Matrimony is proverbially a serious undertaking. Like an over-weening predilection for brandy-and-water, it is a misfortune into which a man easily falls, and from which he finds it remarkably difficult to extricate himself. It is of no use telling a man who is timorous on these points, that it is but one plunge, and all is over. They say the same thing at the Old Bailey, and the unfortunate victims derive as much comfort from the assurance in the one case as in the other.
Mr. Watkins Tottle was a rather uncommon compound of strong uxorious inclinations, and an unparalleled degree of anti-connubial timidity. He was about fifty years of age; stood four feet six inches and three-quarters in his socks — for he never stood in stockings at all — plump, clean, and rosy. He looked something like a vignette to one of Richardson’s novels, and had a clean-cravatish formality of manner, and kitchen-pokerness of carriage, which Sir Charles Grandison himself might have envied. He lived on an annuity, which was well adapted to the individual who received it, in one respect — it was rather small. He received it in periodical payments on every alternate Monday; but he ran himself out, about a day after the expiration of the first week, as regularly as an eight-day clock; and then, to make the comparison complete, his landlady wound him up, and he went on with a regular tick.
Mr. Watkins Tottle had long lived in a state of single blessedness, as bachelors say, or single cursedness, as spinsters think; but the idea of matrimony had never ceased to haunt him. Wrapt in profound reveries on this never-failing theme, fancy transformed his small parlour in Cecil-street, Strand, into a neat house in the suburbs; the half-hundredweight of coals under the kitchen-stairs suddenly sprang up into three tons of the best Walls-end; his small French bedstead was converted into a regular matrimonial four-poster; and in the empty chair on the opposite side of the fireplace, imagination seated a beautiful young lady, with a very little independence or will of her own, and a very large independence under a will of her father’s.
‘Who’s there?’ inquired Mr. Watkins Tottle, as a gentle tap at his room-door disturbed these meditations one evening.
‘Tottle, my dear fellow, how DO you do?’ said a short elderly gentleman with a gruffish voice, bursting into the room, and replying to the question by asking another.
‘Told you I should drop in some evening,’ said the short gentleman, as he delivered his hat into Tottle’s hand, after a little struggling and dodging.
‘Delighted to see you, I’m sure,’ said Mr. Watkins Tottle, wishing internally that his visitor had ‘dropped in’ to the Thames at the bottom of the street, instead of dropping into his parlour. The fortnight was nearly up, and Watkins was hard up.
‘How is Mrs. Gabriel Parsons?’ inquired Tottle.
‘Quite well, thank you,’ replied Mr. Gabriel Parsons, for that was the name the short gentleman revelled in. Here there was a pause; the short gentleman looked at the left hob of the fireplace; Mr. Watkins Tottle stared vacancy out of countenance.
‘Quite well,’ repeated the short gentleman, when five minutes had expired. ‘I may say remarkably well.’ And he rubbed the palms of his hands as hard as if he were going to strike a light by friction.
‘What will you take?’ inquired Tottle, with the desperate suddenness of a man who knew that unless the visitor took his leave, he stood very little chance of taking anything else.
‘Oh, I don’t know — have you any whiskey?’
‘Why,’ replied Tottle, very slowly, for all this was gaining time, ‘I HAD some capital, and remarkably strong whiskey last week; but it’s all gone — and therefore its strength — ’
‘Is much beyond proof; or, in other words, impossible to be proved,’ said the short gentleman; and he laughed very heartily, and seemed quite glad the whiskey had been drunk. Mr. Tottle smiled — but it was the smile of despair. When Mr. Gabriel Parsons had done laughing, he delicately insinuated that, in the absence of whiskey, he would not be averse to brandy. And Mr. Watkins Tottle, lighting a flat candle very ostentatiously; and displaying an immense key, which belonged to the street-door, but which, for the sake of appearances, occasionally did duty in an imaginary wine-cellar; left the room to entreat his landlady to charge their glasses, and charge them in the bill. The application was successful; the spirits were speedily called — not from the vasty deep, but the adjacent wine-vaults. The two short gentlemen mixed their grog; and then sat cosily down before the fire — a pair of shorts, airing themselves.
‘Tottle,’ said Mr. Gabriel Parsons, ‘you know my way — off-hand, open, say what I mean, mean what I say, hate reserve, and can’t bear affectation. One, is a bad domino which only hides what good people have about ’em, without making the bad look better; and the other is much about the same thing as pinking a white cotton stocking to make it look like a silk one. Now listen to what I’m going to say.’
Here, the little gentleman paused, and took a long pull at his brandy-and-water. Mr. Watkins Tottle took a sip of his, stirred the fire, and assumed an air of profound attention.
‘It’s of no use humming and ha’ing about the matter,’ resumed the short gentleman. — ‘You want to get married.’
‘Why,’ replied Mr. Watkins Tottle evasively; for he trembled violently, and felt a sudden tingling throughout his whole frame; ‘why — I should certainly — at least, I THINK I should like — ’
‘Won’t do,’ said the short gentleman. — ‘Plain and free — or there’s an end of the matter. Do you want money?’
‘You know I do.’
‘You admire the sex?’
‘And you’d like to be married?’
‘Then you shall be. There’s an end of that.’ Thus saying, Mr. Gabriel Parsons took a pinch of snuff, and mixed another glass.
‘Let me entreat you to be more explanatory,’ said Tottle. ‘Really, as the party principally interested, I cannot consent to be disposed of, in this way.’
‘I’ll tell you,’ replied Mr. Gabriel Parsons, warming with the subject, and the brandy-and-water — ‘I know a lady — she’s stopping with my wife now — who is just the thing for you. Well educated; talks French; plays the piano; knows a good deal about flowers, and shells, and all that sort of thing; and has five hundred a year, with an uncontrolled power of disposing of it, by her last will and testament.’
‘I’ll pay my addresses to her,’ said Mr. Watkins Tottle. ‘She isn’t VERY young — is she?’
‘Not very; just the thing for you. I’ve said that already.’
‘What coloured hair has the lady?’ inquired Mr. Watkins Tottle.
‘Egad, I hardly recollect,’ replied Gabriel, with coolness. ‘Perhaps I ought to have observed, at first, she wears a front.’
‘A what?’ ejaculated Tottle.
‘One of those things with curls, along here,’ said Parsons, drawing a straight line across his forehead, just over his eyes, in illustration of his meaning. ‘I know the front’s black; I can’t speak quite positively about her own hair; because, unless one walks behind her, and catches a glimpse of it under her bonnet, one seldom sees it; but I should say that it was RATHER lighter than the front — a shade of a greyish tinge, perhaps.’
Mr. Watkins Tottle looked as if he had certain misgivings of mind. Mr. Gabriel Parsons perceived it, and thought it would be safe to begin the next attack without delay.
‘Now, were you ever in love, Tottle?’ he inquired.
Mr. Watkins Tottle blushed up to the eyes, and down to the chin, and exhibited a most extensive combination of colours as he confessed the soft impeachment.
‘I suppose you popped the question, more than once, when you were a young — I beg your pardon — a younger — man,’ said Parsons.
‘Never in my life!’ replied his friend, apparently indignant at being suspected of such an act. ‘Never! The fact is, that I entertain, as you know, peculiar opinions on these subjects. I am not afraid of ladies, young or old — far from it; but, I think, that in compliance with the custom of the present day, they allow too much freedom of speech and manner to marriageable men. Now, the fact is, that anything like this easy freedom I never could acquire; and as I am always afraid of going too far, I am generally, I dare say, considered formal and cold.’
‘I shouldn’t wonder if you were,’ replied Parsons, gravely; ‘I shouldn’t wonder. However, you’ll be all right in this case; for the strictness and delicacy of this lady’s ideas greatly exceed your own. Lord bless you, why, when she came to our house, there was an old portrait of some man or other, with two large, black, staring eyes, hanging up in her bedroom; she positively refused to go to bed there, till it was taken down, considering it decidedly wrong.’
‘I think so, too,’ said Mr. Watkins Tottle; ‘certainly.’
‘And then, the other night — I never laughed so much in my life’ — resumed Mr. Gabriel Parsons; ‘I had driven home in an easterly wind, and caught a devil of a face-ache. Well; as Fanny — that’s Mrs. Parsons, you know — and this friend of hers, and I, and Frank Ross, were playing a rubber, I said, jokingly, that when I went to bed I should wrap my head in Fanny’s flannel petticoat. She instantly threw up her cards, and left the room.’
‘Quite right!’ said Mr. Watkins Tottle; ‘she could not possibly have behaved in a more dignified manner. What did you do?’
‘Do? — Frank took dummy; and I won sixpence.’
‘But, didn’t you apologise for hurting her feelings?’
‘Devil a bit. Next morning at breakfast, we talked it over. She contended that any reference to a flannel petticoat was improper; — men ought not to be supposed to know that such things were. I pleaded my coverture; being a married man.’
‘And what did the lady say to that?’ inquired Tottle, deeply interested.
‘Changed her ground, and said that Frank being a single man, its impropriety was obvious.’
‘Noble-minded creature!’ exclaimed the enraptured Tottle.
‘Oh! both Fanny and I said, at once, that she was regularly cut out for you.’
A gleam of placid satisfaction shone on the circular face of Mr. Watkins Tottle, as he heard the prophecy.
‘There’s one thing I can’t understand,’ said Mr. Gabriel Parsons, as he rose to depart; ‘I cannot, for the life and soul of me, imagine how the deuce you’ll ever contrive to come together. The lady would certainly go into convulsions if the subject were mentioned.’ Mr. Gabriel Parsons sat down again, and laughed until he was weak. Tottle owed him money, so he had a perfect right to laugh at Tottle’s expense.
Mr. Watkins Tottle feared, in his own mind, that this was another characteristic which he had in common with this modern Lucretia. He, however, accepted the invitation to dine with the Parsonses on the next day but one, with great firmness: and looked forward to the introduction, when again left alone, with tolerable composure.
The sun that rose on the next day but one, had never beheld a sprucer personage on the outside of the Norwood stage, than Mr. Watkins Tottle; and when the coach drew up before a cardboard-looking house with disguised chimneys, and a lawn like a large sheet of green letter-paper, he certainly had never lighted to his place of destination a gentleman who felt more uncomfortable.
The coach stopped, and Mr. Watkins Tottle jumped — we beg his pardon — alighted, with great dignity. ‘All right!’ said he, and away went the coach up the hill with that beautiful equanimity of pace for which ‘short’ stages are generally remarkable.
Mr. Watkins Tottle gave a faltering jerk to the handle of the garden-gate bell. He essayed a more energetic tug, and his previous nervousness was not at all diminished by hearing the bell ringing like a fire alarum.
‘Is Mr. Parsons at home?’ inquired Tottle of the man who opened the gate. He could hardly hear himself speak, for the bell had not yet done tolling.
‘Here I am,’ shouted a voice on the lawn, — and there was Mr. Gabriel Parsons in a flannel jacket, running backwards and forwards, from a wicket to two hats piled on each other, and from the two hats to the wicket, in the most violent manner, while another gentleman with his coat off was getting down the area of the house, after a ball. When the gentleman without the coat had found it — which he did in less than ten minutes — he ran back to the hats, and Gabriel Parsons pulled up. Then, the gentleman without the coat called out ‘play,’ very loudly, and bowled. Then Mr. Gabriel Parsons knocked the ball several yards, and took another run. Then, the other gentleman aimed at the wicket, and didn’t hit it; and Mr. Gabriel Parsons, having finished running on his own account, laid down the bat and ran after the ball, which went into a neighbouring field. They called this cricket.
‘Tottle, will you “go in?”’ inquired Mr. Gabriel Parsons, as he approached him, wiping the perspiration off his face.
Mr. Watkins Tottle declined the offer, the bare idea of accepting which made him even warmer than his friend.
‘Then we’ll go into the house, as it’s past four, and I shall have to wash my hands before dinner,’ said Mr. Gabriel Parsons. ‘Here, I hate ceremony, you know! Timson, that’s Tottle — Tottle, that’s Timson; bred for the church, which I fear will never be bread for him;’ and he chuckled at the old joke. Mr. Timson bowed carelessly. Mr. Watkins Tottle bowed stiffly. Mr. Gabriel Parsons led the way to the house. He was a rich sugar-baker, who mistook rudeness for honesty, and abrupt bluntness for an open and candid manner; many besides Gabriel mistake bluntness for sincerity.
Mrs. Gabriel Parsons received the visitors most graciously on the steps, and preceded them to the drawing-room. On the sofa, was seated a lady of very prim appearance, and remarkably inanimate. She was one of those persons at whose age it is impossible to make any reasonable guess; her features might have been remarkably pretty when she was younger, and they might always have presented the same appearance. Her complexion — with a slight trace of powder here and there — was as clear as that of a well-made wax doll, and her face as expressive. She was handsomely dressed, and was winding up a gold watch.
‘Miss Lillerton, my dear, this is our friend Mr. Watkins Tottle; a very old acquaintance I assure you,’ said Mrs. Parsons, presenting the Strephon of Cecil-street, Strand. The lady rose, and made a deep courtesy; Mr. Watkins Tottle made a bow.
‘Splendid, majestic creature!’ thought Tottle.
Mr. Timson advanced, and Mr. Watkins Tottle began to hate him. Men generally discover a rival, instinctively, and Mr. Watkins Tottle felt that his hate was deserved.
‘May I beg,’ said the reverend gentleman, — ‘May I beg to call upon you, Miss Lillerton, for some trifling donation to my soup, coals, and blanket distribution society?’
‘Put my name down, for two sovereigns, if you please,’ responded Miss Lillerton.
‘You are truly charitable, madam,’ said the Reverend Mr. Timson, ‘and we know that charity will cover a multitude of sins. Let me beg you to understand that I do not say this from the supposition that you have many sins which require palliation; believe me when I say that I never yet met any one who had fewer to atone for, than Miss Lillerton.’
Something like a bad imitation of animation lighted up the lady’s face, as she acknowledged the compliment. Watkins Tottle incurred the sin of wishing that the ashes of the Reverend Charles Timson were quietly deposited in the churchyard of his curacy, wherever it might be.
‘I’ll tell you what,’ interrupted Parsons, who had just appeared with clean hands, and a black coat, ‘it’s my private opinion, Timson, that your “distribution society” is rather a humbug.’
‘You are so severe,’ replied Timson, with a Christian smile: he disliked Parsons, but liked his dinners.
‘So positively unjust!’ said Miss Lillerton.
‘Certainly,’ observed Tottle. The lady looked up; her eyes met those of Mr. Watkins Tottle. She withdrew them in a sweet confusion, and Watkins Tottle did the same — the confusion was mutual.
‘Why,’ urged Mr. Parsons, pursuing his objections, ‘what on earth is the use of giving a man coals who has nothing to cook, or giving him blankets when he hasn’t a bed, or giving him soup when he requires substantial food? — “like sending them ruffles when wanting a shirt.” Why not give ’em a trifle of money, as I do, when I think they deserve it, and let them purchase what they think best? Why? — because your subscribers wouldn’t see their names flourishing in print on the church-door — that’s the reason.’
‘Really, Mr. Parsons, I hope you don’t mean to insinuate that I wish to see MY name in print, on the church-door,’ interrupted Miss Lillerton.
‘I hope not,’ said Mr. Watkins Tottle, putting in another word, and getting another glance.
‘Certainly not,’ replied Parsons. ‘I dare say you wouldn’t mind seeing it in writing, though, in the church register — eh?’
‘Register! What register?’ inquired the lady gravely.
‘Why, the register of marriages, to be sure,’ replied Parsons, chuckling at the sally, and glancing at Tottle. Mr. Watkins Tottle thought he should have fainted for shame, and it is quite impossible to imagine what effect the joke would have had upon the lady, if dinner had not been, at that moment, announced. Mr. Watkins Tottle, with an unprecedented effort of gallantry, offered the tip of his little finger; Miss Lillerton accepted it gracefully, with maiden modesty; and they proceeded in due state to the dinner-table, where they were soon deposited side by side. The room was very snug, the dinner very good, and the little party in spirits. The conversation became pretty general, and when Mr. Watkins Tottle had extracted one or two cold observations from his neighbour, and had taken wine with her, he began to acquire confidence rapidly. The cloth was removed; Mrs. Gabriel Parsons drank four glasses of port on the plea of being a nurse just then; and Miss Lillerton took about the same number of sips, on the plea of not wanting any at all. At length, the ladies retired, to the great gratification of Mr. Gabriel Parsons, who had been coughing and frowning at his wife, for half-an-hour previously — signals which Mrs. Parsons never happened to observe, until she had been pressed to take her ordinary quantum, which, to avoid giving trouble, she generally did at once.
‘What do you think of her?’ inquired Mr. Gabriel Parsons of Mr. Watkins Tottle, in an under-tone.
‘I dote on her with enthusiasm already!’ replied Mr. Watkins Tottle.
‘Gentlemen, pray let us drink “the ladies,”’ said the Reverend Mr. Timson.
‘The ladies!’ said Mr. Watkins Tottle, emptying his glass. In the fulness of his confidence, he felt as if he could make love to a dozen ladies, off-hand.
‘Ah!’ said Mr. Gabriel Parsons, ‘I remember when I was a young man — fill your glass, Timson.’
‘I have this moment emptied it.’
‘Then fill again.’
‘I will,’ said Timson, suiting the action to the word.
‘I remember,’ resumed Mr. Gabriel Parsons, ‘when I was a younger man, with what a strange compound of feelings I used to drink that toast, and how I used to think every woman was an angel.’
‘Was that before you were married?’ mildly inquired Mr. Watkins Tottle.
‘Oh! certainly,’ replied Mr. Gabriel Parsons. ‘I have never thought so since; and a precious milksop I must have been, ever to have thought so at all. But, you know, I married Fanny under the oddest, and most ridiculous circumstances possible.’
‘What were they, if one may inquire?’ asked Timson, who had heard the story, on an average, twice a week for the last six months. Mr. Watkins Tottle listened attentively, in the hope of picking up some suggestion that might be useful to him in his new undertaking.
‘I spent my wedding-night in a back-kitchen chimney,’ said Parsons, by way of a beginning.
‘In a back-kitchen chimney!’ ejaculated Watkins Tottle. ‘How dreadful!’
‘Yes, it wasn’t very pleasant,’ replied the small host. ‘The fact is, Fanny’s father and mother liked me well enough as an individual, but had a decided objection to my becoming a husband. You see, I hadn’t any money in those days, and they had; and so they wanted Fanny to pick up somebody else. However, we managed to discover the state of each other’s affections somehow. I used to meet her, at some mutual friends’ parties; at first we danced together, and talked, and flirted, and all that sort of thing; then, I used to like nothing so well as sitting by her side — we didn’t talk so much then, but I remember I used to have a great notion of looking at her out of the extreme corner of my left eye — and then I got very miserable and sentimental, and began to write verses, and use Macassar oil. At last I couldn’t bear it any longer, and after I had walked up and down the sunny side of Oxford-street in tight boots for a week — and a devilish hot summer it was too — in the hope of meeting her, I sat down and wrote a letter, and begged her to manage to see me clandestinely, for I wanted to hear her decision from her own mouth. I said I had discovered, to my perfect satisfaction, that I couldn’t live without her, and that if she didn’t have me, I had made up my mind to take prussic acid, or take to drinking, or emigrate, so as to take myself off in some way or other. Well, I borrowed a pound, and bribed the housemaid to give her the note, which she did.’
‘And what was the reply?’ inquired Timson, who had found, before, that to encourage the repetition of old stories is to get a general invitation.
‘Oh, the usual one! Fanny expressed herself very miserable; hinted at the possibility of an early grave; said that nothing should induce her to swerve from the duty she owed her parents; implored me to forget her, and find out somebody more deserving, and all that sort of thing. She said she could, on no account, think of meeting me unknown to her pa and ma; and entreated me, as she should be in a particular part of Kensington Gardens at eleven o’clock next morning, not to attempt to meet her there.’
‘You didn’t go, of course?’ said Watkins Tottle.
‘Didn’t I? — Of course I did. There she was, with the identical housemaid in perspective, in order that there might be no interruption. We walked about, for a couple of hours; made ourselves delightfully miserable; and were regularly engaged. Then, we began to “correspond” — that is to say, we used to exchange about four letters a day; what we used to say in ’em I can’t imagine. And I used to have an interview, in the kitchen, or the cellar, or some such place, every evening. Well, things went on in this way for some time; and we got fonder of each other every day. At last, as our love was raised to such a pitch, and as my salary had been raised too, shortly before, we determined on a secret marriage. Fanny arranged to sleep at a friend’s, on the previous night; we were to be married early in the morning; and then we were to return to her home and be pathetic. She was to fall at the old gentleman’s feet, and bathe his boots with her tears; and I was to hug the old lady and call her “mother,” and use my pocket-handkerchief as much as possible. Married we were, the next morning; two girls-friends of Fanny’s — acting as bridesmaids; and a man, who was hired for five shillings and a pint of porter, officiating as father. Now, the old lady unfortunately put off her return from Ramsgate, where she had been paying a visit, until the next morning; and as we placed great reliance on her, we agreed to postpone our confession for four-and-twenty hours. My newly-made wife returned home, and I spent my wedding-day in strolling about Hampstead-heath, and execrating my father-in-law. Of course, I went to comfort my dear little wife at night, as much as I could, with the assurance that our troubles would soon be over. I opened the garden-gate, of which I had a key, and was shown by the servant to our old place of meeting — a back kitchen, with a stone-floor and a dresser: upon which, in the absence of chairs, we used to sit and make love.’
‘Make love upon a kitchen-dresser!’ interrupted Mr. Watkins Tottle, whose ideas of decorum were greatly outraged.
‘Ah! On a kitchen-dresser!’ replied Parsons. ‘And let me tell you, old fellow, that, if you were really over head-and-ears in love, and had no other place to make love in, you’d be devilish glad to avail yourself of such an opportunity. However, let me see; — where was I?’
‘On the dresser,’ suggested Timson.
‘Oh — ah! Well, here I found poor Fanny, quite disconsolate and uncomfortable. The old boy had been very cross all day, which made her feel still more lonely; and she was quite out of spirits. So, I put a good face on the matter, and laughed it off, and said we should enjoy the pleasures of a matrimonial life more by contrast; and, at length, poor Fanny brightened up a little. I stopped there, till about eleven o’clock, and, just as I was taking my leave for the fourteenth time, the girl came running down the stairs, without her shoes, in a great fright, to tell us that the old villain — Heaven forgive me for calling him so, for he is dead and gone now! — prompted I suppose by the prince of darkness, was coming down, to draw his own beer for supper — a thing he had not done before, for six months, to my certain knowledge; for the cask stood in that very back kitchen. If he discovered me there, explanation would have been out of the question; for he was so outrageously violent, when at all excited, that he never would have listened to me. There was only one thing to be done. The chimney was a very wide one; it had been originally built for an oven; went up perpendicularly for a few feet, and then shot backward and formed a sort of small cavern. My hopes and fortune — the means of our joint existence almost — were at stake. I scrambled in like a squirrel; coiled myself up in this recess; and, as Fanny and the girl replaced the deal chimney-board, I could see the light of the candle which my unconscious father-in-law carried in his hand. I heard him draw the beer; and I never heard beer run so slowly. He was just leaving the kitchen, and I was preparing to descend, when down came the infernal chimney-board with a tremendous crash. He stopped and put down the candle and the jug of beer on the dresser; he was a nervous old fellow, and any unexpected noise annoyed him. He coolly observed that the fire-place was never used, and sending the frightened servant into the next kitchen for a hammer and nails, actually nailed up the board, and locked the door on the outside. So, there was I, on my wedding-night, in the light kerseymere trousers, fancy waistcoat, and blue coat, that I had been married in in the morning, in a back-kitchen chimney, the bottom of which was nailed up, and the top of which had been formerly raised some fifteen feet, to prevent the smoke from annoying the neighbours. And there,’ added Mr. Gabriel Parsons, as he passed the bottle, ‘there I remained till half-past seven the next morning, when the housemaid’s sweetheart, who was a carpenter, unshelled me. The old dog had nailed me up so securely, that, to this very hour, I firmly believe that no one but a carpenter could ever have got me out.’
‘And what did Mrs. Parsons’s father say, when he found you were married?’ inquired Watkins Tottle, who, although he never saw a joke, was not satisfied until he heard a story to the very end.
‘Why, the affair of the chimney so tickled his fancy, that he pardoned us off-hand, and allowed us something to live on till he went the way of all flesh. I spent the next night in his second-floor front, much more comfortably than I had spent the preceding one; for, as you will probably guess — ’
‘Please, sir, missis has made tea,’ said a middle-aged female servant, bobbing into the room.
‘That’s the very housemaid that figures in my story,’ said Mr. Gabriel Parsons. ‘She went into Fanny’s service when we were first married, and has been with us ever since; but I don’t think she has felt one atom of respect for me since the morning she saw me released, when she went into violent hysterics, to which she has been subject ever since. Now, shall we join the ladies?’
‘If you please,’ said Mr. Watkins Tottle.
‘By all means,’ added the obsequious Mr. Timson; and the trio made for the drawing-room accordingly.
Tea being concluded, and the toast and cups having been duly handed, and occasionally upset, by Mr. Watkins Tottle, a rubber was proposed. They cut for partners — Mr. and Mrs. Parsons; and Mr. Watkins Tottle and Miss Lillerton. Mr. Timson having conscientious scruples on the subject of card-playing, drank brandy-and-water, and kept up a running spar with Mr. Watkins Tottle. The evening went off well; Mr. Watkins Tottle was in high spirits, having some reason to be gratified with his reception by Miss Lillerton; and before he left, a small party was made up to visit the Beulah Spa on the following Saturday.
‘It’s all right, I think,’ said Mr. Gabriel Parsons to Mr. Watkins Tottle as he opened the garden gate for him.
‘I hope so,’ he replied, squeezing his friend’s hand.
‘You’ll be down by the first coach on Saturday,’ said Mr. Gabriel Parsons.
‘Certainly,’ replied Mr. Watkins Tottle. ‘Undoubtedly.’
But fortune had decreed that Mr. Watkins Tottle should not be down by the first coach on Saturday. His adventures on that day, however, and the success of his wooing, are subjects for another chapter.
‘The first coach has not come in yet, has it, Tom?’ inquired Mr. Gabriel Parsons, as he very complacently paced up and down the fourteen feet of gravel which bordered the ‘lawn,’ on the Saturday morning which had been fixed upon for the Beulah Spa jaunt.
‘No, sir; I haven’t seen it,’ replied a gardener in a blue apron, who let himself out to do the ornamental for half-a-crown a day and his ‘keep.’
‘Time Tottle was down,’ said Mr. Gabriel Parsons, ruminating — ‘Oh, here he is, no doubt,’ added Gabriel, as a cab drove rapidly up the hill; and he buttoned his dressing-gown, and opened the gate to receive the expected visitor. The cab stopped, and out jumped a man in a coarse Petersham great-coat, whity-brown neckerchief, faded black suit, gamboge-coloured top-boots, and one of those large-crowned hats, formerly seldom met with, but now very generally patronised by gentlemen and costermongers.
‘Mr. Parsons?’ said the man, looking at the superscription of a note he held in his hand, and addressing Gabriel with an inquiring air.
‘MY name is Parsons,’ responded the sugar-baker.
‘I’ve brought this here note,’ replied the individual in the painted tops, in a hoarse whisper: ‘I’ve brought this here note from a gen’lm’n as come to our house this mornin’.’
‘I expected the gentleman at my house,’ said Parsons, as he broke the seal, which bore the impression of her Majesty’s profile as it is seen on a sixpence.
‘I’ve no doubt the gen’lm’n would ha’ been here, replied the stranger, ‘if he hadn’t happened to call at our house first; but we never trusts no gen’lm’n furder nor we can see him — no mistake about that there’ — added the unknown, with a facetious grin; ‘beg your pardon, sir, no offence meant, only — once in, and I wish you may — catch the idea, sir?’
Mr. Gabriel Parsons was not remarkable for catching anything suddenly, but a cold. He therefore only bestowed a glance of profound astonishment on his mysterious companion, and proceeded to unfold the note of which he had been the bearer. Once opened and the idea was caught with very little difficulty. Mr. Watkins Tottle had been suddenly arrested for 33L. 10S. 4D., and dated his communication from a lock-up house in the vicinity of Chancery-lane.
‘Unfortunate affair this!’ said Parsons, refolding the note.
‘Oh! nothin’ ven you’re used to it,’ coolly observed the man in the Petersham.
‘Tom!’ exclaimed Parsons, after a few minutes’ consideration, ‘just put the horse in, will you? — Tell the gentleman that I shall be there almost as soon as you are,’ he continued, addressing the sheriff-officer’s Mercury.
‘Werry well,’ replied that important functionary; adding, in a confidential manner, ‘I’d adwise the gen’lm’n’s friends to settle. You see it’s a mere trifle; and, unless the gen’lm’n means to go up afore the court, it’s hardly worth while waiting for detainers, you know. Our governor’s wide awake, he is. I’ll never say nothin’ agin him, nor no man; but he knows what’s o’clock, he does, uncommon.’ Having delivered this eloquent, and, to Parsons, particularly intelligible harangue, the meaning of which was eked out by divers nods and winks, the gentleman in the boots reseated himself in the cab, which went rapidly off, and was soon out of sight. Mr. Gabriel Parsons continued to pace up and down the pathway for some minutes, apparently absorbed in deep meditation. The result of his cogitations seemed to be perfectly satisfactory to himself, for he ran briskly into the house; said that business had suddenly summoned him to town; that he had desired the messenger to inform Mr. Watkins Tottle of the fact; and that they would return together to dinner. He then hastily equipped himself for a drive, and mounting his gig, was soon on his way to the establishment of Mr. Solomon Jacobs, situate (as Mr. Watkins Tottle had informed him) in Cursitor-street, Chancery-lane.
When a man is in a violent hurry to get on, and has a specific object in view, the attainment of which depends on the completion of his journey, the difficulties which interpose themselves in his way appear not only to be innumerable, but to have been called into existence especially for the occasion. The remark is by no means a new one, and Mr. Gabriel Parsons had practical and painful experience of its justice in the course of his drive. There are three classes of animated objects which prevent your driving with any degree of comfort or celerity through streets which are but little frequented — they are pigs, children, and old women. On the occasion we are describing, the pigs were luxuriating on cabbage-stalks, and the shuttlecocks fluttered from the little deal battledores, and the children played in the road; and women, with a basket in one hand, and the street-door key in the other, WOULD cross just before the horse’s head, until Mr. Gabriel Parsons was perfectly savage with vexation, and quite hoarse with hoi-ing and imprecating. Then, when he got into Fleet-street, there was ‘a stoppage,’ in which people in vehicles have the satisfaction of remaining stationary for half an hour, and envying the slowest pedestrians; and where policemen rush about, and seize hold of horses’ bridles, and back them into shop-windows, by way of clearing the road and preventing confusion. At length Mr. Gabriel Parsons turned into Chancery-lane, and having inquired for, and been directed to Cursitor-street (for it was a locality of which he was quite ignorant), he soon found himself opposite the house of Mr. Solomon Jacobs. Confiding his horse and gig to the care of one of the fourteen boys who had followed him from the other side of Blackfriars-bridge on the chance of his requiring their services, Mr. Gabriel Parsons crossed the road and knocked at an inner door, the upper part of which was of glass, grated like the windows of this inviting mansion with iron bars — painted white to look comfortable.
The knock was answered by a sallow-faced, red-haired, sulky boy, who, after surveying Mr. Gabriel Parsons through the glass, applied a large key to an immense wooden excrescence, which was in reality a lock, but which, taken in conjunction with the iron nails with which the panels were studded, gave the door the appearance of being subject to warts.
‘I want to see Mr. Watkins Tottle,’ said Parsons.
‘It’s the gentleman that come in this morning, Jem,’ screamed a voice from the top of the kitchen-stairs, which belonged to a dirty woman who had just brought her chin to a level with the passage-floor. ‘The gentleman’s in the coffee-room.’
‘Up-stairs, sir,’ said the boy, just opening the door wide enough to let Parsons in without squeezing him, and double-locking it the moment he had made his way through the aperture — ‘First floor — door on the left.’
Mr. Gabriel Parsons thus instructed, ascended the uncarpeted and ill-lighted staircase, and after giving several subdued taps at the before-mentioned ‘door on the left,’ which were rendered inaudible by the hum of voices within the room, and the hissing noise attendant on some frying operations which were carrying on below stairs, turned the handle, and entered the apartment. Being informed that the unfortunate object of his visit had just gone up-stairs to write a letter, he had leisure to sit down and observe the scene before him.
The room — which was a small, confined den — was partitioned off into boxes, like the common-room of some inferior eating-house. The dirty floor had evidently been as long a stranger to the scrubbing-brush as to carpet or floor-cloth: and the ceiling was completely blackened by the flare of the oil-lamp by which the room was lighted at night. The gray ashes on the edges of the tables, and the cigar ends which were plentifully scattered about the dusty grate, fully accounted for the intolerable smell of tobacco which pervaded the place; and the empty glasses and half-saturated slices of lemon on the tables, together with the porter pots beneath them, bore testimony to the frequent libations in which the individuals who honoured Mr. Solomon Jacobs by a temporary residence in his house indulged. Over the mantel-shelf was a paltry looking-glass, extending about half the width of the chimney-piece; but by way of counterpoise, the ashes were confined by a rusty fender about twice as long as the hearth.
From this cheerful room itself, the attention of Mr. Gabriel Parsons was naturally directed to its inmates. In one of the boxes two men were playing at cribbage with a very dirty pack of cards, some with blue, some with green, and some with red backs — selections from decayed packs. The cribbage board had been long ago formed on the table by some ingenious visitor with the assistance of a pocket-knife and a two-pronged fork, with which the necessary number of holes had been made in the table at proper distances for the reception of the wooden pegs. In another box a stout, hearty-looking man, of about forty, was eating some dinner which his wife — an equally comfortable-looking personage — had brought him in a basket: and in a third, a genteel-looking young man was talking earnestly, and in a low tone, to a young female, whose face was concealed by a thick veil, but whom Mr. Gabriel Parsons immediately set down in his own mind as the debtor’s wife. A young fellow of vulgar manners, dressed in the very extreme of the prevailing fashion, was pacing up and down the room, with a lighted cigar in his mouth and his hands in his pockets, ever and anon puffing forth volumes of smoke, and occasionally applying, with much apparent relish, to a pint pot, the contents of which were ‘chilling’ on the hob.
‘Fourpence more, by gum!’ exclaimed one of the cribbage-players, lighting a pipe, and addressing his adversary at the close of the game; ‘one ’ud think you’d got luck in a pepper-cruet, and shook it out when you wanted it.’
‘Well, that a’n’t a bad un,’ replied the other, who was a horse-dealer from Islington.
‘No; I’m blessed if it is,’ interposed the jolly-looking fellow, who, having finished his dinner, was drinking out of the same glass as his wife, in truly conjugal harmony, some hot gin-and-water. The faithful partner of his cares had brought a plentiful supply of the anti-temperance fluid in a large flat stone bottle, which looked like a half-gallon jar that had been successfully tapped for the dropsy. ‘You’re a rum chap, you are, Mr. Walker — will you dip your beak into this, sir?’
‘Thank’ee, sir,’ replied Mr. Walker, leaving his box, and advancing to the other to accept the proffered glass. ‘Here’s your health, sir, and your good ’ooman’s here. Gentlemen all — yours, and better luck still. Well, Mr. Willis,’ continued the facetious prisoner, addressing the young man with the cigar, ‘you seem rather down to-day — floored, as one may say. What’s the matter, sir? Never say die, you know.’
‘Oh! I’m all right,’ replied the smoker. ‘I shall be bailed out to-morrow.’
‘Shall you, though?’ inquired the other. ‘Damme, I wish I could say the same. I am as regularly over head and ears as the Royal George, and stand about as much chance of being BAILED OUT. Ha! ha! ha!’
‘Why,’ said the young man, stopping short, and speaking in a very loud key, ‘look at me. What d’ye think I’ve stopped here two days for?’
‘‘Cause you couldn’t get out, I suppose,’ interrupted Mr. Walker, winking to the company. ‘Not that you’re exactly obliged to stop here, only you can’t help it. No compulsion, you know, only you must — eh?’
‘A’n’t he a rum un?’ inquired the delighted individual, who had offered the gin-and-water, of his wife.
‘Oh, he just is!’ replied the lady, who was quite overcome by these flashes of imagination.
‘Why, my case,’ frowned the victim, throwing the end of his cigar into the fire, and illustrating his argument by knocking the bottom of the pot on the table, at intervals, — ‘my case is a very singular one. My father’s a man of large property, and I am his son.’
‘That’s a very strange circumstance!’ interrupted the jocose Mr. Walker, EN PASSANT.
‘ — I am his son, and have received a liberal education. I don’t owe no man nothing — not the value of a farthing, but I was induced, you see, to put my name to some bills for a friend — bills to a large amount, I may say a very large amount, for which I didn’t receive no consideration. What’s the consequence?’
‘Why, I suppose the bills went out, and you came in. The acceptances weren’t taken up, and you were, eh?’ inquired Walker.
‘To be sure,’ replied the liberally educated young gentleman. ‘To be sure; and so here I am, locked up for a matter of twelve hundred pound.’
‘Why don’t you ask your old governor to stump up?’ inquired Walker, with a somewhat sceptical air.
‘Oh! bless you, he’d never do it,’ replied the other, in a tone of expostulation — ‘Never!’
‘Well, it is very odd to — be — sure,’ interposed the owner of the flat bottle, mixing another glass, ‘but I’ve been in difficulties, as one may say, now for thirty year. I went to pieces when I was in a milk-walk, thirty year ago; arterwards, when I was a fruiterer, and kept a spring wan; and arter that again in the coal and ‘tatur line — but all that time I never see a youngish chap come into a place of this kind, who wasn’t going out again directly, and who hadn’t been arrested on bills which he’d given a friend and for which he’d received nothing whatsomever — not a fraction.’
‘Oh! it’s always the cry,’ said Walker. ‘I can’t see the use on it; that’s what makes me so wild. Why, I should have a much better opinion of an individual, if he’d say at once in an honourable and gentlemanly manner as he’d done everybody he possibly could.’
‘Ay, to be sure,’ interposed the horse-dealer, with whose notions of bargain and sale the axiom perfectly coincided, ‘so should I.’ The young gentleman, who had given rise to these observations, was on the point of offering a rather angry reply to these sneers, but the rising of the young man before noticed, and of the female who had been sitting by him, to leave the room, interrupted the conversation. She had been weeping bitterly, and the noxious atmosphere of the room acting upon her excited feelings and delicate frame, rendered the support of her companion necessary as they quitted it together.
There was an air of superiority about them both, and something in their appearance so unusual in such a place, that a respectful silence was observed until the WHIRR— R— BANG of the spring door announced that they were out of hearing. It was broken by the wife of the ex-fruiterer.
‘Poor creetur!’ said she, quenching a sigh in a rivulet of gin-and-water. ‘She’s very young.’
‘She’s a nice-looking ’ooman too,’ added the horse-dealer.
‘What’s he in for, Ikey?’ inquired Walker, of an individual who was spreading a cloth with numerous blotches of mustard upon it, on one of the tables, and whom Mr. Gabriel Parsons had no difficulty in recognising as the man who had called upon him in the morning.
‘Vy,’ responded the factotum, ‘it’s one of the rummiest rigs you ever heard on. He come in here last Vensday, which by-the-bye he’s a-going over the water to-night — hows’ever that’s neither here nor there. You see I’ve been a going back’ards and for’ards about his business, and ha’ managed to pick up some of his story from the servants and them; and so far as I can make it out, it seems to be summat to this here effect — ’
‘Cut it short, old fellow,’ interrupted Walker, who knew from former experience that he of the top-boots was neither very concise nor intelligible in his narratives.
‘Let me alone,’ replied Ikey, ‘and I’ll ha’ wound up, and made my lucky in five seconds. This here young gen’lm’n’s father — so I’m told, mind ye — and the father o’ the young voman, have always been on very bad, out-and-out, rig’lar knock-me-down sort o’ terms; but somehow or another, when he was a wisitin’ at some gentlefolk’s house, as he knowed at college, he came into contract with the young lady. He seed her several times, and then he up and said he’d keep company with her, if so be as she vos agreeable. Vell, she vos as sweet upon him as he vos upon her, and so I s’pose they made it all right; for they got married ‘bout six months arterwards, unbeknown, mind ye, to the two fathers — leastways so I’m told. When they heard on it — my eyes, there was such a combustion! Starvation vos the very least that vos to be done to ’em. The young gen’lm’n’s father cut him off vith a bob, ‘cos he’d cut himself off vith a wife; and the young lady’s father he behaved even worser and more unnat’ral, for he not only blow’d her up dreadful, and swore he’d never see her again, but he employed a chap as I knows — and as you knows, Mr. Valker, a precious sight too well — to go about and buy up the bills and them things on which the young husband, thinking his governor ’ud come round agin, had raised the vind just to blow himself on vith for a time; besides vich, he made all the interest he could to set other people agin him. Consequence vos, that he paid as long as he could; but things he never expected to have to meet till he’d had time to turn himself round, come fast upon him, and he vos nabbed. He vos brought here, as I said afore, last Vensday, and I think there’s about — ah, half-a-dozen detainers agin him down-stairs now. I have been,’ added Ikey, ‘in the purfession these fifteen year, and I never met vith such windictiveness afore!’
‘Poor creeturs!’ exclaimed the coal-dealer’s wife once more: again resorting to the same excellent prescription for nipping a sigh in the bud. ‘Ah! when they’ve seen as much trouble as I and my old man here have, they’ll be as comfortable under it as we are.’
‘The young lady’s a pretty creature,’ said Walker, ‘only she’s a little too delicate for my taste — there ain’t enough of her. As to the young cove, he may be very respectable and what not, but he’s too down in the mouth for me — he ain’t game.’
‘Game!’ exclaimed Ikey, who had been altering the position of a green-handled knife and fork at least a dozen times, in order that he might remain in the room under the pretext of having something to do. ‘He’s game enough ven there’s anything to be fierce about; but who could be game as you call it, Mr. Walker, with a pale young creetur like that, hanging about him? — It’s enough to drive any man’s heart into his boots to see ’em together — and no mistake at all about it. I never shall forget her first comin’ here; he wrote to her on the Thursday to come — I know he did, ‘cos I took the letter. Uncommon fidgety he was all day to be sure, and in the evening he goes down into the office, and he says to Jacobs, says he, “Sir, can I have the loan of a private room for a few minutes this evening, without incurring any additional expense — just to see my wife in?” says he. Jacobs looked as much as to say — “Strike me bountiful if you ain’t one of the modest sort!” but as the gen’lm’n who had been in the back parlour had just gone out, and had paid for it for that day, he says — werry grave — “Sir,” says he, “it’s agin our rules to let private rooms to our lodgers on gratis terms, but,” says he, “for a gentleman, I don’t mind breaking through them for once.” So then he turns round to me, and says, “Ikey, put two mould candles in the back parlour, and charge ’em to this gen’lm’n’s account,” vich I did. Vell, by-and-by a hackney-coach comes up to the door, and there, sure enough, was the young lady, wrapped up in a hopera-cloak, as it might be, and all alone. I opened the gate that night, so I went up when the coach come, and he vos a waitin’ at the parlour door — and wasn’t he a trembling, neither? The poor creetur see him, and could hardly walk to meet him. “Oh, Harry!” she says, “that it should have come to this; and all for my sake,” says she, putting her hand upon his shoulder. So he puts his arm round her pretty little waist, and leading her gently a little way into the room, so that he might be able to shut the door, he says, so kind and soft-like — “Why, Kate,” says he — ’
‘Here’s the gentleman you want,’ said Ikey, abruptly breaking off in his story, and introducing Mr. Gabriel Parsons to the crest-fallen Watkins Tottle, who at that moment entered the room. Watkins advanced with a wooden expression of passive endurance, and accepted the hand which Mr. Gabriel Parsons held out.
‘I want to speak to you,’ said Gabriel, with a look strongly expressive of his dislike of the company.
‘This way,’ replied the imprisoned one, leading the way to the front drawing-room, where rich debtors did the luxurious at the rate of a couple of guineas a day.
‘Well, here I am,’ said Mr. Watkins, as he sat down on the sofa; and placing the palms of his hands on his knees, anxiously glanced at his friend’s countenance.
‘Yes; and here you’re likely to be,’ said Gabriel, coolly, as he rattled the money in his unmentionable pockets, and looked out of the window.
‘What’s the amount with the costs?’ inquired Parsons, after an awkward pause.
‘Have you any money?’
‘Nine and sixpence halfpenny.’
Mr. Gabriel Parsons walked up and down the room for a few seconds, before he could make up his mind to disclose the plan he had formed; he was accustomed to drive hard bargains, but was always most anxious to conceal his avarice. At length he stopped short, and said, ‘Tottle, you owe me fifty pounds.’
‘And from all I see, I infer that you are likely to owe it to me.’
‘I fear I am.’
‘Though you have every disposition to pay me if you could?’
‘Then,’ said Mr. Gabriel Parsons, ‘listen: here’s my proposition. You know my way of old. Accept it — yes or no — I will or I won’t. I’ll pay the debt and costs, and I’ll lend you 10L. more (which, added to your annuity, will enable you to carry on the war well) if you’ll give me your note of hand to pay me one hundred and fifty pounds within six months after you are married to Miss Lillerton.’
‘My dear — ’
‘Stop a minute — on one condition; and that is, that you propose to Miss Lillerton at once.’
‘At once! My dear Parsons, consider.’
‘It’s for you to consider, not me. She knows you well from reputation, though she did not know you personally until lately. Notwithstanding all her maiden modesty, I think she’d be devilish glad to get married out of hand with as little delay as possible. My wife has sounded her on the subject, and she has confessed.’
‘What — what?’ eagerly interrupted the enamoured Watkins.
‘Why,’ replied Parsons, ‘to say exactly what she has confessed, would be rather difficult, because they only spoke in hints, and so forth; but my wife, who is no bad judge in these cases, declared to me that what she had confessed was as good as to say that she was not insensible of your merits — in fact, that no other man should have her.’
Mr. Watkins Tottle rose hastily from his seat, and rang the bell.
‘What’s that for?’ inquired Parsons.
‘I want to send the man for the bill stamp,’ replied Mr. Watkins Tottle.
‘Then you’ve made up your mind?’
‘I have,’ — and they shook hands most cordially. The note of hand was given — the debt and costs were paid — Ikey was satisfied for his trouble, and the two friends soon found themselves on that side of Mr. Solomon Jacobs’s establishment, on which most of his visitors were very happy when they found themselves once again — to wit, the OUTside.
‘Now,’ said Mr. Gabriel Parsons, as they drove to Norwood together — ‘you shall have an opportunity to make the disclosure to-night, and mind you speak out, Tottle.’
‘I will — I will!’ replied Watkins, valorously.
‘How I should like to see you together,’ ejaculated Mr. Gabriel Parsons. — ‘What fun!’ and he laughed so long and so loudly, that he disconcerted Mr. Watkins Tottle, and frightened the horse.
‘There’s Fanny and your intended walking about on the lawn,’ said Gabriel, as they approached the house. ‘Mind your eye, Tottle.’
‘Never fear,’ replied Watkins, resolutely, as he made his way to the spot where the ladies were walking.
‘Here’s Mr. Tottle, my dear,’ said Mrs. Parsons, addressing Miss Lillerton. The lady turned quickly round, and acknowledged his courteous salute with the same sort of confusion that Watkins had noticed on their first interview, but with something like a slight expression of disappointment or carelessness.
‘Did you see how glad she was to see you?’ whispered Parsons to his friend.
‘Why, I really thought she looked as if she would rather have seen somebody else,’ replied Tottle.
‘Pooh, nonsense!’ whispered Parsons again — ‘it’s always the way with the women, young or old. They never show how delighted they are to see those whose presence makes their hearts beat. It’s the way with the whole sex, and no man should have lived to your time of life without knowing it. Fanny confessed it to me, when we were first married, over and over again — see what it is to have a wife.’
‘Certainly,’ whispered Tottle, whose courage was vanishing fast.
‘Well, now, you’d better begin to pave the way,’ said Parsons, who, having invested some money in the speculation, assumed the office of director.
‘Yes, yes, I will — presently,’ replied Tottle, greatly flurried.
‘Say something to her, man,’ urged Parsons again. ‘Confound it! pay her a compliment, can’t you?’
‘No! not till after dinner,’ replied the bashful Tottle, anxious to postpone the evil moment.
‘Well, gentlemen,’ said Mrs. Parsons, ‘you are really very polite; you stay away the whole morning, after promising to take us out, and when you do come home, you stand whispering together and take no notice of us.’
‘We were talking of the BUSINESS, my dear, which detained us this morning,’ replied Parsons, looking significantly at Tottle.
‘Dear me! how very quickly the morning has gone,’ said Miss Lillerton, referring to the gold watch, which was wound up on state occasions, whether it required it or not.
‘I think it has passed very slowly,’ mildly suggested Tottle.
(‘That’s right — bravo!’) whispered Parsons.
‘Indeed!’ said Miss Lillerton, with an air of majestic surprise.
‘I can only impute it to my unavoidable absence from your society, madam,’ said Watkins, ‘and that of Mrs. Parsons.’
During this short dialogue, the ladies had been leading the way to the house.
‘What the deuce did you stick Fanny into that last compliment for?’ inquired Parsons, as they followed together; ‘it quite spoilt the effect.’
‘Oh! it really would have been too broad without,’ replied Watkins Tottle, ‘much too broad!’
‘He’s mad!’ Parsons whispered his wife, as they entered the drawing-room, ‘mad from modesty.’
‘Dear me!’ ejaculated the lady, ‘I never heard of such a thing.’
‘You’ll find we have quite a family dinner, Mr. Tottle,’ said Mrs. Parsons, when they sat down to table: ‘Miss Lillerton is one of us, and, of course, we make no stranger of you.’
Mr. Watkins Tottle expressed a hope that the Parsons family never would make a stranger of him; and wished internally that his bashfulness would allow him to feel a little less like a stranger himself.
‘Take off the covers, Martha,’ said Mrs. Parsons, directing the shifting of the scenery with great anxiety. The order was obeyed, and a pair of boiled fowls, with tongue and et ceteras, were displayed at the top, and a fillet of veal at the bottom. On one side of the table two green sauce-tureens, with ladles of the same, were setting to each other in a green dish; and on the other was a curried rabbit, in a brown suit, turned up with lemon.
‘Miss Lillerton, my dear,’ said Mrs. Parsons, ‘shall I assist you?’
‘Thank you, no; I think I’ll trouble Mr. Tottle.’
Watkins started — trembled — helped the rabbit — and broke a tumbler. The countenance of the lady of the house, which had been all smiles previously, underwent an awful change.
‘Extremely sorry,’ stammered Watkins, assisting himself to currie and parsley and butter, in the extremity of his confusion.
‘Not the least consequence,’ replied Mrs. Parsons, in a tone which implied that it was of the greatest consequence possible, — directing aside the researches of the boy, who was groping under the table for the bits of broken glass.
‘I presume,’ said Miss Lillerton, ‘that Mr. Tottle is aware of the interest which bachelors usually pay in such cases; a dozen glasses for one is the lowest penalty.’
Mr. Gabriel Parsons gave his friend an admonitory tread on the toe. Here was a clear hint that the sooner he ceased to be a bachelor and emancipated himself from such penalties, the better. Mr. Watkins Tottle viewed the observation in the same light, and challenged Mrs. Parsons to take wine, with a degree of presence of mind, which, under all the circumstances, was really extraordinary.
‘Miss Lillerton,’ said Gabriel, ‘may I have the pleasure?’
‘I shall be most happy.’
‘Tottle, will you assist Miss Lillerton, and pass the decanter. Thank you.’ (The usual pantomimic ceremony of nodding and sipping gone through) —
‘Tottle, were you ever in Suffolk?’ inquired the master of the house, who was burning to tell one of his seven stock stories.
‘No,’ responded Watkins, adding, by way of a saving clause, ‘but I’ve been in Devonshire.’
‘Ah!’ replied Gabriel, ‘it was in Suffolk that a rather singular circumstance happened to me many years ago. Did you ever happen to hear me mention it?’
Mr. Watkins Tottle HAD happened to hear his friend mention it some four hundred times. Of course he expressed great curiosity, and evinced the utmost impatience to hear the story again. Mr. Gabriel Parsons forthwith attempted to proceed, in spite of the interruptions to which, as our readers must frequently have observed, the master of the house is often exposed in such cases. We will attempt to give them an idea of our meaning.
‘When I was in Suffolk — ‘ said Mr. Gabriel Parsons.
‘Take off the fowls first, Martha,’ said Mrs. Parsons. ‘I beg your pardon, my dear.’
‘When I was in Suffolk,’ resumed Mr. Parsons, with an impatient glance at his wife, who pretended not to observe it, ‘which is now years ago, business led me to the town of Bury St. Edmund’s. I had to stop at the principal places in my way, and therefore, for the sake of convenience, I travelled in a gig. I left Sudbury one dark night — it was winter time — about nine o’clock; the rain poured in torrents, the wind howled among the trees that skirted the roadside, and I was obliged to proceed at a foot-pace, for I could hardly see my hand before me, it was so dark — ’
‘John,’ interrupted Mrs. Parsons, in a low, hollow voice, ‘don’t spill that gravy.’
‘Fanny,’ said Parsons impatiently, ‘I wish you’d defer these domestic reproofs to some more suitable time. Really, my dear, these constant interruptions are very annoying.’
‘My dear, I didn’t interrupt you,’ said Mrs. Parsons.
‘But, my dear, you DID interrupt me,’ remonstrated Mr. Parsons.
‘How very absurd you are, my love! I must give directions to the servants; I am quite sure that if I sat here and allowed John to spill the gravy over the new carpet, you’d be the first to find fault when you saw the stain to-morrow morning.’
‘Well,’ continued Gabriel with a resigned air, as if he knew there was no getting over the point about the carpet, ‘I was just saying, it was so dark that I could hardly see my hand before me. The road was very lonely, and I assure you, Tottle (this was a device to arrest the wandering attention of that individual, which was distracted by a confidential communication between Mrs. Parsons and Martha, accompanied by the delivery of a large bunch of keys), I assure you, Tottle, I became somehow impressed with a sense of the loneliness of my situation — ’
‘Pie to your master,’ interrupted Mrs. Parsons, again directing the servant.
‘Now, pray, my dear,’ remonstrated Parsons once more, very pettishly. Mrs. P. turned up her hands and eyebrows, and appealed in dumb show to Miss Lillerton. ‘As I turned a corner of the road,’ resumed Gabriel, ‘the horse stopped short, and reared tremendously. I pulled up, jumped out, ran to his head, and found a man lying on his back in the middle of the road, with his eyes fixed on the sky. I thought he was dead; but no, he was alive, and there appeared to be nothing the matter with him. He jumped up, and putting his hand to his chest, and fixing upon me the most earnest gaze you can imagine, exclaimed — ’
‘Pudding here,’ said Mrs. Parsons.
‘Oh! it’s no use,’ exclaimed the host, now rendered desperate. ‘Here, Tottle; a glass of wine. It’s useless to attempt relating anything when Mrs. Parsons is present.’
This attack was received in the usual way. Mrs. Parsons talked TO Miss Lillerton and AT her better half; expatiated on the impatience of men generally; hinted that her husband was peculiarly vicious in this respect, and wound up by insinuating that she must be one of the best tempers that ever existed, or she never could put up with it. Really what she had to endure sometimes, was more than any one who saw her in every-day life could by possibility suppose. — The story was now a painful subject, and therefore Mr. Parsons declined to enter into any details, and contented himself by stating that the man was a maniac, who had escaped from a neighbouring mad-house.
The cloth was removed; the ladies soon afterwards retired, and Miss Lillerton played the piano in the drawing-room overhead, very loudly, for the edification of the visitor. Mr. Watkins Tottle and Mr. Gabriel Parsons sat chatting comfortably enough, until the conclusion of the second bottle, when the latter, in proposing an adjournment to the drawing-room, informed Watkins that he had concerted a plan with his wife, for leaving him and Miss Lillerton alone, soon after tea.
‘I say,’ said Tottle, as they went up-stairs, ‘don’t you think it would be better if we put it off till-till-to-morrow?’
‘Don’t YOU think it would have been much better if I had left you in that wretched hole I found you in this morning?’ retorted Parsons bluntly.
‘Well — well — I only made a suggestion,’ said poor Watkins Tottle, with a deep sigh.
Tea was soon concluded, and Miss Lillerton, drawing a small work-table on one side of the fire, and placing a little wooden frame upon it, something like a miniature clay-mill without the horse, was soon busily engaged in making a watch-guard with brown silk.
‘God bless me!’ exclaimed Parsons, starting up with well-feigned surprise, ‘I’ve forgotten those confounded letters. Tottle, I know you’ll excuse me.’
If Tottle had been a free agent, he would have allowed no one to leave the room on any pretence, except himself. As it was, however, he was obliged to look cheerful when Parsons quitted the apartment.
He had scarcely left, when Martha put her head into the room, with — ‘Please, ma’am, you’re wanted.’
Mrs. Parsons left the room, shut the door carefully after her, and Mr. Watkins Tottle was left alone with Miss Lillerton.
For the first five minutes there was a dead silence. — Mr. Watkins Tottle was thinking how he should begin, and Miss Lillerton appeared to be thinking of nothing. The fire was burning low; Mr. Watkins Tottle stirred it, and put some coals on.
‘Hem!’ coughed Miss Lillerton; Mr. Watkins Tottle thought the fair creature had spoken. ‘I beg your pardon,’ said he.
‘I thought you spoke.’
‘There are some books on the sofa, Mr. Tottle, if you would like to look at them,’ said Miss Lillerton, after the lapse of another five minutes.
‘No, thank you,’ returned Watkins; and then he added, with a courage which was perfectly astonishing, even to himself, ‘Madam, that is Miss Lillerton, I wish to speak to you.’
‘To me!’ said Miss Lillerton, letting the silk drop from her hands, and sliding her chair back a few paces. — ‘Speak — to me!’
‘To you, madam — and on the subject of the state of your affections.’ The lady hastily rose and would have left the room; but Mr. Watkins Tottle gently detained her by the hand, and holding it as far from him as the joint length of their arms would permit, he thus proceeded: ‘Pray do not misunderstand me, or suppose that I am led to address you, after so short an acquaintance, by any feeling of my own merits — for merits I have none which could give me a claim to your hand. I hope you will acquit me of any presumption when I explain that I have been acquainted through Mrs. Parsons, with the state — that is, that Mrs. Parsons has told me — at least, not Mrs. Parsons, but — ‘ here Watkins began to wander, but Miss Lillerton relieved him.
‘Am I to understand, Mr. Tottle, that Mrs. Parsons has acquainted you with my feeling — my affection — I mean my respect, for an individual of the opposite sex?’
‘Then, what?’ inquired Miss Lillerton, averting her face, with a girlish air, ‘what could induce YOU to seek such an interview as this? What can your object be? How can I promote your happiness, Mr. Tottle?’
Here was the time for a flourish — ‘By allowing me,’ replied Watkins, falling bump on his knees, and breaking two brace-buttons and a waistcoat-string, in the act — ‘By allowing me to be your slave, your servant — in short, by unreservedly making me the confidant of your heart’s feelings — may I say for the promotion of your own happiness — may I say, in order that you may become the wife of a kind and affectionate husband?’
‘Disinterested creature!’ exclaimed Miss Lillerton, hiding her face in a white pocket-handkerchief with an eyelet-hole border.
Mr. Watkins Tottle thought that if the lady knew all, she might possibly alter her opinion on this last point. He raised the tip of her middle finger ceremoniously to his lips, and got off his knees, as gracefully as he could. ‘My information was correct?’ he tremulously inquired, when he was once more on his feet.
‘It was.’ Watkins elevated his hands, and looked up to the ornament in the centre of the ceiling, which had been made for a lamp, by way of expressing his rapture.
‘Our situation, Mr. Tottle,’ resumed the lady, glancing at him through one of the eyelet-holes, ‘is a most peculiar and delicate one.’
‘It is,’ said Mr. Tottle.
‘Our acquaintance has been of SO short duration,’ said Miss Lillerton.
‘Only a week,’ assented Watkins Tottle.
‘Oh! more than that,’ exclaimed the lady, in a tone of surprise.
‘Indeed!’ said Tottle.
‘More than a month — more than two months!’ said Miss Lillerton.
‘Rather odd, this,’ thought Watkins.
‘Oh!’ he said, recollecting Parsons’s assurance that she had known him from report, ‘I understand. But, my dear madam, pray, consider. The longer this acquaintance has existed, the less reason is there for delay now. Why not at once fix a period for gratifying the hopes of your devoted admirer?’
‘It has been represented to me again and again that this is the course I ought to pursue,’ replied Miss Lillerton, ‘but pardon my feelings of delicacy, Mr. Tottle — pray excuse this embarrassment — I have peculiar ideas on such subjects, and I am quite sure that I never could summon up fortitude enough to name the day to my future husband.’
‘Then allow ME to name it,’ said Tottle eagerly.
‘I should like to fix it myself,’ replied Miss Lillerton, bashfully, ‘but I cannot do so without at once resorting to a third party.’
‘A third party!’ thought Watkins Tottle; ‘who the deuce is that to be, I wonder!’
‘Mr. Tottle,’ continued Miss Lillerton, ‘you have made me a most disinterested and kind offer — that offer I accept. Will you at once be the bearer of a note from me to — to Mr. Timson?’
‘Mr. Timson!’ said Watkins.
‘After what has passed between us,’ responded Miss Lillerton, still averting her head, ‘you must understand whom I mean; Mr. Timson, the — the — clergyman.’
‘Mr. Timson, the clergyman!’ ejaculated Watkins Tottle, in a state of inexpressible beatitude, and positive wonder at his own success. ‘Angel! Certainly — this moment!’
‘I’ll prepare it immediately,’ said Miss Lillerton, making for the door; ‘the events of this day have flurried me so much, Mr. Tottle, that I shall not leave my room again this evening; I will send you the note by the servant.’
‘Stay, — stay,’ cried Watkins Tottle, still keeping a most respectful distance from the lady; ‘when shall we meet again?’
‘Oh! Mr. Tottle,’ replied Miss Lillerton, coquettishly, ‘when WE are married, I can never see you too often, nor thank you too much;’ and she left the room.
Mr. Watkins Tottle flung himself into an arm-chair, and indulged in the most delicious reveries of future bliss, in which the idea of ‘Five hundred pounds per annum, with an uncontrolled power of disposing of it by her last will and testament,’ was somehow or other the foremost. He had gone through the interview so well, and it had terminated so admirably, that he almost began to wish he had expressly stipulated for the settlement of the annual five hundred on himself.
‘May I come in?’ said Mr. Gabriel Parsons, peeping in at the door.
‘You may,’ replied Watkins.
‘Well, have you done it?’ anxiously inquired Gabriel.
‘Have I done it!’ said Watkins Tottle. ‘Hush — I’m going to the clergyman.’
‘No!’ said Parsons. ‘How well you have managed it!’
‘Where does Timson live?’ inquired Watkins.
‘At his uncle’s,’ replied Gabriel, ‘just round the lane. He’s waiting for a living, and has been assisting his uncle here for the last two or three months. But how well you have done it — I didn’t think you could have carried it off so!’
Mr. Watkins Tottle was proceeding to demonstrate that the Richardsonian principle was the best on which love could possibly be made, when he was interrupted by the entrance of Martha, with a little pink note folded like a fancy cocked-hat.
‘Miss Lillerton’s compliments,’ said Martha, as she delivered it into Tottle’s hands, and vanished.
‘Do you observe the delicacy?’ said Tottle, appealing to Mr. Gabriel Parsons. ‘COMPLIMENTS, not LOVE, by the servant, eh?’
Mr. Gabriel Parsons didn’t exactly know what reply to make, so he poked the forefinger of his right hand between the third and fourth ribs of Mr. Watkins Tottle.
‘Come,’ said Watkins, when the explosion of mirth, consequent on this practical jest, had subsided, ‘we’ll be off at once — let’s lose no time.’
‘Capital!’ echoed Gabriel Parsons; and in five minutes they were at the garden-gate of the villa tenanted by the uncle of Mr. Timson.
‘Is Mr. Charles Timson at home?’ inquired Mr. Watkins Tottle of Mr. Charles Timson’s uncle’s man.
‘Mr. Charles IS at home,’ replied the man, stammering; ‘but he desired me to say he couldn’t be interrupted, sir, by any of the parishioners.’
‘I am not a parishioner,’ replied Watkins.
‘Is Mr. Charles writing a sermon, Tom?’ inquired Parsons, thrusting himself forward.
‘No, Mr. Parsons, sir; he’s not exactly writing a sermon, but he is practising the violoncello in his own bedroom, and gave strict orders not to be disturbed.’
‘Say I’m here,’ replied Gabriel, leading the way across the garden; ‘Mr. Parsons and Mr. Tottle, on private and particular business.’
They were shown into the parlour, and the servant departed to deliver his message. The distant groaning of the violoncello ceased; footsteps were heard on the stairs; and Mr. Timson presented himself, and shook hands with Parsons with the utmost cordiality.
‘How do you do, sir?’ said Watkins Tottle, with great solemnity.
‘How do YOU do, sir?’ replied Timson, with as much coldness as if it were a matter of perfect indifference to him how he did, as it very likely was.
‘I beg to deliver this note to you,’ said Watkins Tottle, producing the cocked-hat.
‘From Miss Lillerton!’ said Timson, suddenly changing colour. ‘Pray sit down.’
Mr. Watkins Tottle sat down; and while Timson perused the note, fixed his eyes on an oyster-sauce-coloured portrait of the Archbishop of Canterbury, which hung over the fireplace.
Mr. Timson rose from his seat when he had concluded the note, and looked dubiously at Parsons. ‘May I ask,’ he inquired, appealing to Watkins Tottle, ‘whether our friend here is acquainted with the object of your visit?’
‘Our friend is in MY confidence,’ replied Watkins, with considerable importance.
‘Then, sir,’ said Timson, seizing both Tottle’s hands, ‘allow me in his presence to thank you most unfeignedly and cordially, for the noble part you have acted in this affair.’
‘He thinks I recommended him,’ thought Tottle. ‘Confound these fellows! they never think of anything but their fees.’
‘I deeply regret having misunderstood your intentions, my dear sir,’ continued Timson. ‘Disinterested and manly, indeed! There are very few men who would have acted as you have done.’
Mr. Watkins Tottle could not help thinking that this last remark was anything but complimentary. He therefore inquired, rather hastily, ‘When is it to be?’
‘On Thursday,’ replied Timson, — ‘on Thursday morning at half-past eight.’
‘Uncommonly early,’ observed Watkins Tottle, with an air of triumphant self-denial. ‘I shall hardly be able to get down here by that hour.’ (This was intended for a joke.)
‘Never mind, my dear fellow,’ replied Timson, all suavity, shaking hands with Tottle again most heartily, ‘so long as we see you to breakfast, you know — ’
‘Eh!’ said Parsons, with one of the most extraordinary expressions of countenance that ever appeared in a human face.
‘What!’ ejaculated Watkins Tottle, at the same moment.
‘I say that so long as we see you to breakfast,’ replied Timson, ‘we will excuse your being absent from the ceremony, though of course your presence at it would give us the utmost pleasure.’
Mr. Watkins Tottle staggered against the wall, and fixed his eyes on Timson with appalling perseverance.
‘Timson,’ said Parsons, hurriedly brushing his hat with his left arm, ‘when you say “us,” whom do you mean?’
Mr. Timson looked foolish in his turn, when he replied, ‘Why — Mrs. Timson that will be this day week: Miss Lillerton that is — ’
‘Now don’t stare at that idiot in the corner,’ angrily exclaimed Parsons, as the extraordinary convulsions of Watkins Tottle’s countenance excited the wondering gaze of Timson, — ‘but have the goodness to tell me in three words the contents of that note?’
‘This note,’ replied Timson, ‘is from Miss Lillerton, to whom I have been for the last five weeks regularly engaged. Her singular scruples and strange feeling on some points have hitherto prevented my bringing the engagement to that termination which I so anxiously desire. She informs me here, that she sounded Mrs. Parsons with the view of making her her confidante and go-between, that Mrs. Parsons informed this elderly gentleman, Mr. Tottle, of the circumstance, and that he, in the most kind and delicate terms, offered to assist us in any way, and even undertook to convey this note, which contains the promise I have long sought in vain — an act of kindness for which I can never be sufficiently grateful.’
‘Good night, Timson,’ said Parsons, hurrying off, and carrying the bewildered Tottle with him.
‘Won’t you stay — and have something?’ said Timson.
‘No, thank ye,’ replied Parsons; ‘I’ve had quite enough;’ and away he went, followed by Watkins Tottle in a state of stupefaction.
Mr. Gabriel Parsons whistled until they had walked some quarter of a mile past his own gate, when he suddenly stopped, and said —
‘You are a clever fellow, Tottle, ain’t you?’
‘I don’t know,’ said the unfortunate Watkins.
‘I suppose you’ll say this is Fanny’s fault, won’t you?’ inquired Gabriel.
‘I don’t know anything about it,’ replied the bewildered Tottle.
‘Well,’ said Parsons, turning on his heel to go home, ‘the next time you make an offer, you had better speak plainly, and don’t throw a chance away. And the next time you’re locked up in a spunging-house, just wait there till I come and take you out, there’s a good fellow.’
How, or at what hour, Mr. Watkins Tottle returned to Cecil-street is unknown. His boots were seen outside his bedroom-door next morning; but we have the authority of his landlady for stating that he neither emerged therefrom nor accepted sustenance for four-and-twenty hours. At the expiration of that period, and when a council of war was being held in the kitchen on the propriety of summoning the parochial beadle to break his door open, he rang his bell, and demanded a cup of milk-and-water. The next morning he went through the formalities of eating and drinking as usual, but a week afterwards he was seized with a relapse, while perusing the list of marriages in a morning paper, from which he never perfectly recovered.
A few weeks after the last-named occurrence, the body of a gentleman unknown, was found in the Regent’s canal. In the trousers-pockets were four shillings and threepence halfpenny; a matrimonial advertisement from a lady, which appeared to have been cut out of a Sunday paper: a tooth-pick, and a card-case, which it is confidently believed would have led to the identification of the unfortunate gentleman, but for the circumstance of there being none but blank cards in it. Mr. Watkins Tottle absented himself from his lodgings shortly before. A bill, which has not been taken up, was presented next morning; and a bill, which has not been taken down, was soon afterwards affixed in his parlour-window.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07