On the 1st of January, 1838, I was the master of a lovely shop in the neighborhood of Oxford Market; of a wife, Mrs. Cox; of a business, both in the shaving and cutting line, established three-and-thirty years; of a girl and boy respectively of the ages of eighteen and thirteen; of a three-windowed front, both to my first and second pair; of a young foreman, my present partner, Mr. Orlando Crump; and of that celebrated mixture for the human hair, invented by my late uncle, and called Cox’s Bohemian Balsam of Tokay, sold in pots at two-and-three and three-and-nine. The balsam, the lodgings, and the old-established cutting and shaving business brought me in a pretty genteel income. I had my girl, Jemimarann, at Hackney, to school; my dear boy, Tuggeridge, plaited her hair beautifully; my wife at the counter (behind the tray of patent soaps, &c.) cut as handsome a figure as possible; and it was my hope that Orlando and my girl, who were mighty soft upon one another, would one day be joined together in Hyming, and, conjointly with my son Tug, carry on the business of hairdressers when their father was either dead or a gentleman: for a gentleman me and Mrs. C. determined I should be.
Jemima was, you see, a lady herself, and of very high connections: though her own family had met with crosses, and was rather low. Mr. Tuggeridge, her father, kept the famous tripe-shop near the “Pigtail and Sparrow,” in the Whitechapel Road; from which place I married her; being myself very fond of the article, and especially when she served it to me — the dear thing!
Jemima’s father was not successful in business: and I married her, I am proud to confess it, without a shilling. I had my hands, my house, and my Bohemian balsam to support her! — and we had hopes from her uncle, a mighty rich East India merchant, who, having left this country sixty years ago as a cabin-boy, had arrived to be the head of a great house in India, and was worth millions, we were told.
Three years after Jemimarann’s birth (and two after the death of my lamented father-inlaw), Tuggeridge (head of the great house of Budgurow and Co.) retired from the management of it; handed over his shares to his son, Mr. John Tuggeridge, and came to live in England, at Portland Place, and Tuggeridgeville, Surrey, and enjoy himself. Soon after, my wife took her daughter in her hand and went, as in duty bound, to visit her uncle: but whether it was that he was proud and surly, or she somewhat sharp in her way, (the dear girl fears nobody, let me have you to know,) a desperate quarrel took place between them; and from that day to the day of his death, he never set eyes on her. All that he would condescend to do, was to take a few dozen of lavender-water from us in the course of the year, and to send his servants to be cut and shaved by us. All the neighbors laughed at this poor ending of our expectations, for Jemmy had bragged not a little; however, we did not care, for the connection was always a good one, and we served Mr. Hock, the valet; Mr. Bar, the coachman; and Mrs. Breadbasket, the housekeeper, willingly enough. I used to powder the footman, too, on great days, but never in my life saw old Tuggeridge, except once: when he said “Oh, the barber!” tossed up his nose, and passed on.
One day — one famous day last January — all our Market was thrown into a high state of excitement by the appearance of no less than three vehicles at our establishment. As me, Jemmy, my daughter, Tug, and Orlando, were sitting in the back-parlor over our dinner (it being Christmas-time, Mr. Crump had treated the ladies to a bottle of port, and was longing that there should be a mistletoe-bough: at which proposal my little Jemimarann looked as red as a glass of negus):— we had just, I say, finished the port, when, all of a sudden, Tug bellows out, “La, Pa, here’s uncle Tuggeridge’s housekeeper in a cab!”
And Mrs. Breadbasket it was, sure enough — Mrs. Breadbasket in deep mourning, who made her way, bowing and looking very sad, into the back shop. My wife, who respected Mrs. B. more than anything else in the world, set her a chair, offered her a glass of wine, and vowed it was very kind of her to come. “La, mem,” says Mrs. B., “I’m sure I’d do anything to serve your family, for the sake of that poor dear Tuck-Tuck-tug-guggeridge, that’s gone.”
“That’s what?” cries my wife.
“What, gone?” cried Jemimarann, bursting out crying (as little girls will about anything or nothing); and Orlando looking very rueful, and ready to cry too.
“Yes, gaw —” Just as she was at this very “gaw” Tug roars out, “La, Pa! here’s Mr. Bar, uncle Tug’s coachman!”
It was Mr. Bar. When she saw him, Mrs. Breadbasket stepped suddenly back into the parlor with my ladies. “What is it, Mr. Bar?” says I; and as quick as thought, I had the towel under his chin, Mr. Bar in the chair, and the whole of his face in a beautiful foam of lather. Mr. Bar made some resistance. —“Don’t think of it, Mr. Cox,” says he; “don’t trouble yourself, sir.” But I lathered away and never minded. “And what’s this melancholy event, sir,” says I, “that has spread desolation in your family’s bosoms? I can feel for your loss, sir — I can feel for your loss.”
I said so out of politeness, because I served the family, not because Tuggeridge was my uncle — no, as such I disown him.
Mr. Bar was just about to speak. “Yes, sir,” says he, “my master’s gaw —” when at the “gaw” in walks Mr. Hock, the own man! — the finest gentleman I ever saw.
“What, YOU here, Mr. Bar!” says he.
“Yes, I am, sir; and haven’t I a right, sir?”
“A mighty wet day, sir,” says I to Mr. Hock — stepping up and making my bow. “A sad circumstance too, sir! And is it a turn of the tongs that you want today, sir? Ho, there, Mr. Crump!”
“Turn, Mr. Crump, if you please, sir,” said Mr. Hock, making a bow: “but from you, sir, never — no, never, split me! — and I wonder how some fellows can have the INSOLENCE to allow their MASTERS to shave them!” With this, Mr. Hock flung himself down to be curled: Mr. Bar suddenly opened his mouth in order to reply; but seeing there was a tiff between the gentlemen, and wanting to prevent a quarrel, I rammed the Advertiser into Mr. Hock’s hands, and just popped my shaving-brush into Mr. Bar’s mouth — a capital way to stop angry answers.
Mr. Bar had hardly been in the chair one second, when whir comes a hackney-coach to the door, from which springs a gentleman in a black coat with a bag.
“What, you here!” says the gentleman. I could not help smiling, for it seemed that everybody was to begin by saying, “What, YOU here!” “Your name is Cox, sir?” says he; smiling too, as the very pattern of mine. “My name, sir, is Sharpus — Blunt, Hone and Sharpus, Middle Temple Lane — and I am proud to salute you, sir; happy — that is to say, sorry to say that Mr. Tuggeridge, of Portland Place, is dead, and your lady is heiress, in consequence, to one of the handsomest properties in the kingdom.”
At this I started, and might have sunk to the ground, but for my hold of Mr. Bar’s nose; Orlando seemed putrified to stone, with his irons fixed to Mr. Hock’s head; our respective patients gave a wince out:— Mrs. C., Jemimarann, and Tug, rushed from the back shop, and we formed a splendid tableau such as the great Cruikshank might have depicted.
“And Mr. John Tuggeridge, sir?” says I.
“Why — hee, hee, hee!” says Mr. Sharpus. “Surely you know that he was only the — hee, hee, hee! — the natural son!”
You now can understand why the servants from Portland Place had been so eager to come to us. One of the house-maids heard Mr. Sharpus say there was no will, and that my wife was heir to the property, and not Mr. John Tuggeridge: this she told in the housekeeper’s room; and off, as soon as they heard it, the whole party set, in order to be the first to bear the news.
We kept them, every one in their old places; for, though my wife would have sent them about their business, my dear Jemimarann just hinted, “Mamma, you know THEY have been used to great houses, and we have not; had we not better keep them for a little?”— Keep them, then, we did, to show us how to be gentlefolks.
I handed over the business to Mr. Crump without a single farthing of premium, though Jemmy would have made me take four hundred pounds for it; but this I was above: Crump had served me faithfully, and have the shop he should.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00