Mens Wives, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER IV.

In which the Heroine Has A Number More Lovers, and Cuts A Very Dashing Figure in the World.

Two years have elapsed since the festival at Richmond, which, begun so peaceably, ended in such general uproar. Morgiana never could be brought to pardon Woolsey’s red hair, nor to help laughing at Eglantine’s disasters, nor could the two gentlemen be reconciled to one another. Woolsey, indeed, sent a challenge to the perfumer to meet him with pistols, which the latter declined, saying, justly, that tradesmen had no business with such weapons; on this the tailor proposed to meet him with coats off, and have it out like men, in the presence of their friends of the “Kidney Club”. The perfumer said he would be party to no such vulgar transaction; on which, Woolsey, exasperated, made an oath that he would tweak the perfumer’s nose so surely as he ever entered the club-room; and thus ONE member of the “Kidneys” was compelled to vacate his armchair.

Woolsey himself attended every meeting regularly, but he did not evince that gaiety and good-humour which render men’s company agreeable in clubs. On arriving, he would order the boy to “tell him when that scoundrel Eglantine came;” and, hanging up his hat on a peg, would scowl round the room, and tuck up his sleeves very high, and stretch, and shake his fingers and wrists, as if getting them ready for that pull of the nose which he intended to bestow upon his rival. So prepared, he would sit down and smoke his pipe quite silently, glaring at all, and jumping up, and hitching up his coat-sleeves, when anyone entered the room.

The “Kidneys” did not like this behaviour. Clinker ceased to come. Bustard, the poulterer, ceased to come. As for Snaffle, he also disappeared, for Woolsey wished to make him answerable for the misbehaviour of Eglantine, and proposed to him the duel which the latter had declined. So Snaffle went. Presently they all went, except the tailor and Tressle, who lived down the street, and these two would sit and pug their tobacco, one on each side of Crump, the landlord, as silent as Indian chiefs in a wigwam. There grew to be more and more room for poor old Crump in his chair and in his clothes; the “Kidneys” were gone, and why should he remain? One Saturday he did not come down to preside at the club (as he still fondly called it), and the Saturday following Tressle had made a coffin for him; and Woolsey, with the undertaker by his side, followed to the grave the father of the “Kidneys.”

Mrs. Crump was now alone in the world. “How alone?” says some innocent and respected reader. Ah! my dear sir, do you know so little of human nature as not to be aware that, one week after the Richmond affair, Morgiana married Captain Walker? That did she privately, of course; and, after the ceremony, came tripping back to her parents, as young people do in plays, and said, “Forgive me, dear Pa and Ma, I’m married, and here is my husband the Captain!” Papa and mamma did forgive her, as why shouldn’t they? and papa paid over her fortune to her, which she carried home delighted to the Captain. This happened several months before the demise of old Crump; and Mrs. Captain Walker was on the Continent with her Howard when that melancholy event took place; hence Mrs. Crump’s loneliness and unprotected condition. Morgiana had not latterly seen much of the old people; how could she, moving in her exalted sphere, receive at her genteel new residence in the Edgware Road the old publican and his wife?

Being, then, alone in the world, Mrs. Crump could not abear, she said, to live in the house where she had been so respected and happy: so she sold the goodwill of the “Bootjack,” and, with the money arising from this sale and her own private fortune, being able to muster some sixty pounds per annum, retired to the neighbourhood of her dear old “Sadler’s Wells,” where she boarded with one of Mrs. Serle’s forty pupils. Her heart was broken, she said; but, nevertheless, about nine months after Mr. Crump’s death, the wallflowers, nasturtiums, polyanthuses, and convolvuluses began to blossom under her bonnet as usual; in a year she was dressed quite as fine as ever, and now never missed “The Wells,” or some other place of entertainment, one single night, but was as regular as the box-keeper. Nay, she was a buxom widow still, and an old flame of hers, Fisk, so celebrated as pantaloon in Grimaldi’s time, but now doing the “heavy fathers” at “The Wells,” proposed to her to exchange her name for his.

But this proposal the worthy widow declined altogether. To say truth, she was exceedingly proud of her daughter, Mrs. Captain Walker. They did not see each other much at first; but every now and then Mrs. Crump would pay a visit to the folks in Connaught Square; and on the days when “the Captain’s” lady called in the City Road, there was not a single official at “The Wells,” from the first tragedian down to the call-boy, who was not made aware of the fact.

It has been said that Morgiana carried home her fortune in her own reticule, and, smiling, placed the money in her husband’s lap; and hence the reader may imagine, who knows Mr. Walker to be an extremely selfish fellow, that a great scene of anger must have taken place, and many coarse oaths and epithets of abuse must have come from him, when he found that five hundred pounds was all that his wife had, although he had expected five thousand with her. But, to say the truth, Walker was at this time almost in love with his handsome rosy good-humoured simple wife. They had made a fortnight’s tour, during which they had been exceedingly happy; and there was something so frank and touching in the way in which the kind creature flung her all into his lap, saluting him with a hearty embrace at the same time, and wishing that it were a thousand billion billion times more, so that her darling Howard might enjoy it, that the man would have been a ruffian indeed could he have found it in his heart to be angry with her; and so he kissed her in return, and patted her on the shining ringlets, and then counted over the notes with rather a disconsolate air, and ended by locking them up in his portfolio. In fact, SHE had never deceived him; Eglantine had, and he in return had out-tricked Eglantine and so warm were his affections for Morgiana at this time that, upon my word and honour, I don’t think he repented of his bargain. Besides, five hundred pounds in crisp bank-notes was a sum of money such as the Captain was not in the habit of handling every day; a dashing sanguine fellow, he fancied there was no end to it, and already thought of a dozen ways by which it should increase and multiply into a plum. Woe is me! Has not many a simple soul examined five new hundred-pound notes in this way, and calculated their powers of duration and multiplication?

This subject, however, is too painful to be dwelt on. Let us hear what Walker did with his money. Why, he furnished the house in the Edgware Road before mentioned, he ordered a handsome service of plate, he sported a phaeton and two ponies, he kept a couple of smart maids and a groom foot-boy — in fact, he mounted just such a neat unpretending gentleman-like establishment as becomes a respectable young couple on their outset in life. “I’ve sown my wild oats,” he would say to his acquaintances; “a few years since, perhaps, I would have longed to cut a dash, but now prudence is the word; and I’ve settled every farthing of Mrs. Walker’s fifteen thousand on herself.” And the best proof that the world had confidence in him is the fact, that for the articles of plate, equipage, and furniture, which have been mentioned as being in his possession, he did not pay one single shilling; and so prudent was he, that but for turnpikes, postage-stamps, and king’s taxes, he hardly had occasion to change a five-pound note of his wife’s fortune.

To tell the truth, Mr. Walker had determined to make his fortune. And what is easier in London? Is not the share-market open to all? Do not Spanish and Columbian bonds rise and fall? For what are companies invented, but to place thousands in the pockets of shareholders and directors? Into these commercial pursuits the gallant Captain now plunged with great energy, and made some brilliant hits at first starting, and bought and sold so opportunely, that his name began to rise in the City as a capitalist, and might be seen in the printed list of directors of many excellent and philanthropic schemes, of which there is never any lack in London. Business to the amount of thousands was done at his agency; shares of vast value were bought and sold under his management. How poor Mr. Eglantine used to hate him and envy him, as from the door of his emporium (the firm was Eglantine and Mossrose now) he saw the Captain daily arrive in his pony-phaeton, and heard of the start he had taken in life.

The only regret Mrs. Walker had was that she did not enjoy enough of her husband’s society. His business called him away all day; his business, too, obliged him to leave her of evenings very frequently alone; whilst he (always in pursuit of business) was dining with his great friends at the club, and drinking claret and champagne to the same end.

She was a perfectly good-natured and simple soul, never made him a single reproach; but when he could pass an evening at home with her she was delighted, and when he could drive with her in the Park she was happy for a week after. On these occasions, and in the fulness of her heart, she would drive to her mother and tell her story. “Howard drove with me in the Park yesterday, Mamma;” and “Howard has promised to take me to the Opera,” and so forth. And that evening the manager, Mr. Gawler, the first tragedian, Mrs. Serle and her forty pupils, all the box-keepers, bonnet-women — nay, the ginger-beer girls themselves at “The Wells,” knew that Captain and Mrs. Walker were at Kensington Gardens, or were to have the Marchioness of Billingsgate’s box at the Opera. One night — O joy of joys! — Mrs. Captain Walker appeared in a private box at “The Wells.” That’s she with the black ringlets and Cashmere shawl, smelling-bottle, and black-velvet gown, and bird of paradise in her hat. Goodness gracious! how they all acted at her, Gawler and all, and how happy Mrs. Crump was! She kissed her daughter between all the acts, she nodded to all her friends on the stage, in the slips, or in the real water; she introduced her daughter, Mrs. Captain Walker, to the box-opener; and Melvil Delamere (the first comic), Canterfield (the tyrant), and Jonesini (the celebrated Fontarabian Statuesque), were all on the steps, and shouted for Mrs. Captain Walker’s carriage, and waved their hats, and bowed as the little pony-phaeton drove away. Walker, in his moustaches, had come in at the end of the play, and was not a little gratified by the compliments paid to himself and lady.

Among the other articles of luxury with which the Captain furnished his house we must not omit to mention an extremely grand piano, which occupied four-fifths of Mrs. Walker’s little back drawing-room, and at which she was in the habit of practising continually. All day and all night during Walker’s absences (and these occurred all night and all day), you might hear — the whole street might hear — the voice of the lady at No. 23, gurgling, and shaking, and quavering, as ladies do when they practise. The street did not approve of the continuance of the noise; but neighbours are difficult to please, and what would Morgiana have had to do if she had ceased to sing? It would be hard to lock a blackbird in a cage and prevent him from singing too. And so Walker’s blackbird, in the snug little cage in the Edgware Road, sang and was not unhappy.

After the pair had been married for about a year, the omnibus that passes both by Mrs. Crump’s house near “The Wells,” and by Mrs. Walker’s street off the Edgware Road, brought up the former-named lady almost every day to her daughter. She came when the Captain had gone to his business; she stayed to a two-o’clock dinner with Morgiana; she drove with her in the pony-carriage round the Park; but she never stopped later than six. Had she not to go to the play at seven? And, besides, the Captain might come home with some of his great friends, and he always swore and grumbled much if he found his mother-inlaw on the premises. As for Morgiana, she was one of those women who encourage despotism in husbands. What the husband says must be right, because he says it; what he orders must be obeyed tremblingly. Mrs. Walker gave up her entire reason to her lord. Why was it? Before marriage she had been an independent little person; she had far more brains than her Howard. I think it must have been his moustaches that frightened her, and caused in her this humility.

Selfish husbands have this advantage in maintaining with easy-minded wives a rigid and inflexible behaviour, viz. that if they DO by any chance grant a little favour, the ladies receive it with such transports of gratitude as they would never think of showing to a lord and master who was accustomed to give them everything they asked for; and hence, when Captain Walker signified his assent to his wife’s prayer that she should take a singing-master, she thought his generosity almost divine, and fell upon her mamma’s neck, when that lady came the next day, and said what a dear adorable angel her Howard was, and what ought she not to do for a man who had taken her from her humble situation, and raised her to be what she was! What she was, poor soul! She was the wife of a swindling parvenu gentleman. She received visits from six ladies of her husband’s acquaintances — two attorneys’ ladies, his bill-broker’s lady, and one or two more, of whose characters we had best, if you please, say nothing; and she thought it an honour to be so distinguished: as if Walker had been a Lord Exeter to marry a humble maiden, or a noble prince to fall in love with a humble Cinderella, or a majestic Jove to come down from heaven and woo a Semele. Look through the world, respectable reader, and among your honourable acquaintances, and say if this sort of faith in women is not very frequent? They WILL believe in their husbands, whatever the latter do. Let John be dull, ugly, vulgar, and a humbug, his Mary Ann never finds it out; let him tell his stories ever so many times, there is she always ready with her kind smile; let him be stingy, she says he is prudent; let him quarrel with his best friend, she says he is always in the right; let him be prodigal, she says he is generous, and that his health requires enjoyment; let him be idle, he must have relaxation; and she will pinch herself and her household that he may have a guinea for his club. Yes; and every morning, as she wakes and looks at the face, snoring on the pillow by her side — every morning, I say, she blesses that dull ugly countenance, and the dull ugly soul reposing there, and thinks both are something divine. I want to know how it is that women do not find out their husbands to be humbugs? Nature has so provided it, and thanks to her. When last year they were acting the “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and all the boxes began to roar with great coarse heehaws at Titania hugging Bottom’s long long ears — to me, considering these things, it seemed that there were a hundred other male brutes squatted round about, and treated just as reasonably as Bottom was. Their Titanias lulled them to sleep in their laps, summoned a hundred smiling delicate household fairies to tickle their gross intellects and minister to their vulgar pleasures; and (as the above remarks are only supposed to apply to honest women loving their own lawful spouses) a mercy it is that no wicked Puck is in the way to open their eyes, and point out their folly. Cui bono? let them live on in their deceit: I know two lovely ladies who will read this, and will say it is just very likely, and not see in the least, that it has been written regarding THEM.

Another point of sentiment, and one curious to speculate on. Have you not remarked the immense works of art that women get through? The worsted-work sofas, the counterpanes patched or knitted (but these are among the old-fashioned in the country), the bushels of pincushions, the albums they laboriously fill, the tremendous pieces of music they practise, the thousand other fiddle-faddles which occupy the attention of the dear souls — nay, have we not seen them seated of evenings in a squad or company, Louisa employed at the worsted-work before mentioned, Eliza at the pincushions, Amelia at card-racks or filagree matches, and, in the midst, Theodosia with one of the candles, reading out a novel aloud? Ah! my dear sir, mortal creatures must be very hard put to it for amusement, be sure of that, when they are forced to gather together in a company and hear novels read aloud! They only do it because they can’t help it, depend upon it: it is a sad life, a poor pastime. Mr. Dickens, in his American book, tells of the prisoners at the silent prison, how they had ornamented their rooms, some of them with a frightful prettiness and elaboration. Women’s fancy-work is of this sort often — only prison work, done because there was no other exercising-ground for their poor little thoughts and fingers; and hence these wonderful pincushions are executed, these counterpanes woven, these sonatas learned. By everything sentimental, when I see two kind innocent fresh-cheeked young women go to a piano, and sit down opposite to it upon two chairs piled with more or less music-books (according to their convenience), and, so seated, go through a set of double-barrelled variations upon this or that tune by Herz or Kalkbrenner — I say, far from receiving any satisfaction at the noise made by the performance, my too susceptible heart is given up entirely to bleeding for the performers. What hours, and weeks, nay, preparatory years of study, has that infernal jig cost them! What sums has papa paid, what scoldings has mamma administered (“Lady Bullblock does not play herself;” Sir Thomas says, “but she has naturally the finest ear for music ever known!”); what evidences of slavery, in a word, are there! It is the condition of the young lady’s existence. She breakfasts at eight, she does “Mangnall’s Questions” with the governess till ten, she practises till one, she walks in the square with bars round her till two, then she practises again, then she sews or hems, or reads French, or Hume’s “History,” then she comes down to play to papa, because he likes music whilst he is asleep after dinner, and then it is bed-time, and the morrow is another day with what are called the same “duties” to be gone through. A friend of mine went to call at a nobleman’s house the other day, and one of the young ladies of the house came into the room with a tray on her head; this tray was to give Lady Maria a graceful carriage. Mon Dieu! and who knows but at that moment Lady Bell was at work with a pair of her dumb namesakes, and Lady Sophy lying flat on a stretching-board? I could write whole articles on this theme but peace! we are keeping Mrs. Walker waiting all the while.

Well, then, if the above disquisitions have anything to do with the story, as no doubt they have, I wish it to be understood that, during her husband’s absence, and her own solitary confinement, Mrs. Howard Walker bestowed a prodigious quantity of her time and energy on the cultivation of her musical talent; and having, as before stated, a very fine loud voice, speedily attained no ordinary skill in the use of it. She first had for teacher little Podmore, the fat chorus-master at “The Wells,” and who had taught her mother the “Tink-a-tink” song which has been such a favourite since it first appeared. He grounded her well, and bade her eschew the singing of all those “Eagle Tavern” ballads in which her heart formerly delighted; and when he had brought her to a certain point of skill, the honest little chorus-master said she should have a still better instructor, and wrote a note to Captain Walker (enclosing his own little account), speaking in terms of the most flattering encomium of his lady’s progress, and recommending that she should take lessons of the celebrated Baroski. Captain Walker dismissed Podmore then, and engaged Signor Baroski, at a vast expense; as he did not fail to tell his wife. In fact, he owed Baroski no less than two hundred and twenty guineas when he was — But we are advancing matters.

Little Baroski is the author of the opera of “Eliogabalo,” of the oratorio of “Purgatorio,” which made such an immense sensation, of songs and ballet-musics innumerable. He is a German by birth, and shows such an outrageous partiality for pork and sausages, and attends at church so constantly, that I am sure there cannot be any foundation in the story that he is a member of the ancient religion. He is a fat little man, with a hooked nose and jetty whiskers, and coal-black shining eyes, and plenty of rings and jewels on his fingers and about his person, and a very considerable portion of his shirtsleeves turned over his coat to take the air. His great hands (which can sprawl over half a piano, and produce those effects on the instrument for which he is celebrated) are encased in lemon-coloured kids, new, or cleaned daily. Parenthetically, let us ask why so many men, with coarse red wrists and big hands, persist in the white kid glove and wristband system? Baroski’s gloves alone must cost him a little fortune; only he says with a leer, when asked the question, “Get along vid you; don’t you know dere is a gloveress that lets me have dem very sheap?” He rides in the Park; has splendid lodgings in Dover Street; and is a member of the “Regent Club,” where he is a great source of amusement to the members, to whom he tells astonishing stories of his successes with the ladies, and for whom he has always play and opera tickets in store. His eye glistens and his little heart beats when a lord speaks to him; and he has been known to spend large sums of money in giving treats to young sprigs of fashion at Richmond and elsewhere. “In my bolyticks,” he says, “I am consarevatiff to de bag-bone.” In fine, he is a puppy, and withal a man of considerable genius in his profession.

This gentleman, then, undertook to complete the musical education of Mrs. Walker. He expressed himself at once “enshanted vid her gababilities,” found that the extent of her voice was “brodigious,” and guaranteed that she should become a first-rate singer. The pupil was apt, the master was exceedingly skilful; and, accordingly, Mrs. Walker’s progress was very remarkable: although, for her part, honest Mrs. Crump, who used to attend her daughter’s lessons, would grumble not a little at the new system, and the endless exercises which she, Morgiana, was made to go through. It was very different in HER time, she said. Incledon knew no music, and who could sing so well now? Give her a good English ballad: it was a thousand times sweeter than your “Figaros” and “Semiramides.”

In spite of these objections, however, and with amazing perseverance and cheerfulness, Mrs. Walker pursued the method of study pointed out to her by her master. As soon as her husband went to the City in the morning her operations began; if he remained away at dinner, her labours still continued: nor is it necessary for me to particularise her course of study, nor, indeed, possible; for, between ourselves, none of the male Fitz-Boodles ever could sing a note, and the jargon of scales and solfeggios is quite unknown to me. But as no man can have seen persons addicted to music without remarking the prodigious energies they display in the pursuit, as there is no father of daughters, however ignorant, but is aware of the piano-rattling and voice-exercising which go on in his house from morning till night, so let all fancy, without further inquiry, how the heroine of our story was at this stage of her existence occupied.

Walker was delighted with her progress, and did everything but pay Baroski, her instructor. We know why he didn’t pay. It was his nature not to pay bills, except on extreme compulsion; but why did not Baroski employ that extreme compulsion? Because, if he had received his money, he would have lost his pupil, and because he loved his pupil more than money. Rather than lose her, he would have given her a guinea as well as her cachet. He would sometimes disappoint a great personage, but he never missed his attendance on HER; and the truth must out, that he was in love with her, as Woolsey and Eglantine had been before.

“By the immortel Chofe!” he would say, “dat letell ding sents me mad vid her big ice! But only vait avile: in six veeks I can bring any voman in England on her knees to me and you shall see vat I vill do vid my Morgiana.” He attended her for six weeks punctually, and yet Morgiana was never brought down on her knees; he exhausted his best stock of “gomblimends,” and she never seemed disposed to receive them with anything but laughter. And, as a matter of course, he only grew more infatuated with the lovely creature who was so provokingly good-humoured and so laughingly cruel.

Benjamin Baroski was one of the chief ornaments of the musical profession in London; he charged a guinea for a lesson of three-quarters of an hour abroad, and he had, furthermore, a school at his own residence, where pupils assembled in considerable numbers, and of that curious mixed kind which those may see who frequent these places of instruction. There were very innocent young ladies with their mammas, who would hurry them off trembling to the farther corner of the room when certain doubtful professional characters made their appearance. There was Miss Grigg, who sang at the “Foundling,” and Mr. Johnson, who sang at the “Eagle Tavern,” and Madame Fioravanti (a very doubtful character), who sang nowhere, but was always coming out at the Italian Opera. There was Lumley Limpiter (Lord Tweedledale’s son), one of the most accomplished tenors in town, and who, we have heard, sings with the professionals at a hundred concerts; and with him, too, was Captain Guzzard, of the Guards, with his tremendous bass voice, which all the world declared to be as fine as Porto’s, and who shared the applause of Baroski’s school with Mr. Bulger, the dentist of Sackville Street, who neglected his ivory and gold plates for his voice, as every unfortunate individual will do who is bitten by the music mania. Then among the ladies there were a half-score of dubious pale governesses and professionals with turned frocks and lank damp bandeaux of hair under shabby little bonnets; luckless creatures these, who were parting with their poor little store of half-guineas to be enabled to say they were pupils of Signor Baroski, and so get pupils of their own among the British youths, or employment in the choruses of the theatres.

The prima donna of the little company was Amelia Larkins, Baroski’s own articled pupil, on whose future reputation the eminent master staked his own, whose profits he was to share, and whom he had farmed, to this end, from her father, a most respectable sheriff’s officer’s assistant, and now, by his daughter’s exertions, a considerable capitalist. Amelia is blonde and blue-eyed, her complexion is as bright as snow, her ringlets of the colour of straw, her figure — but why describe her figure? Has not all the world seen her at the Theatres Royal and in America under the name of Miss Ligonier?

Until Mrs. Walker arrived, Miss Larkins was the undisputed princess of the Baroski company — the Semiramide, the Rosina, the Tamina, the Donna Anna. Baroski vaunted her everywhere as the great rising genius of the day, bade Catalani look to her laurels, and questioned whether Miss Stephens could sing a ballad like his pupil. Mrs. Howard Walker arrived, and created, on the first occasion, no small sensation. She improved, and the little society became speedily divided into Walkerites and Larkinsians; and between these two ladies (as indeed between Guzzard and Bulger before mentioned, between Miss Brunck and Miss Horsman, the two contraltos, and between the chorus-singers, after their kind) a great rivalry arose. Larkins was certainly the better singer; but could her straw-coloured curls and dumpy high-shouldered figure bear any comparison with the jetty ringlets and stately form of Morgiana? Did not Mrs. Walker, too, come to the music-lesson in her carriage, and with a black velvet gown and Cashmere shawl, while poor Larkins meekly stepped from Bell Yard, Temple Bar, in an old print gown and clogs, which she left in the hall? “Larkins sing!” said Mrs. Crump, sarcastically; “I’m sure she ought; her mouth’s big enough to sing a duet.” Poor Larkins had no one to make epigrams in her behoof; her mother was at home tending the younger ones, her father abroad following the duties of his profession; she had but one protector, as she thought, and that one was Baroski. Mrs. Crump did not fail to tell Lumley Limpiter of her own former triumphs, and to sing him “Tink-a-tink,” which we have previously heard, and to state how in former days she had been called the Ravenswing. And Lumley, on this hint, made a poem, in which he compared Morgiana’s hair to the plumage of the Raven’s wing, and Larkinissa’s to that of the canary; by which two names the ladies began soon to be known in the school.

Ere long the flight of the Ravenswing became evidently stronger, whereas that of the canary was seen evidently to droop. When Morgiana sang, all the room would cry “Bravo!” when Amelia performed, scarce a hand was raised for applause of her, except Morgiana’s own, and that the Larkinses thought was lifted in odious triumph, rather than in sympathy, for Miss L. was of an envious turn, and little understood the generosity of her rival.

At last, one day, the crowning victory of the Ravenswing came. In the trio of Baroski’s own opera of “Eliogabalo,” “Rosy lips and rosy wine,” Miss Larkins, who was evidently unwell, was taking the part of the English captive, which she had sung in public concerts before royal dukes, and with considerable applause, and, from some reason, performed it so ill, that Baroski, slapping down the music on the piano in a fury, cried, “Mrs. Howard Walker, as Miss Larkins cannot sing today, will you favour us by taking the part of Boadicetta?” Mrs. Walker got up smilingly to obey — the triumph was too great to be withstood; and, as she advanced to the piano, Miss Larkins looked wildly at her, and stood silent for a while, and, at last, shrieked out, “BENJAMIN!” in a tone of extreme agony, and dropped fainting down on the ground. Benjamin looked extremely red, it must be confessed, at being thus called by what we shall denominate his Christian name, and Limpiter looked round at Guzzard, and Miss Brunck nudged Miss Horsman, and the lesson concluded rather abruptly that day; for Miss Larkins was carried off to the next room, laid on a couch, and sprinkled with water.

Good-natured Morgiana insisted that her mother should take Miss Larkins to Bell Yard in her carriage, and went herself home on foot; but I don’t know that this piece of kindness prevented Larkins from hating her. I should doubt if it did.

Hearing so much of his wife’s skill as a singer, the astute Captain Walker determined to take advantage of it for the purpose of increasing his “connection.” He had Lumley Limpiter at his house before long, which was, indeed, no great matter, for honest Lum would go anywhere for a good dinner — and an opportunity to show off his voice afterwards, and Lumley was begged to bring any more clerks in the Treasury of his acquaintance; Captain Guzzard was invited, and any officers of the Guards whom he might choose to bring; Bulger received occasional cards:— in a word, and after a short time, Mrs. Howard Walker’s musical parties began to be considerably suivies. Her husband had the satisfaction to see his rooms filled by many great personages; and once or twice in return (indeed, whenever she was wanted, or when people could not afford to hire the first singers) she was asked to parties elsewhere, and treated with that killing civility which our English aristocracy knows how to bestow on artists. Clever and wise aristocracy! It is sweet to mark your ways, and study your commerce with inferior men.

I was just going to commence a tirade regarding the aristocracy here, and to rage against that cool assumption of superiority which distinguishes their lordships’ commerce with artists of all sorts: that politeness which, if it condescends to receive artists at all, takes care to have them altogether, so that there can be no mistake about their rank — that august patronage of art which rewards it with a silly flourish of knighthood, to be sure, but takes care to exclude it from any contact with its betters in society — I was, I say, just going to commence a tirade against the aristocracy for excluding artists from their company, and to be extremely satirical upon them, for instance, for not receiving my friend Morgiana, when it suddenly came into my head to ask, was Mrs. Walker fit to move in the best society? — to which query it must humbly be replied that she was not. Her education was not such as to make her quite the equal of Baker Street. She was a kind honest and clever creature; but, it must be confessed, not refined. Wherever she went she had, if not the finest, at any rate the most showy gown in the room; her ornaments were the biggest; her hats, toques, berets, marabouts, and other fallals, always the most conspicuous. She drops “h’s” here and there. I have seen her eat peas with a knife (and Walker, scowling on the opposite side of the table, striving in vain to catch her eye); and I shall never forget Lady Smigsmag’s horror when she asked for porter at dinner at Richmond, and began to drink it out of the pewter pot. It was a fine sight. She lifted up the tankard with one of the finest arms, covered with the biggest bracelets ever seen; and had a bird of paradise on her head, that curled round the pewter disc of the pot as she raised it, like a halo. These peculiarities she had, and has still. She is best away from the genteel world, that is the fact. When she says that “The weather is so ‘ot that it is quite debiliating;” when she laughs, when she hits her neighbour at dinner on the side of the waistcoat (as she will if he should say anything that amuses her), she does what is perfectly natural and unaffected on her part, but what is not customarily done among polite persons, who can sneer at her odd manners and her vanity, but don’t know the kindness, honesty, and simplicity which distinguish her. This point being admitted, it follows, of course, that the tirade against the aristocracy would, in the present instance, be out of place — so it shall be reserved for some other occasion.

The Ravenswing was a person admirably disposed by nature to be happy. She had a disposition so kindly that any small attention would satisfy it; was pleased when alone; was delighted in a crowd; was charmed with a joke, however old; was always ready to laugh, to sing, to dance, or to be merry; was so tender-hearted that the smallest ballad would make her cry: and hence was supposed, by many persons, to be extremely affected, and by almost all to be a downright coquette. Several competitors for her favour presented themselves besides Baroski. Young dandies used to canter round her phaeton in the park, and might be seen haunting her doors in the mornings. The fashionable artist of the day made a drawing of her, which was engraved and sold in the shops; a copy of it was printed in a song, “Black-eyed Maiden of Araby,” the words by Desmond Mulligan, Esquire, the music composed and dedicated to MRS. HOWARD WALKER, by her most faithful and obliged servant, Benjamin Baroski; and at night her Opera-box was full. Her Opera-box? Yes, the heiress of the “Bootjack” actually had an Opera-box, and some of the most fashionable manhood of London attended it.

Now, in fact, was the time of her greatest prosperity; and her husband gathering these fashionable characters about him, extended his “agency” considerably, and began to thank his stars that he had married a woman who was as good as a fortune to him.

In extending his agency, however, Mr. Walker increased his expenses proportionably, and multiplied his debts accordingly. More furniture and more plate, more wines and more dinner-parties, became necessary; the little pony-phaeton was exchanged for a brougham of evenings; and we may fancy our old friend Mr. Eglantine’s rage and disgust, as he looked from the pit of the Opera, to see Mrs. Walker surrounded by what he called “the swell young nobs” about London, bowing to my Lord, and laughing with his Grace, and led to carriage by Sir John.

The Ravenswing’s position at this period was rather an exceptional one. She was an honest woman, visited by that peculiar class of our aristocracy who chiefly associate with ladies who are NOT honest. She laughed with all, but she encouraged none. Old Crump was constantly at her side now when she appeared in public, the most watchful of mammas, always awake at the Opera, though she seemed to be always asleep; but no dandy debauchee could deceive her vigilance, and for this reason Walker, who disliked her (as every man naturally will, must, and should dislike his mother-inlaw), was contented to suffer her in his house to act as a chaperon to Morgiana.

None of the young dandies ever got admission of mornings to the little mansion in the Edgware Road; the blinds were always down; and though you might hear Morgiana’s voice half across the Park as she was practising, yet the youthful hall-porter in the sugar-loaf buttons was instructed to deny her, and always declared that his mistress was gone out, with the most admirable assurance.

After some two years of her life of splendour, there were, to be sure, a good number of morning visitors, who came with SINGLE knocks, and asked for Captain Walker; but these were no more admitted than the dandies aforesaid, and were referred, generally, to the Captain’s office, whither they went or not at their convenience. The only man who obtained admission into the house was Baroski, whose cab transported him thrice a week to the neighbourhood of Connaught Square, and who obtained ready entrance in his professional capacity.

But even then, and much to the wicked little music-master’s disappointment, the dragon Crump was always at the piano, with her endless worsted work, or else reading her unfailing Sunday Times; and Baroski could only employ “de langvitch of de ice,” as he called it, with his fair pupil, who used to mimic his manner of rolling his eyes about afterwards, and perform “Baroski in love” for the amusement of her husband and her mamma. The former had his reasons for overlooking the attentions of the little music-master; and as for the latter, had she not been on the stage, and had not many hundreds of persons, in jest or earnest, made love to her? What else can a pretty woman expect who is much before the public? And so the worthy mother counselled her daughter to bear these attentions with good humour, rather than to make them a subject of perpetual alarm and quarrel.

Baroski, then, was allowed to go on being in love, and was never in the least disturbed in his passion; and if he was not successful, at least the little wretch could have the pleasure of HINTING that he was, and looking particularly roguish when the Ravenswing was named, and assuring his friends at the club, that “upon his vort dere vas no trut IN DAT REBORT.”

At last one day it happened that Mrs. Crump did not arrive in time for her daughter’s lesson (perhaps it rained and the omnibus was full — a smaller circumstance than that has changed a whole life ere now)— Mrs. Crump did not arrive, and Baroski did, and Morgiana, seeing no great harm, sat down to her lesson as usual, and in the midst of it down went the music-master on his knees, and made a declaration in the most eloquent terms he could muster.

“Don’t be a fool, Baroski!” said the lady —(I can’t help it if her language was not more choice, and if she did not rise with cold dignity, exclaiming, “Unhand me, sir!”)—“Don’t be a fool!” said Mrs. Walker, “but get up and let’s finish the lesson.”

“You hard-hearted adorable little greature, vill you not listen to me?”

“No, I vill not listen to you, Benjamin!” concluded the lady. “Get up and take a chair, and don’t go on in that ridiklous way, don’t!”

But Baroski, having a speech by heart, determined to deliver himself of it in that posture, and begged Morgiana not to turn avay her divine hice, and to listen to de voice of his despair, and so forth; he seized the lady’s hand, and was going to press it to his lips, when she said, with more spirit, perhaps, than grace —

“Leave go my hand, sir; I’ll box your ears if you don’t!”

But Baroski wouldn’t release her hand, and was proceeding to imprint a kiss upon it; and Mrs. Crump, who had taken the omnibus at a quarter-past twelve instead of that at twelve, had just opened the drawing-room door and was walking in, when Morgiana, turning as red as a peony, and unable to disengage her left hand, which the musician held, raised up her right hand, and, with all her might and main, gave her lover such a tremendous slap in the face as caused him abruptly to release the hand which he held, and would have laid him prostrate on the carpet but for Mrs. Crump, who rushed forward and prevented him from falling by administering right and left a whole shower of slaps, such as he had never endured since the day he was at school.

“What imperence!” said that worthy lady; “you’ll lay hands on my daughter, will you? (one, two). You’ll insult a woman in distress, will you, you little coward? (one, two). Take that, and mind your manners, you filthy monster!”

Baroski bounced up in a fury. “By Chofe, you shall hear of dis!” shouted he; “you shall pay me dis!”

“As many more as you please, little Benjamin,” cried the widow. “Augustus” (to the page), “was that the Captain’s knock?” At this Baroski made for his hat. “Augustus, show this imperence to the door; and if he tries to come in again, call a policeman: do you hear?”

The music-master vanished very rapidly, and the two ladies, instead of being frightened or falling into hysterics, as their betters would have done, laughed at the odious monster’s discomfiture, as they called him. “Such a man as that set himself up against my Howard!” said Morgiana, with becoming pride; but it was agreed between them that Howard should know nothing of what had occurred, for fear of quarrels, or lest he should be annoyed. So when he came home not a word was said; and only that his wife met him with more warmth than usual, you could not have guessed that anything extraordinary had occurred. It is not my fault that my heroine’s sensibilities were not more keen, that she had not the least occasion for sal-volatile or symptom of a fainting fit; but so it was, and Mr. Howard Walker knew nothing of the quarrel between his wife and her instructor until —

Until he was arrested next day at the suit of Benjamin Baroski for two hundred and twenty guineas, and, in default of payment, was conducted by Mr. Tobias Larkins to his principal’s lock-up house in Chancery Lane.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/thackeray/william_makepeace/mens/chapter4.html

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