In Steyne Gardens, Brighton, the lodging-houses are among the most frequented in that city of lodging-houses. These mansions have bow-windows in front, bulging out with gentle prominences, and ornamented with neat verandahs, from which you can behold the tide of humankind as it flows up and down the Steyne, and that blue ocean over which Britannia is said to rule, stretching brightly away eastward and westward. The chain-pier, as every body knows, runs intrepidly into the sea, which sometimes, in fine weather, bathes its feet with laughing wavelets, and anon, on stormy days, dashes over its sides with roaring foam. Here, for the sum of twopence, you can go out to sea and pace this vast deck without need of a steward with a basin. You can watch the sun setting in splendour over Worthing, or illuminating with its rising glories the ups and downs of Rottingdean. You see the citizen with his family inveigled into the shallops of the mercenary native mariner, and fancy that the motion cannot be pleasant; and how the hirer of the boat, otium et oppidi laudat rura sui, haply sighs for ease, and prefers Richmond or Hampstead. You behold a hundred bathing-machines put to sea; and your naughty fancy depicts the beauties splashing under their white awnings. Along the rippled sands (stay, are they rippled sands or shingly beach?) the prawn-boy seeks the delicious material of your breakfast. Breakfast-meal in London almost unknown, greedily devoured in Brighton! In yon vessels now nearing the shore the sleepless mariner has ventured forth to seize the delicate whiting, the greedy and foolish mackerel, and the homely sole. Hark to the twanging horn! it is the early coach going out to London. Your eye follows it, and rests on the pinnacles built by the beloved GEORGE. See the worn-out London roue pacing the pier, inhaling the sea air, and casting furtive glances under the bonnets of the pretty girls who trot here before lessons! Mark the bilious lawyer, escaped for a day from Pump Court, and sniffing the fresh breezes before he goes back to breakfast and a bag full of briefs at the Albion! See that pretty string of prattling schoolgirls, from the chubby-cheeked, flaxen-headed little maiden just toddling by the side of the second teacher, to the arch damsel of fifteen, giggling and conscious of her beauty, whom Miss Griffin, the stern head-governess, awfully reproves! See Tomkins with a telescope and marine jacket; young Nathan and young Abrams, already bedizened in jewellery, and rivalling the sun in oriental splendour; yonder poor invalid crawling along in her chair; yonder jolly fat lady examining the Brighton pebbles (I actually once saw a lady buy one), and her children wondering at the sticking-plaister portraits with gold hair, and gold stocks, and prodigious high-heeled boots, miracles of art, and cheap at seven-and-sixpence! It is the fashion to run down George IV., but what myriads of Londoners ought to thank him for inventing Brighton! One of the best of physicians our city has ever known, is kind, cheerful, merry Doctor Brighton. Hail, thou purveyor of shrimps and honest prescriber of Southdown mutton! There is no mutton so good as Brighton mutton; no flys so pleasant as Brighton flys; nor any cliff so pleasant to ride on; no shops so beautiful to look at as the Brighton gimcrack shops, and the fruit shops, and the market. I fancy myself in Mrs. Honeyman’s lodgings in Steyne Gardens, and in enjoyment of all these things.
If the gracious reader has had losses in life, losses not so bad as to cause absolute want, or inflict upon him or her the bodily injury of starvation, let him confess that the evils of this poverty are by no means so great as his timorous fancy depicted. Say your money has been invested in West Diddlesex bonds, or other luckless speculations — the news of the smash comes; you pay your outlying bills with the balance at the banker’s; you assemble your family and make them a fine speech; the wife of your bosom goes round and embraces the sons and daughters seriatim; nestling in your own waistcoat finally, in possession of which, she says (with tender tears and fond quotations from Holy Writ, God bless her!), and of the darlings round about, lies all her worldly treasure: the weeping servants are dismissed, their wages paid in full, and with a present of prayer — and hymn-books from their mistress; your elegant house in Harley Street is to let, and you subside into lodgings in Pentonville, or Kensington, or Brompton. How unlike the mansion where you paid taxes and distributed elegant hospitality for so many years!
You subside into lodgings, I say, and you find yourself very tolerably comfortable. I am not sure that in her heart your wife is not happier than in what she calls her happy days. She will be somebody hereafter: she was nobody in Harley Street: that is, everybody else in her visiting-book, take the names all round, was as good as she. They had the very same entrees, plated ware, men to wait, etc., at all the houses where you visited in the street. Your candlesticks might be handsomer (and indeed they had a very fine effect upon the dinner-table), but then Mr. Jones’s silver (or electro-plated) dishes were much finer. You had more carriages at your door on the evening of your delightful soirees than Mrs. Brown (there is no phrase more elegant, and to my taste, than that in which people are described as “seeing a great deal of carriage company”); but yet Mrs. Brown, from the circumstance of her being a baronet’s niece, took precedence of your dear wife at most tables. Hence the latter charming woman’s scorn at the British baronetcy, and her many jokes at the order. In a word, and in the height of your social prosperity, there was always a lurking dissatisfaction, and a something bitter, in the midst of the fountain of delights at which you were permitted to drink.
There is no good (unless your taste is that way) in living in a society where you are merely the equal of everybody else. Many people give themselves extreme pains to frequent company where all around them are their superiors, and where, do what you will, you must be subject to continual mortification —(as, for instance, when Marchioness X. forgets you, and you can’t help thinking that she cuts you on purpose; when Duchess Z. passes by in her diamonds, etc.). The true pleasure of life is to live with your inferiors. Be the cock of your village; the queen of your coterie; and, besides very great persons, the people whom Fate has specially endowed with this kindly consolation are those who have seen what are called better days — those who have had losses. I am like Caesar, and of a noble mind: if I cannot be first in Piccadilly, let me try Hatton Garden, and see whether I cannot lead the ton there. If I cannot take the lead at White’s or the Travellers’, let me be president of the Jolly Bandboys at the Bag of Nails, and blackball everybody who does not pay me honour. If my darling Bessy cannot go out of a drawing-room until a baronet’s niece (ha! ha! a baronet’s niece, forsooth!) has walked before her, let us frequent company where we shall be the first; and how can we be the first unless we select our inferiors for our associates? This kind of pleasure is to be had by almost everybody, and at scarce any cost. With a shilling’s-worth of tea and muffins you can get as much adulation and respect as many people cannot purchase with a thousand pounds’ worth of plate and profusion, hired footmen, turning their houses topsy-turvy, and suppers from Gunter’s. Adulation! — why, the people who come to you give as good parties as you do. Respect! — the very menials, who wait behind your supper-table, waited at a duke’s yesterday, and actually patronise you! O you silly spendthrift! you can buy flattery for twopence, and you spend ever so much money in entertaining your equals and betters, and nobody admires you!
Now Aunt Honeyman was a woman of a thousand virtues; cheerful, frugal, honest, laborious, charitable, good-humoured, truth-telling, devoted to her family, capable of any sacrifice for those she loved; and when she came to have losses of money, Fortune straightway compensated her by many kindnesses which no income can supply. The good old lady admired the word gentlewoman of all others in the English vocabulary, and made all around her feel that such was her rank. Her mother’s father was a naval captain; her father had taken pupils, got a living, sent his son to college, dined with the squire, published his volume of sermons, was liked in his parish, where Miss Honeyman kept house for him, was respected for his kindness and famous for his port wine; and so died, leaving about two hundred pounds a year to his two children, nothing to Clive Newcome’s mother who had displeased him by her first marriage (an elopement with Ensign Casey) and subsequent light courses. Charles Honeyman spent his money elegantly in wine-parties at Oxford, and afterwards in foreign travel; — spent his money and as much of Miss Honeyman’s as that worthy soul would give him. She was a woman of spirit and resolution. She brought her furniture to Brighton (believing that the whole place still fondly remembered her grandfather, Captain Nokes, who had resided there and his gallantry in Lord Rodney’s action with the Count de Grasse), took a house, and let the upper floors to lodgers.
The little brisk old lady brought a maid-servant out of the country with her, who was daughter to her father’s clerk, and had learned her letters and worked her first sampler under Miss Honeyman’s own eye, whom she adored all through her life. No Indian begum rolling in wealth, no countess mistress of castles and townhouses, ever had such a faithful toady as Hannah Hicks was to her mistress. Under Hannah was a young lady from the workhouse, who called Hannah “Mrs. Hicks, mum,” and who bowed in awe as much before that domestic as Hannah did before Miss Honeyman. At five o’clock in summer, at seven in winter (for Miss Honeyman, a good economist, was chary of candlelight), Hannah woke up little Sally, and these three women rose. I leave you to imagine what a row there was in the establishment if Sally appeared with flowers under her bonnet, gave signs of levity or insubordination, prolonged her absence when sent forth for the beer, or was discovered in flirtation with the baker’s boy or the grocer’s young man. Sally was frequently renewed. Miss Honeyman called all her young persons Sally; and a great number of Sallies were consumed in her house. The qualities of the Sally for the time-being formed a constant and delightful subject of conversation between Hannah and her mistress. The few friends who visited Miss Honeyman in her back-parlour had their Sallies, in discussing whose peculiarities of disposition these good ladies passed the hours agreeably over their tea.
Many persons who let lodgings in Brighton have been servants themselves — are retired housekeepers, tradesfolk, and the like. With these surrounding individuals Hannah treated on a footing of equality, bringing to her mistress accounts of their various goings on; “how No. 6 was let; how No. 9 had not paid his rent again; how the first floor at 27 had game almost every day, and made-dishes from Mutton’s; how the family who had taken Mrs. Bugsby’s had left as usual after the very first night, the poor little infant blistered all over with bites on its little dear face; how the Miss Learys was going on shameful with the two young men, actially in their setting-room, mum, where one of them offered Miss Laura Leary a cigar; how Mrs. Cribb still went cuttin’ pounds and pounds of meat off the lodgers’ jints, emptying their tea-caddies, actially reading their letters. Sally had been told so by Polly the Cribb’s maid, who was kep, how that poor child was kep, hearing language perfectly hawful!” These tales and anecdotes, not altogether redounding to their neighbours’ credit, Hannah copiously collected and brought to her mistress’s tea-table, or served at her frugal little supper when Miss Honeyman, the labours of the day over, partook of that cheerful meal. I need not say that such horrors as occurred at Mrs. Bugsby’s never befell in Mrs. Honeyman’s establishment. Every room was fiercely swept and sprinkled, and watched by cunning eyes which nothing could escape; curtains were taken down, mattresses explored, every bone in bed dislocated and washed as soon as a lodger took his departure. And as for cribbing meat or sugar, Sally might occasionally abstract a lump or two, or pop a veal-cutlet into her mouth while bringing the dishes downstairs:— Sallies would — giddy creatures bred in workhouses; but Hannah might be entrusted with untold gold and uncorked brandy; and Miss Honeyman would as soon think of cutting a slice off Hannah’s nose and devouring it, as of poaching on her lodgers’ mutton. The best mutton-broth, the best veal-cutlets, the best necks of mutton and French beans, the best fried fish and plumpest partridges, in all Brighton, were to be had at Miss Honeyman’s — and for her favourites the best Indian curry and rice, coming from a distinguished relative, at present an officer in Bengal. But very few were admitted to this mark of Miss Honeyman’s confidence. If a family did not go to church they were not in favour: if they went to a Dissenting meeting she had no opinion of them at all. Once there came to her house a quiet Staffordshire family who ate no meat on Fridays, and whom Miss Honeyman pitied as belonging to the Romish superstition; but when they were visited by two corpulent gentlemen in black, one of whom wore a purple underwaistcoat, before whom the Staffordshire lady absolutely sank down on her knees as he went into the drawing-room — Miss Honeyman sternly gave warning to these idolaters. She would have no Jesuits in her premises. She showed Hannah the picture in Howell’s Medulla of the martyrs burning at Smithfield: who said, “Lord bless you, mum,” and hoped it was a long time ago. She called on the curate: and many and many a time, for years after, pointed out to her friends, and sometimes to her lodgers, the spot on the carpet where the poor benighted creature had knelt down. So she went on, respected by all her friends, by all her tradesmen, by herself not a little, talking of her previous “misfortunes” with amusing equanimity; as if her father’s parsonage-house had been a palace of splendour, and the one-horse chaise (with the lamps for evenings) from which she had descended, a noble equipage. “But I know it is for the best, Clive,” she would say to her nephew in describing those grandeurs, “and, thank heaven, can be resigned in that station in life to which it has pleased God to call me.”
The good lady was called the Duchess by her fellow-tradesfolk in the square in which she lived. (I don’t know what would have come to her had she been told she was a tradeswoman!) Her butchers, bakers, and market-people paid her as much respect as though she had been a grandee’s housekeeper out of Kemp Town. Knowing her station, she yet was kind to those inferior beings. She held affable conversations with them, she patronised Mr. Rogers, who was said to be worth a hundred thousand — two-hundred-thousand pounds (or lbs. was it?), and who said, “Law bless the old Duchess, she do make as much of a pound of veal cutlet as some would of a score of bullocks, but you see she’s a lady born and a lady bred: she’d die before she’d owe a farden, and she’s seen better days, you know.” She went to see the grocer’s wife on an interesting occasion, and won the heart of the family by tasting their candle. Her fishmonger (it was fine to hear her talk of “my fishmonger”) would sell her a whiting as respectfully as if she had called for a dozen turbots and lobsters. It was believed by those good folks that her father had been a Bishop at the very least; and the better days which she had known were supposed to signify some almost unearthly prosperity. “I have always found, Hannah,” the simple soul would say, “that people know their place, or can be very very easily made to find it if they lose it; and if a gentlewoman does not forget herself, her inferiors will not forget that she is a gentlewoman.” “No indeed, mum, and I’m sure they would do no such thing, mum,” says Hannah, who carries away the teapot for her own breakfast (to be transmitted to Sally for her subsequent refection), whilst her mistress washes her cup and saucer, as her mother had washed her own china many scores of years ago.
If some of the surrounding lodging-house keepers, as I have no doubt they did, disliked the little Duchess for the airs which she gave herself, as they averred; they must have envied her too her superior prosperity, for there was scarcely ever a card in her window, whilst those ensigns in her neighbours’ houses would remain exposed to the flies and the weather, and disregarded by passers-by for months together. She had many regular customers, or what should be rather called constant friends. Deaf old Mr. Cricklade came every winter for fourteen years, and stopped until the hunting was over; an invaluable man, giving little trouble, passing all day on horseback, and all night over his rubber at the club. The Misses Barkham, Barkhambury, Tunbridge Wells, whose father had been at college with Mr. Honeyman, came regularly in June for sea air, letting Barkhambury for the summer season. Then, for many years, she had her nephew, as we have seen; and kind recommendations from the clergymen of Brighton, and a constant friend in the celebrated Dr. Goodenough of London. who had been her father’s private pupil, and of his college afterwards, who sent his patients from time to time down to her, and his fellow-physician, Dr. H— — who on his part would never take any fee from Miss Honeyman, except a packet of India curry-powder, a ham cured as she only knew how to cure them, and once a year, or so, a dish of her tea.
“Was there ever such luck as that confounded old Duchess’s?” says Mr. Gawler, coal-merchant and lodging-house keeper, next door but two, whose apartments were more odious in some respects than Mrs. Bugsby’s own. “Was there ever such devil’s own luck, Mrs. G.? It’s only a fortnight ago as I read in the Sussex Advertiser the death of Miss Barkham, of Barkhambury, Tunbridge Wells, and thinks I, there’s a spoke in your wheel, you stuck-up little old Duchess, with your cussed airs and impudence. And she ain’t put her card up three days; and look yere, yere’s two carriages, two maids, three children, one of them wrapped up in a Hinjar shawl — man hout a livery — looks like a foring cove I think — lady in satin pelisse, and of course they go to the Duchess, be hanged to her! Of course it’s our luck, nothing ever was like our luck. I’m blowed if I don’t put a pistol to my ‘ead, and end it, Mrs. G. There they go in-three, four, six, seven on ’em, and the man. That’s the precious child’s physic I suppose he’s a-carryin’ in the basket. Just look at the luggage. I say! There’s a bloody hand on the first carriage. It’s a baronet, is it? I ‘ope your ladyship’s very well; and I ‘ope Sir John will soon be down yere to join his family.” Mr. Gawler makes sarcastic bows over the card in his bow-window whilst making this speech. The little Gawlers rush on to the drawing-room verandah themselves to examine the new arrivals.
“This is Mrs. Honeyman’s?” asks the gentleman designated by Mr. Gawler as “the foring cove,” and hands in a card on which the words, “Miss Honeyman, 110, Steyne Gardens. J. Goodenough,” are written in that celebrated physician’s handwriting. “We want five bet-rooms, six bets, two or dree sitting-rooms. Have you got dese?”
“Will you speak to my mistress?” says Hannah. And if it is a fact that Miss Honeyman does happen to be in the front parlour looking at the carriages, what harm is there in the circumstance, pray? Is not Gawler looking, and the people next door? Are not half a dozen little boys already gathered in the street (as if they started up out of the trap-doors for the coals), and the nursery maids in the stunted little garden, are not they looking through the bars of the square? “Please to speak to mistress,” says Hannah, opening the parlour-door, and with a curtsey, “A gentleman about the apartments, mum.”
“Five bet-rooms,” says the man, entering. “Six bets, two or dree sitting-rooms? We gome from Dr. Goodenough.”
“Are the apartments for you, sir?” says the little Duchess, looking up at the large gentleman.
“For my lady,” answers the man.
“Had you not better take off your hat?” asks the Duchess, pointing out of one of her little mittens to “the foring cove’s” beaver, which he has neglected to remove.
The man grins, and takes off the hat. “I beck your bardon, ma’am,” says he. “Have you fife bet-rooms?” etc. The doctor has cured the German of an illness, as well as his employers, and especially recommended Miss Honeyman to Mr. Kuhn.
“I have such a number of apartments. My servant will show them to you.” And she walks back with great state to her chair by the window, and resumes her station and work there.
Mr. Kuhn reports to his mistress, who descends to inspect the apartments, accompanied through them by Hannah. The rooms are pronounced to be exceedingly neat and pleasant, and exactly what are wanted for the family. The baggage is forthwith ordered to be brought from the carriages. The little invalid wrapped in his shawl is brought upstairs by the affectionate Mr. Kuhn, who carries him as gently as if he had been bred all his life to nurse babies. The smiling Sally (the Sally for the time-being happens to be a very fresh pink-cheeked pretty little Sally) emerges from the kitchen and introduces the young ladies, the governess, the maids, to their apartments. The eldest, a slim black-haired young lass of thirteen, frisks about the rooms, looks at all the pictures, runs in and out of the verandah, tries the piano, and bursts out laughing at its wheezy jingle (it had been poor Emma’s piano, bought for her on her seventeenth birthday, three weeks before she ran away with the ensign; her music is still in the stand by it: the Rev. Charles Honeyman has warbled sacred melodies over it, and Miss Honeyman considers it a delightful instrument), kisses her languid little brother laid on the sofa, and performs a hundred gay and agile motions suited to her age.
“Oh, what a piano! Why, it is as cracked as Miss Quigley’s voice!”
“My dear!” says mamma. The little languid boy bursts out into a jolly laugh.
“What funny pictures, mamma! Action with Count de Grasse; the death of General Wolfe; a portrait of an officer, an old officer in blue, like grandpapa; Brazen Nose College, Oxford: what a funny name!”
At the idea of Brazen Nose College, another laugh comes from the invalid. “I suppose they’ve all got brass noses there,” he says; and explodes at this joke. The poor little laugh ends in a cough, and mamma’s travelling-basket, which contains everything, produces a bottle of syrup, labelled “Master A. Newcome. A teaspoonful to be taken when the cough is troublesome.”
“‘Oh, the delightful sea! the blue, the fresh, the ever free,’” sings the young lady, with a shake. (I suppose the maritime song from which she quoted was just written at this time.) “How much better this is than going home and seeing those horrid factories and chimneys! I love Doctor Goodenough for sending us here. What a sweet house it is! Everybody is happy in it, even Miss Quigley is happy, mamma. What nice rooms! What pretty chintz! What a — oh, what a — comfortable sofa!” and she falls down on the sofa, which, truth to say, was the Rev. Charles Honeyman’s luxurious sofa from Oxford, presented to him by young Cibber Wright of Christchurch, when that gentleman-commoner was eliminated from the University.
“The person of the house,” mamma says, “hardly comes up to Dr. Goodenough’s description of her. He says he remembers her a pretty little woman when her father was his private tutor.”
“She has grown very much since,” says the girl. And an explosion takes place from the sofa, where the little man is always ready to laugh at any joke, or anything like a joke, uttered by himself or by any of his family or friends. As for Doctor Goodenough, he says laughing has saved that boy’s life.
“She looks quite like a maid,” continues the lady. “She has hard hands, and she called me mum always. I was quite disappointed in her.” And she subsides into a novel, with many of which kind of works, and with other volumes, and with workboxes, and with wonderful inkstands, portfolios, portable days of the month, scent-bottles, scissor-cases, gilt miniature easels displaying portraits, and countless gimcracks of travel, the rapid Kuhn has covered the tables in the twinkling of an eye.
The person supposed to be the landlady enters the room at this juncture, and the lady rises to receive her. The little wag on the sofa puts his arm round his sister’s neck, and whispers, “I say, Eth, isn’t she a pretty girl? I shall write to Doctor Goodenough and tell him how much she’s grown.” Convulsions follow this sally, to the surprise of Hannah, who says, “Pooty little dear! — what time will he have his dinner, mum?”
“Thank you, Mrs. Honeyman, at two o’clock,” says the lady with a bow of her head. “There is a clergyman of your name in London; is he a relation?” The lady in her turn is astonished, for the tall person breaks out into a grin, and says, “Law, mum, you’re speakin’ of Master Charles. He’s in London.”
“Indeed! — of Master Charles?”
“And you take me for missis, mum. I beg your pardon, mum,” cries Hannah. The invalid hits his sister in the side with a weak little fist. If laughter can cure, salva est res. Doctor Goodenough’s patient is safe. “Master Charles is missis’s brother, mum. I’ve got no brother, mum — never had no brother. Only one son, who’s in the police, mum, thank you. And law bless me, I was going to forget! If you please, mum, missis says, if you are quite rested, she will pay her duty to you, mum.”
“Oh, indeed,” says the lady, rather stiffly; and, taking this for an acceptance of her mistress’s visit, Hannah retires.
“This Miss Honeyman seems to be a great personage,” says the lady. “If people let lodgings, why do they give themselves such airs?”
“We never saw Monsieur de Boigne at Boulogne, mamma,” interposes the girl.
“Monsieur de Boigne, my dear Ethel! Monsieur de Boigne is very well. But —” here the door opens, and in a large cap bristling with ribbons, with her best chestnut front, and her best black silk gown, on which her gold watch shines very splendidly, little Miss Honeyman makes her appearance, and a dignified curtsey to her lodger.
That lady vouchsafes a very slight inclination of the head indeed, which she repeats when Miss Honeyman says, “I am glad to hear your ladyship is pleased with the apartments.”
“Yes, they will do very well, thank you,” answers the latter person, gravely.
“And they have such a beautiful view of the sea!” cries Ethel.
“As if all the houses hadn’t a view of the sea, Ethel! The price has been arranged, I think? My servants will require a comfortable room to dine in-by themselves, ma’am, if you please. My governess and the younger children will dine together. My daughter dines with me — and my little boy’s dinner will be ready at two o’clock precisely, if you please. It is now near one.”
“Am I to understand ——” interposed Miss Honeyman.
“Oh! I have no doubt we shall understand each other, ma’am,” cried Lady Anne Newcome (whose noble presence the acute reader has no doubt ere this divined and saluted). “Doctor Goodenough has given me a most satisfactory account of you — more satisfactory perhaps than — than you are aware of.” Perhaps Lady Anne’s sentence was not going to end in a very satisfactory way for Miss Honeyman; but, awed by a peculiar look of resolution in the little lady, her lodger of an hour paused in whatever offensive remark she might have been about to make. “It is as well that I at last have the pleasure of seeing you, that I may state what I want, and that we may, as you say, understand each other. Breakfast and tea, if you please, will be served in the same manner as dinner. And you will have the kindness to order fresh milk every morning for my little boy — ass’s milk — Doctor Goodenough has ordered ass’s milk. Anything further I want I will communicate through the person who spoke to you — Kuhn, Mr. Kuhn; and that will do.”
A heavy shower of rain was descending at this moment, and little Mrs. Honeyman looking at her lodger, who had sate down and taken up her book, said, “Have your ladyship’s servants unpacked your trunks?”
“What on earth, madam, have you — has that to do with the question?”
“They will be put to the trouble of packing again, I fear. I cannot provide — three times five are fifteen — fifteen separate meals for seven persons — besides those of my own family. If your servants cannot eat with mine, or in my kitchen, they and their mistress must go elsewhere. And the sooner the better, madam, the sooner the better!” says Mrs. Honeyman, trembling with indignation, and sitting down in a chair spreading her silks.
“Do you know who I am?” asks Lady Anne, rising.
“Perfectly well, madam,” says the other. “And had I known, you should never have come into my house, that’s more.”
“Madam!” cries the lady, on which the poor little invalid, scared and nervous, and hungry for his dinner, began to cry from his sofa.
“It will be a pity that the dear little boy should be disturbed. Dear little child, I have often heard of him, and of you, miss,” says the little householder, rising. “I will get you some dinner, my dear, for Clive’s sake. And meanwhile your ladyship will have the kindness to seek for some other apartments — for not a bit shall my fire cook for any one else of your company.” And with this the indignant little landlady sailed out of the room.
“Gracious goodness! Who is the woman?” cries Lady Anne. “I never was so insulted in my life.”
“Oh, mamma, it was you began!” says downright Ethel. “That is — Hush, Alfred dear! — Hush, my darling!”
“Oh, it was mamma began! I’m so hungry! I’m so hungry!” howled the little man on the sofa — or off it rather — for he was now down on the ground, kicking away the shawls which enveloped him.
“What is it, my boy? What is it, my blessed darling? You shall have your dinner! Give her all, Ethel. There are the keys of my desk — there’s my watch — there are my rings. Let her take my all. The monster! the child must live! It can’t go away in such a storm as this. Give me a cloak, a parasol, anything — I’ll go forth and get a lodging. I’ll beg my bread from house to house — if this fiend refuses me. Eat the biscuits, dear! A little of the syrup, Alfred darling; it’s very nice, love! and come to your old mother — your poor old mother.”
Alfred roared out, “No — it’s not n-ice: it’s n-a-a-asty! I won’t have syrup. I will have dinner.” The mother, whose embraces the child repelled with infantine kicks, plunged madly at the bells, rang them all four vehemently, and ran downstairs towards the parlour, whence Miss Honeyman was issuing.
The good lady had not at first known the names of her lodgers, but had taken them in willingly enough on Dr. Goodenough’s recommendation. And it was not until one of the nurses entrusted with the care of Master Alfred’s dinner informed Miss Honeyman of the name of her guest, that she knew she was entertaining Lady Anne Newcome; and that the pretty girl was the fair Miss Ethel; the little sick boy, the little Alfred of whom his cousin spoke, and of whom Clive had made a hundred little drawings in his rude way, as he drew everybody. Then bidding Sally run off to St. James’s Street for a chicken — she saw it put on the spit, and prepared a bread sauce, and composed a batter-pudding as she only knew how to make batter-puddings. Then she went to array herself in her best clothes, as we have seen — as we have heard rather (Goodness forbid that we should see Miss Honeyman arraying herself, or penetrate that chaste mystery, her toilette!)— then she came to wait upon Lady Anne, not a little flurried as to the result of that queer interview; then she whisked out of the drawing-room as before has been shown; and, finding the chicken roasted to a turn, the napkin and tray ready spread by Hannah the neat-handed, she was bearing them up to the little patient when the frantic parent met her on the stair.
“Is it — is it for my child?” cried Lady Anne, reeling against the bannister.
“Yes, it’s for the child,” says Miss Honeyman, tossing up her head. “But nobody else has anything in the house.”
“God bless you — God bless you! A mother’s bl-l-essings go with you,” gurgled the lady, who was not, it must be confessed, a woman of strong moral character.
It was good to see the little man eating the fowl. Ethel, who had never cut anything in her young existence, except her fingers now and then with her brother’s and her governess’s penknives, bethought her of asking Miss Honeyman to carve the chicken. Lady Anne, with clasped hands and streaming eyes, sate looking on at the ravishing scene.
“Why did you not let us know you were Clive’s aunt?” Ethel asked, putting out her hand. The old lady took hers very kindly, and said, “Because you didn’t give me time. And do you love Clive, my dear?”
The reconciliation between Miss Honeyman and her lodger was perfect. Lady Anne wrote a quire of notepaper off to Sir Brian for that day’s post — only she was too late, as she always was. Mr. Kuhn perfectly delighted Miss Honeyman that evening by his droll sayings, jokes, and pronunciation, and by his praises of Master Glife, as he called him. He lived out of the house, did everything for everybody, was never out of the way when wanted, and never in the way when not wanted. Ere long Miss Honeyman got out a bottle of the famous Madeira which her Colonel sent her, and treated him to a glass in her own room. Kuhn smacked his lips and held out the glass again. The honest rogue knew good wine.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00