Mr. Trott edging more and more into his corner, as he
felt his companion gradually edging more and more from hers; and
vainly endeavouring in the darkness to catch a glimpse of the
furious face of the supposed Horace Hunter.
'We may speak now,' said his fellow-traveller, at length; 'the
post-boys can neither see nor hear us.'
'That's not Hunter's voice!'--thought Alexander, astonished.
'Dear Lord Peter!' said Miss Julia, most winningly: putting her
arm on Mr. Trott's shoulder. 'Dear Lord Peter. Not a word?'
'Why, it's a woman!' exclaimed Mr. Trott, in a low tone of
'Ah! Whose voice is that?' said Julia; ''tis not Lord Peter's.'
'No,--it's mine,' replied Mr. Trott.
'Yours!' ejaculated Miss Julia Manners; 'a strange man! Gracious
heaven! How came you here!'
'Whoever you are, you might have known that I came against my will,
ma'am,' replied Alexander, 'for I made noise enough when I got in.'
'Do you come from Lord Peter?' inquired Miss Manners.
'Confound Lord Peter,' replied Trott pettishly. 'I don't know any
Lord Peter. I never heard of him before to-night, when I've been
Lord Peter'd by one and Lord Peter'd by another, till I verily
believe I'm mad, or dreaming--'
'Whither are we going?' inquired the lady tragically.
'How should _I_ know, ma'am?' replied Trott with singular coolness;
for the events of the evening had completely hardened him.
'Stop stop!' cried the lady, letting down the front glasses of the
'Stay, my dear ma'am!' said Mr. Trott, pulling the glasses up again
with one hand, and gently squeezing Miss Julia's waist with the
other. 'There is some mistake here; give me till the end of this
stage to explain my share of it. We must go so far; you cannot be
set down here alone, at this hour of the night.'
The lady consented; the mistake was mutually explained. Mr. Trott
was a young man, had highly promising whiskers, an undeniable
tailor, and an insinuating address--he wanted nothing but valour,
and who wants that with three thousand a-year? The lady had this,
and more; she wanted a young husband, and the only course open to
Mr. Trott to retrieve his disgrace was a rich wife. So, they came
to the conclusion that it would be a pity to have all this trouble
and expense for nothing; and that as they were so far on the road
already, they had better go to Gretna Green, and marry each other;
and they did so. And the very next preceding entry in the
Blacksmith's book, was an entry of the marriage of Emily Brown with
Horace Hunter. Mr. Hunter took his wife home, and begged pardon,
and WAS pardoned; and Mr. Trott took HIS wife home, begged pardon
too, and was pardoned also. And Lord Peter, who had been detained
beyond his time by drinking champagne and riding a steeple-chase,
went back to the Honourable Augustus Flair's, and drank more
champagne, and rode another steeple-chase, and was thrown and
killed. And Horace Hunter took great credit to himself for
practising on the cowardice of Alexander Trott; and all these
circumstances were discovered in time, and carefully noted down;
and if you ever stop a week at the Winglebury Arms, they will give
you just this account of The Great Winglebury Duel.
CHAPTER IX--MRS. JOSEPH PORTER
Most extensive were the preparations at Rose Villa, Clapham Rise,
in the occupation of Mr. Gattleton (a stock-broker in especially
comfortable circumstances), and great was the anxiety of Mr.
Gattleton's interesting family, as the day fixed for the
representation of the Private Play which had been 'many months in
preparation,' approached. The whole family was infected with the
mania for Private Theatricals; the house, usually so clean and
tidy, was, to use Mr. Gattleton's expressive description,
'regularly turned out o' windows;' the large dining-room,
dismantled of its furniture, and ornaments, presented a strange
jumble of flats, flies, wings, lamps, bridges, clouds, thunder and
lightning, festoons and flowers, daggers and foil, and various
other messes in theatrical slang included under the comprehensive
name of 'properties.' The bedrooms were crowded with scenery, the
kitchen was occupied by carpenters. Rehearsals took place every
other night in the drawing-room, and every sofa in the house was
more or less damaged by the perseverance and spirit with which Mr.
Sempronius Gattleton, and Miss Lucina, rehearsed the smothering
scene in 'Othello'--it having been determined that that tragedy
should form the first portion of the evening's entertainments.
'When we're a LEETLE more perfect, I think it will go admirably,'
said Mr. Sempronius, addressing his corps dramatique, at the
conclusion of the hundred and fiftieth rehearsal. In consideration
of his sustaining the trifling inconvenience of bearing all the
expenses of the play, Mr. Sempronius had been, in the most handsome
manner, unanimously elected stage-manager. 'Evans,' continued Mr.
Gattleton, the younger, addressing a tall, thin, pale young
gentleman, with extensive whiskers--'Evans, you play Roderigo
'Beautifully,' echoed the three Miss Gattletons; for Mr. Evans was
pronounced by all his lady friends to be 'quite a dear.' He looked
so interesting, and had such lovely whiskers: to say nothing of
his talent for writing verses in albums and playing the flute!
Roderigo simpered and bowed.
'But I think,' added the manager, 'you are hardly perfect in the--
fall--in the fencing-scene, where you are--you understand?'
'It's very difficult,' said Mr. Evans, thoughtfully; 'I've fallen
about, a good deal, in our counting-house lately, for practice,
only I find it hurts one so. Being obliged to fall backward you
see, it bruises one's head a good deal.'
'But you must take care you don't knock a wing down,' said Mr.
Gattleton, the elder, who had been appointed prompter, and who took
as much interest in the play as the youngest of the company. 'The
stage is very narrow, you know.'
'Oh! don't be afraid,' said Mr. Evans, with a very self-satisfied
air; 'I shall fall with my head "off," and then I can't do any
'But, egad,' said the manager, rubbing his hands, 'we shall make a
decided hit in "Masaniello." Harleigh sings that music admirably.'
Everybody echoed the sentiment. Mr. Harleigh smiled, and looked
foolish--not an unusual thing with him--hummed' Behold how
brightly breaks the morning,' and blushed as red as the fisherman's
nightcap he was trying on.
'Let's see,' resumed the manager, telling the number on his
fingers, 'we shall have three dancing female peasants, besides
Fenella, and four fishermen. Then, there's our man Tom; he can
have a pair of ducks of mine, and a check shirt of Bob's, and a red
nightcap, and he'll do for another--that's five. In the choruses,
of course, we can sing at the sides; and in the market-scene we can
walk about in cloaks and things. When the revolt takes place, Tom
must keep rushing in on one side and out on the other, with a
pickaxe, as fast as he can. The effect will be electrical; it will
look exactly as if there were an immense number of 'em. And in the
eruption-scene we must burn the red fire, and upset the tea-trays,
and make all sorts of noises--and it's sure to do.'
'Sure! sure!' cried all the performers una voce--and away hurried
Mr. Sempronius Gattleton to wash the burnt cork off his face, and
superintend the 'setting up' of some of the amateur-painted, but
Mrs. Gattleton was a kind, good-tempered, vulgar soul, exceedingly
fond of her husband and children, and entertaining only three
dislikes. In the first place, she had a natural antipathy to
anybody else's unmarried daughters; in the second, she was in
bodily fear of anything in the shape of ridicule; lastly--almost a
necessary consequence of this feeling--she regarded, with feelings
of the utmost horror, one Mrs. Joseph Porter over the way.
However, the good folks of Clapham and its vicinity stood very much
in awe of scandal and sarcasm; and thus Mrs. Joseph Porter was
courted, and flattered, and caressed, and invited, for much the
same reason that induces a poor author, without a farthing in his
pocket, to behave with extraordinary civility to a twopenny
'Never mind, ma,' said Miss Emma Porter, in colloquy with her
respected relative, and trying to look unconcerned; 'if they had
invited me, you know that neither you nor pa would have allowed me
to take part in such an exhibition.'
'Just what I should have thought from your high sense of
propriety,' returned the mother. 'I am glad to see, Emma, you know
how to designate the proceeding.' Miss P., by-the-bye, had only
the week before made 'an exhibition' of herself for four days,
behind a counter at a fancy fair, to all and every of her Majesty's
liege subjects who were disposed to pay a shilling each for the
privilege of seeing some four dozen girls flirting with strangers,
and playing at shop.
'There!' said Mrs. Porter, looking out of window; 'there are two
rounds of beef and a ham going in--clearly for sandwiches; and
Thomas, the pastry-cook, says, there have been twelve dozen tarts
ordered, besides blancmange and jellies. 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
'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,
'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
'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
'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. I shall be so
'I am sure I shall be most happy to give you any assistance in my
'Mind, it's a bargain.'
'I don't know how it is,' said Mrs. Gattleton to her daughters, as
they were sitting round the fire in the evening, looking over their
parts, 'but I really very much wish Mrs. Joseph Porter wasn't
coming on Thursday. I am sure she's scheming something.'
'She can't make us ridiculous, however,' observed Mr. Sempronius
The long-looked-for Thursday arrived in due course, and brought
with it, as Mr. Gattleton, senior, philosophically observed, 'no
disappointments, to speak of.' True, it was yet a matter of doubt
whether Cassio would be enabled to get into the dress which had
been sent for him from the masquerade warehouse. It was equally
uncertain whether the principal female singer would be sufficiently
recovered from the influenza to make her appearance; Mr. Harleigh,
the Masaniello of the night, was hoarse, and rather unwell, in
consequence of the great quantity of lemon and sugar-candy he had
eaten to improve his voice; and two flutes and a violoncello had
pleaded severe colds. What of that? the audience were all coming.
Everybody knew his part: the dresses were covered with tinsel and
spangles; the white plumes looked beautiful; Mr. Evans had
practised falling until he was bruised from head to foot and quite
perfect; Iago was sure that, in the stabbing-scene, he should make
'a decided hit.' A self-taught deaf gentleman, who had kindly
offered to bring his flute, would be a most valuable addition to
the orchestra; Miss Jenkins's talent for the piano was too well
known to be doubted for an instant; Mr. Cape had practised the
violin accompaniment with her frequently; and Mr. Brown, who had
kindly undertaken, at a few hours' notice, to bring his
violoncello, would, no doubt, manage extremely well.
Seven o'clock came, and so did the audience; all the rank and
fashion of Clapham and its vicinity was fast filling the theatre.
There were the Smiths, the Gubbinses, the Nixons, the Dixons, the
Hicksons, people with all sorts of names, two aldermen, a sheriff
in perspective, Sir Thomas Glumper (who had been knighted in the
last reign for carrying up an address on somebody's escaping from
nothing); and last, not least, there were Mrs. Joseph Porter and
Uncle Tom, seated in the centre of the third row from the stage;
Mrs. P. amusing Uncle Tom with all sorts of stories, and Uncle Tom
amusing every one else by laughing most immoderately.
Ting, ting, ting! went the prompter's bell at eight o'clock
precisely, and dash went the orchestra into the overture to 'The
Men of Prometheus.' The pianoforte player hammered away with
laudable perseverance; and the violoncello, which struck in at
intervals, 'sounded very well, considering.' The unfortunate
individual, however, who had undertaken to play the flute
accompaniment 'at sight,' found, from fatal experience, the perfect
truth of the old adage, 'ought of sight, out of mind;' for being
very near-sighted, and being placed at a considerable distance from
his music-book, all he had an opportunity of doing was to play a
bar now and then in the wrong place, and put the other performers
out. It is, however, but justice to Mr. Brown to say that he did
this to admiration. The overture, in fact, was not unlike a race
between the different instruments; the piano came in first by
several bars, and the violoncello next, quite distancing the poor
flute; for the deaf gentleman TOO-TOO'D away, quite unconscious
that he was at all wrong, until apprised, by the applause of the
audience, that the overture was concluded. A considerable bustle
and shuffling of feet was then heard upon the stage, accompanied by
whispers of 'Here's a pretty go!--what's to be done?' &c. The
audience applauded again, by way of raising the spirits of the
performers; and then Mr. Sempronius desired the prompter, in a very
audible voice, to 'clear the stage, and ring up.'
Ting, ting, ting! went the bell again. Everybody sat down; the
curtain shook; rose sufficiently high to display several pair of
yellow boots paddling about; and there remained.
Ting, ting, ting! went the bell again. The curtain was violently
convulsed, but rose no higher; the audience tittered; Mrs. Porter
looked at Uncle Tom; Uncle Tom looked at everybody, rubbing his
hands, and laughing with perfect rapture. After as much ringing
with the little bell as a muffin-boy would make in going down a
tolerably long street, and a vast deal of whispering, hammering,
and calling for nails and cord, the curtain at length rose, and
discovered Mr. Sempronius Gattleton solus, and decked for Othello.
After three distinct rounds of applause, during which Mr.
Sempronius applied his right hand to his left breast, and bowed in
the most approved manner, the manager advanced and said:
'Ladies and Gentlemen--I assure you it is with sincere regret, that
I regret to be compelled to inform you, that Iago who was to have
played Mr. Wilson--I beg your pardon, Ladies and Gentlemen, but I
am naturally somewhat agitated (applause)--I mean, Mr. Wilson, who
was to have played Iago, is--that is, has been--or, in other words,
Ladies and Gentlemen, the fact is, that I have just received a
note, in which I am informed that Iago is unavoidably detained at
the Post-office this evening. Under these circumstances, I trust--
a--a--amateur performance--a--another gentleman undertaken to read
the part--request indulgence for a short time--courtesy and
kindness of a British audience.' Overwhelming applause. Exit Mr.
Sempronius Gattleton, and curtain falls.
The audience were, of course, exceedingly good-humoured; the whole
business was a joke; and accordingly they waited for an hour with
the utmost patience, being enlivened by an interlude of rout-cakes
and lemonade. It appeared by Mr. Sempronius's subsequent
explanation, that the delay would not have been so great, had it
not so happened that when the substitute Iago had finished
dressing, and just as the play was on the point of commencing, the
original Iago unexpectedly arrived. The former was therefore
compelled to undress, and the latter to dress for his part; which,
as he found some difficulty in getting into his clothes, occupied
no inconsiderable time. At last, the tragedy began in real
earnest. It went off well enough, until the third scene of the
first act, in which Othello addresses the Senate: the only
remarkable circumstance being, that as Iago could not get on any of
the stage boots, in consequence of his feet being violently swelled
with the heat and excitement, he was under the necessity of playing
the part in a pair of Wellingtons, which contrasted rather oddly
with his richly embroidered pantaloons. When Othello started with
his address to the Senate (whose dignity was represented by, the
Duke, a carpenter, two men engaged on the recommendation of the
gardener, and a boy), Mrs. Porter found the opportunity she so
Mr. Sempronius proceeded:
'"Most potent, grave, and reverend signiors,
My very noble and approv'd good masters,
That I have ta'en away this old man's daughter,
It is most true;--rude am I in my speech--"'
'Is that right?' whispered Mrs. Porter to Uncle Tom.
'Tell him so, then.'
'I will. Sem!' called out Uncle Tom, 'that's wrong, my boy.'
'What's wrong, uncle?' demanded Othello, quite forgetting the
dignity of his situation.
'You've left out something. "True I have married--"'
'Oh, ah!' said Mr. Sempronius, endeavouring to hide his confusion
as much and as ineffectually as the audience attempted to conceal
their half-suppressed tittering, by coughing with extraordinary
- '"true I have married her; -
The very head and front of my offending
Hath this extent; no more."
(Aside) Why don't you prompt, father?'
'Because I've mislaid my spectacles,' said poor Mr. Gattleton,
almost dead with the heat and bustle.
'There, now it's "rude am I,"' said Uncle Tom.
'Yes, I know it is,' returned the unfortunate manager, proceeding
with his part.
It would be useless and tiresome to quote the number of instances
in which Uncle Tom, now completely in his element, and instigated
by the mischievous Mrs. Porter, corrected the mistakes of the
performers; suffice it to say, that having mounted his hobby,
nothing could induce him to dismount; so, during the whole
remainder of the play, he performed a kind of running
accompaniment, by muttering everybody's part as it was being
delivered, in an under-tone. The audience were highly amused, Mrs.
Porter delighted, the performers embarrassed; Uncle Tom never was
better pleased in all his life; and Uncle Tom's nephews and nieces
had never, although the declared heirs to his large property, so
heartily wished him gathered to his fathers as on that memorable
Several other minor causes, too, united to damp the ardour of the
dramatis personae. None of the performers could walk in their
tights, or move their arms in their jackets; the pantaloons were
too small, the boots too large, and the swords of all shapes and
sizes. Mr. Evans, naturally too tall for the scenery, wore a black
velvet hat with immense white plumes, the glory of which was lost
in 'the flies;' and the only other inconvenience of which was, that
when it was off his head he could not put it on, and when it was on
he could not take it off. Notwithstanding all his practice, too,
he fell with his head and shoulders as neatly through one of the
side scenes, as a harlequin would jump through a panel in a
Christmas pantomime. The pianoforte player, overpowered by the
extreme heat of the room, fainted away at the commencement of the
entertainments, leaving the music of 'Masaniello' to the flute and
violoncello. The orchestra complained that Mr. Harleigh put them
out, and Mr. Harleigh declared that the orchestra prevented his
singing a note. The fishermen, who were hired for the occasion,
revolted to the very life, positively refusing to play without an
increased allowance of spirits; and, their demand being complied
with, getting drunk in the eruption-scene as naturally as possible.
The red fire, which was burnt at the conclusion of the second act,
not only nearly suffocated the audience, but nearly set the house
on fire into the bargain; and, as it was, the remainder of the
piece was acted in a thick fog.
In short, the whole affair was, as Mrs. Joseph Porter triumphantly
told everybody, 'a complete failure.' The audience went home at
four o'clock in the morning, exhausted with laughter, suffering
from severe headaches, and smelling terribly of brimstone and
gunpowder. The Messrs. Gattleton, senior and junior, retired to
rest, with the vague idea of emigrating to Swan River early in the
Rose Villa has once again resumed its wonted appearance; the
dining-room furniture has been replaced; the tables are as nicely
polished as formerly; the horsehair chairs are ranged against the
wall, as regularly as ever; Venetian blinds have been fitted to
every window in the house to intercept the prying gaze of Mrs.
Joseph Porter. The subject of theatricals is never mentioned in
the Gattleton family, unless, indeed, by Uncle Tom, who cannot
refrain from sometimes expressing his surprise and regret at
finding that his nephews and nieces appear to have lost the relish
they once possessed for the beauties of Shakspeare, and quotations
from the works of that immortal bard.
CHAPTER X--A PASSAGE IN THE LIFE OF MR. WATKINS TOTTLE
CHAPTER THE FIRST
Matrimony is proverbially a serious undertaking. Like an over-
weening predilection for brandy-and-water, it is a misfortune into
which a man easily falls, and from which he finds it remarkably
difficult to extricate himself. It is of no use telling a man who
is timorous on these points, that it is but one plunge, and all is
over. They say the same thing at the Old Bailey, and the
unfortunate victims derive as much comfort from the assurance in
the one case as in the other.
Mr. Watkins Tottle was a rather uncommon compound of strong
uxorious inclinations, and an unparalleled degree of anti-connubial
timidity. He was about fifty years of age; stood four feet six
inches and three-quarters in his socks--for he never stood in
stockings at all--plump, clean, and rosy. He looked something like
a vignette to one of Richardson's novels, and had a clean-cravatish
formality of manner, and kitchen-pokerness of carriage, which Sir
Charles Grandison himself might have envied. He lived on an
annuity, which was well adapted to the individual who received it,
in one respect--it was rather small. He received it in periodical
payments on every alternate Monday; but he ran himself out, about a
day after the expiration of the first week, as regularly as an
eight-day clock; and then, to make the comparison complete, his
landlady wound him up, and he went on with a regular tick.
Mr. Watkins Tottle had long lived in a state of single blessedness,
as bachelors say, or single cursedness, as spinsters think; but the
idea of matrimony had never ceased to haunt him. Wrapt in profound
reveries on this never-failing theme, fancy transformed his small
parlour in Cecil-street, Strand, into a neat house in the suburbs;
the half-hundredweight of coals under the kitchen-stairs suddenly
sprang up into three tons of the best Walls-end; his small French
bedstead was converted into a regular matrimonial four-poster; and
in the empty chair on the opposite side of the fireplace,
imagination seated a beautiful young lady, with a very little
independence or will of her own, and a very large independence
under a will of her father's.
'Who's there?' inquired Mr. Watkins Tottle, as a gentle tap at his
room-door disturbed these meditations one evening.
'Tottle, my dear fellow, how DO you do?' said a short elderly
gentleman with a gruffish voice, bursting into the room, and
replying to the question by asking another.
'Told you I should drop in some evening,' said the short gentleman,
as he delivered his hat into Tottle's hand, after a little
struggling and dodging.
'Delighted to see you, I'm sure,' said Mr. Watkins Tottle, wishing
internally that his visitor had 'dropped in' to the Thames at the
bottom of the street, instead of dropping into his parlour. The
fortnight was nearly up, and Watkins was hard up.
'How is Mrs. Gabriel Parsons?' inquired Tottle.
'Quite well, thank you,' replied Mr. Gabriel Parsons, for that was
the name the short gentleman revelled in. Here there was a pause;
the short gentleman looked at the left hob of the fireplace; Mr.
Watkins Tottle stared vacancy out of countenance.
'Quite well,' repeated the short gentleman, when five minutes had
expired. 'I may say remarkably well.' And he rubbed the palms of
his hands as hard as if he were going to strike a light by
'What will you take?' inquired Tottle, with the desperate
suddenness of a man who knew that unless the visitor took his
leave, he stood very little chance of taking anything else.
'Oh, I don't know--have you any whiskey?'
'Why,' replied Tottle, very slowly, for all this was gaining time,
'I HAD some capital, and remarkably strong whiskey last week; but
it's all gone--and therefore its strength--'
'Is much beyond proof; or, in other words, impossible to be
proved,' said the short gentleman; and he laughed very heartily,
and seemed quite glad the whiskey had been drunk. Mr. Tottle
smiled--but it was the smile of despair. When Mr. Gabriel Parsons
had done laughing, he delicately insinuated that, in the absence of
whiskey, he would not be averse to brandy. And Mr. Watkins Tottle,
lighting a flat candle very ostentatiously; and displaying an
immense key, which belonged to the street-door, but which, for the
sake of appearances, occasionally did duty in an imaginary wine-
cellar; left the room to entreat his landlady to charge their
glasses, and charge them in the bill. The application was
successful; the spirits were speedily called--not from the vasty
deep, but the adjacent wine-vaults. The two short gentlemen mixed
their grog; and then sat cosily down before the fire--a pair of
shorts, airing themselves.
'Tottle,' said Mr. Gabriel Parsons, 'you know my way--off-hand,
open, say what I mean, mean what I say, hate reserve, and can't
bear affectation. One, is a bad domino which only hides what good
people have about 'em, without making the bad look better; and the
other is much about the same thing as pinking a white cotton
stocking to make it look like a silk one. Now listen to what I'm
going to say.'
Here, the little gentleman paused, and took a long pull at his
brandy-and-water. Mr. Watkins Tottle took a sip of his, stirred
the fire, and assumed an air of profound attention.
'It's of no use humming and ha'ing about the matter,' resumed the
short gentleman.--'You want to get married.'
'Why,' replied Mr. Watkins Tottle evasively; for he trembled
violently, and felt a sudden tingling throughout his whole frame;
'why--I should certainly--at least, I THINK I should like--'
'Won't do,' said the short gentleman.--'Plain and free--or there's
an end of the matter. Do you want money?'
'You know I do.'
'You admire the sex?'
'And you'd like to be married?'
'Then you shall be. There's an end of that.' Thus saying, Mr.
Gabriel Parsons took a pinch of snuff, and mixed another glass.
'Let me entreat you to be more explanatory,' said Tottle. 'Really,
as the party principally interested, I cannot consent to be
disposed of, in this way.'
'I'll tell you,' replied Mr. Gabriel Parsons, warming with the
subject, and the brandy-and-water--'I know a lady--she's stopping
with my wife now--who is just the thing for you. Well educated;
talks French; plays the piano; knows a good deal about flowers, and
shells, and all that sort of thing; and has five hundred a year,
with an uncontrolled power of disposing of it, by her last will and
'I'll pay my addresses to her,' said Mr. Watkins Tottle. 'She
isn't VERY young--is she?'
'Not very; just the thing for you. I've said that already.'
'What coloured hair has the lady?' inquired Mr. Watkins Tottle.
'Egad, I hardly recollect,' replied Gabriel, with coolness.
'Perhaps I ought to have observed, at first, she wears a front.'
'A what?' ejaculated Tottle.
'One of those things with curls, along here,' said Parsons, drawing
a straight line across his forehead, just over his eyes, in
illustration of his meaning. 'I know the front's black; I can't
speak quite positively about her own hair; because, unless one
walks behind her, and catches a glimpse of it under her bonnet, one
seldom sees it; but I should say that it was RATHER lighter than
the front--a shade of a greyish tinge, perhaps.'
Mr. Watkins Tottle looked as if he had certain misgivings of mind.
Mr. Gabriel Parsons perceived it, and thought it would be safe to
begin the next attack without delay.
'Now, were you ever in love, Tottle?' he inquired.
Mr. Watkins Tottle blushed up to the eyes, and down to the chin,
and exhibited a most extensive combination of colours as he
confessed the soft impeachment.
'I suppose you popped the question, more than once, when you were a
young--I beg your pardon--a younger--man,' said Parsons.
'Never in my life!' replied his friend, apparently indignant at
being suspected of such an act. 'Never! The fact is, that I
entertain, as you know, peculiar opinions on these subjects. I am
not afraid of ladies, young or old--far from it; but, I think, that
in compliance with the custom of the present day, they allow too
much freedom of speech and manner to marriageable men. Now, the
fact is, that anything like this easy freedom I never could
acquire; and as I am always afraid of going too far, I am
generally, I dare say, considered formal and cold.'
'I shouldn't wonder if you were,' replied Parsons, gravely; 'I
shouldn't wonder. However, you'll be all right in this case; for
the strictness and delicacy of this lady's ideas greatly exceed
your own. Lord bless you, why, when she came to our house, there
was an old portrait of some man or other, with two large, black,
staring eyes, hanging up in her bedroom; she positively refused to
go to bed there, till it was taken down, considering it decidedly
'I think so, too,' said Mr. Watkins Tottle; 'certainly.'
'And then, the other night--I never laughed so much in my life'--
resumed Mr. Gabriel Parsons; 'I had driven home in an easterly
wind, and caught a devil of a face-ache. Well; as Fanny--that's
Mrs. Parsons, you know--and this friend of hers, and I, and Frank
Ross, were playing a rubber, I said, jokingly, that when I went to
bed I should wrap my head in Fanny's flannel petticoat. She
instantly threw up her cards, and left the room.'
'Quite right!' said Mr. Watkins Tottle; 'she could not possibly
have behaved in a more dignified manner. What did you do?'
'Do?--Frank took dummy; and I won sixpence.'
'But, didn't you apologise for hurting her feelings?'
'Devil a bit. Next morning at breakfast, we talked it over. She
contended that any reference to a flannel petticoat was improper;--
men ought not to be supposed to know that such things were. I
pleaded my coverture; being a married man.'
'And what did the lady say to that?' inquired Tottle, deeply
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