Imagination fondly stoops to trace
The parlor splendours of that festive place.
There is little to interest in a narrative of early childhood, unless, indeed, one were writing on education. We shall not, therefore, linger over the infancy of the motherless boy left to the protection of Mrs. Margery Lobkins, or, as she was sometimes familiarly called, Peggy, or Piggy, Lob. The good dame, drawing a more than sufficient income from the profits of a house which, if situated in an obscure locality, enjoyed very general and lucrative repute, and being a lone widow without kith or kin, had no temptation to break her word to the deceased, and she suffered the orphan to wax in strength and understanding until the age of twelve — a period at which we are now about to reintroduce him to our readers.
The boy evinced great hardihood of temper, and no inconsiderable quickness of intellect. In whatever he attempted, his success was rapid, and a remarkable strength of limb and muscle seconded well the dictates of an ambition turned, it must be confessed, rather to physical than mental exertion. It is not to be supposed, however, that his boyish life passed in unbroken tranquillity. Although Mrs. Lobkins was a good woman on the whole, and greatly attached to her protegee, she was violent and rude in temper, or, as she herself more flatteringly expressed it, “her feelings were unkimmonly strong;” and alternate quarrel and reconciliation constituted the chief occupations of the protegee’s domestic life. As, previous to his becoming the ward of Mrs. Lobkins, he had never received any other appellation than “the child,” so the duty of christening him devolved upon our hostess of the Mug; and after some deliberation, she blessed him with the name of Paul. It was a name of happy omen, for it had belonged to Mrs. Lobkins’s grandfather, who had been three times transported and twice hanged (at the first occurrence of the latter description, he had been restored by the surgeons, much to the chagrin of a young anatomist who was to have had the honour of cutting him up). The boy did not seem likely to merit the distinguished appellation he bore, for he testified no remarkable predisposition to the property of other people. Nay, although he sometimes emptied the pockets of any stray visitor to the coffee-room of Mrs. Lobkins, it appeared an act originating rather in a love of the frolic than a desire of the profit; for after the plundered person had been sufficiently tormented by the loss, haply, of such utilities as a tobacco-box or a handkerchief; after he had, to the secret delight of Paul, searched every corner of the apartment, stamped, and fretted, and exposed himself by his petulance to the bitter objurgation of Mrs. Lobkins, our young friend would quietly and suddenly contrive that the article missed should return of its own accord to the pocket from which it had disappeared. And thus, as our readers have doubtless experienced when they have disturbed the peace of a whole household for the loss of some portable treasure which they themselves are afterwards discovered to have mislaid, the unfortunate victim of Paul’s honest ingenuity, exposed to the collected indignation of the spectators, and sinking from the accuser into the convicted, secretly cursed the unhappy lot which not only vexed him with the loss of his property, but made it still more annoying to recover it.
Whether it was that, on discovering these pranks, Mrs. Lobkins trembled for the future bias of the address they displayed, or whether she thought that the folly of thieving without gain required speedy and permanent correction, we cannot decide; but the good lady became at last extremely anxious to secure for Paul the blessings of a liberal education. The key of knowledge (the art of reading) she had, indeed, two years prior to the present date, obtained for him; but this far from satisfied her conscience — nay, she felt that if she could not also obtain for him the discretion to use it, it would have been wise even to have withheld a key which the boy seemed perversely to apply to all locks but the right one. In a word, she was desirous that he should receive an education far superior to those whom he saw around him; and attributing, like most ignorant persons, too great advantages to learning, she conceived that in order to live as decorously as the parson of the parish, it was only necessary to know as much Latin.
One evening in particular, as the dame sat by her cheerful fire, this source of anxiety was unusually active in her mind, and ever and anon she directed unquiet and restless glances towards Paul, who sat on a form at the opposite corner of the hearth, diligently employed in reading the life and adventures of the celebrated Richard Turpin. The form on which the boy sat was worn to a glassy smoothness, save only in certain places, where some ingenious idler or another had amused himself by carving sundry names, epithets, and epigrammatic niceties of language. It is said that the organ of carving upon wood is prominently developed on all English skulls; and the sagacious Mr. Combe has placed this organ at the back of the head, in juxtaposition to that of destructiveness, which is equally large among our countrymen, as is notably evinced upon all railings, seats, temples, and other things-belonging to other people.
Opposite to the fireplace was a large deal table, at which Dummie, surnamed Dunnaker, seated near the dame, was quietly ruminating over a glass of hollands and water. Farther on, at another table in the corner of the room, a gentleman with a red wig, very rusty garments, and linen which seemed as if it had been boiled in saffron, smoked his pipe, apart, silent, and apparently plunged in meditation. This gentleman was no other than Mr. Peter MacGrawler, the editor of a magnificent periodical entitled “The Asiaeum,” which was written to prove that whatever is popular is necessarily bad — a valuable and recondite truth, which “The Asinaeum” had satisfactorily demonstrated by ruining three printers and demolishing a publisher. We need not add that Mr. MacGrawler was Scotch by birth, since we believe it is pretty well known that all periodicals of this country have, from time immemorial, been monopolized by the gentlemen of the Land of Cakes. We know not how it may be the fashion to eat the said cakes in Scotland, but here the good emigrators seem to like them carefully buttered on both sides. By the side of the editor stood a large pewter tankard; above him hung an engraving of the “wonderfully fat boar formerly in the possession of Mr. Fattem, grazier.” To his left rose the dingy form of a thin, upright clock in an oaken case; beyond the clock, a spit and a musket were fastened in parallels to the wall. Below those twin emblems of war and cookery were four shelves, containing plates of pewter and delf, and terminating, centaur-like, in a sort of dresser. At the other side of these domestic conveniences was a picture of Mrs. Lobkins, in a scarlet body and a hat and plume. At the back of the fair hostess stretched the blanket we have before mentioned. As a relief to the monotonous surface of this simple screen, various ballads and learned legends were pinned to the blanket. There might you read in verses, pathetic and unadorned, how —
“Sally loved a sailor lad
As fought with famous Shovel!”
There might you learn, if of two facts so instructive you were before unconscious, that —
“Ben the toper loved his bottle — Charley only loved the lasses!”
When of these and various other poetical effusions you were somewhat wearied, the literary fragments in bumbler prose afforded you equal edification and delight. There might you fully enlighten yourself as to the “Strange and Wonderful News from Kensington, being a most full and true Relation how a Maid there is supposed to have been carried away by an Evil Spirit on Wednesday, 15th of April last, about Midnight.” There, too, no less interesting and no less veracious, was that uncommon anecdote touching the chief of many-throned powers entitled “The Divell of Mascon; or, the true Relation of the Chief Things which an Unclean Spirit did and said at Mascon, in Burgundy, in the house of one Mr. Francis Pereaud: now made English by one that hath a Particular Knowledge of the Truth of the Story.”
Nor were these materials for Satanic history the only prosaic and faithful chronicles which the bibliothecal blanket afforded. Equally wonderful, and equally indisputable, was the account of “a young lady, the daughter of a duke, with three legs and the face of a porcupine.” Nor less so “The Awful Judgment of God upon Swearers, as exemplified in the case of John Stiles, who Dropped down dead after swearing a Great Oath; and on stripping the unhappy man they found ‘Swear not at all’ written on the tail of his shirt!”
Twice had Mrs. Lobkins heaved a long sigh, as her eyes turned from Paul to the tranquil countenance of Dummie Dunnaker, and now, re-settling herself in her chair, as a motherly anxiety gathered over her visage —
“Paul, my ben cull,” said she, “what gibberish hast got there?”
“Turpin, the great highwayman!” answered the young student, without lifting his eyes from the page, through which he was spelling his instructive way.
“Oh! he be’s a chip of the right block, dame!” said Mr. Dunnaker, as he applied his pipe to an illumined piece of paper. “He’ll ride a ‘oss foaled by a hacorn yet, I varrants!”
To this prophecy the dame replied only with a look of indignation; and rocking herself to and fro in her huge chair, she remained for some moments in silent thought. At last she again wistfully eyed the hopeful boy, and calling him to her side, communicated some order, in a dejected whisper. Paul, on receiving it, disappeared behind the blanket, and presently returned with a bottle and a wineglass. With an abstracted gesture, and an air that betokened continued meditation, the good dame took the inspiring cordial from the hand of her youthful cupbearer —
“And ere a man had power to say ‘Behold!’ The jaws of Lobkins had devoured it up: So quick bright things come to confusion!”
The nectarean beverage seemed to operate cheerily on the matron’s system; and placing her hand on the boy’s curly head, she said (like Andromache, dakruon gelasasa, or, as Scott hath it, “With a smile on her cheek, but a tear in her eye”) —
“Paul, thy heart be good, thy heart be good; thou didst not spill a drop of the tape! Tell me, my honey, why didst thou lick Tom Tobyson?”
“Because,” answered Paul, “he said as how you ought to have been hanged long ago.”
“Tom Tobyson is a good-for-nought,” returned the dame, “and deserves to shove the tumbler [Be whipped at the cart’s tail]; I but oh, my child, be not too venturesome in taking up the sticks for a blowen — it has been the ruin of many a man afore you; and when two men goes to quarrel for a ‘oman, they doesn’t know the natur’ of the thing they quarrels about. Mind thy latter end, Paul, and reverence the old, without axing what they has been before they passed into the wale of years. Thou mayst get me my pipe, Paul — it is upstairs, under the pillow.”
While Paul was accomplishing this errand, the lady of the Mug, fixing her eyes upon Mr. Dunnaker, said, “Dummie, Dummie, if little Paul should come to be scragged!”
“Whish!” muttered Dummie, glancing over his shoulder at MacGrawler; “mayhap that gemman —” Here his voice became scarcely audible even to Mrs. Lobkins; but his whisper seemed to imply an insinuation that the illustrious editor of “The Asinaeum” might be either an informer, or one of those heroes on whom an informer subsists.
Mrs. Lobkins’s answer, couched in the same key, appeared to satisfy Dunnaker, for with a look of great contempt he chucked up his head and said, “Oho! that be all, be it!”
Paul here reappeared with the pipe; and the dame, having filled the tube, leaned forward, and lighted the Virginian weed from the blower of Mr. Dunnaker. As in this interesting occupation the heads of the hostess and the guest approached each other, the glowing light playing cheerily on the countenance of each, there was an honest simplicity in the picture that would have merited the racy and vigorous genius of a Cruikshank. As soon as the Promethean spark had been fully communicated to the lady’s tube, Mrs. Lobkins, still possessed by the gloomy idea she had conjured up, repeated —
“Ah, Dummie, if little Paul should be scragged!”
Dummie, withdrawing the pipe from his mouth, heaved a sympathizing puff, but remained silent; and Mrs. Lobkins, turning to Paul, who stood with mouth open and ears erect at this boding ejaculation, said —
“Dost think, Paul, they’d have the heart to hang thee?”
“I think they’d have the rope, dame!” returned the youth.
“But you need not go for to run your neck into the noose!” said the matron; and then, inspired by the spirit of moralizing, she turned round to the youth, and gazing upon his attentive countenance, accosted him with the following admonitions:—
“Mind thy kittychism, child, and reverence old age. Never steal, ‘specially when any one be in the way. Never go snacks with them as be older than you — ‘cause why? The older a cove be, the more he cares for hisself, and the less for his partner. At twenty, we diddles the public; at forty, we diddles our cronies! Be modest, Paul, and stick to your sitivation in life. Go not with fine tobymen, who burn out like a candle wot has a thief in it — all flare, and gone in a whiffy! Leave liquor to the aged, who can’t do without it. Tape often proves a halter, and there be’s no ruin like blue ruin! Read your Bible, and talk like a pious ’un. People goes more by your words than your actions. If you wants what is not your own, try and do without it; and if you cannot do without it, take it away by insinivation, not bluster. They as swindles does more and risks less than they as robs; and if you cheats toppingly, you may laugh at the topping cheat [Gallows]. And now go play.”
Paul seized his hat, but lingered; and the dame, guessing at the signification of the pause, drew forth and placed in the boy’s hand the sum of five halfpence and one farthing.
“There, boy,” quoth she, and she stroked his head fondly when she spoke, “you does right not to play for nothing — it’s loss of time; but play with those as be less than yoursel’, and then you can go for to beat ’em if they says you go for to cheat!”
Paul vanished; and the dame, laying her hand on Dummie’s shoulder, said —
“There be nothing like a friend in need, Dummie; and somehow or other, I thinks as how you knows more of the horigin of that ’ere lad than any of us!”
“Me, dame!” exclaimed Dummie, with a broad gaze of astonishment.
“Ah, you! you knows as how the mother saw more of you just afore she died than she did of ’ere one of us. Noar, now, noar, now! Tell us all about ’un. Did she steal ’un, think ye?”
“Lauk, Mother Margery, dost think I knows? Vot put such a crotchet in your ‘ead?”
“Well!” said the dame, with a disappointed sigh, “I always thought as how you were more knowing about it than you owns. Dear, dear, I shall never forgit the night when Judith brought the poor cretur here — you knows she had been some months in my house afore ever I see’d the urchin; and when she brought it, she looked so pale and ghostly that I had not the heart to say a word, so I stared at the brat, and it stretched out its wee little hands to me. And the mother frowned at it, and throwed it into my lap.”
“Ah! she was a hawful voman, that ’ere!” said Dummie, shaking his head. “But howsomever, the hurchin fell into good ‘ands; for I be’s sure you ‘as been a better mother to ’un than the raal ’un!”
“I was always a fool about childer,” rejoined Mrs. Lobkins; “and I thinks as how little Paul was sent to be a comfort to my latter end! Fill the glass, Dummie.”
“I ‘as heard as ‘ow Judith was once blowen to a great lord!” said Dummie.
“Like enough!” returned Mrs. Lobkins — “like enough! She was always a favourite of mine, for she had a spuret [spirit] as big as my own; and she paid her rint like a decent body, for all she was out of her sinses, or ‘nation like it.”
“Ay, I knows as how you liked her — ‘cause vy? ‘T is not your vay to let a room to a voman! You says as how ‘t is not respectable, and you only likes men to wisit the Mug!”
“And I doesn’t like all of them as comes here!” answered the dame — ”‘specially for Paul’s sake; but what can a lone ‘oman do? Many’s the gentleman highwayman wot comes here, whose money is as good as the clerk’s of the parish. And when a bob [shilling] is in my hand, what does it sinnify whose hand it was in afore?”
“That’s what I call being sinsible and practical,” said Dummie, approvingly. “And after all, though you ‘as a mixture like, I does not know a halehouse where a cove is better entertained, nor meets of a Sunday more illegant company, than the Mug!”
Here the conversation, which the reader must know had been sustained in a key inaudible to a third person, received a check from Mr. Peter MacGrawler, who, having finished his revery and his tankard, now rose to depart. First, however, approaching Mrs. Lobkins, he observed that he had gone on credit for some days, and demanded the amount of his bill. Glancing towards certain chalk hieroglyphics inscribed on the wall at the other side of the fireplace, the dame answered that Mr. MacGrawler was indebted to her for the sum of one shilling and ninepence three farthings.
After a short preparatory search in his waistcoat pockets, the critic hunted into one corner a solitary half-crown, and having caught it between his finger and thumb, he gave it to Mrs. Lobkins and requested change.
As soon as the matron felt her hand anointed with what has been called by some ingenious Johnson of St. Giles’s “the oil of palms,” her countenance softened into a complacent smile; and when she gave the required change to Mr. MacGrawler, she graciously hoped as how he would recommend the Mug to the public.
“That you may be sure of,” said the editor of “The Asinaeum.” “There is not a place where I am so much at home.”
With that the learned Scotsman buttoned his coat and went his way.
“How spiteful the world be!” said Mrs. Lobkins, after a pause, “‘specially if a ‘oman keeps a fashionable sort of a public! When Judith died, Joe, the dog’s-meat man, said I war all the better for it, and that she left I a treasure to bring up the urchin. One would think a thumper makes a man richer — ‘cause why? Every man thumps! I got nothing more than a watch and ten guineas when Judy died, and sure that scarce paid for the burrel [burial].”
“You forgits the two quids [Guineas] I giv’ you for the hold box of rags — much of a treasure I found there!” said Dummie, with sycophantic archness.
“Ay,” cried the dame, laughing, “I fancies you war not pleased with the bargain. I thought you war too old a ragmerchant to be so free with the blunt; howsomever, I supposes it war the tinsel petticoat as took you in!”
“As it has mony a viser man than the like of I,” rejoined Dummie, who to his various secret professions added the ostensible one of a rag-merchant and dealer in broken glass.
The recollection of her good bargain in the box of rags opened our landlady’s heart.
“Drink, Dummie,” said she, good-humouredly — “drink; I scorns to score lush to a friend.”
Dummie expressed his gratitude, refilled his glass, and the hospitable matron, knocking out from her pipe the dying ashes, thus proceeded:
“You sees, Dummie, though I often beats the boy, I loves him as much as if I war his raal mother — I wants to make him an honour to his country, and an ixciption to my family!”
“Who all flashed their ivories at Surgeons’ Hall!” added the metaphorical Dummie.
“True!” said the lady; “they died game, and I be n’t ashamed of ’em. But I owes a duty to Paul’s mother, and I wants Paul to have a long life. I would send him to school, but you knows as how the boys only corrupt one another. And so, I should like to meet with some decent man, as a tutor, to teach the lad Latin and vartue!”
“My eyes!” cried Dummie; aghast at the grandeur of this desire.
“The boy is ‘cute enough, and he loves reading,” continued the dame; “but I does not think the books he gets hold of will teach him the way to grow old.”
“And ‘ow came he to read, anyhows?”
“Ranting Rob, the strolling player, taught him his letters, and said he’d a deal of janius.”
“And why should not Ranting Rob tache the boy Latin and vartue?”
“‘Cause Ranting Rob, poor fellow, was lagged [Transported for burglary] for doing a panny!” answered the dame, despondently.
There was a long silence; it was broken by Mr. Dummie. Slapping his thigh with the gesticulatory vehemence of a Ugo Foscolo, that gentleman exclaimed —
“I ‘as it — I ‘as thought of a tutor for leetle Paul!”
“Who’s that? You quite frightens me; you ‘as no marcy on my narves,” said the dame, fretfully.
“Vy, it be the gemman vot writes,” said Dummie, putting his finger to his nose — “the gemman vot paid you so flashly!”
“What! the Scotch gemman?”
“The werry same!” returned Dummie.
The dame turned in her chair and refilled her pipe. It was evident from her manner that Mr. Dunnaker’s suggestion had made an impression on her. But she recognized two doubts as to its feasibility: one, whether the gentleman proposed would be adequate to the task; the other, whether he would be willing to undertake it.
In the midst of her meditations on this matter, the dame was interrupted by the entrance of certain claimants on her hospitality; and Dummie soon after taking his leave, the suspense of Mrs. Lobkins’s mind touching the education of little Paul remained the whole of that day and night utterly unrelieved.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:06