Sketches by Boz, by Charles Dickens

The Cool Couple

There is an old-fashioned weather-glass representing a house with two doorways, in one of which is the figure of a gentleman, in the other the figure of a lady. When the weather is to be fine the lady comes out and the gentleman goes in; when wet, the gentleman comes out and the lady goes in. They never seek each other’s society, are never elevated and depressed by the same cause, and have nothing in common. They are the model of a cool couple, except that there is something of politeness and consideration about the behaviour of the gentleman in the weather-glass, in which, neither of the cool couple can be said to participate.

The cool couple are seldom alone together, and when they are, nothing can exceed their apathy and dulness: the gentleman being for the most part drowsy, and the lady silent. If they enter into conversation, it is usually of an ironical or recriminatory nature. Thus, when the gentleman has indulged in a very long yawn and settled himself more snugly in his easy-chair, the lady will perhaps remark, ‘Well, I am sure, Charles! I hope you’re comfortable.’ To which the gentleman replies, ‘Oh yes, he’s quite comfortable quite.’ ‘There are not many married men, I hope,’ returns the lady, ‘who seek comfort in such selfish gratifications as you do.’ ‘Nor many wives who seek comfort in such selfish gratifications as YOU do, I hope,’ retorts the gentleman. ‘Whose fault is that?’ demands the lady. The gentleman becoming more sleepy, returns no answer. ‘Whose fault is that?’ the lady repeats. The gentleman still returning no answer, she goes on to say that she believes there never was in all this world anybody so attached to her home, so thoroughly domestic, so unwilling to seek a moment’s gratification or pleasure beyond her own fireside as she. God knows that before she was married she never thought or dreamt of such a thing; and she remembers that her poor papa used to say again and again, almost every day of his life, ‘Oh, my dear Louisa, if you only marry a man who understands you, and takes the trouble to consider your happiness and accommodate himself a very little to your disposition, what a treasure he will find in you!’ She supposes her papa knew what her disposition was — he had known her long enough — he ought to have been acquainted with it, but what can she do? If her home is always dull and lonely, and her husband is always absent and finds no pleasure in her society, she is naturally sometimes driven (seldom enough, she is sure) to seek a little recreation elsewhere; she is not expected to pine and mope to death, she hopes. ‘Then come, Louisa,’ says the gentleman, waking up as suddenly as he fell asleep, ‘stop at home this evening, and so will I.’ ‘I should be sorry to suppose, Charles, that you took a pleasure in aggravating me,’ replies the lady; ‘but you know as well as I do that I am particularly engaged to Mrs. Mortimer, and that it would be an act of the grossest rudeness and ill-breeding, after accepting a seat in her box and preventing her from inviting anybody else, not to go.’ ‘Ah! there it is!’ says the gentleman, shrugging his shoulders, ‘I knew that perfectly well. I knew you couldn’t devote an evening to your own home. Now all I have to say, Louisa, is this — recollect that I was quite willing to stay at home, and that it’s no fault of MINE we are not oftener together.’

With that the gentleman goes away to keep an old appointment at his club, and the lady hurries off to dress for Mrs. Mortimer’s; and neither thinks of the other until by some odd chance they find themselves alone again.

But it must not be supposed that the cool couple are habitually a quarrelsome one. Quite the contrary. These differences are only occasions for a little self-excuse, — nothing more. In general they are as easy and careless, and dispute as seldom, as any common acquaintances may; for it is neither worth their while to put each other out of the way, nor to ruffle themselves.

When they meet in society, the cool couple are the best-bred people in existence. The lady is seated in a corner among a little knot of lady friends, one of whom exclaims, ‘Why, I vow and declare there is your husband, my dear!’ ‘Whose? — mine?’ she says, carelessly. ‘Ay, yours, and coming this way too.’ ‘How very odd!’ says the lady, in a languid tone, ‘I thought he had been at Dover.’ The gentleman coming up, and speaking to all the other ladies and nodding slightly to his wife, it turns out that he has been at Dover, and has just now returned. ‘What a strange creature you are!’ cries his wife; ‘and what on earth brought you here, I wonder?’ ‘I came to look after you, OF COURSE,’ rejoins her husband. This is so pleasant a jest that the lady is mightily amused, as are all the other ladies similarly situated who are within hearing; and while they are enjoying it to the full, the gentleman nods again, turns upon his heel, and saunters away.

There are times, however, when his company is not so agreeable, though equally unexpected; such as when the lady has invited one or two particular friends to tea and scandal, and he happens to come home in the very midst of their diversion. It is a hundred chances to one that he remains in the house half an hour, but the lady is rather disturbed by the intrusion, notwithstanding, and reasons within herself, — ‘I am sure I never interfere with him, and why should he interfere with me? It can scarcely be accidental; it never happens that I have a particular reason for not wishing him to come home, but he always comes. It’s very provoking and tiresome; and I am sure when he leaves me so much alone for his own pleasure, the least he could do would be to do as much for mine.’ Observing what passes in her mind, the gentleman, who has come home for his own accommodation, makes a merit of it with himself; arrives at the conclusion that it is the very last place in which he can hope to be comfortable; and determines, as he takes up his hat and cane, never to be so virtuous again.

Thus a great many cool couples go on until they are cold couples, and the grave has closed over their folly and indifference. Loss of name, station, character, life itself, has ensued from causes as slight as these, before now; and when gossips tell such tales, and aggravate their deformities, they elevate their hands and eyebrows, and call each other to witness what a cool couple Mr. and Mrs. So-and-so always were, even in the best of times.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/d/dickens/charles/d54sb/chapter77.html

Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 15:30