The misfortune which befell the simple and good-natured young Sackville, arose entirely from that abominable ‘Sarcophagus Club;’ and that he ever entered it was partly the fault of the present writer.
For seeing Mrs. Chuff, his mother-inlaw, had a taste for the genteel —(indeed, her talk was all about Lord Collingwood, Lord Gambier, Sir Jahaleel Brenton, and the Gosport and Plymouth balls)— Wagley and I, according to our wont, trumped her conversation, and talked about Lords, Dukes, Marquises, and Baronets, as if those dignitaries were our familiar friends.
‘Lord Sextonbury,’ says I, ‘seems to have recovered her ladyship’s death. He and the Duke were very jolly over their wine at the “Sarcophagus” last night; weren’t they, Wagley?’
‘Good fellow, the Duke,’ Wagley replied. ‘Pray, ma’am’ (to Mrs. Chuff), ‘you who know the world and etiquette, will you tell me what a man ought to do in my case? Last June, his Grace, his son Lord Castlerampant, Tom Smith, and myself were dining at the Club, when I offered the odds against DADDYLONGLEGS for the Derby — forty to one, in sovereigns only. His Grace took the bet, and of course I won. He has never paid me. Now, can I ask such a great man for a sovereign? — One more lump of sugar, if you please, my dear madam.’
It was lucky Wagley gave her this opportunity to elude the question, for it prostrated the whole worthy family among whom we were. They telegraphed each other with wondering eyes. Mrs. Chuff’s stories about the naval nobility grew quite faint and kind little Mrs. Sackville became uneasy, and went upstairs to look at the children — not at that young monster, Nelson Collingwood, who was sleeping off the whisky-and-water — but at a couple of little ones who had made their appearance at dessert, and of whom she and Sackville were the happy parents.
The end of this and subsequent meetings with Mr. Maine was, that we proposed and got him elected as a member of the ‘Sarcophagus Club.’
It was not done without a deal of opposition — the secret having been whispered that the candidate was a coal-merchant. You may be sure some of the proud people and most of the parvenus of the Club were ready to blackball him. We combated this opposition successfully, however. We pointed out to the parvenus that the Lambtons and the Stuarts sold coals: we mollified the proud by accounts of his good birth, good nature, and good behaviour; and Wagley went about on the day of election, describing with great eloquence, the action between the ‘Pitchfork’ and the ‘Furibonde,’ and the valour of Captain Maine, our friend’s father. There was a slight mistake in the narrative; but we carried our man, with only a trifling sprinkling of black beans in the boxes: Byles’s, of course, who blackballs everybody: and Bung’s, who looks down upon a coal-merchant, having himself lately retired from the wine-trade.
Some fortnight afterwards I saw Sackville Maine under the following circumstances:—
He was showing the Club to his family. He had ‘brought them thither in the light-blue fly, waiting at the Club door; with Mrs. Chuff’s hobbadehoy footboy on the box, by the side of the flyman, in a sham livery. Nelson Collingwood; pretty Mrs. Sackville; Mrs. Captain Chuff (Mrs. Commodore Chuff we call her), were all there; the latter, of course, in the vermilion tabinet, which, splendid as it is, is nothing in comparison to the splendour of the ‘Sarcophagus.’ The delighted Sackville Maine was pointing out the beauties of the place to them. It seemed as beautiful as Paradise to that little party.
The ‘Sarcophagus’ displays every known variety of architecture and decoration. The great library is Elizabethan; the small library is pointed Gothic; the dining-room is severe Doric; the strangers’ room has an Egyptian look; the drawing-rooms are Louis Quatorze (so called because the hideous ornaments displayed were used in the time of Louis Quinze); the CORTILE, or hall, is Morisco-Italian. It is all over marble, maplewood, looking-glasses, arabesques, ormolu, and scagliola. Scrolls, ciphers, dragons, Cupids, polyanthuses, and other flowers writhe up the walls in every kind of cornucopiosity. Fancy every gentleman in Jullien’s band playing with all his might, and each performing a different tune; the ornaments at our Club, the ‘Sarcophagus,’ so bewilder and affect me. Dazzled with emotions which I cannot describe, and which she dared not reveal, Mrs. Chuff, followed by her children and son-inlaw, walked wondering amongst these blundering splendours.
In the great library (225 feet long by 150) the only man Mrs. Chuff saw, was Tiggs. He was lying on a crimson-velvet sofa, reading a French novel of Paul de Kock. It was a very little book. He is a very little man. In that enormous hall he looked like a mere speck. As the ladies passed breathless and trembling in the vastness of the magnificent solitude, he threw a knowing, killing glance at the fair strangers, as much as to say, ‘Ain’t I a fine fellow?’ They thought so, I am sure.
‘WHO IS THAT?’ hisses out Mrs. Chuff, when we were about fifty yards off him at the other end of the room.
‘Tiggs!’ says I, in a similar whisper.
‘Pretty comfortable this, isn’t it, my dear?’ says Maine in a free-and-easy way to Mrs. Sackville; ‘all the magazines, you see — writing materials — new works — choice library, containing every work of importance — what have we here? —“Dugdale’s Monasticon,” a most valuable and, I believe, entertaining book.’
And proposing to take down one of the books for Mrs. Maine’s inspection, he selected Volume VII., to which he was attracted by the singular fact that a brass door-handle grew out of the back. Instead of pulling out a book, however, he pulled open a cupboard, only inhabited by a lazy housemaid’s broom and duster, at which he looked exceedingly discomfited; while Nelson Collingwood, losing all respect, burst into a roar of laughter.
‘That’s the rummest book I ever saw,’ says Nelson. ‘I wish we’d no others at Merchant Taylors’.’
‘Hush, Nelson!’ cries Mrs. Chuff, and we went into the other magnificent apartments.
How they did admire the drawing-room hangings, (pink and silver brocade, most excellent wear for London,) and calculated the price per yard; and revelled on the luxurious sofas; and gazed on the immeasurable looking-glasses.
‘Pretty well to shave by, eh?’ says Maine to his mother-inlaw. (He was getting more abominably conceited every minute.) ‘Get away, Sackville,’ says she, quite delighted, and threw a glance over her shoulder, and spread out the wings of the red tabinet, and took a good look at herself; so did Mrs. Sackville — just one, and I thought the glass reflected a very smiling, pretty creature.
But what’s a woman at a looking-glass? Bless the little dears, it’s their place. They fly to it naturally. It pleases them, and they adorn it. What I like to see, and watch with increasing joy and adoration, is the Club MEN at the great looking-glasses. Old Gills pushing up his collars and grinning at his own mottled face. Hulker looking solemnly at his great person, and tightening his coat to give himself a waist. Fred Minchin simpering by as he is going out to dine, and casting upon the reflection of his white neckcloth a pleased moony smile. What a deal of vanity that Club mirror has reflected, to be sure!
Well, the ladies went through the whole establishment with perfect pleasure. They beheld the coffee-rooms, and the little tables laid for dinner, and the gentlemen who were taking their lunch, and old Jawkins thundering away as usual; they saw the reading-rooms, and the rush for the evening papers; they saw the kitchens — those wonders of art — where the CHEF was presiding over twenty pretty kitchen-maids, and ten thousand shining saucepans: and they got into the light-blue fly perfectly bewildered with pleasure.
Sackville did not enter it, though little Laura took the back seat on purpose, and left him the front place alongside of Mrs. Chuff’s red tabinet.
‘We have your favourite dinner,’ says she, in a timid voice; ‘won’t you come, Sackville?’
‘I shall take a chop here today, my dear,’ Sackville replied. ‘Home, James.’ And he went up the steps of the ‘Sarcophagus,’ and the pretty face looked very sad out of the carriage, as the blue fly drove away.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00