The Vicar of Wakefield, by Oliver Goldsmith

Chapter 11

The family still resolve to hold up their heads

Michaelmas eve happening on the next day, we were invited to burn nuts and play tricks at neighbour Flamborough’s. Our late mortifications had humbled us a little, or it is probable we might have rejected such an invitation with contempt: however, we suffered ourselves to be happy. Our honest neighbour’s goose and dumplings were fine, and the lamb’s-wool, even in the opinion of my wife, who was a connoiscur, was excellent. It is true, his manner of telling stories was not quite so well. They were very long, and very dull, and all about himself, and we had laughed at them ten times before: however, we were kind enough to laugh at them once more.

Mr Burchell, who was of the party, was always fond of seeing some innocent amusement going forward, and set the boys and girls to blind man’s buff. My wife too was persuaded to join in the diversion, and it gave me pleasure to think she was not yet too old. In the mean time, my neighbour and I looked on, laughed at every feat, and praised our own dexterity when we were young. Hot cockles succeeded next, questions and commands followed that, and last of all, they sate down to hunt the slipper. As every person may not be acquainted with this primaeval pastime, it may be necessary to observe, that the company at this play themselves in a ring upon the ground, all, except one who stands in the middle, whose business it is to catch a shoe, which the company shove about under their hams from one to another, something like a weaver’s shuttle. As it is impossible, in this case, for the lady who is up to face all the company at once, the great beauty of the play lies in hitting her a thump with the heel of the shoe on that side least capable of making a defence. It was in this manner that my eldest daughter was hemmed in, and thumped about, all blowzed, in spirits, and bawling for fair play, fair play, with a voice that might deafen a ballad singer, when confusion on confusion, who should enter the room but our two great acquaintances from town, Lady Blarney and Miss Carolina Wilelmina Amelia Skeggs! Description would but beggar, therefore it is unnecessary to describe this new mortification. Death! To be seen by ladies of such high breeding in such vulgar attitudes! Nothing better could ensue from such a vulgar play of Mr Flamborough’s proposing. We seemed stuck to the ground for some time, as if actually petrified with amazement.

The two ladies had been at our house to see us, and finding us from home, came after us hither, as they were uneasy to know what accident could have kept us from church the day before. Olivia undertook to be our prolocutor, and delivered the whole in a summary way, only saying, ‘We were thrown from our horses.’ At which account the ladies were greatly concerned; but being told the family received no hurt, they were extremely glad: but being informed that we were almost killed by the fright, they were vastly sorry; but hearing that we had a very good night, they were extremely glad again. Nothing could exceed their complaisance to my daughters; their professions the last evening were warm, but now they were ardent. They protested a desire of having a more lasting acquaintance. Lady Blarney was particularly attached to Olivia; Miss Carolina Wilelmina Amelia Skeggs (I love to give the whole name) took a greater fancy to her sister. They supported the conversation between themselves, while my daughters sate silent, admiring their exalted breeding. But as every reader, however beggarly himself, is fond of high-lived dialogues, with anecdotes of Lords, Ladies, and Knights of the Garter, I must beg leave to give him the concluding part of the present conversation. ‘All that I know of the matter,’ cried Miss Skeggs, ‘is this, that it may be true, or it may not be true: but this I can assure your Ladyship, that the whole rout was in amaze; his Lordship turned all manner of colours, my Lady fell into a sound; but Sir Tomkyn, drawing his sword, swore he was her’s to the last drop of his blood.’ ‘Well,’ replied our Peeress, ‘this I can say, that the Dutchess never told me a syllable of the matter, and I believe her Grace would keep nothing a secret from me. This you may depend upon as fact, that the next morning my Lord Duke cried out three times to his valet de chambre, Jernigan, Jernigan, Jernigan, bring me my garters.’

But previously I should have mentioned the very impolite behaviour of Mr Burchell, who, during this discourse, sate with his face turned to the fire, and at the conclusion of every sentence would cry out FUDGE! an expression which displeased us all, and in some measure damped the rising spirit of the conversation.

‘Besides, my dear Skeggs,’ continued our Peeress, ‘there is nothing of this in the copy of verses that Dr Burdock made upon the occasion.’—‘FUDGE!’

‘I am surprised at that,’ cried Miss Skeggs; ‘for he seldom leaves any thing out, as he writes only for his own amusement. But can your Ladyship favour me with a sight of them?’—‘FUDGE!’

‘My dear creature,’ replied our Peeress, ‘do you think I carry such things about me? Though they are very fine to be sure, and I think myself something of a judge; at least I know what pleases myself. Indeed I was ever an admirer of all Doctor Burdock’s little pieces; for except what he does, and our dear Countess at Hanover–Square, there’s nothing comes out but the most lowest stuff in nature; not a bit of high life among them.’—‘FUDGE!’

‘Your Ladyship should except,’ says t’other, ‘your own things in the Lady’s Magazine. I hope you’ll say there’s nothing low lived there? But I suppose we are to have no more from that quarter?’— ‘FUDGE!’

‘Why, my dear,’ says the Lady, ‘you know my reader and companion has left me, to be married to Captain Roach, and as my poor eyes won’t suffer me to write myself, I have been for some time looking out for another. A proper person is no easy matter to find, and to be sure thirty pounds a year is a small stipend for a well-bred girl of character, that can read, write, and behave in company; as for the chits about town, there is no bearing them about one.’—‘FUDGE!’

‘That I know,’ cried Miss Skeggs, ‘by experience. For of the three companions I had this last half year, one of them refused to do plain-work an hour in the day, another thought twenty-five guineas a year too small a salary, and I was obliged to send away the third, because I suspected an intrigue with the chaplain. Virtue, my dear Lady Blarney, virtue is worth any price; but where is that to be found?’—‘FUDGE!’

My wife had been for a long time all attention to this discourse; but was particularly struck with the latter part of it. Thirty pounds and twenty-five guineas a year made fifty-six pounds five shillings English money, all which was in a manner going a-begging, and might easily be secured in the family. She for a moment studied my looks for approbation; and, to own a truth, I was of opinion, that two such places would fit our two daughters exactly. Besides, if the ‘Squire had any real affection for my eldest daughter, this would be the way to make her every way qualified for her fortune. My wife therefore was resolved that we should not be deprived of such advantages for want of assurance, and undertook to harangue for the family. ‘I hope,’ cried she, ‘your Ladyships will pardon my present presumption. It is true, we have no right to pretend to such favours; but yet it is natural for me to wish putting my children forward in the world. And I will be bold to say my two girls have had a pretty good education, and capacity, at least the country can’t shew better. They can read, write, and cast accompts; they understand their needle, breadstitch, cross and change, and all manner of plain-work; they can pink, point, and frill; and know something of music; they can do up small cloaths, work upon catgut; my eldest can cut paper, and my youngest has a very pretty manner of telling fortunes upon the cards.’—‘FUDGE!’

When she had delivered this pretty piece of eloquence, the two ladies looked at each other a few minutes in silence, with an air of doubt and importance. At last, Miss Carolina Wilelmina Amelia Skeggs condescended to observe, that the young ladies, from the opinion she could form of them from so slight an acquaintance, seemed very fit for such employments: ‘But a thing of this kind, Madam,’ cried she, addressing my spouse, requires a thorough examination into characters, and a more perfect knowledge of each other. Not, Madam,’ continued she, ‘that I in the least suspect the young ladies virtue, prudence and discretion; but there is a form in these things, Madam, there is a form.’

My wife approved her suspicions very much, observing, that she was very apt to be suspicious herself; but referred her to all the neighbours for a character: but this our Peeress declined as unnecessary, alledging that her cousin Thornhill’s recommendation would be sufficient, and upon this we rested our petition.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/g/goldsmith/oliver/vicar/chapter11.html

Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:37