Mens Wives, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER VI.

In which Mr. Walker Still Remains in Difficulties, But Shows Great Resignation Under His Misfortunes.

The exemplary Walker, seeing that escape from his enemies was hopeless, and that it was his duty as a man to turn on them and face them, now determined to quit the splendid though narrow lodgings which Mr. Bendigo had provided for him, and undergo the martyrdom of the Fleet. Accordingly, in company with that gentleman, he came over to Her Majesty’s prison, and gave himself into the custody of the officers there; and did not apply for the accommodation of the Rules (by which in those days the captivity of some debtors was considerably lightened), because he knew perfectly well that there was no person in the wide world who would give a security for the heavy sums for which Walker was answerable. What these sums were is no matter, and on this head we do not think it at all necessary to satisfy the curiosity of the reader. He may have owed hundreds — thousands, his creditors only can tell; he paid the dividend which has been formerly mentioned, and showed thereby his desire to satisfy all claims upon him to the uttermost farthing.

As for the little house in Connaught Square, when, after quitting her husband, Morgiana drove back thither, the door was opened by the page, who instantly thanked her to pay his wages; and in the drawing-room, on a yellow satin sofa, sat a seedy man (with a pot of porter beside him placed on an album for fear of staining the rosewood table), and the seedy man signified that he had taken possession of the furniture in execution for a judgment debt. Another seedy man was in the dining-room, reading a newspaper, and drinking gin; he informed Mrs. Walker that he was the representative of another judgment debt and of another execution:—“There’s another on ’em in the kitchen,” said the page, “taking an inwentory of the furniture; and he swears he’ll have you took up for swindling, for pawning the plate.”

“Sir,” said Mr. Woolsey, for that worthy man had conducted Morgiana home —“sir,” said he, shaking his stick at the young page, “if you give any more of your impudence, I’ll beat every button off your jacket:” and as there were some four hundred of these ornaments, the page was silent. It was a great mercy for Morgiana that the honest and faithful tailor had accompanied her. The good fellow had waited very patiently for her for an hour in the parlour or coffee-room of the lock-up house, knowing full well that she would want a protector on her way homewards; and his kindness will be more appreciated when it is stated that, during the time of his delay in the coffee-room, he had been subject to the entreaties, nay, to the insults, of Cornet Fipkin of the Blues, who was in prison at the suit of Linsey, Woolsey and Co., and who happened to be taking his breakfast in the apartment when his obdurate creditor entered it. The Cornet (a hero of eighteen, who stood at least five feet three in his boots, and owed fifteen thousand pounds) was so enraged at the obduracy of his creditor that he said he would have thrown him out of the window but for the bars which guarded it; and entertained serious thoughts of knocking the tailor’s head off, but that the latter, putting his right leg forward and his fists in a proper attitude, told the young officer to “come on;” on which the Cornet cursed the tailor for a “snob,” and went back to his breakfast.

The execution people having taken charge of Mr. Walker’s house, Mrs. Walker was driven to take refuge with her mamma near “Sadler’s Wells,” and the Captain remained comfortably lodged in the Fleet. He had some ready money, and with it managed to make his existence exceedingly comfortable. He lived with the best society of the place, consisting of several distinguished young noblemen and gentlemen. He spent the morning playing at fives and smoking cigars; the evening smoking cigars and dining comfortably. Cards came after dinner; and, as the Captain was an experienced player, and near a score of years older than most of his friends, he was generally pretty successful: indeed, if he had received all the money that was owed to him, he might have come out of prison and paid his creditors twenty shillings in the pound — that is, if he had been minded to do so. But there is no use in examining into that point too closely, for the fact is, young Fipkin only paid him forty pounds out of seven hundred, for which he gave him I.O.U.‘s; Algernon Deuceace not only did not pay him three hundred and twenty which he lost at blind hookey, but actually borrowed seven and sixpence in money from Walker, which has never been repaid to this day; and Lord Doublequits actually lost nineteen thousand pounds to him at heads and tails, which he never paid, pleading drunkenness and his minority. The reader may recollect a paragraph which went the round of the papers entitled —

“Affair of honour in the Fleet Prison. — Yesterday morning (behind the pump in the second court) Lord D-bl-qu-ts and Captain H-w-rd W-lk-r (a near relative, we understand, of his Grace the Duke of N-rf-lk) had a hostile meeting and exchanged two shots. These two young sprigs of nobility were attended to the ground by Major Flush, who, by the way, is FLUSH no longer, and Captain Pam, late of the ——— Dragoons. Play is said to have been the cause of the quarrel, and the gallant Captain is reported to have handled the noble lord’s nose rather roughly at one stage of the transactions.”

When Morgiana at “Sadler’s Wells” heard these news, she was ready to faint with terror; and rushed to the Fleet Prison, and embraced her lord and master with her usual expansion and fits of tears: very much to that gentleman’s annoyance, who happened to be in company with Pain and Flush at the time, and did not care that his handsome wife should be seen too much in the dubious precincts of the Fleet. He had at least so much shame about him, and had always rejected her entreaties to be allowed to inhabit the prison with him.

“It is enough,” would he say, casting his eyes heavenward, and with a most lugubrious countenance —“it is enough, Morgiana, that I should suffer, even though your thoughtlessness has been the cause of my ruin. But enough of THAT! I will not rebuke you for faults for which I know you are now repentant; and I never could bear to see you in the midst of the miseries of this horrible place. Remain at home with your mother, and let me drag on the weary days here alone. If you can get me any more of that pale sherry, my love, do. I require something to cheer me in solitude, and have found my chest very much relieved by that wine. Put more pepper and eggs, my dear, into the next veal-pie you make me. I can’t eat the horrible messes in the coffee-room here.”

It was Walker’s wish, I can’t tell why, except that it is the wish of a great number of other persons in this strange world, to make his wife believe that he was wretched in mind and ill in health; and all assertions to this effect the simple creature received with numberless tears of credulity: she would go home to Mrs. Crump, and say how her darling Howard was pining away, how he was ruined for HER, and with what angelic sweetness he bore his captivity. The fact is, he bore it with so much resignation that no other person in the world could see that he was unhappy. His life was undisturbed by duns; his day was his own from morning till night; his diet was good, his acquaintances jovial, his purse tolerably well supplied, and he had not one single care to annoy him.

Mrs. Crump and Woolsey, perhaps, received Morgiana’s account of her husband’s miseries with some incredulity. The latter was now a daily visitor to “Sadler’s Wells.” His love for Morgiana had become a warm fatherly generous regard for her; it was out of the honest fellow’s cellar that the wine used to come which did so much good to Mr. Walker’s chest; and he tried a thousand ways to make Morgiana happy.

A very happy day, indeed, it was when, returning from her visit to the Fleet, she found in her mother’s sitting-room her dear grand rosewood piano, and every one of her music-books, which the kind-hearted tailor had purchased at the sale of Walker’s effects. And I am not ashamed to say that Morgiana herself was so charmed, that when, as usual, Mr. Woolsey came to drink tea in the evening, she actually gave him a kiss; which frightened Mr. Woolsey, and made him blush exceedingly. She sat down, and played him that evening every one of the songs which he liked — the OLD songs — none of your Italian stuff. Podmore, the old music-master, was there too, and was delighted and astonished at the progress in singing which Morgiana had made; and when the little party separated, he took Mr. Woolsey by the hand, and said, “Give me leave to tell you, sir, that you’re a TRUMP.”

“That he is,” said Canterfield, the first tragic; “an honour to human nature. A man whose hand is open as day to melting charity, and whose heart ever melts at the tale of woman’s distress.”

“Pooh, pooh, stuff and nonsense, sir,” said the tailor; but, upon my word, Mr. Canterfield’s words were perfectly correct. I wish as much could be said in favour of Woolsey’s old rival, Mr. Eglantine, who attended the sale too, but it was with a horrid kind of satisfaction at the thought that Walker was ruined. He bought the yellow satin sofa before mentioned, and transferred it to what he calls his “sitting-room,” where it is to this day, bearing many marks of the best bear’s grease. Woolsey bid against Baroski for the piano, very nearly up to the actual value of the instrument, when the artist withdrew from competition; and when he was sneering at the ruin of Mr. Walker, the tailor sternly interrupted him by saying, “What the deuce are YOU sneering at? You did it, sir; and you’re paid every shilling of your claim, ain’t you?” On which Baroski turned round to Miss Larkins, and said, Mr. Woolsey was a “snop;” the very word, though pronounced somewhat differently, which the gallant Cornet Fipkin had applied to him.

Well; so he WAS a snob. But, vulgar as he was, I declare, for my part, that I have a greater respect for Mr. Woolsey than for any single nobleman or gentleman mentioned in this true history.

It will be seen from the names of Messrs. Canterfield and Podmore that Morgiana was again in the midst of the widow Crump’s favourite theatrical society; and this, indeed, was the case. The widow’s little room was hung round with the pictures which were mentioned at the commencement of the story as decorating the bar of the “Bootjack;” and several times in a week she received her friends from “The Wells,” and entertained them with such humble refreshments of tea and crumpets as her modest means permitted her to purchase. Among these persons Morgiana lived and sang quite as contentedly as she had ever done among the demireps of her husband’s society; and, only she did not dare to own it to herself, was a great deal happier than she had been for many a day. Mrs. Captain Walker was still a great lady amongst them. Even in his ruin, Walker, the director of three companies, and the owner of the splendid pony-chaise, was to these simple persons an awful character; and when mentioned they talked with a great deal of gravity of his being in the country, and hoped Mrs. Captain W. had good news of him. They all knew he was in the Fleet; but had he not in prison fought a duel with a viscount? Montmorency (of the Norfolk Circuit) was in the Fleet too; and when Canterfield went to see poor Montey, the latter had pointed out Walker to his friend, who actually hit Lord George Tennison across the shoulders in play with a racket-bat; which event was soon made known to the whole green-room.

“They had me up one day,” said Montmorency, “to sing a comic song, and give my recitations; and we had champagne and lobster-salad: SUCH nobs!” added the player. “Billingsgate and Vauxhall were there too, and left college at eight o’clock.”

When Morgiana was told of the circumstance by her mother, she hoped her dear Howard had enjoyed the evening, and was thankful that for once he could forget his sorrows. Nor, somehow, was she ashamed of herself for being happy afterwards, but gave way to her natural good-humour without repentance or self-rebuke. I believe, indeed (alas! why are we made acquainted with the same fact regarding ourselves long after it is past and gone?)— I believe these were the happiest days of Morgiana’s whole life. She had no cares except the pleasant one of attending on her husband, an easy smiling temperament which made her regardless of tomorrow; and, add to this, a delightful hope relative to a certain interesting event which was about to occur, and which I shall not particularise further than by saying, that she was cautioned against too much singing by Mr. Squills, her medical attendant; and that widow Crump was busy making up a vast number of little caps and diminutive cambric shirts, such as delighted GRANDMOTHERS are in the habit of fashioning. I hope this is as genteel a way of signifying the circumstance which was about to take place in the Walker family as Miss Prim herself could desire. Mrs. Walker’s mother was about to become a grandmother. There’s a phrase! The Morning Post, which says this story is vulgar, I’m sure cannot quarrel with that. I don’t believe the whole Court Guide would convey an intimation more delicately.

Well, Mrs. Crump’s little grandchild was born, entirely to the dissatisfaction, I must say, of his father; who, when the infant was brought to him in the Fleet, had him abruptly covered up in his cloak again, from which he had been removed by the jealous prison doorkeepers: why, do you think? Walker had a quarrel with one of them, and the wretch persisted in believing that the bundle Mrs. Crump was bringing to her son-inlaw was a bundle of disguised brandy!

“The brutes!” said the lady;” and the father’s a brute, too,” said she. “He takes no more notice of me than if I was a kitchen-maid, and of Woolsey than if he was a leg of mutton — the dear blessed little cherub!”

Mrs. Crump was a mother-inlaw; let us pardon her hatred of her daughter’s husband.

The Woolsey compared in the above sentence both to a leg of mutton and a cherub, was not the eminent member of the firm of Linsey, Woolsey, and Co., but the little baby, who was christened Howard Woolsey Walker, with the full consent of the father; who said the tailor was a deuced good fellow, and felt really obliged to him for the sherry, for a frock-coat which he let him have in prison, and for his kindness to Morgiana. The tailor loved the little boy with all his soul; he attended his mother to her churching, and the child to the font; and, as a present to his little godson on his christening, he sent two yards of the finest white kerseymere in his shop, to make him a cloak. The Duke had had a pair of inexpressibles off that very piece.

House-furniture is bought and sold, music-lessons are given, children are born and christened, ladies are confined and churched — time, in other words, passes — and yet Captain Walker still remains in prison! Does it not seem strange that he should still languish there between palisaded walls near Fleet Market, and that he should not be restored to that active and fashionable world of which he was an ornament? The fact is, the Captain had been before the court for the examination of his debts; and the Commissioner, with a cruelty quite shameful towards a fallen man, had qualified his ways of getting money in most severe language, and had sent him back to prison again for the space of nine calendar months, an indefinite period, and until his accounts could be made up. This delay Walker bore like a philosopher, and, far from repining, was still the gayest fellow of the tennis-court, and the soul of the midnight carouse.

There is no use in raking up old stories, and hunting through files of dead newspapers, to know what were the specific acts which made the Commissioner so angry with Captain Walker. Many a rogue has come before the Court, and passed through it since then: and I would lay a wager that Howard Walker was not a bit worse than his neighbours. But as he was not a lord, and as he had no friends on coming out of prison, and had settled no money on his wife, and had, as it must be confessed, an exceedingly bad character, it is not likely that the latter would be forgiven him when once more free in the world. For instance, when Doublequits left the Fleet, he was received with open arms by his family, and had two-and-thirty horses in his stables before a week was over. Pam, of the Dragoons, came out, and instantly got a place as government courier — a place found so good of late years (and no wonder, it is better pay than that of a colonel), that our noblemen and gentry eagerly press for it. Frank Hurricane was sent out as registrar of Tobago, or Sago, or Ticonderago; in fact, for a younger son of good family it is rather advantageous to get into debt twenty or thirty thousand pounds: you are sure of a good place afterwards in the colonies. Your friends are so anxious to get rid of you, that they will move heaven and earth to serve you. And so all the above companions of misfortune with Walker were speedily made comfortable; but HE had no rich parents; his old father was dead in York jail. How was he to start in the world again? What friendly hand was there to fill his pocket with gold, and his cup with sparkling champagne? He was, in fact, an object of the greatest pity — for I know of no greater than a gentleman of his habits without the means of gratifying them. He must live well, and he has not the means. Is there a more pathetic case? As for a mere low beggar — some labourless labourer, or some weaver out of place — don’t let us throw away our compassion upon THEM. Psha! they’re accustomed to starve. They CAN sleep upon boards, or dine off a crust; whereas a gentleman would die in the same situation. I think this was poor Morgiana’s way of reasoning. For Walker’s cash in prison beginning presently to run low, and knowing quite well that the dear fellow could not exist there without the luxuries to which he had been accustomed, she borrowed money from her mother, until the poor old lady was a sec. She even confessed, with tears, to Woolsey, that she was in particular want of twenty pounds, to pay a poor milliner, whose debt she could not bear to put in her husband’s schedule. And I need not say she carried the money to her husband, who might have been greatly benefited by it — only he had a bad run of luck at the cards; and how the deuce can a man help THAT?

Woolsey had repurchased for her one of the Cashmere shawls. She left it behind her one day at the Fleet prison, and some rascal stole it there; having the grace, however, to send Woolsey the ticket, signifying the place where it had been pawned. Who could the scoundrel have been? Woolsey swore a great oath, and fancied he knew; but if it was Walker himself (as Woolsey fancied, and probably as was the case) who made away with the shawl, being pressed thereto by necessity, was it fair to call him a scoundrel for so doing, and should we not rather laud the delicacy of his proceeding? He was poor: who can command the cards? But he did not wish his wife should know HOW poor: he could not bear that she should suppose him arrived at the necessity of pawning a shawl.

She who had such beautiful ringlets, of a sudden pleaded cold in the head, and took to wearing caps. One summer evening, as she and the baby and Mrs. Crump and Woolsey (let us say all four babies together) were laughing and playing in Mrs. Crump’s drawing-room — playing the most absurd gambols, fat Mrs. Crump, for instance, hiding behind the sofa, Woolsey chuck-chucking, cock-a-doodle-dooing, and performing those indescribable freaks which gentlemen with philoprogenitive organs will execute in the company of children — in the midst of their play the baby gave a tug at his mother’s cap; off it came — her hair was cut close to her head!

Morgiana turned as red as sealing-wax, and trembled very much; Mrs. Crump screamed, “My child, where is your hair?” and Woolsey, bursting out with a most tremendous oath against Walker that would send Miss Prim into convulsions, put his handkerchief to his face, and actually wept. “The infernal bubble-ubble-ackguard!” said he, roaring and clenching his fists.

As he had passed the Bower of Bloom a few days before, he saw Mossrose, who was combing out a jet-black ringlet, and held it up, as if for Woolsey’s examination, with a peculiar grin. The tailor did not understand the joke, but he saw now what had happened. Morgiana had sold her hair for five guineas; she would have sold her arm had her husband bidden her. On looking in her drawers it was found she had sold almost all her wearing apparel; the child’s clothes were all there, however. It was because her husband talked of disposing of a gilt coral that the child had, that she had parted with the locks which had formed her pride.

“I’ll give you twenty guineas for that hair, you infamous fat coward,” roared the little tailor to Eglantine that evening. “Give it up, or I’ll kill you-”

“Mr. Mossrose! Mr. Mossrose!” shouted the perfumer.

“Vell, vatsh de matter, vatsh de row, fight avay, my boys; two to one on the tailor,” said Mr. Mossrose, much enjoying the sport (for Woolsey, striding through the shop without speaking to him, had rushed into the studio, where he plumped upon Eglantine).

“Tell him about that hair, sir.”

“That hair! Now keep yourself quiet, Mister Timble, and don’t tink for to bully ME. You mean Mrs. Valker’s ‘air? Vy, she sold it me.”

“And the more blackguard you for buying it! Will you take twenty guineas for it?”

“No,” said Mossrose.

“Twenty-five?”

“Can’t,” said Mossrose.

“Hang it! will you take forty? There!”

“I vish I’d kep it,” said the Hebrew gentleman, with unfeigned regret. “Eglantine dressed it this very night.”

“For Countess Baldenstiern, the Swedish Hambassador’s lady,” says Eglantine (his Hebrew partner was by no means a favourite with the ladies, and only superintended the accounts of the concern). “It’s this very night at Devonshire ‘Ouse, with four hostrich plumes, lappets, and trimmings. And now, Mr. Woolsey, I’ll trouble you to apologise.”

Mr. Woolsey did not answer, but walked up to Mr. Eglantine, and snapped his fingers so close under the perfumer’s nose that the latter started back and seized the bell-rope. Mossrose burst out laughing, and the tailor walked majestically from the shop, with both hands stuck between the lappets of his coat.

“My dear,” said he to Morgiana a short time afterwards, “you must not encourage that husband of yours in his extravagance, and sell the clothes off your poor back that he may feast and act the fine gentleman in prison.”

“It is his health, poor dear soul!” interposed Mrs. Walker: “his chest. Every farthing of the money goes to the doctors, poor fellow!”

“Well, now listen: I am a rich man” (it was a great fib, for Woolsey’s income, as a junior partner of the firm, was but a small one); “I can very well afford to make him an allowance while he is in the Fleet, and have written to him to say so. But if you ever give him a penny, or sell a trinket belonging to you, upon my word and honour I will withdraw the allowance, and, though it would go to my heart, I’ll never see you again. You wouldn’t make me unhappy, would you?”

“I’d go on my knees to serve you, and Heaven bless you,” said the wife.

“Well, then, you must give me this promise.” And she did. “And now,” said he, “your mother, and Podmore, and I have been talking over matters, and we’ve agreed that you may make a very good income for yourself; though, to be sure, I wish it could have been managed any other way; but needs must, you know. You’re the finest singer in the universe.”

“La!” said Morgiana, highly delighted.

I never heard anything like you, though I’m no judge. Podmore says he is sure you will do very well, and has no doubt you might get very good engagements at concerts or on the stage; and as that husband will never do any good, and you have a child to support, sing you must.”

“Oh! how glad I should be to pay his debts and repay all he has done for me,” cried Mrs. Walker. “Think of his giving two hundred guineas to Mr. Baroski to have me taught. Was not that kind of him? Do you REALLY think I should succeed?

“There’s Miss Larkins has succeeded.”

“The little high-shouldered vulgar thing!” says Morgiana. “I’m sure I ought to succeed if SHE did.”

“She sing against Morgiana?” said Mrs. Crump. “I’d like to see her, indeed! She ain’t fit to snuff a candle to her.”

“I dare say not,” said the tailor, “though I don’t understand the thing myself: but if Morgiana can make a fortune, why shouldn’t she?”

“Heaven knows we want it, Woolsey,” cried Mrs. Crump. “And to see her on the stage was always the wish of my heart:” and so it had formerly been the wish of Morgiana; and now, with the hope of helping her husband and child, the wish became a duty, and she fell to practising once more from morning till night.

One of the most generous of men and tailors who ever lived now promised, if further instruction should be considered necessary (though that he could hardly believe possible), that he would lend Morgiana any sum required for the payment of lessons; and accordingly she once more betook herself, under Podmore’s advice, to the singing school. Baroski’s academy was, after the passages between them, out of the question, and she placed herself under the instruction of the excellent English composer Sir George Thrum, whose large and awful wife, Lady Thrum, dragon of virtue and propriety, kept watch over the master and the pupils, and was the sternest guardian of female virtue on or off any stage.

Morgiana came at a propitious moment. Baroski had launched Miss Larkins under the name of Ligonier. The Ligonier was enjoying considerable success, and was singing classical music to tolerable audiences; whereas Miss Butts, Sir George’s last pupil, had turned out a complete failure, and the rival house was only able to make a faint opposition to the new star with Miss M’Whirter, who, though an old favourite, had lost her upper notes and her front teeth, and, the fact was, drew no longer.

Directly Sir George heard Mrs. Walker, he tapped Podmore, who accompanied her, on the waistcoat, and said, “Poddy, thank you; we’ll cut the orange boy’s throat with that voice.” It was by the familiar title of orange boy that the great Baroski was known among his opponents.

“We’ll crush him, Podmore,” said Lady Thrum, in her deep hollow voice. “You may stop and dine.” And Podmore stayed to dinner, and ate cold mutton, and drank Marsala with the greatest reverence for the great English composer. The very next day Lady Thrum hired a pair of horses, and paid a visit to Mrs. Crump and her daughter at “Sadler’s Wells.”

All these things were kept profoundly secret from Walker, who received very magnanimously the allowance of two guineas a week which Woolsey made him, and with the aid of the few shillings his wife could bring him, managed to exist as best he might. He did not dislike gin when he could get no claret, and the former liquor, under the name of “tape,” used to be measured out pretty liberally in what was formerly Her Majesty’s prison of the Fleet.

Morgiana pursued her studies under Thrum, and we shall hear in the next chapter how it was she changed her name to RAVENSWING.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/thackeray/william_makepeace/mens/chapter6.html

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