Mens Wives, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER II.

In which Mr. Walker Makes Three Attempts to Ascertain the Dwelling of Morgiana.

The day after the dinner at the “Regent Club,” Mr. Walker stepped over to the shop of his friend the perfumer, where, as usual, the young man, Mr. Mossrose, was established in the front premises.

For some reason or other, the Captain was particularly good-humoured; and, quite forgetful of the words which had passed between him and Mr. Eglantine’s lieutenant the day before, began addressing the latter with extreme cordiality.

“A good morning to you, Mr. Mossrose,” said Captain Walker. “Why, sir, you look as fresh as your namesake — you do, indeed, now, Mossrose.”

“You look ash yellow ash a guinea,” responded Mr. Mossrose, sulkily. He thought the Captain was hoaxing him.

“My good sir,” replies the other, nothing cast down, “I drank rather too freely last night.”

“The more beast you!” said Mr. Mossrose.

“Thank you, Mossrose; the same to you,” answered the Captain.

“If you call me a beast, I’ll punch your head off!” answered the young man, who had much skill in the art which many of his brethren practise.

“I didn’t, my fine fellow,” replied Walker. “On the contrary, you — “

“Do you mean to give me the lie?” broke out the indignant Mossrose, who hated the agent fiercely, and did not in the least care to conceal his hate.

In fact, it was his fixed purpose to pick a quarrel with Walker, and to drive him, if possible, from Mr. Eglantine’s shop. “Do you mean to give me the lie, I say, Mr. Hooker Walker?”

“For Heaven’s sake, Amos, hold your tongue!” exclaimed the Captain, to whom the name of Hooker was as poison; but at this moment a customer stepping in, Mr. Amos exchanged his ferocious aspect for a bland grin, and Mr. Walker walked into the studio.

When in Mr. Eglantine’s presence, Walker, too, was all smiles in a minute, sank down on a settee, held out his hand to the perfumer, and began confidentially discoursing with him.

“SUCH a dinner, Tiny my boy,” said he; “such prime fellows to eat it, too! Billingsgate, Vauxhall, Cinqbars, Buff of the Blues, and half-a-dozen more of the best fellows in town. And what do you think the dinner cost a head? I’ll wager you’ll never guess.”

“Was it two guineas a head? — In course I mean without wine,” said the genteel perfumer.

“Guess again!”

“Well, was it ten guineas a head? I’ll guess any sum you please,” replied Mr. Eglantine: “for I know that when you NOBS are together, you don’t spare your money. I myself, at the “Star and Garter” at Richmond, once paid —”

“Eighteenpence?”

“Heighteenpence, sir! — I paid five-and-thirty shillings per ‘ead. I’d have you to know that I can act as a gentleman as well as any other gentleman, sir,” answered the perfumer with much dignity.

“Well, eighteenpence was what WE paid, and not a rap more, upon my honour.”

“Nonsense, you’re joking. The Marquess of Billinsgate dine for eighteenpence! Why, hang it, if I was a marquess, I’d pay a five-pound note for my lunch.”

“You little know the person, Master Eglantine,” replied the Captain, with a smile of contemptuous superiority; “you little know the real man of fashion, my good fellow. Simplicity, sir — simplicity’s the characteristic of the real gentleman, and so I’ll tell you what we had for dinner.”

“Turtle and venison, of course:— no nob dines without THEM.”

“Psha! we’re sick of ’em! We had pea soup and boiled tripe! What do you think of THAT? We had sprats and herrings, a bullock’s heart, a baked shoulder of mutton and potatoes, pig’s-fry and Irish stew. I ordered the dinner, sir, and got more credit for inventing it than they ever gave to Ude or Soyer. The Marquess was in ecstasies, the Earl devoured half a bushel of sprats, and if the Viscount is not laid up with a surfeit of bullock’s heart, my name’s not Howard Walker. Billy, as I call him, was in the chair, and gave my health; and what do you think the rascal proposed?”

“What DID his Lordship propose?”

“That every man present should subscribe twopence, and pay for my share of the dinner. By Jove! it is true, and the money was handed to me in a pewter-pot, of which they also begged to make me a present. We afterwards went to Tom Spring’s, from Tom’s to the ‘Finish,’ from the ‘Finish’ to the watch-house — that is, THEY did — and sent for me, just as I was getting into bed, to bail them all out.”

“They’re happy dogs, those young noblemen,” said Mr Eglantine; “nothing but pleasure from morning till night; no affectation neither — no HOTURE; but manly downright straightforward good fellows.”

“Should you like to meet them, Tiny my boy?” said the Captain.

“If I did sir, I hope I should show myself to be gentleman,” answered Mr. Eglantine.

“Well, you SHALL meet them, and Lady Billingsgate shall order her perfumes at your shop. We are going to dine, next week, all our set, at Mealy-faced Bob’s, and you shall be my guest,” cried the Captain, slapping the delighted artist on the back. “And now, my boy, tell me how YOU spent the evening.”

“At my club, sir,” answered Mr. Eglantine, blushing rather.

“What! not at the play with the lovely black-eyed Miss — What is her name, Eglantine?

“Never mind her name, Captain,” replied Eglantine, partly from prudence and partly from shame. He had not the heart to own it was Crump, and he did not care that the Captain should know more of his destined bride.

“You wish to keep the five thousand to yourself — eh, you rogue?” responded the Captain, with a good-humoured air, although exceedingly mortified; for, to say the truth, he had put himself to the trouble of telling the above long story of the dinner, and of promising to introduce Eglantine to the lords, solely that he might elicit from that gentleman’s good-humour some further particulars regarding the young lady with the billiard-ball eyes. It was for the very same reason, too, that he had made the attempt at reconciliation with Mr. Mossrose which had just so signally failed. Nor would the reader, did he know Mr. W. better, at all require to have the above explanation; but as yet we are only at the first chapter of his history, and who is to know what the hero’s motives can be unless we take the trouble to explain?

Well, the little dignified answer of the worthy dealer in bergamot, “NEVER MIND HER NAME, CAPTAIN!” threw the gallant Captain quite aback; and though he sat for a quarter of an hour longer, and was exceedingly kind; and though he threw out some skilful hints, yet the perfumer was quite unconquerable; or, rather, he was too frightened to tell: the poor fat timid easy good-natured gentleman was always the prey of rogues — panting and floundering in one rascal’s snare or another’s. He had the dissimulation, too, which timid men have; and felt the presence of a victimiser as a hare does of a greyhound. Now he would be quite still, now he would double, and now he would run, and then came the end. He knew, by his sure instinct of fear, that the Captain had, in asking these questions, a scheme against him, and so he was cautious, and trembled, and doubted. And oh! how he thanked his stars when Lady Grogmore’s chariot drove up, with the Misses Grogmore, who wanted their hair dressed, and were going to a breakfast at three o’clock!

“I’ll look in again, Tiny,” said the Captain, on hearing the summons.

“DO, Captain,” said the other: “THANK YOU;” and went into the lady’s studio with a heavy heart.

“Get out of the way, you infernal villain!” roared the Captain, with many oaths, to Lady Grogmore’s large footman, with ruby-coloured tights, who was standing inhaling the ten thousand perfumes of the shop; and the latter, moving away in great terror, the gallant agent passed out, quite heedless of the grin of Mr. Mossrose.

Walker was in a fury at his want of success, and walked down Bond Street in a fury. “I WILL know where the girl lives!” swore he. “I’ll spend a five-pound note, by Jove! rather than not know where she lives!”

“THAT YOU WOULD— I KNOW YOU WOULD!” said a little grave low voice, all of a sudden, by his side.” Pooh! what’s money to you?”

Walker looked down: it was Tom Dale.

Who in London did not know little Tom Dale? He had cheeks like an apple, and his hair curled every morning, and a little blue stock, and always two new magazines under his arm, and an umbrella and a little brown frock-coat, and big square-toed shoes with which he went PAPPING down the street. He was everywhere at once. Everybody met him every day, and he knew everything that everybody ever did; though nobody ever knew what HE did. He was, they say, a hundred years old, and had never dined at his own charge once in those hundred years. He looked like a figure out of a waxwork, with glassy clear meaningless eyes: he always spoke with a grin; he knew what you had for dinner the day before he met you, and what everybody had had for dinner for a century back almost. He was the receptacle of all the scandal of all the world, from Bond Street to Bread Street; he knew all the authors, all the actors, all the “notorieties” of the town, and the private histories of each. That is, he never knew anything really, but supplied deficiencies of truth and memory with ready-coined, never-failing lies. He was the most benevolent man in the universe, and never saw you without telling you everything most cruel of your neighbour, and when he left you he went to do the same kind turn by yourself.

“Pooh! what’s money to you, my dear boy?” said little Tom Dale, who had just come out of Ebers’s, where he had been filching an opera-ticket. “You make it in bushels in the City, you know you do —— in thousands. I saw you go into Eglantine’s. Fine business that; finest in London. Five-shilling cakes of soap, my dear boy. I can’t wash with such. Thousands a year that man has made — hasn’t he?”

“Upon my word, Tom, I don’t know,” says the Captain.

“YOU not know? Don’t tell me. You know everything — you agents. You KNOW he makes five thousand a year — ay, and might make ten, but you know why he don’t.”

“Indeed I don’t.”

“Nonsense. Don’t humbug a poor old fellow like me. Jews — Amos — fifty per cent., ay? Why can’t he get his money from a good Christian?”

“I HAVE heard something of that sort,” said Walker, laughing. “Why, by Jove, Tom, you know everything!”

“YOU know everything, my dear boy. You know what a rascally trick that opera creature served him, poor fellow. Cashmere shawls — Storr and Mortimer’s —‘Star and Garter.’ Much better dine quiet off pea-soup and sprats — ay? His betters have, as you know very well.”

“Pea-soup and sprats! What! have you heard of that already?”

“Who bailed Lord Billingsgate, hey, you rogue?” and here Tom gave a knowing and almost demoniacal grin. “Who wouldn’t go to the ‘Finish’? Who had the piece of plate presented to him filled with sovereigns? And you deserved it, my dear boy — you deserved it. They said it was only halfpence, but I know better!” and here Tom went off in a cough.

“I say, Tom,” cried Walker, inspired with a sudden thought, “you, who know everything, and are a theatrical man, did you ever know a Miss Delancy, an actress?”

“At ‘Sadler’s Wells’ in ‘16? Of course I did. Real name was Budge. Lord Slapper admired her very much, my dear boy. She married a man by the name of Crump, his Lordship’s black footman, and brought him five thousand pounds; and they keep the ‘Bootjack’ public-house in Bunker’s Buildings, and they’ve got fourteen children. Is one of them handsome, eh, you sly rogue — and is it that which you will give five pounds to know? God bless you, my dear dear boy. Jones, my dear friend, how are you?”

And now, seizing on Jones, Tom Dale left Mr. Walker alone, and proceeded to pour into Mr. Jones’s ear an account of the individual whom he had just quitted; how he was the best fellow in the world, and Jones KNEW it; how he was in a fine way of making his fortune; how he had been in the Fleet many times, and how he was at this moment employed in looking out for a young lady of whom a certain great marquess (whom Jones knew very well, too) had expressed an admiration.

But for these observations, which he did not hear, Captain Walker, it may be pronounced, did not care. His eyes brightened up, he marched quickly and gaily away; and turning into his own chambers opposite Eglantine’s, shop, saluted that establishment with a grin of triumph. “You wouldn’t tell me her name, wouldn’t you?” said Mr. Walker. “Well, the luck’s with me now, and here goes.”

Two days after, as Mr. Eglantine, with white gloves and a case of eau-de-Cologne as a present in his pocket, arrived at the “Bootjack Hotel,” Little Bunker’s Buildings, Berkeley Square (for it must out — that was the place in which Mr. Crump’s inn was situated), he paused for a moment at the threshold of the little house of entertainment, and listened, with beating heart, to the sound of delicious music that a well-known voice was uttering within.

The moon was playing in silvery brightness down the gutter of the humble street. A “helper,” rubbing down one of Lady Smigsmag’s carriage-horses, even paused in his whistle to listen to the strain. Mr. Tressle’s man, who had been professionally occupied, ceased his tap-tap upon the coffin which he was getting in readiness. The greengrocer (there is always a greengrocer in those narrow streets, and he goes out in white Berlin gloves as a supernumerary footman) was standing charmed at his little green gate; the cobbler (there is always a cobbler too) was drunk, as usual, of evenings, but, with unusual subordination, never sang except when the refrain of the ditty arrived, when he hiccupped it forth with tipsy loyalty; and Eglantine leaned against the chequers painted on the door-side under the name of Crump, and looked at the red illumined curtain of the bar, and the vast well-known shadow of Mrs. Crump’s turban within. Now and again the shadow of that worthy matron’s hand would be seen to grasp the shadow of a bottle; then the shadow of a cup would rise towards the turban, and still the strain proceeded. Eglantine, I say, took out his yellow bandanna, and brushed the beady drops from his brow, and laid the contents of his white kids on his heart, and sighed with ecstatic sympathy. The song began —

“Come to the greenwood tree, 1

Come where the dark woods be,

Dearest, O come with me!

Let us rove — O my love — O my love!

O my-y love!

(Drunken Cobbler without)

O my-y love!”

“Beast!” says Eglantine.

“Come —’tis the moonlight hour,

Dew is on leaf and flower,

Come to the linden bower,

Let us rove — O my love — O my love!

Let us ro-o-ove, lurlurliety; yes, we’ll rove, lurlurliety,

Through the gro-o-ove, lurlurliety — lurlurli-e-i-e-i-e-i!

(Cobbler, as usual)—

Let us ro-o-ove,” etc.

“YOU here?” says another individual, coming clinking up the street, in a military-cut dress-coat, the buttons whereof shone very bright in the moonlight. “YOU here, Eglantine? — You’re always here.”

“Hush, Woolsey,” said Mr. Eglantine to his rival the tailor (for he was the individual in question); and Woolsey, accordingly, put his back against the opposite door-post and chequers, so that (with poor Eglantine’s bulk) nothing much thicker than a sheet of paper could pass out or in. And thus these two amorous caryatides kept guard as the song continued:—

“Dark is the wood, and wide,

Dangers, they say, betide;

But, at my Albert’s side,

Nought, I fear, O my love — O my love!

“Welcome the greenwood tree,

Welcome the forest tree,

Dearest, with thee, with thee,

Nought I fear, O my love — O ma-a-y love!”

Eglantine’s fine eyes were filled with tears as Morgiana passionately uttered the above beautiful words. Little Woolsey’s eyes glistened, as he clenched his fist with an oath, and said, “Show me any singing that can beat THAT. Cobbler, shut your mouth, or I’ll break your head!”

But the cobbler, regardless of the threat, continued to perform the “Lurlurliety” with great accuracy; and when that was ended, both on his part and Morgiana’s, a rapturous knocking of glasses was heard in the little bar, then a great clapping of hands, and finally somebody shouted “Brava!”

“Brava!”

At that word Eglantine turned deadly pale, then gave a start, then a rush forward, which pinned, or rather cushioned, the tailor against the wall; then twisting himself abruptly round, he sprang to the door of the bar, and bounced into that apartment.

“HOW ARE YOU, MY NOSEGAY?” exclaimed the same voice which had shouted “Brava!” It was that of Captain Walker.

At ten o’clock the next morning, a gentleman, with the King’s button on his military coat, walked abruptly into Mr. Eglantine’s shop, and, turning on Mr. Mossrose, said, “Tell your master I want to see him.”

“He’s in his studio,” said Mr. Mossrose.

“Well, then, fellow, go and fetch him!”

And Mossrose, thinking it must be the Lord Chamberlain, or Doctor Praetorius at least, walked into the studio, where the perfumer was seated in a very glossy old silk dressing-gown, his fair hair hanging over his white face, his double chin over his flaccid whity-brown shirt-collar, his pea-green slippers on the hob, and on the fire the pot of chocolate which was simmering for his breakfast. A lazier fellow than poor Eglantine it would be hard to find; whereas, on the contrary, Woolsey was always up and brushed, spick-and-span, at seven o’clock; and had gone through his books, and given out the work for the journeymen, and eaten a hearty breakfast of rashers of bacon, before Eglantine had put the usual pound of grease to his hair (his fingers were always as damp and shiny as if he had them in a pomatum-pot), and arranged his figure for the day.

“Here’s a gent wants you in the shop,” says Mr. Mossrose, leaving the door of communication wide open.

“Say I’m in bed, Mr. Mossrose; I’m out of sperrets, and really can see nobody.”

“It’s someone from Vindsor, I think; he’s got the royal button,” says Mossrose.

“It’s me — Woolsey,” shouted the little man from the shop.

Mr. Eglantine at this jumped up, made a rush to the door leading to his private apartment, and disappeared in a twinkling. But it must not be imagined that he fled in order to avoid Mr. Woolsey. He only went away for one minute just to put on his belt, for he was ashamed to be seen without it by his rival.

This being assumed, and his toilet somewhat arranged, Mr. Woolsey was admitted into his private room. And Mossrose would have heard every word of the conversation between those two gentlemen, had not Woolsey, opening the door, suddenly pounced on the assistant, taken him by the collar, and told him to disappear altogether into the shop: which Mossrose did; vowing he would have his revenge.

The subject on which Woolsey had come to treat was an important one. “Mr. Eglantine,” says he, “there’s no use disguising from one another that we are both of us in love with Miss Morgiana, and that our chances up to this time have been pretty equal. But that Captain whom you introduced, like an ass as you were —”

“An ass, Mr. Woolsey! I’d have you to know, sir, that I’m no more a hass than you are, sir; and as for introducing the Captain, I did no such thing.”

“Well, well, he’s got a-poaching into our preserves somehow. He’s evidently sweet upon the young woman, and is a more fashionable chap than either of us two. We must get him out of the house, sir — we must circumwent him; and THEN, Mr. Eglantine, will be time enough for you and me to try which is the best man.”

“HE the best man?” thought Eglantine; “the little bald unsightly tailor-creature! A man with no more soul than his smoothing-hiron!” The perfumer, as may be imagined, did not utter this sentiment aloud, but expressed himself quite willing to enter into any HAMICABLE arrangement by which the new candidate for Miss Crump’s favour must be thrown over. It was accordingly agreed between the two gentlemen that they should coalesce against the common enemy; that they should, by reciting many perfectly well-founded stories in the Captain’s disfavour, influence the minds of Miss Crump’s parents, and of herself, if possible, against this wolf in sheep’s clothing; and that, when they were once fairly rid of him, each should be at liberty, as before, to prefer his own claim.

“I have thought of a subject,” said the little tailor, turning very red, and hemming and hawing a great deal. “I’ve thought, I say, of a pint, which may be resorted to with advantage at the present juncture, and in which each of us may be useful to the other. An exchange, Mr. Eglantine: do you take?”

“Do you mean an accommodation-bill?” said Eglantine, whose mind ran a good deal on that species of exchange.

“Pooh, nonsense, sir! The name of OUR firm is, I flatter myself, a little more up in the market than some other people’s names.”

“Do you mean to insult the name of Archibald Eglantine, sir? I’d have you to know that at three months —”

“Nonsense!” says Mr. Woolsey, mastering his emotion. “There’s no use a-quarrelling, Mr. E.: we’re not in love with each other, I know that. You wish me hanged, or as good, I know that!”

“Indeed I don’t, sir!”

“You do, sir; I tell you, you do! and what’s more, I wish the same to you — transported, at any rate! But as two sailors, when a boat’s a-sinking, though they hate each other ever so much, will help and bale the boat out; so, sir, let US act: let us be the two sailors.”

“Bail, sir?” said Eglantine, as usual mistaking the drift of the argument. “I’ll bail no man! If you’re in difficulties, I think you had better go to your senior partner, Mr Woolsey.” And Eglantine’s cowardly little soul was filled with a savage satisfaction to think that his enemy was in distress, and actually obliged to come to HIM for succour.

“You’re enough to make Job swear, you great fat stupid lazy old barber!” roared Mr. Woolsey, in a fury.

Eglantine jumped up and made for the bell-rope. The gallant little tailor laughed.

“There’s no need to call in Betsy,” said he. “I’m not a-going to eat you, Eglantine; you’re a bigger man than me: if you were just to fall on me, you’d smother me! Just sit still on the sofa and listen to reason.”

“Well, sir, pro-ceed,” said the barber with a gasp.

“Now, listen! What’s the darling wish of your heart? I know it, sir! you’ve told it to Mr. Tressle, sir, and other gents at the club. The darling wish of your heart, sir, is to have a slap-up coat turned out of the ateliers of Messrs. Linsey, Woolsey and Company. You said you’d give twenty guineas for one of our coats, you know you did! Lord Bolsterton’s a fatter man than you, and look what a figure we turn HIM out. Can any firm in England dress Lord Bolsterton but us, so as to make his Lordship look decent? I defy ’em, sir! We could have given Daniel Lambert a figure!”

“If I want a coat, sir,” said Mr. Eglantine, “and I don’t deny it, there’s some people want a HEAD OF HAIR!”

“That’s the very point I was coming to,” said the tailor, resuming the violent blush which was mentioned as having suffused his countenance at the beginning of the conversation. “Let us have terms of mutual accommodation. Make me a wig, Mr. Eglantine, and though I never yet cut a yard of cloth except for a gentleman, I’ll pledge you my word I’ll make you a coat.”

“WILL you, honour bright?” says Eglantine.

“Honour bright,” says the tailor. “Look!” and in an instant he drew from his pocket one of those slips of parchment which gentlemen of his profession carry, and putting Eglantine into the proper position, began to take the preliminary observations. He felt Eglantine’s heart thump with happiness as his measure passed over that soft part of the perfumer’s person.

Then pulling down the window-blind, and looking that the door was locked, and blushing still more deeply than ever, the tailor seated himself in an arm-chair towards which Mr. Eglantine beckoned him, and, taking off his black wig, exposed his head to the great perruquier’s gaze. Mr. Eglantine looked at it, measured it, manipulated it, sat for three minutes with his head in his hand and his elbow on his knee, gazing at the tailor’s cranium with all his might, walked round it twice or thrice, and then said, “It’s enough, Mr. Woolsey. Consider the job as done. And now, sir,” said he, with a greatly relieved air —“and now, Woolsey, let us ‘ave a glass of curacoa to celebrate this hauspicious meeting.”

The tailor, however, stiffly replied that he never drank in a morning, and left the room without offering to shake Mr. Eglantine by the hand: for he despised that gentleman very heartily, and himself, too, for coming to any compromise with him, and for so far demeaning himself as to make a coat for a barber.

Looking from his chambers on the other side of the street, that inevitable Mr. Walker saw the tailor issuing from the perfumer’s shop, and was at no loss to guess that something extraordinary must be in progress when two such bitter enemies met together.

1 The words of this song are copyright, nor will the copyright be sold for less than twopence-halfpenny.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/thackeray/william_makepeace/mens/chapter2.html

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