I did not go to the office till half-an-hour after opening time on Monday. If the truth must be told, I was not sorry to let Hoskins have the start of me, and tell the chaps what had taken place — for we all have our little vanities, and I liked to be thought well of by my companions.
When I came in, I saw my business had been done, by the way in which the chaps looked at me; especially Abednego, who offered me a pinch out of his gold snuff-box the very first thing. Roundhand shook me, too, warmly by the hand, when he came round to look over my day-book, said I wrote a capital hand (and indeed I believe I do, without any sort of flattery), and invited me for dinner next Sunday, in Myddelton Square. “You won’t have,” said he, “quite such a grand turn-out as with your friends at the West End”— he said this with a particular accent —“but Amelia and I are always happy to see a friend in our plain way — pale sherry, old port, and cut and come again. Hey?”
I said I would come and bring Hoskins too.
He answered that I was very polite, and that he should be very happy to see Hoskins; and we went accordingly at the appointed day and hour; but though Gus was eleventh clerk and I twelfth, I remarked that at dinner I was helped first and best. I had twice as many force-meat balls as Hoskins in my mock-turtle, and pretty nearly all the oysters out of the sauce-boat. Once, Roundhand was going to help Gus before me; when his wife, who was seated at the head of the table, looking very big and fierce in red crape and a turban, shouted out, “Antony!” and poor R. dropped the plate, and blushed as red as anything. How Mrs. R. did talk to me about the West End to be sure! She had a “Peerage,” as you may be certain, and knew everything about the Drum family in a manner that quite astonished me. She asked me how much Lord Drum had a year; whether I thought he had twenty, thirty, forty, or a hundred and fifty thousand a year; whether I was invited to Drum Castle; what the young ladies wore, and if they had those odious gigot sleeves which were just coming in then; and here Mrs. R. looked at a pair of large mottled arms that she was very proud of.
“I say, Sam my boy!” cried, in the midst of our talk, Mr. Roundhand, who had been passing the port-wine round pretty freely, “I hope you looked to the main chance, and put in a few shares of the West Diddlesex — hey?”
“Mr. Roundhand, have you put up the decanters downstairs?” cries the lady, quite angry, and wishing to stop the conversation.
“No, Milly, I’ve emptied ’em,” says R.
“Don’t Milly me, sir! and have the goodness to go down and tell Lancy my maid” (a look at me) “to make the tea in the study. We have a gentleman here who is not used to Pentonville ways” (another look); “but he won’t mind the ways of friends.” And here Mrs. Roundhand heaved her very large chest, and gave me a third look that was so severe, that I declare to goodness it made me look quite foolish. As to Gus, she never so much as spoke to him all the evening; but he consoled himself with a great lot of muffins, and sat most of the evening (it was a cruel hot summer) whistling and talking with Roundhand on the verandah. I think I should like to have been with them — for it was very close in the room with that great big Mrs. Roundhand squeezing close up to one on the sofa.
“Do you recollect what a jolly night we had here last summer?” I heard Hoskins say, who was leaning over the balcony, and ogling the girls coming home from church. “You and me with our coats off, plenty of cold rum-and-water, Mrs. Roundhand at Margate, and a whole box of Manillas?”
“Hush!” said Roundhand, quite eagerly; “Milly will hear.”
But Milly didn’t hear: for she was occupied in telling me an immense long story about her waltzing with the Count de Schloppenzollern at the City ball to the Allied Sovereigns; and how the Count had great large white moustaches; and how odd she thought it to go whirling round the room with a great man’s arm round your waist. “Mr. Roundhand has never allowed it since our marriage — never; but in the year ‘fourteen it was considered a proper compliment, you know, to pay the sovereigns. So twenty-nine young ladies, of the best families in the City of London, I assure you, Mr. Titmarsh — there was the Lord Mayor’s own daughters; Alderman Dobbins’s gals; Sir Charles Hopper’s three, who have the great house in Baker Street; and your humble servant, who was rather slimmer in those days — twenty-nine of us had a dancing-master on purpose, and practised waltzing in a room over the Egyptian Hall at the Mansion House. He was a splendid man, that Count Schloppenzollern!”
“I am sure, ma’am,” says I, “he had a splendid partner!” and blushed up to my eyes when I said it.
“Get away, you naughty creature!” says Mrs. Roundhand, giving me a great slap: “you’re all the same, you men in the West End — all deceivers. The Count was just like you. Heigho! Before you marry, it’s all honey and compliments; when you win us, it’s all coldness and indifference. Look at Roundhand, the great baby, trying to beat down a butterfly with his yellow bandanna! Can a man like that comprehend me? can he fill the void in my heart?” (She pronounced it without the h; but that there should be no mistake, laid her hand upon the place meant.) “Ah, no! Will you be so neglectful when you marry, Mr. Titmarsh?”
As she spoke, the bells were just tolling the people out of church, and I fell a-thinking of my dear dear Mary Smith in the country, walking home to her grandmother’s, in her modest grey cloak, as the bells were chiming and the air full of the sweet smell of the hay, and the river shining in the sun, all crimson, purple, gold, and silver. There was my dear Mary a hundred and twenty miles off, in Somersetshire, walking home from church along with Mr. Snorter’s family, with which she came and went; and I was listening to the talk of this great leering vulgar woman.
I could not help feeling for a certain half of a sixpence that you have heard me speak of; and putting my hand mechanically upon my chest, I tore my fingers with the point of my new diamond-pin. Mr. Polonius had sent it home the night before, and I sported it for the first time at Roundhand’s to dinner.
“It’s a beautiful diamond,” said Mrs. Roundhand. “I have been looking at it all dinner-time. How rich you must be to wear such splendid things! and how can you remain in a vulgar office in the City — you who have such great acquaintances at the West End?”
The woman had somehow put me in such a passion that I bounced off the sofa, and made for the balcony without answering a word — ay, and half broke my head against the sash, too, as I went out to the gents in the open air. “Gus,” says I, “I feel very unwell: I wish you’d come home with me.” And Gus did not desire anything better; for he had ogled the last girl out of the last church, and the night was beginning to fall.
“What! already?” said Mrs. Roundhand; “there is a lobster coming up — a trifling refreshment; not what he’s accustomed to, but —”
I am sorry to say I nearly said, “D—— the lobster!” as Roundhand went and whispered to her that I was ill.
“Ay,” said Gus, looking very knowing. “Recollect, Mrs. R., that he was at the West End on Thursday, asked to dine, ma’am, with the tip-top nobs. Chaps don’t dine at the West End for nothing, do they, R.? If you play at bowls, you know —”
“You must look out for rubbers,” said Roundhand, as quick as thought.
“Not in my house of a Sunday,” said Mrs. R., looking very fierce and angry. “Not a card shall be touched here. Are we in a Protestant land, sir? in a Christian country?”
“My dear, you don’t understand. We were not talking of rubbers of whist.”
“There shall be no game at all in the house of a Sabbath eve,” said Mrs. Roundhand; and out she flounced from the room, without ever so much as wishing us good-night.
“Do stay,” said the husband, looking very much frightened — “do stay. She won’t come back while you’re here; and I do wish you’d stay so.”
But we wouldn’t: and when we reached Salisbury Square, I gave Gus a lecture about spending his Sundays idly; and read out one of Blair’s sermons before we went to bed. As I turned over in bed, I could not help thinking about the luck the pin had brought me; and it was not over yet, as you will see in the next chapter.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00