The Diary of a Nobody, by George Grossmith

Chapter xviii

Trouble with a stylographic pen. We go to a Volunteer Ball, where I am let in for an expensive supper. Grossly insulted by a cabman. An odd invitation to Southend.

APRIL 8. — No events of any importance, except that Gowing strongly recommended a new patent stylographic pen, which cost me nine-and-sixpence, and which was simply nine-and-sixpence thrown in the mud. It has caused me constant annoyance and irritability of temper. The ink oozes out of the top, making a mess on my hands, and once at the office when I was knocking the palm of my hand on the desk to jerk the ink down, Mr. Perkupp, who had just entered, called out: “Stop that knocking! I suppose that is you, Mr. Pitt?” That young monkey, Pitt, took a malicious glee in responding quite loudly: “No, sir; I beg pardon, it is Mr. Pooter with his pen; it has been going on all the morning.” To make matters worse, I saw Lupin laughing behind his desk. I thought it wiser to say nothing. I took the pen back to the shop and asked them if they would take it back, as it did not act. I did not expect the full price returned, but was willing to take half. The man said he could not do that — buying and selling were two different things. Lupin’s conduct during the period he has been in Mr. Perkupp’s office has been most exemplary. My only fear is, it is too good to last.

APRIL 9. — Gowing called, bringing with him an invitation for Carrie and myself to a ball given by the East Acton Rifle Brigade, which he thought would be a swell affair, as the member for East Acton (Sir William Grime) had promised his patronage. We accepted of his kindness, and he stayed to supper, an occasion I thought suitable for trying a bottle of the sparkling Algéra that Mr. James (of Sutton) had sent as a present. Gowing sipped the wine, observing that he had never tasted it before, and further remarked that his policy was to stick to more recognised brands. I told him it was a present from a dear friend, and one mustn’t look a gift-horse in the mouth. Gowing facetiously replied: “And he didn’t like putting it in the mouth either.”

I thought the remarks were rude without being funny, but on tasting it myself, came to the conclusion there was some justification for them. The sparkling Algéra is very like cider, only more sour. I suggested that perhaps the thunder had turned it a bit acid. He merely replied: “Oh! I don’t think so.” We had a very pleasant game of cards, though I lost four shillings and Carrie lost one, and Gowing said he had lost about sixpence: how he could have lost, considering that Carrie and I were the only other players, remains a mystery.

APRIL 14, Sunday. — Owing, I presume, to the unsettled weather, I awoke with a feeling that my skin was drawn over my face as tight as a drum. Walking round the garden with Mr. and Mrs. Treane, members of our congregation who had walked back with us, I was much annoyed to find a large newspaper full of bones on the gravel-path, evidently thrown over by those young Griffin boys next door; who, whenever we have friends, climb up the empty steps inside their conservatory, tap at the windows, making faces, whistling, and imitating birds.

APRIL 15. — Burnt my tongue most awfully with the Worcester sauce, through that stupid girl Sarah shaking the bottle violently before putting it on the table.

APRIL 16. — The night of the East Acton Volunteer Ball. On my advice, Carrie put on the same dress that she looked so beautiful in at the Mansion House, for it had occurred to me, being a military ball, that Mr. Perkupp, who, I believe, is an officer in the Honorary Artillery Company, would in all probability be present. Lupin, in his usual incomprehensible language, remarked that he had heard it was a “bounders’ ball.” I didn’t ask him what he meant though I didn’t understand. Where he gets these expressions from I don’t know; he certainly doesn’t learn them at home.

The invitation was for half-past eight, so I concluded if we arrived an hour later we should be in good time, without being “unfashionable,” as Mrs. James says. It was very difficult to find — the cabman having to get down several times to inquire at different public-houses where the Drill Hall was. I wonder at people living in such out-of-the-way places. No one seemed to know it. However, after going up and down a good many badly-lighted streets we arrived at our destination. I had no idea it was so far from Holloway. I gave the cabman five shillings, who only grumbled, saying it was dirt cheap at half-a-sovereign, and was impertinent enough to advise me the next time I went to a ball to take a ’bus.

Captain Welcut received us, saying we were rather late, but that it was better late than never. He seemed a very good-looking gentleman though, as Carrie remarked, “rather short for an officer.” He begged to be excused for leaving us, as he was engaged for a dance, and hoped we should make ourselves at home. Carrie took my arm and we walked round the rooms two or three times and watched the people dancing. I couldn’t find a single person I knew, but attributed it to most of them being in uniform. As we were entering the supper-room I received a slap on the shoulder, followed by a welcome shake of the hand. I said: “Mr. Padge, I believe;” he replied, “That’s right.”

I gave Carrie a chair, and seated by her was a lady who made herself at home with Carrie at once.

There was a very liberal repast on the tables, plenty of champagne, claret, etc., and, in fact, everything seemed to be done regardless of expense. Mr. Padge is a man that, I admit, I have no particular liking for, but I felt so glad to come across someone I knew, that I asked him to sit at our table, and I must say that for a short fat man he looked well in uniform, although I think his tunic was rather baggy in the back. It was the only supper-room that I have been in that was not over-crowded; in fact we were the only people there, everybody being so busy dancing.

I assisted Carrie and her newly-formed acquaintance, who said her name was Lupkin, to some champagne; also myself, and handed the bottle to Mr. Padge to do likewise, saying: “You must look after yourself.” He replied: “That’s right,” and poured out half a tumbler and drank Carrie’s health, coupled, as he said, “with her worthy lord and master.” We all had some splendid pigeon pie, and ices to follow.

The waiters were very attentive, and asked if we would like some more wine. I assisted Carrie and her friend and Mr. Padge, also some people who had just come from the dancing-room, who were very civil. It occurred to me at the time that perhaps some of the gentlemen knew me in the City, as they were so polite. I made myself useful, and assisted several ladies to ices, remembering an old saying that “There is nothing lost by civility.”

The band struck up for the dance, and they all went into the ball-room. The ladies (Carrie and Mrs. Lupkin) were anxious to see the dancing, and as I had not quite finished my supper, Mr. Padge offered his arms to them and escorted them to the ball-room, telling me to follow. I said to Mr. Padge: “It is quite a West End affair,” to which remark Mr. Padge replied: “That’s right.”

When I had quite finished my supper, and was leaving, the waiter who had been attending on us arrested my attention by tapping me on the shoulder. I thought it unusual for a waiter at a private ball to expect a tip, but nevertheless gave a shilling, as he had been very attentive. He smilingly replied: “I beg your pardon, sir, this is no good,” alluding to the shilling. “Your party’s had four suppers at 5s. a head, five ices at 1s., three bottles of champagne at 11s. 6d., a glass of claret, and a sixpenny cigar for the stout gentleman — in all £3 0s. 6d.!”

I don’t think I was ever so surprised in my life, and had only sufficient breath to inform him that I had received a private invitation, to which he answered that he was perfectly well aware of that; but that the invitation didn’t include eatables and drinkables. A gentleman who was standing at the bar corroborated the waiter’s statement, and assured me it was quite correct.

The waiter said he was extremely sorry if I had been under any misapprehension; but it was not his fault. Of course there was nothing to be done but to pay. So, after turning out my pockets, I just managed to scrape up sufficient, all but nine shillings; but the manager, on my giving my card to him, said: “That’s all right.”

I don’t think I ever felt more humiliated in my life, and I determined to keep this misfortune from Carrie, for it would entirely destroy the pleasant evening she was enjoying. I felt there was no more enjoyment for me that evening, and it being late, I sought Carrie and Mrs. Lupkin. Carrie said she was quite ready to go, and Mrs. Lupkin, as we were wishing her “Good-night,” asked Carrie and myself if we ever paid a visit to Southend? On my replying that I hadn’t been there for many years, she very kindly said: “Well, why don’t you come down and stay at our place?” As her invitation was so pressing, and observing that Carrie wished to go, we promised we would visit her the next Saturday week, and stay till Monday. Mrs. Lupkin said she would write to us tomorrow, giving us the address and particulars of trains, etc.

When we got outside the Drill Hall it was raining so hard that the roads resembled canals, and I need hardly say we had great difficulty in getting a cabman to take us to Holloway. After waiting a bit, a man said he would drive us, anyhow, as far as “The Angel,” at Islington, and we could easily get another cab from there. It was a tedious journey; the rain was beating against the windows and trickling down the inside of the cab.

When we arrived at “The Angel” the horse seemed tired out. Carrie got out and ran into a doorway, and when I came to pay, to my absolute horror I remembered I had no money, nor had Carrie. I explained to the cabman how we were situated. Never in my life have I ever been so insulted; the cabman, who was a rough bully and to my thinking not sober, called me every name he could lay his tongue to, and positively seized me by the beard, which he pulled till the tears came into my eyes. I took the number of a policeman (who witnessed the assault) for not taking the man in charge. The policeman said he couldn’t interfere, that he had seen no assault, and that people should not ride in cabs without money.

We had to walk home in the pouring rain, nearly two miles, and when I got in I put down the conversation I had with the cabman, word for word, as I intend writing to the Telegraph for the purpose of proposing that cabs should be driven only by men under Government control, to prevent civilians being subjected to the disgraceful insult and outrage that I had had to endure.

APRIL 17. — No water in our cistern again. Sent for Putley, who said he would soon remedy that, the cistern being zinc.

APRIL 18. — Water all right again in the cistern. Mrs. James, of Sutton, called in the afternoon. She and Carrie draped the mantelpiece in the drawing-room, and put little toy spiders, frogs and beetles all over it, as Mrs. James says it’s quite the fashion. It was Mrs. James’ suggestion, and of course Carrie always does what Mrs. James suggests. For my part, I preferred the mantelpiece as it was; but there, I’m a plain man, and don’t pretend to be in the fashion.

APRIL 19. — Our next-door neighbour, Mr. Griffin, called, and in a rather offensive tone accused me, or “someone,” of boring a hole in his cistern and letting out his water to supply our cistern, which adjoined his. He said he should have his repaired, and send us in the bill.

APRIL 20. — Cummings called, hobbling in with a stick, saying he had been on his back for a week. It appears he was trying to shut his bedroom door, which is situated just at the top of the staircase, and unknown to him a piece of cork the dog had been playing with had got between the door, and prevented it shutting; and in pulling the door hard, to give it an extra slam, the handle came off in his hands, and he fell backwards downstairs.

On hearing this, Lupin suddenly jumped up from the couch and rushed out of the room sideways. Cummings looked very indignant, and remarked it was very poor fun a man nearly breaking his back; and though I had my suspicions that Lupin was laughing, I assured Cummings that he had only run out to open the door to a friend he expected. Cummings said this was the second time he had been laid up, and we had never sent to inquire. I said I knew nothing about it. Cummings said: “It was mentioned in the Bicycle News.”

APRIL 22. — I have of late frequently noticed Carrie rubbing her nails a good deal with an instrument, and on asking her what she was doing, she replied: “Oh, I’m going in for manicuring. It’s all the fashion now.” I said: “I suppose Mrs. James introduced that into your head.” Carrie laughingly replied: “Yes; but everyone does it now.”

I wish Mrs. James wouldn’t come to the house. Whenever she does she always introduces some new-fandangled rubbish into Carrie’s head. One of these days I feel sure I shall tell her she’s not welcome. I am sure it was Mrs. James who put Carrie up to writing on dark slate-coloured paper with white ink. Nonsense!

APRIL 23. — Received a letter from Mrs. Lupkin, of Southend, telling us the train to come by on Saturday, and hoping we will keep our promise to stay with her. The letter concluded: “You must come and stay at our house; we shall charge you half what you will have to pay at the Royal, and the view is every bit as good.” Looking at the address at the top of the note-paper, I found it was “Lupkin’s Family and Commercial Hotel.”

I wrote a note, saying we were compelled to “decline her kind invitation.” Carrie thought this very satirical, and to the point.

By-the-by, I will never choose another cloth pattern at night. I ordered a new suit of dittos for the garden at Edwards’, and chose the pattern by gaslight, and they seemed to be a quiet pepper-and-salt mixture with white stripes down. They came home this morning, and, to my horror, I found it was quite a flash-looking suit. There was a lot of green with bright yellow-coloured stripes.

I tried on the coat, and was annoyed to find Carrie giggling. She said: “What mixture did you say you asked for?”

I said: “A quiet pepper and salt.”

Carrie said: “Well, it looks more like mustard, if you want to know the truth.”

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