The ball at the Mansion House.
APRIL 30. — Perfectly astounded at receiving an invitation for Carrie and myself from the Lord and Lady Mayoress to the Mansion House, to “meet the Representatives of Trades and Commerce.” My heart beat like that of a schoolboy’s. Carrie and I read the invitation over two or three times. I could scarcely eat my breakfast. I said — and I felt it from the bottom of my heart — “Carrie darling, I was a proud man when I led you down the aisle of the church on our wedding-day; that pride will be equalled, if not surpassed, when I lead my dear, pretty wife up to the Lord and Lady Mayoress at the Mansion House.” I saw the tears in Carrie’s eyes, and she said: “Charlie dear, it is I who have to be proud of you. And I am very, very proud of you. You have called me pretty; and as long as I am pretty in your eyes, I am happy. You, dear old Charlie, are not handsome, but you are good, which is far more noble.” I gave her a kiss, and she said: “I wonder if there will be any dancing? I have not danced with you for years.”
I cannot tell what induced me to do it, but I seized her round the waist, and we were silly enough to be executing a wild kind of polka when Sarah entered, grinning, and said: “There is a man, mum, at the door who wants to know if you want any good coals.” Most annoyed at this. Spent the evening in answering, and tearing up again, the reply to the Mansion House, having left word with Sarah if Gowing or Cummings called we were not at home. Must consult Mr. Perkupp how to answer the Lord Mayor’s invitation.
MAY 1. — Carrie said: “I should like to send mother the invitation to look at.” I consented, as soon as I had answered it. I told Mr. Perkupp, at the office, with a feeling of pride, that we had received an invitation to the Mansion House; and he said, to my astonishment, that he himself gave in my name to the Lord Mayor’s secretary. I felt this rather discounted the value of the invitation, but I thanked him; and in reply to me, he described how I was to answer it. I felt the reply was too simple; but of course Mr. Perkupp knows best.
MAY 2. — Sent my dress-coat and trousers to the little tailor’s round the corner, to have the creases taken out. Told Gowing not to call next Monday, as we were going to the Mansion House. Sent similar note to Cummings.
MAY 3. — Carrie went to Mrs. James, at Sutton, to consult about her dress for next Monday. While speaking incidentally to Spotch, one of our head clerks, about the Mansion House, he said: “Oh, I’m asked, but don’t think I shall go.” When a vulgar man like Spotch is asked, I feel my invitation is considerably discounted. In the evening, while I was out, the little tailor brought round my coat and trousers, and because Sarah had not a shilling to pay for the pressing, he took them away again.
MAY 4. — Carrie’s mother returned the Lord Mayor’s invitation, which was sent to her to look at, with apologies for having upset a glass of port over it. I was too angry to say anything.
MAY 5. — Bought a pair of lavender kid-gloves for next Monday, and two white ties, in case one got spoiled in the tying.
MAY 6, Sunday. — A very dull sermon, during which, I regret to say, I twice thought of the Mansion House reception tomorrow.
MAY 7. — A big red-letter day; viz., the Lord Mayor’s reception. The whole house upset. I had to get dressed at half-past six, as Carrie wanted the room to herself. Mrs. James had come up from Sutton to help Carrie; so I could not help thinking it unreasonable that she should require the entire attention of Sarah, the servant, as well. Sarah kept running out of the house to fetch “something for missis,” and several times I had, in my full evening-dress, to answer the back-door.
The last time it was the greengrocer’s boy, who, not seeing it was me, for Sarah had not lighted the gas, pushed into my hands two cabbages and half-a-dozen coal-blocks. I indignantly threw them on the ground, and felt so annoyed that I so far forgot myself as to box the boy’s ears. He went away crying, and said he should summons me, a thing I would not have happen for the world. In the dark, I stepped on a piece of the cabbage, which brought me down on the flags all of a heap. For a moment I was stunned, but when I recovered I crawled upstairs into the drawing-room and on looking into the chimney-glass discovered that my chin was bleeding, my shirt smeared with the coal-blocks, and my left trouser torn at the knee.
However, Mrs. James brought me down another shirt, which I changed in the drawing-room. I put a piece of court-plaster on my chin, and Sarah very neatly sewed up the tear at the knee. At nine o’clock Carrie swept into the room, looking like a queen. Never have I seen her look so lovely, or so distinguished. She was wearing a satin dress of sky-blue — my favourite colour — and a piece of lace, which Mrs. James lent her, round the shoulders, to give a finish. I thought perhaps the dress was a little too long behind, and decidedly too short in front, but Mrs. James said it was à la mode. Mrs. James was most kind, and lent Carrie a fan of ivory with red feathers, the value of which, she said, was priceless, as the feathers belonged to the Kachu eagle — a bird now extinct. I preferred the little white fan which Carrie bought for three-and-six at Shoolbred’s, but both ladies sat on me at once.
We arrived at the Mansion House too early, which was rather fortunate, for I had an opportunity of speaking to his lordship, who graciously condescended to talk with me some minutes; but I must say I was disappointed to find he did not even know Mr. Perkupp, our principal.
I felt as if we had been invited to the Mansion House by one who did not know the Lord Mayor himself. Crowds arrived, and I shall never forget the grand sight. My humble pen can never describe it. I was a little annoyed with Carrie, who kept saying: “Isn’t it a pity we don’t know anybody?”
Once she quite lost her head. I saw someone who looked like Franching, from Peckham, and was moving towards him when she seized me by the coat-tails, and said quite loudly: “Don’t leave me,” which caused an elderly gentleman, in a court-suit, and a chain round him, and two ladies, to burst out laughing. There was an immense crowd in the supper-room, and, my stars! it was a splendid supper — any amount of champagne.
Carrie made a most hearty supper, for which I was pleased; for I sometimes think she is not strong. There was scarcely a dish she did not taste. I was so thirsty, I could not eat much. Receiving a sharp slap on the shoulder, I turned, and, to my amazement, saw Farmerson, our ironmonger. He said, in the most familiar way: “This is better than Brickfield Terrace, eh?” I simply looked at him, and said coolly: “I never expected to see you here.” He said, with a loud, coarse laugh: “I like that — if you, why not me?” I replied: “Certainly,” I wish I could have thought of something better to say. He said: “Can I get your good lady anything?” Carrie said: “No, I thank you,” for which I was pleased. I said, by way of reproof to him: “You never sent today to paint the bath, as I requested.” Farmerson said: “Pardon me, Mr. Pooter, no shop when we’re in company, please.”
Before I could think of a reply, one of the sheriffs, in full Court costume, slapped Farmerson on the back and hailed him as an old friend, and asked him to dine with him at his lodge. I was astonished. For full five minutes they stood roaring with laughter, and stood digging each other in the ribs. They kept telling each other they didn’t look a day older. They began embracing each other and drinking champagne.
To think that a man who mends our scraper should know any member of our aristocracy! I was just moving with Carrie, when Farmerson seized me rather roughly by the collar, and addressing the sheriff, said: “Let me introduce my neighbour, Pooter.” He did not even say “Mister.” The sheriff handed me a glass of champagne. I felt, after all, it was a great honour to drink a glass of wine with him, and I told him so. We stood chatting for some time, and at last I said: “You must excuse me now if I join Mrs. Pooter.” When I approached her, she said: “Don’t let me take you away from friends. I am quite happy standing here alone in a crowd, knowing nobody!”
As it takes two to make a quarrel, and as it was neither the time nor the place for it, I gave my arm to Carrie, and said: “I hope my darling little wife will dance with me, if only for the sake of saying we had danced at the Mansion House as guests of the Lord Mayor.” Finding the dancing after supper was less formal, and knowing how much Carrie used to admire my dancing in the days gone by, I put my arm round her waist and we commenced a waltz.
A most unfortunate accident occurred. I had got on a new pair of boots. Foolishly, I had omitted to take Carrie’s advice; namely, to scratch the soles of them with the points of the scissors or to put a little wet on them. I had scarcely started when, like lightning, my left foot slipped away and I came down, the side of my head striking the floor with such violence that for a second or two I did not know what had happened. I needly hardly say that Carrie fell with me with equal violence, breaking the comb in her hair and grazing her elbow.
There was a roar of laughter, which was immediately checked when people found that we had really hurt ourselves. A gentleman assisted Carrie to a seat, and I expressed myself pretty strongly on the danger of having a plain polished floor with no carpet or drugget to prevent people slipping. The gentleman, who said his name was Darwitts, insisted on escorting Carrie to have a glass of wine, an invitation which I was pleased to allow Carrie to accept.
I followed, and met Farmerson, who immediately said, in his loud voice “Oh, are you the one who went down?”
I answered with an indignant look.
With execrable taste, he said: “Look here, old man, we are too old for this game. We must leave these capers to the youngsters. Come and have another glass, that is more in our line.”
Although I felt I was buying his silence by accepting, we followed the others into the supper-room.
Neither Carrie nor I, after our unfortunate mishap, felt inclined to stay longer. As we were departing, Farmerson said: “Are you going? if so, you might give me a lift.”
I thought it better to consent, but wish I had first consulted Carrie.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:08