The Book of Snobs, by William Makepeace Thackeray

Chapter xxxv

Snobs and Marriage

Punctual to the hour —(by the way, I cannot omit to mark down my hatred, scorn, and indignation towards those miserable Snobs who come to dinner at nine when they are asked at eight, in order to make a sensation in the company. May the loathing of honest folks, the backbiting of others, the curses of cooks, pursue these wretches, and avenge the society on which they trample!)— Punctual, I say, to the hour of five, which Mr. and Mrs. Raymond Gray had appointed, a youth of an elegant appearance, in a neat evening-dress, whose trim whiskers indicated neatness, whose light step denoted activity (for in sooth he was hungry, and always is at the dinner hour, whatsoever that hour may be), and whose rich golden hair, curling down his shoulders, was set off by a perfectly new four-and-ninepenny silk hat, was seen wending his way down Bittlestone Street, Bittlestone Square, Gray’s Inn. The person in question, I need not say, was Mr. Snob. HE was never late when invited to dine. But to proceed my narrative:—

Mr. Snob may have flattered himself that he made a sensation as he strutted down Bittlestone with his richly gilt knobbed cane (and indeed I vow I saw heads looking at me from Miss Squilsby’s, the brass-plated milliner opposite Raymond Gray’s, who has three silver-paper bonnets, and two fly-blown prints of fashion in the window), yet what was the emotion produced by my arrival, compared to that which the little street thrilled, when at five minutes past five the floss-wigged coachman, the yellow hammer-cloth and flunkeys, the black horses and blazing silver harness of Mr. Goldmore whirled down the street!

It is a very little street, of very little houses, most of them with very large brass plates like Miss Squilsby’s. Coal-merchants, architects and surveyors, two surgeons, a solicitor, a dancing-master, and of course several house-agents, occupy the houses — little two-storeyed edifices with little stucco porticoes. Goldmore’s carriage overtopped the roofs almost; the first floors might shake hands with Croesus as he lolled inside; all the windows of those first floors thronged with children and women in a twinkling. There was Mrs. Hammerly in curl-papers; Mrs. Saxby with her front awry; Mr. Wriggles peering through the gauze curtains, holding the while his hot glass of rum-and-water — in fine, a tremendous commotion in Bittlestone Street, as the Goldmore carriage drove up to Mr. Raymond Gray’s door.

‘How kind it is of him to come with BOTH the footmen!’ says little Mrs. Gray, peeping at the vehicle too. The huge domestic, descending from his perch, gave a rap at the door which almost drove in the building. All the heads were out; the sun was shining; the very organ-boy paused; the footman, the coach, and Goldmore’s red face and white waistcoat were blazing in splendour. The herculean plushed one went back to open the carriage-door.

Raymond Gray opened his — in his shirt-sleeves. He ran up to the carriage. ‘Come in, Goldmore,’ says he; ‘just in time, my boy. Open the door, What-d’ye-call’um, and let your master out,’— and What-d’ye-call’um obeyed mechanically, with a face of wonder and horror, only to be equalled by the look of stupefied astonishment which ornamented the purple countenance of his master.

‘Wawt taim will you please have the CAGE, sir?’ says What-d’ye-call’um, in that peculiar, unspellable, inimitable, flunkefied pronunciation which forms one of the chief charms of existence.

Best have it to the theatre at night,’ Gray exclaims; ‘it is but a step from here to the Wells, and we can walk there. I’ve got tickets for all. Be at Sadler’s Wells at eleven.’

‘Yes, at eleven,’ exclaims Goldmore, perturbedly, and walks with a flurried step into the house, as if he were going to execution (as indeed he was, with that wicked Gray as a Jack Ketch over him). The carriage drove away, followed by numberless eyes from doorsteps and balconies; its appearance is still a wonder in Bittlestone Street.

‘Go in there, and amuse yourself with Snob,’ says Gray, opening the little drawing-room door. ‘I’ll call out as soon as the chops are ready. Fanny’s below, seeing to the pudding.’

‘Gracious mercy!’ says Goldmore to me, quite confidentially, ‘how could he ask us? I really had no idea of this — this utter destitution.’

‘Dinner, dinner!’ roars out Gray, from the diningroom, whence issued a great smoking and frying; and entering that apartment we find Mrs. Gray ready to receive us, and looking perfectly like a Princess who, by some accident, had a bowl of potatoes in her hand, which vegetables she placed on the table. Her husband ‘was meanwhile cooking mutton-chops on a gridiron over the fire.

Fanny has made the roly-poly pudding,’ says he; the chops are my part. Here’s a fine one; try this, Goldmore.’ And he popped a fizzing cutlet on that gentleman’s plate. What words, what notes of exclamation can describe the nabob’s astonishment?

The tablecloth was a very old one, darned in a score places. There was mustard in a teacup, a silver fork for Goldmore — all ours were iron.

‘I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth,’ says Gray, gravely. ‘That fork is the only one we have. Fanny has it generally.’

‘Raymond!’— cries Mrs. Gray, with an imploring face. ‘She was used to better things, you know: and I hope one day to get her a dinner-service. I’m told the electro-plate is uncommonly good. Where the deuce IS that boy with the beer? And now,’ said he, springing up, ‘I’ll be a gentleman.’ And so he put on his coat, and sat down quite gravely, with four fresh mutton-chops which he had by this time broiled.

‘We don’t have meat every day, Mr. Goldmore,’ he continued, ‘and it’s a treat to me to get a dinner like this. You little know, you gentlemen of England, who live at home at ease, what hardships briefless barristers endure.’

‘Gracious mercy!’ says Mr. Goldmore.

‘Where’s the half-and-half? Fanny, go over to the ‘Keys’ and get the beer. Here’s sixpence.’ And what was our astonishment when Fanny got up as if to go!

‘Gracious mercy! let ME,’ cries Goldmore.

‘Not for worlds, my dear sir. She’s used to it. They wouldn’t serve you as well as they serve her. Leave her alone. Law bless you!’ Raymond said, with astounding composure. And Mrs. Gray left the room, and actually came back with a tray on which there was a pewter flagon of beer. Little Polly (to whom, at her christening, I had the honour of presenting a silver mug EX OFFICIO) followed with a couple of tobacco-pipes, and the queerest roguish look in her round little chubby face.

‘Did you speak to Tapling about the gin, Fanny, my dear?’ Gray asked, after bidding Polly put the pipes on the chimney-piece, which that little person had some difficulty in reaching. ‘The last was turpentine, and even your brewing didn’t make good punch of it.’

‘You would hardly suspect, Goldmore, that my wife, a Harley Baker, would ever make gin-punch? I think my mother-inlaw would commit suicide if she saw her.’

‘Don’t be always laughing at mamma, Raymond,’ says Mrs. Gray.

‘Well, well, she wouldn’t die, and I DON’T wish she would. And you don’t make gin-punch, and you don’t like it either and — Goldmore do you drink your beer out of the glass, or out of the pewter?’

‘Gracious mercy!’ ejaculates Croesus once more, as little Polly, taking the pot with both her little bunches of hands, offers it, smiling, to that astonished Director.

And so, in a word, the dinner commenced, and was presently ended in a similar fashion. Gray pursued his unfortunate guest with the most queer and outrageous description of his struggles, misery, and poverty. He described how he cleaned the knives when they were first married; and how he used to drag the children in a little cart; how his wife could toss pancakes; and what parts of his dress she made. He told Tibbits, his clerk (who was in fact the functionary who had brought the beer from the public-house, which Mrs. Fanny had fetched from the neighbouring apartment)— to fetch ‘the bottle of port-wine,’ when the dinner was over; and told Goldmore as wonderful a history about the way in which that bottle of wine had come into his hands as any of his former stories had been. When the repast was all over, and it was near time to move to the play, and Mrs. Gray had retired, and we were sitting ruminating rather silently over the last glasses of the port, Gray suddenly breaks the silence by slapping Goldmore on the shoulder, and saying, ‘Now, Goldmore, tell me something.’

‘What?’ asks Croesus.

‘Haven’t you had a good dinner?’

Goldmore started, as if a sudden truth had just dawned upon him. He HAD had a good dinner; and didn’t know it until then. The three mutton-chops consumed by him were best of the mutton kind; the potatoes were perfect of their order; as for the rolypoly, it was too good. The porter was frothy and cool, and the port-wine was worthy of the gills of a bishop. I speak with ulterior views; for there is more in Gray’s cellar.

‘Well,’ says Goldmore, after a pause, during which he took time to consider the momentous question Gray put to him —’ ‘Pon my word — now you say so — I— I have — I really have had a monsous good dinnah — monsous good, upon my ward! Here’s your health, Gray my boy, and your amiable lady; and when Mrs. Goldmore comes back, I hope we shall see you more in Portland Place.’ And with this the time came for the play, and we went to see Mr. Phelps at Sadler’s Wells. The best of this story (for the truth of every word of which I pledge my honour) is, that after this banquet, which Goldmore enjoyed so, the honest fellow felt a prodigious compassion and regard for the starving and miserable giver of the feast, and determined to help him in his profession. And being a Director of the newly-established Antibilious Life Assurance Company, he has had Gray appointed Standing Counsel, with a pretty annual fee; and only yesterday, in an appeal from Bombay (Buckmuckjee Bobbachee v. Ramchowder-Bahawder) in the Privy Council, Lord Brougham complimented Mr. Gray, who was in the case, on his curious and exact knowledge of the Sanscrit language.

Whether he knows Sanscrit or not, I can’t say; but Goldmore got him the business; and so I cannot help having a lurking regard for that pompous old Bigwig.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00