Mens Wives, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER V.

In which Mr. Walker Falls Into Difficulties, and Mrs. Walker Makes Many Foolish Attempts to Rescue Him.

I hope the beloved reader is not silly enough to imagine that Mr. Walker, on finding himself inspunged for debt in Chancery Lane, was so foolish as to think of applying to any of his friends (those great personages who have appeared every now and then in the course of this little history, and have served to give it a fashionable air). No, no; he knew the world too well; and that, though Billingsgate would give him as many dozen of claret as he could carry away under his belt, as the phrase is (I can’t help it, madam, if the phrase is not more genteel), and though Vauxhall would lend him his carriage, slap him on the back, and dine at his house — their lordships would have seen Mr. Walker depending from a beam in front of the Old Bailey rather than have helped him to a hundred pounds.

And why, forsooth, should we expect otherwise in the world? I observe that men who complain of its selfishness are quite as selfish as the world is, and no more liberal of money than their neighbours; and I am quite sure with regard to Captain Walker that he would have treated a friend in want exactly as he when in want was treated. There was only his lady who was in the least afflicted by his captivity; and as for the club, that went on, we are bound to say, exactly as it did on the day previous to his disappearance.

By the way, about clubs — could we not, but for fear of detaining the fair reader too long, enter into a wholesome dissertation here on the manner of friendship established in those institutions, and the noble feeling of selfishness which they are likely to encourage in the male race? I put out of the question the stale topics of complaint, such as leaving home, encouraging gormandising and luxurious habits, etc.; but look also at the dealings of club-men with one another. Look at the rush for the evening paper! See how Shiverton orders a fire in the dog-days, and Swettenham opens the windows in February. See how Cramley takes the whole breast of the turkey on his plate, and how many times Jenkins sends away his beggarly half-pint of sherry! Clubbery is organised egotism. Club intimacy is carefully and wonderfully removed from friendship. You meet Smith for twenty years, exchange the day’s news with him, laugh with him over the last joke, grow as well acquainted as two men may be together — and one day, at the end of the list of members of the club, you read in a little paragraph by itself, with all the honours,

MEMBER DECEASED.
Smith, John, Esq.;

or he, on the other hand, has the advantage of reading your own name selected for a similar typographical distinction. There it is, that abominable little exclusive list at the end of every club-catalogue — you can’t avoid it. I belong to eight clubs myself, and know that one year Fitz-Boodle, George Savage, Esq. (unless it should please fate to remove my brother and his six sons, when of course it would be Fitz-Boodle, Sir George Savage, Bart.), will appear in the dismal category. There is that list; down I must go in it:— the day will come, and I shan’t be seen in the bow-window, someone else will be sitting in the vacant armchair: the rubber will begin as usual, and yet somehow Fitz will not be there. “Where’s Fitz?” says Trumpington, just arrived from the Rhine. “Don’t you know?” says Punter, turning down his thumb to the carpet. “You led the club, I think?” says Ruff to his partner (the OTHER partner!), and the waiter snuffs the candles.

* * *

I hope in the course of the above little pause, every single member of a club who reads this has profited by the perusal. He may belong, I say, to eight clubs; he will die, and not be missed by any of the five thousand members. Peace be to him; the waiters will forget him, and his name will pass away, and another great-coat will hang on the hook whence his own used to be dependent.

And this, I need not say, is the beauty of the club-institutions. If it were otherwise — if, forsooth, we were to be sorry when our friends died, or to draw out our purses when our friends were in want, we should be insolvent, and life would be miserable. Be it ours to button up our pockets and our hearts; and to make merry — it is enough to swim down this life-stream for ourselves; if Poverty is clutching hold of our heels, or Friendship would catch an arm, kick them both off. Every man for himself, is the word, and plenty to do too.

My friend Captain Walker had practised the above maxims so long and resolutely as to be quite aware when he came himself to be in distress, that not a single soul in the whole universe would help him, and he took his measures accordingly.

When carried to Mr. Bendigo’s lock-up house, he summoned that gentleman in a very haughty way, took a blank banker’s cheque out of his pocket-book, and filling it up for the exact sum of the writ, orders Mr. Bendigo forthwith to open the door and let him go forth.

Mr. Bendigo, smiling with exceeding archness, and putting a finger covered all over with diamond rings to his extremely aquiline nose, inquired of Mr. Walker whether he saw anything green about his face? intimating by this gay and good-humoured interrogatory his suspicion of the unsatisfactory nature of the document handed over to him by Mr. Walker.

“Hang it, sir!” says Mr. Walker, “go and get the cheque cashed, and be quick about it. Send your man in a cab, and here’s a half-crown to pay for it.” The confident air somewhat staggers the bailiff, who asked him whether he would like any refreshment while his man was absent getting the amount of the cheque, and treated his prisoner with great civility during the time of the messenger’s journey.

But as Captain Walker had but a balance of two pounds five and twopence (this sum was afterwards divided among his creditors, the law expenses being previously deducted from it), the bankers of course declined to cash the Captain’s draft for two hundred and odd pounds, simply writing the words “No effects” on the paper; on receiving which reply Walker, far from being cast down, burst out laughing very gaily, produced a real five-pound note, and called upon his host for a bottle of champagne, which the two worthies drank in perfect friendship and good-humour. The bottle was scarcely finished, and the young Israelitish gentleman who acts as waiter in Cursitor Street had only time to remove the flask and the glasses, when poor Morgiana with a flood of tears rushed into her husband’s arms, and flung herself on his neck, and calling him her “dearest, blessed Howard,” would have fainted at his feet; but that he, breaking out in a fury of oaths, asked her how, after getting him into that scrape through her infernal extravagance, she dared to show her face before him? This address speedily frightened the poor thing out of her fainting fit — there is nothing so good for female hysterics as a little conjugal sternness, nay, brutality, as many husbands can aver who are in the habit of employing the remedy.

“My extravagance, Howard?” said she, in a faint way; and quite put off her purpose of swooning by the sudden attack made upon her — “Surely, my love, you have nothing to complain of —”

“To complain of, ma’am?” roared the excellent Walker. “Is two hundred guineas to a music-master nothing to complain of? Did you bring me such a fortune as to authorise your taking guinea lessons? Haven’t I raised you out of your sphere of life and introduced you to the best of the land? Haven’t I dressed you like a duchess? Haven’t I been for you such a husband as very few women in the world ever had, madam? — answer me that.”

“Indeed, Howard, you were always very kind,” sobbed the lady.

“Haven’t I toiled and slaved for you — been out all day working for you? Haven’t I allowed your vulgar old mother to come to your house — to my house, I say? Haven’t I done all this?”

She could not deny it, and Walker, who was in a rage (and when a man is in a rage, for what on earth is a wife made but that he should vent his rage on her?), continued for some time in this strain, and so abused, frightened, and overcame poor Morgiana that she left her husband fully convinced that she was the most guilty of beings, and bemoaning his double bad fortune, that her Howard was ruined and she the cause of his misfortunes.

When she was gone, Mr. Walker resumed his equanimity (for he was not one of those men whom a few months of the King’s Bench were likely to terrify), and drank several glasses of punch in company with his host; with whom in perfect calmness he talked over his affairs. That he intended to pay his debt and quit the spunging-house next day is a matter of course; no one ever was yet put in a spunging-house that did not pledge his veracity he intended to quit it tomorrow. Mr. Bendigo said he should be heartily glad to open the door to him, and in the meantime sent out diligently to see among his friends if there were any more detainers against the Captain, and to inform the Captain’s creditors to come forward against him.

Morgiana went home in profound grief, it may be imagined, and could hardly refrain from bursting into tears when the sugar-loaf page asked whether master was coming home early, or whether he had taken his key; she lay awake tossing and wretched the whole night, and very early in the morning rose up, and dressed, and went out.

Before nine o’clock she was in Cursitor Street, and once more joyfully bounced into her husband’s arms; who woke up yawning and swearing somewhat, with a severe headache, occasioned by the jollification of the previous night: for, strange though it may seem, there are perhaps no places in Europe where jollity is more practised than in prisons for debt; and I declare for my own part (I mean, of course, that I went to visit a friend) I have dined at Mr. Aminadab’s as sumptuously as at Long’s.

But it is necessary to account for Morgiana’s joyfulness; which was strange in her husband’s perplexity, and after her sorrow of the previous night. Well, then, when Mrs. Walker went out in the morning, she did so with a very large basket under her arm. “Shall I carry the basket, ma’am?” said the page, seizing it with much alacrity.

“No, thank you,” cried his mistress, with equal eagerness: “it’s only —”

“Of course, ma’am,” replied the boy, sneering, “I knew it was that.”

“Glass,” continued Mrs. Walker, turning extremely red. “Have the goodness to call a coach, sir, and not to speak till you are questioned.”

The young gentleman disappeared upon his errand: the coach was called and came. Mrs. Walker slipped into it with her basket, and the page went downstairs to his companions in the kitchen, and said, “It’s a-comin’! master’s in quod, and missus has gone out to pawn the plate.” When the cook went out that day, she somehow had by mistake placed in her basket a dozen of table-knives and a plated egg-stand. When the lady’s-maid took a walk in the course of the afternoon, she found she had occasion for eight cambric pocket-handkerchiefs, (marked with her mistress’s cipher), half-a-dozen pair of shoes, gloves, long and short, some silk stockings, and a gold-headed scent-bottle. “Both the new cashmeres is gone,” said she, “and there’s nothing left in Mrs. Walker’s trinket-box but a paper of pins and an old coral bracelet.” As for the page, he rushed incontinently to his master’s dressing-room and examined every one of the pockets of his clothes; made a parcel of some of them, and opened all the drawers which Walker had not locked before his departure. He only found three-halfpence and a bill stamp, and about forty-five tradesmen’s accounts, neatly labelled and tied up with red tape. These three worthies, a groom who was a great admirer of Trimmer the lady’s-maid, and a policeman a friend of the cook’s, sat down to a comfortable dinner at the usual hour, and it was agreed among them all that Walker’s ruin was certain. The cook made the policeman a present of a china punch-bowl which Mrs. Walker had given her; and the lady’s-maid gave her friend the “Book of Beauty” for last year, and the third volume of Byron’s poems from the drawing-room table.

“I’m dash’d if she ain’t taken the little French clock, too,” said the page, and so indeed Mrs. Walker had; it slipped in the basket where it lay enveloped in one of her shawls, and then struck madly and unnaturally a great number of times, as Morgiana was lifting her store of treasures out of the hackney-coach. The coachman wagged his head sadly as he saw her walking as quick as she could under her heavy load, and disappearing round the corner of the street at which Mr. Balls’s celebrated jewellery establishment is situated. It is a grand shop, with magnificent silver cups and salvers, rare gold-headed canes, flutes, watches, diamond brooches, and a few fine specimens of the old masters in the window, and under the words —

BALLS, JEWELLER,

you read

Money Lent.

in the very smallest type, on the door.

The interview with Mr. Balls need not be described; but it must have been a satisfactory one, for at the end of half an hour Morgiana returned and bounded into the coach with sparkling eyes, and told the driver to GALLOP to Cursitor Street; which, smiling, he promised to do, and accordingly set off in that direction at the rate of four miles an hour. “I thought so,” said the philosophic charioteer. “When a man’s in quod, a woman don’t mind her silver spoons;” and he was so delighted with her action, that he forgot to grumble when she came to settle accounts with him, even though she gave him only double his fare.

“Take me to him,” said she to the young Hebrew who opened the door.

“To whom?” says the sarcastic youth; “there’s twenty HIM’S here. You’re precious early.”

“To Captain Walker, young man,” replied Morgiana haughtily; whereupon the youth opening the second door, and seeing Mr. Bendigo in a flowered dressing-gown descending the stairs, exclaimed, “Papa, here’s a lady for the Captain.” “I’m come to free him,” said she, trembling, and holding out a bundle of bank-notes. “Here’s the amount of your claim, sir — two hundred and twenty guineas, as you told me last night.” The Jew took the notes, and grinned as he looked at her, and grinned double as he looked at his son, and begged Mrs. Walker to step into his study and take a receipt. When the door of that apartment closed upon the lady and his father, Mr. Bendigo the younger fell back in an agony of laughter, which it is impossible to describe in words, and presently ran out into a court where some of the luckless inmates of the house were already taking the air, and communicated something to them which made those individuals also laugh as uproariously as he had previously done.

Well, after joyfully taking the receipt from Mr. Bendigo (how her cheeks flushed and her heart fluttered as she dried it on the blotting-book!), and after turning very pale again on hearing that the Captain had had a very bad night: “And well he might, poor dear!” said she (at which Mr. Bendigo, having no person to grin at, grinned at a marble bust of Mr. Pitt, which ornamented his sideboard)— Morgiana, I say, these preliminaries being concluded, was conducted to her husband’s apartment, and once more flinging her arms round her dearest Howard’s neck, told him with one of the sweetest smiles in the world, to make haste and get up and come home, for breakfast was waiting and the carriage at the door.

“What do you mean, love?” said the Captain, starting up and looking exceedingly surprised.

“I mean that my dearest is free; that the odious little creature is paid — at least the horrid bailiff is.”

“Have you been to Baroski?” said Walker, turning very red.

“Howard!” said his wife, quite indignant.

“Did — did your mother give you the money?” asked the Captain.

“No; I had it by me” replies Mrs. Walker, with a very knowing look.

Walker was more surprised than ever. “Have you any more by you?” said he.

Mrs. Walker showed him her purse with two guineas. “That is all, love,” she said. “And I wish,” continued she, “you would give me a draft to pay a whole list of little bills that have somehow all come in within the last few days.”

“Well, well, you shall have the cheque,” continued Mr. Walker, and began forthwith to make his toilet, which completed, he rang for Mr. Bendigo, and his bill, and intimated his wish to go home directly.

The honoured bailiff brought the bill, but with regard to his being free, said it was impossible.

“How impossible?” said Mrs. Walker, turning very red: and then very pale. “Did I not pay just now?”

“So you did, and you’ve got the reshipt; but there’s another detainer against the Captain for a hundred and fifty. Eglantine and Mossrose, of Bond Street; — perfumery for five years, you know.”

“You don’t mean to say you were such a fool as to pay without asking if there were any more detainers?” roared Walker to his wife.

“Yes, she was though,” chuckled Mr. Bendigo; “but she’ll know better the next time: and, besides, Captain, what’s a hundred and fifty pounds to you?”

Though Walker desired nothing so much in the world at that moment as the liberty to knock down his wife, his sense of prudence overcame his desire for justice: if that feeling may be called prudence on his part, which consisted in a strong wish to cheat the bailiff into the idea that he (Walker) was an exceedingly respectable and wealthy man. Many worthy persons indulge in this fond notion, that they are imposing upon the world; strive to fancy, for instance, that their bankers consider them men of property because they keep a tolerable balance, pay little tradesmen’s bills with ostentatious punctuality, and so forth — but the world, let us be pretty sure, is as wise as need be, and guesses our real condition with a marvellous instinct, or learns it with curious skill. The London tradesman is one of the keenest judges of human nature extant; and if a tradesman, how much more a bailiff? In reply to the ironic question, “What’s a hundred and fifty pounds to you?” Walker, collecting himself, answers, “It is an infamous imposition, and I owe the money no more than you do; but, nevertheless, I shall instruct my lawyers to pay it in the course of the morning: under protest, of course.”

“Oh, of course,” said Mr. Bendigo, bowing and quitting the room, and leaving Mrs. Walker to the pleasure of a tete-a-tete with her husband.

And now being alone with the partner of his bosom, the worthy gentleman began an address to her which cannot be put down on paper here; because the world is exceedingly squeamish, and does not care to hear the whole truth about rascals, and because the fact is that almost every other word of the Captain’s speech was a curse, such as would shock the beloved reader were it put in print.

Fancy, then, in lieu of the conversation, a scoundrel, disappointed and in a fury, wreaking his brutal revenge upon an amiable woman, who sits trembling and pale, and wondering at this sudden exhibition of wrath. Fancy how he clenches his fists and stands over her, and stamps and screams out curses with a livid face, growing wilder and wilder in his rage; wrenching her hand when she wants to turn away, and only stopping at last when she has fallen off the chair in a fainting fit, with a heart-breaking sob that made the Jew-boy who was listening at the key-hole turn quite pale and walk away. Well, it is best, perhaps, that such a conversation should not be told at length:— at the end of it, when Mr. Walker had his wife lifeless on the floor, he seized a water-jug and poured it over her; which operation pretty soon brought her to herself, and shaking her black ringlets, she looked up once more again timidly into his face, and took his hand, and began to cry.

He spoke now in a somewhat softer voice, and let her keep paddling on with his hand as before; he COULDN’T speak very fiercely to the poor girl in her attitude of defeat, and tenderness, and supplication. “Morgiana,” said he, “your extravagance and carelessness have brought me to ruin, I’m afraid. If you had chosen to have gone to Baroski, a word from you would have made him withdraw the writ, and my property wouldn’t have been sacrificed, as it has now been, for nothing. It mayn’t be yet too late, however, to retrieve ourselves. This bill of Eglantine’s is a regular conspiracy, I am sure, between Mossrose and Bendigo here: you must go to Eglantine — he’s an old — an old flame of yours, you know.”

She dropped his hand: “I can’t go to Eglantine after what has passed between us,” she said; but Walker’s face instantly began to wear a certain look, and she said with a shudder, “Well, well, dear, I WILL go.” “You will go to Eglantine, and ask him to take a bill for the amount of this shameful demand — at any date, never mind what. Mind, however, to see him alone, and I’m sure if you choose you can settle the business. Make haste; set off directly, and come back, as there may be more detainers in.”

Trembling, and in a great flutter, Morgiana put on her bonnet and gloves, and went towards the door. “It’s a fine morning,” said Mr. Walker, looking out: “a walk will do you good; and — Morgiana — didn’t you say you had a couple of guineas in your pocket?”

“Here it is,” said she, smiling all at once, and holding up her face to be kissed. She paid the two guineas for the kiss. Was it not a mean act? “Is it possible that people can love where they do not respect?” says Miss Prim: “I never would.” Nobody asked you, Miss Prim: but recollect Morgiana was not born with your advantages of education and breeding; and was, in fact, a poor vulgar creature, who loved Mr. Walker, not because her mamma told her, nor because he was an exceedingly eligible and well-brought-up young man, but because she could not help it, and knew no better. Nor is Mrs. Walker set up as a model of virtue: ah, no! when I want a model of virtue I will call in Baker Street, and ask for a sitting of my dear (if I may be permitted to say so) Miss Prim.

We have Mr. Howard Walker safely housed in Mr. Bendigo’s establishment in Cursitor Street, Chancery Lane; and it looks like mockery and want of feeling towards the excellent hero of this story (or, as should rather be said, towards the husband of the heroine) to say what he might have been but for the unlucky little circumstance of Baroski’s passion for Morgiana,

If Baroski had not fallen in love with Morgiana, he would not have given her two hundred guineas’ worth of lessons; he would not have so far presumed as to seize her hand, and attempt to kiss it; if he had not attempted to kiss her, she would not have boxed his ears; he would not have taken out the writ against Walker; Walker would have been free, very possibly rich, and therefore certainly respected: he always said that a month’s more liberty would have set him beyond the reach of misfortune.

The assertion is very likely a correct one; for Walker had a flashy enterprising genius, which ends in wealth sometimes; in the King’s Bench not seldom; occasionally, alas! in Van Diemen’s Land. He might have been rich, could he have kept his credit, and had not his personal expenses and extravagances pulled him down. He had gallantly availed himself of his wife’s fortune; nor could any man in London, as he proudly said, have made five hundred pounds go so far. He had, as we have seen, furnished a house, sideboard, and cellar with it: he had a carriage, and horses in his stable, and with the remainder he had purchased shares in four companies — of three of which he was founder and director, had conducted innumerable bargains in the foreign stocks, had lived and entertained sumptuously, and made himself a very considerable income. He had set up THE CAPITOL Loan and Life Assurance Company, had discovered the Chimborazo gold mines, and the Society for Recovering and Draining the Pontine Marshes; capital ten millions; patron HIS HOLINESS THE POPE. It certainly was stated in an evening paper that His Holiness had made him a Knight of the Spur, and had offered to him the rank of Count; and he was raising a loan for His Highness, the Cacique of Panama, who had sent him (by way of dividend) the grand cordon of His Highness’s order of the Castle and Falcon, which might be seen any day at his office in Bond Street, with the parchments signed and sealed by the Grand Master and Falcon King-at-arms of His Highness. In a week more Walker would have raised a hundred thousand pounds on His Highness’s twenty per cent. loan; he would have had fifteen thousand pounds commission for himself; his companies would have risen to par, he would have realised his shares; he would have gone into Parliament; he would have been made a baronet, who knows? a peer, probably! “And I appeal to you, sir,” Walker would say to his friends, “could any man have shown better proof of his affection for his wife than by laying out her little miserable money as I did? They call me heartless, sir, because I didn’t succeed; sir, my life has been a series of sacrifices for that woman, such as no man ever performed before.”

A proof of Walker’s dexterity and capability for business may be seen in the fact that he had actually appeased and reconciled one of his bitterest enemies — our honest friend Eglantine. After Walker’s marriage Eglantine, who had now no mercantile dealings with his former agent, became so enraged with him, that, as the only means of revenge in his power, he sent him in his bill for goods supplied to the amount of one hundred and fifty guineas, and sued him for the amount. But Walker stepped boldly over to his enemy, and in the course of half an hour they were friends.

Eglantine promised to forego his claim; and accepted in lieu of it three hundred-pound shares of the ex-Panama stock, bearing twenty-five per cent., payable half-yearly at the house of Hocus Brothers, St. Swithin’s Lane; three hundred-pound shares, and the SECOND class of the order of the Castle and Falcon, with the riband and badge. “In four years, Eglantine, my boy, I hope to get you the Grand Cordon of the order,” said Walker: “I hope to see you a KNIGHT GRAND CROSS, with a grant of a hundred thousand acres reclaimed from the Isthmus.”

To do my poor Eglantine justice, he did not care for the hundred thousand acres — it was the star that delighted him — ah! how his fat chest heaved with delight as he sewed on the cross and riband to his dress-coat, and lighted up four wax candles and looked at himself in the glass. He was known to wear a great-coat after that — it was that he might wear the cross under it. That year he went on a trip to Boulogne. He was dreadfully ill during the voyage, but as the vessel entered the port he was seen to emerge from the cabin, his coat open, the star blazing on his chest; the soldiers saluted him as he walked the streets, he was called Monsieur le Chevalier, and when he went home he entered into negotiations with Walker to purchase a commission in His Highness’s service. Walker said he would get him the nominal rank of Captain, the fees at the Panama War Office were five-and-twenty pounds, which sum honest Eglantine produced, and had his commission, and a pack of visiting cards printed as Captain Archibald Eglantine, K.C.F. Many a time he looked at them as they lay in his desk, and he kept the cross in his dressing-table, and wore it as he shaved every morning.

His Highness the Cacique, it is well known, came to England, and had lodgings in Regent Street, where he held a levee, at which Eglantine appeared in the Panama uniform, and was most graciously received by his Sovereign. His Highness proposed to make Captain Eglantine his aide-de-camp with the rank of Colonel, but the Captain’s exchequer was rather low at that moment, and the fees at the “War Office” were peremptory. Meanwhile His Highness left Regent Street, was said by some to have returned to Panama, by others to be in his native city of Cork, by others to be leading a life of retirement in the New Cut, Lambeth; at any rate was not visible for some time, so that Captain Eglantine’s advancement did not take place. Eglantine was somehow ashamed to mention his military and chivalric rank to Mr. Mossrose, when that gentleman came into partnership with him; and kept these facts secret, until they were detected by a very painful circumstance. On the very day when Walker was arrested at the suit of Benjamin Baroski, there appeared in the newspapers an account of the imprisonment of His Highness the Prince of Panama for a bill owing to a licensed victualler in Ratcliff Highway. The magistrate to whom the victualler subsequently came to complain passed many pleasantries on the occasion. He asked whether His Highness did not drink like a swan with two necks; whether he had brought any Belles savages with him from Panama, and so forth; and the whole court, said the report, “was convulsed with laughter when Boniface produced a green and yellow riband with a large star of the order of the Castle and Falcon, with which His Highness proposed to gratify him, in lieu of paying his little bill.”

It was as he was reading the above document with a bleeding heart that Mr. Mossrose came in from his daily walk to the City. “Vell, Eglantine,” says he, “have you heard the newsh?”

“About His Highness?”

“About your friend Valker; he’s arrested for two hundred poundsh!”

Eglantine at this could contain no more; but told his story of how he had been induced to accept three hundred pounds of Panama stock for his account against Walker, and cursed his stars for his folly. “Vell, you’ve only to bring in another bill,” said the younger perfumer; “swear he owes you a hundred and fifty pounds, and we’ll have a writ out against him this afternoon.”

And so a second writ was taken out against Captain Walker.

“You’ll have his wife here very likely in a day or two,” said Mr. Mossrose to his partner; “them chaps always sends their wives, and I hope you know how to deal with her.”

“I don’t value her a fig’s hend,” said Eglantine. “I’ll treat her like the dust of the hearth. After that woman’s conduct to me, I should like to see her have the haudacity to come here; and if she does, you’ll see how I’ll serve her.”

The worthy perfumer was, in fact, resolved to be exceedingly hard-hearted in his behaviour towards his old love, and acted over at night in bed the scene which was to occur when the meeting should take place. Oh, thought he, but it will be a grand thing to see the proud Morgiana on her knees to me; and me a-pointing to the door, and saying, “Madam, you’ve steeled this ’eart against you, you have; — bury the recollection of old times, of those old times when I thought my ’eart would have broke, but it didn’t — no: ‘earts are made of sterner stuff. I didn’t die, as I thought I should; I stood it, and live to see the woman I despised at my feet — ha, ha, at my feet!”

In the midst of these thoughts Mr. Eglantine fell asleep; but it was evident that the idea of seeing Morgiana once more agitated him considerably, else why should he have been at the pains of preparing so much heroism? His sleep was exceedingly fitful and troubled; he saw Morgiana in a hundred shapes; he dreamed that he was dressing her hair; that he was riding with her to Richmond; that the horse turned into a dragon, and Morgiana into Woolsey, who took him by the throat and choked him, while the dragon played the key-bugle. And in the morning when Mossrose was gone to his business in the City, and he sat reading the Morning Post in his study, ah! what a thump his heart gave as the lady of his dreams actually stood before him!

Many a lady who purchased brushes at Eglantine’s shop would have given ten guineas for such a colour as his when he saw her. His heart beat violently, he was almost choking in his stays: he had been prepared for the visit, but his courage failed him now it had come. They were both silent for some minutes.

“You know what I am come for,” at last said Morgiana from under her veil, but she put it aside as she spoke.

“I— that is — yes — it’s a painful affair, mem,” he said, giving one look at her pale face, and then turning away in a flurry. “I beg to refer you to Blunt, Hone, and Sharpus, my lawyers, mem,” he added, collecting himself.

“I didn’t expect this from YOU, Mr. Eglantine,” said the lady, and began to sob.

“And after what’s ‘appened, I didn’t expect a visit from YOU, mem. I thought Mrs. Capting Walker was too great a dame to visit poor Harchibald Eglantine (though some of the first men in the country DO visit him). Is there anything in which I can oblige you, mem?”

“O heavens!” cried the poor woman; “have I no friend left? I never thought that you, too, would have deserted me, Mr. Archibald.”

The “Archibald,” pronounced in the old way, had evidently an effect on the perfumer; he winced and looked at her very eagerly for a moment. “What can I do for you, mem?” at last said he.

“What is this bill against Mr. Walker, for which he is now in prison?”

“Perfumery supplied for five years; that man used more ‘air-brushes than any duke in the land, and as for eau-de-Cologne, he must have bathed himself in it. He hordered me about like a lord. He never paid me one shilling — he stabbed me in my most vital part — but ah! ah! never mind THAT: and I said I would be revenged, and I AM.”

The perfumer was quite in a rage again by this time, and wiped his fat face with his pocket-handkerchief, and glared upon Mrs. Walker with a most determined air.

“Revenged on whom? Archibald — Mr. Eglantine, revenged on me — on a poor woman whom you made miserable! You would not have done so once.”

“Ha! and a precious way you treated me ONCE,” said Eglantine: “don’t talk to me, mem, of ONCE. Bury the recollection of once for hever! I thought my ’eart would have broke once, but no: ‘earts are made of sterner stuff. I didn’t die, as I thought I should; I stood it — and I live to see the woman who despised me at my feet.”

“Oh, Archibald!” was all the lady could say, and she fell to sobbing again: it was perhaps her best argument with the perfumer.

“Oh, Harchibald, indeed!” continued he, beginning to swell; “don’t call me Harchibald, Morgiana. Think what a position you might have held if you’d chose: when, when — you MIGHT have called me Harchibald. Now it’s no use,” added he, with harrowing pathos; “but, though I’ve been wronged, I can’t bear to see women in tears — tell me what I can do.”

“Dear good Mr. Eglantine, send to your lawyers and stop this horrid prosecution — take Mr. Walker’s acknowledgment for the debt. If he is free, he is sure to have a very large sum of money in a few days, and will pay you all. Do not ruin him — do not ruin me by persisting now. Be the old kind Eglantine you were.”

Eglantine took a hand, which Morgiana did not refuse; he thought about old times. He had known her since childhood almost; as a girl he dandled her on his knee at the “Kidneys;” as a woman he had adored her — his heart was melted.

“He did pay me in a sort of way,” reasoned the perfumer with himself —“these bonds, though they are not worth much, I took ’em for better or for worse, and I can’t bear to see her crying, and to trample on a woman in distress. Morgiana,” he added, in a loud cheerful voice, “cheer up; I’ll give you a release for your husband: I WILL be the old kind Eglantine I was.”

“Be the old kind jackass you vash!” here roared a voice that made Mr. Eglantine start. “Vy, vat an old fat fool you are, Eglantine, to give up our just debts because a voman comes snivelling and crying to you — and such a voman, too!” exclaimed Mr. Mossrose, for his was the voice.

“Such a woman, sir?” cried the senior partner.

“Yes; such a woman — vy, didn’t she jilt you herself? — hasn’t she been trying the same game with Baroski; and are you so green as to give up a hundred and fifty pounds because she takes a fancy to come vimpering here? I won’t, I can tell you. The money’s as much mine as it is yours, and I’ll have it or keep Walker’s body, that’s what I will.”

At the presence of his partner, the timid good genius of Eglantine, which had prompted him to mercy and kindness, at once outspread its frightened wings and flew away.

“You see how it is, Mrs. W.,” said he, looking down; “it’s an affair of business — in all these here affairs of business Mr. Mossrose is the managing man; ain’t you, Mr. Mossrose?”

“A pretty business it would be if I wasn’t,” replied Mossrose, doggedly. “Come, ma’am,” says he, “I’ll tell you vat I do: I take fifty per shent; not a farthing less — give me that, and out your husband goes.”

“Oh, sir, Howard will pay you in a week.”

“Vell, den, let him stop at my uncle Bendigo’s for a week, and come out den — he’s very comfortable there,” said Shylock with a grin. “Hadn’t you better go to the shop, Mr. Eglantine,” continued he, “and look after your business? Mrs. Walker can’t want you to listen to her all day.”

Eglantine was glad of the excuse, and slunk out of the studio; not into the shop, but into his parlour; where he drank off a great glass of maraschino, and sat blushing and exceedingly agitated, until Mossrose came to tell him that Mrs. W. was gone, and wouldn’t trouble him any more. But although he drank several more glasses of maraschino, and went to the play that night, and to the Cider-cellars afterwards, neither the liquor, nor the play, nor the delightful comic songs at the cellars, could drive Mrs. Walker out of his head, and the memory of old times, and the image of her pale weeping face.

Morgiana tottered out of the shop, scarcely heeding the voice of Mr. Mossrose, who said, “I’ll take forty per shent” (and went back to his duty cursing himself for a soft-hearted fool for giving up so much of his rights to a puling woman). Morgiana, I say, tottered out of the shop, and went up Conduit Street, weeping, weeping with all her eyes. She was quite faint, for she had taken nothing that morning but the glass of water which the pastry-cook in the Strand had given her, and was forced to take hold of the railings of a house for support just as a little gentleman with a yellow handkerchief under his arm was issuing from the door.

“Good heavens, Mrs. Walker!” said the gentleman. It was no other than Mr. Woolsey, who was going forth to try a body-coat for a customer. “Are you ill? — what’s the matter? — for God’s sake come in!” and he took her arm under his, and led her into his back-parlour, and seated her, and had some wine and water before her in one minute, before she had said one single word regarding herself.

As soon as she was somewhat recovered, and with the interruption of a thousand sobs, the poor thing told as well as she could her little story. Mr. Eglantine had arrested Mr. Walker: she had been trying to gain time for him; Eglantine had refused.

“The hard-hearted cowardly brute to refuse HER anything!” said loyal Mr. Woolsey. “My dear,” says he, “I’ve no reason to love your husband, and I know too much about him to respect him; but I love and respect YOU, and will spend my last shilling to serve you.” At which Morgiana could only take his hand and cry a great deal more than ever. She said Mr. Walker would have a great deal of money in a week, that he was the best of husbands, and she was sure Mr. Woolsey would think better of him when he knew him; that Mr. Eglantine’s bill was one hundred and fifty pounds, but that Mr. Mossrose would take forty per cent. if Mr. Woolsey could say how much that was.

“I’ll pay a thousand pound to do you good,” said Mr. Woolsey, bouncing up; “stay here for ten minutes, my dear, until my return, and all shall be right, as you will see.” He was back in ten minutes, and had called a cab from the stand opposite (all the coachmen there had seen and commented on Mrs. Walker’s woebegone looks), and they were off for Cursitor Street in a moment. “They’ll settle the whole debt for twenty pounds,” said he, and showed an order to that effect from Mr. Mossrose to Mr. Bendigo, empowering the latter to release Walker on receiving Mr. Woolsey’s acknowledgment for the above sum.

“There’s no use paying it,” said Mr. Walker, doggedly; “it would only be robbing you, Mr. Woolsey — seven more detainers have come in while my wife has been away. I must go through the court now; but,” he added in a whisper to the tailor, “my good sir, my debts of HONOUR are sacred, and if you will have the goodness to lend ME the twenty pounds, I pledge you my word as a gentleman to return it when I come out of quod.”

It is probable that Mr. Woolsey declined this; for, as soon as he was gone, Walker, in a tremendous fury, began cursing his wife for dawdling three hours on the road. “Why the deuce, ma’am, didn’t you take a cab?” roared he, when he heard she had walked to Bond Street. “Those writs have only been in half an hour, and I might have been off but for you.”

“Oh, Howard,” said she, “didn’t you take — didn’t I give you my — my last shilling?” and fell back and wept again more bitterly than ever.

“Well, love,” said her amiable husband, turning rather red, “never mind, it wasn’t your fault. It is but going through the court. It is no great odds. I forgive you.”

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/thackeray/william_makepeace/mens/chapter5.html

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