The Newcomes, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER XI

At Mrs. Ridley’s

Saint Peter of Alcantara, as I have read in a life of St. Theresa, informed that devout lady that he had passed forty years of his life sleeping only an hour and a half each day; his cell was but four feet and a half long, so that he never lay down: his pillow was a wooden log in the stone wall: he ate but once in three days: he was for three years in a convent of his order without knowing any one of his brethren except by the sound of their voices, for he never during this period took his eyes off the ground: he always walked barefoot, and was but skin and bone when he died. The eating only once in three days, so he told his sister Saint, was by no means impossible, if you began the regimen in your youth. To conquer sleep was the hardest of all austerities which he practised:— I fancy the pious individual so employed, day after day, night after night, on his knees, or standing up in devout meditation in the cupboard — his dwelling-place; bareheaded and barefooted, walking over rocks, briars, mud, sharp stones (picking out the very worst places, let us trust, with his downcast eyes), under the bitter snow, or the drifting rain, or the scorching sunshine — I fancy Saint Peter of Alcantara, and contrast him with such a personage as the Incumbent of Lady Whittlesea’s Chapel, Mayfair.

His hermitage is situated in Walpole Street, let us say, on the second floor of a quiet mansion, let out to hermits by a nobleman’s butler, whose wife takes care of the lodgings. His cells consist of a refectory, a dormitory, and an adjacent oratory where he keeps his shower-bath and boots — the pretty boots trimly stretched on boot-trees and blacked to a nicety (not varnished) by the boy who waits on him. The barefooted business may suit superstitious ages and gentlemen of Alcantara, but does not become Mayfair and the nineteenth century. If St. Pedro walked the earth now with his eyes to the ground he would know fashionable divines by the way in which they were shod. Charles Honeyman’s is a sweet foot. I have no doubt as delicate and plump and rosy as the white hand with its two rings, which he passes in impassioned moments through his slender flaxen hair.

A sweet odour pervades his sleeping apartment — not that peculiar and delicious fragrance with which the Saints of the Roman Church are said to gratify the neighbourhood where they repose — but oils, redolent of the richest perfumes of Macassar, essences (from Truefitt’s or Delcroix’s) into which a thousand flowers have expressed their sweetest breath, await his meek head on rising; and infuse the pocket-handkerchief with which he dries and draws so many tears. For he cries a good deal in his sermons, to which the ladies about him contribute showers of sympathy.

By his bedside are slippers lined with blue silk and worked of an ecclesiastical pattern, by some of the faithful who sit at his feet. They come to him in anonymous parcels: they come to him in silver paper: boys in buttons (pages who minister to female grace!) leave them at the door for the Rev. C. Honeyman, and slip away without a word. Purses are sent to him — penwipers — a portfolio with the Honeyman arms; yea, braces have been known to reach him by the post (in his days of popularity); and flowers, and grapes, and jelly when he was ill, and throat comforters, and lozenges for his dear bronchitis. In one of his drawers is the rich silk cassock presented to him by his congregation at Leatherhead (when the young curate quitted that parish for London duty), and on his breakfast-table the silver teapot, once filled with sovereigns and presented by the same devotees. The devo-teapot he has, but the sovereigns, where are they?

What a different life this is from our honest friend of Alcantara, who eats once in three days! At one time if Honeyman could have drunk tea three times in an evening, he might have had it. The glass on his chimneypiece is crowded with invitations, not merely cards of ceremony (of which there are plenty), but dear little confidential notes from sweet friends of his congregation. “Ob, dear Mr. Honeyman,” writes Blanche, “what a sermon that was! I cannot go to bed to-night without thanking you for it.” “Do, do, dear Mr. Honeyman,” writes Beatrice, “lend me that delightful sermon. And can you come and drink tea with me and Selina, and my aunt? Papa and mamma dine out, but you know I am always your faithful Chesterfield Street.” And so on. He has all the domestic accomplishments; he plays on the violoncello: he sings a delicious second, not only in sacred but in secular music. He has a thousand anecdotes, laughable riddles, droll stories (of the utmost correctness, you understand) with which he entertains females of all ages; suiting his conversation to stately matrons, deaf old dowagers (who can hear his clear voice better than the loudest roar of their stupid sons-inlaw), mature spinsters, young beauties dancing through the season, even rosy little slips out of the nursery, who cluster round his beloved feet. Societies fight for him to preach their charity sermon. You read in the papers, “The Wapping Hospital for Wooden-legged Seamen. — On Sunday the 23rd, Sermons will be preached in behalf of this charity, by the Lord Bishop of Tobago in the morning, in the afternoon by the Rev. C. Honeyman, A.M., Incumbent of,” etc. “Clergymen’s Grandmothers’ Fund. — Sermons in aid of this admirable institution will be preached on Sunday, 4th May, by the Very Rev. the Dean of Pimlico, and the Rev. C. Honeyman, A.M.” When the Dean of Pimlico has his illness, many people think Honeyman will have the Deanery; that he ought to have it, a hundred female voices vow and declare: though it is said that a right reverend head at headquarters shakes dubiously when his name is mentioned for preferment. His name is spread wide, and not only women but men come to hear him. Members of Parliament, even Cabinet Ministers, sit under him. Lord Dozeley of course is seen in a front pew: where was a public meeting without Lord Dozeley? The men come away from his sermons and say, “It’s very pleasant, but I don’t know what the deuce makes all you women crowd so to hear the man.” “Oh, Charles! if you would but go oftener!” sighs Lady Anna Maria. “Can’t you speak to the Home Secretary? Can’t you do something for him?” “We can ask him to dinner next Wednesday if you like,” Says Charles. “They say he’s a pleasant fellow out of the wood. Besides there is no use in doing anything for him,” Charles goes on. “He can’t make less than a thousand a year out of his chapel, and that is better than anything any one can give him. A thousand a year, besides the rent of the wine-vaults below the chapel.”

“Don’t, Charles!” says his wife, with a solemn look. “Don’t ridicule things in that way.

“Confound it! there are wine-vaults under the chapel!” answers downright Charles. “I saw the name, Sherrick and Co.; offices, a green door, and a brass plate. It’s better to sit over vaults with wine in them than coffins. I wonder whether it’s the Sherrick with whom Kew and Jack Belsize had that ugly row?”

“What ugly row? — don’t say ugly row. It is not a nice word to hear the children use. Go on, my darlings. What was the dispute of Lord Kew and Mr. Belsize, and this Mr. Sherrick?”

“It was all about pictures, and about horses, and about money, and about one other subject which enters into every row that I ever heard of.”

“And what is that, dear?” asks the innocent lady, hanging on her husband’s arm, and quite pleased to have led him to church and brought him thence. “And what is it, that enters into every row, as you call it, Charles?”

“A woman, my love,” answers the gentleman, behind whom we have been in imagination walking out from Charles Honeyman’s church on a Sunday in June: as the whole pavement blooms with artificial flowers and fresh bonnets; as there is a buzz and cackle all around regarding the sermon; as carriages drive off; as lady-dowagers walk home; as prayer-books and footmen’s sticks gleam in the sun; as little boys with baked mutton and potatoes pass from the courts; as children issue from the public-houses with pots of beer; as the Reverend Charles Honeyman, who has been drawing tears in the sermon, and has seen, not without complacent throbs, a Secretary of State in the pew beneath him, divests himself of his rich silk cassock in the vestry, before he walks away to his neighbouring hermitage — where have we placed it? — in Walpole Street. I wish St. Pedro of Alcantara could have some of that shoulder of mutton with the baked potatoes, and a drink of that frothing beer. See, yonder trots little Lord Dozeley, who has been asleep for an hour with his head against the wood, like St. Pedro of Alcantara.

An East Indian gentleman and his son wait until the whole chapel is clear, and survey Lady Whittlesea’s monument at their leisure, and other hideous slabs erected in memory of defunct frequenters of the chapel. Whose was that face which Colonel Newcome thought he recognised — that of a stout man who came down from the organ-gallery? Could it be Broff the bass singer, who delivered the “Red Cross Knight” with such applause at the Cave of Melody, and who has been singing in this place? There are some chapels in London, where, the function over, one almost expects to see the sextons put brown hollands over the pews and galleries, as they do at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden.

The writer of these veracious pages was once walking through a splendid English palace, standing amidst parks and gardens, than which none more magnificent has been seen since the days of Aladdin, in company with a melancholy friend, who viewed all things darkly through his gloomy eyes. The housekeeper, pattering on before us from chamber to chamber, was expatiating upon the magnificence of this picture; the beauty of that statue; the marvellous richness of these hangings and carpets; the admirable likeness of the late Marquis by Sir Thomas; of his father, the fifth Earl, by Sir Joshua, and so on; when, in the very richest room of the whole castle, Hicks — such was my melancholy companion’s name — stopped the cicerone in her prattle, saying in a hollow voice, “And now, madam, will you show us the closet where the skeleton is?” The seared functionary paused in the midst of her harangue; that article was not inserted in the catalogue which she daily utters to visitors for their half-crown. Hicks’s question brought a darkness down upon the hall where we were standing. We did not see the room: and yet I have no doubt there is such an one; and ever after, when I have thought of the splendid castle towering in the midst of shady trees, under which the dappled deer are browsing; of the terraces gleaming with statues, and bright with a hundred thousand flowers; of the bridges and shining fountains and rivers wherein the castle windows reflect their festive gleams, when the halls are filled with happy feasters, and over the darkling woods comes the sound of music; — always, I say, when I think of Castle Bluebeard:— it is to think of that dark little closet, which I know is there, and which the lordly owner opens shuddering — after midnight — when he is sleepless and must go unlock it, when the palace is hushed, when beauties are sleeping around him unconscious, and revellers are at rest. O Mrs. Housekeeper: all the other keys hast thou: but that key thou hast not!

Have we not all such closets, my jolly friend, as well as the noble Marquis of Carabas? At night, when all the house is asleep but you, don’t you get up and peep into yours? When you in your turn are slumbering, up gets Mrs. Brown from your side, steals downstairs like Amina to her ghoul, clicks open the secret door, and looks into her dark depository. Did she tell you of that little affair with Smith long before she knew you? Psha! who knows any one save himself alone? Who, in showing his house to the closest and dearest, doesn’t keep back the key of a closet or two? I think of a lovely reader laying down the page and looking over at her unconscious husband, asleep, perhaps, after dinner. Yes, madam, a closet he hath: and you, who pry into everything, shall never have the key of it. I think of some honest Othello pausing over this very sentence in a railroad carriage, and stealthily gazing at Desdemona opposite to him, innocently administering sandwiches to their little boy — I am trying to turn off the sentence with a joke, you see — I feel it is growing too dreadful, too serious.

And to what, pray, do these serious, these disagreeable, these almost personal observations tend? To this simply, that Charles Honeyman, the beloved and popular preacher, the elegant divine to whom Miss Blanche writes sonnets, and whom Miss Beatrice invites to tea; who comes with smiles on his lip, gentle sympathy in his tones, innocent gaiety in his accent; who melts, rouses, terrifies in the pulpit; who charms over the tea-urn and the bland bread-and-butter: Charles Honeyman has one or two skeleton closets in his lodgings, Walpole Street, Mayfair; and many a wakeful night, whilst Mrs. Ridley, his landlady, and her tired husband, the nobleman’s major-domo, whilst the lodger on the first floor, whilst the cook and housemaid and weary little bootboy are at rest (mind you, they have all got their closets, which they open with their skeleton-keys); he wakes up, and looks at the ghastly occupant of that receptacle. One of the Reverend Charles Honeyman’s grisly night-haunters is — but stop; let us give a little account of the lodgings, and of some of the people frequenting the same.

First floor, Mr. Bagshot, Member for a Norfolk borough. Stout jolly gentleman; — dines at the Carlton Club; greatly addicted to Greenwich and Richmond, in the season: bets in a moderate way: does not go into society, except now and again to the chiefs of his party, when they give great entertainments; and once or twice to the houses of great country dons who dwell near him in the country. Is not of very good family; was, in fact, an apothecary: married a woman with money, much older than himself, who does not like London, and stops at home at Hummingham, not much to the displeasure of Bagshot; gives every now and then nice little quiet dinners, which Mrs. Ridley cooks admirably, to exceedingly stupid jolly old Parliamentary fogies, who absorb, with much silence and cheerfulness, a vast quantity of wine. They have just begun to drink ‘24 claret now, that of ‘15 being scarce, and almost drunk up. Writes daily, and hears every morning from Mrs. Bagshot; does not read her letters always: does not rise till long past eleven o’clock of a Sunday, and has John Bull and Bell’s Life, in bed: frequents the Blue Posts sometimes; rides a stout cob out of his county, and pays like the Bank of England.

The house is a Norfolk house. Mrs. Ridley was housekeeper to the great Squire Bayham, who had the estate before the Conqueror, and who came to such a dreadful crash in the year 1825, the year of the panic. Bayhams still belongs to the family, but in what a state, as those can say who recollect it in its palmy days! Fifteen hundred acres of the best land in England were sold off: all the timber cut down as level as a billiard-board. Mr. Bayham now lives up in one corner of the house, which used to be filled with the finest company in Europe. Law bless you! the Bayhams have seen almost all the nobility of England come in and go out, and were gentlefolks when many a fine lord’s father of the present day was sweeping a counting-house.

The house will hold genteelly no more than these two inmates; but in the season it manages to accommodate Miss Cann, who too was from Bayhams, having been a governess there to the young lady who is dead, and who now makes such a livelihood as she can best raise, by going out as a daily teacher. Miss Cann dines with Mrs. Ridley in the adjoining little back-parlour. Ridley but seldom can be spared to partake of the family dinner, his duties in the house and about the person of my Lord Todmorden keeping him constantly near that nobleman. How little Miss Cann can go on and keep alive on the crumb she eats for breakfast, and the scrap she picks at dinner, du astonish Mrs. Ridley, that it du! She declares that the two canary-birds encaged in her window (whence is a cheerful prospect of the back of Lady Whittlesea’s Chapel) eat more than Miss Cann. The two birds set up a tremendous singing and chorussing when Miss Cann, spying the occasion of the first-floor lodger’s absence, begins practising her music-pieces. Such trills, roulades, and flourishes go on from the birds and the lodger! it is a wonder how any fingers can move over the jingling ivory so quickly as Miss Cann’s. Excellent a woman as she is, admirably virtuous, frugal, brisk, honest, and cheerful, I would not like to live in lodgings where there was a lady so addicted to playing variations. No more does Honeyman. On a Saturday, when he is composing his valuable sermons (the rogue, you may be sure, leaves his work to the last day, and there are, I am given to understand, among the clergy many better men than Honeyman, who are as dilatory as he), he begs, he entreats with tears in his eyes, that Miss Cann’s music may cease. I would back little Cann to write a sermon against him, for all his reputation as a popular preacher.

Old and weazened as that piano is, feeble and cracked her voice, it is wonderful what a pleasant concert she can give in that parlour of a Saturday evening, to Mrs. Ridley, who generally dozes a good deal, and to a lad, who listens with all his soul, with tears sometimes in his great eyes, with crowding fancies filling his brain and throbbing at his heart, as the artist plies her humble instrument. She plays old music of Handel and Haydn, and the little chamber anon swells into a cathedral, and he who listens beholds altars lighted, priests ministering, fair children swinging censers, great oriel windows gleaming in sunset, and seen through arched columns and avenues of twilight marble. The young fellow who hears her has been often and often to the opera and the theatres. As she plays Don Juan, Zerlina comes tripping over the meadows, and Masetto after her, with a crowd of peasants and maidens: and they sing the sweetest of all music, and the heart beats with happiness, and kindness, and pleasure. Piano, pianissimo! the city is hushed. The towers of the great cathedral rise in the distance, its spires lighted by the broad moon. The statues in the moonlit place cast long shadows athwart the pavement: but the fountain in the midst is dressed out like Cinderella for the night, and sings and wears a crest of diamonds. That great sombre street all in shade, can it be the famous Toledo? — or is it the Corso? — or is it the great street in Madrid, the one which leads to the Escurial where the Rubens and Velasquez are? It is Fancy Street — Poetry Street — Imagination Street — the street where lovely ladies look from balconies, where cavaliers strike mandolins and draw swords and engage, where long processions pass, and venerable hermits, with long beards, bless the kneeling people: where the rude soldiery, swaggering through the place with flags and halberts, and fife and dance, seize the slim waists of the daughters of the people, and bid the pifferari play to their dancing. Blow, bagpipes, a storm of harmony! become trumpets, trombones, ophicleides, fiddles, and bassoons! Fire, guns sound, tocsins! Shout, people! Louder, shriller and sweeter than all, sing thou, ravishing heroine! And see, on his cream-coloured charger Massaniello prances in, and Fra Diavolo leaps down the balcony, carabine in hand; and Sir Huon of Bordeaux sails up to the quay with the Sultan’s daughter of Babylon. All these delights and sights, and joys and glories, these thrills of sympathy, movements of unknown longing, and visions of beauty, a young sickly lad of eighteen enjoys in a little dark room where there is a bed disguised in the shape of a wardrobe, and a little old woman is playing under a gas-lamp on the jingling keys of an old piano.

For a long time Mr. Samuel Ridley, butler and confidential valet to the Right Honourable John James Baron Todmorden, was in a state of the greatest despair and gloom about his only son, the little John James — a sickly and almost deformed child “of whom there was no making nothink,” as Mr. Ridley said. His figure precluded him from following his father’s profession, and waiting upon the British nobility, who naturally require large and handsome men to skip up behind their rolling carriages, and hand their plates at dinner. When John James was six years old his father remarked, with tears in his eyes, he wasn’t higher than a plate-basket. The boys jeered at him in the streets — some whopped him, spite of his diminutive size. At school he made but little progress. He was always sickly and dirty, and timid and crying, whimpering in the kitchen away from his mother; who, though she loved him, took Mr. Ridley’s view of his character, and thought him little better than an idiot until such time as little Miss Cann took him in hand, when at length there was some hope of him.

“Half-witted, you great stupid big man,” says Miss Cann, who had a fine spirit of her own. “That boy half-witted! He has got more wit in his little finger than you have in all your great person! You are a very good man, Ridley, very good-natured I’m sure, and bear with the teasing of a waspish old woman: but you are not the wisest of mankind. Tut, tut, don’t tell me. You know you spell out the words when you read the newspaper still, and what would your bills look like if I did not write them in my nice little hand? I tell you that boy is a genius. I tell you that one day the world will hear of him. His heart is made of pure gold. You think that all the wit belongs to the big people. Look at me, you great tall man! Am I not a hundred times cleverer than you are? Yes, and John James is worth a thousand such insignificant little chits as I am; and he is as tall as me too, sir. Do you hear that! One day I am determined he shall dine at Lord Todmorden’s table, and he shall get the prize at the Royal Academy, and be famous, sir — famous!”

“Well, Miss C., I wish he may get it; that’s all I say,” answers Mr. Ridley. “The poor fellow does no harm, that I acknowledge; but I never see the good he was up to yet. I wish he’d begin it; I du wish he would now.” And the honest gentleman relapses into the study of his paper.

All those beautiful sounds and thoughts which Miss Cann conveys to him out of her charmed piano, the young artist straightway translates into forms; and knights in armour, with plume, and shield, and battle-axe; and splendid young noblemen with flowing ringlets, and bounteous plumes of feathers, and rapiers, and russet boots; and fierce banditti with crimson tights, doublets profusely illustrated with large brass buttons, and the dumpy basket-hilted claymores known to be the favourite weapon with which these whiskered ruffians do battle; wasp-waisted peasant girls, and young countesses with oh, such large eyes and the lips! — all these splendid forms of war and beauty crowd to the young draughtsman’s pencil, and cover letter-backs, copybooks, without end. If his hand strikes off some face peculiarly lovely, and to his taste, some fair vision that has shone on his imagination, some houri of a dancer, some bright young lady of fashion in an opera-box, whom he has seen, or fancied he has seen (for the youth is short-sighted, though he hardly as yet knows his misfortune)— if he has made some effort extraordinarily successful, our young Pygmalion hides away the masterpiece, and he paints the beauty with all his skill; the lips a bright carmine, the eyes a deep, deep cobalt, the cheeks a dazzling vermilion, the ringlets of a golden hue; and he worships this sweet creature of his in secret, fancies a history for her; a castle to storm, a tyrant usurper who keeps her imprisoned, and a prince in black ringlets and a spangled cloak, who scales the tower, who slays the tyrant, and then kneels gracefully at the princess’s feet, and says, “Lady, wilt thou be mine?”

There is a kind lady in the neighbourhood, who takes in dressmaking for the neighbouring maid-servants, and has a small establishment of lollipops, theatrical characters, and ginger-beer for the boys in Little Craggs Buildings, hard by the Running Footman public-house, where father and other gentlemen’s gentlemen have their club: this good soul also sells Sunday newspapers to the footmen of the neighbouring gentry; and besides, has a stock of novels for the ladies of the upper servants’ table. Next to Miss Cann, Miss Flinders is John James’s greatest friend and benefactor. She has remarked him when he was quite a little man, and used to bring his father’s beer of a Sunday. Out of her novels he has taught himself to read, dull boy at the day-school though he was, and always the last in his class, there. Hours, happy hours, has he spent cowering behind her counter, or hugging her books under his pinafore when he had leave to carry them home. The whole library has passed through his hands, his long, lean, tremulous hands, and under his eager eyes. He has made illustrations to every one of those books, and been frightened at his own pictures of Manfroni or the One-handed Monk, Abellino the Terrific Bravo of Venice, and Rinaldo Rinaldini Captain of Robbers. How he has blistered Thaddeus of Warsaw with his tears, and drawn him in his Polish cap, and tights, and Hessians! William Wallace, the Hero of Scotland, how nobly he has depicted him! With what whiskers and bushy ostrich plumes! — in a tight kilt, and with what magnificent calves to his legs, laying about him with his battle-axe, and bestriding the bodies of King Edward’s prostrate cavaliers! At this time Mr. Honeyman comes to lodge in Walpole Street, and brings a set of Scott’s novels, for which he subscribed when at Oxford; and young John James, who at first waits upon him and does little odd jobs for the reverend gentleman, lights upon the volumes, and reads them with such a delight and passion of pleasure as all the delights of future days will scarce equal. A fool, is he? — an idle feller, out of whom no good will ever come, as his father says. There was a time when, in despair of any better chance for him, his parents thought of apprenticing him to a tailor, and John James was waked up from a dream of Rebecca and informed of the cruelty meditated against him. I forbear to describe the tears and terror, and frantic desperation in which the poor boy was plunged. Little Miss Cann rescued him from that awful board, and Honeyman likewise interceded for him, and Mr. Bagshot promised that, as soon as his party came in, he would ask the Minister for a tide-waitership for him; for everybody liked the solemn, soft-hearted, willing little lad, and no one knew him less than his pompous and stupid and respectable father.

Miss Cann painted flowers and card-screens elegantly, and “finished” pencil-drawings most elaborately for her pupils. She could copy prints, so that at a little distance you would scarcely know that the copy in stumped chalk was not a bad mezzotinto engraving. She even had a little old paint-box, and showed you one or two ivory miniatures out of the drawer. She gave John James what little knowledge of drawing she had, and handed him over her invaluable recipes for mixing water-colours —“for trees in foregrounds, burnt sienna and indigo”—“for very dark foliage, ivory black and gamboge”—“for flesh-colour,” etc. etc. John James went through her poor little course, but not so brilliantly as she expected. She was forced to own that several of her pupils’ “pieces” were executed much more dexterously than Johnny Ridley’s. Honeyman looked at the boy’s drawings from time to time, and said, “Hm, ha! — very clever — a great deal of fancy, really.” But Honeyman knew no more of the subject than a deaf and dumb man knows of music. He could talk the art cant very glibly, and had a set of Morghens and Madonnas as became a clergyman and a man of taste; but he saw not with eyes such as those wherewith Heaven had endowed the humble little butler’s boy, to whom splendours of Nature were revealed to vulgar sights invisible, and beauties manifest in forms, colours, shadows of common objects, where most of the world saw only what was dull, and gross, and familiar. One reads in the magic story-books of a charm or a flower which the wizard gives, and which enables the bearer to see the fairies. O enchanting boon of Nature, which reveals to the possessor the hidden spirits of beauty round about him! spirits which the strongest and most gifted masters compel into painting or song. To others it is granted but to have fleeting glimpses of that fair Art-world; and tempted by ambition, or barred by faint-heartedness, or driven by necessity, to turn away thence to the vulgar life-track, and the light of common day.

The reader who has passed through Walpole Street scores of times, knows the discomfortable architecture of all, save the great houses built in Queen Anne’s and George the First’s time; and while some of the neighbouring streets, to wit, Great Craggs Street, Bolingbroke Street, and others, contain mansions fairly coped with stone, with little obelisks before the doors, and great extinguishers wherein the torches of the nobility’s running footmen were put out a hundred and thirty or forty years ago:— houses which still remain abodes of the quality, and where you shall see a hundred carriages gather of a public night; Walpole Street has quite faded away into lodgings, private hotels, doctors’ houses, and the like; nor is No. 23 (Ridley’s) by any means the best house in the street. The parlour, furnished and tenanted by Miss Cann as has been described; the first floor, Bagshot, Esq., M.P.; the second floor, Honeyman; what remains but the garrets, and the ample staircase and the kitchens? and the family being all put to bed, how can you imagine there is room for any more inhabitants?

And yet there is one lodger more, and one who, like almost all the other personages mentioned up to the present time (and some of whom you have no idea yet), will play a definite part in the ensuing history. At night, when Honeyman comes in, he finds on the hall-table three wax bedroom candles — his own, Bagshot’s, and another. As for Miss Cann, she is locked into the parlour in bed long ago, her stout little walking-shoes being on the mat at the door. At 12 o’clock at noon, sometimes at 1, nay at 2 and 3 — long after Bagshot is gone to his committees, and little Cann to her pupils — a voice issues from the very topmost floor, from a room where there is no bell; a voice of thunder calling out “Slavey! Julia! Julia, my love! Mrs. Ridley!” And this summons not being obeyed, it will not unfrequently happen that a pair of trousers enclosing a pair of boots with iron heels, and known by the name of the celebrated Prussian General who came up to help the other christener of boots at Waterloo, will be flung down from the topmost story, even to the marble floor of the resounding hall. Then the boy Thomas, otherwise called Slavey, may say, “There he goes again;” or Mrs. Ridley’s own back-parlour bell rings vehemently, and Julia the cook will exclaim, “Lor, it’s Mr. Frederick.”

If the breeches and boots are not understood, the owner himself appears in great wrath dancing on the upper story; dancing down to the lower floor; and loosely enveloped in a ragged and flowing robe de chambre. In this costume and condition he will dance into Honeyman’s apartment, where that meek divine may be sitting with a headache or over a novel or a newspaper; dance up to the fire flapping his robe-tails, poke it, and warm himself there; dance up to the cupboard where his reverence keeps his sherry, and help himself to a glass.

“Salve, spes fidei, lumen ecclesiae,” he will say; “here’s towards you, my buck. I knows the tap. Sherrick’s Marsala bottled three months after date, at two hundred and forty-six shillings the dozen.”

“Indeed, indeed it’s not” (and now we are coming to an idea of the skeleton in poor Honeyman’s closet — not that this huge handsome jolly Fred Bayham is the skeleton, far from it. Mr. Frederick weighs fourteen stone). “Indeed, indeed it isn’t, Fred, I’m sure,” sighs the other. “You exaggerate, indeed you do. The wine is not dear, not by any means so expensive as you say.”

“How much a glass, think you?” says Fred, filling another bumper. “A half-crown, think ye? — a half-crown, Honeyman? By cock and pye, it is not worth a bender.” He says this in the manner of the most celebrated tragedian of the day. He can imitate any actor, tragic or comic; any known Parliamentary orator or clergyman; any saw, cock, cloop of a cork wrenched from a bottle and guggling of wine into the decanter afterwards, bee buzzing, little boy up a chimney, etc. He imitates people being ill on board a steam-packet so well that he makes you die of laughing: his uncle the Bishop could not resist this comic exhibition, and gave Fred a cheque for a comfortable sum of money; and Fred, getting cash for the cheque at the Cave of Harmony, imitated his uncle the Bishop and his Chaplain, winding up with his Lordship and Chaplain being unwell at sea — the Chaplain and Bishop quite natural and distinct.

“How much does a glass of this sack cost thee, Charley?” resumes Fred, after this parenthesis. “You say it is not dear. Charles Honeyman, you had, even from your youth up, a villainous habit. And I perfectly well remember, sir, in boyhood’s breezy hour, when I was the delight of his school, that you used to tell lies to your venerable father. You did, Charles. Excuse the frankness of an early friend, it’s my belief you’d rather lie than not. Hm”— he looks at the cards in the chimney-glass “Invitations to dinner, proffers of muffins. Do lend me your sermon. Oh, you old impostor! you hoary old Ananias! I say, Charley, why haven’t you picked out some nice girl for yours truly? One with lauds and beeves, with rents and consols, mark you? I have no money, ’tis true, but then I don’t owe as much as you. I am a handsomer man than you are. Look at this chest” (he slaps it), “these limbs; they are manly, sir, manly.”

“For Heaven’s sake, Bayham,” cries Mr. Honeyman, white with terror; “if anybody were to come ——”

“What did I say anon, sir? that I was manly, ay, manly. Let any ruffian, save a bailiff, come and meet the doughty arm of Frederick Bayham.”

“Oh, Lord, Lord, here’s somebody coming into the room!” cries Charles, sinking back on the sofa, as the door opens.

“Ha! dost thou come with murderous intent?” and he now advances in an approved offensive attitude. “Caitiff, come on, come on!” and he walks off with a tragic laugh, crying, “Ha, ha, ha, ’tis but the slavey!”

The slavey has Mr. Frederick’s hot water, and a bottle of sodawater on the same tray. He has been instructed to bring soda whenever he hears the word slavey pronounced from above. The bottle explodes, and Frederick drinks, and hisses after his drink as though he had been all hot within.

“What’s o’clock now, slavey — half-past three? Let me see, I breakfasted exactly ten hours ago, in the rosy morning, off a modest cup of coffee in Covent Garden Market. Coffee, a penny; bread, a simple halfpenny. What has Mrs. Ridley for dinner?”

“Please, sir, roast pork.”

“Get me some. Bring it into my room, unless, Honeyman, you insist upon my having it here, kind fellow!”

At the moment a smart knock comes to the door, and Fred says, “Well, Charles, it may be a friend or a lady come to confess, and I’m off; I knew you’d be sorry I was going. Tom, bring up my things; brush ’em gently, you scoundrel, and don’t take the nap off. Bring up the roast pork, and plenty of apple-sauce, tell Mrs. Ridley, with my love; and one of Mr. Honeyman’s shirts, and one of his razors. Adieu, Charles! Amend! Remember me.” And he vanishes into the upper chambers.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/thackeray/william_makepeace/newcomes/chapter11.html

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