‘Well, Linda was right,’ said Mrs. Woodward, ‘it does begin with poetry.’
‘It’s only a song,’ said Charley, apologetically —‘and after all there is only one verse of that’— and then Mrs. Woodward began
“CRINOLINE AND MACASSAR.”
‘Ladies and gentlemen, that is the name of Mr. Charles Tudor’s new novel.’
‘Crinoline and Macassar!’ said Uncle Bat. ‘Are they intended for human beings’ names?’
‘They are the heroine and the hero, as I take it,’ said Mrs. Woodward, ‘and I presume them to be human, unless they turn out to be celestial.’
‘I never heard such names in my life,’ said the captain.
‘At any rate, uncle, they are as good as Sir Jib Boom and Captain Hardaport,’ said Katie, pertly.
‘We won’t mind about that,’ said Mrs. Woodward; ‘I’m going to begin, and I beg I may not be interrupted.’
“CRINOLINE AND MACASSAR.”
“The lovely Crinoline was sitting alone at a lattice window on a summer morning, and as she sat she sang with melancholy cadence the first part of the now celebrated song which had then lately appeared, from the distinguished pen of Sir G— H — ”
‘Who is Sir G— H — Charley?’
‘Oh, it wouldn’t do for me to tell that,’ said Charley. ‘That must be left to the tact and intelligence of my readers.’
‘Oh, very well,’ said Mrs. Woodward, ‘we will abstain from all impertinent questions’—‘from the distinguished pen of Sir G— H—. The ditty which she sang ran as follows:—
My heart’s at my office, my heart is always there —
My heart’s at my office, docketing with care;
Docketing the papers, and copying all day,
My heart’s at my office, though I be far away.
“‘Ah me!’ said the Lady Crinoline —”
‘What — is she a peer’s daughter?’ said Uncle Bat.
‘Not exactly,’ said Charley, ‘it’s only a sort of semi-poetic way one has of speaking of one’s heroine.’
“‘Ah me!’ said the Lady Crinoline —’ his heart! his heart! — I wonder whether he has got a heart;’ and then she sang again in low plaintive voice the first line of the song, suiting the cadence to her own case:—
His heart is at his office, his heart is always there.
“‘It was evident that the Lady Crinoline did not repeat the words in the feeling of their great author, who when he wrote them had intended to excite to high deeds of exalted merit that portion of the British youth which is employed in the Civil Service of the country.
“Crinoline laid down her lute — it was in fact an accordion — and gazing listlessly over the rails of the balcony, looked out at the green foliage which adorned the enclosure of the square below.
“It was Tavistock Square. The winds of March and the showers of April had been successful in producing the buds of May.”
‘Ah, Charley, that’s taken from the old song,’ said Katie, ‘only you’ve put buds instead of flowers.’
‘That’s quite allowable,’ said Mrs. Woodward —“successful in producing the buds of May. The sparrows chirped sweetly on the house-top, and the coming summer gladdened the hearts of all — of all except poor Crinoline.
“‘I wonder whether he has a heart, said she; ‘and if he has, I wonder whether it is at his office.’
“As she thus soliloquized, the door was opened by a youthful page, on whose well-formed breast, buttons seemed to grow like mushrooms in the meadows in August.
“‘Mr. Macassar Jones,’ said the page; and having so said, he discreetly disappeared. He was in his line of life a valuable member of society. He had brought from his last place a twelvemonth’s character that was creditable alike to his head and heart; he was now found to be a trustworthy assistant in the household of the Lady Crinoline’s mother, and was the delight of his aged parents, to whom he regularly remitted no inconsiderable portion of his wages. Let it always be remembered that the life even of a page may be glorious. All honour to the true and brave!”
‘Goodness, Charley — how very moral you are!’ said Linda.
‘Yes,’ said he; ‘that’s indispensable. It’s the intention of the Daily Delight always to hold up a career of virtue to the lower orders as the thing that pays. Honesty, high wages, and hot dinners. Those are our principles.’
‘You’ll have a deal to do before you’ll bring the lower orders to agree with you,’ said Uncle Bat.
‘We have a deal to do,’ said Charley, ‘and we’ll do it. The power of the cheap press is unbounded.’
“As the page closed the door, a light, low, melancholy step was heard to make its way across the drawing-room. Crinoline’s heart had given one start when she had heard the announcement of the well-known name. She had once glanced with eager inquiring eye towards the door. But not in vain to her had an excellent mother taught the proprieties of elegant life. Long before Macassar Jones was present in the chamber she had snatched up the tambour-frame that lay beside her, and when he entered she was zealously engaged on the fox’s head that was to ornament the toe of a left-foot slipper. Who shall dare to say that those slippers were intended to grace the feet of Macassar Jones?”
‘But I suppose they were,’ said Katie.
‘You must wait and see,’ said her mother; ‘for my part I am not at all so sure of that.’
‘Oh, but I know they must be; for she’s in love with him,’ said Katie.
“‘Oh, Mr. Macassar,’ said the Lady Crinoline, when he had drawn nigh to her, ‘and how are you today?’ This mention of his Christian name betrayed no undue familiarity, as the two families were intimate, and Macassar had four elder brothers. ‘I am so sorry mamma is not at home; she will regret not seeing you amazingly.’
“Macassar had his hat in his hand, and he stood a while gazing at the fox in the pattern. ‘Won’t you sit down?’ said Crinoline.
“‘Is it very dusty in the street today?’ asked Crinoline; and as she spoke she turned upon him a face wreathed in the sweetest smiles, radiant with elegant courtesy, and altogether expressive of extreme gentility, unsullied propriety, and a very high tone of female education. ‘Is it very dusty in the street today?’
“Charmed by the involuntary grace of her action, Macassar essayed to turn his head towards her as he replied; he could not turn it much, for he wore an all-rounder; but still he was enabled by a side glance to see more of that finished elegance than was perhaps good for his peace of mind.
“‘Yes,’ said he, ‘it is dusty; — it certainly is dusty, rather; — but not very — and then in most streets they’ve got the water-carts.’
“‘Ah, I love those water-carts!’ said Crinoline; ‘the dust, you know, is so trying.’
“‘To the complexion?’ suggested Macassar, again looking round as best he might over the bulwark of his collar.
“Crinoline laughed slightly; it was perhaps hardly more than a simper, and turning her lovely eyes from her work, she said, ‘Well, to the complexion, if you will. What would you gentlemen say if we ladies were to be careless of our complexions?’
“Macassar merely sighed gently — perhaps he had no fitting answer; perhaps his heart was too full for him to answer. He sat with his eye fixed on his hat, which still dangled in his hand; but his mind’s eye was far away.
“‘Is it in his office?’ thought Crinoline to herself; ‘or is it here? Is it anywhere?’
“‘Have you learnt the song I sent you? said he at last, waking, as it were, from a trance.
“‘Not yet,’ said she —‘that is, not quite; that is, I could not sing it before strangers yet.’
“‘Strangers!’ said Macassar; and he looked at her again with an energy that produced results not beneficial either to his neck or his collar.
“Crinoline was delighted at this expression of feeling. ‘At any rate it is somewhere,’ said she to herself; ‘and it can hardly be all at his office.’
“‘Well, I will not say strangers,’ she said out loud; ‘it sounds — it sounds — I don’t know how it sounds. But what I mean is, that as yet I’ve only sung it before mamma!’”
‘I declare I don’t know which is the biggest fool of the two,’ said Uncle Bat, very rudely.’ As for him, if I had him on the forecastle of a man-of-war for a day or two, I’d soon teach him to speak out.’
‘You forget, sir,’ said Charley,’ he’s not a sailor, he’s only in the Civil Service; we’re all very bashful in the Civil Service.’
‘I think he is rather spooney, I must say,’ said Katie; whereupon Mrs. Woodward went on reading.
“‘It’s a sweet thing, isn’t it?’ said Macassar.
“‘Oh, very!’ said Crinoline, with a rapturous expression which pervaded her whole head and shoulders as well as her face and bust —‘very sweet, and so new.’
“‘It quite comes home to me,’ said Macassar, and he sighed deeply.
“‘Then it is at his office,’ said Crinoline to herself; and she sighed also.
“They both sat silent for a while, looking into the square — Crinoline was at one window, and Macassar at the other: ‘I must go now,’ said he: ‘I promised to be back at three.’
“‘Back where?’ said she.
“‘At my office,’ said he.
“Crinoline sighed. After all, it was at his office; it was too evident that it was there, and nowhere else. Well, and why should it not be there? why should not Macassar Jones be true to his duty and to his country? What had she to do with his heart? Why should she wish it elsewhere? ’Twas thus she tried to console herself, but in vain. Had she had an office of her own it might perhaps have been different; but Crinoline was only a woman; and often she sighed over the degradation of her lot.
“‘Good morning, Miss Crinoline,’ said he.
“‘Good morning, Mr. Macassar,’ said she; ‘mamma will so regret that she has lost the pleasure of seeing you.’
“And then she rung the bell. Macassar went downstairs perhaps somewhat slower, with perhaps more of melancholy than when he entered. The page opened the hall-door with alacrity, and shut it behind him with a slam.
“All honour to the true and brave!
“Crinoline again took up the note of her sorrow, and with her lute in her hand, she warbled forth the line which stuck like a thorn in her sweet bosom:—
His heart is in his office — his heart IS ALWAYS there.”
‘There,’ said Mrs. Woodward, ‘that’s the end of the first chapter.’
‘Well, I like the page the best,’ said Linda, ‘because he seems to know what he is about.’
‘Oh, so does the lady,’ said Charley; ‘but it wouldn’t at all do if we made the hero and heroine go about their work like humdrum people. You’ll see that the Lady Crinoline knows very well what’s what.’
‘Oh, Charley, pray don’t tell us,’ said Katie; ‘I do so like Mr. Macassar, he is so spooney; pray go on, mamma.’
‘I’m ready,’ said Mrs. Woodward, again taking up the manuscript.
“The lovely Crinoline was the only daughter of fond parents; and though they were not what might be called extremely wealthy, considering the vast incomes of some residents in the metropolis, and were not perhaps wont to mix in the highest circles of the Belgravian aristocracy, yet she was enabled to dress in all the elegance of fashion, and contrived to see a good deal of that society which moves in the highly respectable neighbourhood of Russell Square and Gower Street.
“Her dresses were made at the distinguished establishment of Madame Mantalini, in Hanover Square; at least she was in the habit of getting one dress there every other season, and this was quite sufficient among her friends to give her a reputation for dealing in the proper quarter. Once she had got a bonnet direct from Paris, which gave her ample opportunity of expressing a frequent opinion not favourable to the fabricators of a British article. She always took care that her shoes had within them the name of a French cordonnier; and her gloves were made to order in the Rue Du Bac, though usually bought and paid for in Tottenham Court Road.”
‘What a false creature!’ said Linda.
‘False!’ said Charley; ‘and how is a girl to get along if she be not false? What girl could live for a moment before the world if she were to tell the whole truth about the get-up of her wardrobe — the patchings and make-believes, the chipped ribbons and turned silks, the little bills here, and the little bills there? How else is an allowance of £20 a year to be made compatible with an appearance of unlimited income? How else are young men to be taught to think that in an affair of dress money is a matter of no moment whatsoever?’
‘Oh, Charley, Charley, don’t be slanderous,’ said Mrs. Woodward.
‘I only repeat what the editor says to me — I know nothing about it myself. Only we are requested ‘to hold the mirror up to nature,’— and to art too, I believe. We are to set these things right, you know.’
‘We — who are we?’ said Katie.
‘Why, the Daily Delight,’ said Charley.
‘But I hope there’s nothing false in patching and turning,’ said Mrs. Woodward; ‘for if there be, I’m the falsest woman alive.
To gar the auld claes look amaist as weel’s the new
is, I thought, one of the most legitimate objects of a woman’s diligence.’
‘It all depends on the spirit of the stitches,’ said Charley the censor.
‘Well, I must say I don’t like mending up old clothes a bit better than Charley does,’ said Katie; ‘but pray go on, mamma;’ so Mrs. Woodward continued to read.
“On the day of Macassar’s visit in Tavistock Square, Crinoline was dressed in a most elegant morning costume. It was a very light barege muslin, extremely full; and which, as she had assured her friend, Miss Manasseh, of Keppel Street, had been sent home from the establishment in Hanover Square only the day before. I am aware that Miss Manasseh instantly propagated an ill-natured report that she had seen the identical dress in a milliner’s room up two pairs back in Store Street; but then Miss Manasseh was known to be envious; and had moreover seen twelve seasons out in those localities, whereas the fair Crinoline, young thing, had graced Tavistock Square only for two years; and her mother was ready to swear that she had never passed the nursery door till she came there. The ground of the dress was a light pea-green, and the pattern was ivy wreaths entwined with pansies and tulips — each flounce showed a separate wreath — and there were nine flounces, the highest of which fairy circles was about three inches below the smallest waist that ever was tightly girded in steel and whalebone.
“Macassar had once declared, in a moment of ecstatic energy, that a small waist was the chiefest grace in woman. How often had the Lady Crinoline’s maid, when in the extreme agony of her labour, put a malediction on his name on account of this speech!
“It is unnecessary to speak of the drapery of the arms, which showed the elaborate lace of the sleeve beneath, and sometimes also the pearly whiteness of that rounded arm. This was a sight which would almost drive Macassar to distraction. At such moments as that the hopes of the patriotic poet for the good of the Civil Service were not strictly fulfilled in the heart of Macassar Jones. Oh, if the Lady Crinoline could but have known!
“It is unnecessary also to describe the strange and hidden mechanism of that mysterious petticoat which gave such full dimensions, such ample sweeping proportions to the tout ensemble of the lady’s appearance. It is unnecessary, and would perhaps be improper, and as far as I am concerned, is certainly impossible.”
Here Charley blushed, as Mrs. Woodward looked at him from over the top of the paper.
“Let it suffice to say that she could envelop a sofa without the slightest effort, throw her draperies a yard and a half from her on either side without any appearance of stretching, completely fill a carriage; or, which was more frequently her fate, entangle herself all but inextricably in a cab.
“A word, however, must be said of those little feet that peeped out now and again so beautifully from beneath the artistic constructions above alluded to-of the feet, or perhaps rather of the shoes. But yet, what can be said of them successfully? That French name so correctly spelt, so elaborately accented, so beautifully finished in gold letters, which from their form, however, one would say that the cordonnier must have imported from England, was only visible to those favoured knights who were occasionally permitted to carry the shoes home in their pockets.
“But a word must be said about the hair dressed à l’imperatrice, redolent of the sweetest patchouli, disclosing all the glories of that ingenuous, but perhaps too open brow. A word must be said; but, alas! how inefficacious to do justice to the ingenuity so wonderfully displayed! The hair of the Lady Crinoline was perhaps more lovely than abundant: to produce that glorious effect, that effect which has now symbolized among English lasses the head-dress à l’imperatrice as the one idea of feminine beauty, every hair was called on to give its separate aid. As is the case with so many of us who are anxious to put our best foot foremost, everything was abstracted from the rear in order to create a show in the front. Then to complete the garniture of the head, to make all perfect, to leave no point of escape for the susceptible admirer of modern beauty, some dorsal appendage was necessary of mornings as well as in the more fully bedizened period of evening society.
“Everything about the sweet Crinoline was wont to be green. It is the sweetest and most innocent of colours; but, alas! a colour dangerous for the heart’s ease of youthful beauty. Hanging from the back of her head were to be seen moss and fennel, and various grasses — rye grass and timothy, trefoil and cinquefoil, vetches, and clover, and here and there young fern. A story was told, but doubtless false, as it was traced to the mouth of Miss Manasseh, that once while Crinoline was reclining in a paddock at Richmond, having escaped with the young Macassar from the heat of a neighbouring drawing-room, a cow had attempted to feed from her head.”
‘Oh, Charley, a cow!’ said Katie.
‘Well, but you see I don’t give it as true,’ said Charley.
‘I shall never get it done if Katie won’t hold her tongue,’ said Mrs. Woodward.
“But perhaps it was when at the seaside in September, at Broadstairs, Herne Bay, or Dover, Crinoline and her mamma invigorated themselves with the sea-breezes of the ocean — perhaps it was there that she was enabled to assume that covering for her head in which her soul most delighted. It was a Tom and Jerry hat turned up at the sides, with a short but knowing feather, velvet trimmings, and a steel buckle blinking brightly in the noonday sun. Had Macassar seen her in this he would have yielded himself her captive at once, quarter or no quarter. It was the most marked, and perhaps the most attractive peculiarity of the Lady Crinoline’s face, that the end of her nose was a little turned up. This charm, in unison with the upturned edges of her cruel-hearted hat, was found by many men to be invincible.
“We all know how dreadful is the spectacle of a Saracen’s head, as it appears, or did appear, painted on a huge board at the top of Snow Hill. From that we are left to surmise with what tremendous audacity of countenance, with what terror-striking preparations of the outward man, an Eastern army is led to battle. Can any men so fearfully bold in appearance ever turn their backs and fly? They look as though they could destroy by the glance of their ferocious eyes. Who could withstand the hirsute horrors of those fiery faces?
“There is just such audacity, a courage of a similar description, perhaps we may say an equal invincibility, in the charms of those Tom and Jerry hats when duly put on, over a face of the proper description — over such a face as that of the Lady Crinoline. They give to the wearer an appearance of concentration of pluck. But as the Eastern array does quail before the quiet valour of Europe, so, we may perhaps say, does the open, quick audacity of the Tom and Jerry tend to less powerful results than the modest enduring patience of the bonnet.”
‘So ends the second chapter — bravo, Charley,’ said Mrs. Woodward. ‘In the name of the British female public, I beg to thank you for your exertions.’
‘The editor said I was to write down turned-up hats,’ said Charley. ‘I rather like them myself.’
‘I hope my new slouch is not an audacious Saracen’s head,’ said Linda.
‘Or mine,’ said Katie. ‘But you may say what you like about them now; for mine is drowned.’
‘Come, girls, there are four more chapters, I see. Let me finish it, and then we can discuss it afterwards.’
“Having thus described the Lady Crinoline ——”
‘You haven’t described her at all,’ said Linda; ‘you haven’t got beyond her clothes yet.’
‘There is nothing beyond them,’ said Charley.
‘You haven’t even described her face,’ said Katie; ‘you have only said that she had a turned-up nose.’
‘There is nothing further that one can say about it,’ said Charley.
“Having thus described the Lady Crinoline,’ continued Mrs. Woodward, ‘it now becomes our duty, as impartial historians, to give some account of Mr. Macassar Jones.
“We are not prepared to give the exact name of the artist by whom Mr. Macassar Jones was turned out to the world so perfectly dressed a man. Were we to do so, the signal service done to one establishment by such an advertisement would draw down on us the anger of the trade at large, and the tailors of London would be in league against the Daily Delight. It is sufficient to remark that the artist’s offices are not a hundred miles from Pall Mall. Nor need we expressly name the bootmaker to whom is confided the task of making those feet ‘small by degrees and beautifully less.’ The process, we understand, has been painful, but the effect is no doubt remunerative.
“In three especial walks of dress has Macassar Jones been more than ordinarily careful to create a sensation; and we believe we may assert that he has been successful in all. We have already alluded to his feet. Ascending from them, and ascending not far, we come to his coat. It is needless to say that it is a frock; needless to say that it is a long frock — long as those usually worn by younger infants, and apparently made so for the same purpose. But look at the exquisitely small proportions of the collar; look at the grace of the long sleeves, the length of back, the propriety, the innate respectability, the perfect decorum — we had almost said the high moral worth — of the whole. Who would not willingly sacrifice any individual existence that he might become the exponent of such a coat? Macassar Jones was proud to do so.
“But he had bestowed perhaps the greatest amount of personal attention on his collar. It was a matter more within his own grasp than those great and important articles to which attention has been already drawn; but one, nevertheless, on which he was able to expend the whole amount of his energy and genius. Some people may think that an all-rounder is an all-rounder, and that if one is careful to get an all-rounder one has done all that is necessary. But so thought not Macassar Jones. Some men wear collars of two plies of linen, some men of three; but Macassar Jones wore collars of four plies. Some men — some sensual, self-indulgent men — appear to think that the collar should be made for the neck; but Macassar Jones knew better. He, who never spared him self when the cause was good, he knew that the neck had been made for the collar — it was at any rate evident that such was the case with his own. Little can be said of his head, except that it was small, narrow, and genteel; but his hat might be spoken of, and perhaps with advantage. Of the loose but studied tie of his inch-wide cravat a paragraph might be made; but we would fain not be tedious.
“We will only further remark that he always carried with him a wonderful representation of himself, like to him to a miracle, only smaller in its dimensions, like as a duodecimo is to a folio — a babe, as it were, of his own begetting — a little alter ego in which he took much delight. It was his umbrella. Look at the delicate finish of its lower extremity; look at the long, narrow, and well-made coat in which it is enveloped from its neck downwards, without speck, or blemish, or wrinkle; look at the little wooden head, nicely polished, with the effigy of a human face on one side of it — little eyes it has, and a sort of nose; look closer at it, and you will perceive a mouth, not expressive indeed, but still it is there — a mouth and chin; and is it, or is it not, an attempt at a pair of whiskers? It certainly has a moustache.
“Such were Mr. Macassar Jones and his umbrella. He was an excellent clerk, and did great credit to the important office to which he was attached — namely, that of the Episcopal Audit Board. He was much beloved by the other gentlemen who were closely connected with him in that establishment; and may be said, for the first year or two of his service, to have been, not exactly the life and soul, but, we may perhaps say with more propriety, the pervading genius of the room in which he sat.
“But, alas! at length a cloud came over his brow. At first it was but a changing shadow; but it settled into a dark veil of sorrow which obscured all his virtues, and made the worthy senior of his room shake his thin grey locks once and again. He shook them more in sorrow than in anger; for he knew that Macassar was in love, and he remembered the days of his youth. Yes; Macassar was in love. He had seen the lovely Crinoline. To see was to admire; to admire was to love; to love — that is, to love her, to love Crinoline, the exalted, the sought-after, the one so much in demand, as he had once expressed himself to one of his bosom friends — to love her was to despair. He did despair; and despairing sighed, and sighing was idle.
“But he was not all idle. The genius of the man had that within it which did not permit itself to evaporate in mere sighs. Sighs, with the high-minded, force themselves into the guise of poetry, and so it had been with him. He got leave of absence for a week, and shut himself up alone in his lodgings; for a week in his lodgings, during the long evenings of winter, did he remain unseen and unheard of. His landlady thought that he was in debt, and his friends whispered abroad that he had caught scarlatina. But at the end of the seven days he came forth, pale indeed, but with his countenance lighted up by ecstatic fire, and as he started for his office, he carefully folded and put into his pocket the elegantly written poem on which he had been so intently engaged.”
‘I’m so glad we are to have more poetry,’ said Katie. ‘Is it another song?’
‘You’ll see,’ said Mrs. Woodward.
“Macassar had many bosom friends at his office, to all of whom, one by one, he had confided the tale of his love. For a while he doubted to which of them he should confide the secret of his inspiration; but genius will not hide its head under a bushel; and thus, before long, did Macassar’s song become the common property of the Episcopal Audit Board. Even the Bishops sang it, so Macassar was assured by one of his brother clerks who was made of a coarser clay than his colleague — even the Bishops sang it when they met in council together on their own peculiar bench.
“It would be useless to give the whole of it here; for it contained ten verses. The last two were those which Macassar was wont to sing to himself, as he wandered lonely under the elms of Kensington Gardens.
“‘Oh, how she walks,
And how she talks,
And sings like a bird serene;
But of this be sure
While the world shall endure,
The loveliest lady that’ll ever be seen
Will still be the Lady Crinoline,
The lovely Lady Crinoline.
With her hair done all à l’impératrice,
Sweetly done with the best of grease,
She looks like a Goddess or Queen —
And so I declare,
And solemnly swear,
That the loveliest lady that ever was seen
Is still the Lady Crinoline,
The lovely Lady Crinoline.’”
‘And so ends the third chapter,’ said Mrs. Woodward.
Both Katie and Linda were beginning to criticize, but Mrs. Woodward repressed them sternly, and went on with
“‘It was a lovely day towards the end of May that Macassar Jones, presenting himself before the desk of the senior clerk at one o’clock, begged for permission to be absent for two hours. The request was preferred with meek and hesitating voice, and with downcast eyes.
“The senior clerk shook his grey locks sadly! sadly he shook his thin grey locks, for he grieved at the sight which he saw. ’Twas sad to see the energies of this young man thus sapped in his early youth by the all-absorbing strength of a hopeless passion. Crinoline was now, as it were, a household word at the Episcopal Audit Board. The senior clerk believed her to be cruel, and as he knew for what object these two hours of idleness were requested, he shook his thin grey locks in sorrow.
“‘I’ll be back at three, sir, punctual,’ said Macassar.
“‘But, Mr. Jones, you are absent nearly every day for the same period.’
“‘To-day shall be the last; today shall end it all,’ said Macassar, with a look of wretched desperation.
“‘What — what would Sir Gregory say?’ said the senior clerk.
“Macassar Jones sighed deeply. Nature had not made the senior clerk a cruel man; but yet this allusion was cruel. The young Macassar had drunk deeply of the waters that welled from the fountain of Sir Gregory’s philosophy. He had been proud to sit humbly at the feet of such a Gamaliel; and now it rent his young heart to be thus twitted with the displeasure of the great master whom he so loved and so admired.
“‘Well, go, Mr. Jones,’ said the senior clerk, ‘go, but as you go, resolve that tomorrow you will remain at your desk. Now go, and may prosperity attend you!’
“‘All shall be decided today,’ said Macassar, and as he spoke an unusual spark gleamed in his eye. He went, and as he went the senior clerk shook his thin grey hairs. He was a bachelor, and he distrusted the charms of the sex.
“Macassar, returning to his desk, took up his hat and his umbrella, and went forth. His indeed was a plight at which that old senior clerk might well shake his thin grey hairs in sorrow, for Macassar was the victim of mysterious circumstances, which, from his youth upwards, had marked him out for a fate of no ordinary nature. The tale must now be told.”
‘O dear!’ said Linda; ‘is it something horrid?’
‘I hope it is,’ said Katie; ‘perhaps he’s already married to some old hag or witch.’
‘You don’t say who his father and mother are; but I suppose he’ll turn out to be somebody else’s son,’ said Linda.
‘He’s a very nice young man for a small tea-party, at any rate,’ said Uncle Bat.
“The tale must now be told,” continued Mrs. Woodward. “In his early years Macassar Jones had had a maiden aunt. This lady died —”
‘Oh, mamma, if you read it in that way I shall certainly cry,’ said Katie.
‘Well, my dear, if your heart is so susceptible you had better indulge it.’ “This lady died and left behind her ——”
‘What?’ said Linda.
‘A diamond ring?’ said Katie.
‘A sealed manuscript, which was found in a secret drawer?’ suggested Linda.
‘Perhaps a baby,’ said Uncle Bat.
“And left behind her a will ——”
‘Did she leave anything else?’ asked Norman.
‘Ladies and gentlemen, if I am to be interrupted in this way, I really must resign my task,’ said Mrs. Woodward; ‘we shall never get to bed.’
‘I won’t say another word,’ said Katie.
“In his early years Macassar had had a maiden aunt. This lady died and left behind her a will, in which, with many expressions of the warmest affection and fullest confidence, she left £3,000 in the three per cents ——”
‘What are the three per cents?’ said Katie.
‘The three per cents is a way in which people get some of their money to spend regularly, when they have got a large sum locked up somewhere,’ said Linda.
‘Oh!’ said Katie.
‘Will you hold your tongue, miss?’ said Mrs. Woodward.
“Left £3,000 in the three per cents to her nephew. But she left it on these conditions, that he should be married before he was twenty-five, and that he should have a child lawfully born in the bonds of wedlock before he was twenty-six. And then the will went on to state that the interest of the money should accumulate till Macassar had attained the latter age; and that in the event of his having failed to comply with the conditions and stipulations above named, the whole money, principal and interest, should be set aside, and by no means given up to the said Macassar, but applied to the uses, purposes, and convenience of that excellent charitable institution, denominated the Princess Charlotte’s Lying-in Hospital.
“Now the nature of this will had been told in confidence by Macassar to some of his brother clerks, and was consequently well known at the Episcopal Audit Board. It had given rise there to a spirit of speculation against which the senior clerk had protested in vain. Bets were made, some in favour of Macassar, and some in that of the hospital; but of late the odds were going much against our hero. It was well known that in three short months he would attain that disastrous age, which, if it found him a bachelor, would find him also denuded of his legacy. And then how short a margin remained for the second event! The odds were daily rising against Macassar, and as he heard the bets offered and taken at the surrounding desks, his heart quailed within him.
“And the lovely Crinoline, she also had heard of this eccentric will; she and her mother. £3,000 with interest arising for some half score of years would make a settlement by no means despicable in Tavistock Square, and would enable Macassar to maintain a house over which even Crinoline need not be ashamed to preside. But what if the legacy should be lost! She also knew to a day what was the age of her swain; she knew how close upon her was that day, which, if she passed it unwedded, would see her resolved to be deaf for ever to the vows of Macassar. Still, if she managed well, there might be time — at any rate for the marriage.
“But, alas! Macassar made no vows; none at least which the most attentive ear could consider to be audible. Crinoline’s ear was attentive, but hitherto in vain. He would come there daily to Tavistock Square; daily would that true and valiant page lay open the path to his mistress’s feet; daily would Macassar sit there for a while and sigh. But the envious hour would pass away, while the wished-for word was still unsaid; and he would hurry back, and complete with figures, too often erroneous, the audit of some diocesan balance.
“‘You must help him, my dear,’ said Crinoline’s mamma.
“‘But he says nothing, mamma,’ said Crinoline in tears.
“‘You must encourage him to speak, my dear.’
“‘I do encourage him; but by that time it is always three o’clock, and then he has to go away.’
“‘You should be quicker, my dear. You should encourage him more at once. Now try today; if you can’t do anything today I really must get your papa to interfere.’
“Crinoline had ever been an obedient child, and now, as ever, she determined to obey. But it was a hard task for her. In three months he would be twenty-five — in fifteen months twenty-six. She, however, would do her best; and then, if her efforts were unavailing, she could only trust to Providence and her papa.
“With sad and anxious heart did Macassar that day take up his new silk hat, take up also his darling umbrella, and descend the sombre steps of the Episcopal Audit Office. ‘Seven to one on the Lying-in,’ were the last words which reached his ears as the door of his room closed behind him. His was a dreadful position. What if that sweet girl, that angel whom he so worshipped, what if she, melted by his tale of sorrow — that is, if he could prevail on himself to tell it — should take pity, and consent to be hurried prematurely to the altar of Hymen; and then if, after all, the legacy should be forfeited! Poverty for himself he could endure; at least he thought so; but poverty for her! could he bear that? What if he should live to see her deprived of that green headdress, robbed of those copious draperies, reduced to English shoes, compelled to desert that shrine in Hanover Square, and all through him! His brain reeled round, his head swam, his temples throbbed, his knees knocked against each other, his blood stagnated, his heart collapsed, a cold clammy perspiration covered him from head to foot; he could hardly reach the courtyard, and there obtain the support of a pillar. Dreadful thoughts filled his mind; the Thames, the friendly Thames, was running close to him; should he not put a speedy end to all his misery? Those horrid words, that ‘seven to one on the Lying-in,’ still rang in his ears; were the chances really seven to one against his getting his legacy? ‘Oh!’ said he, ‘my aunt, my aunt, my aunt, my aunt, my aunt!’
“But at last he roused the spirit of the man within him. ‘Faint heart never won fair lady,’ seemed to be whispered to him from every stone in Somerset House. The cool air blowing through the passages revived him, and he walked forth through the wide portals, resolving that he would return a happy, thriving lover, or that he would return no more — that night. What would he care for Sir Gregory, what for the thin locks of the senior clerk, if Crinoline should reject him?
“It was his custom, as he walked towards Tavistock Square, to stop at a friendly pastry-cook’s in Covent Garden, and revive his spirits for the coming interview with Banbury tarts and cherry-brandy. In the moments of his misery something about the pastry — cook’s girl, something that reminded him of Crinoline, it was probably her nose, had tempted him to confide to her his love. He had told her everything; the kind young creature pitied him, and as she ministered to his wants, was wont to ask sweetly as to his passion.
“‘And how was the lovely Lady Crinoline yesterday?’ asked she. He had entrusted to her a copy of his poem.
“‘More beauteous than ever,’ he said, but somewhat indistinctly, for his mouth was clogged with the Banbury tart.
“‘And good-natured, I hope. Indeed, I don’t know how she can resist,’ said the girl; ‘I’m sure you’ll make it all right today, for I see you’ve got your winning way with you.’
“Winning way, with seven to one against him! Macassar sighed, and spilt some of his cherry-brandy over his shirt front. The kind-hearted girl came and wiped it for him. ‘I think I’ll have another glass,’ said he, with a deep voice. He did take another glass — and also ate another tart.
“‘He’ll pop today as sure as eggs, now he’s taken them two glasses of popping powder,’ said the girl, as he went out of the shop. ‘Well, it’s astonishing to me what the men find to be afraid of.’
“And so Macassar hastened towards Tavistock Square, all too quickly; for, as he made his way across Great Russell Street, he found that he was very hot. He leant against the rail, and, taking off his hat and gloves, began to cool himself, and wipe away the dust with his pocket-handkerchief. ‘I wouldn’t have minded the expense of a cab,’ said he to himself, ‘only the chances are so much against me: seven to one!’
“But he had no time to lose. He had had but two precious hours at his disposal, and thirty minutes were already gone. He hurried on to Tavistock Square, and soon found that well-known door open before him.
“‘The Lady Crinoline sits upstairs alone,’ said the page, ‘and is a-thinking of you.’ Then he added in a whisper, ‘Do you go at her straight, Mr. Macassar; slip-slap, and no mistake.’
“All honour to the true and brave!
“As Macassar walked across the drawing-room, Crinoline failed to perceive his presence, although his boots did creak rather loudly. Such at least must be presumed to have been the case, for she made no immediate sign of having noticed him. She was sitting at the open window, with her lute in hand, gazing into the vacancy of the square below; and as Macassar walked across the room, a deep sigh escaped from her bosom. The page closed the door, and at the same moment Crinoline touched her lute, or rather pulled it at the top and bottom, and threw one wild witch note to the wind. As she did so, a line of a song escaped from her lips with a low, melancholy, but still rapturous cadence —
‘His heart is at his office, his heart is always there.’
“‘Oh, Mr. Macassar, is that you?’ she exclaimed. She struggled to rise, but, finding herself unequal to the effort, she sank back again on a chair, dropped her lute on a soft footstool, and then buried her face in her hands. It was dreadful for Macassar to witness such agony.
“‘Is anything the matter?’ said he.
“‘The matter!’ said she. ‘Ah! ah!’
“‘I hope you are not sick?’ said he.
“‘Sick!’ said she. ‘Well, I fear I am very sick.’
“‘What is it?’ said he. ‘Perhaps only bilious,’ he suggested.
“‘Oh! oh! oh!’ said she.
“‘I see I’m in the way; and I think I had better go,’ and so he prepared to depart. ‘No! no! no!’ said she, jumping up from her chair. ‘Oh! Mr. Macassar, don’t be so cruel. Do you wish to see me sink on the carpet before your feet?’
“Macassar denied the existence of any such wish; and said that he humbly begged her pardon if he gave any offence.
“‘Offence!’ said she, smiling sweetly on him; sweetly, but yet sadly. ‘Offence! no — no offence. Indeed, I don’t know how you could — but never mind — I am such a silly thing. One’s feelings will sometimes get the better of one; don’t you often find it so?’
“‘O yes! quite so,’ said Macassar. ‘I think it’s the heat.’
“‘He’s a downright noodle,’ said Crinoline’s mamma to her sister-inlaw, who lived with them. The two were standing behind a chink in the door, which separated the drawing-room from a chamber behind it.
“‘Won’t you sit down, Mr. Macassar?’ Macassar sat down. ‘Mamma will be so sorry to miss you again. She’s calling somewhere in Grosvenor Square, I believe. She wanted me to go with her; but I could not bring myself to go with her today. It’s useless for the body to go out, when the heart still remains at home. Don’t you find it so?’
“‘Oh, quite so,’ said Macassar. The cherry-brandy had already evaporated before the blaze of all that beauty, and he was bethinking himself how he might best take himself off. Let the hospital have the filthy lucre! He would let the money go, and would show the world that he loved for the sake of love alone! He looked at his watch, and found that it was already past two.
“Crinoline, when she saw that watch, knew that something must be done at once. She appreciated more fully than her lover did the value of this world’s goods; and much as she doubtless sympathized with the wants of the hospital in question, she felt that charity should begin at home. So she fairly burst out into a flood of tears.
“Macassar was quite beside himself. He had seen her weep before, but never with such frightful violence. She rushed up from her chair, and passing so close to him as nearly to upset him by the waft of her petticoats, threw herself on to an ottoman, and hiding her face on the stump in the middle of it, sobbed and screeched, till Macassar feared that the buttons behind her dress would crack and fly off.
“‘Oh! oh! oh!’ sobbed Crinoline.
“‘It must be the heat,’ said Macassar, knocking down a flower-pot in his attempt to open the window a little wider. ‘O dear, what have I done?’ said he. ‘I think I’d better go.’
“‘Never mind the flower-pot,’ said Crinoline, looking up through her tears. ‘Oh! oh! oh! oh! me. Oh! my heart.’
“Macassar looked at his watch. He had only forty-five minutes left for everything. The expense of a cab would, to be sure, be nothing if he were successful; but then, what chance was there of that?
“‘Can I do anything for you in the Strand?’ said he. ‘I must be at my office at three.’
“‘In the Strand!’ she screeched. ‘What could he do for me in the Strand? Heartless — heartless — heartless! Well, go — go — go to your office, Mr. Macassar; your heart is there, I know. It is always there. Go — don’t let me stand between you and your duties — between you and Sir Gregory. Oh! how I hate that man! Go! why should I wish to prevent you? Of course I have no such wish. To me it is quite indifferent; only, mamma will be so sorry to miss you. You don’t know how mamma loves you. She loves you almost as a son. But go — go; pray go!’
“And then Crinoline looked at him. Oh! how she looked at him! It was as though all the goddesses of heaven were inviting him to come and eat ambrosia with them on a rosy-tinted cloud. All the goddesses, did we say? No, but one goddess, the most beautiful of them all. His heart beat violently against his ribs, and he felt that he was almost man enough for anything. Instinctively his hand went again to his waistcoat pocket.
“‘You shan’t look at your watch so often,’ said she, putting up her delicate hand and stopping his. ‘There, I’ll look at it for you. It’s only just two, and you needn’t go to your office for this hour;’ and as she squeezed it back into his pocket, he felt her fingers pressing against his heart, and felt her hair — done all à l’impératrice — in sweet contact with his cheek. ‘There, I shall hold it there,’ said she, ‘so that you shan’t look at it again.’
“‘Will you stay till I bid you go?’ said Crinoline.
“Macassar declared that he did not care a straw for the senior clerk, or for Sir Gregory either. He would stay there for ever, he said.
“‘What! for ever in mamma’s drawing-room?’ said Crinoline, opening wide her lovely eyes with surprise.
“‘For ever near to you,’ said Macassar.
“‘Oh, Mr. Macassar,’ said Crinoline, dropping her hand from his waistcoat, and looking bashfully towards the ground, ‘what can you mean?’
“Down went Macassar on his knees, and down went Crinoline into her chair. There was perhaps rather too much distance between them, but that did not much matter now. There he was on both knees, with his hands clasped together as they were wont to be when he said his prayers, with his umbrella beside him on one side, and his hat on the other, making his declaration in full and unmistakable terms. A yard or two of floor, more or less, between them, was neither here nor there. At first the bashful Crinoline could not bring herself to utter a distinct consent, and Macassar was very nearly up and away, in a returning fit of despair. But her good-nature came to his aid; and as she quickly said, ‘I will, I will, I will,’ he returned to his posture in somewhat nearer quarters, and was transported into the seventh heaven by the bliss of kissing her hand.
“‘Oh, Macassar!’ said she.
“‘Oh, Crinoline!’ said he.
“‘You must come and tell papa tomorrow,’ said she.
“He readily promised to do so.
“‘You had better come to breakfast; before he goes into the city,’ said she.
“And so the matter was arranged, and the lovely Lady Crinoline became the affianced bride of the happy Macassar.
“It was past three when he left the house, but what did he care for that? He was so mad with joy that he did not even know whither he was going. He went on straight ahead, and came to no check, till he found himself waving his hat over his head in the New Road. He then began to conceive that his conduct must have been rather wild, for he was brought to a stand-still in a crossing by four or five cabmen, who were rival candidates for his custom.
“‘Somerset House, old brick!’ he shouted out, as he jumped into a hansom, and as he did so he poked one of the other cabbies playfully in the ribs with his umbrella.
“‘Is mamma don’t know as ‘ow ‘e’s hout, I shouldn’t vonder,’ said the cabman — and away went Macassar, singing at the top of his voice as he sat in the cab —
‘The loveliest lady that ever was seen
Is the lovely Lady Crinoline.’
“The cab passed through Covent Garden on its way. ‘Stop at the pastry-cook’s at the corner,’ said Macassar up through the little trap-door. The cab drew up suddenly. ‘She’s mine, she’s mine!’ shouted Macassar, rushing into the shop, and disregarding in the ecstasy of the moment the various customers who were quietly eating their ices. ‘She’s mine, she’s mine!
With her hair done all á l’impératrice,
Sweetly done with the best of grease.
And now for Somerset House.’
“Arrived at those ancient portals, he recklessly threw eighteenpence to the cabman, and ran up the stone stairs which led to his office. As he did so the clock, with iron tongue, tolled four. But what recked he what it tolled? He rushed into his room, where his colleagues were now locking their desks, and waving abroad his hat and his umbrella, repeated the chorus of his song. ‘She’s mine, she’s mine —
The loveliest lady that ever was seen
Is the lovely Lady Crinoline;
and she’s mine, she’s mine!’
“Exhausted nature could no more. He sank into a chair, and his brother clerks stood in a circle around him. Soon a spirit of triumph seemed to actuate them all; they joined hands in that friendly circle, and dancing with joyful glee, took up with one voice the burden of the song —
‘Oh how she walks,
And how she talks,
And sings like a bird serene,
But of this be sure,
While the world shall endure,
The loveliest lady that ever was seen
Is still the Lady Crinoline —
The lovely Lady Crinoline.’
“And that old senior clerk with the thin grey hair — was he angry at this general ebullition of joy? O no! The just severity of his discipline was always tempered with genial mercy. Not a word did he say of that broken promise, not a word of the unchecked diocesan balance, not a word of Sir Gregory’s anger. He shook his thin grey locks; but he shook them neither in sorrow nor in anger. ‘God bless you, Macassar Jones,’, said he, ‘God bless you!’
“He too had once been young, had once loved, had once hoped and feared, and hoped again, and had once knelt at the feet of beauty. But alas! he had knelt in vain.
“‘May God be with you, Macassar Jones,’ said he, as he walked out of the office door with his coloured bandana pressed to his eyes. ‘May God be with you, and make your bed fruitful!’
“‘For the loveliest lady that ever was seen
Is the lovely Lady Crinoline,’
shouted the junior clerks, still dancing in mad glee round the happy lover.
“We have said that they all joined in this kindly congratulation to their young friend. But no. There was one spirit there whom envy had soured, one whom the happiness of another had made miserable, one whose heart beat in no unison with these jocund sounds. As Macassar’s joy was at its height, in the proud moment of his triumph, a hated voice struck his ears, and filled his soul with dismay once more.
“‘There’s two to one still on the Lying-in,’ said this hateful Lucifer.
“And so Macassar was not all happy even yet, as he walked home to his lodgings.
“We have but one other scene to record, but one short scene, and then our tale will be told and our task will be done. And this last scene shall not, after the usual manner of novelists, be that of the wedding, but rather one which in our eyes is of a much more enduring interest. Crinoline and Macassar were duly married in Bloomsbury Church. The dresses are said to have come from the house in Hanover Square. Crinoline behaved herself with perfect propriety, and Macassar went through his work like a man. When we have said that, we have said all that need be said on that subject.
“But we must beg our readers to pass over the space of the next twelve months, and to be present with us in that front sitting-room of the elegant private lodgings, which the married couple now prudently occupied in Alfred Place. Lodgings! yes, they were only lodgings; for not as yet did they know what might be the extent of their income.
“In this room during the whole of a long autumn day sat Macassar in a frame of mind not altogether to be envied. During the greater portion of it he was alone; but ever and anon some bustling woman would enter and depart without even deigning to notice the questions which he asked. And then after a while he found himself in company with a very respectable gentleman in black, who belonged to the medical profession. ‘Is it coming?’ asked Macassar. ‘Is it, is it coming?’
“‘Well, we hope so — we hope so,’ said the medical gentleman. ‘If not today, it will be tomorrow. If I should happen to be absent, Mrs. Gamp is all that you could desire. If not today, it will certainly be tomorrow,’— and so the medical gentleman went his way.
“Now the coming morrow would be Macassar’s birthday. On that morrow he would be twenty-six.
“All alone he sat there till the autumn sun gave way to the shades of evening. Some one brought him a mutton chop, but it was raw and he could not eat; he went to the sideboard and prepared to make himself a glass of negus, but the water was all cold. His water at least was cold, though Mrs. Gamp’s was hot enough. It was a sad and mournful evening. He thought he would go out, for he found that he was not wanted; but a low drizzling rain prevented him. Had he got wet he could not have changed his clothes, for they were all in the wardrobe in his wife’s room. All alone he sat till the shades of evening were hidden by the veil of night.
“But what sudden noise is that he hears within the house? Why do those heavy steps press so rapidly against the stairs? What feet are they which are so busy in the room above him? He opens the sitting-room door, but he can see nothing. He has been left there without a candle. He peers up the stairs, but a faint glimmer of light shining through the keyhole of his wife’s door is all that meets his eye. ‘Oh, my aunt! my aunt!’ he says as he leans against the banisters. ‘My aunt, my aunt, my aunt!’
“What a birthday will this be for him on the morrow! He already hears the sound of the hospital bells as they ring with joy at the acquisition of their new wealth; he must dash from his lips, tear from his heart, banish for ever from his eyes, that vision of a sweet little cottage at Brompton, with a charming dressing-room for himself, and gas laid on all over the house.
“‘Lodgings! I hate, I detest lodgings!’ he said to himself. ‘Connubial bliss and furnished lodgings are not compatible. My aunt, my aunt, for what misery hast thou not to answer! Oh, Mrs. Gamp, could you be so obliging as to tell me what o’clock it is?’ The last question was asked as Mrs. Gamp suddenly entered the room with a candle. Macassar’s watch had been required for the use of one of the servants.
“‘It’s just half-past heleven, this wery moment as is,’ said Mrs. Gamp; ‘and the finest boy babby as my heyes, which has seen a many, has ever sat upon.’
“Up, up to the ceiling went the horsehair cushion of the lodging-house sofa — up went the footstool after it, and its four wooden legs in falling made a terrible clatter on the mahogany loo-table. Macassar in his joy got hold of Mrs. Gamp, and kissed her heartily, forgetful of the fumes of gin. ‘Hurrah!’ shouted he,’ hurrah, hurrah, hurrah! Oh, Mrs. Gamp, I feel so — so — so — I really don’t know how I feel.’
“He danced round the room with noisy joy, till Mrs. Gamp made him understand how very unsuited were such riotous ebullitions to the weak state of his lady-love upstairs. He then gave over, not the dancing but the noise, and went on capering round the room with suppressed steps, ever and anon singing to himself in a whisper,
‘The loveliest lady that ever was seen
Is still the Lady Crinoline.’
“A few minutes afterwards a knock at the door was heard, and the monthly nurse entered. She held something in her embrace; but he could not see what. He looked down pryingly into her arms, and at the first glance thought that it was his umbrella. But then he heard a little pipe, and he knew that it was his child.
“We will not intrude further on the first interview between Macassar and his heir.”
‘And so ends the romantic history of “Crinoline and Macassar”,’ said Mrs. Woodward; ‘and I am sure, Charley, we are all very much obliged to you for the excellent moral lessons you have given us.’
‘I’m so delighted with it,’ said Katie; ‘I do so like that Macassar.’
‘So do I,’ said Linda, yawning; ‘and the old man with the thin grey hair.’
‘Come, girls, it’s nearly one o’clock, and we’ll go to bed,’ said the mother. ‘Uncle Bat has been asleep these two hours.’
And so they went off to their respective chambers.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14