Mens Wives, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER II.

The Combat at Versailles.

I afterwards came to be Berry’s fag, and, though beaten by him daily, he allowed, of course, no one else to lay a hand upon me, and I got no more thrashing than was good for me. Thus an intimacy grew up between us, and after he left Slaughter House and went into the dragoons, the honest fellow did not forget his old friend, but actually made his appearance one day in the playground in moustaches and a braided coat, and gave me a gold pencil-case and a couple of sovereigns. I blushed when I took them, but take them I did; and I think the thing I almost best recollect in my life, is the sight of Berry getting behind an immense bay cab-horse, which was held by a correct little groom, and was waiting near the school in Slaughter House Square. He proposed, too, to have me to “Long’s,” where he was lodging for the time; but this invitation was refused on my behalf by Doctor Buckle, who said, and possibly with correctness, that I should get little good by spending my holiday with such a scapegrace.

Once afterwards he came to see me at Christ Church, and we made a show of writing to one another, and didn’t, and always had a hearty mutual goodwill; and though we did not quite burst into tears on parting, were yet quite happy when occasion threw us together, and so almost lost sight of each other. I heard lately that Berry was married, and am rather ashamed to say, that I was not so curious as even to ask the maiden name of his lady.

Last summer I was at Paris, and had gone over to Versailles to meet a party, one of which was a young lady to whom I was tenderly — But, never mind. The day was rainy, and the party did not keep its appointment; and after yawning through the interminable Palace picture-galleries, and then making an attempt to smoke a cigar in the Palace garden — for which crime I was nearly run through the body by a rascally sentinel — I was driven, perforce, into the great bleak lonely place before the Palace, with its roads branching off to all the towns in the world, which Louis and Napoleon once intended to conquer, and there enjoyed my favourite pursuit at leisure, and was meditating whether I should go back to “Vefour’s” for dinner, or patronise my friend M. Duboux of the “Hotel des Reservoirs” who gives not only a good dinner, but as dear a one as heart can desire. I was, I say, meditating these things, when a carriage passed by. It was a smart low calash, with a pair of bay horses and a postilion in a drab jacket that twinkled with innumerable buttons, and I was too much occupied in admiring the build of the machine, and the extreme tightness of the fellow’s inexpressibles, to look at the personages within the carriage, when the gentleman roared out “Fitz!” and the postilion pulled up, and the lady gave a shrill scream, and a little black-muzzled spaniel began barking and yelling with all his might, and a man with moustaches jumped out of the vehicle, and began shaking me by the hand.

“Drive home, John,” said the gentleman: “I’ll be with you, my love, in an instant — it’s an old friend. Fitz, let me present you to Mrs. Berry.”

The lady made an exceedingly gentle inclination of her black-velvet bonnet, and said, “Pray, my love, remember that it is just dinner-time. However, never mind ME.” And with another slight toss and a nod to the postilion, that individual’s white leather breeches began to jump up and down again in the saddle, and the carriage disappeared, leaving me shaking my old friend Berry by the hand.

He had long quitted the army, but still wore his military beard, which gave to his fair pink face a fierce and lion-like look. He was extraordinarily glad to see me, as only men are glad who live in a small town, or in dull company. There is no destroyer of friendships like London, where a man has no time to think of his neighbour, and has far too many friends to care for them. He told me in a breath of his marriage, and how happy he was, and straight insisted that I must come home to dinner, and see more of Angelica, who had invited me herself — didn’t I hear her?

“Mrs. Berry asked YOU, Frank; but I certainly did not hear her ask ME!”

“She would not have mentioned the dinner but that she meant me to ask you. I know she did,” cried Frank Berry. “And, besides — hang it — I’m master of the house. So come you shall. No ceremony, old boy — one or two friends — snug family party — and we’ll talk of old times over a bottle of claret.”

There did not seem to me to be the slightest objection to this arrangement, except that my boots were muddy, and my coat of the morning sort. But as it was quite impossible to go to Paris and back again in a quarter of an hour, and as a man may dine with perfect comfort to himself in a frock-coat, it did not occur to me to be particularly squeamish, or to decline an old friend’s invitation upon a pretext so trivial.

Accordingly we walked to a small house in the Avenue de Paris, and were admitted first into a small garden ornamented by a grotto, a fountain, and several nymphs in plaster-of-Paris, then up a mouldy old steep stair into a hall, where a statue of Cupid and another of Venus welcomed us with their eternal simper; then through a salle-a-manger where covers were laid for six; and finally to a little saloon, where Fido the dog began to howl furiously according to his wont.

It was one of the old pavilions that had been built for a pleasure-house in the gay days of Versailles, ornamented with abundance of damp Cupids and cracked gilt cornices, and old mirrors let into the walls, and gilded once, but now painted a dingy French white. The long low windows looked into the court, where the fountain played its ceaseless dribble, surrounded by numerous rank creepers and weedy flowers, but in the midst of which the statues stood with their bases quite moist and green.

I hate fountains and statues in dark confined places: that cheerless, endless plashing of water is the most inhospitable sound ever heard. The stiff grin of those French statues, or ogling Canova Graces, is by no means more happy, I think, than the smile of a skeleton, and not so natural. Those little pavilions in which the old roues sported were never meant to be seen by daylight, depend on’t. They were lighted up with a hundred wax-candles, and the little fountain yonder was meant only to cool their claret. And so, my first impression of Berry’s place of abode was rather a dismal one. However, I heard him in the salle-a-manger drawing the corks, which went off with a CLOOP, and that consoled me.

As for the furniture of the rooms appertaining to the Berrys, there was a harp in a leather case, and a piano, and a flute-box, and a huge tambour with a Saracen’s nose just begun, and likewise on the table a multiplicity of those little gilt books, half sentimental and half religious, which the wants of the age and of our young ladies have produced in such numbers of late. I quarrel with no lady’s taste in that way; but heigho! I had rather that Mrs. Fitz-Boodle should read “Humphry Clinker!”

Besides these works, there was a “Peerage,” of course. What genteel family was ever without one?

I was making for the door to see Frank drawing the corks, and was bounced at by the amiable little black-muzzled spaniel, who fastened his teeth in my pantaloons, and received a polite kick in consequence, which sent him howling to the other end of the room, and the animal was just in the act of performing that feat of agility, when the door opened and madame made her appearance. Frank came behind her, peering over her shoulder with rather an anxious look.

Mrs. Berry is an exceedingly white and lean person. She has thick eyebrows, which meet rather dangerously over her nose, which is Grecian, and a small mouth with no lips — a sort of feeble pucker in the face as it were. Under her eyebrows are a pair of enormous eyes, which she is in the habit of turning constantly ceiling-wards. Her hair is rather scarce, and worn in bandeaux, and she commonly mounts a sprig of laurel, or a dark flower or two, which with the sham tour — I believe that is the name of the knob of artificial hair that many ladies sport — gives her a rigid and classical look. She is dressed in black, and has invariably the neatest of silk stockings and shoes: for forsooth her foot is a fine one, and she always sits with it before her, looking at it, stamping it, and admiring it a great deal. “Fido,” she says to her spaniel, “you have almost crushed my poor foot;” or, “Frank,” to her husband, “bring me a footstool:” or, “I suffer so from cold in the feet,” and so forth; but be the conversation what it will, she is always sure to put HER FOOT into it.

She invariably wears on her neck the miniature of her late father, Sir George Catacomb, apothecary to George III.; and she thinks those two men the greatest the world ever saw. She was born in Baker Street, Portman Square, and that is saying almost enough of her. She is as long, as genteel, and as dreary, as that deadly-lively place, and sports, by way of ornament, her papa’s hatchment, as it were, as every tenth Baker Street house has taught her.

What induced such a jolly fellow as Frank Berry to marry Miss Angelica Catacomb no one can tell. He met her, he says, at a ball at Hampton Court, where his regiment was quartered, and where, to this day, lives “her aunt Lady Pash.” She alludes perpetually in conversation to that celebrated lady; and if you look in the “Baronetage” to the pedigree of the Pash family, you may see manuscript notes by Mrs. Frank Berry, relative to them and herself. Thus, when you see in print that Sir John Pash married Angelica, daughter of Graves Catacomb, Esquire, in a neat hand you find written, AND SISTER OF THE LATE SIR GEORGE CATACOMB, OF BAKER STREET, PORTMAN SQUARE: “A.B.” follows of course. It is a wonder how fond ladies are of writing in books, and signing their charming initials! Mrs. Berry’s before-mentioned little gilt books are scored with pencil-marks, or occasionally at the margin with a! — note of interjection, or the words “TOO TRUE, A.B.” and so on. Much may be learned with regard to lovely woman by a look at the books she reads in; and I had gained no inconsiderable knowledge of Mrs. Berry by the ten minutes spent in the drawing-room, while she was at her toilet in the adjoining bedchamber.

“You have often heard me talk of George Fitz,” says Berry, with an appealing look to madame.

“Very often,” answered his lady, in a tone which clearly meant “a great deal too much.” “Pray, sir,” continued she, looking at my boots with all her might, “are we to have your company at dinner?”

“Of course you are, my dear; what else do you think he came for? You would not have the man go back to Paris to get his evening coat, would you?”

“At least, my love, I hope you will go and put on YOURS, and change those muddy boots. Lady Pash will be here in five minutes, and you know Dobus is as punctual as clockwork.” Then turning to me with a sort of apology that was as consoling as a box on the ear, “We have some friends at dinner, sir, who are rather particular persons; but I am sure when they hear that you only came on a sudden invitation, they will excuse your morning dress. — Bah! what a smell of smoke!”

With this speech madame placed herself majestically on a sofa, put out her foot, called Fido, and relapsed into an icy silence. Frank had long since evacuated the premises, with a rueful look at his wife, but never daring to cast a glance at me. I saw the whole business at once: here was this lion of a fellow tamed down by a she Van Amburgh, and fetching and carrying at her orders a great deal more obediently than her little yowling black-muzzled darling of a Fido.

I am not, however, to be tamed so easily, and was determined in this instance not to be in the least disconcerted, or to show the smallest sign of ill-humour: so to renouer the conversation, I began about Lady Pash.

“I heard you mention the name of Pash, I think?” said I. “I know a lady of that name, and a very ugly one it is too.”

“It is most probably not the same person,” answered Mrs. Berry, with a look which intimated that a fellow like me could never have had the honour to know so exalted a person.

“I mean old Lady Pash of Hampton Court. Fat woman — fair, ain’t she? — and wears an amethyst in her forehead, has one eye, a blond wig, and dresses in light green?”

“Lady Pash, sir, is MY AUNT,” answered Mrs. Berry (not altogether displeased, although she expected money from the old lady; but you know we love to hear our friends abused when it can be safely done).

“Oh, indeed! she was a daughter of old Catacomb’s of Windsor, I remember, the undertaker. They called her husband Callipash, and her ladyship Pishpash. So you see, madam, that I know the whole family!”

“Mr. Fitz-Simons!” exclaimed Mrs. Berry, rising, “I am not accustomed to hear nicknames applied to myself and my family; and must beg you, when you honour us with your company, to spare our feelings as much as possible. Mr. Catacomb had the confidence of his SOVEREIGN, sir, and Sir John Pash was of Charles II.‘s creation. The one was my uncle, sir; the other my grandfather!”

“My dear madam, I am extremely sorry, and most sincerely apologise for my inadvertence. But you owe me an apology too: my name is not Fitz-Simons, but Fitz-Boodle.”

“What! of Boodle Hall — my husband’s old friend; of Charles I.‘s creation? My dear sir, I beg you a thousand pardons, and am delighted to welcome a person of whom I have heard Frank say so much. Frank!” (to Berry, who soon entered in very glossy boots and a white waistcoat), “do you know, darling, I mistook Mr. Fitz-Boodle for Mr. Fitz-Simons — that horrid Irish horse-dealing person; and I never, never, never can pardon myself for being so rude to him.”

The big eyes here assumed an expression that was intended to kill me outright with kindness: from being calm, still, reserved, Angelica suddenly became gay, smiling, confidential, and folatre. She told me she had heard I was a sad creature, and that she intended to reform me, and that I must come and see Frank a great deal.

Now, although Mr. Fitz-Simons, for whom I was mistaken, is as low a fellow as ever came out of Dublin, and having been a captain in somebody’s army, is now a blackleg and horse-dealer by profession; yet, if I had brought him home to Mrs. Fitz-Boodle to dinner, I should have liked far better that that imaginary lady should have received him with decent civility, and not insulted the stranger within her husband’s gates. And, although it was delightful to be received so cordially when the mistake was discovered, yet I found that ALL Berry’s old acquaintances were by no means so warmly welcomed; for another old school-chum presently made his appearance, who was treated in a very different manner.

This was no other than poor Jack Butts, who is a sort of small artist and picture-dealer by profession, and was a dayboy at Slaughter House when we were there, and very serviceable in bringing in sausages, pots of pickles, and other articles of merchandise, which we could not otherwise procure. The poor fellow has been employed, seemingly, in the same office of fetcher and carrier ever since; and occupied that post for Mrs. Berry. It was, “Mr. Butts, have you finished that drawing for Lady Pash’s album?” and Butts produced it; and, “Did you match the silk for me at Delille’s?” and there was the silk, bought, no doubt, with the poor fellow’s last five francs; and, “Did you go to the furniture-man in the Rue St. Jacques; and bring the canary-seed, and call about my shawl at that odious dawdling Madame Fichet’s; and have you brought the guitar-strings?”

Butts hadn’t brought the guitar-strings; and thereupon Mrs. Berry’s countenance assumed the same terrible expression which I had formerly remarked in it, and which made me tremble for Berry.

“My dear Angelica,” though said he with some spirit, “Jack Butts isn’t a baggage-waggon, nor a Jack-of-all-trades; you make him paint pictures for your women’s albums, and look after your upholsterer, and your canary-bird, and your milliners, and turn rusty because he forgets your last message.”

“I did not turn RUSTY, Frank, as you call it elegantly. I’m very much obliged to Mr. Butts for performing my commissions — very much obliged. And as for not paying for the pictures to which you so kindly allude, Frank, I should never have thought of offering payment for so paltry a service; but I’m sure I shall be happy to pay if Mr. Butts will send me in his bill.”

“By Jove, Angelica, this is too much!” bounced out Berry; but the little matrimonial squabble was abruptly ended, by Berry’s French man flinging open the door and announcing MILADI PASH and Doctor Dobus, which two personages made their appearance.

The person of old Pash has been already parenthetically described. But quite different from her dismal niece in temperament, she is as jolly an old widow as ever wore weeds. She was attached somehow to the Court, and has a multiplicity of stories about the princesses and the old King, to which Mrs. Berry never fails to call your attention in her grave, important way. Lady Pash has ridden many a time to the Windsor hounds; she made her husband become a member of the Four-inhand Club, and has numberless stories about Sir Godfrey Webster, Sir John Lade, and the old heroes of those times. She has lent a rouleau to Dick Sheridan, and remembers Lord Byron when he was a sulky slim young lad. She says Charles Fox was the pleasantest fellow she ever met with, and has not the slightest objection to inform you that one of the princes was very much in love with her. Yet somehow she is only fifty-two years old, and I have never been able to understand her calculation. One day or other before her eye went out, and before those pearly teeth of hers were stuck to her gums by gold, she must have been a pretty-looking body enough. Yet, in spite of the latter inconvenience, she eats and drinks too much every day, and tosses off a glass of maraschino with a trembling pudgy hand, every finger of which twinkles with a dozen, at least, of old rings. She has a story about every one of those rings, and a stupid one too. But there is always something pleasant, I think, in stupid family stories: they are good-hearted people who tell them.

As for Mrs. Muchit, nothing need be said of her; she is Pash’s companion; she has lived with Lady Pash since the peace. Nor does my Lady take any more notice of her than of the dust of the earth. She calls her “poor Muchit,” and considers her a half-witted creature. Mrs. Berry hates her cordially, and thinks she is a designing toad-eater, who has formed a conspiracy to rob her of her aunt’s fortune. She never spoke a word to poor Muchit during the whole of dinner, or offered to help her to anything on the table.

In respect to Dobus, he is an old Peninsular man, as you are made to know before you have been very long in his company; and, like most army surgeons, is a great deal more military in his looks and conversation, than the combatant part of the forces. He has adopted the sham-Duke-of-Wellington air, which is by no means uncommon in veterans; and, though one of the easiest and softest fellows in existence, speaks slowly and briefly, and raps out an oath or two occasionally, as it is said a certain great captain does. Besides the above, we sat down to table with Captain Goff, late of the — Highlanders; the Reverend Lemuel Whey, who preaches at St. Germains; little Cutler, and the Frenchman, who always WILL be at English parties on the Continent, and who, after making some frightful efforts to speak English, subsides and is heard no more. Young married ladies and heads of families generally have him for the purpose of waltzing, and in return he informs his friends of the club or the cafe that he has made the conquest of a charmante Anglaise. Listen to me, all family men who read this! and never LET AN UNMARRIED FRENCHMAN INTO YOUR DOORS. This lecture alone is worth the price of the book. It is not that they do any harm in one case out of a thousand, Heaven forbid! but they mean harm. They look on our Susannas with unholy dishonest eyes. Hearken to two of the grinning rogues chattering together as they clink over the asphalte of the Boulevard with lacquered boots, and plastered hair, and waxed moustaches, and turned-down shirt-collars, and stays and goggling eyes, and hear how they talk of a good simple giddy vain dull Baker Street creature, and canvass her points, and show her letters, and insinuate — never mind, but I tell you my soul grows angry when I think of the same; and I can’t hear of an Englishwoman marrying a Frenchman without feeling a sort of shame and pity for her. 4

To return to the guests. The Reverend Lemuel Whey is a tea-party man, with a curl on his forehead and a scented pocket-handkerchief. He ties his white neckcloth to a wonder, and I believe sleeps in it. He brings his flute with him; and prefers Handel, of course; but has one or two pet profane songs of the sentimental kind, and will occasionally lift up his little pipe in a glee. He does not dance, but the honest fellow would give the world to do it; and he leaves his clogs in the passage, though it is a wonder he wears them, for in the muddiest weather he never has a speck on his foot. He was at St. John’s College, Cambridge, and was rather gay for a term or two, he says. He is, in a word, full of the milk-and-water of human kindness, and his family lives near Hackney.

As for Goff, he has a huge shining bald forehead, and immense bristling Indian-red whiskers. He wears white wash-leather gloves, drinks fairly, likes a rubber, and has a story for after dinner, beginning, “Doctor, ye racklackt Sandy M’Lellan, who joined us in the West Indies. Wal, sir,” etc. These and little Cutler made up the party.

Now it may not have struck all readers, but any sharp fellow conversant with writing must have found out long ago, that if there had been something exceedingly interesting to narrate with regard to this dinner at Frank Berry’s, I should have come out with it a couple of pages since, nor have kept the public looking for so long a time at the dish-covers and ornaments of the table.

But the simple fact must now be told, that there was nothing of the slightest importance occurred at this repast, except that it gave me an opportunity of studying Mrs. Berry in many different ways; and, in spite of the extreme complaisance which she now showed me, of forming, I am sorry to say, a most unfavourable opinion of that fair lady. Truth to tell, I would much rather she should have been civil to Mrs. Muchit, than outrageously complimentary to your humble servant; and as she professed not to know what on earth there was for dinner, would it not have been much more natural for her not to frown, and bob, and wink, and point, and pinch her lips as often as Monsieur Anatole, her French domestic, not knowing the ways of English dinner-tables, placed anything out of its due order? The allusions to Boodle Hall were innumerable, and I don’t know any greater bore than to be obliged to talk of a place which belongs to one’s elder brother. Many questions were likewise asked about the dowager and her Scotch relatives, the Plumduffs, about whom Lady Pash knew a great deal, having seen them at Court and at Lord Melville’s. Of course she had seen them at Court and at Lord Melville’s, as she might have seen thousands of Scotchmen besides; but what mattered it to me, who care not a jot for old Lady Fitz-Boodle? “When you write, you’ll say you met an old friend of her Ladyship’s,” says Mrs. Berry, and I faithfully promised I would when I wrote; but if the New Post Office paid us for writing letters (as very possibly it will soon), I could not be bribed to send a line to old Lady Fitz.

In a word, I found that Berry, like many simple fellows before him, had made choice of an imperious, ill-humoured, and underbred female for a wife, and could see with half an eye that he was a great deal too much her slave.

The struggle was not over yet, however. Witness that little encounter before dinner; and once or twice the honest fellow replied rather smartly during the repast, taking especial care to atone as much as possible for his wife’s inattention to Jack and Mrs. Muchit, by particular attention to those personages, whom he helped to everything round about and pressed perpetually to champagne; he drank but little himself, for his amiable wife’s eye was constantly fixed on him.

Just at the conclusion of the dessert, madame, who had bouded Berry during dinner-time, became particularly gracious to her lord and master, and tenderly asked me if I did not think the French custom was a good one, of men leaving table with the ladies.

“Upon my word, ma’am,” says I, “I think it’s a most abominable practice.”

“And so do I,” says Cutler.

“A most abominable practice! Do you hear THAT?” cries Berry, laughing, and filling his glass.

“I’m sure, Frank, when we are alone you always come to the drawing-room,” replies the lady, sharply.

“Oh, yes! when we’re alone, darling,” says Berry, blushing; “but now we’re NOT alone — ha, ha! Anatole, du Bordeaux!”

“I’m sure they sat after the ladies at CarIton House; didn’t they, Lady Pash?” says Dobus, who likes his glass.

“THAT they did!” says my Lady, giving him a jolly nod.

“I racklackt,” exclaims Captain Goff, “when I was in the Mauritius, that Mestress MacWhirter, who commanded the Saxty-Sackond, used to say, ‘Mac, if ye want to get lively, ye’ll not stop for more than two hours after the leddies have laft ye: if ye want to get drunk, ye’ll just dine at the mass.’ So ye see, Mestress Barry, what was Mac’s allowance — haw, haw! Mester Whey, I’ll trouble ye for the o-lives.”

But although we were in a clear majority, that indomitable woman, Mrs. Berry, determined to make us all as uneasy as possible, and would take the votes all round. Poor Jack, of course, sided with her, and Whey said he loved a cup of tea and a little music better than all the wine of Bordeaux. As for the Frenchman, when Mrs. Berry said, “And what do you think, M. le Vicomte?”

“Vat you speak?” said M. de Blagueval, breaking silence for the first time during two hours. “Yase — eh? to me you speak?”

“Apry deeny, aimy-voo ally avec les dam?”

“Comment avec les dames?”

“Ally avec les dam com a Parry, ou resty avec les Messew com on Onglyterre?”

“Ah, madame! vous me le demandez?” cries the little wretch, starting up in a theatrical way, and putting out his hand, which Mrs. Berry took, and with this the ladies left the room. Old Lady Pash trotted after her niece with her hand in Whey’s, very much wondering at such practices, which were not in the least in vogue in the reign of George III.

Mrs. Berry cast a glance of triumph at her husband, at the defection; and Berry was evidently annoyed that three-eighths of his male forces had left him.

But fancy our delight and astonishment, when in a minute they all three came back again; the Frenchman looking entirely astonished, and the parson and the painter both very queer. The fact is, old downright Lady Pash, who had never been in Paris in her life before, and had no notion of being deprived of her usual hour’s respite and nap, said at once to Mrs. Berry, “My dear Angelica, you’re surely not going to keep these three men here? Send them back to the dining-room, for I’ve a thousand things to say to you.” And Angelica, who expects to inherit her aunt’s property, of course did as she was bid; on which the old lady fell into an easy chair, and fell asleep immediately — so soon, that is, as the shout caused by the reappearance of the three gentlemen in the dining-room had subsided.

I had meanwhile had some private conversation with little Cutler regarding the character of Mrs. Berry. “She’s a regular screw,” whispered he; “a regular Tartar. Berry shows fight, though, sometimes, and I’ve known him have his own way for a week together. After dinner he is his own master, and hers when he has had his share of wine; and that’s why she will never allow him to drink any.”

Was it a wicked, or was it a noble and honourable thought which came to us both at the same minute, to rescue Berry from his captivity? The ladies, of course, will give their verdict according to their gentle natures; but I know what men of courage will think, and by their jovial judgment will abide.

We received, then, the three lost sheep back into our innocent fold again with the most joyous shouting and cheering. We made Berry (who was, in truth, nothing loth) order up I don’t know how much more claret. We obliged the Frenchman to drink malgre lui, and in the course of a short time we had poor Whey in such a state of excitement, that he actually volunteered to sing a song, which he said he had heard at some very gay supper-party at Cambridge, and which begins:

“A pye sat on a pear-tree,

A pye sat on a pear-tree,

A pye sat on a pear-tree,

Heigh-ho, heigh-ho, heigh-ho!”

Fancy Mrs. Berry’s face as she looked in, in the midst of that Bacchanalian ditty, when she saw no less a person than the Reverend Lemuel Whey carolling it!

“Is it you, my dear?” cries Berry, as brave now as any Petruchio. “Come in, and sit down, and hear Whey’s song.”

“Lady Pash is asleep, Frank,” said she.

“Well, darling! that’s the very reason. Give Mrs. Berry a glass, Jack, will you?”

“Would you wake your aunt, sir?” hissed out madame.

“NEVER MIND ME, LOVE! I’M AWAKE, AND LIKE IT!” cried the venerable Lady Pash from the salon. “Sing away, gentlemen!”

At which we all set up an audacious cheer; and Mrs. Berry flounced back to the drawing-room, but did not leave the door open, that her aunt might hear our melodies.

Berry had by this time arrived at that confidential state to which a third bottle always brings the well-regulated mind; and he made a clean confession to Cutler and myself of his numerous matrimonial annoyances. He was not allowed to dine out, he said, and but seldom to ask his friends to meet him at home. He never dared smoke a cigar for the life of him, not even in the stables. He spent the mornings dawdling in eternal shops, the evenings at endless tea-parties, or in reading poems or missionary tracts to his wife. He was compelled to take physic whenever she thought he looked a little pale, to change his shoes and stockings whenever he came in from a walk. “Look here,” said he, opening his chest, and shaking his fist at Dobus; “look what Angelica and that infernal Dobus have brought me to.”

I thought it might be a flannel waistcoat into which madame had forced him; but it was worse: I give you my word of honour it was a PITCH-PLASTER!

We all roared at this, and the doctor as loud as anyone; but he vowed that he had no hand in the pitch-plaster. It was a favourite family remedy of the late apothecary Sir George Catacomb, and had been put on by Mrs. Berry’s own fair hands.

When Anatole came in with coffee, Berry was in such high courage, that he told him to go to the deuce with it; and we never caught sight of Lady Pash more, except when, muffled up to the nose, she passed through the salle-a-manger to go to her carriage, in which Dobus and the parson were likewise to be transported to Paris. “Be a man, Frank,” says she, “and hold your own”— for the good old lady had taken her nephew’s part in the matrimonial business —“and you, Mr. Fitz-Boodle, come and see him often. You’re a good fellow, take old one-eyed Callipash’s word for it. Shall I take you to Paris?”

Dear kind Angelica, she had told her aunt all I said!

“Don’t go, George,” says Berry, squeezing me by the hand. So I said I was going to sleep at Versailles that night; but if she would give a convoy to Jack Butts, it would be conferring a great obligation on him; with which favour the old lady accordingly complied, saying to him, with great coolness, “Get up and sit with John in the rumble, Mr. What-d’ye-call-’im.” The fact is, the good old soul despises an artist as much as she does a tailor.

Jack tripped to his place very meekly; and “Remember Saturday,” cried the Doctor; and “Don’t forget Thursday!” exclaimed the divine — “a bachelor’s party, you know.” And so the cavalcade drove thundering down the gloomy old Avenue de Paris.

The Frenchman, I forgot to say, had gone away exceedingly ill long before; and the reminiscences of “Thursday” and “Saturday” evoked by Dobus and Whey, were, to tell the truth, parts of our conspiracy; for in the heat of Berry’s courage, we had made him promise to dine with us all round en garcon; with all except Captain Goff, who “racklacted” that he was engaged every day for the next three weeks: as indeed he is, to a thirty-sous ordinary which the gallant officer frequents, when not invited elsewhere.

Cutler and I then were the last on the field; and though we were for moving away, Berry, whose vigour had, if possible, been excited by the bustle and colloquy in the night air, insisted upon dragging us back again, and actually proposed a grill for supper!

We found in the salle-a-manger a strong smell of an extinguished lamp, and Mrs. Berry was snuffing out the,candles on the sideboard.

“Hullo, my dear!” shouts Berry: “easy, if you please; we’ve not done yet!”

“Not done yet, Mr. Berry!” groans the lady, in a hollow sepulchral tone.

“No, Mrs. B., not done yet. We are going to have some supper, ain’t we, George?”

“I think it’s quite time to go home,” said Mr. Fitz-Boodle (who, to say the truth, began to tremble himself).

“I think it is, sir; you are quite right, sir; you will pardon me, gentlemen, I have a bad headache, and will retire.”

“Good-night, my dear!” said that audacious Berry. “Anatole, tell the cook to broil a fowl and bring some wine.”

If the loving couple had been alone, or if Cutler had not been an attache to the embassy, before whom she was afraid of making herself ridiculous, I am confident that Mrs. Berry would have fainted away on the spot; and that all Berry’s courage would have tumbled down lifeless by the side of her. So she only gave a martyrised look, and left the room; and while we partook of the very unnecessary repast, was good enough to sing some hymn-tunes to an exceedingly slow movement in the next room, intimating that she was awake, and that, though suffering, she found her consolations in religion.

These melodies did not in the least add to our friend’s courage. The devilled fowl had, somehow, no devil in it. The champagne in the glasses looked exceedingly flat and blue. The fact is, that Cutler and I were now both in a state of dire consternation, and soon made a move for our hats, and lighting each a cigar in the hall, made across the little green where the Cupids and nymphs were listening to the dribbling fountain in the dark.

“I’m hanged if I don’t have a cigar too!” says Berry, rushing after us; and accordingly putting in his pocket a key about the size of a shovel, which hung by the little handle of the outer grille, forth he sallied, and joined us in our fumigation.

He stayed with us a couple of hours, and returned homewards in perfect good spirits, having given me his word of honour he would dine with us the next day. He put his immense key into the grille, and unlocked it; but the gate would not open: IT WAS BOLTED WITHIN.

He began to make a furious jangling and ringing at the bell; and in oaths, both French and English, called upon the recalcitrant Anatole.

After much tolling of the bell, a light came cutting across the crevices of the inner door; it was thrown open, and a figure appeared with a lamp — a tall slim figure of a woman, clothed in white from head to foot.

It was Mrs. Berry, and when Cutler and I saw her, we both ran away as fast as our legs could carry us.

Berry, at this, shrieked with a wild laughter. “Remember tomorrow, old boys,” shouted he — “six o’clock;” and we were a quarter of a mile off when the gate closed, and the little mansion of the Avenue de Paris was once more quiet and dark.

The next afternoon, as we were playing at billiards, Cutler saw Mrs. Berry drive by in her carriage; and as soon as rather a long rubber was over, I thought I would go and look for our poor friend, and so went down to the Pavilion. Every door was open, as the wont is in France, and I walked in unannounced, and saw this:

He was playing a duet with her on the flute. She had been out but for half-an-hour, after not speaking all the morning; and having seen Cutler at the billiard-room window, and suspecting we might take advantage of her absence, she had suddenly returned home again, and had flung herself, weeping, into her Frank’s arms, and said she could not bear to leave him in anger. And so, after sitting for a little while sobbing on his knee, she had forgotten and forgiven every thing!

The dear angel! I met poor Frank in Bond Street only yesterday; but he crossed over to the other side of the way. He had on goloshes, and is grown very fat and pale. He has shaved off his moustaches, and, instead, wears a respirator. He has taken his name off all his clubs, and lives very grimly in Baker Street. Well, ladies, no doubt you say he is right: and what are the odds, so long as YOU are happy?

4 Every person who has lived abroad can, of course, point out a score of honourable exceptions to the case above hinted at, and knows many such unions in which it is the Frenchman who honours the English lady by marrying her. But it must be remembered that marrying in France means commonly fortune-hunting: and as for the respect in which marriage is held in France, let all the French novels in M. Rolandi’s library be perused by those who wish to come to a decision upon the question.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/thackeray/william_makepeace/mens/chapter11.html

Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 19:07