by that hour.’ (This was intended for a joke.)
‘Never mind, my dear fellow,’ replied Timson, all suavity, shaking hands with Tottle again most heartily, ‘so long as we see you to breakfast, you know–‘
‘Eh!’ said Parsons, with one of the most extraordinary expressions of countenance that ever appeared in a human face.
‘What!’ ejaculated Watkins Tottle, at the same moment.
‘I say that so long as we see you to breakfast,’ replied Timson, ‘we will excuse your being absent from the ceremony, though of course your presence at it would give us the utmost pleasure.’
Mr. Watkins Tottle staggered against the wall, and fixed his eyes on Timson with appalling perseverance.
‘Timson,’ said Parsons, hurriedly brushing his hat with his left arm, ‘when you say “us,” whom do you mean?’
Mr. Timson looked foolish in his turn, when he replied, ‘Why–Mrs. Timson that will be this day week: Miss Lillerton that is–‘
‘Now don’t stare at that idiot in the corner,’ angrily exclaimed Parsons, as the extraordinary convulsions of Watkins Tottle’s countenance excited the wondering gaze of Timson,–‘but have the goodness to tell me in three words the contents of that note?’
‘This note,’ replied Timson, ‘is from Miss Lillerton, to whom I have been for the last five weeks regularly engaged. Her singular scruples and strange feeling on some points have hitherto prevented my bringing the engagement to that termination which I so anxiously desire. She informs me here, that she sounded Mrs. Parsons with the view of making her her confidante and go-between, that Mrs. Parsons informed this elderly gentleman, Mr. Tottle, of the circumstance, and that he, in the most kind and delicate terms, offered to assist us in any way, and even undertook to convey this note, which contains the promise I have long sought in vain–an act of kindness for which I can never be sufficiently grateful.’
‘Good night, Timson,’ said Parsons, hurrying off, and carrying the bewildered Tottle with him.
‘Won’t you stay–and have something?’ said Timson.
‘No, thank ye,’ replied Parsons; ‘I’ve had quite enough;’ and away he went, followed by Watkins Tottle in a state of stupefaction.
Mr. Gabriel Parsons whistled until they had walked some quarter of a mile past his own gate, when he suddenly stopped, and said –
‘You are a clever fellow, Tottle, ain’t you?’
‘I don’t know,’ said the unfortunate Watkins.
‘I suppose you’ll say this is Fanny’s fault, won’t you?’ inquired Gabriel.
‘I don’t know anything about it,’ replied the bewildered Tottle.
‘Well,’ said Parsons, turning on his heel to go home, ‘the next time you make an offer, you had better speak plainly, and don’t throw a chance away. And the next time you’re locked up in a spunging-house, just wait there till I come and take you out, there’s a good fellow.’
How, or at what hour, Mr. Watkins Tottle returned to Cecil-street is unknown. His boots were seen outside his bedroom-door next morning; but we have the authority of his landlady for stating that he neither emerged therefrom nor accepted sustenance for four-and- twenty hours. At the expiration of that period, and when a council of war was being held in the kitchen on the propriety of summoning the parochial beadle to break his door open, he rang his bell, and demanded a cup of milk-and-water. The next morning he went through the formalities of eating and drinking as usual, but a week afterwards he was seized with a relapse, while perusing the list of marriages in a morning paper, from which he never perfectly recovered.
A few weeks after the last-named occurrence, the body of a gentleman unknown, was found in the Regent’s canal. In the trousers-pockets were four shillings and threepence halfpenny; a matrimonial advertisement from a lady, which appeared to have been cut out of a Sunday paper: a tooth-pick, and a card-case, which it is confidently believed would have led to the identification of the unfortunate gentleman, but for the circumstance of there being none but blank cards in it. Mr. Watkins Tottle absented himself from his lodgings shortly before. A bill, which has not been taken up, was presented next morning; and a bill, which has not been taken down, was soon afterwards affixed in his parlour-window.
CHAPTER XI–THE BLOOMSBURY CHRISTENING
Mr. Nicodemus Dumps, or, as his acquaintance called him, ‘long Dumps,’ was a bachelor, six feet high, and fifty years old: cross, cadaverous, odd, and ill-natured. He was never happy but when he was miserable; and always miserable when he had the best reason to be happy. The only real comfort of his existence was to make everybody about him wretched–then he might be truly said to enjoy life. He was afflicted with a situation in the Bank worth five hundred a-year, and he rented a ‘first-floor furnished,’ at Pentonville, which he originally took because it commanded a dismal prospect of an adjacent churchyard. He was familiar with the face of every tombstone, and the burial service seemed to excite his strongest sympathy. His friends said he was surly–he insisted he was nervous; they thought him a lucky dog, but he protested that he was ‘the most unfortunate man in the world.’ Cold as he was, and wretched as he declared himself to be, he was not wholly unsusceptible of attachments. He revered the memory of Hoyle, as he was himself an admirable and imperturbable whist-player, and he chuckled with delight at a fretful and impatient adversary. He adored King Herod for his massacre of the innocents; and if he hated one thing more than another, it was a child. However, he could hardly be said to hate anything in particular, because he disliked everything in general; but perhaps his greatest antipathies were cabs, old women, doors that would not shut, musical amateurs, and omnibus cads. He subscribed to the ‘Society for the Suppression of Vice’ for the pleasure of putting a stop to any harmless amusements; and he contributed largely towards the support of two itinerant methodist parsons, in the amiable hope that if circumstances rendered any people happy in this world, they might perchance be rendered miserable by fears for the next.
Mr. Dumps had a nephew who had been married about a year, and who was somewhat of a favourite with his uncle, because he was an admirable subject to exercise his misery-creating powers upon. Mr. Charles Kitterbell was a small, sharp, spare man, with a very large head, and a broad, good-humoured countenance. He looked like a faded giant, with the head and face partially restored; and he had a cast in his eye which rendered it quite impossible for any one with whom he conversed to know where he was looking. His eyes appeared fixed on the wall, and he was staring you out of countenance; in short, there was no catching his eye, and perhaps it is a merciful dispensation of Providence that such eyes are not catching. In addition to these characteristics, it may be added that Mr. Charles Kitterbell was one of the most credulous and matter-of-fact little personages that ever took TO himself a wife, and FOR himself a house in Great Russell-street, Bedford-square. (Uncle Dumps always dropped the ‘Bedford-square,’ and inserted in lieu thereof the dreadful words ‘Tottenham-court-road.’)
‘No, but, uncle, ‘pon my life you must–you must promise to be godfather,’ said Mr. Kitterbell, as he sat in conversation with his respected relative one morning.
‘I cannot, indeed I cannot,’ returned Dumps.
‘Well, but why not? Jemima will think it very unkind. It’s very little trouble.’
‘As to the trouble,’ rejoined the most unhappy man in existence, ‘I don’t mind that; but my nerves are in that state–I cannot go through the ceremony. You know I don’t like going out.–For God’s sake, Charles, don’t fidget with that stool so; you’ll drive me mad.’ Mr. Kitterbell, quite regardless of his uncle’s nerves, had occupied himself for some ten minutes in describing a circle on the floor with one leg of the office-stool on which he was seated, keeping the other three up in the air, and holding fast on by the desk.
‘I beg your pardon, uncle,’ said Kitterbell, quite abashed, suddenly releasing his hold of the desk, and bringing the three wandering legs back to the floor, with a force sufficient to drive them through it.
‘But come, don’t refuse. If it’s a boy, you know, we must have two godfathers.’
‘IF it’s a boy!’ said Dumps; ‘why can’t you say at once whether it IS a boy or not?’
‘I should be very happy to tell you, but it’s impossible I can undertake to say whether it’s a girl or a boy, if the child isn’t born yet.’
‘Not born yet!’ echoed Dumps, with a gleam of hope lighting up his lugubrious visage. ‘Oh, well, it MAY be a girl, and then you won’t want me; or if it is a boy, it MAY die before it is christened.’
‘I hope not,’ said the father that expected to be, looking very grave.
‘I hope not,’ acquiesced Dumps, evidently pleased with the subject. He was beginning to get happy. ‘I hope not, but distressing cases frequently occur during the first two or three days of a child’s life; fits, I am told, are exceedingly common, and alarming convulsions are almost matters of course.’
‘Lord, uncle!’ ejaculated little Kitterbell, gasping for breath.
‘Yes; my landlady was confined–let me see–last Tuesday: an uncommonly fine boy. On the Thursday night the nurse was sitting with him upon her knee before the fire, and he was as well as possible. Suddenly he became black in the face, and alarmingly spasmodic. The medical man was instantly sent for, and every remedy was tried, but–‘
‘How frightful!’ interrupted the horror-stricken Kitterbell.
‘The child died, of course. However, your child MAY not die; and if it should be a boy, and should LIVE to be christened, why I suppose I must be one of the sponsors.’ Dumps was evidently good- natured on the faith of his anticipations.
‘Thank you, uncle,’ said his agitated nephew, grasping his hand as warmly as if he had done him some essential service. ‘Perhaps I had better not tell Mrs. K. what you have mentioned.’
‘Why, if she’s low-spirited, perhaps you had better not mention the melancholy case to her,’ returned Dumps, who of course had invented the whole story; ‘though perhaps it would be but doing your duty as a husband to prepare her for the WORST.’
A day or two afterwards, as Dumps was perusing a morning paper at the chop-house which he regularly frequented, the following- paragraph met his eyes:-
‘BIRTHS.–On Saturday, the 18th inst., in Great Russell-street, the lady of Charles Kitterbell, Esq., of a son.’
‘It IS a boy!’ he exclaimed, dashing down the paper, to the astonishment of the waiters. ‘It IS a boy!’ But he speedily regained his composure as his eye rested on a paragraph quoting the number of infant deaths from the bills of mortality.
Six weeks passed away, and as no communication had been received from the Kitterbells, Dumps was beginning to flatter himself that the child was dead, when the following note painfully resolved his doubts:-
DEAR UNCLE,–You will be delighted to hear that my dear Jemima has left her room, and that your future godson is getting on capitally. He was very thin at first, but he is getting much larger, and nurse says he is filling out every day. He cries a good deal, and is a very singular colour, which made Jemima and me rather uncomfortable; but as nurse says it’s natural, and as of course we know nothing about these things yet, we are quite satisfied with what nurse says. We think he will be a sharp child; and nurse says she’s sure he will, because he never goes to sleep. You will readily believe that we are all very happy, only we’re a little worn out for want of rest, as he keeps us awake all night; but this we must expect, nurse says, for the first six or eight months. He has been vaccinated, but in consequence of the operation being rather awkwardly performed, some small particles of glass were introduced into the arm with the matter. Perhaps this may in some degree account for his being rather fractious; at least, so nurse says. We propose to have him christened at twelve o’clock on Friday, at Saint George’s church, in Hart-street, by the name of Frederick Charles William. Pray don’t be later than a quarter before twelve. We shall have a very few friends in the evening, when of course we shall see you. I am sorry to say that the dear boy appears rather restless and uneasy to-day: the cause, I fear, is fever.
‘Believe me, dear Uncle,
‘P.S.–I open this note to say that we have just discovered the cause of little Frederick’s restlessness. It is not fever, as I apprehended, but a small pin, which nurse accidentally stuck in his leg yesterday evening. We have taken it out, and he appears more composed, though he still sobs a good deal.’
It is almost unnecessary to say that the perusal of the above interesting statement was no great relief to the mind of the hypochondriacal Dumps. It was impossible to recede, however, and so he put the best face–that is to say, an uncommonly miserable one–upon the matter; and purchased a handsome silver mug for the infant Kitterbell, upon which he ordered the initials ‘F. C. W. K.,’ with the customary untrained grape-vine-looking flourishes, and a large full stop, to be engraved forthwith.
Monday was a fine day, Tuesday was delightful, Wednesday was equal to either, and Thursday was finer than ever; four successive fine days in London! Hackney-coachmen became revolutionary, and crossing-sweepers began to doubt the existence of a First Cause. The Morning Herald informed its readers that an old woman in Camden Town had been heard to say that the fineness of the season was ‘unprecedented in the memory of the oldest inhabitant;’ and Islington clerks, with large families and small salaries, left off their black gaiters, disdained to carry their once green cotton umbrellas, and walked to town in the conscious pride of white stockings and cleanly brushed Bluchers. Dumps beheld all this with an eye of supreme contempt–his triumph was at hand. He knew that if it had been fine for four weeks instead of four days, it would rain when he went out; he was lugubriously happy in the conviction that Friday would be a wretched day–and so it was. ‘I knew how it would be,’ said Dumps, as he turned round opposite the Mansion- house at half-past eleven o’clock on the Friday morning. ‘I knew how it would be. _I_ am concerned, and that’s enough;’–and certainly the appearance of the day was sufficient to depress the spirits of a much more buoyant-hearted individual than himself. It had rained, without a moment’s cessation, since eight o’clock; everybody that passed up Cheapside, and down Cheapside, looked wet, cold, and dirty. All sorts of forgotten and long-concealed umbrellas had been put into requisition. Cabs whisked about, with the ‘fare’ as carefully boxed up behind two glazed calico curtains as any mysterious picture in any one of Mrs. Radcliffe’s castles; omnibus horses smoked like steam-engines; nobody thought of ‘standing up’ under doorways or arches; they were painfully convinced it was a hopeless case; and so everybody went hastily along, jumbling and jostling, and swearing and perspiring, and slipping about, like amateur skaters behind wooden chairs on the Serpentine on a frosty Sunday.
Dumps paused; he could not think of walking, being rather smart for the christening. If he took a cab he was sure to be spilt, and a hackney-coach was too expensive for his economical ideas. An omnibus was waiting at the opposite corner–it was a desperate case–he had never heard of an omnibus upsetting or running away, and if the cad did knock him down, he could ‘pull him up’ in return.
‘Now, sir!’ cried the young gentleman who officiated as ‘cad’ to the ‘Lads of the Village,’ which was the name of the machine just noticed. Dumps crossed.
‘This vay, sir!’ shouted the driver of the ‘Hark-away,’ pulling up his vehicle immediately across the door of the opposition–‘This vay, sir–he’s full.’ Dumps hesitated, whereupon the ‘Lads of the Village’ commenced pouring out a torrent of abuse against the ‘Hark-away;’ but the conductor of the ‘Admiral Napier’ settled the contest in a most satisfactory manner, for all parties, by seizing Dumps round the waist, and thrusting him into the middle of his vehicle which had just come up and only wanted the sixteenth inside.
‘All right,’ said the ‘Admiral,’ and off the thing thundered, like a fire-engine at full gallop, with the kidnapped customer inside, standing in the position of a half doubled-up bootjack, and falling about with every jerk of the machine, first on the one side, and then on the other, like a ‘Jack-in-the-green,’ on May-day, setting to the lady with a brass ladle.
‘For Heaven’s sake, where am I to sit?’ inquired the miserable man of an old gentleman, into whose stomach he had just fallen for the fourth time.
‘Anywhere but on my CHEST, sir,’ replied the old gentleman in a surly tone.
‘Perhaps the BOX would suit the gentleman better,’ suggested a very damp lawyer’s clerk, in a pink shirt, and a smirking countenance.
After a great deal of struggling and falling about, Dumps at last managed to squeeze himself into a seat, which, in addition to the slight disadvantage of being between a window that would not shut, and a door that must be open, placed him in close contact with a passenger, who had been walking about all the morning without an umbrella, and who looked as if he had spent the day in a full water-butt–only wetter.
‘Don’t bang the door so,’ said Dumps to the conductor, as he shut it after letting out four of the passengers; I am very nervous–it destroys me.’
‘Did any gen’lm’n say anythink?’ replied the cad, thrusting in his head, and trying to look as if he didn’t understand the request.
‘I told you not to bang the door so!’ repeated Dumps, with an expression of countenance like the knave of clubs, in convulsions.
‘Oh! vy, it’s rather a sing’ler circumstance about this here door, sir, that it von’t shut without banging,’ replied the conductor; and he opened the door very wide, and shut it again with a terrific bang, in proof of the assertion.
‘I beg your pardon, sir,’ said a little prim, wheezing old gentleman, sitting opposite Dumps, ‘I beg your pardon; but have you ever observed, when you have been in an omnibus on a wet day, that four people out of five always come in with large cotton umbrellas, without a handle at the top, or the brass spike at the bottom?’
‘Why, sir,’ returned Dumps, as he heard the clock strike twelve, ‘it never struck me before; but now you mention it, I–Hollo! hollo!’ shouted the persecuted individual, as the omnibus dashed past Drury-lane, where he had directed to be set down.–‘Where is the cad?’
‘I think he’s on the box, sir,’ said the young gentleman before noticed in the pink shirt, which looked like a white one ruled with red ink.
‘I want to be set down!’ said Dumps in a faint voice, overcome by his previous efforts.
‘I think these cads want to be SET DOWN,’ returned the attorney’s clerk, chuckling at his sally.
‘Hollo!’ cried Dumps again.
‘Hollo!’ echoed the passengers. The omnibus passed St. Giles’s church.
‘Hold hard!’ said the conductor; ‘I’m blowed if we ha’n’t forgot the gen’lm’n as vas to be set down at Doory-lane.–Now, sir, make haste, if you please,’ he added, opening the door, and assisting Dumps out with as much coolness as if it was ‘all right.’ Dumps’s indignation was for once getting the better of his cynical equanimity. ‘Drury-lane!’ he gasped, with the voice of a boy in a cold bath for the first time.
‘Doory-lane, sir?–yes, sir,–third turning on the right-hand side, sir.’
Dumps’s passion was paramount: he clutched his umbrella, and was striding off with the firm determination of not paying the fare. The cad, by a remarkable coincidence, happened to entertain a directly contrary opinion, and Heaven knows how far the altercation would have proceeded, if it had not been most ably and satisfactorily brought to a close by the driver.
‘Hollo!’ said that respectable person, standing up on the box, and leaning with one hand on the roof of the omnibus. ‘Hollo, Tom! tell the gentleman if so be as he feels aggrieved, we will take him up to the Edge-er (Edgeware) Road for nothing, and set him down at Doory-lane when we comes back. He can’t reject that, anyhow.’
The argument was irresistible: Dumps paid the disputed sixpence, and in a quarter of an hour was on the staircase of No. 14, Great Russell-street.
Everything indicated that preparations were making for the reception of ‘a few friends’ in the evening. Two dozen extra tumblers, and four ditto wine-glasses–looking anything but transparent, with little bits of straw in them on the slab in the passage, just arrived. There was a great smell of nutmeg, port wine, and almonds, on the staircase; the covers were taken off the stair-carpet, and the figure of Venus on the first landing looked as if she were ashamed of the composition-candle in her right hand, which contrasted beautifully with the lamp-blacked drapery of the goddess of love. The female servant (who looked very warm and bustling) ushered Dumps into a front drawing-room, very prettily furnished, with a plentiful sprinkling of little baskets, paper table-mats, china watchmen, pink and gold albums, and rainbow-bound little books on the different tables.
‘Ah, uncle!’ said Mr. Kitterbell, ‘how d’ye do? Allow me–Jemima, my dear–my uncle. I think you’ve seen Jemima before, sir?’
‘Have had the PLEASURE,’ returned big Dumps, his tone and look making it doubtful whether in his life he had ever experienced the sensation.
‘I’m sure,’ said Mrs. Kitterbell, with a languid smile, and a slight cough. ‘I’m sure–hem–any friend–of Charles’s–hem–much less a relation, is–‘
‘I knew you’d say so, my love,’ said little Kitterbell, who, while he appeared to be gazing on the opposite houses, was looking at his wife with a most affectionate air: ‘Bless you!’ The last two words were accompanied with a simper, and a squeeze of the hand, which stirred up all Uncle Dumps’s bile.
‘Jane, tell nurse to bring down baby,’ said Mrs. Kitterbell, addressing the servant. Mrs. Kitterbell was a tall, thin young lady, with very light hair, and a particularly white face–one of those young women who almost invariably, though one hardly knows why, recall to one’s mind the idea of a cold fillet of veal. Out went the servant, and in came the nurse, with a remarkably small parcel in her arms, packed up in a blue mantle trimmed with white fur.–This was the baby.
‘Now, uncle,’ said Mr. Kitterbell, lifting up that part of the mantle which covered the infant’s face, with an air of great triumph, ‘WHO do you think he’s like?’
‘He! he! Yes, who?’ said Mrs. K., putting her arm through her husband’s, and looking up into Dumps’s face with an expression of as much interest as she was capable of displaying.
‘Good God, how small he is!’ cried the amiable uncle, starting back with well-feigned surprise; ‘REMARKABLY small indeed.’
‘Do you think so?’ inquired poor little Kitterbell, rather alarmed. ‘He’s a monster to what he was–ain’t he, nurse?’
‘He’s a dear,’ said the nurse, squeezing the child, and evading the question–not because she scrupled to disguise the fact, but because she couldn’t afford to throw away the chance of Dumps’s half-crown.
‘Well, but who is he like?’ inquired little Kitterbell.
Dumps looked at the little pink heap before him, and only thought at the moment of the best mode of mortifying the youthful parents.
‘I really don’t know WHO he’s like,’ he answered, very well knowing the reply expected of him.
‘Don’t you think he’s like ME?’ inquired his nephew with a knowing air.
‘Oh, DECIDEDLY not!’ returned Dumps, with an emphasis not to be misunderstood. ‘Decidedly not like you.–Oh, certainly not.’
‘Like Jemima?’ asked Kitterbell, faintly.
‘Oh, dear no; not in the least. I’m no judge, of course, in such cases; but I really think he’s more like one of those little carved representations that one sometimes sees blowing a trumpet on a tombstone!’ The nurse stooped down over the child, and with great difficulty prevented an explosion of mirth. Pa and ma looked almost as miserable as their amiable uncle.
‘Well!’ said the disappointed little father, ‘you’ll be better able to tell what he’s like by-and-by. You shall see him this evening with his mantle off.’
‘Thank you,’ said Dumps, feeling particularly grateful.
‘Now, my love,’ said Kitterbell to his wife, ‘it’s time we were off. We’re to meet the other godfather and the godmother at the church, uncle,–Mr. and Mrs. Wilson from over the way–uncommonly nice people. My love, are you well wrapped up?’
‘Are you sure you won’t have another shawl?’ inquired the anxious husband.
‘No, sweet,’ returned the charming mother, accepting Dumps’s proffered arm; and the little party entered the hackney-coach that was to take them to the church; Dumps amusing Mrs. Kitterbell by expatiating largely on the danger of measles, thrush, teeth- cutting, and other interesting diseases to which children are subject.
The ceremony (which occupied about five minutes) passed off without anything particular occurring. The clergyman had to dine some distance from town, and had two churchings, three christenings, and a funeral to perform in something less than an hour. The godfathers and godmother, therefore, promised to renounce the devil and all his works–‘and all that sort of thing’–as little Kitterbell said–‘in less than no time;’ and with the exception of Dumps nearly letting the child fall into the font when he handed it to the clergyman, the whole affair went off in the usual business- like and matter-of-course manner, and Dumps re-entered the Bank- gates at two o’clock with a heavy heart, and the painful conviction that he was regularly booked for an evening party.
Evening came–and so did Dumps’s pumps, black silk stockings, and white cravat which he had ordered to be forwarded, per boy, from Pentonville. The depressed godfather dressed himself at a friend’s counting-house, from whence, with his spirits fifty degrees below proof, he sallied forth–as the weather had cleared up, and the evening was tolerably fine–to walk to Great Russell-street. Slowly he paced up Cheapside, Newgate-street, down Snow-hill, and up Holborn ditto, looking as grim as the figure-head of a man-of- war, and finding out fresh causes of misery at every step. As he was crossing the corner of Hatton-garden, a man apparently intoxicated, rushed against him, and would have knocked him down, had he not been providentially caught by a very genteel young man, who happened to be close to him at the time. The shock so disarranged Dumps’s nerves, as well as his dress, that he could hardly stand. The gentleman took his arm, and in the kindest manner walked with him as far as Furnival’s Inn. Dumps, for about the first time in his life, felt grateful and polite; and he and the gentlemanly-looking young man parted with mutual expressions of good will.
‘There are at least some well-disposed men in the world,’ ruminated the misanthropical Dumps, as he proceeded towards his destination.
Rat–tat–ta-ra-ra-ra-ra-rat–knocked a hackney-coachman at Kitterbell’s door, in imitation of a gentleman’s servant, just as Dumps reached it; and out came an old lady in a large toque, and an old gentleman in a blue coat, and three female copies of the old lady in pink dresses, and shoes to match.
‘It’s a large party,’ sighed the unhappy godfather, wiping the perspiration from his forehead, and leaning against the area- railings. It was some time before the miserable man could muster up courage to knock at the door, and when he did, the smart appearance of a neighbouring greengrocer (who had been hired to wait for seven and sixpence, and whose calves alone were worth double the money), the lamp in the passage, and the Venus on the landing, added to the hum of many voices, and the sound of a harp and two violins, painfully convinced him that his surmises were but too well founded.
‘How are you?’ said little Kitterbell, in a greater bustle than ever, bolting out of the little back parlour with a cork-screw in his hand, and various particles of sawdust, looking like so many inverted commas, on his inexpressibles.
‘Good God!’ said Dumps, turning into the aforesaid parlour to put his shoes on, which he had brought in his coat-pocket, and still more appalled by the sight of seven fresh-drawn corks, and a corresponding number of decanters. ‘How many people are there up- stairs?’
‘Oh, not above thirty-five. We’ve had the carpet taken up in the back drawing-room, and the piano and the card-tables are in the front. Jemima thought we’d better have a regular sit-down supper in the front parlour, because of the speechifying, and all that. But, Lord! uncle, what’s the matter?’ continued the excited little man, as Dumps stood with one shoe on, rummaging his pockets with the most frightful distortion of visage. ‘What have you lost? Your pocket-book?’
‘No,’ returned Dumps, diving first into one pocket and then into the other, and speaking in a voice like Desdemona with the pillow over her mouth.
‘Your card-case? snuff-box? the key of your lodgings?’ continued Kitterbell, pouring question on question with the rapidity of lightning.
‘No! no!’ ejaculated Dumps, still diving eagerly into his empty pockets.
‘Not–not–the MUG you spoke of this morning?’
‘Yes, the MUG!’ replied Dumps, sinking into a chair.
‘How COULD you have done it?’ inquired Kitterbell. ‘Are you sure you brought it out?’
‘Yes! yes! I see it all!’ said Dumps, starting up as the idea flashed across his mind; ‘miserable dog that I am–I was born to suffer. I see it all: it was the gentlemanly-looking young man!’
‘Mr. Dumps!’ shouted the greengrocer in a stentorian voice, as he ushered the somewhat recovered godfather into the drawing-room half an hour after the above declaration. ‘Mr. Dumps!’–everybody looked at the door, and in came Dumps, feeling about as much out of place as a salmon might be supposed to be on a gravel-walk.
‘Happy to see you again,’ said Mrs. Kitterbell, quite unconscious of the unfortunate man’s confusion and misery; ‘you must allow me to introduce you to a few of our friends:- my mamma, Mr. Dumps–my papa and sisters.’ Dumps seized the hand of the mother as warmly as if she was his own parent, bowed TO the young ladies, and AGAINST a gentleman behind him, and took no notice whatever of the father, who had been bowing incessantly for three minutes and a quarter.
‘Uncle,’ said little Kitterbell, after Dumps had been introduced to a select dozen or two, ‘you must let me lead you to the other end of the room, to introduce you to my friend Danton. Such a splendid fellow!–I’m sure you’ll like him–this way,’–Dumps followed as tractably as a tame bear.
Mr. Danton was a young man of about five-and-twenty, with a considerable stock of impudence, and a very small share of ideas: he was a great favourite, especially with young ladies of from sixteen to twenty-six years of age, both inclusive. He could imitate the French-horn to admiration, sang comic songs most inimitably, and had the most insinuating way of saying impertinent nothings to his doting female admirers. He had acquired, somehow or other, the reputation of being a great wit, and, accordingly, whenever he opened his mouth, everybody who knew him laughed very heartily.
The introduction took place in due form. Mr. Danton bowed, and twirled a lady’s handkerchief, which he held in his hand, in a most comic way. Everybody smiled.
‘Very warm,’ said Dumps, feeling it necessary to say something.
‘Yes. It was warmer yesterday,’ returned the brilliant Mr. Danton.–A general laugh.
‘I have great pleasure in congratulating you on your first appearance in the character of a father, sir,’ he continued, addressing Dumps–‘godfather, I mean.’–The young ladies were convulsed, and the gentlemen in ecstasies.
A general hum of admiration interrupted the conversation, and announced the entrance of nurse with the baby. An universal rush of the young ladies immediately took place. (Girls are always SO fond of babies in company.)
‘Oh, you dear!’ said one.
‘How sweet!’ cried another, in a low tone of the most enthusiastic admiration.
‘Heavenly!’ added a third.
‘Oh! what dear little arms!’ said a fourth, holding up an arm and fist about the size and shape of the leg of a fowl cleanly picked.
‘Did you ever!’–said a little coquette with a large bustle, who looked like a French lithograph, appealing to a gentleman in three waistcoats–‘Did you ever!’
‘Never, in my life,’ returned her admirer, pulling up his collar.
‘Oh! DO let me take it, nurse,’ cried another young lady. ‘The love!’
‘Can it open its eyes, nurse?’ inquired another, affecting the utmost innocence.–Suffice it to say, that the single ladies unanimously voted him an angel, and that the married ones, nem. con., agreed that he was decidedly the finest baby they had ever beheld–except their own.
The quadrilles were resumed with great spirit. Mr. Danton was universally admitted to be beyond himself; several young ladies enchanted the company and gained admirers by singing ‘We met’–‘I saw her at the Fancy Fair’–and other equally sentimental and interesting ballads. ‘The young men,’ as Mrs. Kitterbell said, ‘made themselves very agreeable;’ the girls did not lose their opportunity; and the evening promised to go off excellently. Dumps didn’t mind it: he had devised a plan for himself–a little bit of fun in his own way–and he was almost happy! He played a rubber and lost every point Mr. Danton said he could not have lost every point, because he made a point of losing: everybody laughed tremendously. Dumps retorted with a better joke, and nobody smiled, with the exception of the host, who seemed to consider it his duty to laugh till he was black in the face, at everything. There was only one drawback–the musicians did not play with quite as much spirit as could have been wished. The cause, however, was satisfactorily explained; for it appeared, on the testimony of a gentleman who had come up from Gravesend in the afternoon, that they had been engaged on board a steamer all day, and had played almost without cessation all the way to Gravesend, and all the way back again.
The ‘sit-down supper’ was excellent; there were four barley-sugar temples on the table, which would have looked beautiful if they had not melted away when the supper began; and a water-mill, whose only fault was that instead of going round, it ran over the table-cloth. Then there were fowls, and tongue, and trifle, and sweets, and lobster salad, and potted beef–and everything. And little Kitterbell kept calling out for clean plates, and the clean plates did not come: and then the gentlemen who wanted the plates said they didn’t mind, they’d take a lady’s; and then Mrs. Kitterbell applauded their gallantry, and the greengrocer ran about till he thought his seven and sixpence was very hardly earned; and the young ladies didn’t eat much for fear it shouldn’t look romantic, and the married ladies eat as much as possible, for fear they shouldn’t have enough; and a great deal of wine was drunk, and everybody talked and laughed considerably.
‘Hush! hush!’ said Mr. Kitterbell, rising and looking very important. ‘My love (this was addressed to his wife at the other end of the table), take care of Mrs. Maxwell, and your mamma, and the rest of the married ladies; the gentlemen will persuade the young ladies to fill their glasses, I am sure.’
‘Ladies and gentlemen,’ said long Dumps, in a very sepulchral voice and rueful accent, rising from his chair like the ghost in Don Juan, ‘will you have the kindness to charge your glasses? I am desirous of proposing a toast.’
A dead silence ensued, and the glasses were filled–everybody looked serious.
‘Ladies and gentlemen,’ slowly continued the ominous Dumps, ‘I’– (here Mr. Danton imitated two notes from the French-horn, in a very loud key, which electrified the nervous toast-proposer, and convulsed his audience).
‘Order! order!’ said little Kitterbell, endeavouring to suppress his laughter.
‘Order!’ said the gentlemen.
‘Danton, be quiet,’ said a particular friend on the opposite side of the table.
‘Ladies and gentlemen,’ resumed Dumps, somewhat recovered, and not much disconcerted, for he was always a pretty good hand at a speech–‘In accordance with what is, I believe, the established usage on these occasions, I, as one of the godfathers of Master Frederick Charles William Kitterbell–(here the speaker’s voice faltered, for he remembered the mug)–venture to rise to propose a toast. I need hardly say that it is the health and prosperity of that young gentleman, the particular event of whose early life we are here met to celebrate–(applause). Ladies and gentlemen, it is impossible to suppose that our friends here, whose sincere well- wishers we all are, can pass through life without some trials, considerable suffering, severe affliction, and heavy losses!’–Here the arch-traitor paused, and slowly drew forth a long, white pocket-handkerchief–his example was followed by several ladies. ‘That these trials may be long spared them is my most earnest prayer, my most fervent wish (a distinct sob from the grandmother). I hope and trust, ladies and gentlemen, that the infant whose christening we have this evening met to celebrate, may not be removed from the arms of his parents by premature decay (several cambrics were in requisition): that his young and now APPARENTLY healthy form, may not be wasted by lingering disease. (Here Dumps cast a sardonic glance around, for a great sensation was manifest among the married ladies.) You, I am sure, will concur with me in wishing that he may live to be a comfort and a blessing to his parents. (“Hear, hear!” and an audible sob from Mr. Kitterbell.) But should he not be what we could wish–should he forget in after times the duty which he owes to them–should they unhappily experience that distracting truth, “how sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child”‘–Here Mrs. Kitterbell, with her handkerchief to her eyes, and accompanied by several ladies, rushed from the room, and went into violent hysterics in the passage, leaving her better half in almost as bad a condition, and a general impression in Dumps’s favour; for people like sentiment, after all.
It need hardly be added, that this occurrence quite put a stop to the harmony of the evening. Vinegar, hartshorn, and cold water, were now as much in request as negus, rout-cakes, and bon-bons had been a short time before. Mrs. Kitterbell was immediately conveyed to her apartment, the musicians were silenced, flirting ceased, and the company slowly departed. Dumps left the house at the commencement of the bustle, and walked home with a light step, and (for him) a cheerful heart. His landlady, who slept in the next room, has offered to make oath that she heard him laugh, in his peculiar manner, after he had locked his door. The assertion, however, is so improbable, and bears on the face of it such strong evidence of untruth, that it has never obtained credence to this hour.
The family of Mr. Kitterbell has considerably increased since the period to which we have referred; he has now two sons and a daughter; and as he expects, at no distant period, to have another addition to his blooming progeny, he is anxious to secure an eligible godfather for the occasion. He is determined, however, to impose upon him two conditions. He must bind himself, by a solemn obligation, not to make any speech after supper; and it is indispensable that he should be in no way connected with ‘the most miserable man in the world.’
CHAPTER XII–THE DRUNKARD’S DEATH
We will be bold to say, that there is scarcely a man in the constant habit of walking, day after day, through any of the crowded thoroughfares of London, who cannot recollect among the people whom he ‘knows by sight,’ to use a familiar phrase, some being of abject and wretched appearance whom he remembers to have seen in a very different condition, whom he has observed sinking lower and lower, by almost imperceptible degrees, and the shabbiness and utter destitution of whose appearance, at last, strike forcibly and painfully upon him, as he passes by. Is there any man who has mixed much with society, or whose avocations have caused him to mingle, at one time or other, with a great number of people, who cannot call to mind the time when some shabby, miserable wretch, in rags and filth, who shuffles past him now in all the squalor of disease and poverty, with a respectable tradesman, or clerk, or a man following some thriving pursuit, with good prospects, and decent means?–or cannot any of our readers call to mind from among the list of their quondam acquaintance, some fallen and degraded man, who lingers about the pavement in hungry misery–from whom every one turns coldly away, and who preserves himself from sheer starvation, nobody knows how? Alas! such cases are of too frequent occurrence to be rare items in any man’s experience; and but too often arise from one cause– drunkenness–that fierce rage for the slow, sure poison, that oversteps every other consideration; that casts aside wife, children, friends, happiness, and station; and hurries its victims madly on to degradation and death.
Some of these men have been impelled, by misfortune and misery, to the vice that has degraded them. The ruin of worldly expectations, the death of those they loved, the sorrow that slowly consumes, but will not break the heart, has driven them wild; and they present the hideous spectacle of madmen, slowly dying by their own hands. But by far the greater part have wilfully, and with open eyes, plunged into the gulf from which the man who once enters it never rises more, but into which he sinks deeper and deeper down, until recovery is hopeless.
Such a man as this once stood by the bedside of his dying wife, while his children knelt around, and mingled loud bursts of grief with their innocent prayers. The room was scantily and meanly furnished; and it needed but a glance at the pale form from which the light of life was fast passing away, to know that grief, and want, and anxious care, had been busy at the heart for many a weary year. An elderly woman, with her face bathed in tears, was supporting the head of the dying woman–her daughter–on her arm. But it was not towards her that the was face turned; it was not her hand that the cold and trembling fingers clasped; they pressed the husband’s arm; the eyes so soon to be closed in death rested on his face, and the man shook beneath their gaze. His dress was slovenly and disordered, his face inflamed, his eyes bloodshot and heavy. He had been summoned from some wild debauch to the bed of sorrow and death.
A shaded lamp by the bed-side cast a dim light on the figures around, and left the remainder of the room in thick, deep shadow. The silence of night prevailed without the house, and the stillness of death was in the chamber. A watch hung over the mantel-shelf; its low ticking was the only sound that broke the profound quiet, but it was a solemn one, for well they knew, who heard it, that before it had recorded the passing of another hour, it would beat the knell of a departed spirit.
It is a dreadful thing to wait and watch for the approach of death; to know that hope is gone, and recovery impossible; and to sit and count the dreary hours through long, long nights–such nights as only watchers by the bed of sickness know. It chills the blood to hear the dearest secrets of the heart–the pent-up, hidden secrets of many years–poured forth by the unconscious, helpless being before you; and to think how little the reserve and cunning of a whole life will avail, when fever and delirium tear off the mask at last. Strange tales have been told in the wanderings of dying men; tales so full of guilt and crime, that those who stood by the sick person’s couch have fled in horror and affright, lest they should be scared to madness by what they heard and saw; and many a wretch has died alone, raving of deeds the very name of which has driven the boldest man away.
But no such ravings were to be heard at the bed-side by which the children knelt. Their half-stifled sobs and moaning alone broke the silence of the lonely chamber. And when at last the mother’s grasp relaxed, and, turning one look from the children to the father, she vainly strove to speak, and fell backward on the pillow, all was so calm and tranquil that she seemed to sink to sleep. They leant over her; they called upon her name, softly at first, and then in the loud and piercing tones of desperation. But there was no reply. They listened for her breath, but no sound came. They felt for the palpitation of the heart, but no faint throb responded to the touch. That heart was broken, and she was dead!
The husband sunk into a chair by the bed-side, and clasped his hands upon his burning forehead. He gazed from child to child, but when a weeping eye met his, he quailed beneath its look. No word of comfort was whispered in his ear, no look of kindness lighted on his face. All shrunk from and avoided him; and when at last he staggered from the room, no one sought to follow or console the widower.
The time had been when many a friend would have crowded round him in his affliction, and many a heartfelt condolence would have met him in his grief. Where were they now? One by one, friends, relations, the commonest acquaintance even, had fallen off from and deserted the drunkard. His wife alone had clung to him in good and evil, in sickness and poverty, and how had he rewarded her? He had reeled from the tavern to her bed-side in time to see her die.
He rushed from the house, and walked swiftly through the streets. Remorse, fear, shame, all crowded on his mind. Stupefied with drink, and bewildered with the scene he had just witnessed, he re- entered the tavern he had quitted shortly before. Glass succeeded glass. His blood mounted, and his brain whirled round. Death! Every one must die, and why not SHE? She was too good for him; her relations had often told him so. Curses on them! Had they not deserted her, and left her to whine away the time at home? Well– she was dead, and happy perhaps. It was better as it was. Another glass–one more! Hurrah! It was a merry life while it lasted; and he would make the most of it.
Time went on; the three children who were left to him, grew up, and were children no longer. The father remained the same–poorer, shabbier, and more dissolute-looking, but the same confirmed and irreclaimable drunkard. The boys had, long ago, run wild in the streets, and left him; the girl alone remained, but she worked hard, and words or blows could always procure him something for the tavern. So he went on in the old course, and a merry life he led.
One night, as early as ten o’clock–for the girl had been sick for many days, and there was, consequently, little to spend at the public-house–he bent his steps homeward, bethinking himself that if he would have her able to earn money, it would be as well to apply to the parish surgeon, or, at all events, to take the trouble of inquiring what ailed her, which he had not yet thought it worth while to do. It was a wet December night; the wind blew piercing cold, and the rain poured heavily down. He begged a few halfpence from a passer-by, and having bought a small loaf (for it was his interest to keep the girl alive, if he could), he shuffled onwards as fast as the wind and rain would let him.
At the back of Fleet-street, and lying between it and the water- side, are several mean and narrow courts, which form a portion of Whitefriars: it was to one of these that he directed his steps.
The alley into which he turned, might, for filth and misery, have competed with the darkest corner of this ancient sanctuary in its dirtiest and most lawless time. The houses, varying from two stories in height to four, were stained with every indescribable hue that long exposure to the weather, damp, and rottenness can impart to tenements composed originally of the roughest and coarsest materials. The windows were patched with paper, and stuffed with the foulest rags; the doors were falling from their hinges; poles with lines on which to dry clothes, projected from every casement, and sounds of quarrelling or drunkenness issued from every room.
The solitary oil lamp in the centre of the court had been blown out, either by the violence of the wind or the act of some inhabitant who had excellent reasons for objecting to his residence being rendered too conspicuous; and the only light which fell upon the broken and uneven pavement, was derived from the miserable candles that here and there twinkled in the rooms of such of the more fortunate residents as could afford to indulge in so expensive a luxury. A gutter ran down the centre of the alley–all the sluggish odours of which had been called forth by the rain; and as the wind whistled through the old houses, the doors and shutters creaked upon their hinges, and the windows shook in their frames, with a violence which every moment seemed to threaten the destruction of the whole place.
The man whom we have followed into this den, walked on in the darkness, sometimes stumbling into the main gutter, and at others into some branch repositories of garbage which had been formed by the rain, until he reached the last house in the court. The door, or rather what was left of it, stood ajar, for the convenience of the numerous lodgers; and he proceeded to grope his way up the old and broken stair, to the attic story.
He was within a step or two of his room door, when it opened, and a girl, whose miserable and emaciated appearance was only to be equalled by that of the candle which she shaded with her hand, peeped anxiously out.
‘Is that you, father?’ said the girl.
‘Who else should it be?’ replied the man gruffly. ‘What are you trembling at? It’s little enough that I’ve had to drink to-day, for there’s no drink without money, and no money without work. What the devil’s the matter with the girl?’
‘I am not well, father–not at all well,’ said the girl, bursting into tears.
‘Ah!’ replied the man, in the tone of a person who is compelled to admit a very unpleasant fact, to which he would rather remain blind, if he could. ‘You must get better somehow, for we must have money. You must go to the parish doctor, and make him give you some medicine. They’re paid for it, damn ’em. What are you standing before the door for? Let me come in, can’t you?’
‘Father,’ whispered the girl, shutting the door behind her, and placing herself before it, ‘William has come back.’
‘Who!’ said the man with a start.
‘Hush,’ replied the girl, ‘William; brother William.’
‘And what does he want?’ said the man, with an effort at composure- -‘money? meat? drink? He’s come to the wrong shop for that, if he does. Give me the candle–give me the candle, fool–I ain’t going to hurt him.’ He snatched the candle from her hand, and walked into the room.
Sitting on an old box, with his head resting on his hand, and his eyes fixed on a wretched cinder fire that was smouldering on the hearth, was a young man of about two-and-twenty, miserably clad in an old coarse jacket and trousers. He started up when his father entered.
‘Fasten the door, Mary,’ said the young man hastily–‘Fasten the door. You look as if you didn’t know me, father. It’s long enough, since you drove me from home; you may well forget me.’
‘And what do you want here, now?’ said the father, seating himself on a stool, on the other side of the fireplace. ‘What do you want here, now?’
‘Shelter,’ replied the son. ‘I’m in trouble: that’s enough. If I’m caught I shall swing; that’s certain. Caught I shall be, unless I stop here; that’s AS certain. And there’s an end of it.’
‘You mean to say, you’ve been robbing, or murdering, then?’ said the father.
‘Yes, I do,’ replied the son. ‘Does it surprise you, father?’ He looked steadily in the man’s face, but he withdrew his eyes, and bent them on the ground.
‘Where’s your brothers?’ he said, after a long pause.
‘Where they’ll never trouble you,’ replied his son: ‘John’s gone to America, and Henry’s dead.’
‘Dead!’ said the father, with a shudder, which even he could not express.
‘Dead,’ replied the young man. ‘He died in my arms–shot like a dog, by a gamekeeper. He staggered back, I caught him, and his blood trickled down my hands. It poured out from his side like water. He was weak, and it blinded him, but he threw himself down on his knees, on the grass, and prayed to God, that if his mother was in heaven, He would hear her prayers for pardon for her youngest son. “I was her favourite boy, Will,” he said, “and I am glad to think, now, that when she was dying, though I was a very young child then, and my little heart was almost bursting, I knelt down at the foot of the bed, and thanked God for having made me so fond of her as to have never once done anything to bring the tears into her eyes. O Will, why was she taken away, and father left?” There’s his dying words, father,’ said the young man; ‘make the best you can of ’em. You struck him across the face, in a drunken fit, the morning we ran away; and here’s the end of it.’
The girl wept aloud; and the father, sinking his head upon his knees, rocked himself to and fro.
‘If I am taken,’ said the young man, ‘I shall be carried back into the country, and hung for that man’s murder. They cannot trace me here, without your assistance, father. For aught I know, you may give me up to justice; but unless you do, here I stop, until I can venture to escape abroad.’
For two whole days, all three remained in the wretched room, without stirring out. On the third evening, however, the girl was worse than she had been yet, and the few scraps of food they had were gone. It was indispensably necessary that somebody should go out; and as the girl was too weak and ill, the father went, just at nightfall.
He got some medicine for the girl, and a trifle in the way of pecuniary assistance. On his way back, he earned sixpence by holding a horse; and he turned homewards with enough money to supply their most pressing wants for two or three days to come. He had to pass the public-house. He lingered for an instant, walked past it, turned back again, lingered once more, and finally slunk in. Two men whom he had not observed, were on the watch. They were on the point of giving up their search in despair, when his loitering attracted their attention; and when he entered the public-house, they followed him.
‘You’ll drink with me, master,’ said one of them, proffering him a glass of liquor.
‘And me too,’ said the other, replenishing the glass as soon as it was drained of its contents.
The man thought of his hungry children, and his son’s danger. But they were nothing to the drunkard. He DID drink; and his reason left him.
‘A wet night, Warden,’ whispered one of the men in his ear, as he at length turned to go away, after spending in liquor one-half of the money on which, perhaps, his daughter’s life depended.
‘The right sort of night for our friends in hiding, Master Warden,’ whispered the other.
‘Sit down here,’ said the one who had spoken first, drawing him into a corner. ‘We have been looking arter the young un. We came to tell him, it’s all right now, but we couldn’t find him ’cause we hadn’t got the precise direction. But that ain’t strange, for I don’t think he know’d it himself, when he come to London, did he?’
‘No, he didn’t,’ replied the father.
The two men exchanged glances.
‘There’s a vessel down at the docks, to sail at midnight, when it’s high water,’ resumed the first speaker, ‘and we’ll put him on board. His passage is taken in another name, and what’s better than that, it’s paid for. It’s lucky we met you.’
‘Very,’ said the second.
‘Capital luck,’ said the first, with a wink to his companion.
‘Great,’ replied the second, with a slight nod of intelligence.
‘Another glass here; quick’–said the first speaker. And in five minutes more, the father had unconsciously yielded up his own son into the hangman’s hands.
Slowly and heavily the time dragged along, as the brother and sister, in their miserable hiding-place, listened in anxious suspense to the slightest sound. At length, a heavy footstep was heard upon the stair; it approached nearer; it reached the landing; and the father staggered into the room.
The girl saw that he was intoxicated, and advanced with the candle in her hand to meet him; she stopped short, gave a loud scream, and fell senseless on the ground. She had caught sight of the shadow of a man reflected on the floor. They both rushed in, and in another instant the young man was a prisoner, and handcuffed.
‘Very quietly done,’ said one of the men to his companion, ‘thanks to the old man. Lift up the girl, Tom–come, come, it’s no use crying, young woman. It’s all over now, and can’t be helped.’
The young man stooped for an instant over the girl, and then turned fiercely round upon his father, who had reeled against the wall, and was gazing on the group with drunken stupidity.
‘Listen to me, father,’ he said, in a tone that made the drunkard’s flesh creep. ‘My brother’s blood, and mine, is on your head: I never had kind look, or word, or care, from you, and alive or dead, I never will forgive you. Die when you will, or how, I will be with you. I speak as a dead man now, and I warn you, father, that as surely as you must one day stand before your Maker, so surely shall your children be there, hand in hand, to cry for judgment against you.’ He raised his manacled hands in a threatening attitude, fixed his eyes on his shrinking parent, and slowly left the room; and neither father nor sister ever beheld him more, on this side of the grave.
When the dim and misty light of a winter’s morning penetrated into the narrow court, and struggled through the begrimed window of the wretched room, Warden awoke from his heavy sleep, and found himself alone. He rose, and looked round him; the old flock mattress on the floor was undisturbed; everything was just as he remembered to have seen it last: and there were no signs of any one, save himself, having occupied the room during the night. He inquired of the other lodgers, and of the neighbours; but his daughter had not been seen or heard of. He rambled through the streets, and scrutinised each wretched face among the crowds that thronged them, with anxious eyes. But his search was fruitless, and he returned to his garret when night came on, desolate and weary.
For many days he occupied himself in the same manner, but no trace of his daughter did he meet with, and no word of her reached his ears. At length he gave up the pursuit as hopeless. He had long thought of the probability of her leaving him, and endeavouring to gain her bread in quiet, elsewhere. She had left him at last to starve alone. He ground his teeth, and cursed her!
He begged his bread from door to door. Every halfpenny he could wring from the pity or credulity of those to whom he addressed himself, was spent in the old way. A year passed over his head; the roof of a jail was the only one that had sheltered him for many months. He slept under archways, and in brickfields–anywhere, where there was some warmth or shelter from the cold and rain. But in the last stage of poverty, disease, and houseless want, he was a drunkard still.
At last, one bitter night, he sunk down on a door-step faint and ill. The premature decay of vice and profligacy had worn him to the bone. His cheeks were hollow and livid; his eyes were sunken, and their sight was dim. His legs trembled beneath his weight, and a cold shiver ran through every limb.
And now the long-forgotten scenes of a misspent life crowded thick and fast upon him. He thought of the time when he had a home–a happy, cheerful home–and of those who peopled it, and flocked about him then, until the forms of his elder children seemed to rise from the grave, and stand about him–so plain, so clear, and so distinct they were that he could touch and feel them. Looks that he had long forgotten were fixed upon him once more; voices long since hushed in death sounded in his ears like the music of village bells. But it was only for an instant. The rain beat heavily upon him; and cold and hunger were gnawing at his heart again.
He rose, and dragged his feeble limbs a few paces further. The street was silent and empty; the few passengers who passed by, at that late hour, hurried quickly on, and his tremulous voice was lost in the violence of the storm. Again that heavy chill struck through his frame, and his blood seemed to stagnate beneath it. He coiled himself up in a projecting doorway, and tried to sleep.
But sleep had fled from his dull and glazed eyes. His mind wandered strangely, but he was awake, and conscious. The well- known shout of drunken mirth sounded in his ear, the glass was at his lips, the board was covered with choice rich food–they were before him: he could see them all, he had but to reach out his hand, and take them–and, though the illusion was reality itself, he knew that he was sitting alone in the deserted street, watching the rain-drops as they pattered on the stones; that death was coming upon him by inches–and that there were none to care for or help him.
Suddenly he started up, in the extremity of terror. He had heard his own voice shouting in the night air, he knew not what, or why. Hark! A groan!–another! His senses were leaving him: half- formed and incoherent words burst from his lips; and his hands sought to tear and lacerate his flesh. He was going mad, and he shrieked for help till his voice failed him.
He raised his head, and looked up the long dismal street. He recollected that outcasts like himself, condemned to wander day and night in those dreadful streets, had sometimes gone distracted with their own loneliness. He remembered to have heard many years before that a homeless wretch had once been found in a solitary corner, sharpening a rusty knife to plunge into his own heart, preferring death to that endless, weary, wandering to and fro. In an instant his resolve was taken, his limbs received new life; he ran quickly from the spot, and paused not for breath until he reached the river-side.
He crept softly down the steep stone stairs that lead from the commencement of Waterloo Bridge, down to the water’s level. He crouched into a corner, and held his breath, as the patrol passed. Never did prisoner’s heart throb with the hope of liberty and life half so eagerly as did that of the wretched man at the prospect of death. The watch passed close to him, but he remained unobserved; and after waiting till the sound of footsteps had died away in the distance, he cautiously descended, and stood beneath the gloomy arch that forms the landing-place from the river.
The tide was in, and the water flowed at his feet. The rain had ceased, the wind was lulled, and all was, for the moment, still and quiet–so quiet, that the slightest sound on the opposite bank, even the rippling of the water against the barges that were moored there, was distinctly audible to his ear. The stream stole languidly and sluggishly on. Strange and fantastic forms rose to the surface, and beckoned him to approach; dark gleaming eyes peered from the water, and seemed to mock his hesitation, while hollow murmurs from behind, urged him onwards. He retreated a few paces, took a short run, desperate leap, and plunged into the river.
Not five seconds had passed when he rose to the water’s surface– but what a change had taken place in that short time, in all his thoughts and feelings! Life–life in any form, poverty, misery, starvation–anything but death. He fought and struggled with the water that closed over his head, and screamed in agonies of terror. The curse of his own son rang in his ears. The shore–but one foot of dry ground–he could almost touch the step. One hand’s breadth nearer, and he was saved–but the tide bore him onward, under the dark arches of the bridge, and he sank to the bottom.
Again he rose, and struggled for life. For one instant–for one brief instant–the buildings on the river’s banks, the lights on the bridge through which the current had borne him, the black water, and the fast-flying clouds, were distinctly visible–once more he sunk, and once again he rose. Bright flames of fire shot up from earth to heaven, and reeled before his eyes, while the water thundered in his ears, and stunned him with its furious roar.
A week afterwards the body was washed ashore, some miles down the river, a swollen and disfigured mass. Unrecognised and unpitied, it was borne to the grave; and there it has long since mouldered away!
SKETCHES OF YOUNG GENTLEMEN
TO THE YOUNG LADIES
UNITED KINGDOM OF GREAT BRITAIN AND IRELAND; ALSO
THE YOUNG LADIES
THE PRINCIPALITY OF WALES,
THE YOUNG LADIES
RESIDENT IN THE ISLES OF
GUERNSEY, JERSEY, ALDERNEY, AND SARK, THE HUMBLE DEDICATION OF THEIR DEVOTED ADMIRER,
THAT your Dedicator has perused, with feelings of virtuous indignation, a work purporting to be ‘Sketches of Young Ladies;’ written by Quiz, illustrated by Phiz, and published in one volume, square twelvemo.
THAT after an attentive and vigilant perusal of the said work, your Dedicator is humbly of opinion that so many libels, upon your Honourable sex, were never contained in any previously published work, in twelvemo or any other mo.
THAT in the title page and preface to the said work, your Honourable sex are described and classified as animals; and although your Dedicator is not at present prepared to deny that you ARE animals, still he humbly submits that it is not polite to call you so.
THAT in the aforesaid preface, your Honourable sex are also described as Troglodites, which, being a hard word, may, for aught your Honourable sex or your Dedicator can say to the contrary, be an injurious and disrespectful appellation.
THAT the author of the said work applied himself to his task in malice prepense and with wickedness aforethought; a fact which, your Dedicator contends, is sufficiently demonstrated, by his assuming the name of Quiz, which, your Dedicator submits, denotes a foregone conclusion, and implies an intention of quizzing.
THAT in the execution of his evil design, the said Quiz, or author of the said work, must have betrayed some trust or confidence reposed in him by some members of your Honourable sex, otherwise he never could have acquired so much information relative to the manners and customs of your Honourable sex in general.
THAT actuated by these considerations, and further moved by various slanders and insinuations respecting your Honourable sex contained in the said work, square twelvemo, entitled ‘Sketches of Young Ladies,’ your Dedicator ventures to produce another work, square twelvemo, entitled ‘Sketches of Young Gentlemen,’ of which he now solicits your acceptance and approval.
THAT as the Young Ladies are the best companions of the Young Gentlemen, so the Young Gentlemen should be the best companions of the Young Ladies; and extending the comparison from animals (to quote the disrespectful language of the said Quiz) to inanimate objects, your Dedicator humbly suggests, that such of your Honourable sex as purchased the bane should possess themselves of the antidote, and that those of your Honourable sex who were not rash enough to take the first, should lose no time in swallowing the last,–prevention being in all cases better than cure, as we are informed upon the authority, not only of general acknowledgment, but also of traditionary wisdom.
THAT with reference to the said bane and antidote, your Dedicator has no further remarks to make, than are comprised in the printed directions issued with Doctor Morison’s pills; namely, that whenever your Honourable sex take twenty-five of Number, 1, you will be pleased to take fifty of Number 2, without delay.
And your Dedicator shall ever pray, &c.
THE BASHFUL YOUNG GENTLEMAN
We found ourself seated at a small dinner party the other day, opposite a stranger of such singular appearance and manner, that he irresistibly attracted our attention.
This was a fresh-coloured young gentleman, with as good a promise of light whisker as one might wish to see, and possessed of a very velvet-like, soft-looking countenance. We do not use the latter term invidiously, but merely to denote a pair of smooth, plump, highly-coloured cheeks of capacious dimensions, and a mouth rather remarkable for the fresh hue of the lips than for any marked or striking expression it presented. His whole face was suffused with a crimson blush, and bore that downcast, timid, retiring look, which betokens a man ill at ease with himself.
There was nothing in these symptoms to attract more than a passing remark, but our attention had been originally drawn to the bashful young gentleman, on his first appearance in the drawing-room above- stairs, into which he was no sooner introduced, than making his way towards us who were standing in a window, and wholly neglecting several persons who warmly accosted him, he seized our hand with visible emotion, and pressed it with a convulsive grasp for a good couple of minutes, after which he dived in a nervous manner across the room, oversetting in his way a fine little girl of six years and a quarter old–and shrouding himself behind some hangings, was seen no more, until the eagle eye of the hostess detecting him in his concealment, on the announcement of dinner, he was requested to pair off with a lively single lady, of two or three and thirty.
This most flattering salutation from a perfect stranger, would have gratified us not a little as a token of his having held us in high respect, and for that reason been desirous of our acquaintance, if we had not suspected from the first, that the young gentleman, in making a desperate effort to get through the ceremony of introduction, had, in the bewilderment of his ideas, shaken hands with us at random. This impression was fully confirmed by the subsequent behaviour of the bashful young gentleman in question, which we noted particularly, with the view of ascertaining whether we were right in our conjecture.
The young gentleman seated himself at table with evident misgivings, and turning sharp round to pay attention to some observation of his loquacious neighbour, overset his bread. There was nothing very bad in this, and if he had had the presence of mind to let it go, and say nothing about it, nobody but the man who had laid the cloth would have been a bit the wiser; but the young gentleman in various semi-successful attempts to prevent its fall, played with it a little, as gentlemen in the streets may be seen to do with their hats on a windy day, and then giving the roll a smart rap in his anxiety to catch it, knocked it with great adroitness into a tureen of white soup at some distance, to the unspeakable terror and disturbance of a very amiable bald gentleman, who was dispensing the contents. We thought the bashful young gentleman would have gone off in an apoplectic fit, consequent upon the violent rush of blood to his face at the occurrence of this catastrophe.
From this moment we perceived, in the phraseology of the fancy, that it was ‘all up’ with the bashful young gentleman, and so indeed it was. Several benevolent persons endeavoured to relieve his embarrassment by taking wine with him, but finding that it only augmented his sufferings, and that after mingling sherry, champagne, hock, and moselle together, he applied the greater part of the mixture externally, instead of internally, they gradually dropped off, and left him to the exclusive care of the talkative lady, who, not noting the wildness of his eye, firmly believed she had secured a listener. He broke a glass or two in the course of the meal, and disappeared shortly afterwards; it is inferred that he went away in some confusion, inasmuch as he left the house in another gentleman’s coat, and the footman’s hat.
This little incident led us to reflect upon the most prominent characteristics of bashful young gentlemen in the abstract; and as this portable volume will be the great text-book of young ladies in all future generations, we record them here for their guidance and behoof.
If the bashful young gentleman, in turning a street corner, chance to stumble suddenly upon two or three young ladies of his acquaintance, nothing can exceed his confusion and agitation. His first impulse is to make a great variety of bows, and dart past them, which he does until, observing that they wish to stop, but are uncertain whether to do so or not, he makes several feints of returning, which causes them to do the same; and at length, after a great quantity of unnecessary dodging and falling up against the other passengers, he returns and shakes hands most affectionately with all of them, in doing which he knocks out of their grasp sundry little parcels, which he hastily picks up, and returns very muddy and disordered. The chances are that the bashful young gentleman then observes it is very fine weather, and being reminded that it has only just left off raining for the first time these three days, he blushes very much, and smiles as if he had said a very good thing. The young lady who was most anxious to speak, here inquires, with an air of great commiseration, how his dear sister Harriet is to-day; to which the young gentleman, without the slightest consideration, replies with many thanks, that she is remarkably well. ‘Well, Mr. Hopkins!’ cries the young lady, ‘why, we heard she was bled yesterday evening, and have been perfectly miserable about her.’ ‘Oh, ah,’ says the young gentleman, ‘so she was. Oh, she’s very ill, very ill indeed.’ The young gentleman then shakes his head, and looks very desponding (he has been smiling perpetually up to this time), and after a short pause, gives his glove a great wrench at the wrist, and says, with a strong emphasis on the adjective, ‘GOOD morning, GOOD morning.’ And making a great number of bows in acknowledgment of several little messages to his sister, walks backward a few paces, and comes with great violence against a lamp-post, knocking his hat off in the contact, which in his mental confusion and bodily pain he is going to walk away without, until a great roar from a carter attracts his attention, when he picks it up, and tries to smile cheerfully to the young ladies, who are looking back, and who, he has the satisfaction of seeing, are all laughing heartily.
At a quadrille party, the bashful young gentleman always remains as near the entrance of the room as possible, from which position he smiles at the people he knows as they come in, and sometimes steps forward to shake hands with more intimate friends: a process which on each repetition seems to turn him a deeper scarlet than before. He declines dancing the first set or two, observing, in a faint voice, that he would rather wait a little; but at length is absolutely compelled to allow himself to be introduced to a partner, when he is led, in a great heat and blushing furiously, across the room to a spot where half-a-dozen unknown ladies are congregated together.
‘Miss Lambert, let me introduce Mr. Hopkins for the next quadrille.’ Miss Lambert inclines her head graciously. Mr. Hopkins bows, and his fair conductress disappears, leaving Mr. Hopkins, as he too well knows, to make himself agreeable. The young lady more than half expects that the bashful young gentleman will say something, and the bashful young gentleman feeling this, seriously thinks whether he has got anything to say, which, upon mature reflection, he is rather disposed to conclude he has not, since nothing occurs to him. Meanwhile, the young lady, after several inspections of her bouquet, all made in the expectation that the bashful young gentleman is going to talk, whispers her mamma, who is sitting next her, which whisper the bashful young gentleman immediately suspects (and possibly with very good reason) must be about HIM. In this comfortable condition he remains until it is time to ‘stand up,’ when murmuring a ‘Will you allow me?’ he gives the young lady his arm, and after inquiring where she will stand, and receiving a reply that she has no choice, conducts her to the remotest corner of the quadrille, and making one attempt at conversation, which turns out a desperate failure, preserves a profound silence until it is all over, when he walks her twice round the room, deposits her in her old seat, and retires in confusion.
A married bashful gentleman–for these bashful gentlemen do get married sometimes; how it is ever brought about, is a mystery to us–a married bashful gentleman either causes his wife to appear bold by contrast, or merges her proper importance in his own insignificance. Bashful young gentlemen should be cured, or avoided. They are never hopeless, and never will be, while female beauty and attractions retain their influence, as any young lady will find, who may think it worth while on this confident assurance to take a patient in hand.
THE OUT-AND-OUT YOUNG GENTLEMAN
Out-and-out young gentlemen may be divided into two classes–those who have something to do, and those who have nothing. I shall commence with the former, because that species come more frequently under the notice of young ladies, whom it is our province to warn and to instruct.
The out-and-out young gentleman is usually no great dresser, his instructions to his tailor being all comprehended in the one general direction to ‘make that what’s-a-name a regular bang-up sort of thing.’ For some years past, the favourite costume of the out-and-out young gentleman has been a rough pilot coat, with two gilt hooks and eyes to the velvet collar; buttons somewhat larger than crown-pieces; a black or fancy neckerchief, loosely tied; a wide-brimmed hat, with a low crown; tightish inexpressibles, and iron-shod boots. Out of doors he sometimes carries a large ash stick, but only on special occasions, for he prefers keeping his hands in his coat pockets. He smokes at all hours, of course, and swears considerably.
The out-and-out young gentleman is employed in a city counting- house or solicitor’s office, in which he does as little as he possibly can: his chief places of resort are, the streets, the taverns, and the theatres. In the streets at evening time, out- and-out young gentlemen have a pleasant custom of walking six or eight abreast, thus driving females and other inoffensive persons into the road, which never fails to afford them the highest satisfaction, especially if there be any immediate danger of their being run over, which enhances the fun of the thing materially. In all places of public resort, the out-and-outers are careful to select each a seat to himself, upon which he lies at full length, and (if the weather be very dirty, but not in any other case) he lies with his knees up, and the soles of his boots planted firmly on the cushion, so that if any low fellow should ask him to make room for a lady, he takes ample revenge upon her dress, without going at all out of his way to do it. He always sits with his hat on, and flourishes his stick in the air while the play is proceeding, with a dignified contempt of the performance; if it be possible for one or two out-and-out young gentlemen to get up a little crowding in the passages, they are quite in their element, squeezing, pushing, whooping, and shouting in the most humorous manner possible. If they can only succeed in irritating the gentleman who has a family of daughters under his charge, they are like to die with laughing, and boast of it among their companions for a week afterwards, adding, that one or two of them were ‘devilish fine girls,’ and that they really thought the youngest would have fainted, which was the only thing wanted to render the joke complete.
If the out-and-out young gentleman have a mother and sisters, of course he treats them with becoming contempt, inasmuch as they (poor things!) having no notion of life or gaiety, are far too weak-spirited and moping for him. Sometimes, however, on a birth- day or at Christmas-time, he cannot very well help accompanying them to a party at some old friend’s, with which view he comes home when they have been dressed an hour or two, smelling very strongly of tobacco and spirits, and after exchanging his rough coat for some more suitable attire (in which however he loses nothing of the out-and-outer), gets into the coach and grumbles all the way at his own good nature: his bitter reflections aggravated by the recollection, that Tom Smith has taken the chair at a little impromptu dinner at a fighting man’s, and that a set-to was to take place on a dining-table, between the fighting man and his brother- in-law, which is probably ‘coming off’ at that very instant.
As the out-and-out young gentleman is by no means at his ease in ladies’ society, he shrinks into a corner of the drawing-room when they reach the friend’s, and unless one of his sisters is kind enough to talk to him, remains there without being much troubled by the attentions of other people, until he espies, lingering outside the door, another gentleman, whom he at once knows, by his air and manner (for there is a kind of free-masonry in the craft), to be a brother out-and-outer, and towards whom he accordingly makes his way. Conversation being soon opened by some casual remark, the second out-and-outer confidentially informs the first, that he is one of the rough sort and hates that kind of thing, only he couldn’t very well be off coming; to which the other replies, that that’s just his case–‘and I’ll tell you what,’ continues the out- and-outer in a whisper, ‘I should like a glass of warm brandy and water just now,’–‘Or a pint of stout and a pipe,’ suggests the other out-and-outer.
The discovery is at once made that they are sympathetic souls; each of them says at the same moment, that he sees the other understands what’s what: and they become fast friends at once, more especially when it appears, that the second out-and-outer is no other than a gentleman, long favourably known to his familiars as ‘Mr. Warmint Blake,’ who upon divers occasions has distinguished himself in a manner that would not have disgraced the fighting man, and who– having been a pretty long time about town–had the honour of once shaking hands with the celebrated Mr. Thurtell himself.
At supper, these gentlemen greatly distinguish themselves, brightening up very much when the ladies leave the table, and proclaiming aloud their intention of beginning to spend the evening–a process which is generally understood to be satisfactorily performed, when a great deal of wine is drunk and a great deal of noise made, both of which feats the out-and-out young gentlemen execute to perfection. Having protracted their sitting until long after the host and the other guests have adjourned to the drawing-room, and finding that they have drained the decanters empty, they follow them thither with complexions rather heightened, and faces rather bloated with wine; and the agitated lady of the house whispers her friends as they waltz together, to the great terror of the whole room, that ‘both Mr. Blake and Mr. Dummins are very nice sort of young men in their way, only they are eccentric persons, and unfortunately RATHER TOO WILD!’
The remaining class of out-and-out young gentlemen is composed of persons, who, having no money of their own and a soul above earning any, enjoy similar pleasures, nobody knows how. These respectable gentlemen, without aiming quite so much at the out-and-out in external appearance, are distinguished by all the same amiable and attractive characteristics, in an equal or perhaps greater degree, and now and then find their way into society, through the medium of the other class of out-and-out young gentlemen, who will sometimes carry them home, and who usually pay their tavern bills. As they are equally gentlemanly, clever, witty, intelligent, wise, and well-bred, we need scarcely have recommended them to the peculiar consideration of the young ladies, if it were not that some of the gentle creatures whom we hold in such high respect, are perhaps a little too apt to confound a great many heavier terms with the light word eccentricity, which we beg them henceforth to take in a strictly Johnsonian sense, without any liberality or latitude of construction.
THE VERY FRIENDLY YOUNG GENTLEMAN
We know–and all people know–so many specimens of this class, that in selecting the few heads our limits enable us to take from a great number, we have been induced to give the very friendly young gentleman the preference over many others, to whose claims upon a more cursory view of the question we had felt disposed to assign the priority.
The very friendly young gentleman is very friendly to everybody, but he attaches himself particularly to two, or at most to three families: regulating his choice by their dinners, their circle of acquaintance, or some other criterion in which he has an immediate interest. He is of any age between twenty and forty, unmarried of course, must be fond of children, and is expected to make himself generally useful if possible. Let us illustrate our meaning by an example, which is the shortest mode and the clearest.
We encountered one day, by chance, an old friend of whom we had lost sight for some years, and who–expressing a strong anxiety to renew our former intimacy–urged us to dine with him on an early day, that we might talk over old times. We readily assented, adding, that we hoped we should be alone. ‘Oh, certainly, certainly,’ said our friend, ‘not a soul with us but Mincin.’ ‘And who is Mincin?’ was our natural inquiry. ‘O don’t mind him,’ replied our friend, ‘he’s a most particular friend of mine, and a very friendly fellow you will find him;’ and so he left us.
‘We thought no more about Mincin until we duly presented ourselves at the house next day, when, after a hearty welcome, our friend motioned towards a gentleman who had been previously showing his teeth by the fireplace, and gave us to understand that it was Mr. Mincin, of whom he had spoken. It required no great penetration on our part to discover at once that Mr. Mincin was in every respect a very friendly young gentleman.
‘I am delighted,’ said Mincin, hastily advancing, and pressing our hand warmly between both of his, ‘I am delighted, I am sure, to make your acquaintance–(here he smiled)–very much delighted indeed–(here he exhibited a little emotion)–I assure you that I have looked forward to it anxiously for a very long time:’ here he released our hands, and rubbing his own, observed, that the day was severe, but that he was delighted to perceive from our appearance that it agreed with us wonderfully; and then went on to observe, that, notwithstanding the coldness of the weather, he had that morning seen in the paper an exceedingly curious paragraph, to the effect, that there was now in the garden of Mr. Wilkins of Chichester, a pumpkin, measuring four feet in height, and eleven feet seven inches in circumference, which he looked upon as a very extraordinary piece of intelligence. We ventured to remark, that we had a dim recollection of having once or twice before observed a similar paragraph in the public prints, upon which Mr. Mincin took us confidentially by the button, and said, Exactly, exactly, to be sure, we were very right, and he wondered what the editors meant by putting in such things. Who the deuce, he should like to know, did they suppose cared about them? that struck him as being the best of it.
The lady of the house appeared shortly afterwards, and Mr. Mincin’s friendliness, as will readily be supposed, suffered no diminution in consequence; he exerted much strength and skill in wheeling a large easy-chair up to the fire, and the lady being seated in it, carefully closed the door, stirred the fire, and looked to the windows to see that they admitted no air; having satisfied himself upon all these points, he expressed himself quite easy in his mind, and begged to know how she found herself to-day. Upon the lady’s replying very well, Mr. Mincin (who it appeared was a medical gentleman) offered some general remarks upon the nature and treatment of colds in the head, which occupied us agreeably until dinner-time. During the meal, he devoted himself to complimenting everybody, not forgetting himself, so that we were an uncommonly agreeable quartette.
‘I’ll tell you what, Capper,’ said Mr. Mincin to our host, as he closed the room door after the lady had retired, ‘you have very great reason to be fond of your wife. Sweet woman, Mrs. Capper, sir!’ ‘Nay, Mincin–I beg,’ interposed the host, as we were about to reply that Mrs. Capper unquestionably was particularly sweet. ‘Pray, Mincin, don’t.’ ‘Why not?’ exclaimed Mr. Mincin, ‘why not? Why should you feel any delicacy before your old friend–OUR old friend, if I may be allowed to call you so, sir; why should you, I ask?’ We of course wished to know why he should also, upon which our friend admitted that Mrs. Capper WAS a very sweet woman, at which admission Mr. Mincin cried ‘Bravo!’ and begged to propose Mrs. Capper with heartfelt enthusiasm, whereupon our host said, ‘Thank you, Mincin,’ with deep feeling; and gave us, in a low voice, to understand, that Mincin had saved Mrs. Capper’s cousin’s life no less than fourteen times in a year and a half, which he considered no common circumstance–an opinion to which we most cordially subscribed.
Now that we three were left to entertain ourselves with conversation, Mr. Mincin’s extreme friendliness became every moment more apparent; he was so amazingly friendly, indeed, that it was impossible to talk about anything in which he had not the chief concern. We happened to allude to some affairs in which our friend and we had been mutually engaged nearly fourteen years before, when Mr. Mincin was all at once reminded of a joke which our friend had made on that day four years, which he positively must insist upon telling–and which he did tell accordingly, with many pleasant recollections of what he said, and what Mrs. Capper said, and how he well remembered that they had been to the play with orders on the very night previous, and had seen Romeo and Juliet, and the pantomime, and how Mrs. Capper being faint had been led into the lobby, where she smiled, said it was nothing after all, and went back again, with many other interesting and absorbing particulars: after which the friendly young gentleman went on to assure us, that our friend had experienced a marvellously prophetic opinion of that same pantomime, which was of such an admirable kind, that two morning papers took the same view next day: to this our friend replied, with a little triumph, that in that instance he had some reason to think he had been correct, which gave the friendly young gentleman occasion to believe that our friend was always correct; and so we went on, until our friend, filling a bumper, said he must drink one glass to his dear friend Mincin, than whom he would say no man saved the lives of his acquaintances more, or had a more friendly heart. Finally, our friend having emptied his glass, said, ‘God bless you, Mincin,’–and Mr. Mincin and he shook hands across the table with much affection and earnestness.
But great as the friendly young gentleman is, in a limited scene like this, he plays the same part on a larger scale with increased eclat. Mr. Mincin is invited to an evening party with his dear friends the Martins, where he meets his dear friends the Cappers, and his dear friends the Watsons, and a hundred other dear friends too numerous to mention. He is as much at home with the Martins as with the Cappers; but how exquisitely he balances his attentions, and divides them among his dear friends! If he flirts with one of the Miss Watsons, he has one little Martin on the sofa pulling his hair, and the other little Martin on the carpet riding on his foot. He carries Mrs. Watson down to supper on one arm, and Miss Martin on the other, and takes wine so judiciously, and in such exact order, that it is impossible for the most punctilious old lady to consider herself neglected. If any young lady, being prevailed upon to sing, become nervous afterwards, Mr. Mincin leads her tenderly into the next room, and restores her with port wine, which she must take medicinally. If any gentleman be standing by the piano during the progress of the ballad, Mr. Mincin seizes him by the arm at one point of the melody, and softly beating time the while with his head, expresses in dumb show his intense perception of the delicacy of the passage. If anybody’s self-love is to be flattered, Mr. Mincin is at hand. If anybody’s overweening vanity is to be pampered, Mr. Mincin will surfeit it. What wonder that people of all stations and ages recognise Mr. Mincin’s friendliness; that he is universally allowed to be handsome as amiable; that mothers think him an oracle, daughters a dear, brothers a beau, and fathers a wonder! And who would not have the reputation of the very friendly young gentleman?
THE MILITARY YOUNG GENTLEMAN
We are rather at a loss to imagine how it has come to pass that military young gentlemen have obtained so much favour in the eyes of the young ladies of this kingdom. We cannot think so lightly of them as to suppose that the mere circumstance of a man’s wearing a red coat ensures him a ready passport to their regard; and even if this were the case, it would be no satisfactory explanation of the circumstance, because, although the analogy may in some degree hold good in the case of mail coachmen and guards, still general postmen wear red coats, and THEY are not to our knowledge better received than other men; nor are firemen either, who wear (or used to wear) not only red coats, but very resplendent and massive badges besides–much larger than epaulettes. Neither do the twopenny post-office boys, if the result of our inquiries be correct, find any peculiar favour in woman’s eyes, although they wear very bright red jackets, and have the additional advantage of constantly appearing in public on horseback, which last circumstance may be naturally supposed to be greatly in their favour.
We have sometimes thought that this phenomenon may take its rise in the conventional behaviour of captains and colonels and other gentlemen in red coats on the stage, where they are invariably represented as fine swaggering fellows, talking of nothing but charming girls, their king and country, their honour, and their debts, and crowing over the inferior classes of the community, whom they occasionally treat with a little gentlemanly swindling, no less to the improvement and pleasure of the audience, than to the satisfaction and approval of the choice spirits who consort with them. But we will not devote these pages to our speculations upon the subject, inasmuch as our business at the present moment is not so much with the young ladies who are bewitched by her Majesty’s livery as with the young gentlemen whose heads are turned by it. For ‘heads’ we had written ‘brains;’ but upon consideration, we think the former the more appropriate word of the two.
These young gentlemen may be divided into two classes–young gentlemen who are actually in the army, and young gentlemen who, having an intense and enthusiastic admiration for all things appertaining to a military life, are compelled by adverse fortune or adverse relations to wear out their existence in some ignoble counting-house. We will take this latter description of military young gentlemen first.
The whole heart and soul of the military young gentleman are concentrated in his favourite topic. There is nothing that he is so learned upon as uniforms; he will tell you, without faltering for an instant, what the habiliments of any one regiment are turned up with, what regiment wear stripes down the outside and inside of the leg, and how many buttons the Tenth had on their coats; he knows to a fraction how many yards and odd inches of gold lace it takes to make an ensign in the Guards; is deeply read in the comparative merits of different bands, and the apparelling of trumpeters; and is very luminous indeed in descanting upon ‘crack regiments,’ and the ‘crack’ gentlemen who compose them, of whose mightiness and grandeur he is never tired of telling.
We were suggesting to a military young gentleman only the other day, after he had related to us several dazzling instances of the profusion of half-a-dozen honourable ensign somebodies or nobodies in the articles of kid gloves and polished boots, that possibly ‘cracked’ regiments would be an improvement upon ‘crack,’ as being a more expressive and appropriate designation, when he suddenly interrupted us by pulling out his watch, and observing that he must hurry off to the Park in a cab, or he would be too late to hear the band play. Not wishing to interfere with so important an engagement, and being in fact already slightly overwhelmed by the anecdotes of the honourable ensigns afore-mentioned, we made no attempt to detain the military young gentleman, but parted company with ready good-will.
Some three or four hours afterwards, we chanced to be walking down Whitehall, on the Admiralty side of the way, when, as we drew near to one of the little stone places in which a couple of horse soldiers mount guard in the daytime, we were attracted by the motionless appearance and eager gaze of a young gentleman, who was devouring both man and horse with his eyes, so eagerly, that he seemed deaf and blind to all that was passing around him. We were not much surprised at the discovery that it was our friend, the military young gentleman, but we WERE a little astonished when we returned from a walk to South Lambeth to find him still there, looking on with the same intensity as before. As it was a very windy day, we felt bound to awaken the young gentleman from his reverie, when he inquired of us with great enthusiasm, whether ‘that was not a glorious spectacle,’ and proceeded to give us a detailed account of the weight of every article of the spectacle’s trappings, from the man’s gloves to the horse’s shoes.
We have made it a practice since, to take the Horse Guards in our daily walk, and we find it is the custom of military young gentlemen to plant themselves opposite the sentries, and contemplate them at leisure, in periods varying from fifteen minutes to fifty, and averaging twenty-five. We were much struck a day or two since, by the behaviour of a very promising young butcher who (evincing an interest in the service, which cannot be too strongly commanded or encouraged), after a prolonged inspection of the sentry, proceeded to handle his boots with great curiosity, and as much composure and indifference as if the man were wax-work.
But the really military young gentleman is waiting all this time, and at the very moment that an apology rises to our lips, he emerges from the barrack gate (he is quartered in a garrison town), and takes the way towards the high street. He wears his undress uniform, which somewhat mars the glory of his outward man; but still how great, how grand, he is! What a happy mixture of ease and ferocity in his gait and carriage, and how lightly he carries that dreadful sword under his arm, making no more ado about it than if it were a silk umbrella! The lion is sleeping: only think if an enemy were in sight, how soon he’d whip it out of the scabbard, and what a terrible fellow he would be!
But he walks on, thinking of nothing less than blood and slaughter; and now he comes in sight of three other military young gentlemen, arm-in-arm, who are bearing down towards him, clanking their iron heels on the pavement, and clashing their swords with a noise, which should cause all peaceful men to quail at heart. They stop to talk. See how the flaxen-haired young gentleman with the weak legs–he who has his pocket-handkerchief thrust into the breast of his coat-glares upon the fainthearted civilians who linger to look upon his glory; how the next young gentleman elevates his head in the air, and majestically places his arms a-kimbo, while the third stands with his legs very wide apart, and clasps his hands behind him. Well may we inquire–not in familiar jest, but in respectful earnest–if you call that nothing. Oh! if some encroaching foreign power–the Emperor of Russia, for instance, or any of those deep fellows, could only see those military young gentlemen as they move on together towards the billiard-room over the way, wouldn’t he tremble a little!
And then, at the Theatre at night, when the performances are by command of Colonel Fitz-Sordust and the officers of the garrison– what a splendid sight it is! How sternly the defenders of their country look round the house as if in mute assurance to the audience, that they may make themselves comfortable regarding any foreign invasion, for they (the military young gentlemen) are