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Sketches by Boz


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CHAPTER VI—THE BLACK VEIL

One winter’s evening, towards the close of the year 1800, or within a year or two of that time, a young medical practitioner, recently established in business, was seated by a cheerful fire in his little parlour, listening to the wind which was beating the rain in pattering drops against the window, or rumbling dismally in the chimney. The night was wet and cold; he had been walking through mud and water the whole day, and was now comfortably reposing in his dressing-gown and slippers, more than half asleep and less than half awake, revolving a thousand matters in his wandering imagination. First, he thought how hard the wind was blowing, and how the cold, sharp rain would be at that moment beating in his face, if he were not comfortably housed at home. Then, his mind reverted to his annual Christmas visit to his native place and dearest friends; he thought how glad they would all be to see him, and how happy it would make Rose if he could only tell her that he had found a patient at last, and hoped to have more, and to come down again, in a few months’ time, and marry her, and take her home to gladden his lonely fireside, and stimulate him to fresh exertions. Then, he began to wonder when his first patient would appear, or whether he was destined, by a special dispensation of Providence, never to have any patients at all; and then, he thought about Rose again, and dropped to sleep and dreamed about her, till the tones of her sweet merry voice sounded in his ears, and her soft tiny hand rested on his shoulder.

There was a hand upon his shoulder, but it was neither soft nor tiny; its owner being a corpulent round-headed boy, who, in consideration of the sum of one shilling per week and his food, was let out by the parish to carry medicine and messages. As there was no demand for the medicine, however, and no necessity for the messages, he usually occupied his unemployed hours—averaging fourteen a day—in abstracting peppermint drops, taking animal nourishment, and going to sleep.

‘A lady, sir—a lady!’ whispered the boy, rousing his master with a shake.

‘What lady?’ cried our friend, starting up, not quite certain that his dream was an illusion, and half expecting that it might be Rose herself.—‘What lady? Where?’

‘There, sir!’ replied the boy, pointing to the glass door leading into the surgery, with an expression of alarm which the very unusual apparition of a customer might have tended to excite.

The surgeon looked towards the door, and started himself, for an instant, on beholding the appearance of his unlooked-for visitor.

It was a singularly tall woman, dressed in deep mourning, and standing so close to the door that her face almost touched the glass. The upper part of her figure was carefully muffled in a black shawl, as if for the purpose of concealment; and her face was shrouded by a thick black veil. She stood perfectly erect, her figure was drawn up to its full height, and though the surgeon felt that the eyes beneath the veil were fixed on him, she stood perfectly motionless, and evinced, by no gesture whatever, the slightest consciousness of his having turned towards her.

‘Do you wish to consult me?’ he inquired, with some hesitation, holding open the door. It opened inwards, and therefore the action did not alter the position of the figure, which still remained motionless on the same spot.

She slightly inclined her head, in token of acquiescence.

‘Pray walk in,’ said the surgeon.

The figure moved a step forward; and then, turning its head in the direction of the boy—to his infinite horror—appeared to hesitate.

‘Leave the room, Tom,’ said the young man, addressing the boy, whose large round eyes had been extended to their utmost width during this brief interview. ‘Draw the curtain, and shut the door.’

The boy drew a green curtain across the glass part of the door, retired into the surgery, closed the door after him, and immediately applied one of his large eyes to the keyhole on the other side.

The surgeon drew a chair to the fire, and motioned the visitor to a seat. The mysterious figure slowly moved towards it. As the blaze shone upon the black dress, the surgeon observed that the bottom of it was saturated with mud and rain.

‘You are very wet,’ be said.

‘I am,’ said the stranger, in a low deep voice.

‘And you are ill?’ added the surgeon, compassionately, for the tone was that of a person in pain.

‘I am,’ was the reply—‘very ill; not bodily, but mentally. It is not for myself, or on my own behalf,’ continued the stranger, ‘that I come to you. If I laboured under bodily disease, I should not be out, alone, at such an hour, or on such a night as this; and if I were afflicted with it, twenty-four hours hence, God knows how gladly I would lie down and pray to die. It is for another that I beseech your aid, sir. I may be mad to ask it for him—I think I am; but, night after night, through the long dreary hours of watching and weeping, the thought has been ever present to my mind; and though even I see the hopelessness of human assistance availing him, the bare thought of laying him in his grave without it makes my blood run cold!’ And a shudder, such as the surgeon well knew art could not produce, trembled through the speaker’s frame.

There was a desperate earnestness in this woman’s manner, that went to the young man’s heart. He was young in his profession, and had not yet witnessed enough of the miseries which are daily presented before the eyes of its members, to have grown comparatively callous to human suffering.

‘If,’ he said, rising hastily, ‘the person of whom you speak, be in so hopeless a condition as you describe, not a moment is to be lost. I will go with you instantly. Why did you not obtain medical advice before?’

‘Because it would have been useless before—because it is useless even now,’ replied the woman, clasping her hands passionately.

The surgeon gazed, for a moment, on the black veil, as if to ascertain the expression of the features beneath it: its thickness, however, rendered such a result impossible.

‘You are ill,’ he said, gently, ‘although you do not know it. The fever which has enabled you to bear, without feeling it, the fatigue you have evidently undergone, is burning within you now. Put that to your lips,’ he continued, pouring out a glass of water—‘compose yourself for a few moments, and then tell me, as calmly as you can, what the disease of the patient is, and how long he has been ill. When I know what it is necessary I should know, to render my visit serviceable to him, I am ready to accompany you.’

The stranger lifted the glass of water to her mouth, without raising the veil; put it down again untasted; and burst into tears.

‘I know,’ she said, sobbing aloud, ‘that what I say to you now, seems like the ravings of fever. I have been told so before, less kindly than by you. I am not a young woman; and they do say, that as life steals on towards its final close, the last short remnant, worthless as it may seem to all beside, is dearer to its possessor than all the years that have gone before, connected though they be with the recollection of old friends long since dead, and young ones—children perhaps—who have fallen off from, and forgotten one as completely as if they had died too. My natural term of life cannot be many years longer, and should be dear on that account; but I would lay it down without a sigh—with cheerfulness—with joy—if what I tell you now, were only false, or imaginary. To-morrow morning he of whom I speak will be, I know, though I would fain think otherwise, beyond the reach of human aid; and yet, to-night, though he is in deadly peril, you must not see, and could not serve, him.’

‘I am unwilling to increase your distress,’ said the surgeon, after a short pause, ‘by making any comment on what you have just said, or appearing desirous to investigate a subject you are so anxious to conceal; but there is an inconsistency in your statement which I cannot reconcile with probability. This person is dying to-night, and I cannot see him when my assistance might possibly avail; you apprehend it will be useless to-morrow, and yet you would have me see him then! If he be, indeed, as dear to you, as your words and manner would imply, why not try to save his life before delay and the progress of his disease render it impracticable?’

‘God help me!’ exclaimed the woman, weeping bitterly, ‘how can I hope strangers will believe what appears incredible, even to myself? You will not see him then, sir?’ she added, rising suddenly.

‘I did not say that I declined to see him,’ replied the surgeon; ‘but I warn you, that if you persist in this extraordinary procrastination, and the individual dies, a fearful responsibility rests with you.’

‘The responsibility will rest heavily somewhere,’ replied the stranger bitterly. ‘Whatever responsibility rests with me, I am content to bear, and ready to answer.’

‘As I incur none,’ continued the surgeon, ‘by acceding to your request, I will see him in the morning, if you leave me the address. At what hour can he be seen?’

‘Nine,’ replied the stranger.

‘You must excuse my pressing these inquiries,’ said the surgeon. ‘But is he in your charge now?’

‘He is not,’ was the rejoinder.

‘Then, if I gave you instructions for his treatment through the night, you could not assist him?’

The woman wept bitterly, as she replied, ‘I could not.’

Finding that there was but little prospect of obtaining more information by prolonging the interview; and anxious to spare the woman’s feelings, which, subdued at first by a violent effort, were now irrepressible and most painful to witness; the surgeon repeated his promise of calling in the morning at the appointed hour. His visitor, after giving him a direction to an obscure part of Walworth, left the house in the same mysterious manner in which she had entered it.

It will be readily believed that so extraordinary a visit produced a considerable impression on the mind of the young surgeon; and that he speculated a great deal and to very little purpose on the possible circumstances of the case. In common with the generality of people, he had often heard and read of singular instances, in which a presentiment of death, at a particular day, or even minute, had been entertained and realised. At one moment he was inclined to think that the present might be such a case; but, then, it occurred to him that all the anecdotes of the kind he had ever heard, were of persons who had been troubled with a foreboding of their own death. This woman, however, spoke of another person—a man; and it was impossible to suppose that a mere dream or delusion of fancy would induce her to speak of his approaching dissolution with such terrible certainty as she had spoken. It could not be that the man was to be murdered in the morning, and that the woman, originally a consenting party, and bound to secrecy by an oath, had relented, and, though unable to prevent the commission of some outrage on the victim, had determined to prevent his death if possible, by the timely interposition of medical aid? The idea of such things happening within two miles of the metropolis appeared too wild and preposterous to be entertained beyond the instant. Then, his original impression that the woman’s intellects were disordered, recurred; and, as it was the only mode of solving the difficulty with any degree of satisfaction, he obstinately made up his mind to believe that she was mad. Certain misgivings upon this point, however, stole upon his thoughts at the time, and presented themselves again and again through the long dull course of a sleepless night; during which, in spite of all his efforts to the contrary, he was unable to banish the black veil from his disturbed imagination.

The back part of Walworth, at its greatest distance from town, is a straggling miserable place enough, even in these days; but, five-and-thirty years ago, the greater portion of it was little better than a dreary waste, inhabited by a few scattered people of questionable character, whose poverty prevented their living in any better neighbourhood, or whose pursuits and mode of life rendered its solitude desirable. Very many of the houses which have since sprung up on all sides, were not built until some years afterwards; and the great majority even of those which were sprinkled about, at irregular intervals, were of the rudest and most miserable description.

The appearance of the place through which he walked in the morning, was not calculated to raise the spirits of the young surgeon, or to dispel any feeling of anxiety or depression which the singular kind of visit he was about to make, had awakened. Striking off from the high road, his way lay across a marshy common, through irregular lanes, with here and there a ruinous and dismantled cottage fast falling to pieces with decay and neglect. A stunted tree, or pool of stagnant water, roused into a sluggish action by the heavy rain of the preceding night, skirted the path occasionally; and, now and then, a miserable patch of garden-ground, with a few old boards knocked together for a summer-house, and old palings imperfectly mended with stakes pilfered from the neighbouring hedges, bore testimony, at once to the poverty of the inhabitants, and the little scruple they entertained in appropriating the property of other people to their own use. Occasionally, a filthy-looking woman would make her appearance from the door of a dirty house, to empty the contents of some cooking utensil into the gutter in front, or to scream after a little slip-shod girl, who had contrived to stagger a few yards from the door under the weight of a sallow infant almost as big as herself; but, scarcely anything was stirring around: and so much of the prospect as could be faintly traced through the cold damp mist which hung heavily over it, presented a lonely and dreary appearance perfectly in keeping with the objects we have described.

After plodding wearily through the mud and mire; making many inquiries for the place to which he had been directed; and receiving as many contradictory and unsatisfactory replies in return; the young man at length arrived before the house which had been pointed out to him as the object of his destination. It was a small low building, one story above the ground, with even a more desolate and unpromising exterior than any he had yet passed. An old yellow curtain was closely drawn across the window up-stairs, and the parlour shutters were closed, but not fastened. The house was detached from any other, and, as it stood at an angle of a narrow lane, there was no other habitation in sight.

When we say that the surgeon hesitated, and walked a few paces beyond the house, before he could prevail upon himself to lift the knocker, we say nothing that need raise a smile upon the face of the boldest reader. The police of London were a very different body in that day; the isolated position of the suburbs, when the rage for building and the progress of improvement had not yet begun to connect them with the main body of the city and its environs, rendered many of them (and this in particular) a place of resort for the worst and most depraved characters. Even the streets in the gayest parts of London were imperfectly lighted, at that time; and such places as these, were left entirely to the mercy of the moon and stars. The chances of detecting desperate characters, or of tracing them to their haunts, were thus rendered very few, and their offences naturally increased in boldness, as the consciousness of comparative security became the more impressed upon them by daily experience. Added to these considerations, it must be remembered that the young man had spent some time in the public hospitals of the metropolis; and, although neither Burke nor Bishop had then gained a horrible notoriety, his own observation might have suggested to him how easily the atrocities to which the former has since given his name, might be committed. Be this as it may, whatever reflection made him hesitate, he did hesitate: but, being a young man of strong mind and great personal courage, it was only for an instant;—he stepped briskly back and knocked gently at the door.

A low whispering was audible, immediately afterwards, as if some person at the end of the passage were conversing stealthily with another on the landing above. It was succeeded by the noise of a pair of heavy boots upon the bare floor. The door-chain was softly unfastened; the door opened; and a tall, ill-favoured man, with black hair, and a face, as the surgeon often declared afterwards, as pale and haggard, as the countenance of any dead man he ever saw, presented himself.

‘Walk in, sir,’ he said in a low tone.

The surgeon did so, and the man having secured the door again, by the chain, led the way to a small back parlour at the extremity of the passage.

‘Am I in time?’

‘Too soon!’ replied the man. The surgeon turned hastily round, with a gesture of astonishment not unmixed with alarm, which he found it impossible to repress.

‘If you’ll step in here, sir,’ said the man, who had evidently noticed the action—‘if you’ll step in here, sir, you won’t be detained five minutes, I assure you.’

The surgeon at once walked into the room. The man closed the door, and left him alone.

It was a little cold room, with no other furniture than two deal chairs, and a table of the same material. A handful of fire, unguarded by any fender, was burning in the grate, which brought out the damp if it served no more comfortable purpose, for the unwholesome moisture was stealing down the walls, in long slug-like tracks. The window, which was broken and patched in many places, looked into a small enclosed piece of ground, almost covered with water. Not a sound was to be heard, either within the house, or without. The young surgeon sat down by the fireplace, to await the result of his first professional visit.

He had not remained in this position many minutes, when the noise of some approaching vehicle struck his ear. It stopped; the street-door was opened; a low talking succeeded, accompanied with a shuffling noise of footsteps, along the passage and on the stairs, as if two or three men were engaged in carrying some heavy body to the room above. The creaking of the stairs, a few seconds afterwards, announced that the new-comers having completed their task, whatever it was, were leaving the house. The door was again closed, and the former silence was restored.

Another five minutes had elapsed, and the surgeon had resolved to explore the house, in search of some one to whom he might make his errand known, when the room-door opened, and his last night’s visitor, dressed in exactly the same manner, with the veil lowered as before, motioned him to advance. The singular height of her form, coupled with the circumstance of her not speaking, caused the idea to pass across his brain for an instant, that it might be a man disguised in woman’s attire. The hysteric sobs which issued from beneath the veil, and the convulsive attitude of grief of the whole figure, however, at once exposed the absurdity of the suspicion; and he hastily followed.

The woman led the way up-stairs to the front room, and paused at the door, to let him enter first. It was scantily furnished with an old deal box, a few chairs, and a tent bedstead, without hangings or cross-rails, which was covered with a patchwork counterpane. The dim light admitted through the curtain which he had noticed from the outside, rendered the objects in the room so indistinct, and communicated to all of them so uniform a hue, that he did not, at first, perceive the object on which his eye at once rested when the woman rushed frantically past him, and flung herself on her knees by the bedside.

Stretched upon the bed, closely enveloped in a linen wrapper, and covered with blankets, lay a human form, stiff and motionless. The head and face, which were those of a man, were uncovered, save by a bandage which passed over the head and under the chin. The eyes were closed. The left arm lay heavily across the bed, and the woman held the passive hand.

The surgeon gently pushed the woman aside, and took the hand in his.

‘My God!’ he exclaimed, letting it fall involuntarily—‘the man is dead!’

The woman started to her feet and beat her hands together.

‘Oh! don’t say so, sir,’ she exclaimed, with a burst of passion, amounting almost to frenzy. ‘Oh! don’t say so, sir! I can’t bear it! Men have been brought to life, before, when unskilful people have given them up for lost; and men have died, who might have been restored, if proper means had been resorted to. Don’t let him lie here, sir, without one effort to save him! This very moment life may be passing away. Do try, sir,—do, for Heaven’s sake!’—And while speaking, she hurriedly chafed, first the forehead, and then the breast, of the senseless form before her; and then, wildly beat the cold hands, which, when she ceased to hold them, fell listlessly and heavily back on the coverlet.

‘It is of no use, my good woman,’ said the surgeon, soothingly, as he withdrew his hand from the man’s breast. ‘Stay—undraw that curtain!’

‘Why?’ said the woman, starting up.

‘Undraw that curtain!’ repeated the surgeon in an agitated tone.

‘I darkened the room on purpose,’ said the woman, throwing herself before him as he rose to undraw it.—‘Oh! sir, have pity on me! If it can be of no use, and he is really dead, do not expose that form to other eyes than mine!’

‘This man died no natural or easy death,’ said the surgeon. ‘I must see the body!’ With a motion so sudden, that the woman hardly knew that he had slipped from beside her, he tore open the curtain, admitted the full light of day, and returned to the bedside.

‘There has been violence here,’ he said, pointing towards the body, and gazing intently on the face, from which the black veil was now, for the first time, removed. In the excitement of a minute before, the female had thrown off the bonnet and veil, and now stood with her eyes fixed upon him. Her features were those of a woman about fifty, who had once been handsome. Sorrow and weeping had left traces upon them which not time itself would ever have produced without their aid; her face was deadly pale; and there was a nervous contortion of the lip, and an unnatural fire in her eye, which showed too plainly that her bodily and mental powers had nearly sunk, beneath an accumulation of misery.

‘There has been violence here,’ said the surgeon, preserving his searching glance.

‘There has!’ replied the woman.

‘This man has been murdered.’

‘That I call God to witness he has,’ said the woman, passionately; ‘pitilessly, inhumanly murdered!’

‘By whom?’ said the surgeon, seizing the woman by the arm.

‘Look at the butchers’ marks, and then ask me!’ she replied.

The surgeon turned his face towards the bed, and bent over the body which now lay full in the light of the window. The throat was swollen, and a livid mark encircled it. The truth flashed suddenly upon him.

‘This is one of the men who were hanged this morning!’ he exclaimed, turning away with a shudder.

‘It is,’ replied the woman, with a cold, unmeaning stare.

‘Who was he?’ inquired the surgeon.

‘My son,’ rejoined the woman; and fell senseless at his feet.

It was true. A companion, equally guilty with himself, had been acquitted for want of evidence; and this man had been left for death, and executed. To recount the circumstances of the case, at this distant period, must be unnecessary, and might give pain to some persons still alive. The history was an every-day one. The mother was a widow without friends or money, and had denied herself necessaries to bestow them on her orphan boy. That boy, unmindful of her prayers, and forgetful of the sufferings she had endured for him—incessant anxiety of mind, and voluntary starvation of body—had plunged into a career of dissipation and crime. And this was the result; his own death by the hangman’s hands, and his mother’s shame, and incurable insanity.

For many years after this occurrence, and when profitable and arduous avocations would have led many men to forget that such a miserable being existed, the young surgeon was a daily visitor at the side of the harmless mad woman; not only soothing her by his presence and kindness, but alleviating the rigour of her condition by pecuniary donations for her comfort and support, bestowed with no sparing hand. In the transient gleam of recollection and consciousness which preceded her death, a prayer for his welfare and protection, as fervent as mortal ever breathed, rose from the lips of this poor friendless creature. That prayer flew to Heaven, and was heard. The blessings he was instrumental in conferring, have been repaid to him a thousand-fold; but, amid all the honours of rank and station which have since been heaped upon him, and which he has so well earned, he can have no reminiscence more gratifying to his heart than that connected with The Black Veil.

CHAPTER VII—THE STEAM EXCURSION

Mr. Percy Noakes was a law student, inhabiting a set of chambers on the fourth floor, in one of those houses in Gray’s-inn-square which command an extensive view of the gardens, and their usual adjuncts—flaunting nursery-maids, and town-made children, with parenthetical legs. Mr. Percy Noakes was what is generally termed—‘a devilish good fellow.’ He had a large circle of acquaintance, and seldom dined at his own expense. He used to talk politics to papas, flatter the vanity of mammas, do the amiable to their daughters, make pleasure engagements with their sons, and romp with the younger branches. Like those paragons of perfection, advertising footmen out of place, he was always ‘willing to make himself generally useful.’ If any old lady, whose son was in India, gave a ball, Mr. Percy Noakes was master of the ceremonies; if any young lady made a stolen match, Mr. Percy Noakes gave her away; if a juvenile wife presented her husband with a blooming cherub, Mr. Percy Noakes was either godfather, or deputy-godfather; and if any member of a friend’s family died, Mr. Percy Noakes was invariably to be seen in the second mourning coach, with a white handkerchief to his eyes, sobbing—to use his own appropriate and expressive description—‘like winkin’!’

It may readily be imagined that these numerous avocations were rather calculated to interfere with Mr. Percy Noakes’s professional studies. Mr. Percy Noakes was perfectly aware of the fact, and had, therefore, after mature reflection, made up his mind not to study at all—a laudable determination, to which he adhered in the most praiseworthy manner. His sitting-room presented a strange chaos of dress-gloves, boxing-gloves, caricatures, albums, invitation-cards, foils, cricket-bats, cardboard drawings, paste, gum, and fifty other miscellaneous articles, heaped together in the strangest confusion. He was always making something for somebody, or planning some party of pleasure, which was his great forte. He invariably spoke with astonishing rapidity; was smart, spoffish, and eight-and-twenty.

‘Splendid idea, ’pon my life!’ soliloquised Mr. Percy Noakes, over his morning coffee, as his mind reverted to a suggestion which had been thrown out on the previous night, by a lady at whose house he had spent the evening. ‘Glorious idea!—Mrs. Stubbs.’

‘Yes, sir,’ replied a dirty old woman with an inflamed countenance, emerging from the bedroom, with a barrel of dirt and cinders.—This was the laundress. ‘Did you call, sir?’

‘Oh! Mrs. Stubbs, I’m going out. If that tailor should call again, you’d better say—you’d better say I’m out of town, and shan’t be back for a fortnight; and if that bootmaker should come, tell him I’ve lost his address, or I’d have sent him that little amount. Mind he writes it down; and if Mr. Hardy should call—you know Mr. Hardy?’

‘The funny gentleman, sir?’

‘Ah! the funny gentleman. If Mr. Hardy should call, say I’ve gone to Mrs. Taunton’s about that water-party.’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘And if any fellow calls, and says he’s come about a steamer, tell him to be here at five o’clock this afternoon, Mrs. Stubbs.’

‘Very well, sir.’

Mr. Percy Noakes brushed his hat, whisked the crumbs off his inexpressibles with a silk handkerchief, gave the ends of his hair a persuasive roll round his forefinger, and sallied forth for Mrs. Taunton’s domicile in Great Marlborough-street, where she and her daughters occupied the upper part of a house. She was a good-looking widow of fifty, with the form of a giantess and the mind of a child. The pursuit of pleasure, and some means of killing time, were the sole end of her existence. She doted on her daughters, who were as frivolous as herself.

A general exclamation of satisfaction hailed the arrival of Mr. Percy Noakes, who went through the ordinary salutations, and threw himself into an easy chair near the ladies’ work-table, with the ease of a regularly established friend of the family. Mrs. Taunton was busily engaged in planting immense bright bows on every part of a smart cap on which it was possible to stick one; Miss Emily Taunton was making a watch-guard; Miss Sophia was at the piano, practising a new song—poetry by the young officer, or the police-officer, or the custom-house officer, or some other interesting amateur.

‘You good creature!’ said Mrs. Taunton, addressing the gallant Percy. ‘You really are a good soul! You’ve come about the water-party, I know.’

‘I should rather suspect I had,’ replied Mr. Noakes, triumphantly. ‘Now, come here, girls, and I’ll tell you all about it.’ Miss Emily and Miss Sophia advanced to the table.

‘Now,’ continued Mr. Percy Noakes, ‘it seems to me that the best way will be, to have a committee of ten, to make all the arrangements, and manage the whole set-out. Then, I propose that the expenses shall be paid by these ten fellows jointly.’

‘Excellent, indeed!’ said Mrs. Taunton, who highly approved of this part of the arrangements.

‘Then, my plan is, that each of these ten fellows shall have the power of asking five people. There must be a meeting of the committee, at my chambers, to make all the arrangements, and these people shall be then named; every member of the committee shall have the power of black-balling any one who is proposed; and one black ball shall exclude that person. This will ensure our having a pleasant party, you know.’

‘What a manager you are!’ interrupted Mrs. Taunton again.

‘Charming!’ said the lovely Emily.

‘I never did!’ ejaculated Sophia.

‘Yes, I think it’ll do,’ replied Mr. Percy Noakes, who was now quite in his element. ‘I think it’ll do. Then you know we shall go down to the Nore, and back, and have a regular capital cold dinner laid out in the cabin before we start, so that everything may be ready without any confusion; and we shall have the lunch laid out, on deck, in those little tea-garden-looking concerns by the paddle-boxes—I don’t know what you call ’em. Then, we shall hire a steamer expressly for our party, and a band, and have the deck chalked, and we shall be able to dance quadrilles all day; and then, whoever we know that’s musical, you know, why they’ll make themselves useful and agreeable; and—and—upon the whole, I really hope we shall have a glorious day, you know!’

The announcement of these arrangements was received with the utmost enthusiasm. Mrs. Taunton, Emily, and Sophia, were loud in their praises.

‘Well, but tell me, Percy,’ said Mrs. Taunton, ‘who are the ten gentlemen to be?’

‘Oh! I know plenty of fellows who’ll be delighted with the scheme,’ replied Mr. Percy Noakes; ‘of course we shall have—’

‘Mr. Hardy!’ interrupted the servant, announcing a visitor. Miss Sophia and Miss Emily hastily assumed the most interesting attitudes that could be adopted on so short a notice.

‘How are you?’ said a stout gentleman of about forty, pausing at the door in the attitude of an awkward harlequin. This was Mr. Hardy, whom we have before described, on the authority of Mrs. Stubbs, as ‘the funny gentleman.’ He was an Astley-Cooperish Joe Miller—a practical joker, immensely popular with married ladies, and a general favourite with young men. He was always engaged in some pleasure excursion or other, and delighted in getting somebody into a scrape on such occasions. He could sing comic songs, imitate hackney-coachmen and fowls, play airs on his chin, and execute concertos on the Jews’-harp. He always eat and drank most immoderately, and was the bosom friend of Mr. Percy Noakes. He had a red face, a somewhat husky voice, and a tremendous laugh.

‘How are you?’ said this worthy, laughing, as if it were the finest joke in the world to make a morning call, and shaking hands with the ladies with as much vehemence as if their arms had been so many pump-handles.

‘You’re just the very man I wanted,’ said Mr. Percy Noakes, who proceeded to explain the cause of his being in requisition.

‘Ha! ha! ha!’ shouted Hardy, after hearing the statement, and receiving a detailed account of the proposed excursion. ‘Oh, capital! glorious! What a day it will be! what fun!—But, I say, when are you going to begin making the arrangements?’

‘No time like the present—at once, if you please.’

‘Oh, charming!’ cried the ladies. ‘Pray, do!’

Writing materials were laid before Mr. Percy Noakes, and the names of the different members of the committee were agreed on, after as much discussion between him and Mr. Hardy as if the fate of nations had depended on their appointment. It was then agreed that a meeting should take place at Mr. Percy Noakes’s chambers on the ensuing Wednesday evening at eight o’clock, and the visitors departed.

Wednesday evening arrived; eight o’clock came, and eight members of the committee were punctual in their attendance. Mr. Loggins, the solicitor, of Boswell-court, sent an excuse, and Mr. Samuel Briggs, the ditto of Furnival’s Inn, sent his brother: much to his (the brother’s) satisfaction, and greatly to the discomfiture of Mr. Percy Noakes. Between the Briggses and the Tauntons there existed a degree of implacable hatred, quite unprecedented. The animosity between the Montagues and Capulets, was nothing to that which prevailed between these two illustrious houses. Mrs. Briggs was a widow, with three daughters and two sons; Mr. Samuel, the eldest, was an attorney, and Mr. Alexander, the youngest, was under articles to his brother. They resided in Portland-street, Oxford-street, and moved in the same orbit as the Tauntons—hence their mutual dislike. If the Miss Briggses appeared in smart bonnets, the Miss Tauntons eclipsed them with smarter. If Mrs. Taunton appeared in a cap of all the hues of the rainbow, Mrs. Briggs forthwith mounted a toque, with all the patterns of the kaleidoscope. If Miss Sophia Taunton learnt a new song, two of the Miss Briggses came out with a new duet. The Tauntons had once gained a temporary triumph with the assistance of a harp, but the Briggses brought three guitars into the field, and effectually routed the enemy. There was no end to the rivalry between them.

Now, as Mr. Samuel Briggs was a mere machine, a sort of self-acting legal walking-stick; and as the party was known to have originated, however remotely, with Mrs. Taunton, the female branches of the Briggs family had arranged that Mr. Alexander should attend, instead of his brother; and as the said Mr. Alexander was deservedly celebrated for possessing all the pertinacity of a bankruptcy-court attorney, combined with the obstinacy of that useful animal which browses on the thistle, he required but little tuition. He was especially enjoined to make himself as disagreeable as possible; and, above all, to black-ball the Tauntons at every hazard.

The proceedings of the evening were opened by Mr. Percy Noakes. After successfully urging on the gentlemen present the propriety of their mixing some brandy-and-water, he briefly stated the object of the meeting, and concluded by observing that the first step must be the selection of a chairman, necessarily possessing some arbitrary—he trusted not unconstitutional—powers, to whom the personal direction of the whole of the arrangements (subject to the approval of the committee) should be confided. A pale young gentleman, in a green stock and spectacles of the same, a member of the honourable society of the Inner Temple, immediately rose for the purpose of proposing Mr. Percy Noakes. He had known him long, and this he would say, that a more honourable, a more excellent, or a better-hearted fellow, never existed.—(Hear, hear!) The young gentleman, who was a member of a debating society, took this opportunity of entering into an examination of the state of the English law, from the days of William the Conqueror down to the present period; he briefly adverted to the code established by the ancient Druids; slightly glanced at the principles laid down by the Athenian law-givers; and concluded with a most glowing eulogium on pic-nics and constitutional rights.

Mr. Alexander Briggs opposed the motion. He had the highest esteem for Mr. Percy Noakes as an individual, but he did consider that he ought not to be intrusted with these immense powers—(oh, oh!)—He believed that in the proposed capacity Mr. Percy Noakes would not act fairly, impartially, or honourably; but he begged it to be distinctly understood, that he said this, without the slightest personal disrespect. Mr. Hardy defended his honourable friend, in a voice rendered partially unintelligible by emotion and brandy-and-water. The proposition was put to the vote, and there appearing to be only one dissentient voice, Mr. Percy Noakes was declared duly elected, and took the chair accordingly.

The business of the meeting now proceeded with rapidity. The chairman delivered in his estimate of the probable expense of the excursion, and every one present subscribed his portion thereof. The question was put that ‘The Endeavour’ be hired for the occasion; Mr. Alexander Briggs moved as an amendment, that the word ‘Fly’ be substituted for the word ‘Endeavour’; but after some debate consented to withdraw his opposition. The important ceremony of balloting then commenced. A tea-caddy was placed on a table in a dark corner of the apartment, and every one was provided with two backgammon men, one black and one white.

The chairman with great solemnity then read the following list of the guests whom he proposed to introduce:—Mrs. Taunton and two daughters, Mr. Wizzle, Mr. Simson. The names were respectively balloted for, and Mrs. Taunton and her daughters were declared to be black-balled. Mr. Percy Noakes and Mr. Hardy exchanged glances.

‘Is your list prepared, Mr. Briggs?’ inquired the chairman.

‘It is,’ replied Alexander, delivering in the following:—‘Mrs. Briggs and three daughters, Mr. Samuel Briggs.’ The previous ceremony was repeated, and Mrs. Briggs and three daughters were declared to be black-balled. Mr. Alexander Briggs looked rather foolish, and the remainder of the company appeared somewhat overawed by the mysterious nature of the proceedings.

The balloting proceeded; but, one little circumstance which Mr. Percy Noakes had not originally foreseen, prevented the system from working quite as well as he had anticipated. Everybody was black-balled. Mr. Alexander Briggs, by way of retaliation, exercised his power of exclusion in every instance, and the result was, that after three hours had been consumed in hard balloting, the names of only three gentlemen were found to have been agreed to. In this dilemma what was to be done? either the whole plan must fall to the ground, or a compromise must be effected. The latter alternative was preferable; and Mr. Percy Noakes therefore proposed that the form of balloting should be dispensed with, and that every gentleman should merely be required to state whom he intended to bring. The proposal was acceded to; the Tauntons and the Briggses were reinstated; and the party was formed.

The next Wednesday was fixed for the eventful day, and it was unanimously resolved that every member of the committee should wear a piece of blue sarsenet ribbon round his left arm. It appeared from the statement of Mr. Percy Noakes, that the boat belonged to the General Steam Navigation Company, and was then lying off the Custom-house; and, as he proposed that the dinner and wines should be provided by an eminent city purveyor, it was arranged that Mr. Percy Noakes should be on board by seven o’clock to superintend the arrangements, and that the remaining members of the committee, together with the company generally, should be expected to join her by nine o’clock. More brandy-and-water was despatched; several speeches were made by the different law students present; thanks were voted to the chairman; and the meeting separated.

The weather had been beautiful up to this period, and beautiful it continued to be. Sunday passed over, and Mr. Percy Noakes became unusually fidgety—rushing, constantly, to and from the Steam Packet Wharf, to the astonishment of the clerks, and the great emolument of the Holborn cabmen. Tuesday arrived, and the anxiety of Mr. Percy Noakes knew no bounds. He was every instant running to the window, to look out for clouds; and Mr. Hardy astonished the whole square by practising a new comic song for the occasion, in the chairman’s chambers.

Uneasy were the slumbers of Mr. Percy Noakes that night; he tossed and tumbled about, and had confused dreams of steamers starting off, and gigantic clocks with the hands pointing to a quarter-past nine, and the ugly face of Mr. Alexander Briggs looking over the boat’s side, and grinning, as if in derision of his fruitless attempts to move. He made a violent effort to get on board, and awoke. The bright sun was shining cheerfully into the bedroom, and Mr. Percy Noakes started up for his watch, in the dreadful expectation of finding his worst dreams realised.

It was just five o’clock. He calculated the time—he should be a good half-hour dressing himself; and as it was a lovely morning, and the tide would be then running down, he would walk leisurely to Strand-lane, and have a boat to the Custom-house.

He dressed himself, took a hasty apology for a breakfast, and sallied forth. The streets looked as lonely and deserted as if they had been crowded, overnight, for the last time. Here and there, an early apprentice, with quenched-looking sleepy eyes, was taking down the shutters of a shop; and a policeman or milkwoman might occasionally be seen pacing slowly along; but the servants had not yet begun to clean the doors, or light the kitchen fires, and London looked the picture of desolation. At the corner of a by-street, near Temple-bar, was stationed a ‘street-breakfast.’ The coffee was boiling over a charcoal fire, and large slices of bread and butter were piled one upon the other, like deals in a timber-yard. The company were seated on a form, which, with a view both to security and comfort, was placed against a neighbouring wall. Two young men, whose uproarious mirth and disordered dress bespoke the conviviality of the preceding evening, were treating three ‘ladies’ and an Irish labourer. A little sweep was standing at a short distance, casting a longing eye at the tempting delicacies; and a policeman was watching the group from the opposite side of the street. The wan looks and gaudy finery of the thinly-clad women contrasted as strangely with the gay sunlight, as did their forced merriment with the boisterous hilarity of the two young men, who, now and then, varied their amusements by ‘bonneting’ the proprietor of this itinerant coffee-house.

Mr. Percy Noakes walked briskly by, and when he turned down Strand-lane, and caught a glimpse of the glistening water, he thought he had never felt so important or so happy in his life.

‘Boat, sir?’ cried one of the three watermen who were mopping out their boats, and all whistling. ‘Boat, sir?’

‘No,’ replied Mr. Percy Noakes, rather sharply; for the inquiry was not made in a manner at all suitable to his dignity.

‘Would you prefer a wessel, sir?’ inquired another, to the infinite delight of the ‘Jack-in-the-water.’

Mr. Percy Noakes replied with a look of supreme contempt.

‘Did you want to be put on board a steamer, sir?’ inquired an old fireman-waterman, very confidentially. He was dressed in a faded red suit, just the colour of the cover of a very old Court-guide.

‘Yes, make haste—the Endeavour—off the Custom-house.’

‘Endeavour!’ cried the man who had convulsed the ‘Jack’ before. ‘Vy, I see the Endeavour go up half an hour ago.’

‘So did I,’ said another; ‘and I should think she’d gone down by this time, for she’s a precious sight too full of ladies and gen’lemen.’

Mr. Percy Noakes affected to disregard these representations, and stepped into the boat, which the old man, by dint of scrambling, and shoving, and grating, had brought up to the causeway. ‘Shove her off!’ cried Mr. Percy Noakes, and away the boat glided down the river; Mr. Percy Noakes seated on the recently mopped seat, and the watermen at the stairs offering to bet him any reasonable sum that he’d never reach the ‘Custum-us.’

‘Here she is, by Jove!’ said the delighted Percy, as they ran alongside the Endeavour.

‘Hold hard!’ cried the steward over the side, and Mr. Percy Noakes jumped on board.

‘Hope you will find everything as you wished, sir. She looks uncommon well this morning.’

‘She does, indeed,’ replied the manager, in a state of ecstasy which it is impossible to describe. The deck was scrubbed, and the seats were scrubbed, and there was a bench for the band, and a place for dancing, and a pile of camp-stools, and an awning; and then Mr. Percy Noakes bustled down below, and there were the pastrycook’s men, and the steward’s wife, laying out the dinner on two tables the whole length of the cabin; and then Mr. Percy Noakes took off his coat and rushed backwards and forwards, doing nothing, but quite convinced he was assisting everybody; and the steward’s wife laughed till she cried, and Mr. Percy Noakes panted with the violence of his exertions. And then the bell at London-bridge wharf rang; and a Margate boat was just starting; and a Gravesend boat was just starting, and people shouted, and porters ran down the steps with luggage that would crush any men but porters; and sloping boards, with bits of wood nailed on them, were placed between the outside boat and the inside boat; and the passengers ran along them, and looked like so many fowls coming out of an area; and then, the bell ceased, and the boards were taken away, and the boats started, and the whole scene was one of the most delightful bustle and confusion.

The time wore on; half-past eight o’clock arrived; the pastry-cook’s men went ashore; the dinner was completely laid out; and Mr. Percy Noakes locked the principal cabin, and put the key in his pocket, in order that it might be suddenly disclosed, in all its magnificence, to the eyes of the astonished company. The band came on board, and so did the wine.

Ten minutes to nine, and the committee embarked in a body. There was Mr. Hardy, in a blue jacket and waistcoat, white trousers, silk stockings, and pumps—in full aquatic costume, with a straw hat on his head, and an immense telescope under his arm; and there was the young gentleman with the green spectacles, in nankeen inexplicables, with a ditto waistcoat and bright buttons, like the pictures of Paul—not the saint, but he of Virginia notoriety. The remainder of the committee, dressed in white hats, light jackets, waistcoats, and trousers, looked something between waiters and West India planters.

Nine o’clock struck, and the company arrived in shoals. Mr. Samuel Briggs, Mrs. Briggs, and the Misses Briggs, made their appearance in a smart private wherry. The three guitars, in their respective dark green cases, were carefully stowed away in the bottom of the boat, accompanied by two immense portfolios of music, which it would take at least a week’s incessant playing to get through. The Tauntons arrived at the same moment with more music, and a lion—a gentleman with a bass voice and an incipient red moustache. The colours of the Taunton party were pink; those of the Briggses a light blue. The Tauntons had artificial flowers in their bonnets; here the Briggses gained a decided advantage—they wore feathers.

‘How d’ye do, dear?’ said the Misses Briggs to the Misses Taunton. (The word ‘dear’ among girls is frequently synonymous with ‘wretch.’)

‘Quite well, thank you, dear,’ replied the Misses Taunton to the Misses Briggs; and then, there was such a kissing, and congratulating, and shaking of hands, as might have induced one to suppose that the two families were the best friends in the world, instead of each wishing the other overboard, as they most sincerely did.

Mr. Percy Noakes received the visitors, and bowed to the strange gentleman, as if he should like to know who he was. This was just what Mrs. Taunton wanted. Here was an opportunity to astonish the Briggses.

‘Oh! I beg your pardon,’ said the general of the Taunton party, with a careless air.—‘Captain Helves—Mr. Percy Noakes—Mrs. Briggs—Captain Helves.’

Mr. Percy Noakes bowed very low; the gallant captain did the same with all due ferocity, and the Briggses were clearly overcome.

‘Our friend, Mr. Wizzle, being unfortunately prevented from coming,’ resumed Mrs. Taunton, ‘I did myself the pleasure of bringing the captain, whose musical talents I knew would be a great acquisition.’

‘In the name of the committee I have to thank you for doing so, and to offer you welcome, sir,’ replied Percy. (Here the scraping was renewed.) ‘But pray be seated—won’t you walk aft? Captain, will you conduct Miss Taunton?—Miss Briggs, will you allow me?’

‘Where could they have picked up that military man?’ inquired Mrs. Briggs of Miss Kate Briggs, as they followed the little party.

‘I can’t imagine,’ replied Miss Kate, bursting with vexation; for the very fierce air with which the gallant captain regarded the company, had impressed her with a high sense of his importance.

Boat after boat came alongside, and guest after guest arrived. The invites had been excellently arranged: Mr. Percy Noakes having considered it as important that the number of young men should exactly tally with that of the young ladies, as that the quantity of knives on board should be in precise proportion to the forks.

‘Now, is every one on board?’ inquired Mr. Percy Noakes. The committee (who, with their bits of blue ribbon, looked as if they were all going to be bled) bustled about to ascertain the fact, and reported that they might safely start.

‘Go on!’ cried the master of the boat from the top of one of the paddle-boxes.

‘Go on!’ echoed the boy, who was stationed over the hatchway to pass the directions down to the engineer; and away went the vessel with that agreeable noise which is peculiar to steamers, and which is composed of a mixture of creaking, gushing, clanging, and snorting.

‘Hoi-oi-oi-oi-oi-oi-o-i-i-i!’ shouted half-a-dozen voices from a boat, a quarter of a mile astern.

‘Ease her!’ cried the captain: ‘do these people belong to us, sir?’

‘Noakes,’ exclaimed Hardy, who had been looking at every object far and near, through the large telescope, ‘it’s the Fleetwoods and the Wakefields—and two children with them, by Jove!’

‘What a shame to bring children!’ said everybody; ‘how very inconsiderate!’

‘I say, it would be a good joke to pretend not to see ’em, wouldn’t it?’ suggested Hardy, to the immense delight of the company generally. A council of war was hastily held, and it was resolved that the newcomers should be taken on board, on Mr. Hardy solemnly pledging himself to tease the children during the whole of the day.

‘Stop her!’ cried the captain.

‘Stop her!’ repeated the boy; whizz went the steam, and all the young ladies, as in duty bound, screamed in concert. They were only appeased by the assurance of the martial Helves, that the escape of steam consequent on stopping a vessel was seldom attended with any great loss of human life.

Two men ran to the side; and after some shouting, and swearing, and angling for the wherry with a boat-hook, Mr. Fleetwood, and Mrs. Fleetwood, and Master Fleetwood, and Mr. Wakefield, and Mrs. Wakefield, and Miss Wakefield, were safely deposited on the deck. The girl was about six years old, the boy about four; the former was dressed in a white frock with a pink sash and dog’s-eared-looking little spencer: a straw bonnet and green veil, six inches by three and a half; the latter, was attired for the occasion in a nankeen frock, between the bottom of which, and the top of his plaid socks, a considerable portion of two small mottled legs was discernible. He had a light blue cap with a gold band and tassel on his head, and a damp piece of gingerbread in his hand, with which he had slightly embossed his countenance.

The boat once more started off; the band played ‘Off she goes:’ the major part of the company conversed cheerfully in groups; and the old gentlemen walked up and down the deck in pairs, as perseveringly and gravely as if they were doing a match against time for an immense stake. They ran briskly down the Pool; the gentlemen pointed out the Docks, the Thames Police-office, and other elegant public edifices; and the young ladies exhibited a proper display of horror at the appearance of the coal-whippers and ballast-heavers. Mr. Hardy told stories to the married ladies, at which they laughed very much in their pocket-handkerchiefs, and hit him on the knuckles with their fans, declaring him to be ‘a naughty man—a shocking creature’—and so forth; and Captain Helves gave slight descriptions of battles and duels, with a most bloodthirsty air, which made him the admiration of the women, and the envy of the men. Quadrilling commenced; Captain Helves danced one set with Miss Emily Taunton, and another set with Miss Sophia Taunton. Mrs. Taunton was in ecstasies. The victory appeared to be complete; but alas! the inconstancy of man! Having performed this necessary duty, he attached himself solely to Miss Julia Briggs, with whom he danced no less than three sets consecutively, and from whose side he evinced no intention of stirring for the remainder of the day.

Mr. Hardy, having played one or two very brilliant fantasias on the Jews’-harp, and having frequently repeated the exquisitely amusing joke of slily chalking a large cross on the back of some member of the committee, Mr. Percy Noakes expressed his hope that some of their musical friends would oblige the company by a display of their abilities.

‘Perhaps,’ he said in a very insinuating manner, ‘Captain Helves will oblige us?’ Mrs. Taunton’s countenance lighted up, for the captain only sang duets, and couldn’t sing them with anybody but one of her daughters.

‘Really,’ said that warlike individual, ‘I should be very happy, ‘but—’

‘Oh! pray do,’ cried all the young ladies.

‘Miss Emily, have you any objection to join in a duet?’

‘Oh! not the slightest,’ returned the young lady, in a tone which clearly showed she had the greatest possible objection.

‘Shall I accompany you, dear?’ inquired one of the Miss Briggses, with the bland intention of spoiling the effect.

‘Very much obliged to you, Miss Briggs,’ sharply retorted Mrs. Taunton, who saw through the manoeuvre; ‘my daughters always sing without accompaniments.’

‘And without voices,’ tittered Mrs. Briggs, in a low tone.

‘Perhaps,’ said Mrs. Taunton, reddening, for she guessed the tenor of the observation, though she had not heard it clearly—‘Perhaps it would be as well for some people, if their voices were not quite so audible as they are to other people.’

‘And, perhaps, if gentlemen who are kidnapped to pay attention to some persons’ daughters, had not sufficient discernment to pay attention to other persons’ daughters,’ returned Mrs. Briggs, ‘some persons would not be so ready to display that ill-temper which, thank God, distinguishes them from other persons.’

‘Persons!’ ejaculated Mrs. Taunton.

‘Persons,’ replied Mrs. Briggs.

‘Insolence!’

‘Creature!’

‘Hush! hush!’ interrupted Mr. Percy Noakes, who was one of the very few by whom this dialogue had been overheard. ‘Hush!—pray, silence for the duet.’

After a great deal of preparatory crowing and humming, the captain began the following duet from the opera of ‘Paul and Virginia,’ in that grunting tone in which a man gets down, Heaven knows where, without the remotest chance of ever getting up again. This, in private circles, is frequently designated ‘a bass voice.’

‘See (sung the captain) from o—ce—an ri—sing
Bright flames the or—b of d—ay.
From yon gro—ove, the varied so—ongs—’

Here, the singer was interrupted by varied cries of the most dreadful description, proceeding from some grove in the immediate vicinity of the starboard paddle-box.

‘My child!’ screamed Mrs. Fleetwood. ‘My child! it is his voice—I know it.’

Mr. Fleetwood, accompanied by several gentlemen, here rushed to the quarter from whence the noise proceeded, and an exclamation of horror burst from the company; the general impression being, that the little innocent had either got his head in the water, or his legs in the machinery.

‘What is the matter?’ shouted the agonised father, as he returned with the child in his arms.

‘Oh! oh! oh!’ screamed the small sufferer again.

‘What is the matter, dear?’ inquired the father once more—hastily stripping off the nankeen frock, for the purpose of ascertaining whether the child had one bone which was not smashed to pieces.

‘Oh! oh!—I’m so frightened!’

‘What at, dear?—what at?’ said the mother, soothing the sweet infant.

‘Oh! he’s been making such dreadful faces at me,’ cried the boy, relapsing into convulsions at the bare recollection.

‘He!—who?’ cried everybody, crowding round him.

‘Oh!—him!’ replied the child, pointing at Hardy, who affected to be the most concerned of the whole group.

The real state of the case at once flashed upon the minds of all present, with the exception of the Fleetwoods and the Wakefields. The facetious Hardy, in fulfilment of his promise, had watched the child to a remote part of the vessel, and, suddenly appearing before him with the most awful contortions of visage, had produced his paroxysm of terror. Of course, he now observed that it was hardly necessary for him to deny the accusation; and the unfortunate little victim was accordingly led below, after receiving sundry thumps on the head from both his parents, for having the wickedness to tell a story.

This little interruption having been adjusted, the captain resumed, and Miss Emily chimed in, in due course. The duet was loudly applauded, and, certainly, the perfect independence of the parties deserved great commendation. Miss Emily sung her part, without the slightest reference to the captain; and the captain sang so loud, that he had not the slightest idea what was being done by his partner. After having gone through the last few eighteen or nineteen bars by himself, therefore, he acknowledged the plaudits of the circle with that air of self-denial which men usually assume when they think they have done something to astonish the company.

‘Now,’ said Mr. Percy Noakes, who had just ascended from the fore-cabin, where he had been busily engaged in decanting the wine, ‘if the Misses Briggs will oblige us with something before dinner, I am sure we shall be very much delighted.’

One of those hums of admiration followed the suggestion, which one frequently hears in society, when nobody has the most distant notion what he is expressing his approval of. The three Misses Briggs looked modestly at their mamma, and the mamma looked approvingly at her daughters, and Mrs. Taunton looked scornfully at all of them. The Misses Briggs asked for their guitars, and several gentlemen seriously damaged the cases in their anxiety to present them. Then, there was a very interesting production of three little keys for the aforesaid cases, and a melodramatic expression of horror at finding a string broken; and a vast deal of screwing and tightening, and winding, and tuning, during which Mrs. Briggs expatiated to those near her on the immense difficulty of playing a guitar, and hinted at the wondrous proficiency of her daughters in that mystic art. Mrs. Taunton whispered to a neighbour that it was ‘quite sickening!’ and the Misses Taunton looked as if they knew how to play, but disdained to do it.

At length, the Misses Briggs began in real earnest. It was a new Spanish composition, for three voices and three guitars. The effect was electrical. All eyes were turned upon the captain, who was reported to have once passed through Spain with his regiment, and who must be well acquainted with the national music. He was in raptures. This was sufficient; the trio was encored; the applause was universal; and never had the Tauntons suffered such a complete defeat.

‘Bravo! bravo!’ ejaculated the captain;—‘bravo!’

‘Pretty! isn’t it, sir?’ inquired Mr. Samuel Briggs, with the air of a self-satisfied showman. By-the-bye, these were the first words he had been heard to utter since he left Boswell-court the evening before.

‘De-lightful!’ returned the captain, with a flourish, and a military cough;—‘de-lightful!’

‘Sweet instrument!’ said an old gentleman with a bald head, who had been trying all the morning to look through a telescope, inside the glass of which Mr. Hardy had fixed a large black wafer.

‘Did you ever hear a Portuguese tambourine?’ inquired that jocular individual.

‘Did you ever hear a tom-tom, sir?’ sternly inquired the captain, who lost no opportunity of showing off his travels, real or pretended.

‘A what?’ asked Hardy, rather taken aback.

‘A tom-tom.’

‘Never!’

‘Nor a gum-gum?’

‘Never!’

‘What is a gum-gum?’ eagerly inquired several young ladies.

‘When I was in the East Indies,’ replied the captain—(here was a discovery—he had been in the East Indies!)—‘when I was in the East Indies, I was once stopping a few thousand miles up the country, on a visit at the house of a very particular friend of mine, Ram Chowdar Doss Azuph Al Bowlar—a devilish pleasant fellow. As we were enjoying our hookahs, one evening, in the cool verandah in front of his villa, we were rather surprised by the sudden appearance of thirty-four of his Kit-ma-gars (for he had rather a large establishment there), accompanied by an equal number of Con-su-mars, approaching the house with a threatening aspect, and beating a tom-tom. The Ram started up—’

‘Who?’ inquired the bald gentleman, intensely interested.

‘The Ram—Ram Chowdar—’

‘Oh!’ said the old gentleman, ‘beg your pardon; pray go on.’

‘—Started up and drew a pistol. “Helves,” said he, “my boy,”—he always called me, my boy—“Helves,” said he, “do you hear that tom-tom?” “I do,” said I. His countenance, which before was pale, assumed a most frightful appearance; his whole visage was distorted, and his frame shaken by violent emotions. “Do you see that gum-gum?” said he. “No,” said I, staring about me. “You don’t?” said he. “No, I’ll be damned if I do,” said I; “and what’s more, I don’t know what a gum-gum is,” said I. I really thought the Ram would have dropped. He drew me aside, and with an expression of agony I shall never forget, said in a low whisper—’

‘Dinner’s on the table, ladies,’ interrupted the steward’s wife.

‘Will you allow me?’ said the captain, immediately suiting the action to the word, and escorting Miss Julia Briggs to the cabin, with as much ease as if he had finished the story.

‘What an extraordinary circumstance!’ ejaculated the same old gentleman, preserving his listening attitude.

‘What a traveller!’ said the young ladies.

‘What a singular name!’ exclaimed the gentlemen, rather confused by the coolness of the whole affair.

‘I wish he had finished the story,’ said an old lady. ‘I wonder what a gum-gum really is?’

‘By Jove!’ exclaimed Hardy, who until now had been lost in utter amazement, ‘I don’t know what it may be in India, but in England I think a gum-gum has very much the same meaning as a hum-bug.’

‘How illiberal! how envious!’ cried everybody, as they made for the cabin, fully impressed with a belief in the captain’s amazing adventures. Helves was the sole lion for the remainder of the day—impudence and the marvellous are pretty sure passports to any society.

The party had by this time reached their destination, and put about on their return home. The wind, which had been with them the whole day, was now directly in their teeth; the weather had become gradually more and more overcast; and the sky, water, and shore, were all of that dull, heavy, uniform lead-colour, which house-painters daub in the first instance over a street-door which is gradually approaching a state of convalescence. It had been ‘spitting’ with rain for the last half-hour, and now began to pour in good earnest. The wind was freshening very fast, and the waterman at the wheel had unequivocally expressed his opinion that there would shortly be a squall. A slight emotion on the part of the vessel, now and then, seemed to suggest the possibility of its pitching to a very uncomfortable extent in the event of its blowing harder; and every timber began to creak, as if the boat were an overladen clothes-basket. Sea-sickness, however, is like a belief in ghosts—every one entertains some misgivings on the subject, but few will acknowledge any. The majority of the company, therefore, endeavoured to look peculiarly happy, feeling all the while especially miserable.

‘Don’t it rain?’ inquired the old gentleman before noticed, when, by dint of squeezing and jamming, they were all seated at table.

‘I think it does—a little,’ replied Mr. Percy Noakes, who could hardly hear himself speak, in consequence of the pattering on the deck.

‘Don’t it blow?’ inquired some one else.

‘No, I don’t think it does,’ responded Hardy, sincerely wishing that he could persuade himself that it did not; for he sat near the door, and was almost blown off his seat.

‘It’ll soon clear up,’ said Mr. Percy Noakes, in a cheerful tone.

‘Oh, certainly!’ ejaculated the committee generally.

‘No doubt of it!’ said the remainder of the company, whose attention was now pretty well engrossed by the serious business of eating, carving, taking wine, and so forth.

The throbbing motion of the engine was but too perceptible. There was a large, substantial, cold boiled leg of mutton, at the bottom of the table, shaking like blancmange; a previously hearty sirloin of beef looked as if it had been suddenly seized with the palsy; and some tongues, which were placed on dishes rather too large for them, went through the most surprising evolutions; darting from side to side, and from end to end, like a fly in an inverted wine-glass. Then, the sweets shook and trembled, till it was quite impossible to help them, and people gave up the attempt in despair; and the pigeon-pies looked as if the birds, whose legs were stuck outside, were trying to get them in. The table vibrated and started like a feverish pulse, and the very legs were convulsed—everything was shaking and jarring. The beams in the roof of the cabin seemed as if they were put there for the sole purpose of giving people head-aches, and several elderly gentlemen became ill-tempered in consequence. As fast as the steward put the fire-irons up, they would fall down again; and the more the ladies and gentlemen tried to sit comfortably on their seats, the more the seats seemed to slide away from the ladies and gentlemen. Several ominous demands were made for small glasses of brandy; the countenances of the company gradually underwent most extraordinary changes; one gentleman was observed suddenly to rush from table without the slightest ostensible reason, and dart up the steps with incredible swiftness: thereby greatly damaging both himself and the steward, who happened to be coming down at the same moment.

The cloth was removed; the dessert was laid on the table; and the glasses were filled. The motion of the boat increased; several members of the party began to feel rather vague and misty, and looked as if they had only just got up. The young gentleman with the spectacles, who had been in a fluctuating state for some time—at one moment bright, and at another dismal, like a revolving light on the sea-coast—rashly announced his wish to propose a toast. After several ineffectual attempts to preserve his perpendicular, the young gentleman, having managed to hook himself to the centre leg of the table with his left hand, proceeded as follows:

‘Ladies and gentlemen. A gentleman is among us—I may say a stranger—(here some painful thought seemed to strike the orator; he paused, and looked extremely odd)—whose talents, whose travels, whose cheerfulness—’

‘I beg your pardon, Edkins,’ hastily interrupted Mr. Percy Noakes,—‘Hardy, what’s the matter?’

‘Nothing,’ replied the ‘funny gentleman,’ who had just life enough left to utter two consecutive syllables.

‘Will you have some brandy?’

‘No!’ replied Hardy in a tone of great indignation, and looking as comfortable as Temple-bar in a Scotch mist; ‘what should I want brandy for?’

‘Will you go on deck?’

‘No, I will not.’ This was said with a most determined air, and in a voice which might have been taken for an imitation of anything; it was quite as much like a guinea-pig as a bassoon.

‘I beg your pardon, Edkins,’ said the courteous Percy; ‘I thought our friend was ill. Pray go on.’

A pause.

‘Pray go on.’

‘Mr. Edkins is gone,’ cried somebody.

‘I beg your pardon, sir,’ said the steward, running up to Mr. Percy Noakes, ‘I beg your pardon, sir, but the gentleman as just went on deck—him with the green spectacles—is uncommon bad, to be sure; and the young man as played the wiolin says, that unless he has some brandy he can’t answer for the consequences. He says he has a wife and two children, whose werry subsistence depends on his breaking a wessel, and he expects to do so every moment. The flageolet’s been werry ill, but he’s better, only he’s in a dreadful prusperation.’

All disguise was now useless; the company staggered on deck; the gentlemen tried to see nothing but the clouds; and the ladies, muffled up in such shawls and cloaks as they had brought with them, lay about on the seats, and under the seats, in the most wretched condition. Never was such a blowing, and raining, and pitching, and tossing, endured by any pleasure party before. Several remonstrances were sent down below, on the subject of Master Fleetwood, but they were totally unheeded in consequence of the indisposition of his natural protectors. That interesting child screamed at the top of his voice, until he had no voice left to scream with; and then, Miss Wakefield began, and screamed for the remainder of the passage.

Mr. Hardy was observed, some hours afterwards, in an attitude which induced his friends to suppose that he was busily engaged in contemplating the beauties of the deep; they only regretted that his taste for the picturesque should lead him to remain so long in a position, very injurious at all times, but especially so, to an individual labouring under a tendency of blood to the head.

The party arrived off the Custom-house at about two o’clock on the Thursday morning dispirited and worn out. The Tauntons were too ill to quarrel with the Briggses, and the Briggses were too wretched to annoy the Tauntons. One of the guitar-cases was lost on its passage to a hackney-coach, and Mrs. Briggs has not scrupled to state that the Tauntons bribed a porter to throw it down an area. Mr. Alexander Briggs opposes vote by ballot—he says from personal experience of its inefficacy; and Mr. Samuel Briggs, whenever he is asked to express his sentiments on the point, says he has no opinion on that or any other subject.

Mr. Edkins—the young gentleman in the green spectacles—makes a speech on every occasion on which a speech can possibly be made: the eloquence of which can only be equalled by its length. In the event of his not being previously appointed to a judgeship, it is probable that he will practise as a barrister in the New Central Criminal Court.

Captain Helves continued his attention to Miss Julia Briggs, whom he might possibly have espoused, if it had not unfortunately happened that Mr. Samuel arrested him, in the way of business, pursuant to instructions received from Messrs. Scroggins and Payne, whose town-debts the gallant captain had condescended to collect, but whose accounts, with the indiscretion sometimes peculiar to military minds, he had omitted to keep with that dull accuracy which custom has rendered necessary. Mrs. Taunton complains that she has been much deceived in him. He introduced himself to the family on board a Gravesend steam-packet, and certainly, therefore, ought to have proved respectable.

Mr. Percy Noakes is as light-hearted and careless as ever.

CHAPTER VIII—THE GREAT WINGLEBURY DUEL

The little town of Great Winglebury is exactly forty-two miles and three-quarters from Hyde Park corner. It has a long, straggling, quiet High-street, with a great black and white clock at a small red Town-hall, half-way up—a market-place—a cage—an assembly-room—a church—a bridge—a chapel—a theatre—a library—an inn—a pump—and a Post-office. Tradition tells of a ‘Little Winglebury,’ down some cross-road about two miles off; and, as a square mass of dirty paper, supposed to have been originally intended for a letter, with certain tremulous characters inscribed thereon, in which a lively imagination might trace a remote resemblance to the word ‘Little,’ was once stuck up to be owned in the sunny window of the Great Winglebury Post-office, from which it only disappeared when it fell to pieces with dust and extreme old age, there would appear to be some foundation for the legend. Common belief is inclined to bestow the name upon a little hole at the end of a muddy lane about a couple of miles long, colonised by one wheelwright, four paupers, and a beer-shop; but, even this authority, slight as it is, must be regarded with extreme suspicion, inasmuch as the inhabitants of the hole aforesaid, concur in opining that it never had any name at all, from the earliest ages down to the present day.

The Winglebury Arms, in the centre of the High-street, opposite the small building with the big clock, is the principal inn of Great Winglebury—the commercial-inn, posting-house, and excise-office; the ‘Blue’ house at every election, and the judges’ house at every assizes. It is the head-quarters of the Gentlemen’s Whist Club of Winglebury Blues (so called in opposition to the Gentlemen’s Whist Club of Winglebury Buffs, held at the other house, a little further down): and whenever a juggler, or wax-work man, or concert-giver, takes Great Winglebury in his circuit, it is immediately placarded all over the town that Mr. So-and-so, ‘trusting to that liberal support which the inhabitants of Great Winglebury have long been so liberal in bestowing, has at a great expense engaged the elegant and commodious assembly-rooms, attached to the Winglebury Arms.’ The house is a large one, with a red brick and stone front; a pretty spacious hall, ornamented with evergreen plants, terminates in a perspective view of the bar, and a glass case, in which are displayed a choice variety of delicacies ready for dressing, to catch the eye of a new-comer the moment he enters, and excite his appetite to the highest possible pitch. Opposite doors lead to the ‘coffee’ and ‘commercial’ rooms; and a great wide, rambling staircase,—three stairs and a landing—four stairs and another landing—one step and another landing—half-a-dozen stairs and another landing—and so on—conducts to galleries of bedrooms, and labyrinths of sitting-rooms, denominated ‘private,’ where you may enjoy yourself, as privately as you can in any place where some bewildered being walks into your room every five minutes, by mistake, and then walks out again, to open all the doors along the gallery until he finds his own.

Such is the Winglebury Arms, at this day, and such was the Winglebury Arms some time since—no matter when—two or three minutes before the arrival of the London stage. Four horses with cloths on—change for a coach—were standing quietly at the corner of the yard surrounded by a listless group of post-boys in shiny hats and smock-frocks, engaged in discussing the merits of the cattle; half a dozen ragged boys were standing a little apart, listening with evident interest to the conversation of these worthies; and a few loungers were collected round the horse-trough, awaiting the arrival of the coach.

The day was hot and sunny, the town in the zenith of its dulness, and with the exception of these few idlers, not a living creature was to be seen. Suddenly, the loud notes of a key-bugle broke the monotonous stillness of the street; in came the coach, rattling over the uneven paving with a noise startling enough to stop even the large-faced clock itself. Down got the outsides, up went the windows in all directions, out came the waiters, up started the ostlers, and the loungers, and the post-boys, and the ragged boys, as if they were electrified—unstrapping, and unchaining, and unbuckling, and dragging willing horses out, and forcing reluctant horses in, and making a most exhilarating bustle. ‘Lady inside, here!’ said the guard. ‘Please to alight, ma’am,’ said the waiter. ‘Private sitting-room?’ interrogated the lady. ‘Certainly, ma’am,’ responded the chamber-maid. ‘Nothing but these ’ere trunks, ma’am?’ inquired the guard. ‘Nothing more,’ replied the lady. Up got the outsides again, and the guard, and the coachman; off came the cloths, with a jerk; ‘All right,’ was the cry; and away they went. The loungers lingered a minute or two in the road, watching the coach until it turned the corner, and then loitered away one by one. The street was clear again, and the town, by contrast, quieter than ever.

‘Lady in number twenty-five,’ screamed the landlady.—‘Thomas!’

‘Yes, ma’am.’

‘Letter just been left for the gentleman in number nineteen. Boots at the Lion left it. No answer.’

‘Letter for you, sir,’ said Thomas, depositing the letter on number nineteen’s table.

‘For me?’ said number nineteen, turning from the window, out of which he had been surveying the scene just described.

‘Yes, sir,’—(waiters always speak in hints, and never utter complete sentences,)—‘yes, sir,—Boots at the Lion, sir,—Bar, sir,—Missis said number nineteen, sir—Alexander Trott, Esq., sir?—Your card at the bar, sir, I think, sir?’

‘My name is Trott,’ replied number nineteen, breaking the seal. ‘You may go, waiter.’ The waiter pulled down the window-blind, and then pulled it up again—for a regular waiter must do something before he leaves the room—adjusted the glasses on the side-board, brushed a place that was not dusty, rubbed his hands very hard, walked stealthily to the door, and evaporated.

There was, evidently, something in the contents of the letter, of a nature, if not wholly unexpected, certainly extremely disagreeable. Mr. Alexander Trott laid it down, and took it up again, and walked about the room on particular squares of the carpet, and even attempted, though unsuccessfully, to whistle an air. It wouldn’t do. He threw himself into a chair, and read the following epistle aloud:—

‘Blue Lion and Stomach-warmer,
‘Great Winglebury.
‘Wednesday Morning.

‘Sir. Immediately on discovering your intentions, I left our counting-house, and followed you. I know the purport of your journey;—that journey shall never be completed.

‘I have no friend here, just now, on whose secrecy I can rely. This shall be no obstacle to my revenge. Neither shall Emily Brown be exposed to the mercenary solicitations of a scoundrel, odious in her eyes, and contemptible in everybody else’s: nor will I tamely submit to the clandestine attacks of a base umbrella-maker.

‘Sir. From Great Winglebury church, a footpath leads through four meadows to a retired spot known to the townspeople as Stiffun’s Acre.’ [Mr. Trott shuddered.] ‘I shall be waiting there alone, at twenty minutes before six o’clock to-morrow morning. Should I be disappointed in seeing you there, I will do myself the pleasure of calling with a horsewhip.

‘Horace Hunter.

‘PS. There is a gunsmiths in the High-street; and they won’t sell gunpowder after dark—you understand me.

‘PPS. You had better not order your breakfast in the morning until you have met me. It may be an unnecessary expense.’

‘Desperate-minded villain! I knew how it would be!’ ejaculated the terrified Trott. ‘I always told father, that once start me on this expedition, and Hunter would pursue me like the Wandering Jew. It’s bad enough as it is, to marry with the old people’s commands, and without the girl’s consent; but what will Emily think of me, if I go down there breathless with running away from this infernal salamander? What shall I do? What can I do? If I go back to the city, I’m disgraced for ever—lose the girl—and, what’s more, lose the money too. Even if I did go on to the Browns’ by the coach, Hunter would be after me in a post-chaise; and if I go to this place, this Stiffun’s Acre (another shudder), I’m as good as dead. I’ve seen him hit the man at the Pall-mall shooting-gallery, in the second button-hole of the waistcoat, five times out of every six, and when he didn’t hit him there, he hit him in the head.’ With this consolatory reminiscence Mr. Alexander Trott again ejaculated, ‘What shall I do?’

Long and weary were his reflections, as, burying his face in his hand, he sat, ruminating on the best course to be pursued. His mental direction-post pointed to London. He thought of the ‘governor’s’ anger, and the loss of the fortune which the paternal Brown had promised the paternal Trott his daughter should contribute to the coffers of his son. Then the words ‘To Brown’s’ were legibly inscribed on the said direction-post, but Horace Hunter’s denunciation rung in his ears;—last of all it bore, in red letters, the words, ‘To Stiffun’s Acre;’ and then Mr. Alexander Trott decided on adopting a plan which he presently matured.

First and foremost, he despatched the under-boots to the Blue Lion and Stomach-warmer, with a gentlemanly note to Mr. Horace Hunter, intimating that he thirsted for his destruction and would do himself the pleasure of slaughtering him next morning, without fail. He then wrote another letter, and requested the attendance of the other boots—for they kept a pair. A modest knock at the room door was heard. ‘Come in,’ said Mr. Trott. A man thrust in a red head with one eye in it, and being again desired to ‘come in,’ brought in the body and the legs to which the head belonged, and a fur cap which belonged to the head.

‘You are the upper-boots, I think?’ inquired Mr. Trott.

‘Yes, I am the upper-boots,’ replied a voice from inside a velveteen case, with mother-of-pearl buttons—‘that is, I’m the boots as b’longs to the house; the other man’s my man, as goes errands and does odd jobs. Top-boots and half-boots, I calls us.’

‘You’re from London?’ inquired Mr. Trott.

‘Driv a cab once,’ was the laconic reply.

‘Why don’t you drive it now?’ asked Mr. Trott.

‘Over-driv the cab, and driv over a ’ooman,’ replied the top-boots, with brevity.

‘Do you know the mayor’s house?’ inquired Mr. Trott.

‘Rather,’ replied the boots, significantly, as if he had some good reason to remember it.

‘Do you think you could manage to leave a letter there?’ interrogated Trott.

‘Shouldn’t wonder,’ responded boots.

‘But this letter,’ said Trott, holding a deformed note with a paralytic direction in one hand, and five shillings in the other—‘this letter is anonymous.’

‘A—what?’ interrupted the boots.

‘Anonymous—he’s not to know who it comes from.’

‘Oh! I see,’ responded the reg’lar, with a knowing wink, but without evincing the slightest disinclination to undertake the charge—‘I see—bit o’ Sving, eh?’ and his one eye wandered round the room, as if in quest of a dark lantern and phosphorus-box. ‘But, I say!’ he continued, recalling the eye from its search, and bringing it to bear on Mr. Trott. ‘I say, he’s a lawyer, our mayor, and insured in the County. If you’ve a spite agen him, you’d better not burn his house down—blessed if I don’t think it would be the greatest favour you could do him.’ And he chuckled inwardly.

If Mr. Alexander Trott had been in any other situation, his first act would have been to kick the man down-stairs by deputy; or, in other words, to ring the bell, and desire the landlord to take his boots off. He contented himself, however, with doubling the fee and explaining that the letter merely related to a breach of the peace. The top-boots retired, solemnly pledged to secrecy; and Mr. Alexander Trott sat down to a fried sole, maintenon cutlet, Madeira, and sundries, with greater composure than he had experienced since the receipt of Horace Hunter’s letter of defiance.

The lady who alighted from the London coach had no sooner been installed in number twenty-five, and made some alteration in her travelling-dress, than she indited a note to Joseph Overton, esquire, solicitor, and mayor of Great Winglebury, requesting his immediate attendance on private business of paramount importance—a summons which that worthy functionary lost no time in obeying; for after sundry openings of his eyes, divers ejaculations of ‘Bless me!’ and other manifestations of surprise, he took his broad-brimmed hat from its accustomed peg in his little front office, and walked briskly down the High-street to the Winglebury Arms; through the hall and up the staircase of which establishment he was ushered by the landlady, and a crowd of officious waiters, to the door of number twenty-five.

‘Show the gentleman in,’ said the stranger lady, in reply to the foremost waiter’s announcement. The gentleman was shown in accordingly.

The lady rose from the sofa; the mayor advanced a step from the door; and there they both paused, for a minute or two, looking at one another as if by mutual consent. The mayor saw before him a buxom, richly-dressed female of about forty; the lady looked upon a sleek man, about ten years older, in drab shorts and continuations, black coat, neckcloth, and gloves.

‘Miss Julia Manners!’ exclaimed the mayor at length, ‘you astonish me.’

‘That’s very unfair of you, Overton,’ replied Miss Julia, ‘for I have known you, long enough, not to be surprised at anything you do, and you might extend equal courtesy to me.’

‘But to run away—actually run away—with a young man!’ remonstrated the mayor.

‘You wouldn’t have me actually run away with an old one, I presume?’ was the cool rejoinder.

‘And then to ask me—me—of all people in the world—a man of my age and appearance—mayor of the town—to promote such a scheme!’ pettishly ejaculated Joseph Overton; throwing himself into an arm-chair, and producing Miss Julia’s letter from his pocket, as if to corroborate the assertion that he had been asked.

‘Now, Overton,’ replied the lady, ‘I want your assistance in this matter, and I must have it. In the lifetime of that poor old dear, Mr. Cornberry, who—who—’

‘Who was to have married you, and didn’t, because he died first; and who left you his property unencumbered with the addition of himself,’ suggested the mayor.

‘Well,’ replied Miss Julia, reddening slightly, ‘in the lifetime of the poor old dear, the property had the incumbrance of your management; and all I will say of that, is, that I only wonder it didn’t die of consumption instead of its master. You helped yourself then:—help me now.’

Mr. Joseph Overton was a man of the world, and an attorney; and as certain indistinct recollections of an odd thousand pounds or two, appropriated by mistake, passed across his mind he hemmed deprecatingly, smiled blandly, remained silent for a few seconds; and finally inquired, ‘What do you wish me to do?’

‘I’ll tell you,’ replied Miss Julia—‘I’ll tell you in three words. Dear Lord Peter—’

‘That’s the young man, I suppose—’ interrupted the mayor.

‘That’s the young Nobleman,’ replied the lady, with a great stress on the last word. ‘Dear Lord Peter is considerably afraid of the resentment of his family; and we have therefore thought it better to make the match a stolen one. He left town, to avoid suspicion, on a visit to his friend, the Honourable Augustus Flair, whose seat, as you know, is about thirty miles from this, accompanied only by his favourite tiger. We arranged that I should come here alone in the London coach; and that he, leaving his tiger and cab behind him, should come on, and arrive here as soon as possible this afternoon.’

‘Very well,’ observed Joseph Overton, ‘and then he can order the chaise, and you can go on to Gretna Green together, without requiring the presence or interference of a third party, can’t you?’

‘No,’ replied Miss Julia. ‘We have every reason to believe—dear Lord Peter not being considered very prudent or sagacious by his friends, and they having discovered his attachment to me—that, immediately on his absence being observed, pursuit will be made in this direction:—to elude which, and to prevent our being traced, I wish it to be understood in this house, that dear Lord Peter is slightly deranged, though perfectly harmless; and that I am, unknown to him, awaiting his arrival to convey him in a post-chaise to a private asylum—at Berwick, say. If I don’t show myself much, I dare say I can manage to pass for his mother.’

The thought occurred to the mayor’s mind that the lady might show herself a good deal without fear of detection; seeing that she was about double the age of her intended husband. He said nothing, however, and the lady proceeded.

‘With the whole of this arrangement dear Lord Peter is acquainted; and all I want you to do, is, to make the delusion more complete by giving it the sanction of your influence in this place, and assigning this as a reason to the people of the house for my taking the young gentleman away. As it would not be consistent with the story that I should see him until after he has entered the chaise, I also wish you to communicate with him, and inform him that it is all going on well.’

‘Has he arrived?’ inquired Overton.

‘I don’t know,’ replied the lady.

‘Then how am I to know!’ inquired the mayor. ‘Of course he will not give his own name at the bar.’

‘I begged him, immediately on his arrival, to write you a note,’ replied Miss Manners; ‘and to prevent the possibility of our project being discovered through its means, I desired him to write anonymously, and in mysterious terms, to acquaint you with the number of his room.’

‘Bless me!’ exclaimed the mayor, rising from his seat, and searching his pockets—‘most extraordinary circumstance—he has arrived—mysterious note left at my house in a most mysterious manner, just before yours—didn’t know what to make of it before, and certainly shouldn’t have attended to it.—Oh! here it is.’ And Joseph Overton pulled out of an inner coat-pocket the identical letter penned by Alexander Trott. ‘Is this his lordship’s hand?’

‘Oh yes,’ replied Julia; ‘good, punctual creature! I have not seen it more than once or twice, but I know he writes very badly and very large. These dear, wild young noblemen, you know, Overton—’

‘Ay, ay, I see,’ replied the mayor.—‘Horses and dogs, play and wine—grooms, actresses, and cigars—the stable, the green-room, the saloon, and the tavern; and the legislative assembly at last.’

‘Here’s what he says,’ pursued the mayor; ‘“Sir,—A young gentleman in number nineteen at the Winglebury Arms, is bent on committing a rash act to-morrow morning at an early hour.” (That’s good—he means marrying.) “If you have any regard for the peace of this town, or the preservation of one—it may be two—human lives”—What the deuce does he mean by that?’

‘That he’s so anxious for the ceremony, he will expire if it’s put off, and that I may possibly do the same,’ replied the lady with great complacency.

‘Oh! I see—not much fear of that;—well—“two human lives, you will cause him to be removed to-night.” (He wants to start at once.) “Fear not to do this on your responsibility: for to-morrow the absolute necessity of the proceeding will be but too apparent. Remember: number nineteen. The name is Trott. No delay; for life and death depend upon your promptitude.” Passionate language, certainly. Shall I see him?’

‘Do,’ replied Miss Julia; ‘and entreat him to act his part well. I am half afraid of him. Tell him to be cautious.’

‘I will,’ said the mayor.

‘Settle all the arrangements.’

‘I will,’ said the mayor again.

‘And say I think the chaise had better be ordered for one o’clock.’

‘Very well,’ said the mayor once more; and, ruminating on the absurdity of the situation in which fate and old acquaintance had placed him, he desired a waiter to herald his approach to the temporary representative of number nineteen.

The announcement, ‘Gentleman to speak with you, sir,’ induced Mr. Trott to pause half-way in the glass of port, the contents of which he was in the act of imbibing at the moment; to rise from his chair; and retreat a few paces towards the window, as if to secure a retreat, in the event of the visitor assuming the form and appearance of Horace Hunter. One glance at Joseph Overton, however, quieted his apprehensions. He courteously motioned the stranger to a seat. The waiter, after a little jingling with the decanter and glasses, consented to leave the room; and Joseph Overton, placing the broad-brimmed hat on the chair next him, and bending his body gently forward, opened the business by saying in a very low and cautious tone,

‘My lord—’

‘Eh?’ said Mr. Alexander Trott, in a loud key, with the vacant and mystified stare of a chilly somnambulist.

‘Hush—hush!’ said the cautious attorney: ‘to be sure—quite right—no titles here—my name is Overton, sir.’

‘Overton?’

‘Yes: the mayor of this place—you sent me a letter with anonymous information, this afternoon.’

‘I, sir?’ exclaimed Trott with ill-dissembled surprise; for, coward as he was, he would willingly have repudiated the authorship of the letter in question. ‘I, sir?’

‘Yes, you, sir; did you not?’ responded Overton, annoyed with what he supposed to be an extreme degree of unnecessary suspicion. ‘Either this letter is yours, or it is not. If it be, we can converse securely upon the subject at once. If it be not, of course I have no more to say.’

‘Stay, stay,’ said Trott, ‘it is mine; I did write it. What could I do, sir? I had no friend here.’

‘To be sure, to be sure,’ said the mayor, encouragingly, ‘you could not have managed it better. Well, sir; it will be necessary for you to leave here to-night in a post-chaise and four. And the harder the boys drive, the better. You are not safe from pursuit.’

‘Bless me!’ exclaimed Trott, in an agony of apprehension, ‘can such things happen in a country like this? Such unrelenting and cold-blooded hostility!’ He wiped off the concentrated essence of cowardice that was oozing fast down his forehead, and looked aghast at Joseph Overton.

‘It certainly is a very hard case,’ replied the mayor with a smile, ‘that, in a free country, people can’t marry whom they like, without being hunted down as if they were criminals. However, in the present instance the lady is willing, you know, and that’s the main point, after all.’

‘Lady willing,’ repeated Trott, mechanically. ‘How do you know the lady’s willing?’

‘Come, that’s a good one,’ said the mayor, benevolently tapping Mr. Trott on the arm with his broad-brimmed hat; ‘I have known her, well, for a long time; and if anybody could entertain the remotest doubt on the subject, I assure you I have none, nor need you have.’

‘Dear me!’ said Mr. Trott, ruminating. ‘This is very extraordinary!’

‘Well, Lord Peter,’ said the mayor, rising.

‘Lord Peter?’ repeated Mr. Trott.

‘Oh—ah, I forgot. Mr. Trott, then—Trott—very good, ha! ha!—Well, sir, the chaise shall be ready at half-past twelve.’

‘And what is to become of me until then?’ inquired Mr. Trott, anxiously. ‘Wouldn’t it save appearances, if I were placed under some restraint?’

‘Ah!’ replied Overton, ‘very good thought—capital idea indeed. I’ll send somebody up directly. And if you make a little resistance when we put you in the chaise it wouldn’t be amiss—look as if you didn’t want to be taken away, you know.’

‘To be sure,’ said Trott—‘to be sure.’

‘Well, my lord,’ said Overton, in a low tone, ‘until then, I wish your lordship a good evening.’

‘Lord—lordship?’ ejaculated Trott again, falling back a step or two, and gazing, in unutterable wonder, on the countenance of the mayor.

‘Ha-ha! I see, my lord—practising the madman?—very good indeed—very vacant look—capital, my lord, capital—good evening, Mr.—Trott—ha! ha! ha!’

‘That mayor’s decidedly drunk,’ soliloquised Mr. Trott, throwing himself back in his chair, in an attitude of reflection.

‘He is a much cleverer fellow than I thought him, that young nobleman—he carries it off uncommonly well,’ thought Overton, as he went his way to the bar, there to complete his arrangements. This was soon done. Every word of the story was implicitly believed, and the one-eyed boots was immediately instructed to repair to number nineteen, to act as custodian of the person of the supposed lunatic until half-past twelve o’clock. In pursuance of this direction, that somewhat eccentric gentleman armed himself with a walking-stick of gigantic dimensions, and repaired, with his usual equanimity of manner, to Mr. Trott’s apartment, which he entered without any ceremony, and mounted guard in, by quietly depositing himself on a chair near the door, where he proceeded to beguile the time by whistling a popular air with great apparent satisfaction.

‘What do you want here, you scoundrel?’ exclaimed Mr. Alexander Trott, with a proper appearance of indignation at his detention.

The boots beat time with his head, as he looked gently round at Mr. Trott with a smile of pity, and whistled an adagio movement.

‘Do you attend in this room by Mr. Overton’s desire?’ inquired Trott, rather astonished at the man’s demeanour.

‘Keep yourself to yourself, young feller,’ calmly responded the boots, ‘and don’t say nothing to nobody.’ And he whistled again.

‘Now mind!’ ejaculated Mr. Trott, anxious to keep up the farce of wishing with great earnestness to fight a duel if they’d let him. ‘I protest against being kept here. I deny that I have any intention of fighting with anybody. But as it’s useless contending with superior numbers, I shall sit quietly down.’

‘You’d better,’ observed the placid boots, shaking the large stick expressively.

‘Under protest, however,’ added Alexander Trott, seating himself with indignation in his face, but great content in his heart. ‘Under protest.’

‘Oh, certainly!’ responded the boots; ‘anything you please. If you’re happy, I’m transported; only don’t talk too much—it’ll make you worse.’

‘Make me worse?’ exclaimed Trott, in unfeigned astonishment: ‘the man’s drunk!’

‘You’d better be quiet, young feller,’ remarked the boots, going through a threatening piece of pantomime with the stick.

‘Or mad!’ said Mr. Trott, rather alarmed. ‘Leave the room, sir, and tell them to send somebody else.’

‘Won’t do!’ replied the boots.

‘Leave the room!’ shouted Trott, ringing the bell violently: for he began to be alarmed on a new score.

‘Leave that ’ere bell alone, you wretched loo-nattic!’ said the boots, suddenly forcing the unfortunate Trott back into his chair, and brandishing the stick aloft. ‘Be quiet, you miserable object, and don’t let everybody know there’s a madman in the house.’

‘He is a madman! He is a madman!’ exclaimed the terrified Mr. Trott, gazing on the one eye of the red-headed boots with a look of abject horror.

‘Madman!’ replied the boots, ‘dam’me, I think he is a madman with a vengeance! Listen to me, you unfortunate. Ah! would you?’ [a slight tap on the head with the large stick, as Mr. Trott made another move towards the bell-handle] ‘I caught you there! did I?’

‘Spare my life!’ exclaimed Trott, raising his hands imploringly.

‘I don’t want your life,’ replied the boots, disdainfully, ‘though I think it ’ud be a charity if somebody took it.’

‘No, no, it wouldn’t,’ interrupted poor Mr. Trott, hurriedly, ‘no, no, it wouldn’t! I—I-’d rather keep it!’

‘O werry well,’ said the boots: ‘that’s a mere matter of taste—ev’ry one to his liking. Hows’ever, all I’ve got to say is this here: You sit quietly down in that chair, and I’ll sit hoppersite you here, and if you keep quiet and don’t stir, I won’t damage you; but, if you move hand or foot till half-past twelve o’clock, I shall alter the expression of your countenance so completely, that the next time you look in the glass you’ll ask vether you’re gone out of town, and ven you’re likely to come back again. So sit down.’

‘I will—I will,’ responded the victim of mistakes; and down sat Mr. Trott and down sat the boots too, exactly opposite him, with the stick ready for immediate action in case of emergency.

Long and dreary were the hours that followed. The bell of Great Winglebury church had just struck ten, and two hours and a half would probably elapse before succour arrived.

For half an hour, the noise occasioned by shutting up the shops in the street beneath, betokened something like life in the town, and rendered Mr. Trott’s situation a little less insupportable; but, when even these ceased, and nothing was heard beyond the occasional rattling of a post-chaise as it drove up the yard to change horses, and then drove away again, or the clattering of horses’ hoofs in the stables behind, it became almost unbearable. The boots occasionally moved an inch or two, to knock superfluous bits of wax off the candles, which were burning low, but instantaneously resumed his former position; and as he remembered to have heard, somewhere or other, that the human eye had an unfailing effect in controlling mad people, he kept his solitary organ of vision constantly fixed on Mr. Alexander Trott. That unfortunate individual stared at his companion in his turn, until his features grew more and more indistinct—his hair gradually less red—and the room more misty and obscure. Mr. Alexander Trott fell into a sound sleep, from which he was awakened by a rumbling in the street, and a cry of ‘Chaise-and-four for number twenty-five!’ A bustle on the stairs succeeded; the room door was hastily thrown open; and Mr. Joseph Overton entered, followed by four stout waiters, and Mrs. Williamson, the stout landlady of the Winglebury Arms.

‘Mr. Overton!’ exclaimed Mr. Alexander Trott, jumping up in a frenzy. ‘Look at this man, sir; consider the situation in which I have been placed for three hours past—the person you sent to guard me, sir, was a madman—a madman—a raging, ravaging, furious madman.’

‘Bravo!’ whispered Mr. Overton.

‘Poor dear!’ said the compassionate Mrs. Williamson, ‘mad people always thinks other people’s mad.’

‘Poor dear!’ ejaculated Mr. Alexander Trott. ‘What the devil do you mean by poor dear! Are you the landlady of this house?’

‘Yes, yes,’ replied the stout old lady, ‘don’t exert yourself, there’s a dear! Consider your health, now; do.’

‘Exert myself!’ shouted Mr. Alexander Trott; ‘it’s a mercy, ma’am, that I have any breath to exert myself with! I might have been assassinated three hours ago by that one-eyed monster with the oakum head. How dare you have a madman, ma’am—how dare you have a madman, to assault and terrify the visitors to your house?’

‘I’ll never have another,’ said Mrs. Williamson, casting a look of reproach at the mayor.

‘Capital, capital,’ whispered Overton again, as he enveloped Mr. Alexander Trott in a thick travelling-cloak.

‘Capital, sir!’ exclaimed Trott, aloud; ‘it’s horrible. The very recollection makes me shudder. I’d rather fight four duels in three hours, if I survived the first three, than I’d sit for that time face to face with a madman.’

‘Keep it up, my lord, as you go down-stairs,’ whispered Overton, ‘your bill is paid, and your portmanteau in the chaise.’ And then he added aloud, ‘Now, waiters, the gentleman’s ready.’

At this signal, the waiters crowded round Mr. Alexander Trott. One took one arm; another, the other; a third, walked before with a candle; the fourth, behind with another candle; the boots and Mrs. Williamson brought up the rear; and down-stairs they went: Mr. Alexander Trott expressing alternately at the very top of his voice either his feigned reluctance to go, or his unfeigned indignation at being shut up with a madman.

Mr. Overton was waiting at the chaise-door, the boys were ready mounted, and a few ostlers and stable nondescripts were standing round to witness the departure of ‘the mad gentleman.’ Mr. Alexander Trott’s foot was on the step, when he observed (which the dim light had prevented his doing before) a figure seated in the chaise, closely muffled up in a cloak like his own.

‘Who’s that?’ he inquired of Overton, in a whisper.

‘Hush, hush,’ replied the mayor: ‘the other party of course.’

‘The other party!’ exclaimed Trott, with an effort to retreat.

‘Yes, yes; you’ll soon find that out, before you go far, I should think—but make a noise, you’ll excite suspicion if you whisper to me so much.’

‘I won’t go in this chaise!’ shouted Mr. Alexander Trott, all his original fears recurring with tenfold violence. ‘I shall be assassinated—I shall be—’

‘Bravo, bravo,’ whispered Overton. ‘I’ll push you in.’

‘But I won’t go,’ exclaimed Mr. Trott. ‘Help here, help! They’re carrying me away against my will. This is a plot to murder me.’

‘Poor dear!’ said Mrs. Williamson again.

‘Now, boys, put ’em along,’ cried the mayor, pushing Trott in and slamming the door. ‘Off with you, as quick as you can, and stop for nothing till you come to the next stage—all right!’

‘Horses are paid, Tom,’ screamed Mrs. Williamson; and away went the chaise, at the rate of fourteen miles an hour, with Mr. Alexander Trott and Miss Julia Manners carefully shut up in the inside.

Mr. Alexander Trott remained coiled up in one corner of the chaise, and his mysterious companion in the other, for the first two or three miles; Mr. Trott edging more and more into his corner, as he felt his companion gradually edging more and more from hers; and vainly endeavouring in the darkness to catch a glimpse of the furious face of the supposed Horace Hunter.

‘We may speak now,’ said his fellow-traveller, at length; ‘the post-boys can neither see nor hear us.’

‘That’s not Hunter’s voice!’—thought Alexander, astonished.

‘Dear Lord Peter!’ said Miss Julia, most winningly: putting her arm on Mr. Trott’s shoulder. ‘Dear Lord Peter. Not a word?’

‘Why, it’s a woman!’ exclaimed Mr. Trott, in a low tone of excessive wonder.

‘Ah! Whose voice is that?’ said Julia; ‘’tis not Lord Peter’s.’

‘No,—it’s mine,’ replied Mr. Trott.

‘Yours!’ ejaculated Miss Julia Manners; ‘a strange man! Gracious heaven! How came you here!’

‘Whoever you are, you might have known that I came against my will, ma’am,’ replied Alexander, ‘for I made noise enough when I got in.’

‘Do you come from Lord Peter?’ inquired Miss Manners.

‘Confound Lord Peter,’ replied Trott pettishly. ‘I don’t know any Lord Peter. I never heard of him before to-night, when I’ve been Lord Peter’d by one and Lord Peter’d by another, till I verily believe I’m mad, or dreaming—’

‘Whither are we going?’ inquired the lady tragically.

‘How should I know, ma’am?’ replied Trott with singular coolness; for the events of the evening had completely hardened him.

‘Stop stop!’ cried the lady, letting down the front glasses of the chaise.

‘Stay, my dear ma’am!’ said Mr. Trott, pulling the glasses up again with one hand, and gently squeezing Miss Julia’s waist with the other. ‘There is some mistake here; give me till the end of this stage to explain my share of it. We must go so far; you cannot be set down here alone, at this hour of the night.’

The lady consented; the mistake was mutually explained. Mr. Trott was a young man, had highly promising whiskers, an undeniable tailor, and an insinuating address—he wanted nothing but valour, and who wants that with three thousand a-year? The lady had this, and more; she wanted a young husband, and the only course open to Mr. Trott to retrieve his disgrace was a rich wife. So, they came to the conclusion that it would be a pity to have all this trouble and expense for nothing; and that as they were so far on the road already, they had better go to Gretna Green, and marry each other; and they did so. And the very next preceding entry in the Blacksmith’s book, was an entry of the marriage of Emily Brown with Horace Hunter. Mr. Hunter took his wife home, and begged pardon, and was pardoned; and Mr. Trott took his wife home, begged pardon too, and was pardoned also. And Lord Peter, who had been detained beyond his time by drinking champagne and riding a steeple-chase, went back to the Honourable Augustus Flair’s, and drank more champagne, and rode another steeple-chase, and was thrown and killed. And Horace Hunter took great credit to himself for practising on the cowardice of Alexander Trott; and all these circumstances were discovered in time, and carefully noted down; and if you ever stop a week at the Winglebury Arms, they will give you just this account of The Great Winglebury Duel.

CHAPTER IX—MRS. JOSEPH PORTER

Most extensive were the preparations at Rose Villa, Clapham Rise, in the occupation of Mr. Gattleton (a stock-broker in especially comfortable circumstances), and great was the anxiety of Mr. Gattleton’s interesting family, as the day fixed for the representation of the Private Play which had been ‘many months in preparation,’ approached. The whole family was infected with the mania for Private Theatricals; the house, usually so clean and tidy, was, to use Mr. Gattleton’s expressive description, ‘regularly turned out o’ windows;’ the large dining-room, dismantled of its furniture, and ornaments, presented a strange jumble of flats, flies, wings, lamps, bridges, clouds, thunder and lightning, festoons and flowers, daggers and foil, and various other messes in theatrical slang included under the comprehensive name of ‘properties.’ The bedrooms were crowded with scenery, the kitchen was occupied by carpenters. Rehearsals took place every other night in the drawing-room, and every sofa in the house was more or less damaged by the perseverance and spirit with which Mr. Sempronius Gattleton, and Miss Lucina, rehearsed the smothering scene in ‘Othello’—it having been determined that that tragedy should form the first portion of the evening’s entertainments.

‘When we’re a leetle more perfect, I think it will go admirably,’ said Mr. Sempronius, addressing his corps dramatique, at the conclusion of the hundred and fiftieth rehearsal. In consideration of his sustaining the trifling inconvenience of bearing all the expenses of the play, Mr. Sempronius had been, in the most handsome manner, unanimously elected stage-manager. ‘Evans,’ continued Mr. Gattleton, the younger, addressing a tall, thin, pale young gentleman, with extensive whiskers—‘Evans, you play Roderigo beautifully.’

‘Beautifully,’ echoed the three Miss Gattletons; for Mr. Evans was pronounced by all his lady friends to be ‘quite a dear.’ He looked so interesting, and had such lovely whiskers: to say nothing of his talent for writing verses in albums and playing the flute! Roderigo simpered and bowed.

‘But I think,’ added the manager, ‘you are hardly perfect in the—fall—in the fencing-scene, where you are—you understand?’

‘It’s very difficult,’ said Mr. Evans, thoughtfully; ‘I’ve fallen about, a good deal, in our counting-house lately, for practice, only I find it hurts one so. Being obliged to fall backward you see, it bruises one’s head a good deal.’

‘But you must take care you don’t knock a wing down,’ said Mr. Gattleton, the elder, who had been appointed prompter, and who took as much interest in the play as the youngest of the company. ‘The stage is very narrow, you know.’

‘Oh! don’t be afraid,’ said Mr. Evans, with a very self-satisfied air; ‘I shall fall with my head “off,” and then I can’t do any harm.’

‘But, egad,’ said the manager, rubbing his hands, ‘we shall make a decided hit in “Masaniello.” Harleigh sings that music admirably.’

Everybody echoed the sentiment. Mr. Harleigh smiled, and looked foolish—not an unusual thing with him—hummed’ Behold how brightly breaks the morning,’ and blushed as red as the fisherman’s nightcap he was trying on.

‘Let’s see,’ resumed the manager, telling the number on his fingers, ‘we shall have three dancing female peasants, besides Fenella, and four fishermen. Then, there’s our man Tom; he can have a pair of ducks of mine, and a check shirt of Bob’s, and a red nightcap, and he’ll do for another—that’s five. In the choruses, of course, we can sing at the sides; and in the market-scene we can walk about in cloaks and things. When the revolt takes place, Tom must keep rushing in on one side and out on the other, with a pickaxe, as fast as he can. The effect will be electrical; it will look exactly as if there were an immense number of ’em. And in the eruption-scene we must burn the red fire, and upset the tea-trays, and make all sorts of noises—and it’s sure to do.’

‘Sure! sure!’ cried all the performers unĂ¢ voce—and away hurried Mr. Sempronius Gattleton to wash the burnt cork off his face, and superintend the ‘setting up’ of some of the amateur-painted, but never-sufficiently-to-be-admired, scenery.

Mrs. Gattleton was a kind, good-tempered, vulgar soul, exceedingly fond of her husband and children, and entertaining only three dislikes. In the first place, she had a natural antipathy to anybody else’s unmarried daughters; in the second, she was in bodily fear of anything in the shape of ridicule; lastly—almost a necessary consequence of this feeling—she regarded, with feelings of the utmost horror, one Mrs. Joseph Porter over the way. However, the good folks of Clapham and its vicinity stood very much in awe of scandal and sarcasm; and thus Mrs. Joseph Porter was courted, and flattered, and caressed, and invited, for much the same reason that induces a poor author, without a farthing in his pocket, to behave with extraordinary civility to a twopenny postman.

‘Never mind, ma,’ said Miss Emma Porter, in colloquy with her respected relative, and trying to look unconcerned; ‘if they had invited me, you know that neither you nor pa would have allowed me to take part in such an exhibition.’

‘Just what I should have thought from your high sense of propriety,’ returned the mother. ‘I am glad to see, Emma, you know how to designate the proceeding.’ Miss P., by-the-bye, had only the week before made ‘an exhibition’ of herself for four days, behind a counter at a fancy fair, to all and every of her Majesty’s liege subjects who were disposed to pay a shilling each for the privilege of seeing some four dozen girls flirting with strangers, and playing at shop.

‘There!’ said Mrs. Porter, looking out of window; ‘there are two rounds of beef and a ham going in—clearly for sandwiches; and Thomas, the pastry-cook, says, there have been twelve dozen tarts ordered, besides blancmange and jellies. Upon my word! think of the Miss Gattletons in fancy dresses, too!’

‘Oh, it’s too ridiculous!’ said Miss Porter, hysterically.

‘I’ll manage to put them a little out of conceit with the business, however,’ said Mrs. Porter; and out she went on her charitable errand.

‘Well, my dear Mrs. Gattleton,’ said Mrs. Joseph Porter, after they had been closeted for some time, and when, by dint of indefatigable pumping, she had managed to extract all the news about the play, ‘well, my dear, people may say what they please; indeed we know they will, for some folks are so ill-natured. Ah, my dear Miss Lucina, how d’ye do? I was just telling your mamma that I have heard it said, that—’

‘What?’

‘Mrs. Porter is alluding to the play, my dear,’ said Mrs. Gattleton; ‘she was, I am sorry to say, just informing me that—’

‘Oh, now pray don’t mention it,’ interrupted Mrs. Porter; ‘it’s most absurd—quite as absurd as young What’s-his-name saying he wondered how Miss Caroline, with such a foot and ankle, could have the vanity to play Fenella.’

‘Highly impertinent, whoever said it,’ said Mrs. Gattleton, bridling up.

‘Certainly, my dear,’ chimed in the delighted Mrs. Porter; ‘most undoubtedly! Because, as I said, if Miss Caroline does play Fenella, it doesn’t follow, as a matter of course, that she should think she has a pretty foot;—and then—such puppies as these young men are—he had the impudence to say, that—’

How far the amiable Mrs. Porter might have succeeded in her pleasant purpose, it is impossible to say, had not the entrance of Mr. Thomas Balderstone, Mrs. Gattleton’s brother, familiarly called in the family ‘Uncle Tom,’ changed the course of conversation, and suggested to her mind an excellent plan of operation on the evening of the play.

Uncle Tom was very rich, and exceedingly fond of his nephews and nieces: as a matter of course, therefore, he was an object of great importance in his own family. He was one of the best-hearted men in existence: always in a good temper, and always talking. It was his boast that he wore top-boots on all occasions, and had never worn a black silk neckerchief; and it was his pride that he remembered all the principal plays of Shakspeare from beginning to end—and so he did. The result of this parrot-like accomplishment was, that he was not only perpetually quoting himself, but that he could never sit by, and hear a misquotation from the ‘Swan of Avon’ without setting the unfortunate delinquent right. He was also something of a wag; never missed an opportunity of saying what he considered a good thing, and invariably laughed until he cried at anything that appeared to him mirth-moving or ridiculous.

‘Well, girls!’ said Uncle Tom, after the preparatory ceremony of kissing and how-d’ye-do-ing had been gone through—‘how d’ye get on? Know your parts, eh?—Lucina, my dear, act II., scene I—place, left-cue—“Unknown fate,”—What’s next, eh?—Go on—“The Heavens—”’

‘Oh, yes,’ said Miss Lucina, ‘I recollect—

“The heavens forbid
But that our loves and comforts should increase
Even as our days do grow!”’

‘Make a pause here and there,’ said the old gentleman, who was a great critic. ‘“But that our loves and comforts should increase”—emphasis on the last syllable, “crease,”—loud “even,”—one, two, three, four; then loud again, “as our days do grow;” emphasis on days. That’s the way, my dear; trust to your uncle for emphasis. Ah! Sem, my boy, how are you?’

‘Very well, thankee, uncle,’ returned Mr. Sempronius, who had just appeared, looking something like a ringdove, with a small circle round each eye: the result of his constant corking. ‘Of course we see you on Thursday.’

‘Of course, of course, my dear boy.’

‘What a pity it is your nephew didn’t think of making you prompter, Mr. Balderstone!’ whispered Mrs. Joseph Porter; ‘you would have been invaluable.’

‘Well, I flatter myself, I should have been tolerably up to the thing,’ responded Uncle Tom.

‘I must bespeak sitting next you on the night,’ resumed Mrs. Porter; ‘and then, if our dear young friends here, should be at all wrong, you will be able to enlighten me. I shall be so interested.’

‘I am sure I shall be most happy to give you any assistance in my power’

‘Mind, it’s a bargain.’

‘Certainly.’

‘I don’t know how it is,’ said Mrs. Gattleton to her daughters, as they were sitting round the fire in the evening, looking over their parts, ‘but I really very much wish Mrs. Joseph Porter wasn’t coming on Thursday. I am sure she’s scheming something.’

‘She can’t make us ridiculous, however,’ observed Mr. Sempronius Gattleton, haughtily.

The long-looked-for Thursday arrived in due course, and brought with it, as Mr. Gattleton, senior, philosophically observed, ‘no disappointments, to speak of.’ True, it was yet a matter of doubt whether Cassio would be enabled to get into the dress which had been sent for him from the masquerade warehouse. It was equally uncertain whether the principal female singer would be sufficiently recovered from the influenza to make her appearance; Mr. Harleigh, the Masaniello of the night, was hoarse, and rather unwell, in consequence of the great quantity of lemon and sugar-candy he had eaten to improve his voice; and two flutes and a violoncello had pleaded severe colds. What of that? the audience were all coming. Everybody knew his part: the dresses were covered with tinsel and spangles; the white plumes looked beautiful; Mr. Evans had practised falling until he was bruised from head to foot and quite perfect; Iago was sure that, in the stabbing-scene, he should make ‘a decided hit.’ A self-taught deaf gentleman, who had kindly offered to bring his flute, would be a most valuable addition to the orchestra; Miss Jenkins’s talent for the piano was too well known to be doubted for an instant; Mr. Cape had practised the violin accompaniment with her frequently; and Mr. Brown, who had kindly undertaken, at a few hours’ notice, to bring his violoncello, would, no doubt, manage extremely well.

Seven o’clock came, and so did the audience; all the rank and fashion of Clapham and its vicinity was fast filling the theatre. There were the Smiths, the Gubbinses, the Nixons, the Dixons, the Hicksons, people with all sorts of names, two aldermen, a sheriff in perspective, Sir Thomas Glumper (who had been knighted in the last reign for carrying up an address on somebody’s escaping from nothing); and last, not least, there were Mrs. Joseph Porter and Uncle Tom, seated in the centre of the third row from the stage; Mrs. P. amusing Uncle Tom with all sorts of stories, and Uncle Tom amusing every one else by laughing most immoderately.

Ting, ting, ting! went the prompter’s bell at eight o’clock precisely, and dash went the orchestra into the overture to ‘The Men of Prometheus.’ The pianoforte player hammered away with laudable perseverance; and the violoncello, which struck in at intervals, ‘sounded very well, considering.’ The unfortunate individual, however, who had undertaken to play the flute accompaniment ‘at sight,’ found, from fatal experience, the perfect truth of the old adage, ‘ought of sight, out of mind;’ for being very near-sighted, and being placed at a considerable distance from his music-book, all he had an opportunity of doing was to play a bar now and then in the wrong place, and put the other performers out. It is, however, but justice to Mr. Brown to say that he did this to admiration. The overture, in fact, was not unlike a race between the different instruments; the piano came in first by several bars, and the violoncello next, quite distancing the poor flute; for the deaf gentleman too-too’d away, quite unconscious that he was at all wrong, until apprised, by the applause of the audience, that the overture was concluded. A considerable bustle and shuffling of feet was then heard upon the stage, accompanied by whispers of ‘Here’s a pretty go!—what’s to be done?’ &c. The audience applauded again, by way of raising the spirits of the performers; and then Mr. Sempronius desired the prompter, in a very audible voice, to ‘clear the stage, and ring up.’

Ting, ting, ting! went the bell again. Everybody sat down; the curtain shook; rose sufficiently high to display several pair of yellow boots paddling about; and there remained.

Ting, ting, ting! went the bell again. The curtain was violently convulsed, but rose no higher; the audience tittered; Mrs. Porter looked at Uncle Tom; Uncle Tom looked at everybody, rubbing his hands, and laughing with perfect rapture. After as much ringing with the little bell as a muffin-boy would make in going down a tolerably long street, and a vast deal of whispering, hammering, and calling for nails and cord, the curtain at length rose, and discovered Mr. Sempronius Gattleton solus, and decked for Othello. After three distinct rounds of applause, during which Mr. Sempronius applied his right hand to his left breast, and bowed in the most approved manner, the manager advanced and said:

‘Ladies and Gentlemen—I assure you it is with sincere regret, that I regret to be compelled to inform you, that Iago who was to have played Mr. Wilson—I beg your pardon, Ladies and Gentlemen, but I am naturally somewhat agitated (applause)—I mean, Mr. Wilson, who was to have played Iago, is—that is, has been—or, in other words, Ladies and Gentlemen, the fact is, that I have just received a note, in which I am informed that Iago is unavoidably detained at the Post-office this evening. Under these circumstances, I trust—a—a—amateur performance—a—another gentleman undertaken to read the part—request indulgence for a short time—courtesy and kindness of a British audience.’ Overwhelming applause. Exit Mr. Sempronius Gattleton, and curtain falls.

The audience were, of course, exceedingly good-humoured; the whole business was a joke; and accordingly they waited for an hour with the utmost patience, being enlivened by an interlude of rout-cakes and lemonade. It appeared by Mr. Sempronius’s subsequent explanation, that the delay would not have been so great, had it not so happened that when the substitute Iago had finished dressing, and just as the play was on the point of commencing, the original Iago unexpectedly arrived. The former was therefore compelled to undress, and the latter to dress for his part; which, as he found some difficulty in getting into his clothes, occupied no inconsiderable time. At last, the tragedy began in real earnest. It went off well enough, until the third scene of the first act, in which Othello addresses the Senate: the only remarkable circumstance being, that as Iago could not get on any of the stage boots, in consequence of his feet being violently swelled with the heat and excitement, he was under the necessity of playing the part in a pair of Wellingtons, which contrasted rather oddly with his richly embroidered pantaloons. When Othello started with his address to the Senate (whose dignity was represented by, the Duke, a carpenter, two men engaged on the recommendation of the gardener, and a boy), Mrs. Porter found the opportunity she so anxiously sought.

Mr. Sempronius proceeded:

‘“Most potent, grave, and reverend signiors,
My very noble and approv’d good masters,
That I have ta’en away this old man’s daughter,
It is most true;—rude am I in my speech—”’

‘Is that right?’ whispered Mrs. Porter to Uncle Tom.

‘No.’

‘Tell him so, then.’

‘I will. Sem!’ called out Uncle Tom, ‘that’s wrong, my boy.’

‘What’s wrong, uncle?’ demanded Othello, quite forgetting the dignity of his situation.

‘You’ve left out something. “True I have married—”’

‘Oh, ah!’ said Mr. Sempronius, endeavouring to hide his confusion as much and as ineffectually as the audience attempted to conceal their half-suppressed tittering, by coughing with extraordinary violence—

—‘“true I have married her;—
The very head and front of my offending
Hath this extent; no more.”

(Aside) Why don’t you prompt, father?’

‘Because I’ve mislaid my spectacles,’ said poor Mr. Gattleton, almost dead with the heat and bustle.

‘There, now it’s “rude am I,”’ said Uncle Tom.

‘Yes, I know it is,’ returned the unfortunate manager, proceeding with his part.

It would be useless and tiresome to quote the number of instances in which Uncle Tom, now completely in his element, and instigated by the mischievous Mrs. Porter, corrected the mistakes of the performers; suffice it to say, that having mounted his hobby, nothing could induce him to dismount; so, during the whole remainder of the play, he performed a kind of running accompaniment, by muttering everybody’s part as it was being delivered, in an under-tone. The audience were highly amused, Mrs. Porter delighted, the performers embarrassed; Uncle Tom never was better pleased in all his life; and Uncle Tom’s nephews and nieces had never, although the declared heirs to his large property, so heartily wished him gathered to his fathers as on that memorable occasion.

Several other minor causes, too, united to damp the ardour of the dramatis personae. None of the performers could walk in their tights, or move their arms in their jackets; the pantaloons were too small, the boots too large, and the swords of all shapes and sizes. Mr. Evans, naturally too tall for the scenery, wore a black velvet hat with immense white plumes, the glory of which was lost in ‘the flies;’ and the only other inconvenience of which was, that when it was off his head he could not put it on, and when it was on he could not take it off. Notwithstanding all his practice, too, he fell with his head and shoulders as neatly through one of the side scenes, as a harlequin would jump through a panel in a Christmas pantomime. The pianoforte player, overpowered by the extreme heat of the room, fainted away at the commencement of the entertainments, leaving the music of ‘Masaniello’ to the flute and violoncello. The orchestra complained that Mr. Harleigh put them out, and Mr. Harleigh declared that the orchestra prevented his singing a note. The fishermen, who were hired for the occasion, revolted to the very life, positively refusing to play without an increased allowance of spirits; and, their demand being complied with, getting drunk in the eruption-scene as naturally as possible. The red fire, which was burnt at the conclusion of the second act, not only nearly suffocated the audience, but nearly set the house on fire into the bargain; and, as it was, the remainder of the piece was acted in a thick fog.

In short, the whole affair was, as Mrs. Joseph Porter triumphantly told everybody, ‘a complete failure.’ The audience went home at four o’clock in the morning, exhausted with laughter, suffering from severe headaches, and smelling terribly of brimstone and gunpowder. The Messrs. Gattleton, senior and junior, retired to rest, with the vague idea of emigrating to Swan River early in the ensuing week.

Rose Villa has once again resumed its wonted appearance; the dining-room furniture has been replaced; the tables are as nicely polished as formerly; the horsehair chairs are ranged against the wall, as regularly as ever; Venetian blinds have been fitted to every window in the house to intercept the prying gaze of Mrs. Joseph Porter. The subject of theatricals is never mentioned in the Gattleton family, unless, indeed, by Uncle Tom, who cannot refrain from sometimes expressing his surprise and regret at finding that his nephews and nieces appear to have lost the relish they once possessed for the beauties of Shakspeare, and quotations from the works of that immortal bard.

CHAPTER X—A PASSAGE IN THE LIFE OF MR. WATKINS TOTTLE

I.

Matrimony is proverbially a serious undertaking. Like an over-weening predilection for brandy-and-water, it is a misfortune into which a man easily falls, and from which he finds it remarkably difficult to extricate himself. It is of no use telling a man who is timorous on these points, that it is but one plunge, and all is over. They say the same thing at the Old Bailey, and the unfortunate victims derive as much comfort from the assurance in the one case as in the other.

Mr. Watkins Tottle was a rather uncommon compound of strong uxorious inclinations, and an unparalleled degree of anti-connubial timidity. He was about fifty years of age; stood four feet six inches and three-quarters in his socks—for he never stood in stockings at all—plump, clean, and rosy. He looked something like a vignette to one of Richardson’s novels, and had a clean-cravatish formality of manner, and kitchen-pokerness of carriage, which Sir Charles Grandison himself might have envied. He lived on an annuity, which was well adapted to the individual who received it, in one respect—it was rather small. He received it in periodical payments on every alternate Monday; but he ran himself out, about a day after the expiration of the first week, as regularly as an eight-day clock; and then, to make the comparison complete, his landlady wound him up, and he went on with a regular tick.

Mr. Watkins Tottle had long lived in a state of single blessedness, as bachelors say, or single cursedness, as spinsters think; but the idea of matrimony had never ceased to haunt him. Wrapt in profound reveries on this never-failing theme, fancy transformed his small parlour in Cecil-street, Strand, into a neat house in the suburbs; the half-hundredweight of coals under the kitchen-stairs suddenly sprang up into three tons of the best Walls-end; his small French bedstead was converted into a regular matrimonial four-poster; and in the empty chair on the opposite side of the fireplace, imagination seated a beautiful young lady, with a very little independence or will of her own, and a very large independence under a will of her father’s.

‘Who’s there?’ inquired Mr. Watkins Tottle, as a gentle tap at his room-door disturbed these meditations one evening.

‘Tottle, my dear fellow, how do you do?’ said a short elderly gentleman with a gruffish voice, bursting into the room, and replying to the question by asking another.

‘Told you I should drop in some evening,’ said the short gentleman, as he delivered his hat into Tottle’s hand, after a little struggling and dodging.

‘Delighted to see you, I’m sure,’ said Mr. Watkins Tottle, wishing internally that his visitor had ‘dropped in’ to the Thames at the bottom of the street, instead of dropping into his parlour. The fortnight was nearly up, and Watkins was hard up.

‘How is Mrs. Gabriel Parsons?’ inquired Tottle.

‘Quite well, thank you,’ replied Mr. Gabriel Parsons, for that was the name the short gentleman revelled in. Here there was a pause; the short gentleman looked at the left hob of the fireplace; Mr. Watkins Tottle stared vacancy out of countenance.

‘Quite well,’ repeated the short gentleman, when five minutes had expired. ‘I may say remarkably well.’ And he rubbed the palms of his hands as hard as if he were going to strike a light by friction.

‘What will you take?’ inquired Tottle, with the desperate suddenness of a man who knew that unless the visitor took his leave, he stood very little chance of taking anything else.

‘Oh, I don’t know—have you any whiskey?’

‘Why,’ replied Tottle, very slowly, for all this was gaining time, ‘I had some capital, and remarkably strong whiskey last week; but it’s all gone—and therefore its strength—’

‘Is much beyond proof; or, in other words, impossible to be proved,’ said the short gentleman; and he laughed very heartily, and seemed quite glad the whiskey had been drunk. Mr. Tottle smiled—but it was the smile of despair. When Mr. Gabriel Parsons had done laughing, he delicately insinuated that, in the absence of whiskey, he would not be averse to brandy. And Mr. Watkins Tottle, lighting a flat candle very ostentatiously; and displaying an immense key, which belonged to the street-door, but which, for the sake of appearances, occasionally did duty in an imaginary wine-cellar; left the room to entreat his landlady to charge their glasses, and charge them in the bill. The application was successful; the spirits were speedily called—not from the vasty deep, but the adjacent wine-vaults. The two short gentlemen mixed their grog; and then sat cosily down before the fire—a pair of shorts, airing themselves.

‘Tottle,’ said Mr. Gabriel Parsons, ‘you know my way—off-hand, open, say what I mean, mean what I say, hate reserve, and can’t bear affectation. One, is a bad domino which only hides what good people have about ’em, without making the bad look better; and the other is much about the same thing as pinking a white cotton stocking to make it look like a silk one. Now listen to what I’m going to say.’

Here, the little gentleman paused, and took a long pull at his brandy-and-water. Mr. Watkins Tottle took a sip of his, stirred the fire, and assumed an air of profound attention.

‘It’s of no use humming and ha’ing about the matter,’ resumed the short gentleman.—‘You want to get married.’

‘Why,’ replied Mr. Watkins Tottle evasively; for he trembled violently, and felt a sudden tingling throughout his whole frame; ‘why—I should certainly—at least, I think I should like—’

‘Won’t do,’ said the short gentleman.—‘Plain and free—or there’s an end of the matter. Do you want money?’

‘You know I do.’

‘You admire the sex?’

‘I do.’

‘And you’d like to be married?’

‘Certainly.’

‘Then you shall be. There’s an end of that.’ Thus saying, Mr. Gabriel Parsons took a pinch of snuff, and mixed another glass.

‘Let me entreat you to be more explanatory,’ said Tottle. ‘Really, as the party principally interested, I cannot consent to be disposed of, in this way.’

‘I’ll tell you,’ replied Mr. Gabriel Parsons, warming with the subject, and the brandy-and-water—‘I know a lady—she’s stopping with my wife now—who is just the thing for you. Well educated; talks French; plays the piano; knows a good deal about flowers, and shells, and all that sort of thing; and has five hundred a year, with an uncontrolled power of disposing of it, by her last will and testament.’

‘I’ll pay my addresses to her,’ said Mr. Watkins Tottle. ‘She isn’t very young—is she?’

‘Not very; just the thing for you. I’ve said that already.’

‘What coloured hair has the lady?’ inquired Mr. Watkins Tottle.

‘Egad, I hardly recollect,’ replied Gabriel, with coolness. ‘Perhaps I ought to have observed, at first, she wears a front.’

‘A what?’ ejaculated Tottle.

‘One of those things with curls, along here,’ said Parsons, drawing a straight line across his forehead, just over his eyes, in illustration of his meaning. ‘I know the front’s black; I can’t speak quite positively about her own hair; because, unless one walks behind her, and catches a glimpse of it under her bonnet, one seldom sees it; but I should say that it was rather lighter than the front—a shade of a greyish tinge, perhaps.’

Mr. Watkins Tottle looked as if he had certain misgivings of mind. Mr. Gabriel Parsons perceived it, and thought it would be safe to begin the next attack without delay.

‘Now, were you ever in love, Tottle?’ he inquired.

Mr. Watkins Tottle blushed up to the eyes, and down to the chin, and exhibited a most extensive combination of colours as he confessed the soft impeachment.

‘I suppose you popped the question, more than once, when you were a young—I beg your pardon—a younger—man,’ said Parsons.

‘Never in my life!’ replied his friend, apparently indignant at being suspected of such an act. ‘Never! The fact is, that I entertain, as you know, peculiar opinions on these subjects. I am not afraid of ladies, young or old—far from it; but, I think, that in compliance with the custom of the present day, they allow too much freedom of speech and manner to marriageable men. Now, the fact is, that anything like this easy freedom I never could acquire; and as I am always afraid of going too far, I am generally, I dare say, considered formal and cold.’

‘I shouldn’t wonder if you were,’ replied Parsons, gravely; ‘I shouldn’t wonder. However, you’ll be all right in this case; for the strictness and delicacy of this lady’s ideas greatly exceed your own. Lord bless you, why, when she came to our house, there was an old portrait of some man or other, with two large, black, staring eyes, hanging up in her bedroom; she positively refused to go to bed there, till it was taken down, considering it decidedly wrong.’

‘I think so, too,’ said Mr. Watkins Tottle; ‘certainly.’

‘And then, the other night—I never laughed so much in my life’—resumed Mr. Gabriel Parsons; ‘I had driven home in an easterly wind, and caught a devil of a face-ache. Well; as Fanny—that’s Mrs. Parsons, you know—and this friend of hers, and I, and Frank Ross, were playing a rubber, I said, jokingly, that when I went to bed I should wrap my head in Fanny’s flannel petticoat. She instantly threw up her cards, and left the room.’

‘Quite right!’ said Mr. Watkins Tottle; ‘she could not possibly have behaved in a more dignified manner. What did you do?’

‘Do?—Frank took dummy; and I won sixpence.’

‘But, didn’t you apologise for hurting her feelings?’

‘Devil a bit. Next morning at breakfast, we talked it over. She contended that any reference to a flannel petticoat was improper;—men ought not to be supposed to know that such things were. I pleaded my coverture; being a married man.’

‘And what did the lady say to that?’ inquired Tottle, deeply interested.

‘Changed her ground, and said that Frank being a single man, its impropriety was obvious.’

‘Noble-minded creature!’ exclaimed the enraptured Tottle.

‘Oh! both Fanny and I said, at once, that she was regularly cut out for you.’

A gleam of placid satisfaction shone on the circular face of Mr. Watkins Tottle, as he heard the prophecy.

‘There’s one thing I can’t understand,’ said Mr. Gabriel Parsons, as he rose to depart; ‘I cannot, for the life and soul of me, imagine how the deuce you’ll ever contrive to come together. The lady would certainly go into convulsions if the subject were mentioned.’ Mr. Gabriel Parsons sat down again, and laughed until he was weak. Tottle owed him money, so he had a perfect right to laugh at Tottle’s expense.

Mr. Watkins Tottle feared, in his own mind, that this was another characteristic which he had in common with this modern Lucretia. He, however, accepted the invitation to dine with the Parsonses on the next day but one, with great firmness: and looked forward to the introduction, when again left alone, with tolerable composure.

The sun that rose on the next day but one, had never beheld a sprucer personage on the outside of the Norwood stage, than Mr. Watkins Tottle; and when the coach drew up before a cardboard-looking house with disguised chimneys, and a lawn like a large sheet of green letter-paper, he certainly had never lighted to his place of destination a gentleman who felt more uncomfortable.

The coach stopped, and Mr. Watkins Tottle jumped—we beg his pardon—alighted, with great dignity. ‘All right!’ said he, and away went the coach up the hill with that beautiful equanimity of pace for which ‘short’ stages are generally remarkable.

Mr. Watkins Tottle gave a faltering jerk to the handle of the garden-gate bell. He essayed a more energetic tug, and his previous nervousness was not at all diminished by hearing the bell ringing like a fire alarum.

‘Is Mr. Parsons at home?’ inquired Tottle of the man who opened the gate. He could hardly hear himself speak, for the bell had not yet done tolling.

‘Here I am,’ shouted a voice on the lawn,—and there was Mr. Gabriel Parsons in a flannel jacket, running backwards and forwards, from a wicket to two hats piled on each other, and from the two hats to the wicket, in the most violent manner, while another gentleman with his coat off was getting down the area of the house, after a ball. When the gentleman without the coat had found it—which he did in less than ten minutes—he ran back to the hats, and Gabriel Parsons pulled up. Then, the gentleman without the coat called out ‘play,’ very loudly, and bowled. Then Mr. Gabriel Parsons knocked the ball several yards, and took another run. Then, the other gentleman aimed at the wicket, and didn’t hit it; and Mr. Gabriel Parsons, having finished running on his own account, laid down the bat and ran after the ball, which went into a neighbouring field. They called this cricket.

‘Tottle, will you “go in?”’ inquired Mr. Gabriel Parsons, as he approached him, wiping the perspiration off his face.

Mr. Watkins Tottle declined the offer, the bare idea of accepting which made him even warmer than his friend.

‘Then we’ll go into the house, as it’s past four, and I shall have to wash my hands before dinner,’ said Mr. Gabriel Parsons. ‘Here, I hate ceremony, you know! Timson, that’s Tottle—Tottle, that’s Timson; bred for the church, which I fear will never be bread for him;’ and he chuckled at the old joke. Mr. Timson bowed carelessly. Mr. Watkins Tottle bowed stiffly. Mr. Gabriel Parsons led the way to the house. He was a rich sugar-baker, who mistook rudeness for honesty, and abrupt bluntness for an open and candid manner; many besides Gabriel mistake bluntness for sincerity.

Mrs. Gabriel Parsons received the visitors most graciously on the steps, and preceded them to the drawing-room. On the sofa, was seated a lady of very prim appearance, and remarkably inanimate. She was one of those persons at whose age it is impossible to make any reasonable guess; her features might have been remarkably pretty when she was younger, and they might always have presented the same appearance. Her complexion—with a slight trace of powder here and there—was as clear as that of a well-made wax doll, and her face as expressive. She was handsomely dressed, and was winding up a gold watch.

‘Miss Lillerton, my dear, this is our friend Mr. Watkins Tottle; a very old acquaintance I assure you,’ said Mrs. Parsons, presenting the Strephon of Cecil-street, Strand. The lady rose, and made a deep courtesy; Mr. Watkins Tottle made a bow.

‘Splendid, majestic creature!’ thought Tottle.

Mr. Timson advanced, and Mr. Watkins Tottle began to hate him. Men generally discover a rival, instinctively, and Mr. Watkins Tottle felt that his hate was deserved.

‘May I beg,’ said the reverend gentleman,—‘May I beg to call upon you, Miss Lillerton, for some trifling donation to my soup, coals, and blanket distribution society?’

‘Put my name down, for two sovereigns, if you please,’ responded Miss Lillerton.

‘You are truly charitable, madam,’ said the Reverend Mr. Timson, ‘and we know that charity will cover a multitude of sins. Let me beg you to understand that I do not say this from the supposition that you have many sins which require palliation; believe me when I say that I never yet met any one who had fewer to atone for, than Miss Lillerton.’

Something like a bad imitation of animation lighted up the lady’s face, as she acknowledged the compliment. Watkins Tottle incurred the sin of wishing that the ashes of the Reverend Charles Timson were quietly deposited in the churchyard of his curacy, wherever it might be.

‘I’ll tell you what,’ interrupted Parsons, who had just appeared with clean hands, and a black coat, ‘it’s my private opinion, Timson, that your “distribution society” is rather a humbug.’

‘You are so severe,’ replied Timson, with a Christian smile: he disliked Parsons, but liked his dinners.

‘So positively unjust!’ said Miss Lillerton.

‘Certainly,’ observed Tottle. The lady looked up; her eyes met those of Mr. Watkins Tottle. She withdrew them in a sweet confusion, and Watkins Tottle did the same—the confusion was mutual.

‘Why,’ urged Mr. Parsons, pursuing his objections, ‘what on earth is the use of giving a man coals who has nothing to cook, or giving him blankets when he hasn’t a bed, or giving him soup when he requires substantial food?—“like sending them ruffles when wanting a shirt.” Why not give ’em a trifle of money, as I do, when I think they deserve it, and let them purchase what they think best? Why?—because your subscribers wouldn’t see their names flourishing in print on the church-door—that’s the reason.’

‘Really, Mr. Parsons, I hope you don’t mean to insinuate that I wish to see my name in print, on the church-door,’ interrupted Miss Lillerton.

‘I hope not,’ said Mr. Watkins Tottle, putting in another word, and getting another glance.

‘Certainly not,’ replied Parsons. ‘I dare say you wouldn’t mind seeing it in writing, though, in the church register—eh?’

‘Register! What register?’ inquired the lady gravely.

‘Why, the register of marriages, to be sure,’ replied Parsons, chuckling at the sally, and glancing at Tottle. Mr. Watkins Tottle thought he should have fainted for shame, and it is quite impossible to imagine what effect the joke would have had upon the lady, if dinner had not been, at that moment, announced. Mr. Watkins Tottle, with an unprecedented effort of gallantry, offered the tip of his little finger; Miss Lillerton accepted it gracefully, with maiden modesty; and they proceeded in due state to the dinner-table, where they were soon deposited side by side. The room was very snug, the dinner very good, and the little party in spirits. The conversation became pretty general, and when Mr. Watkins Tottle had extracted one or two cold observations from his neighbour, and had taken wine with her, he began to acquire confidence rapidly. The cloth was removed; Mrs. Gabriel Parsons drank four glasses of port on the plea of being a nurse just then; and Miss Lillerton took about the same number of sips, on the plea of not wanting any at all. At length, the ladies retired, to the great gratification of Mr. Gabriel Parsons, who had been coughing and frowning at his wife, for half-an-hour previously—signals which Mrs. Parsons never happened to observe, until she had been pressed to take her ordinary quantum, which, to avoid giving trouble, she generally did at once.

‘What do you think of her?’ inquired Mr. Gabriel Parsons of Mr. Watkins Tottle, in an under-tone.

‘I dote on her with enthusiasm already!’ replied Mr. Watkins Tottle.

‘Gentlemen, pray let us drink “the ladies,”’ said the Reverend Mr. Timson.

‘The ladies!’ said Mr. Watkins Tottle, emptying his glass. In the fulness of his confidence, he felt as if he could make love to a dozen ladies, off-hand.

‘Ah!’ said Mr. Gabriel Parsons, ‘I remember when I was a young man—fill your glass, Timson.’

‘I have this moment emptied it.’

‘Then fill again.’

‘I will,’ said Timson, suiting the action to the word.

‘I remember,’ resumed Mr. Gabriel Parsons, ‘when I was a younger man, with what a strange compound of feelings I used to drink that toast, and how I used to think every woman was an angel.’

‘Was that before you were married?’ mildly inquired Mr. Watkins Tottle.

‘Oh! certainly,’ replied Mr. Gabriel Parsons. ‘I have never thought so since; and a precious milksop I must have been, ever to have thought so at all. But, you know, I married Fanny under the oddest, and most ridiculous circumstances possible.’

‘What were they, if one may inquire?’ asked Timson, who had heard the story, on an average, twice a week for the last six months. Mr. Watkins Tottle listened attentively, in the hope of picking up some suggestion that might be useful to him in his new undertaking.

‘I spent my wedding-night in a back-kitchen chimney,’ said Parsons, by way of a beginning.

‘In a back-kitchen chimney!’ ejaculated Watkins Tottle. ‘How dreadful!’

‘Yes, it wasn’t very pleasant,’ replied the small host. ‘The fact is, Fanny’s father and mother liked me well enough as an individual, but had a decided objection to my becoming a husband. You see, I hadn’t any money in those days, and they had; and so they wanted Fanny to pick up somebody else. However, we managed to discover the state of each other’s affections somehow. I used to meet her, at some mutual friends’ parties; at first we danced together, and talked, and flirted, and all that sort of thing; then, I used to like nothing so well as sitting by her side—we didn’t talk so much then, but I remember I used to have a great notion of looking at her out of the extreme corner of my left eye—and then I got very miserable and sentimental, and began to write verses, and use Macassar oil. At last I couldn’t bear it any longer, and after I had walked up and down the sunny side of Oxford-street in tight boots for a week—and a devilish hot summer it was too—in the hope of meeting her, I sat down and wrote a letter, and begged her to manage to see me clandestinely, for I wanted to hear her decision from her own mouth. I said I had discovered, to my perfect satisfaction, that I couldn’t live without her, and that if she didn’t have me, I had made up my mind to take prussic acid, or take to drinking, or emigrate, so as to take myself off in some way or other. Well, I borrowed a pound, and bribed the housemaid to give her the note, which she did.’

‘And what was the reply?’ inquired Timson, who had found, before, that to encourage the repetition of old stories is to get a general invitation.

‘Oh, the usual one! Fanny expressed herself very miserable; hinted at the possibility of an early grave; said that nothing should induce her to swerve from the duty she owed her parents; implored me to forget her, and find out somebody more deserving, and all that sort of thing. She said she could, on no account, think of meeting me unknown to her pa and ma; and entreated me, as she should be in a particular part of Kensington Gardens at eleven o’clock next morning, not to attempt to meet her there.’

‘You didn’t go, of course?’ said Watkins Tottle.

‘Didn’t I?—Of course I did. There she was, with the identical housemaid in perspective, in order that there might be no interruption. We walked about, for a couple of hours; made ourselves delightfully miserable; and were regularly engaged. Then, we began to “correspond”—that is to say, we used to exchange about four letters a day; what we used to say in ’em I can’t imagine. And I used to have an interview, in the kitchen, or the cellar, or some such place, every evening. Well, things went on in this way for some time; and we got fonder of each other every day. At last, as our love was raised to such a pitch, and as my salary had been raised too, shortly before, we determined on a secret marriage. Fanny arranged to sleep at a friend’s, on the previous night; we were to be married early in the morning; and then we were to return to her home and be pathetic. She was to fall at the old gentleman’s feet, and bathe his boots with her tears; and I was to hug the old lady and call her “mother,” and use my pocket-handkerchief as much as possible. Married we were, the next morning; two girls-friends of Fanny’s—acting as bridesmaids; and a man, who was hired for five shillings and a pint of porter, officiating as father. Now, the old lady unfortunately put off her return from Ramsgate, where she had been paying a visit, until the next morning; and as we placed great reliance on her, we agreed to postpone our confession for four-and-twenty hours. My newly-made wife returned home, and I spent my wedding-day in strolling about Hampstead-heath, and execrating my father-in-law. Of course, I went to comfort my dear little wife at night, as much as I could, with the assurance that our troubles would soon be over. I opened the garden-gate, of which I had a key, and was shown by the servant to our old place of meeting—a back kitchen, with a stone-floor and a dresser: upon which, in the absence of chairs, we used to sit and make love.’

‘Make love upon a kitchen-dresser!’ interrupted Mr. Watkins Tottle, whose ideas of decorum were greatly outraged.

‘Ah! On a kitchen-dresser!’ replied Parsons. ‘And let me tell you, old fellow, that, if you were really over head-and-ears in love, and had no other place to make love in, you’d be devilish glad to avail yourself of such an opportunity. However, let me see;—where was I?’

‘On the dresser,’ suggested Timson.

‘Oh—ah! Well, here I found poor Fanny, quite disconsolate and uncomfortable. The old boy had been very cross all day, which made her feel still more lonely; and she was quite out of spirits. So, I put a good face on the matter, and laughed it off, and said we should enjoy the pleasures of a matrimonial life more by contrast; and, at length, poor Fanny brightened up a little. I stopped there, till about eleven o’clock, and, just as I was taking my leave for the fourteenth time, the girl came running down the stairs, without her shoes, in a great fright, to tell us that the old villain—Heaven forgive me for calling him so, for he is dead and gone now!—prompted I suppose by the prince of darkness, was coming down, to draw his own beer for supper—a thing he had not done before, for six months, to my certain knowledge; for the cask stood in that very back kitchen. If he discovered me there, explanation would have been out of the question; for he was so outrageously violent, when at all excited, that he never would have listened to me. There was only one thing to be done. The chimney was a very wide one; it had been originally built for an oven; went up perpendicularly for a few feet, and then shot backward and formed a sort of small cavern. My hopes and fortune—the means of our joint existence almost—were at stake. I scrambled in like a squirrel; coiled myself up in this recess; and, as Fanny and the girl replaced the deal chimney-board, I could see the light of the candle which my unconscious father-in-law carried in his hand. I heard him draw the beer; and I never heard beer run so slowly. He was just leaving the kitchen, and I was preparing to descend, when down came the infernal chimney-board with a tremendous crash. He stopped and put down the candle and the jug of beer on the dresser; he was a nervous old fellow, and any unexpected noise annoyed him. He coolly observed that the fire-place was never used, and sending the frightened servant into the next kitchen for a hammer and nails, actually nailed up the board, and locked the door on the outside. So, there was I, on my wedding-night, in the light kerseymere trousers, fancy waistcoat, and blue coat, that I had been married in in the morning, in a back-kitchen chimney, the bottom of which was nailed up, and the top of which had been formerly raised some fifteen feet, to prevent the smoke from annoying the neighbours. And there,’ added Mr. Gabriel Parsons, as he passed the bottle, ‘there I remained till half-past seven the next morning, when the housemaid’s sweetheart, who was a carpenter, unshelled me. The old dog had nailed me up so securely, that, to this very hour, I firmly believe that no one but a carpenter could ever have got me out.’

‘And what did Mrs. Parsons’s father say, when he found you were married?’ inquired Watkins Tottle, who, although he never saw a joke, was not satisfied until he heard a story to the very end.

‘Why, the affair of the chimney so tickled his fancy, that he pardoned us off-hand, and allowed us something to live on till he went the way of all flesh. I spent the next night in his second-floor front, much more comfortably than I had spent the preceding one; for, as you will probably guess—’

‘Please, sir, missis has made tea,’ said a middle-aged female servant, bobbing into the room.

‘That’s the very housemaid that figures in my story,’ said Mr. Gabriel Parsons. ‘She went into Fanny’s service when we were first married, and has been with us ever since; but I don’t think she has felt one atom of respect for me since the morning she saw me released, when she went into violent hysterics, to which she has been subject ever since. Now, shall we join the ladies?’

‘If you please,’ said Mr. Watkins Tottle.

‘By all means,’ added the obsequious Mr. Timson; and the trio made for the drawing-room accordingly.

Tea being concluded, and the toast and cups having been duly handed, and occasionally upset, by Mr. Watkins Tottle, a rubber was proposed. They cut for partners—Mr. and Mrs. Parsons; and Mr. Watkins Tottle and Miss Lillerton. Mr. Timson having conscientious scruples on the subject of card-playing, drank brandy-and-water, and kept up a running spar with Mr. Watkins Tottle. The evening went off well; Mr. Watkins Tottle was in high spirits, having some reason to be gratified with his reception by Miss Lillerton; and before he left, a small party was made up to visit the Beulah Spa on the following Saturday.

‘It’s all right, I think,’ said Mr. Gabriel Parsons to Mr. Watkins Tottle as he opened the garden gate for him.

‘I hope so,’ he replied, squeezing his friend’s hand.

‘You’ll be down by the first coach on Saturday,’ said Mr. Gabriel Parsons.

‘Certainly,’ replied Mr. Watkins Tottle. ‘Undoubtedly.’

But fortune had decreed that Mr. Watkins Tottle should not be down by the first coach on Saturday. His adventures on that day, however, and the success of his wooing, are subjects for another chapter.

II.

‘The first coach has not come in yet, has it, Tom?’ inquired Mr. Gabriel Parsons, as he very complacently paced up and down the fourteen feet of gravel which bordered the ‘lawn,’ on the Saturday morning which had been fixed upon for the Beulah Spa jaunt.

‘No, sir; I haven’t seen it,’ replied a gardener in a blue apron, who let himself out to do the ornamental for half-a-crown a day and his ‘keep.’

‘Time Tottle was down,’ said Mr. Gabriel Parsons, ruminating—‘Oh, here he is, no doubt,’ added Gabriel, as a cab drove rapidly up the hill; and he buttoned his dressing-gown, and opened the gate to receive the expected visitor. The cab stopped, and out jumped a man in a coarse Petersham great-coat, whity-brown neckerchief, faded black suit, gamboge-coloured top-boots, and one of those large-crowned hats, formerly seldom met with, but now very generally patronised by gentlemen and costermongers.

‘Mr. Parsons?’ said the man, looking at the superscription of a note he held in his hand, and addressing Gabriel with an inquiring air.

‘My name is Parsons,’ responded the sugar-baker.

‘I’ve brought this here note,’ replied the individual in the painted tops, in a hoarse whisper: ‘I’ve brought this here note from a gen’lm’n as come to our house this mornin’.’

‘I expected the gentleman at my house,’ said Parsons, as he broke the seal, which bore the impression of her Majesty’s profile as it is seen on a sixpence.

‘I’ve no doubt the gen’lm’n would ha’ been here, replied the stranger, ‘if he hadn’t happened to call at our house first; but we never trusts no gen’lm’n furder nor we can see him—no mistake about that there’—added the unknown, with a facetious grin; ‘beg your pardon, sir, no offence meant, only—once in, and I wish you may—catch the idea, sir?’

Mr. Gabriel Parsons was not remarkable for catching anything suddenly, but a cold. He therefore only bestowed a glance of profound astonishment on his mysterious companion, and proceeded to unfold the note of which he had been the bearer. Once opened and the idea was caught with very little difficulty. Mr. Watkins Tottle had been suddenly arrested for 33l. 10s. 4d., and dated his communication from a lock-up house in the vicinity of Chancery-lane.

‘Unfortunate affair this!’ said Parsons, refolding the note.

‘Oh! nothin’ ven you’re used to it,’ coolly observed the man in the Petersham.

‘Tom!’ exclaimed Parsons, after a few minutes’ consideration, ‘just put the horse in, will you?—Tell the gentleman that I shall be there almost as soon as you are,’ he continued, addressing the sheriff-officer’s Mercury.

‘Werry well,’ replied that important functionary; adding, in a confidential manner, ‘I’d adwise the gen’lm’n’s friends to settle. You see it’s a mere trifle; and, unless the gen’lm’n means to go up afore the court, it’s hardly worth while waiting for detainers, you know. Our governor’s wide awake, he is. I’ll never say nothin’ agin him, nor no man; but he knows what’s o’clock, he does, uncommon.’ Having delivered this eloquent, and, to Parsons, particularly intelligible harangue, the meaning of which was eked out by divers nods and winks, the gentleman in the boots reseated himself in the cab, which went rapidly off, and was soon out of sight. Mr. Gabriel Parsons continued to pace up and down the pathway for some minutes, apparently absorbed in deep meditation. The result of his cogitations seemed to be perfectly satisfactory to himself, for he ran briskly into the house; said that business had suddenly summoned him to town; that he had desired the messenger to inform Mr. Watkins Tottle of the fact; and that they would return together to dinner. He then hastily equipped himself for a drive, and mounting his gig, was soon on his way to the establishment of Mr. Solomon Jacobs, situate (as Mr. Watkins Tottle had informed him) in Cursitor-street, Chancery-lane.

When a man is in a violent hurry to get on, and has a specific object in view, the attainment of which depends on the completion of his journey, the difficulties which interpose themselves in his way appear not only to be innumerable, but to have been called into existence especially for the occasion. The remark is by no means a new one, and Mr. Gabriel Parsons had practical and painful experience of its justice in the course of his drive. There are three classes of animated objects which prevent your driving with any degree of comfort or celerity through streets which are but little frequented—they are pigs, children, and old women. On the occasion we are describing, the pigs were luxuriating on cabbage-stalks, and the shuttlecocks fluttered from the little deal battledores, and the children played in the road; and women, with a basket in one hand, and the street-door key in the other, would cross just before the horse’s head, until Mr. Gabriel Parsons was perfectly savage with vexation, and quite hoarse with hoi-ing and imprecating. Then, when he got into Fleet-street, there was ‘a stoppage,’ in which people in vehicles have the satisfaction of remaining stationary for half an hour, and envying the slowest pedestrians; and where policemen rush about, and seize hold of horses’ bridles, and back them into shop-windows, by way of clearing the road and preventing confusion. At length Mr. Gabriel Parsons turned into Chancery-lane, and having inquired for, and been directed to Cursitor-street (for it was a locality of which he was quite ignorant), he soon found himself opposite the house of Mr. Solomon Jacobs. Confiding his horse and gig to the care of one of the fourteen boys who had followed him from the other side of Blackfriars-bridge on the chance of his requiring their services, Mr. Gabriel Parsons crossed the road and knocked at an inner door, the upper part of which was of glass, grated like the windows of this inviting mansion with iron bars—painted white to look comfortable.

The knock was answered by a sallow-faced, red-haired, sulky boy, who, after surveying Mr. Gabriel Parsons through the glass, applied a large key to an immense wooden excrescence, which was in reality a lock, but which, taken in conjunction with the iron nails with which the panels were studded, gave the door the appearance of being subject to warts.

‘I want to see Mr. Watkins Tottle,’ said Parsons.

‘It’s the gentleman that come in this morning, Jem,’ screamed a voice from the top of the kitchen-stairs, which belonged to a dirty woman who had just brought her chin to a level with the passage-floor. ‘The gentleman’s in the coffee-room.’

‘Up-stairs, sir,’ said the boy, just opening the door wide enough to let Parsons in without squeezing him, and double-locking it the moment he had made his way through the aperture—‘First floor—door on the left.’

Mr. Gabriel Parsons thus instructed, ascended the uncarpeted and ill-lighted staircase, and after giving several subdued taps at the before-mentioned ‘door on the left,’ which were rendered inaudible by the hum of voices within the room, and the hissing noise attendant on some frying operations which were carrying on below stairs, turned the handle, and entered the apartment. Being informed that the unfortunate object of his visit had just gone up-stairs to write a letter, he had leisure to sit down and observe the scene before him.

The room—which was a small, confined den—was partitioned off into boxes, like the common-room of some inferior eating-house. The dirty floor had evidently been as long a stranger to the scrubbing-brush as to carpet or floor-cloth: and the ceiling was completely blackened by the flare of the oil-lamp by which the room was lighted at night. The gray ashes on the edges of the tables, and the cigar ends which were plentifully scattered about the dusty grate, fully accounted for the intolerable smell of tobacco which pervaded the place; and the empty glasses and half-saturated slices of lemon on the tables, together with the porter pots beneath them, bore testimony to the frequent libations in which the individuals who honoured Mr. Solomon Jacobs by a temporary residence in his house indulged. Over the mantel-shelf was a paltry looking-glass, extending about half the width of the chimney-piece; but by way of counterpoise, the ashes were confined by a rusty fender about twice as long as the hearth.

From this cheerful room itself, the attention of Mr. Gabriel Parsons was naturally directed to its inmates. In one of the boxes two men were playing at cribbage with a very dirty pack of cards, some with blue, some with green, and some with red backs—selections from decayed packs. The cribbage board had been long ago formed on the table by some ingenious visitor with the assistance of a pocket-knife and a two-pronged fork, with which the necessary number of holes had been made in the table at proper distances for the reception of the wooden pegs. In another box a stout, hearty-looking man, of about forty, was eating some dinner which his wife—an equally comfortable-looking personage—had brought him in a basket: and in a third, a genteel-looking young man was talking earnestly, and in a low tone, to a young female, whose face was concealed by a thick veil, but whom Mr. Gabriel Parsons immediately set down in his own mind as the debtor’s wife. A young fellow of vulgar manners, dressed in the very extreme of the prevailing fashion, was pacing up and down the room, with a lighted cigar in his mouth and his hands in his pockets, ever and anon puffing forth volumes of smoke, and occasionally applying, with much apparent relish, to a pint pot, the contents of which were ‘chilling’ on the hob.

‘Fourpence more, by gum!’ exclaimed one of the cribbage-players, lighting a pipe, and addressing his adversary at the close of the game; ‘one ’ud think you’d got luck in a pepper-cruet, and shook it out when you wanted it.’

‘Well, that a’n’t a bad un,’ replied the other, who was a horse-dealer from Islington.

‘No; I’m blessed if it is,’ interposed the jolly-looking fellow, who, having finished his dinner, was drinking out of the same glass as his wife, in truly conjugal harmony, some hot gin-and-water. The faithful partner of his cares had brought a plentiful supply of the anti-temperance fluid in a large flat stone bottle, which looked like a half-gallon jar that had been successfully tapped for the dropsy. ‘You’re a rum chap, you are, Mr. Walker—will you dip your beak into this, sir?’

‘Thank’ee, sir,’ replied Mr. Walker, leaving his box, and advancing to the other to accept the proffered glass. ‘Here’s your health, sir, and your good ’ooman’s here. Gentlemen all—yours, and better luck still. Well, Mr. Willis,’ continued the facetious prisoner, addressing the young man with the cigar, ‘you seem rather down to-day—floored, as one may say. What’s the matter, sir? Never say die, you know.’

‘Oh! I’m all right,’ replied the smoker. ‘I shall be bailed out to-morrow.’

‘Shall you, though?’ inquired the other. ‘Damme, I wish I could say the same. I am as regularly over head and ears as the Royal George, and stand about as much chance of being bailed out. Ha! ha! ha!’

‘Why,’ said the young man, stopping short, and speaking in a very loud key, ‘look at me. What d’ye think I’ve stopped here two days for?’

‘’Cause you couldn’t get out, I suppose,’ interrupted Mr. Walker, winking to the company. ‘Not that you’re exactly obliged to stop here, only you can’t help it. No compulsion, you know, only you must—eh?’

‘A’n’t he a rum un?’ inquired the delighted individual, who had offered the gin-and-water, of his wife.

‘Oh, he just is!’ replied the lady, who was quite overcome by these flashes of imagination.

‘Why, my case,’ frowned the victim, throwing the end of his cigar into the fire, and illustrating his argument by knocking the bottom of the pot on the table, at intervals,—‘my case is a very singular one. My father’s a man of large property, and I am his son.’

‘That’s a very strange circumstance!’ interrupted the jocose Mr. Walker, en passant.

‘—I am his son, and have received a liberal education. I don’t owe no man nothing—not the value of a farthing, but I was induced, you see, to put my name to some bills for a friend—bills to a large amount, I may say a very large amount, for which I didn’t receive no consideration. What’s the consequence?’

‘Why, I suppose the bills went out, and you came in. The acceptances weren’t taken up, and you were, eh?’ inquired Walker.

‘To be sure,’ replied the liberally educated young gentleman. ‘To be sure; and so here I am, locked up for a matter of twelve hundred pound.’

‘Why don’t you ask your old governor to stump up?’ inquired Walker, with a somewhat sceptical air.

‘Oh! bless you, he’d never do it,’ replied the other, in a tone of expostulation—‘Never!’

‘Well, it is very odd to—be—sure,’ interposed the owner of the flat bottle, mixing another glass, ‘but I’ve been in difficulties, as one may say, now for thirty year. I went to pieces when I was in a milk-walk, thirty year ago; arterwards, when I was a fruiterer, and kept a spring wan; and arter that again in the coal and ’tatur line—but all that time I never see a youngish chap come into a place of this kind, who wasn’t going out again directly, and who hadn’t been arrested on bills which he’d given a friend and for which he’d received nothing whatsomever—not a fraction.’

‘Oh! it’s always the cry,’ said Walker. ‘I can’t see the use on it; that’s what makes me so wild. Why, I should have a much better opinion of an individual, if he’d say at once in an honourable and gentlemanly manner as he’d done everybody he possibly could.’

‘Ay, to be sure,’ interposed the horse-dealer, with whose notions of bargain and sale the axiom perfectly coincided, ‘so should I.’ The young gentleman, who had given rise to these observations, was on the point of offering a rather angry reply to these sneers, but the rising of the young man before noticed, and of the female who had been sitting by him, to leave the room, interrupted the conversation. She had been weeping bitterly, and the noxious atmosphere of the room acting upon her excited feelings and delicate frame, rendered the support of her companion necessary as they quitted it together.

There was an air of superiority about them both, and something in their appearance so unusual in such a place, that a respectful silence was observed until the whirr—r—bang of the spring door announced that they were out of hearing. It was broken by the wife of the ex-fruiterer.

‘Poor creetur!’ said she, quenching a sigh in a rivulet of gin-and-water. ‘She’s very young.’

‘She’s a nice-looking ’ooman too,’ added the horse-dealer.

‘What’s he in for, Ikey?’ inquired Walker, of an individual who was spreading a cloth with numerous blotches of mustard upon it, on one of the tables, and whom Mr. Gabriel Parsons had no difficulty in recognising as the man who had called upon him in the morning.

‘Vy,’ responded the factotum, ‘it’s one of the rummiest rigs you ever heard on. He come in here last Vensday, which by-the-bye he’s a-going over the water to-night—hows’ever that’s neither here nor there. You see I’ve been a going back’ards and for’ards about his business, and ha’ managed to pick up some of his story from the servants and them; and so far as I can make it out, it seems to be summat to this here effect—’

‘Cut it short, old fellow,’ interrupted Walker, who knew from former experience that he of the top-boots was neither very concise nor intelligible in his narratives.

‘Let me alone,’ replied Ikey, ‘and I’ll ha’ wound up, and made my lucky in five seconds. This here young gen’lm’n’s father—so I’m told, mind ye—and the father o’ the young voman, have always been on very bad, out-and-out, rig’lar knock-me-down sort o’ terms; but somehow or another, when he was a wisitin’ at some gentlefolk’s house, as he knowed at college, he came into contract with the young lady. He seed her several times, and then he up and said he’d keep company with her, if so be as she vos agreeable. Vell, she vos as sweet upon him as he vos upon her, and so I s’pose they made it all right; for they got married ’bout six months arterwards, unbeknown, mind ye, to the two fathers—leastways so I’m told. When they heard on it—my eyes, there was such a combustion! Starvation vos the very least that vos to be done to ’em. The young gen’lm’n’s father cut him off vith a bob, ’cos he’d cut himself off vith a wife; and the young lady’s father he behaved even worser and more unnat’ral, for he not only blow’d her up dreadful, and swore he’d never see her again, but he employed a chap as I knows—and as you knows, Mr. Valker, a precious sight too well—to go about and buy up the bills and them things on which the young husband, thinking his governor ’ud come round agin, had raised the vind just to blow himself on vith for a time; besides vich, he made all the interest he could to set other people agin him. Consequence vos, that he paid as long as he could; but things he never expected to have to meet till he’d had time to turn himself round, come fast upon him, and he vos nabbed. He vos brought here, as I said afore, last Vensday, and I think there’s about—ah, half-a-dozen detainers agin him down-stairs now. I have been,’ added Ikey, ‘in the purfession these fifteen year, and I never met vith such windictiveness afore!’

‘Poor creeturs!’ exclaimed the coal-dealer’s wife once more: again resorting to the same excellent prescription for nipping a sigh in the bud. ‘Ah! when they’ve seen as much trouble as I and my old man here have, they’ll be as comfortable under it as we are.’

‘The young lady’s a pretty creature,’ said Walker, ‘only she’s a little too delicate for my taste—there ain’t enough of her. As to the young cove, he may be very respectable and what not, but he’s too down in the mouth for me—he ain’t game.’

‘Game!’ exclaimed Ikey, who had been altering the position of a green-handled knife and fork at least a dozen times, in order that he might remain in the room under the pretext of having something to do. ‘He’s game enough ven there’s anything to be fierce about; but who could be game as you call it, Mr. Walker, with a pale young creetur like that, hanging about him?—It’s enough to drive any man’s heart into his boots to see ’em together—and no mistake at all about it. I never shall forget her first comin’ here; he wrote to her on the Thursday to come—I know he did, ’cos I took the letter. Uncommon fidgety he was all day to be sure, and in the evening he goes down into the office, and he says to Jacobs, says he, “Sir, can I have the loan of a private room for a few minutes this evening, without incurring any additional expense—just to see my wife in?” says he. Jacobs looked as much as to say—“Strike me bountiful if you ain’t one of the modest sort!” but as the gen’lm’n who had been in the back parlour had just gone out, and had paid for it for that day, he says—werry grave—“Sir,” says he, “it’s agin our rules to let private rooms to our lodgers on gratis terms, but,” says he, “for a gentleman, I don’t mind breaking through them for once.” So then he turns round to me, and says, “Ikey, put two mould candles in the back parlour, and charge ’em to this gen’lm’n’s account,” vich I did. Vell, by-and-by a hackney-coach comes up to the door, and there, sure enough, was the young lady, wrapped up in a hopera-cloak, as it might be, and all alone. I opened the gate that night, so I went up when the coach come, and he vos a waitin’ at the parlour door—and wasn’t he a trembling, neither? The poor creetur see him, and could hardly walk to meet him. “Oh, Harry!” she says, “that it should have come to this; and all for my sake,” says she, putting her hand upon his shoulder. So he puts his arm round her pretty little waist, and leading her gently a little way into the room, so that he might be able to shut the door, he says, so kind and soft-like—“Why, Kate,” says he—’

‘Here’s the gentleman you want,’ said Ikey, abruptly breaking off in his story, and introducing Mr. Gabriel Parsons to the crest-fallen Watkins Tottle, who at that moment entered the room. Watkins advanced with a wooden expression of passive endurance, and accepted the hand which Mr. Gabriel Parsons held out.

‘I want to speak to you,’ said Gabriel, with a look strongly expressive of his dislike of the company.

‘This way,’ replied the imprisoned one, leading the way to the front drawing-room, where rich debtors did the luxurious at the rate of a couple of guineas a day.

‘Well, here I am,’ said Mr. Watkins, as he sat down on the sofa; and placing the palms of his hands on his knees, anxiously glanced at his friend’s countenance.

‘Yes; and here you’re likely to be,’ said Gabriel, coolly, as he rattled the money in his unmentionable pockets, and looked out of the window.

‘What’s the amount with the costs?’ inquired Parsons, after an awkward pause.

‘37l. 3s 10d.’

‘Have you any money?’

‘Nine and sixpence halfpenny.’

Mr. Gabriel Parsons walked up and down the room for a few seconds, before he could make up his mind to disclose the plan he had formed; he was accustomed to drive hard bargains, but was always most anxious to conceal his avarice. At length he stopped short, and said, ‘Tottle, you owe me fifty pounds.’

‘I do.’

‘And from all I see, I infer that you are likely to owe it to me.’

‘I fear I am.’

‘Though you have every disposition to pay me if you could?’

‘Certainly.’

‘Then,’ said Mr. Gabriel Parsons, ‘listen: here’s my proposition. You know my way of old. Accept it—yes or no—I will or I won’t. I’ll pay the debt and costs, and I’ll lend you 10l. more (which, added to your annuity, will enable you to carry on the war well) if you’ll give me your note of hand to pay me one hundred and fifty pounds within six months after you are married to Miss Lillerton.’

‘My dear—’

‘Stop a minute—on one condition; and that is, that you propose to Miss Lillerton at once.’

‘At once! My dear Parsons, consider.’

‘It’s for you to consider, not me. She knows you well from reputation, though she did not know you personally until lately. Notwithstanding all her maiden modesty, I think she’d be devilish glad to get married out of hand with as little delay as possible. My wife has sounded her on the subject, and she has confessed.’

‘What—what?’ eagerly interrupted the enamoured Watkins.

‘Why,’ replied Parsons, ‘to say exactly what she has confessed, would be rather difficult, because they only spoke in hints, and so forth; but my wife, who is no bad judge in these cases, declared to me that what she had confessed was as good as to say that she was not insensible of your merits—in fact, that no other man should have her.’

Mr. Watkins Tottle rose hastily from his seat, and rang the bell.

‘What’s that for?’ inquired Parsons.

‘I want to send the man for the bill stamp,’ replied Mr. Watkins Tottle.

‘Then you’ve made up your mind?’

‘I have,’—and they shook hands most cordially. The note of hand was given—the debt and costs were paid—Ikey was satisfied for his trouble, and the two friends soon found themselves on that side of Mr. Solomon Jacobs’s establishment, on which most of his visitors were very happy when they found themselves once again—to wit, the outside.

‘Now,’ said Mr. Gabriel Parsons, as they drove to Norwood together—‘you shall have an opportunity to make the disclosure to-night, and mind you speak out, Tottle.’

‘I will—I will!’ replied Watkins, valorously.

‘How I should like to see you together,’ ejaculated Mr. Gabriel Parsons.—‘What fun!’ and he laughed so long and so loudly, that he disconcerted Mr. Watkins Tottle, and frightened the horse.

‘There’s Fanny and your intended walking about on the lawn,’ said Gabriel, as they approached the house. ‘Mind your eye, Tottle.’

‘Never fear,’ replied Watkins, resolutely, as he made his way to the spot where the ladies were walking.

‘Here’s Mr. Tottle, my dear,’ said Mrs. Parsons, addressing Miss Lillerton. The lady turned quickly round, and acknowledged his courteous salute with the same sort of confusion that Watkins had noticed on their first interview, but with something like a slight expression of disappointment or carelessness.

‘Did you see how glad she was to see you?’ whispered Parsons to his friend.

‘Why, I really thought she looked as if she would rather have seen somebody else,’ replied Tottle.

‘Pooh, nonsense!’ whispered Parsons again—‘it’s always the way with the women, young or old. They never show how delighted they are to see those whose presence makes their hearts beat. It’s the way with the whole sex, and no man should have lived to your time of life without knowing it. Fanny confessed it to me, when we were first married, over and over again—see what it is to have a wife.’

‘Certainly,’ whispered Tottle, whose courage was vanishing fast.

‘Well, now, you’d better begin to pave the way,’ said Parsons, who, having invested some money in the speculation, assumed the office of director.

‘Yes, yes, I will—presently,’ replied Tottle, greatly flurried.

‘Say something to her, man,’ urged Parsons again. ‘Confound it! pay her a compliment, can’t you?’

‘No! not till after dinner,’ replied the bashful Tottle, anxious to postpone the evil moment.

‘Well, gentlemen,’ said Mrs. Parsons, ‘you are really very polite; you stay away the whole morning, after promising to take us out, and when you do come home, you stand whispering together and take no notice of us.’

‘We were talking of the business, my dear, which detained us this morning,’ replied Parsons, looking significantly at Tottle.

‘Dear me! how very quickly the morning has gone,’ said Miss Lillerton, referring to the gold watch, which was wound up on state occasions, whether it required it or not.

‘I think it has passed very slowly,’ mildly suggested Tottle.

(‘That’s right—bravo!’) whispered Parsons.

‘Indeed!’ said Miss Lillerton, with an air of majestic surprise.

‘I can only impute it to my unavoidable absence from your society, madam,’ said Watkins, ‘and that of Mrs. Parsons.’

During this short dialogue, the ladies had been leading the way to the house.

‘What the deuce did you stick Fanny into that last compliment for?’ inquired Parsons, as they followed together; ‘it quite spoilt the effect.’

‘Oh! it really would have been too broad without,’ replied Watkins Tottle, ‘much too broad!’

‘He’s mad!’ Parsons whispered his wife, as they entered the drawing-room, ‘mad from modesty.’

‘Dear me!’ ejaculated the lady, ‘I never heard of such a thing.’

‘You’ll find we have quite a family dinner, Mr. Tottle,’ said Mrs. Parsons, when they sat down to table: ‘Miss Lillerton is one of us, and, of course, we make no stranger of you.’

Mr. Watkins Tottle expressed a hope that the Parsons family never would make a stranger of him; and wished internally that his bashfulness would allow him to feel a little less like a stranger himself.

‘Take off the covers, Martha,’ said Mrs. Parsons, directing the shifting of the scenery with great anxiety. The order was obeyed, and a pair of boiled fowls, with tongue and et ceteras, were displayed at the top, and a fillet of veal at the bottom. On one side of the table two green sauce-tureens, with ladles of the same, were setting to each other in a green dish; and on the other was a curried rabbit, in a brown suit, turned up with lemon.

‘Miss Lillerton, my dear,’ said Mrs. Parsons, ‘shall I assist you?’

‘Thank you, no; I think I’ll trouble Mr. Tottle.’

Watkins started—trembled—helped the rabbit—and broke a tumbler. The countenance of the lady of the house, which had been all smiles previously, underwent an awful change.

‘Extremely sorry,’ stammered Watkins, assisting himself to currie and parsley and butter, in the extremity of his confusion.

‘Not the least consequence,’ replied Mrs. Parsons, in a tone which implied that it was of the greatest consequence possible,—directing aside the researches of the boy, who was groping under the table for the bits of broken glass.

‘I presume,’ said Miss Lillerton, ‘that Mr. Tottle is aware of the interest which bachelors usually pay in such cases; a dozen glasses for one is the lowest penalty.’

Mr. Gabriel Parsons gave his friend an admonitory tread on the toe. Here was a clear hint that the sooner he ceased to be a bachelor and emancipated himself from such penalties, the better. Mr. Watkins Tottle viewed the observation in the same light, and challenged Mrs. Parsons to take wine, with a degree of presence of mind, which, under all the circumstances, was really extraordinary.

‘Miss Lillerton,’ said Gabriel, ‘may I have the pleasure?’

‘I shall be most happy.’

‘Tottle, will you assist Miss Lillerton, and pass the decanter. Thank you.’ (The usual pantomimic ceremony of nodding and sipping gone through)—

‘Tottle, were you ever in Suffolk?’ inquired the master of the house, who was burning to tell one of his seven stock stories.

‘No,’ responded Watkins, adding, by way of a saving clause, ‘but I’ve been in Devonshire.’

‘Ah!’ replied Gabriel, ‘it was in Suffolk that a rather singular circumstance happened to me many years ago. Did you ever happen to hear me mention it?’

Mr. Watkins Tottle had happened to hear his friend mention it some four hundred times. Of course he expressed great curiosity, and evinced the utmost impatience to hear the story again. Mr. Gabriel Parsons forthwith attempted to proceed, in spite of the interruptions to which, as our readers must frequently have observed, the master of the house is often exposed in such cases. We will attempt to give them an idea of our meaning.

‘When I was in Suffolk—’ said Mr. Gabriel Parsons.

‘Take off the fowls first, Martha,’ said Mrs. Parsons. ‘I beg your pardon, my dear.’

‘When I was in Suffolk,’ resumed Mr. Parsons, with an impatient glance at his wife, who pretended not to observe it, ‘which is now years ago, business led me to the town of Bury St. Edmund’s. I had to stop at the principal places in my way, and therefore, for the sake of convenience, I travelled in a gig. I left Sudbury one dark night—it was winter time—about nine o’clock; the rain poured in torrents, the wind howled among the trees that skirted the roadside, and I was obliged to proceed at a foot-pace, for I could hardly see my hand before me, it was so dark—’

‘John,’ interrupted Mrs. Parsons, in a low, hollow voice, ‘don’t spill that gravy.’

‘Fanny,’ said Parsons impatiently, ‘I wish you’d defer these domestic reproofs to some more suitable time. Really, my dear, these constant interruptions are very annoying.’

‘My dear, I didn’t interrupt you,’ said Mrs. Parsons.

‘But, my dear, you did interrupt me,’ remonstrated Mr. Parsons.

‘How very absurd you are, my love! I must give directions to the servants; I am quite sure that if I sat here and allowed John to spill the gravy over the new carpet, you’d be the first to find fault when you saw the stain to-morrow morning.’

‘Well,’ continued Gabriel with a resigned air, as if he knew there was no getting over the point about the carpet, ‘I was just saying, it was so dark that I could hardly see my hand before me. The road was very lonely, and I assure you, Tottle (this was a device to arrest the wandering attention of that individual, which was distracted by a confidential communication between Mrs. Parsons and Martha, accompanied by the delivery of a large bunch of keys), I assure you, Tottle, I became somehow impressed with a sense of the loneliness of my situation—’

‘Pie to your master,’ interrupted Mrs. Parsons, again directing the servant.

‘Now, pray, my dear,’ remonstrated Parsons once more, very pettishly. Mrs. P. turned up her hands and eyebrows, and appealed in dumb show to Miss Lillerton. ‘As I turned a corner of the road,’ resumed Gabriel, ‘the horse stopped short, and reared tremendously. I pulled up, jumped out, ran to his head, and found a man lying on his back in the middle of the road, with his eyes fixed on the sky. I thought he was dead; but no, he was alive, and there appeared to be nothing the matter with him. He jumped up, and putting his hand to his chest, and fixing upon me the most earnest gaze you can imagine, exclaimed—’

‘Pudding here,’ said Mrs. Parsons.

‘Oh! it’s no use,’ exclaimed the host, now rendered desperate. ‘Here, Tottle; a glass of wine. It’s useless to attempt relating anything when Mrs. Parsons is present.’

This attack was received in the usual way. Mrs. Parsons talked to Miss Lillerton and at her better half; expatiated on the impatience of men generally; hinted that her husband was peculiarly vicious in this respect, and wound up by insinuating that she must be one of the best tempers that ever existed, or she never could put up with it. Really what she had to endure sometimes, was more than any one who saw her in every-day life could by possibility suppose.—The story was now a painful subject, and therefore Mr. Parsons declined to enter into any details, and contented himself by stating that the man was a maniac, who had escaped from a neighbouring mad-house.

The cloth was removed; the ladies soon afterwards retired, and Miss Lillerton played the piano in the drawing-room overhead, very loudly, for the edification of the visitor. Mr. Watkins Tottle and Mr. Gabriel Parsons sat chatting comfortably enough, until the conclusion of the second bottle, when the latter, in proposing an adjournment to the drawing-room, informed Watkins that he had concerted a plan with his wife, for leaving him and Miss Lillerton alone, soon after tea.

‘I say,’ said Tottle, as they went up-stairs, ‘don’t you think it would be better if we put it off till-till-to-morrow?’

‘Don’t you think it would have been much better if I had left you in that wretched hole I found you in this morning?’ retorted Parsons bluntly.

‘Well—well—I only made a suggestion,’ said poor Watkins Tottle, with a deep sigh.

Tea was soon concluded, and Miss Lillerton, drawing a small work-table on one side of the fire, and placing a little wooden frame upon it, something like a miniature clay-mill without the horse, was soon busily engaged in making a watch-guard with brown silk.

‘God bless me!’ exclaimed Parsons, starting up with well-feigned surprise, ‘I’ve forgotten those confounded letters. Tottle, I know you’ll excuse me.’

If Tottle had been a free agent, he would have allowed no one to leave the room on any pretence, except himself. As it was, however, he was obliged to look cheerful when Parsons quitted the apartment.

He had scarcely left, when Martha put her head into the room, with—‘Please, ma’am, you’re wanted.’

Mrs. Parsons left the room, shut the door carefully after her, and Mr. Watkins Tottle was left alone with Miss Lillerton.

For the first five minutes there was a dead silence.—Mr. Watkins Tottle was thinking how he should begin, and Miss Lillerton appeared to be thinking of nothing. The fire was burning low; Mr. Watkins Tottle stirred it, and put some coals on.

‘Hem!’ coughed Miss Lillerton; Mr. Watkins Tottle thought the fair creature had spoken. ‘I beg your pardon,’ said he.

‘Eh?’

‘I thought you spoke.’

‘No.’

‘Oh!’

‘There are some books on the sofa, Mr. Tottle, if you would like to look at them,’ said Miss Lillerton, after the lapse of another five minutes.

‘No, thank you,’ returned Watkins; and then he added, with a courage which was perfectly astonishing, even to himself, ‘Madam, that is Miss Lillerton, I wish to speak to you.’

‘To me!’ said Miss Lillerton, letting the silk drop from her hands, and sliding her chair back a few paces.—‘Speak—to me!’

‘To you, madam—and on the subject of the state of your affections.’ The lady hastily rose and would have left the room; but Mr. Watkins Tottle gently detained her by the hand, and holding it as far from him as the joint length of their arms would permit, he thus proceeded: ‘Pray do not misunderstand me, or suppose that I am led to address you, after so short an acquaintance, by any feeling of my own merits—for merits I have none which could give me a claim to your hand. I hope you will acquit me of any presumption when I explain that I have been acquainted through Mrs. Parsons, with the state—that is, that Mrs. Parsons has told me—at least, not Mrs. Parsons, but—’ here Watkins began to wander, but Miss Lillerton relieved him.

‘Am I to understand, Mr. Tottle, that Mrs. Parsons has acquainted you with my feeling—my affection—I mean my respect, for an individual of the opposite sex?’

‘She has.’

‘Then, what?’ inquired Miss Lillerton, averting her face, with a girlish air, ‘what could induce you to seek such an interview as this? What can your object be? How can I promote your happiness, Mr. Tottle?’

Here was the time for a flourish—‘By allowing me,’ replied Watkins, falling bump on his knees, and breaking two brace-buttons and a waistcoat-string, in the act—‘By allowing me to be your slave, your servant—in short, by unreservedly making me the confidant of your heart’s feelings—may I say for the promotion of your own happiness—may I say, in order that you may become the wife of a kind and affectionate husband?’

‘Disinterested creature!’ exclaimed Miss Lillerton, hiding her face in a white pocket-handkerchief with an eyelet-hole border.

Mr. Watkins Tottle thought that if the lady knew all, she might possibly alter her opinion on this last point. He raised the tip of her middle finger ceremoniously to his lips, and got off his knees, as gracefully as he could. ‘My information was correct?’ he tremulously inquired, when he was once more on his feet.

‘It was.’ Watkins elevated his hands, and looked up to the ornament in the centre of the ceiling, which had been made for a lamp, by way of expressing his rapture.

‘Our situation, Mr. Tottle,’ resumed the lady, glancing at him through one of the eyelet-holes, ‘is a most peculiar and delicate one.’

‘It is,’ said Mr. Tottle.

‘Our acquaintance has been of so short duration,’ said Miss Lillerton.

‘Only a week,’ assented Watkins Tottle.

‘Oh! more than that,’ exclaimed the lady, in a tone of surprise.

‘Indeed!’ said Tottle.

‘More than a month—more than two months!’ said Miss Lillerton.

‘Rather odd, this,’ thought Watkins.

‘Oh!’ he said, recollecting Parsons’s assurance that she had known him from report, ‘I understand. But, my dear madam, pray, consider. The longer this acquaintance has existed, the less reason is there for delay now. Why not at once fix a period for gratifying the hopes of your devoted admirer?’

‘It has been represented to me again and again that this is the course I ought to pursue,’ replied Miss Lillerton, ‘but pardon my feelings of delicacy, Mr. Tottle—pray excuse this embarrassment—I have peculiar ideas on such subjects, and I am quite sure that I never could summon up fortitude enough to name the day to my future husband.’

‘Then allow me to name it,’ said Tottle eagerly.

‘I should like to fix it myself,’ replied Miss Lillerton, bashfully, ‘but I cannot do so without at once resorting to a third party.’

‘A third party!’ thought Watkins Tottle; ‘who the deuce is that to be, I wonder!’

‘Mr. Tottle,’ continued Miss Lillerton, ‘you have made me a most disinterested and kind offer—that offer I accept. Will you at once be the bearer of a note from me to—to Mr. Timson?’

‘Mr. Timson!’ said Watkins.

‘After what has passed between us,’ responded Miss Lillerton, still averting her head, ‘you must understand whom I mean; Mr. Timson, the—the—clergyman.’

‘Mr. Timson, the clergyman!’ ejaculated Watkins Tottle, in a state of inexpressible beatitude, and positive wonder at his own success. ‘Angel! Certainly—this moment!’

‘I’ll prepare it immediately,’ said Miss Lillerton, making for the door; ‘the events of this day have flurried me so much, Mr. Tottle, that I shall not leave my room again this evening; I will send you the note by the servant.’

‘Stay,—stay,’ cried Watkins Tottle, still keeping a most respectful distance from the lady; ‘when shall we meet again?’

‘Oh! Mr. Tottle,’ replied Miss Lillerton, coquettishly, ‘when we are married, I can never see you too often, nor thank you too much;’ and she left the room.

Mr. Watkins Tottle flung himself into an arm-chair, and indulged in the most delicious reveries of future bliss, in which the idea of ‘Five hundred pounds per annum, with an uncontrolled power of disposing of it by her last will and testament,’ was somehow or other the foremost. He had gone through the interview so well, and it had terminated so admirably, that he almost began to wish he had expressly stipulated for the settlement of the annual five hundred on himself.

‘May I come in?’ said Mr. Gabriel Parsons, peeping in at the door.

‘You may,’ replied Watkins.

‘Well, have you done it?’ anxiously inquired Gabriel.

‘Have I done it!’ said Watkins Tottle. ‘Hush—I’m going to the clergyman.’

‘No!’ said Parsons. ‘How well you have managed it!’

‘Where does Timson live?’ inquired Watkins.

‘At his uncle’s,’ replied Gabriel, ‘just round the lane. He’s waiting for a living, and has been assisting his uncle here for the last two or three months. But how well you have done it—I didn’t think you could have carried it off so!’

Mr. Watkins Tottle was proceeding to demonstrate that the Richardsonian principle was the best on which love could possibly be made, when he was interrupted by the entrance of Martha, with a little pink note folded like a fancy cocked-hat.

‘Miss Lillerton’s compliments,’ said Martha, as she delivered it into Tottle’s hands, and vanished.

‘Do you observe the delicacy?’ said Tottle, appealing to Mr. Gabriel Parsons. ‘Compliments, not love, by the servant, eh?’

Mr. Gabriel Parsons didn’t exactly know what reply to make, so he poked the forefinger of his right hand between the third and fourth ribs of Mr. Watkins Tottle.

‘Come,’ said Watkins, when the explosion of mirth, consequent on this practical jest, had subsided, ‘we’ll be off at once—let’s lose no time.’

‘Capital!’ echoed Gabriel Parsons; and in five minutes they were at the garden-gate of the villa tenanted by the uncle of Mr. Timson.

‘Is Mr. Charles Timson at home?’ inquired Mr. Watkins Tottle of Mr. Charles Timson’s uncle’s man.

‘Mr. Charles is at home,’ replied the man, stammering; ‘but he desired me to say he couldn’t be interrupted, sir, by any of the parishioners.’

‘I am not a parishioner,’ replied Watkins.

‘Is Mr. Charles writing a sermon, Tom?’ inquired Parsons, thrusting himself forward.

‘No, Mr. Parsons, sir; he’s not exactly writing a sermon, but he is practising the violoncello in his own bedroom, and gave strict orders not to be disturbed.’

‘Say I’m here,’ replied Gabriel, leading the way across the garden; ‘Mr. Parsons and Mr. Tottle, on private and particular business.’

They were shown into the parlour, and the servant departed to deliver his message. The distant groaning of the violoncello ceased; footsteps were heard on the stairs; and Mr. Timson presented himself, and shook hands with Parsons with the utmost cordiality.

‘How do you do, sir?’ said Watkins Tottle, with great solemnity.

‘How do you do, sir?’ replied Timson, with as much coldness as if it were a matter of perfect indifference to him how he did, as it very likely was.

‘I beg to deliver this note to you,’ said Watkins Tottle, producing the cocked-hat.

‘From Miss Lillerton!’ said Timson, suddenly changing colour. ‘Pray sit down.’

Mr. Watkins Tottle sat down; and while Timson perused the note, fixed his eyes on an oyster-sauce-coloured portrait of the Archbishop of Canterbury, which hung over the fireplace.

Mr. Timson rose from his seat when he had concluded the note, and looked dubiously at Parsons. ‘May I ask,’ he inquired, appealing to Watkins Tottle, ‘whether our friend here is acquainted with the object of your visit?’

‘Our friend is in my confidence,’ replied Watkins, with considerable importance.

‘Then, sir,’ said Timson, seizing both Tottle’s hands, ‘allow me in his presence to thank you most unfeignedly and cordially, for the noble part you have acted in this affair.’

‘He thinks I recommended him,’ thought Tottle. ‘Confound these fellows! they never think of anything but their fees.’

‘I deeply regret having misunderstood your intentions, my dear sir,’ continued Timson. ‘Disinterested and manly, indeed! There are very few men who would have acted as you have done.’

Mr. Watkins Tottle could not help thinking that this last remark was anything but complimentary. He therefore inquired, rather hastily, ‘When is it to be?’

‘On Thursday,’ replied Timson,—‘on Thursday morning at half-past eight.’

‘Uncommonly early,’ observed Watkins Tottle, with an air of triumphant self-denial. ‘I shall hardly be able to get down here 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:—

‘Great Russell-street,
Monday morning.

‘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,
‘Yours affectionately,
‘Charles Kitterbell.

‘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?’

‘Yes, dear.’

‘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!

END