The Paris Sketch Book, by William Makepeace Thackeray

A Caution to Travellers

A million dangers and snares await the traveller, as soon as he issues out of that vast messagerie which we have just quitted: and as each man cannot do better than relate such events as have happened in the course of his own experience, and may keep the unwary from the path of danger, let us take this, the very earliest opportunity, of imparting to the public a little of the wisdom which we painfully have acquired.

And first, then, with regard to the city of Paris, it is to be remarked, that in that metropolis flourish a greater number of native and exotic swindlers than are to be found in any other European nursery. What young Englishman that visits it, but has not determined, in his heart, to have a little share of the gayeties that go on — just for once, just to see what they are like? How many, when the horrible gambling dens were open, did resist a sight of them? — nay, was not a young fellow rather flattered by a dinner invitation from the Salon, whither he went, fondly pretending that he should see “French society,” in the persons of certain Dukes and Counts who used to frequent the place?

My friend Pogson is a young fellow, not much worse, although perhaps a little weaker and simpler than his neighbors; and coming to Paris with exactly the same notions that bring many others of the British youth to that capital, events befell him there, last winter, which are strictly true, and shall here be narrated, by way of warning to all.

Pog, it must be premised, is a city man, who travels in drugs for a couple of the best London houses, blows the flute, has an album, drives his own gig, and is considered, both on the road and in the metropolis, a remarkably nice, intelligent, thriving young man. Pogson’s only fault is too great an attachment to the fair:—“the sex,” as he says often “will be his ruin:” the fact is, that Pog never travels without a “Don Juan” under his driving-cushion, and is a pretty-looking young fellow enough.

Sam Pogson had occasion to visit Paris, last October; and it was in that city that his love of the sex had liked to have cost him dear. He worked his way down to Dover; placing, right and left, at the towns on his route, rhubarb, sodas, and other such delectable wares as his masters dealt in (“the sweetest sample of castor oil, smelt like a nosegay — went off like wildfire — hogshead and a half at Rochester, eight-and twenty gallons at Canterbury,” and so on), and crossed to Calais, and thence voyaged to Paris in the coupé of the Diligence. He paid for two places, too, although a single man, and the reason shall now be made known.

Dining at the table-d’hôte at “Quillacq’s”— it is the best inn on the Continent of Europe — our little traveller had the happiness to be placed next to a lady, who was, he saw at a glance, one of the extreme pink of the nobility. A large lady, in black satin, with eyes and hair as black as sloes, with gold chains, scent-bottles, sable tippet, worked pocket-handkerchief, and four twinkling rings on each of her plump white fingers. Her cheeks were as pink as the finest Chinese rouge could make them. Pog knew the article: he travelled in it. Her lips were as red as the ruby lip salve: she used the very best, that was clear.

She was a fine-looking woman, certainly (holding down her eyes, and talking perpetually of “mes trente-deux ans”); and Pogson, the wicked young dog, who professed not to care for young misses, saying they smelt so of bread-and-butter, declared, at once, that the lady was one of HIS beauties; in fact, when he spoke to us about her, he said, “She’s a slap-up thing, I tell you; a reg’lar good one; ONE OF MY SORT!” And such was Pogson’s credit in all commercial rooms, that one of HIS sort was considered to surpass all other sorts.

During dinner-time, Mr. Pogson was profoundly polite and attentive to the lady at his side, and kindly communicated to her, as is the way with the best-bred English on their first arrival “on the Continent,” all his impressions regarding the sights and persons he had seen. Such remarks having been made during half an hour’s ramble about the ramparts and town, and in the course of a walk down to the custom-house, and a confidential communication with the commissionaire, must be, doubtless, very valuable to Frenchmen in their own country; and the lady listened to Pogson’s opinions: not only with benevolent attention, but actually, she said, with pleasure and delight. Mr. Pogson said that there was no such thing as good meat in France, and that’s why they cooked their victuals in this queer way; he had seen many soldiers parading about the place, and expressed a true Englishman’s abhorrence of an armed force; not that he feared such fellows as these — little whipper-snappers — our men would eat them. Hereupon the lady admitted that our Guards were angels, but that Monsieur must not be too hard upon the French; “her father was a General of the Emperor.”

Pogson felt a tremendous respect for himself at the notion that he was dining with a General’s daughter, and instantly ordered a bottle of champagne to keep up his consequence.

“Mrs. Bironn, ma’am,” said he, for he had heard the waiter call her by some such name, “if you WILL accept a glass of champagne, ma’am, you’ll do me, I’m sure, great honor: they say it’s very good, and a precious sight cheaper than it is on our side of the way, too — not that I care for money. Mrs. Bironn, ma’am, your health, ma’am.”

The lady smiled very graciously, and drank the wine.

“Har you any relation, ma’am, if I may make so bold; har you anyways connected with the family of our immortal bard?”

“Sir, I beg your pardon.”

“Don’t mention it, ma’am: but BiRONN and BYron are hevidently the same names, only you pronounce in the French way; and I thought you might be related to his lordship: his horigin, ma’am, was of French extraction:” and here Pogson began to repeat —

“Hare thy heyes like thy mother’s, my fair child,
Hada! sole daughter of my ’ouse and ‘art?”

“Oh!” said the lady, laughing, “you speak of LOR Byron?

“Hauthor of ‘Don Juan,’ ‘Child ‘Arold,’ and ‘Cain, a Mystery,’” said Pogson:—“I do; and hearing the waiter calling you Madam la Bironn, took the liberty of hasking whether you were connected with his lordship; that’s hall:” and my friend here grew dreadfully red, and began twiddling his long ringlets in his fingers, and examining very eagerly the contents of his plate.

“Oh, no: Madame la Baronne means Mistress Baroness; my husband was Baron, and I am Baroness.”

“What! ‘ave I the honor — I beg your pardon, ma’am — is your ladyship a Baroness, and I not know it? pray excuse me for calling you ma’am.”

The Baroness smiled most graciously — with such a look as Juno cast upon unfortunate Jupiter when she wished to gain her wicked ends upon him — the Baroness smiled; and, stealing her hand into a black velvet bag, drew from it an ivory card-case, and from the ivory card-case extracted a glazed card, printed in gold; on it was engraved a coronet, and under the coronet the words

BARONNE DE FLORVAL-DELVAL,

NÉE DE MELVAL-NORVAL.

Rue Taitbout.

The grand Pitt diamond — the Queen’s own star of the garter — a sample of otto-of-roses at a guinea a drop, would not be handled more curiously, or more respectfully, than this porcelain card of the Baroness. Trembling he put it into his little Russia-leather pocket-book: and when he ventured to look up, and saw the eyes of the Baroness de Florval-Delval, née de Melval-Norval, gazing upon him with friendly and serene glances, a thrill of pride tingled through Pogson’s blood: he felt himself to be the very happiest fellow “on the Continent.”

But Pogson did not, for some time, venture to resume that sprightly and elegant familiarity which generally forms the great charm of his conversation: he was too much frightened at the presence he was in, and contented himself by graceful and solemn bows, deep attention, and ejaculations of “Yes, my lady,” and “No, your ladyship,” for some minutes after the discovery had been made. Pogson piqued himself on his breeding: “I hate the aristocracy,” he said, “but that’s no reason why I shouldn’t behave like a gentleman.”

A surly, silent little gentleman, who had been the third at the ordinary, and would take no part either in the conversation or in Pogson’s champagne, now took up his hat, and, grunting, left the room, when the happy bagman had the delight of a tête-à-tête. The Baroness did not appear inclined to move: it was cold; a fire was comfortable, and she had ordered none in her apartment. Might Pogson give her one more glass of champagne, or would her ladyship prefer “something hot.” Her ladyship gravely said, she never took ANYTHING hot. “Some champagne, then; a leetle drop?” She would! she would! O gods! how Pogson’s hand shook as he filled and offered her the glass!

What took place during the rest of the evening had better be described by Mr. Pogson himself, who has given us permission to publish his letter.

“QUILLACQ’S HOTEL (pronounced KILLYAX), CALAIS.

“DEAR TIT — I arrived at Cally, as they call it, this day, or, rather, yesterday; for it is past midnight, as I sit thinking of a wonderful adventure that has just befallen me. A woman in course; that’s always the case with ME, you know: but oh, Tit! if you COULD but see her! Of the first family in France, the Florval-Delvals, beautiful as an angel, and no more caring for money than I do for split peas.

“I’ll tell you how it occurred. Everybody in France, you know, dines at the ordinary — it’s quite distangy to do so. There was only three of us today, however — the Baroness, me, and a gent, who never spoke a word; and we didn’t want him to, neither: do you mark that?

“You know my way with the women: champagne’s the thing; make ’em drink, make ’em talk; — make ’em talk, make ’em do anything. So I orders a bottle, as if for myself; and, ‘Ma’am,’ says I, ‘will you take a glass of Sham — just one?’ Take it she did — for you know it’s quite distangy here: everybody dines at the table de hôte, and everybody accepts everybody’s wine. Bob Irons, who travels in linen on our circuit, told me that he had made some slap-up acquaintances among the genteelest people at Paris, nothing but by offering them Sham.

“Well, my Baroness takes one glass, two glasses, three glasses — the old fellow goes — we have a deal of chat (she took me for a military man, she said: is it not singular that so many people should?), and by ten o’clock we had grown so intimate, that I had from her her whole history, knew where she came from, and where she was going. Leave me alone with ’em: I can find out any woman’s history in half an hour.

“And where do you think she IS going? to Paris to be sure: she has her seat in what they call the coopy (though you’re not near so cooped in it as in our coaches. I’ve been to the office and seen one of ’em). She has her place in the coopy, and the coopy holds THREE; so what does Sam Pogson do? — he goes and takes the other two. Ain’t I up to a thing or two? Oh, no, not the least; but I shall have her to myself the whole of the way.

“We shall be in the French metropolis the day after this reaches you: please look out for a handsome lodging for me, and never mind the expense. And I say, if you could, in her hearing, when you came down to the coach, call me Captain Pogson, I wish you would — it sounds well travelling, you know; and when she asked me if I was not an officer, I couldn’t say no. Adieu, then, my dear fellow, till Monday, and vive le joy, as they say. The Baroness says I speak French charmingly, she talks English as well as you or I.

“Your affectionate friend,

“S. Pogson.”

This letter reached us duly, in our garrets, and we engaged such an apartment for Mr. Pogson, as beseemed a gentleman of his rank in the world and the army. At the appointed hour, too, we repaired to the Diligence office, and there beheld the arrival of the machine which contained him and his lovely Baroness.

Those who have much frequented the society of gentlemen of his profession (and what more delightful?) must be aware, that, when all the rest of mankind look hideous, dirty, peevish, wretched, after a forty hours’ coach-journey, a bagman appears as gay and spruce as when he started; having within himself a thousand little conveniences for the voyage, which common travellers neglect. Pogson had a little portable toilet, of which he had not failed to take advantage, and with his long, curling, flaxen hair, flowing under a seal-skin cap, with a gold tassel, with a blue and gold satin handkerchief, a crimson velvet waistcoat, a light green cut-away coat, a pair of barred brickdust-colored pantaloons, and a neat mackintosh, presented, altogether, as elegant and distingué an appearance as any one could desire. He had put on a clean collar at breakfast, and a pair of white kids as he entered the barrier, and looked, as he rushed into my arms, more like a man stepping out of a band-box, than one descending from a vehicle that has just performed one of the laziest, dullest, flattest, stalest, dirtiest journeys in Europe.

To my surprise, there were TWO ladies in the coach with my friend, and not ONE, as I had expected. One of these, a stout female, carrying sundry baskets, bags, umbrellas, and woman’s wraps, was evidently a maid-servant: the other, in black, was Pogson’s fair one, evidently. I could see a gleam of curl-papers over a sallow face — of a dusky nightcap flapping over the curl-papers — but these were hidden by a lace veil and a huge velvet bonnet, of which the crowning birds-of-paradise were evidently in a moulting state. She was encased in many shawls and wrappers; she put, hesitatingly, a pretty little foot out of the carriage — Pogson was by her side in an instant, and, gallantly putting one of his white kids round her waist, aided this interesting creature to descend. I saw, by her walk, that she was five-and-forty, and that my little Pogson was a lost man.

After some brief parley between them — in which it was charming to hear how my friend Samuel WOULD speak, what he called French, to a lady who could not understand one syllable of his jargon — the mutual hackney-coaches drew up; Madame la Baronne waved to the Captain a graceful French curtsy. “Adyou!” said Samuel, and waved his lily hand. “Adyou-addimang.”

A brisk little gentleman, who had made the journey in the same coach with Pogson, but had more modestly taken a seat in the Imperial, here passed us, and greeted me with a “How d’ye do?” He had shouldered his own little valise, and was trudging off, scattering a cloud of commissionaires, who would fain have spared him the trouble.

“Do you know that chap?” says Pogson; “surly fellow, ain’t he?”

“The kindest man in existence,” answered I; “all the world knows little Major British.”

“He’s a Major, is he? — why, that’s the fellow that dined with us at Killyax’s; it’s lucky I did not call myself Captain before him, he mightn’t have liked it, you know:” and then Sam fell into a reverie; — what was the subject of his thoughts soon appeared.

“Did you ever SEE such a foot and ankle?” said Sam, after sitting for some time, regardless of the novelty of the scene, his hands in his pockets, plunged in the deepest thought.

“ISN’T she a slap-up woman, eh, now?” pursued he; and began enumerating her attractions, as a horse-jockey would the points of a favorite animal.

“You seem to have gone a pretty length already,” said I, “by promising to visit her tomorrow.”

“A good length? — I believe you. Leave ME alone for that.”

“But I thought you were only to be two in the coupé, you wicked rogue.”

“Two in the coopy? Oh! ah! yes, you know — why, that is, I didn’t know she had her maid with her (what an ass I was to think of a noblewoman travelling without one!) and couldn’t, in course, refuse, when she asked me to let the maid in.”

“Of course not.”

“Couldn’t, you know, as a man of honor; but I made up for all that,” said Pogson, winking slyly, and putting his hand to his little bunch of a nose, in a very knowing way.

“You did, and how?”

“Why, you dog, I sat next to her; sat in the middle the whole way, and my back’s half broke, I can tell you:” and thus, having depicted his happiness, we soon reached the inn where this back-broken young man was to lodge during his stay in Paris.

The next day at five we met; Mr. Pogson had seen his Baroness, and described her lodgings, in his own expressive way, as “slap-up.” She had received him quite like an old friend; treated him to eau sucrée, of which beverage he expressed himself a great admirer; and actually asked him to dine the next day. But there was a cloud over the ingenuous youth’s brow, and I inquired still farther.

“Why,” said he, with a sigh, “I thought she was a widow; and, hang it! who should come in but her husband the Baron: a big fellow, sir, with a blue coat, a red ribbing, and SUCH a pair of mustachios!”

“Well,” said I, “he didn’t turn you out, I suppose?”

“Oh, no! on the contrary, as kind as possible; his lordship said that he respected the English army; asked me what corps I was in — said he had fought in Spain against us — and made me welcome.”

“What could you want more?”

Mr. Pogson at this only whistled; and if some very profound observer of human nature had been there to read into this little bagman’s heart, it would, perhaps, have been manifest, that the appearance of a whiskered soldier of a husband had counteracted some plans that the young scoundrel was concocting.

I live up a hundred and thirty-seven steps in the remote quarter of the Luxembourg, and it is not to be expected that such a fashionable fellow as Sam Pogson, with his pockets full of money, and a new city to see, should be always wandering to my dull quarters; so that, although he did not make his appearance for some time, he must not be accused of any luke-warmness of friendship on that score.

He was out, too, when I called at his hotel; but once, I had the good fortune to see him, with his hat curiously on one side, looking as pleased as Punch, and being driven, in an open cab, in the Champs Elysées. “That’s ANOTHER tip-top chap,” said he, when we met, at length. “What do you think of an Earl’s son, my boy? Honorable Tom Ringwood, son of the Earl of Cinqbars: what do you think of that, eh?”

I thought he was getting into very good society. Sam was a dashing fellow, and was always above his own line of life; he had met Mr. Ringwood at the Baron’s, and they’d been to the play together; and the honorable gent, as Sam called him, had joked with him about being well to do IN A CERTAIN QUARTER; and he had had a game of billiards with the Baron, at the Estaminy, “a very distangy place, where you smoke,” said Sam; “quite select, and frequented by the tip-top nobility;” and they were as thick as peas in a shell; and they were to dine that day at Ringwood’s, and sup, the next night, with the Baroness.

“I think the chaps down the road will stare,” said Sam, “when they hear how I’ve been coming it.” And stare, no doubt, they would; for it is certain that very few commercial gentlemen have had Mr. Pogson’s advantages.

The next morning we had made an arrangement to go out shopping together, and to purchase some articles of female gear, that Sam intended to bestow on his relations when he returned. Seven needle-books, for his sisters; a gilt buckle, for his mamma; a handsome French cashmere shawl and bonnet, for his aunt (the old lady keeps an inn in the Borough, and has plenty of money, and no heirs); and a toothpick case, for his father. Sam is a good fellow to all his relations, and as for his aunt, he adores her. Well, we were to go and make these purchases, and I arrived punctually at my time; but Sam was stretched on a sofa, very pale and dismal.

I saw how it had been. —“A little too much of Mr. Ringwood’s claret, I suppose?”

He only gave a sickly stare.

“Where does the Honorable Tom live?” says I.

“HONORABLE!” says Sam, with a hollow, horrid laugh; “I tell you, Tit, he’s no more Honorable than you are.”

“What, an impostor?”

“No, no; not that. He is a real Honorable, only —”

“Oh, ho! I smell a rat — a little jealous, eh?”

“Jealousy be hanged! I tell you he’s a thief; and the Baron’s a thief; and, hang me, if I think his wife is any better. Eight-and-thirty pounds he won of me before supper; and made me drunk, and sent me home:— is THAT honorable? How can I afford to lose forty pounds? It’s took me two years to save it up — if my old aunt gets wind of it, she’ll cut me off with a shilling: hang me!”— and here Sam, in an agony, tore his fair hair.

While bewailing his lot in this lamentable strain, his bell was rung, which signal being answered by a surly “Come in,” a tall, very fashionable gentleman, with a fur coat, and a fierce tuft to his chin, entered the room. “Pogson my buck, how goes it?” said he, familiarly, and gave a stare at me: I was making for my hat.

“Don’t go,” said Sam, rather eagerly; and I sat down again.

The Honorable Mr. Ringwood hummed and ha’d: and, at last, said he wished to speak to Mr. Pogson on business, in private, if possible.

“There’s no secrets betwixt me and my friend,” cried Sam.

Mr. Ringwood paused a little:—“An awkward business that of last night,” at length exclaimed he.

“I believe it WAS an awkward business,” said Sam, dryly.

“I really am very sorry for your losses.”

“Thank you: and so am I, I can tell you,” said Sam.

“You must mind, my good fellow, and not drink; for, when you drink, you WILL play high: by Gad, you led US in, and not we you.”

“I dare say,” answered Sam, with something of peevishness; “losses is losses: there’s no use talking about ’em when they’re over and paid.”

“And paid?” here wonderingly spoke Mr. Ringwood; “why, my dear fel — what the deuce — has Florval been with you?”

“D—— Florval!” growled Sam, “I’ve never set eyes on his face since last night; and never wish to see him again.”

“Come, come, enough of this talk; how do you intend to settle the bills which you gave him last night?”

“Bills I what do you mean?”

“I mean, sir, these bills,” said the Honorable Tom, producing two out of his pocket-book, and looking as stern as a lion. “‘I promise to pay, on demand, to the Baron de Florval, the sum of four hundred pounds. October 20, 1838.’ ‘Ten days after date I promise to pay the Baron de et caetera et caetera, one hundred and ninety-eight pounds. Samuel Pogson.’ You didn’t say what regiment you were in.”

“WHAT!” shouted poor Sam, as from a dream, starting up and looking preternaturally pale and hideous.

“D—— it, sir, you don’t affect ignorance: you don’t pretend not to remember that you signed these bills, for money lost in my rooms: money LENT to you, by Madame de Florval, at your own request, and lost to her husband? You don’t suppose, sir, that I shall be such an infernal idiot as to believe you, or such a coward as to put up with a mean subterfuge of this sort. Will you, or will you not, pay the money, sir?”

“I will not,” said Sam, stoutly; “it’s a d —— d swin —”

Here Mr. Ringwood sprung up, clenching his riding-whip, and looking so fierce that Sam and I bounded back to the other end of the room. “Utter that word again, and, by heaven, I’ll murder you!” shouted Mr. Ringwood, and looked as if he would, too: “once more, will you, or will you not, pay this money?”

“I can’t,” said Sam faintly.

“I’ll call again, Captain Pogson,” said Mr. Ringwood, “I’ll call again in one hour; and, unless you come to some arrangement, you must meet my friend, the Baron de Florval, or I’ll post you for a swindler and a coward.” With this he went out: the door thundered to after him, and when the clink of his steps departing had subsided, I was enabled to look round at Pog. The poor little man had his elbows on the marble table, his head between his hands, and looked, as one has seen gentlemen look over a steam-vessel off Ramsgate, the wind blowing remarkably fresh: at last he fairly burst out crying.

“If Mrs. Pogson heard of this,” said I, “what would become of the ‘Three Tuns?’” (for I wished to give him a lesson). “If your Ma, who took you every Sunday to meeting, should know that her boy was paying attention to married women; — if Drench, Glauber and Co., your employers, were to know that their confidential agent was a gambler, and unfit to be trusted with their money, how long do you think your connection would last with them, and who would afterwards employ you?”

To this poor Pog had not a word of answer; but sat on his sofa whimpering so bitterly, that the sternest of moralists would have relented towards him, and would have been touched by the little wretch’s tears. Everything, too, must be pleaded in excuse for this unfortunate bagman: who, if he wished to pass for a captain, had only done so because he had an intense respect and longing for rank: if he had made love to the Baroness, had only done so because he was given to understand by Lord Byron’s “Don Juan” that making love was a very correct, natty thing: and if he had gambled, had only been induced to do so by the bright eyes and example of the Baron and the Baroness. O ye Barons and Baronesses of England! if ye knew what a number of small commoners are daily occupied in studying your lives, and imitating your aristocratic ways, how careful would ye be of your morals, manners, and conversation!

My soul was filled, then, with a gentle yearning pity for Pogson, and revolved many plans for his rescue: none of these seeming to be practicable, at last we hit on the very wisest of all, and determined to apply for counsel to no less a person than Major British.

A blessing it is to be acquainted with my worthy friend, little Major British; and heaven, sure, it was that put the Major into my head, when I heard of this awkward scrape of poor Fog’s. The Major is on half-pay, and occupies a modest apartment au quatrième, in the very hotel which Pogson had patronized at my suggestion; indeed, I had chosen it from Major British’s own peculiar recommendation.

There is no better guide to follow than such a character as the honest Major, of whom there are many likenesses now scattered over the Continent of Europe: men who love to live well, and are forced to live cheaply, and who find the English abroad a thousand times easier, merrier, and more hospitable than the same persons at home. I, for my part, never landed on Calais pier without feeling that a load of sorrows was left on the other side of the water; and have always fancied that black care stepped on board the steamer, along with the custom-house officers at Gravesend, and accompanied one to yonder black louring towers of London — so busy, so dismal, and so vast.

British would have cut any foreigner’s throat who ventured to say so much, but entertained, no doubt, private sentiments of this nature; for he passed eight months of the year, regularly, abroad, with headquarters at Paris (the garrets before alluded to), and only went to England for the month’s shooting, on the grounds of his old colonel, now an old lord, of whose acquaintance the Major was passably inclined to boast.

He loved and respected, like a good staunch Tory as he is, every one of the English nobility; gave himself certain little airs of a man of fashion, that were by no means disagreeable; and was, indeed, kindly regarded by such English aristocracy as he met, in his little annual tours among the German courts, in Italy or in Paris, where he never missed an ambassador’s night: he retailed to us, who didn’t go, but were delighted to know all that had taken place, accurate accounts of the dishes, the dresses, and the scandal which had there fallen under his observation.

He is, moreover, one of the most useful persons in society that can possibly be; for besides being incorrigibly duelsome on his own account, he is, for others, the most acute and peaceable counsellor in the world, and has carried more friends through scrapes and prevented more deaths than any member of the Humane Society. British never bought a single step in the army, as is well known. In ‘14 he killed a celebrated French fire-eater,, who had slain a young friend of his, and living, as he does, a great deal with young men of pleasure, and good old sober family people, he is loved by them both and has as welcome a place made for him at a roaring bachelor’s supper at the “Café Anglais,” as at a staid dowager’s dinner-table in the Faubourg St. Honoré. Such pleasant old boys are very profitable acquaintances, let me tell you; and lucky is the young man who has one or two such friends in his list.

Hurrying on Fogson in his dress, I conducted him, panting, up to the Major’s quatrième, where we were cheerfully bidden to come in. The little gentleman was in his travelling jacket, and occupied in painting, elegantly, one of those natty pairs of boots in which he daily promenaded the Boulevards. A couple of pairs of tough buff gloves had been undergoing some pipe-claying operation under his hands; no man stepped out so spick and span, with a hat so nicely brushed, with a stiff cravat tied so neatly under a fat little red face, with a blue frock-coat so scrupulously fitted to a punchy little person, as Major British, about whom we have written these two pages. He stared rather hardly at my companion, but gave me a kind shake of the hand, and we proceeded at once to business. “Major British,” said I, “we want your advice in regard to an unpleasant affair which has just occurred to my friend Pogson.”

“Pogson, take a chair.”

“You must know, sir, that Mr. Pogson, coming from Calais the other day, encountered, in the diligence, a very handsome woman.”

British winked at Pogson, who, wretched as he was, could not help feeling pleased.

“Mr. Pogson was not more pleased with this lovely creature than was she with him; for, it appears, she gave him her card, invited him to her house, where he has been constantly, and has been received with much kindness.”

“I see,” says British.

“Her husband the Baron —”

“NOW it’s coming,” said the Major, with a grin: “her husband is jealous, I suppose, and there is a talk of the Bois de Boulogne: my dear sir, you can’t refuse — can’t refuse.”

“It’s not that,” said Pogson, wagging his head passionately.

“Her husband the Baron seemed quite as much taken with Pogson as his lady was, and has introduced him to some very distingué friends of his own set. Last night one of the Baron’s friends gave a party in honor of my friend Pogson, who lost forty-eight pounds at cards BEFORE he was made drunk, and heaven knows how much after.”

“Not a shilling, by sacred heaven! — not a shilling!” yelled out Pogson. “After the supper I ‘ad such an ‘eadach’, I couldn’t do anything but fall asleep on the sofa.”

“You ‘ad such an ‘eadach’, sir,” says British, sternly, who piques himself on his grammar and pronunciation, and scorns a cockney.

Such a H-eadache, sir,” replied Pogson, with much meekness.

“The unfortunate man is brought home at two o’clock, as tipsy as possible, dragged up stairs, senseless, to bed, and, on waking, receives a visit from his entertainer of the night before — a lord’s son, Major, a tip-top fellow — who brings a couple of bills that my friend Pogson is said to have signed.”

“Well, my dear fellow, the thing’s quite simple — he must pay them.”

“I can’t pay them.”

“He can’t pay them,” said we both in a breath: “Pogson is a commercial traveller, with thirty shillings a week, and how the deuce is he to pay five hundred pounds?”

“A bagman, sir! and what right has a bagman to gamble? Gentlemen gamble, sir; tradesmen, sir, have no business with the amusements of the gentry. What business had you with barons and lords’ sons, sir? — serve you right, sir.”

“Sir,” says Pogson, with some dignity, “merit, and not birth, is the criterion of a man: I despise an hereditary aristocracy, and admire only Nature’s gentlemen. For my part, I think that a British merch —”

“Hold your tongue, sir,” bounced out the Major, “and don’t lecture me; don’t come to me, sir, with your slang about Nature’s gentlemen — Nature’s tomfools, sir! Did Nature open a cash account for you at a banker’s, sir? Did Nature give you an education, sir? What do you mean by competing with people to whom Nature has given all these things? Stick to your bags, Mr. Pogson, and your bagmen, and leave barons and their like to their own ways.”

“Yes, but, Major,” here cried that faithful friend, who has always stood by Pogson; “they won’t leave him alone.”

“The honorable gent says I must fight if I don’t pay,” whimpered Sam.

“What! fight YOU? Do you mean that the honorable gent, as you call him, will go out with a bagman?”

“He doesn’t know I’m a — I’m a commercial man,” blushingly said Sam: “he fancies I’m a military gent.”

The Major’s gravity was quite upset at this absurd notion; and he laughed outrageously. “Why, the fact is, sir,” said I, “that my friend Pogson, knowing the value of the title of Captain, and being complimented by the Baroness on his warlike appearance, said, boldly, he was in the army. He only assumed the rank in order to dazzle her weak imagination, never fancying that there was a husband, and a circle of friends, with whom he was afterwards to make an acquaintance; and then, you know, it was too late to withdraw.”

“A pretty pickle you have put yourself in, Mr. Pogson, by making love to other men’s wives, and calling yourself names,” said the Major, who was restored to good humor. “And pray, who is the honorable gent?”

“The Earl of Cinqbars’ son,” says Pogson, “the Honorable Tom Ringwood.”

“I thought it was some such character; and the Baron is the Baron de Florval-Delval?”

“The very same.”

“And his wife a black-haired woman, with a pretty foot and ankle; calls herself Athenais; and is always talking about her trente-deux ans? Why, sir, that woman was an actress on the Boulevard, when we were here in ‘15. She’s no more his wife than I am. Delval’s name is Chicot. The woman is always travelling between London and Paris: I saw she was hooking you at Calais; she has hooked ten men, in the course of the last two years, in this very way. She lent you money, didn’t she?” “Yes.” “And she leans on your shoulder, and whispers, ‘Play half for me,’ and somebody wins it, and the poor thing is as sorry as you are, and her husband storms and rages, and insists on double stakes; and she leans over your shoulder again, and tells every card in your hand to your adversary, and that’s the way it’s done, Mr. Pogson.”

“I’ve been ‘AD, I see I ‘ave,” said Pogson, very humbly.

“Well, sir,” said the Major, “in consideration, not of you, sir — for, give me leave to tell you, Mr. Pogson, that you are a pitiful little scoundrel — in consideration for my Lord Cinqbars, sir, with whom, I am proud to say, I am intimate,” (the Major dearly loved a lord, and was, by his own showing, acquainted with half the peerage,) “I will aid you in this affair. Your cursed vanity, sir, and want of principle, has set you, in the first place, intriguing with other men’s wives; and if you had been shot for your pains, a bullet would have only served you right, sir. You must go about as an impostor, sir, in society; and you pay richly for your swindling, sir, by being swindled yourself: but, as I think your punishment has been already pretty severe, I shall do my best, out of regard for my friend, Lord Cinqbars, to prevent the matter going any farther; and I recommend you to leave Paris without delay. Now let me wish you a good morning.”— Wherewith British made a majestic bow, and began giving the last touch to his varnished boots.

We departed: poor Sam perfectly silent and chapfallen; and I meditating on the wisdom of the half-pay philosopher, and wondering what means he would employ to rescue Pogson from his fate.

What these means were I know not; but Mr. Ringwood did NOT make his appearance at six; and, at eight, a letter arrived for “Mr. Pogson, commercial traveller,” &c. &c. It was blank inside, but contained his two bills. Mr. Ringwood left town, almost immediately, for Vienna; nor did the Major explain the circumstances which caused his departure; but he muttered something about “knew some of his old tricks,” “threatened police, and made him disgorge directly.”

Mr. Ringwood is, as yet, young at his trade; and I have often thought it was very green of him to give up the bills to the Major, who, certainly, would never have pressed the matter before the police, out of respect for his friend, Lord Cinqbars.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/thackeray/william_makepeace/paris/chapter2.html

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