Mens Wives, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER III.

What Came of Mr Walker’s Discovery of the “Bootjack.”

It is very easy to state how the Captain came to take up that proud position at the “Bootjack” which we have seen him occupy on the evening when the sound of the fatal “Brava!” so astonished Mr. Eglantine.

The mere entry into the establishment was, of course, not difficult. Any person by simply uttering the words “A pint of beer,” was free of the “Bootjack;” and it was some such watchword that Howard Walker employed when he made his first appearance. He requested to be shown into a parlour, where he might repose himself for a while, and was ushered into that very sanctum where the “Kidney Club” met. Then he stated that the beer was the best he had ever tasted, except in Bavaria, and in some parts of Spain, he added; and professing to be extremely “peckish,” requested to know if there were any cold meat in the house whereof he could make a dinner.

“I don’t usually dine at this hour, landlord,” said he, flinging down a half-sovereign for payment of the beer; “but your parlour looks so comfortable, and the Windsor chairs are so snug, that I’m sure I could not dine better at the first club in London.”

“ONE of the first clubs in London is held in this very room,” said Mr. Crump, very well pleased; “and attended by some of the best gents in town, too. We call it the “Kidney Club.”

“Why, bless my soul! it is the very club my friend Eglantine has so often talked to me about, and attended by some of the tip-top tradesmen of the metropolis!”

“There’s better men here than Mr. Eglantine,” replied Mr. Crump, “though he’s a good man — I don’t say he’s not a good man — but there’s better. Mr. Clinker, sir; Mr. Woolsey, of the house of Linsey, Woolsey and Co —”

“The great army-clothiers!” cried Walker; “the first house in town!” and so continued, with exceeding urbanity, holding conversation with Mr. Crump, until the honest landlord retired delighted, and told Mrs. Crump in the bar that there was a tip-top swell in the “Kidney” parlour, who was a-going to have his dinner there.

Fortune favoured the brave Captain in every way. It was just Mr. Crump’s own dinner-hour; and on Mrs. Crump stepping into the parlour to ask the guest whether he would like a slice of the joint to which the family were about to sit down, fancy that lady’s start of astonishment at recognising Mr. Eglantine’s facetious friend of the day before. The Captain at once demanded permission to partake of the joint at the family table; the lady could not with any great reason deny this request; the Captain was inducted into the bar; and Miss Crump, who always came down late for dinner, was even more astonished than her mamma, on beholding the occupier of the fourth place at the table. Had she expected to see the fascinating stranger so soon again? I think she had. Her big eyes said as much, as, furtively looking up at Mr. Walker’s face, they caught his looks; and then bouncing down again towards her plate, pretended to be very busy in looking at the boiled beef and carrots there displayed. She blushed far redder than those carrots, but her shining ringlets hid her confusion together with her lovely face.

Sweet Morgiana! the billiard-ball eyes had a tremendous effect on the Captain. They fell plump, as it were, into the pocket of his heart; and he gallantly proposed to treat the company to a bottle of champagne, which was accepted without much difficulty.

Mr. Crump, under pretence of going to the cellar (where he said he had some cases of the finest champagne in Europe), called Dick, the boy, to him, and despatched him with all speed to a wine merchant’s, where a couple of bottles of the liquor were procured.

“Bring up two bottles, Mr. C.,” Captain Walker gallantly said when Crump made his move, as it were, to the cellar and it may be imagined after the two bottles were drunk (of which Mrs. Crump took at least nine glasses to her share), how happy, merry, and confidential the whole party had become. Crump told his story of the “Bootjack,” and whose boot it had drawn; the former Miss Delancy expatiated on her past theatrical life, and the pictures hanging round the room. Miss was equally communicative; and, in short, the Captain had all the secrets of the little family in his possession ere sunset. He knew that Miss cared little for either of her suitors, about whom mamma and papa had a little quarrel. He heard Mrs. Crump talk of Morgiana’s property, and fell more in love with her than ever. Then came tea, the luscious crumpet, the quiet game at cribbage, and the song — the song which poor Eglantine heard, and which caused Woolsey’s rage and his despair.

At the close of the evening the tailor was in a greater rage, and the perfumer in greater despair than ever. He had made his little present of eau-de-Cologne. “Oh fie!” says the Captain, with a horse-laugh, “it SMELLS OF THE SHOP!” He taunted the tailor about his wig, and the honest fellow had only an oath to give by way of repartee. He told his stories about his club and his lordly friends. What chance had either against the all-accomplished Howard Walker?

Old Crump, with a good innate sense of right and wrong, hated the man; Mrs. Crump did not feel quite at her ease regarding him; but Morgiana thought him the most delightful person the world ever produced.

Eglantine’s usual morning costume was a blue satin neck-cloth embroidered with butterflies and ornamented with a brandy-ball brooch, a light shawl waistcoat, and a rhubarb-coloured coat of the sort which, I believe, are called Taglionis, and which have no waist-buttons, and made a pretence, as it were, to have no waists, but are in reality adopted by the fat in order to give them a waist. Nothing easier for an obese man than to have a waist; he has but to pinch his middle part a little, and the very fat on either side pushed violently forward MAKES a waist, as it were, and our worthy perfumer’s figure was that of a bolster cut almost in two with a string.

Walker presently saw him at his shop-door grinning in this costume, twiddling his ringlets with his dumpy greasy fingers, glittering with oil and rings, and looking so exceedingly contented and happy that the estate-agent felt assured some very satisfactory conspiracy had been planned between the tailor and him. How was Mr. Walker to learn what the scheme was? Alas! the poor fellow’s vanity and delight were such, that he could not keep silent as to the cause of his satisfaction; and rather than not mention it at all, in the fulness of his heart he would have told his secret to Mr. Mossrose himself.

“When I get my coat,” thought the Bond Street Alnaschar, “I’ll hire of Snaffle that easy-going cream-coloured ‘oss that he bought from Astley’s, and I’ll canter through the Park, and WON’T I pass through Little Bunker’s Buildings, that’s all? I’ll wear my grey trousers with the velvet stripe down the side, and get my spurs lacquered up, and a French polish to my boot; and if I don’t DO for the Captain, and the tailor too, my name’s not Archibald. And I know what I’ll do: I’ll hire the small clarence, and invite the Crumps to dinner at the ‘Gar and Starter’” (this was his facetious way of calling the “Star and Garter”), “and I’ll ride by them all the way to Richmond. It’s rather a long ride, but with Snaffle’s soft saddle I can do it pretty easy, I dare say.” And so the honest fellow built castles upon castles in the air; and the last most beautiful vision of all was Miss Crump “in white satting, with a horange flower in her ‘air,” putting him in possession of “her lovely ‘and before the haltar of St. George’s, ‘Anover Square.” As for Woolsey, Eglantine determined that he should have the best wig his art could produce; for he had not the least fear of his rival.

These points then being arranged to the poor fellow’s satisfaction, what does he do but send out for half a quire of pink note-paper, and in a filagree envelope despatch a note of invitation to the ladies at the “Bootjack”:—

“MR. ARCHIBALD EGLANTINE presents his compliments to Mrs. and Miss Crump, and requests the HONOUR AND PLEASURE of their company at the ‘Star and Garter’ at Richmond to an early dinner on Sunday next.

“IF AGREEABLE, Mr. Eglantine’s carriage will be at your door at three o’clock, and I propose to accompany them on horseback, if agreeable likewise.”

This note was sealed with yellow wax, and sent to its destination; and of course Mr. Eglantine went himself for the answer in the evening: and of course he told the ladies to look out for a certain new coat he was going to sport on Sunday; and of course Mr. Walker happens to call the next day with spare tickets for Mrs. Crump and her daughter, when the whole secret was laid bare to him — how the ladies were going to Richmond on Sunday in Mr. Snaffle’s clarence, and how Mr. Eglantine was to ride by their side.

Mr. Walker did not keep horses of his own; his magnificent friends at the “Regent” had plenty in their stables, and some of these were at livery at the establishment of the Captain’s old “college” companion, Mr. Snaffle. It was easy, therefore, for the Captain to renew his acquaintance with that individual. So, hanging on the arm of my Lord Vauxhall, Captain Walker next day made his appearance at Snaffle’s livery-stables, and looked at the various horses there for sale or at bait, and soon managed, by putting some facetious questions to Mr. Snaffle regarding the “Kidney Club,” etc. to place himself on a friendly footing with that gentleman, and to learn from him what horse Mr. Eglantine was to ride on Sunday.

The monster Walker had fully determined in his mind that Eglantine should FALL off that horse in the course of his Sunday’s ride.

“That sing’lar hanimal,” said Mr. Snaffle, pointing to the old horse, “is the celebrated Hemperor that was the wonder of Hastley’s some years back, and was parted with by Mr. Ducrow honly because his feelin’s wouldn’t allow him to keep him no longer after the death of the first Mrs. D., who invariably rode him. I bought him, thinking that p’raps ladies and Cockney bucks might like to ride him (for his haction is wonderful, and he canters like a harm-chair); but he’s not safe on any day except Sundays.”

“And why’s that?” asked Captain Walker. “Why is he safer on Sundays than other days?”

“BECAUSE THERE’S NO MUSIC in the streets on Sundays. The first gent that rode him found himself dancing a quadrille in Hupper Brook Street to an ‘urdy-gurdy that was playing ‘Cherry Ripe,’ such is the natur of the hanimal. And if you reklect the play of the ‘Battle of Hoysterlitz,’ in which Mrs. D. hacted ‘the female hussar,’ you may remember how she and the horse died in the third act to the toon of ‘God preserve the Emperor,’ from which this horse took his name. Only play that toon to him, and he rears hisself up, beats the hair in time with his forelegs, and then sinks gently to the ground as though he were carried off by a cannon-ball. He served a lady hopposite Hapsley ‘Ouse so one day, and since then I’ve never let him out to a friend except on Sunday, when, in course, there’s no danger. Heglantine IS a friend of mine, and of course I wouldn’t put the poor fellow on a hanimal I couldn’t trust.”

After a little more conversation, my lord and his friend quitted Mr. Snaffle’s, and as they walked away towards the “Regent,” his Lordship might be heard shrieking with laughter, crying, “Capital, by jingo! exthlent! Dwive down in the dwag! Take Lungly. Worth a thousand pound, by Jove!” and similar ejaculations, indicative of exceeding delight.

On Saturday morning, at ten o’clock to a moment, Mr. Woolsey called at Mr. Eglantine’s with a yellow handkerchief under his arm. It contained the best and handsomest body-coat that ever gentleman put on. It fitted Eglantine to a nicety — it did not pinch him in the least, and yet it was of so exquisite a cut that the perfumer found, as he gazed delighted in the glass, that he looked like a manly portly high-bred gentleman — a lieutenant-colonel in the army, at the very least.

“You’re a full man, Eglantine,” said the tailor, delighted, too, with his own work; “but that can’t be helped. You look more like Hercules than Falstaff now, sir, and if a coat can make a gentleman, a gentleman you are. Let me recommend you to sink the blue cravat, and take the stripes off your trousers. Dress quiet, sir; draw it mild. Plain waistcoat, dark trousers, black neckcloth, black hat, and if there’s a better-dressed man in Europe tomorrow, I’m a Dutchman.”

“Thank you, Woolsey — thank you, my dear sir,” said the charmed perfumer. “And now I’ll just trouble you to try on this here.”

The wig had been made with equal skill; it was not in the florid style which Mr. Eglantine loved in his own person, but, as the perfumer said, a simple straightforward head of hair. “It seems as if it had grown there all your life, Mr. Woolsey; nobody would tell that it was not your nat’ral colour” (Mr. Woolsey blushed)—“it makes you look ten year younger; and as for that scarecrow yonder, you’ll never, I think, want to wear that again.”

Woolsey looked in the glass, and was delighted too. The two rivals shook hands and straightway became friends, and in the overflowing of his heart the perfumer mentioned to the tailor the party which he had arranged for the next day, and offered him a seat in the carriage and at the dinner at the “Star and Garter.” “Would you like to ride?” said Eglantine, with rather a consequential air. “Snaffle will mount you, and we can go one on each side of the ladies, if you like.”

But Woolsey humbly said he was not a riding man, and gladly consented to take a place in the clarence carriage, provided he was allowed to bear half the expenses of the entertainment. This proposal was agreed to by Mr. Eglantine, and the two gentlemen parted to meet once more at the “Kidneys” that night, when everybody was edified by the friendly tone adopted between them.

Mr. Snaffle, at the club meeting, made the very same proposal to Mr. Woolsey that the perfumer had made; and stated that as Eglantine was going to ride Hemperor, Woolsey, at least, ought to mount too. But he was met by the same modest refusal on the tailor’s part, who stated that he had never mounted a horse yet, and preferred greatly the use of a coach.

Eglantine’s character as a “swell” rose greatly with the club that evening.

Two o’clock on Sunday came: the two beaux arrived punctually at the door to receive the two smiling ladies.

“Bless us, Mr. Eglantine!” said Miss Crump, quite struck by him, “I never saw you look so handsome in your life.” He could have flung his arms around her neck at the compliment. “And law, Ma! what has happened to Mr. Woolsey? doesn’t he look ten years younger than yesterday?” Mamma assented, and Woolsey bowed gallantly, and the two gentlemen exchanged a nod of hearty friendship.

The day was delightful. Eglantine pranced along magnificently on his cantering armchair, with his hat on one ear, his left hand on his side, and his head flung over his shoulder, and throwing under-glances at Morgiana whenever the “Emperor” was in advance of the clarence. The “Emperor” pricked up his ears a little uneasily passing the Ebenezer chapel in Richmond, where the congregation were singing a hymn, but beyond this no accident occurred; nor was Mr. Eglantine in the least stiff or fatigued by the time the party reached Richmond, where he arrived time enough to give his steed into the charge of an ostler, and to present his elbow to the ladies as they alighted from the clarence carriage.

What this jovial party ate for dinner at the “Star and Garter” need not here be set down. If they did not drink champagne I am very much mistaken. They were as merry as any four people in Christendom; and between the bewildering attentions of the perfumer, and the manly courtesy of the tailor, Morgiana very likely forgot the gallant Captain, or, at least, was very happy in his absence.

At eight o’clock they began to drive homewards. “WON’T you come into the carriage?” said Morgiana to Eglantine, with one of her tenderest looks; “Dick can ride the horse.” But Archibald was too great a lover of equestrian exercise. “I’m afraid to trust anybody on this horse,” said he with a knowing look; and so he pranced away by the side of the little carriage. The moon was brilliant, and, with the aid of the gas-lamps, illuminated the whole face of the country in a way inexpressibly lovely.

Presently, in the distance, the sweet and plaintive notes of a bugle were heard, and the performer, with great delicacy, executed a religious air. “Music, too! heavenly!” said Morgiana, throwing up her eyes to the stars. The music came nearer and nearer, and the delight of the company was only more intense. The fly was going at about four miles an hour, and the “Emperor” began cantering to time at the same rapid pace.

“This must be some gallantry of yours, Mr. Woolsey,” said the romantic Morgiana, turning upon that gentleman. “Mr. Eglantine treated us to the dinner, and you have provided us with the music.”

Now Woolsey had been a little, a very little, dissatisfied during the course of the evening’s entertainment, by fancying that Eglantine, a much more voluble person than himself, had obtained rather an undue share of the ladies’ favour; and as he himself paid half of the expenses, he felt very much vexed to think that the perfumer should take all the credit of the business to himself. So when Miss Crump asked if he had provided the music, he foolishly made an evasive reply to her query, and rather wished her to imagine that he HAD performed that piece of gallantry. “If it pleases YOU, Miss Morgiana,” said this artful Schneider, “what more need any man ask? wouldn’t I have all Drury Lane orchestra to please you?”

The bugle had by this time arrived quite close to the clarence carriage, and if Morgiana had looked round she might have seen whence the music came. Behind her came slowly a drag, or private stage-coach, with four horses. Two grooms with cockades and folded arms were behind; and driving on the box, a little gentleman, with a blue bird’s-eye neckcloth, and a white coat. A bugleman was by his side, who performed the melodies which so delighted Miss Crump. He played very gently and sweetly, and “God save the King” trembled so softly out of the brazen orifice of his bugle, that the Crumps, the tailor, and Eglantine himself, who was riding close by the carriage, were quite charmed and subdued.

“Thank you, DEAR Mr. Woolsey,” said the grateful Morgiana; which made Eglantine stare, and Woolsey was just saying, “Really, upon my word, I’ve nothing to do with it,” when the man on the drag-box said to the bugleman, “Now!”

The bugleman began the tune of —

“Heaven preserve our Emperor Fra-an-cis,

Rum tum-ti-tum-ti-titty-ti.”

At the sound, the “Emperor” reared himself (with a roar from Mr. Eglantine)— reared and beat the air with his fore-paws. Eglantine flung his arms round the beast’s neck; still he kept beating time with his fore-paws. Mrs. Crump screamed: Mr. Woolsey, Dick, the clarence coachman, Lord Vauxhall (for it was he), and his Lordship’s two grooms, burst into a shout of laughter; Morgiana cries “Mercy! mercy!” Eglantine yells “Stop!”—“Wo!”—“Oh!” and a thousand ejaculations of hideous terror; until, at last, down drops the “Emperor” stone dead in the middle of the road, as if carried off by a cannon-ball.

Fancy the situation, ye callous souls who laugh at the misery of humanity, fancy the situation of poor Eglantine under the “Emperor”! He had fallen very easy, the animal lay perfectly quiet, and the perfumer was to all intents and purposes as dead as the animal. He had not fainted, but he was immovable with terror; he lay in a puddle, and thought it was his own blood gushing from him; and he would have lain there until Monday morning, if my Lord’s grooms, descending, had not dragged him by the coat-collar from under the beast, who still lay quiet.

“Play ‘Charming Judy Callaghan,’ will ye?” says Mr. Snaffle’s man, the fly-driver; on which the bugler performed that lively air, and up started the horse, and the grooms, who were rubbing Mr. Eglantine down against a lamp-post, invited him to remount.

But his heart was too broken for that. The ladies gladly made room for him in the clarence. Dick mounted “Emperor” and rode homewards. The drag, too, drove away, playing “Oh dear, what can the matter be?” and with a scowl of furious hate, Mr. Eglantine sat and regarded his rival. His pantaloons were split, and his coat torn up the back.

“Are you hurt much, dear Mr. Archibald?” said Morgiana, with unaffected compassion.

“N-not much,” said the poor fellow, ready to burst into tears.

“Oh, Mr. Woolsey,” added the good-natured girl, “how could you play such a trick?”

“Upon my word,” Woolsey began, intending to plead innocence; but the ludicrousness of the situation was once more too much for him, and he burst out into a roar of laughter.

“You! you cowardly beast!” howled out Eglantine, now driven to fury —“YOU laugh at me, you miserable cretur! Take THAT, sir!” and he fell upon him with all his might, and well-nigh throttled the tailor, and pummelling his eyes, his nose, his ears, with inconceivable rapidity, wrenched, finally, his wig off his head, and flung it into the road.

Morgiana saw that Woolsey had red hair. 2

2 A French proverbe furnished the author with the notion of the rivalry between the Barber and the Tailor.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/thackeray/william_makepeace/mens/chapter3.html

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