A Blog Post for Lockdown

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Back in March the country entered an uncertain period, as the global scourge that is Coronavirus made its silent presence known across our island.  We had been following the news from Wuhan Province for quite a while and I distinctly remember an expert confidently announce on the radio that the only risk was to those who had visited that particular region of China.  In the same week there were stories of The Diamond Princess cruise ship being held off shore like one of the prison hulks so memorably described in the opening chapters of Great Expectations.  The passengers and crew on board were gradually infecting each other until the reports of the first deaths made the news broadcasts.  For a while The Diamond Princess held the unfortunate honour of having the second largest infection rate in the world.  This was in February, a whole month before the British Prime Minister announced that severe restrictions would be placed on society.

Now, some four months later, the UK is gradually peeking out from behind its curtains as lockdown eases and some sense of normality returns to the country.  Celebrations are rife as hairdressers’ floors disappear under layers of clipped locks, and restaurants are once again able to deferentially ask their customers if ‘everything is alright?’ albeit from a sensible and apparently safe distance.  There are great debates as to the wisdom of letting the country loose when the virus is still at large, but that is not what this post is about:  I want to record some of my perceptions of life as it has been, good and bad, and preserve my memories of lockdown before they get lost in ‘the new normal’, which I fear will closely resemble the old one.

This is the story of a small household in Oxfordshire: me, Liz and our two primary school-aged daughters.

 

Early Thoughts

My first memory of lockdown is the state of our hands.  We are a pretty hygienic household anyway and we always wash our hands before and after meals, but government advice was to wash vigorously (whilst singing Happy Birthday twice through) at every opportunity so we all resolutely obeyed the edict and after just a week or so our hands were dried, cracked and ancient-looking.  Strangely as the weeks and months have passed our skin has returned to its natural state even thought the strident washing regime continues.

In the shops the shelves quickly emptied of certain goods (toilet roll and dried pasta being the most sought after commodities).  Panic buying became an art form and for a while the huge expanses of the supermarkets were almost empty of goods, as people stockpiled.  In our modest way we cleared out a little cupboard in our hallway, purchased some metal shelving and created a new larder to expand the amount of storage available to us.

The shops responded quickly to the panic and introduced strict limits on how much of any particular product could be purchased and little by little the shelves began to fill again.

Each day we followed the news briefings and listened in horror as the first deaths were announced.  Ever more restrictive guidelines were issued by the government and the  realisation dawned that for the next few months both Liz’s and my work would cease leading to a complete cessation of our incomes (both being self employed).  In this respect we were no different to millions of others throughout the country, and apart from the reality of the health tragedy that was quickly unfolding, the full horror of the economic disaster that was approaching became apparent as businesses shut their doors and events at local and national levels were cancelled.  However elsewhere many thousands of horse racing fans congregated at the Cheltenham race course for the annual festival.  Even as the country began to shut down so the little spa town on the edge of the Cotswolds became a breeding ground, Coronavirus spread silently through through the packed grandstands, around the parade ring, in the stables, through the car parks, and individuals carried it away ready to gradually unleash Covid 19 throughout a nervous nation.

 

Being Outside

In those early days of lockdown being outside was a strange experience for there was a sense that the very air we breathed was toxic, and yet the sky was blue, the clouds bright white and nature burgeoned all around.

The first perceptions of how life would be came upon us all gradually, the days took on a different rhythm and we all had to learn to be more tolerant and understanding with each other (not always successfully, it must be said).

We had been told to stay in our houses unless we had to shop, whilst periods of exercise were limited to one a day, and it was the wording of the latter precaution that gave so many people an essential escape clause, our family included.

Liz and I soon realised that being restricted to our small house for an indeterminate amount of time with two very active, confused and frustrated daughters was too horrific to even imagine, so we played the exercise card as often as we were able.  The need to get out into the open was increased as Liz was working from home, teaching piano via her laptop, meaning that the house needed to have an element of quiet and professionalism about it.

At first I would drive out into the countryside to find a walk and there were two reasons for this: firstly, the drive out and back added extra time to the journey, meaning that Liz could teach without interruption for longer, and secondly it gave me the opportunity to discover some new areas of our region to walk in.  Many of our itineraries featured different lengths of The Ridgeway path, an ancient trail traversing Oxfordshire atop a ridge of chalk hills.  The path runs for almost 90 miles and is recognised as one of the oldest, if not the oldest, roads in Britain.  The fact that The Ridgeway was  cut high above the surrounding country meant that ancient travellers could always be on the look out for those of nefarious intent  below them and that gives us our modern name for a road: the highway.

April and May saw a heatwave and day upon day of hot sunshine and warm weather made the countryside even more beautiful to be in, but there was more, for Mother Nature seemed to be revelling in the fact that the human race was being put on hold, that cars were not polluting the towns or planes the skies.  Foliage was abundant and bright, whilst the blossom bubbled and frothed vividly against the blue of the skies which were unmarked by the vapour trails of aircraft.  Birdsong seemed to be louder and wildlife seemed braver (on the television there were pictures of deer meandering through deserted town centres).  Satellite images backed up our own observations, showing much less pollution over China allowing nature to reclaim her planet for a while.

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Our days of exploring the wider countryside would soon end though, for the lockdown restrictions became ever tighter and it was decreed that exercise could only be taken from your own home and that driving to beauty spots would no longer be allowed.

So, we explored Abingdon and discovered some amazing walks on our very doorstep, the other great bonus of the restrictions being that we could cycle without fear of cars, vans or huge trucks threatening to crush us as they thundered past.  The roads were almost deserted and when in the past we might have to wait for a while to cross, now we could just stroll as if we were walking in a park.

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One walk to the pretty village of Sunningwell took us over a footbridge which crossed the usually busy A34 trunk road and we loved standing waiting for a lonely truck or car to flash by beneath us as we waved to the drivers, who usually waved back or flashed their lights and hooted their horns.

These days were the happiest of lockdown, with nature thriving and everyone being forced into a slower, more relaxed pace of life.  We all had to learn a new way of living.

 

Neighbourhood Strolls and Art

Many of our local walks took us through residential streets that we had never really noticed before interconnected by hidden footpaths, or ‘twittens’ as we used to call them back in Kent when I was growing up.  As we walked we loved admiring carefully tended gardens and the ever-increasing amount of children’s window art.  I don’t quite know how it started or who first suggested it, but children across the country began to create rainbows to display in their windows as a symbol of hope.  Some rainbows were simply printed and then coloured with pen or pencil, others were painted, yet more were a spectacular result of mixed-media projects.  Some were large, others small, and a few had positive and uplifting message carefully written alongside.  All of this meant that a neighbourhood stroll became a a trip to a gallery in which we could discuss and compare the artwork.  In our own living room window the girls’ efforts were proudly displayed and the sheer pride and joy we felt when a young mother pushing a buggy stopped one day to tell us how much the pictures cheered her up and how she always admired our front garden can hardly be described.

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The warmth of the feeling was so great that we started to do the same to others, praising gardens and art as we passed by and we relished the beams that resulted.

At Easter we decorated foam egg-shaped cut outs and hung them from the large and gnarled Rosemary bush that overhangs our front wall, and when the country celebrated the anniversary of Victory in Europe Day in May we made our own red, white and blue bunting which we hung proudly over the front of the house.

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Other families did the same so that previously drab, anonymous estates became bright, fun and vibrant places to be. Through this shared artwork communities grew closer – another great positive consequence of the Coronavirus.

At home our artistic endeavours went further than creating displays for passers-by, as our craft box allowed us to create a series of pictures and models inspired by our good friends Martin and Nikki with whom we shared a weekly Zoom call in an attempt to broaden our attempts at the girls’ home schooling .  Each week either Nikki or Martin would suggest a theme for the following session and we would all be required to come up with some work to show them – our eldest, who is eight years old, loved to do lots of reading and research and then present her findings, whilst all of us took to felt-tipped pens, coloured pencils and paints to create large murals on long rolls of paper.  One week we did an under-sea vista and on another we went into outer space (I was particularly proud of my Saturn V rocket made out of loo rolls, with sheets of red and orange tissue paper issuing from the ‘engine’ as the mighty beast ‘cleared the tower’).  We explored the world of Kings and Queens, fairy tales as well as Walt Disney (again, ridiculous amounts of pride for my painted representation of Scrooge McDuck).  On the day appointed for our presentations we would gather in front of my laptop in great excitement and Nikki and Martin would watch, comment on our efforts and present their own offerings.  For a little while each week what was happening in the big bad world was forgotten and became irrelevant.

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A New Etiquette

Being forced to stay within the limits of our own towns to take our exercise meant that naturally there were more people walking on the pavements which created its own issues.  By now we were being told that to prevent the spread of the virus we should all keep 2 meters apart from anyone outside our own household group, and so the phrase ‘social distancing’ entered our language and dominated it (as had ‘self isolation’ and ‘underlying health issues’ a few weeks earlier).  As we walked we would keep a careful watch for others coming towards us and made sure that we were able to position ourselves so that we could pass with the requisite gap between us.  It was interesting to observe how society coped with this and how different people reacted.  We as a family tried to be positive and friendly, greeting everyone we met with a smile and a ‘good morning!’   If someone had paused to let us pass or gone out of their way to give us a clear way we thanked them, and being British we often exchanged pleasantries about the weather.  But not all responded the same way, for some people walked with their eyes down and viewed all around them with suspicion, barely willing or able to converse, on the whole this was not born or rudeness, but of fear.  Whilst our daily walks were an essential part of our mental and physical wellbeing, to others being in the open obviously felt an unnatural risk to be endured and ended as soon as possible.  Very soon we learned to identify the sort of person who was approaching and could modify our own behaviour accordingly.

There was a third category too, next to the friendly and fearful, and that was those who insisted that regulation and order be maintained at all costs.  I recall riding my bike along a pathway which was clearly marked with two lanes, one for cycles and one for pedestrians.  It was a sunny day and quite a few people were out enjoying their exercise. Being a responsible and good citizen I was riding on the cycle side of the path but noticed ahead of me a lady stopping to smell some beautiful blossom on a tree which overhung my way, so I steered to pass by on the other side so as not to prevent her enjoying a moment which obviously meant a great deal to her.  Now I was in the pedestrian lane and striding towards me were two more ladies, with water bottles in hand obviously out on a fitness walk, rather than an amble.  What to do?  I pulled as far into the side of the path as I could and stopped, leaving plenty of room so that they could pass by.  Rather than thanking me, one of the ladies scowled ‘actually this lane is for pedestrians, THAT lane is for bicycles!’ and on they strode muttering to one another.  Yes, technically they were correct, I was not in the proper lane, but the level of anger seemed disproportionate, especially as I’d only been trying to let a lady smell some blossom without being disturbed!

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Keeping Fit and Healthy

As I touched on earlier, the need to be in the great outdoors was born not only of physical wellbeing but of the importance of good mental health too.  Being cooped up  inside a house for hours, days, weeks on end  could and most like would result in depression and anger.  Certainly during the long school days when Liz was teaching she noticed that her mental health was suffering as a result of being confined for long periods.

As restrictions were gradually eased and exercise away from your own neighbourhood was permitted once more so our countryside walks once more became a major part of our weekly routine and the girls (only 8 and 5, remember), amazed me by happily striding out on 6 mile hikes through the Oxfordshire countryside.  I would pack a picnic full of treats into a rucksack and we would find a cool woodland glade somewhere to spread out our rug and relax before pushing on to the end.  The huge expanses of scenery seemed to cosset and care for us as it welcomed us in.  I know that we are extremely lucky to live in a part of the country where such expeditions are possible and I cannot imagine being stuck for four months in a tower block or estate with little or no access to outdoor space.

However it was not just those beautiful walks that kept me fit, for during lockdown I actually took up running.  Running and I haven’t been happy bedfellows over the years,  I have tried to take on an effective fitness regime a few times but always without success.  As long ago as thirty five years ago my good school friend Chris tried to encourage me to join him in his then new hobby of running, but after a couple of aborted attempts I left him to it.  Chris went on to run a number of London Marathons and still runs most days in his adopted homeland of New Zealand.

The fact is that I do not find running a pleasurable experience, I get no inherent joy from the action of pounding on a road, getting breathless and hot knowing that there is no relief from the sheer torture and monotony.

In March I started running again purely as a way of  giving our 8 – year old some sort of routine in the mornings, at a time when she would usually be getting ready for a school day.  We had noticed she became easily distracted and frustrated and as one of her best friends liked to run we thought that we would suggest it.  She liked the idea and so we were committed.  On my last half-hearted attempt at running a few years ago I had downloaded the ‘Couch to 5K’ app onto my phone so we thought that we would start from the very beginning and strictly follow that programme for as long as we could.  The Couch to 5K system starts with very short simple runs – 1 minute running with 1.5 minutes of walking between: we could just about manage that!  After a week we moved to level two which increased the length of the run to 2 minutes, but also allowed us an extra 30 seconds of ‘rest’.  Again, we achieved that.  Week three saw us remaining at 2 minutes but the walk was shortened.  Week four was when we began to struggle: 2 and a half minutes of running within only thirty seconds to recover saw me panting and wheezing and my daughter starting to complain of stiches, sore ankles and blisters.

After a few mornings it became apparent that she had reached the end of her running journey and I was on my own once more.  This time, however,  I was determined not to give up and set myself the challenge of continuing for as long as I could, even if I didn’t reach my 5k goal, which seemed unlikely considering that would mean running for around 40 minutes without a break and I was currently struggling with 2 and a half!

But on I went.  I have always been an early riser so I decided to run as soon as I woke, at around 5.15 and this is when I started to actually, dare I say it,  enjoy myself.  The air at that hour is cool and the streets and pathways deserted.  I still struggled at times, but over a period of weeks I began to move onto more advanced levels until something extraordinary happened: I decided to run through my rest periods.

I assume there are learned articles and studies about fitness and the body which cover this phenomenon but my uneducated and uninformed mind came to a conclusion: it seemed to me as if there were a moment when the excess body fat and weight burned off and the newfound muscle tone and stamina took over, like a tipping set of scales.

And from finding it difficult to run for three minutes I was suddenly running for twenty, then twenty five, then twenty eight minutes at a time.  I have definitely lost weight, I have definitely become fitter as a result and I feel a great deal of pride for pushing on and continuing with something that isn’t completely natural to me.

On the morning of 18th July, 2020, I ran for 34 minutes and for the very first time achieved my 5K goal!

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5k for the first time!

 

 

New Friends

Joe Wicks

Confined to our house we, like most of the country, searched for new virtual friends to help us pass the time and they presented themselves to us via different forums.  Firstly we joined in with the national TV phenomenon that was Joe Wicks’ ‘PE With Joe’.  For those of you who don’t know, Joe had built an incredibly strong fitness brand based on workout programmes released on his YouTube channel, but as lockdown confined entire families to their front rooms so he began to run a 20 minute workout each morning for everyone to join in with.  The exercises were simple and Wicks’ energetic and engaging repartee engaged the whole family as we looked for which ornaments had changed place in his rather stylish and expensive living room.  We all togged up in our ‘fitness gear’ after breakfast and followed Joe for a few weeks, which was a really fun and valuable bonding time, but our youngest struggled with focus and attention after a while and we quietly bade farewell to Joe.

 

Nick Cope

The girls’ school were superb at sending all sorts of resources to parents so that all of the children had plenty to occupy them – this wasn’t necessarily a pre-planned curriculum of lessons to be strictly adhered to, but a series of suggested activities.  Our 5 year old is in the Reception class and one of the links that her teacher sent was to a singer called Nick Cope who was broadcasting regular mini concerts from his front room.  Cope used to be the lead singer of a band called The Candyskins who had success at the beginning of the Britpop era of the early 1990s.  These days Nick has made a brilliant career of writing and singing a series of gentle and witty songs for children and had actually visited the school to perform for the younger year groups.  Soon we were all becoming familiar with his  repertoire and downloaded his albums to play in the car on longer journeys (each time a new song came on our daughter would shout out ‘he did this one at school, its my FAVOURITE!’  In which case it must have been a VERY long concert!)

One particular favourite number was ‘A Round of Applause for the Dinosaurs’ part of the refrain of which goes: ‘Brontosaurus, Stegosaurus and T-Rex, not forgetting Diplodocus with his long neck!’ and on one of our neighbourhood walks we would pass a house where models of those particular species were displayed on an upstairs windowsill: fellow fans we guessed, and we would walk down the street singing the song out loud!

 

Jimmy Carr and Richard Osman

On a more adult level for Liz and me the passing of the early days of lockdown were marked by a daily quiz hosted by comedian Jimmy Carr, which he called ‘The Little Tiny Quiz of the Lockdown’  The format was simple, ten trivia questions, answers broadcast a short while later.  No prizes, no competition, just a little mental stimulation after the children were in bed which became an almost essential marking of the passing of another day.  The quizes ran for about 5 or 6 weeks until presumably Jimmy Carr ran out of trivia, but during those early days they a real feature of our days.

The quiz theme was then taken up by TV producer and host of the ‘Pointless’ TV series Richard Osman, who as a way of promoting his first novel ‘The Thursday Murder Club’ wrote a weekly newsletter (published appropriately on a Thursday) to his very many fans which included a quiz.  Each week all of the answers began with the same letter of the alphabet and at the time of writing we have reached the letter R.  As with Carr’s daily quiz the arrival of ‘Osman night’ marked the passing of another week and gave a sense of routine and stability to a fluid and uncertain reality.

 

Moving Out Of Lockdown

Although Coronavirus is still present in our society and a vaccine has yet to be officially distributed, the more stringent lockdown regulations have now been lifted and a sense of normality is returning to our towns and cities.  Shops are opening, although the wearing of facemasks (which we have done since the start anyway) is now mandatory.  Hair salons are doing a roaring trade, as are pubs and restaurants with careful policies in place.

As far as we are concerned there is really no change in that ‘normality’ coincided with the start of the school holidays meaning that we would all have been at home anyway.  Our days will still be filled with walks, cycle rides and art projects, but hopefully we can actually meet up with friends for picnics etc, as well as visiting playparks.

The roads are busier now and we have to wait for much longer periods to cross.  Cycling is more stressful too, but we still get out on our bikes when we can.  Standing on the footbridge over the A34 the traffic thunders along and drivers are in too much of a rush to notice a family waving to them.

Slowly ‘normal’ life is returning and some of those precious moments are being lost.

In writing these words I do not set out to pretend that our life through the last four months has been perfect and wonderful: it definitely has not been and there have been plenty of days when we have all become increasingly impatient and angry with each other leading to tantrums on all sides which probably have made our neighbours wince.

In writing this blog post I simply wanted to preserve some of those little  memories that may otherwise get swept away in the course of time.

 

 

The Ridgeway

The Ridgeway

 

Richard Osman

https://www.penguin.co.uk/books/315815/the-thursday-murder-club/9780241425442.html

 

Nick Cope

https://www.penguin.co.uk/books/315815/the-thursday-murder-club/9780241425442.html

 

Jimmy Carr

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Seven Dials

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The Seven Dials Sketch was published in September 1835 in Bells Life in London and is the first of the ‘Scenes and Characters’ series, in which Dickens presents little snapshots of London life.

Seven Dials is almost a literary recreation of the famous William Hogarth prints Beer Street and Gin Lane, and presents a vivid picture of the force of character among the poor.  This is not a campaigning piece, it is an observation.  We even get a glimpse of Boz himself in the form of ‘The shabby-genteel man…’  who is ‘…an object of some mystery, but as he leads a life of seclusion, and never was known to buy anything beyond an occasional pen, except half-pints of coffee, penny loaves, and ha’porths of ink, his fellow-lodgers very naturally suppose him to be an author; and rumours are current in the Dials, that he writes poems for Mr. Warren.’  Mr Warren had owned the factory that made shoe blacking, where a 12 year old Charles Dickens had miserably worked

 

Seven Dials

We have always been of opinion that if Tom King and the Frenchman had not immortalised Seven Dials, Seven Dials would have immortalised itself. Seven Dials! the region of song and poetry—first effusions, and last dying speeches: hallowed by the names of Catnach and of Pitts—names that will entwine themselves with costermongers, and barrel-organs, when penny magazines shall have superseded penny yards of song, and capital punishment be unknown!

 

 
Look at the construction of the place. The Gordian knot was all very well in its way: so was the maze of Hampton Court: so is the maze at the Beulah Spa: so were the ties of stiff white neckcloths, when the difficulty of getting one on, was only to be equalled by the apparent impossibility of ever getting it off again. But what involutions can compare with those of Seven Dials? Where is there such another maze of streets, courts, lanes, and alleys? Where such a pure mixture of Englishmen and Irishmen, as in this complicated part of London? We boldly aver that we doubt the veracity of the legend to which we have adverted. We can suppose a man rash enough to inquire at random—at a house with lodgers too—for a Mr. Thompson, with all but the certainty before his eyes, of finding at least two or three Thompsons in any house of moderate dimensions; but a Frenchman—a Frenchman in Seven Dials! Pooh! He was an Irishman. Tom King’s education had been neglected in his infancy, and as he couldn’t understand half the man said, he took it for granted he was talking French.

 

 
The stranger who finds himself in ‘The Dials’ for the first time, and stands Belzoni-like, at the entrance of seven obscure passages, uncertain which to take, will see enough around him to keep his curiosity and attention awake for no inconsiderable time. From the irregular square into which he has plunged, the streets and courts dart in all directions, until they are lost in the unwholesome vapour which hangs over the house-tops, and renders the dirty perspective uncertain and confined; and lounging at every corner, as if they came there to take a few gasps of such fresh air as has found its way so far, but is too much exhausted already, to be enabled to force itself into the narrow alleys around, are groups of people, whose appearance and dwellings would fill any mind but a regular Londoner’s with astonishment.

 

 
On one side, a little crowd has collected round a couple of ladies, who having imbibed the contents of various ‘three-outs’ of gin and bitters in the course of the morning, have at length differed on some point of domestic arrangement, and are on the eve of settling the quarrel satisfactorily, by an appeal to blows, greatly to the interest of other ladies who live in the same house, and tenements adjoining, and who are all partisans on one side or other.

 

 
‘Vy don’t you pitch into her, Sarah?’ exclaims one half-dressed matron, by way of encouragement. ‘Vy don’t you? if my ’usband had treated her with a drain last night, unbeknown to me, I’d tear her precious eyes out—a wixen!’

 

 
‘What’s the matter, ma’am?’ inquires another old woman, who has just bustled up to the spot.

 

 
‘Matter!’ replies the first speaker, talking at the obnoxious combatant, ‘matter! Here’s poor dear Mrs. Sulliwin, as has five blessed children of her own, can’t go out a charing for one arternoon, but what hussies must be a comin’, and ’ticing avay her oun’ ’usband, as she’s been married to twelve year come next Easter Monday, for I see the certificate ven I vas a drinkin’ a cup o’ tea vith her, only the werry last blessed Ven’sday as ever was sent. I ’appen’d to say promiscuously, “Mrs. Sulliwin,” says I—’

 

 
‘What do you mean by hussies?’ interrupts a champion of the other party, who has evinced a strong inclination throughout to get up a branch fight on her own account (‘Hooroar,’ ejaculates a pot-boy in parenthesis, ‘put the kye-bosk on her, Mary!’), ‘What do you mean by hussies?’ reiterates the champion.

 

 
‘Niver mind,’ replies the opposition expressively, ‘niver mind; you go home, and, ven you’re quite sober, mend your stockings.’

 

 
This somewhat personal allusion, not only to the lady’s habits of intemperance, but also to the state of her wardrobe, rouses her utmost ire, and she accordingly complies with the urgent request of the bystanders to ‘pitch in,’ with considerable alacrity. The scuffle became general, and terminates, in minor play-bill phraseology, with ‘arrival of the policemen, interior of the station-house, and impressive dénouement.’

 

 
In addition to the numerous groups who are idling about the gin-shops and squabbling in the centre of the road, every post in the open space has its occupant, who leans against it for hours, with listless perseverance. It is odd enough that one class of men in London appear to have no enjoyment beyond leaning against posts. We never saw a regular bricklayer’s labourer take any other recreation, fighting excepted. Pass through St. Giles’s in the evening of a week-day, there they are in their fustian dresses, spotted with brick-dust and whitewash, leaning against posts. Walk through Seven Dials on Sunday morning: there they are again, drab or light corduroy trousers, Blucher boots, blue coats, and great yellow waistcoats, leaning against posts. The idea of a man dressing himself in his best clothes, to lean against a post all day!

 

 
The peculiar character of these streets, and the close resemblance each one bears to its neighbour, by no means tends to decrease the bewilderment in which the unexperienced wayfarer through ‘the Dials’ finds himself involved. He traverses streets of dirty, straggling houses, with now and then an unexpected court composed of buildings as ill-proportioned and deformed as the half-naked children that wallow in the kennels. Here and there, a little dark chandler’s shop, with a cracked bell hung up behind the door to announce the entrance of a customer, or betray the presence of some young gentleman in whom a passion for shop tills has developed itself at an early age: others, as if for support, against some handsome lofty building, which usurps the place of a low dingy public-house; long rows of broken and patched windows expose plants that may have flourished when ‘the Dials’ were built, in vessels as dirty as ‘the Dials’ themselves; and shops for the purchase of rags, bones, old iron, and kitchen-stuff, vie in cleanliness with the bird-fanciers and rabbit-dealers, which one might fancy so many arks, but for the irresistible conviction that no bird in its proper senses, who was permitted to leave one of them, would ever come back again. Brokers’ shops, which would seem to have been established by humane individuals, as refuges for destitute bugs, interspersed with announcements of day-schools, penny theatres, petition-writers, mangles, and music for balls or routs, complete the ‘still life’ of the subject; and dirty men, filthy women, squalid children, fluttering shuttlecocks, noisy battledores, reeking pipes, bad fruit, more than doubtful oysters, attenuated cats, depressed dogs, and anatomical fowls, are its cheerful accompaniments.

 

 
If the external appearance of the houses, or a glance at their inhabitants, present but few attractions, a closer acquaintance with either is little calculated to alter one’s first impression. Every room has its separate tenant, and every tenant is, by the same mysterious dispensation which causes a country curate to ‘increase and multiply’ most marvellously, generally the head of a numerous family.

 

 
The man in the shop, perhaps, is in the baked ‘jemmy’ line, or the fire-wood and hearth-stone line, or any other line which requires a floating capital of eighteen-pence or thereabouts: and he and his family live in the shop, and the small back parlour behind it. Then there is an Irish labourer and his family in the back kitchen, and a jobbing man—carpet-beater and so forth—with his family in the front one. In the front one-pair, there’s another man with another wife and family, and in the back one-pair, there’s ‘a young ’oman as takes in tambour-work, and dresses quite genteel,’ who talks a good deal about ‘my friend,’ and can’t ‘a-bear anything low.’ The second floor front, and the rest of the lodgers, are just a second edition of the people below, except a shabby-genteel man in the back attic, who has his half-pint of coffee every morning from the coffee-shop next door but one, which boasts a little front den called a coffee-room, with a fireplace, over which is an inscription, politely requesting that, ‘to prevent mistakes,’ customers will ‘please to pay on delivery.’ The shabby-genteel man is an object of some mystery, but as he leads a life of seclusion, and never was known to buy anything beyond an occasional pen, except half-pints of coffee, penny loaves, and ha’porths of ink, his fellow-lodgers very naturally suppose him to be an author; and rumours are current in the Dials, that he writes poems for Mr. Warren.

 

 
Now anybody who passed through the Dials on a hot summer’s evening, and saw the different women of the house gossiping on the steps, would be apt to think that all was harmony among them, and that a more primitive set of people than the native Diallers could not be imagined. Alas! the man in the shop ill-treats his family; the carpet-beater extends his professional pursuits to his wife; the one-pair front has an undying feud with the two-pair front, in consequence of the two-pair front persisting in dancing over his (the one-pair front’s) head, when he and his family have retired for the night; the two-pair back will interfere with the front kitchen’s children; the Irishman comes home drunk every other night, and attacks everybody; and the one-pair back screams at everything. Animosities spring up between floor and floor; the very cellar asserts his equality. Mrs. A. ‘smacks’ Mrs. B.’s child for ‘making faces.’ Mrs. B. forthwith throws cold water over Mrs. A.’s child for ‘calling names.’ The husbands are embroiled—the quarrel becomes general—an assault is the consequence, and a police-officer the result.

Bringing Dickens to the Stage. Part Two: Dickens’ performing career

The original of this post is part of the of the BMI Lockdown Life initiative, in collaboration with the Birmingham & Midland Institute. Join the conversation on Twitter with #BMILockdownLife.  The post can be seen in its original form at

https://blog.bham.ac.uk/clic-dickens/2020/06/24/bringing-dickens-to-the-stage-part-two/

 

This is the second post of the mini-series “Bringing Dickens to the Stage”, in which actor Gerald Dickens (@DickensShows on Twitter) recounts his personal connection with the works of his great great grandfather, Charles Dickens. The post is brought to you as part of the BMI Lockdown Life initiative, in collaboration with the Birmingham & Midland Institute. Join the conversation on Twitter with #BMILockdownLife.

 
In my previous blog post I explained how I discovered the delights of performing the works of my great great grandfather Charles Dickens, when I was asked to recreate one of his most famous performances as a fundraiser in 1993. This post gives a brief account of Dickens’ performing career.

 
Dickens – An actor writing his own scripts
I knew little about the theatrical career of Charles Dickens, but my father had recommended that I read various biographies and it soon became apparent to me that rather than being an author who read from his own works, Dickens was more of an actor who wrote his own scripts. The love of theatre was apparent from his earliest years and in The Uncommercial Traveller he wrote a remembrance of his childhood town (actually Chatham in Kent but rather unkindly fictionalised as ‘Dullborough’) he recalled his early memories of visiting the theatre, remembering how: “Richard the Third, in a very uncomfortable cloak, had first appeared to me there, and had made my heart leap with terror by backing up against the stage-box in which I was posted, while struggling for life against the virtuous Richmond. It was within those walls that I had learnt as from a page of English history, how that wicked King slept in war-time on a sofa much too short for him, and how fearfully his conscience troubled his boots […] Many wondrous secrets of Nature had I come to the knowledge of in that sanctuary: of which not the least terrific were, that the witches in Macbeth bore an awful resemblance to the Thanes and other proper inhabitants of Scotland; and that the good King Duncan couldn’t rest in his grave, but was constantly coming out of it and calling himself somebody else.” (The Uncommercial Traveller, Chapter XII)

 
As a young man living in London, Charles would continue to indulge his passion for the stage and even took lessons from a professional actor, presumably with the intention of exploring the possibility of making it his career; to that end he even managed to secure an audition at The Covent Garden Theatre, but never made the appointment due to his health. The fact that he never tried again suggests that the reality of a life on the stage did not tally with his desire for a comfortable, even slightly foppish, lifestyle. Dickens was finding success as a journalist which would of course lead to his writing career and wealth way beyond that which he could have achieved by treading the boards of the provincial theatres. The financial aspect is an important one – Dickens wasn’t greedy for money, but his entire outlook was shaped by the memory of his father’s imprisonment for debt and his own humiliating days as a twelve year old slaving in Warren’s Blacking factory to bring a few pennies into the family. Making money was not so much a beacon of success to Charles Dickens, but a signal of triumphing over failure.

 
From his earliest works theatre featured strongly. In Sketches by Boz, he wrote of ‘Private Theatres’ and in his first novel The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, one of the first characters we meet is the itinerant, and wholly untrustworthy, actor Mr Jingle.

 
It was in his third novel, however, that Dickens really brought the stage to his literature. In Nicholas Nickleby our hero accompanied his ever-trusting companion Smike, set out to walk from London to Portsmouth in the hope that they may find employment onboard a ship. During their journey they find themselves at a roadside inn where they meet Mr Vincent Crummles and his theatrical troupe. The scenes that follow are among the funniest in Dickens’ work and the love of his subject clearly shines through.

 

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Figure 1: “Nicholas was prepared for something odd, but not for something quite so odd as the sight he encountered. At the upper end of the room, were a couple of boys, one of them very tall and the other very short, both dressed as sailors–or at least as theatrical sailors, with belts, buckles, pigtails, and pistols complete” Nicholas Nickleby, Chapter 22 (illustration by Phiz, image scanned by Philip V. Allingham for the Victorian Web)

 
Dickens, the celebrity, taking to the stage.

As the young anonymous author Boz morphed into Charles Dickens the celebrity, so he was able to surround himself with likeminded folk and take to the stage more seriously. Dickens and others in his circle formed an organisation called The Guild of Literature and Art which was ostensibly created to assist the families of artists who were left in poverty. The group, made up of notable names from the fields of literature, theatre and the visual arts would stage great theatrical events in order to raise money; of course, besides its philanthropic ideals, it was also a splendid excuse for Dickens to become an actor manager and indulge his passion.

 
Over the years the troupe performed plays such as Ben Johnson’s Every Man and his Humour, and Elizabeth Inchbald’s farce Animal Magnetism, whilst Edward Bulwer-Lytton, another founder member of the Guild, wrote Not So Bad As We Seem which was performed in his ancestral home Knebworth House. What all these productions had in common was the name of Charles Dickens at the head of the cast list. He was supported by such luminaries as fellow author Wilkie Collins, the artist Augustus Egg and Mark Lemon, the editor of Punch magazine.

 
In 1856 Dickens suggested to Collins that they collaborate on a brand-new play which would be performed in Charles’ own home in Tavistock Square the following January and which was called The Frozen Deep.

 
Charles Dickens threw himself into the project with huge verve. He began to convert his home into a theatre which would hold around 93 guests, at least ten of whom “will neither hear nor see!” His letters during the weeks prior to the performances were a flurry of preparation. He spoke of a great lighting effect that would open the show:
“I should very much like you only to see a Sunset – far better than anything that has ever been done at the Diorama or any such place. There is a Rehearsal to night (no one here but the company), and this Sunset, which begins the play, will be visible at a quarter before 8: lasting ten minutes.” (letter to Mrs Brown, 2 January 1857).

 
Scenery had to be completed and he had enlisted a great artist to work on the backdrops: Clarkson Stanfield, a Royal Academician, was creating a splendid arctic vista for the final act, but Dickens wrote to him as if he were a stage hand at one of the London theatres, “My Dear Stanny…I forgot that there are all those Icicles to be made. Could you manage to come tomorrow afternoon – direct that operation before dinner – take your mutton with us – and then take the Rehearsal? Do if you can.” (1 January 1857). The entire cast, which included members of his own family, were rigorously rehearsed to a strict timetable until the day of the first performance arrived.

 

The performance was the talk of the town and The Illustrated London News reported that Dickens’ role of Richard Wardour “required the consummate acting of a well-practised performer. Too much praise cannot be bestowed on the artistic interpretation that it received from him. It was a fervid, powerful and distinct individuality, thoroughly made out in all its details.” His talents as an actor were not in doubt. But he was restless and wanted more, in fact he wanted much more: he wanted all of the applause – not a share of it. Charles Dickens was about to embark on his new career, that of a professional reader.

 

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Figure 2: Dickens giving the last reading of his Works. (Source: Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0))
As was natural for a man of Dickens’ standing, he had been called upon to read from his own works by various charitable organisations and these performances had been well received by all who witnessed them and soon he realised that there was quite a lucrative opportunity in performing for his own benefit. From the very start Charles went to great lengths to not only read a passage from a book but to use his theatrical experiences to create a carefully produced script. Scenes were cut back to their basics, devoid of description, because the performer could create a face, an atmosphere, a scene purely by changing his expression, stance and demeanour.

 
As for his physical surroundings Dickens created a set which was simple and carefully considered. The reading desk, covered in maroon fabric and trimmed with gold braid, was slender so that it didn’t mask too much of the performer’s body. Rather than being a tall lectern, the desk was quite short but there was a small box which sat on the top for the reader to rest his hand on, meaning that when he referred to the book his face was not in shadow. To one side of the desk there was a little shelf which held a carafe of water and a handkerchief. The desk wasn’t purely a physical necessity but became a prop in its own right; for example during Fezziwig’s party in A Christmas Carol, Dickens would drum his long fingers on the table thereby creating a puppetry representation of the old man dancing to Sir Roger de Coverley.

 
A skilled and talented performer
At first the public filled the halls out of a sense of curiosity, to see the great Dickens who had enriched their lives with his stories. In those early days Charles could probably just have read a list of characters and the audience would have gone home happy, but the fact that he was such a skilled and talented performer created a unique art form and the shows became the hottest ticket in town.

 
Charles, or ‘The Inimitable’ as he called himself, never took his eye off the ball and went to great lengths to make the readings perfect: he created a gas lighting rig that bathed him in bright light so that no facial expression was lost, and to complement that he erected a huge maroon-coloured screen behind him so that his pale features stood out clearly. The screen was not made of curtain but of a solid material meaning that it also acted as a sounding-board, a necessity in auditoria that sometimes held up to 3,000 people.

 
A true theatrical man, Dickens left nothing to chance in bringing his works to the stage.
In my next post I will look at the gestation of one of his notorious performances: Sikes and Nancy.

The Ladies’ Societies

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The fourteenth of Charles Dickens’ sketches was published in The Evening Chronicle in July 1835.  The Ladies’ Societies is a further chapter in the ‘Our Parish’ series and once again features the character of Mr Bung (who featured in both  ‘The Election for Beadle’ and ‘The Brokers’ Man’), thereby maintaining the sense of continuity and community.  ‘The Ladies’ Societies’ uses the battles for influence and power between well-meaning charitable organisations for comic effect and it is another theme that he would develop and re-use in his later novels, particularly when he created the character of Mrs Jellyby in Bleak House.

 

The Ladies’ Societies

Our Parish is very prolific in ladies’ charitable institutions. In winter, when wet feet are common, and colds not scarce, we have the ladies’ soup distribution society, the ladies’ coal distribution society, and the ladies’ blanket distribution society; in summer, when stone fruits flourish and stomach aches prevail, we have the ladies’ dispensary, and the ladies’ sick visitation committee; and all the year round we have the ladies’ child’s examination society, the ladies’ bible and prayer-book circulation society, and the ladies’ childbed-linen monthly loan society. The two latter are decidedly the most important; whether they are productive of more benefit than the rest, it is not for us to say, but we can take upon ourselves to affirm, with the utmost solemnity, that they create a greater stir and more bustle, than all the others put together.

 
We should be disposed to affirm, on the first blush of the matter, that the bible and prayer-book society is not so popular as the childbed-linen society; the bible and prayer-book society has, however, considerably increased in importance within the last year or two, having derived some adventitious aid from the factious opposition of the child’s examination society; which factious opposition originated in manner following:—When the young curate was popular, and all the unmarried ladies in the parish took a serious turn, the charity children all at once became objects of peculiar and especial interest. The three Miss Browns (enthusiastic admirers of the curate) taught, and exercised, and examined, and re-examined the unfortunate children, until the boys grew pale, and the girls consumptive with study and fatigue. The three Miss Browns stood it out very well, because they relieved each other; but the children, having no relief at all, exhibited decided symptoms of weariness and care. The unthinking part of the parishioners laughed at all this, but the more reflective portion of the inhabitants abstained from expressing any opinion on the subject until that of the curate had been clearly ascertained.

 
The opportunity was not long wanting. The curate preached a charity sermon on behalf of the charity school, and in the charity sermon aforesaid, expatiated in glowing terms on the praiseworthy and indefatigable exertions of certain estimable individuals. Sobs were heard to issue from the three Miss Browns’ pew; the pew-opener of the division was seen to hurry down the centre aisle to the vestry door, and to return immediately, bearing a glass of water in her hand. A low moaning ensued; two more pew-openers rushed to the spot, and the three Miss Browns, each supported by a pew-opener, were led out of the church, and led in again after the lapse of five minutes with white pocket-handkerchiefs to their eyes, as if they had been attending a funeral in the churchyard adjoining. If any doubt had for a moment existed, as to whom the allusion was intended to apply, it was at once removed. The wish to enlighten the charity children became universal, and the three Miss Browns were unanimously besought to divide the school into classes, and to assign each class to the superintendence of two young ladies.

 
A little learning is a dangerous thing, but a little patronage is more so; the three Miss Browns appointed all the old maids, and carefully excluded the young ones. Maiden aunts triumphed, mammas were reduced to the lowest depths of despair, and there is no telling in what act of violence the general indignation against the three Miss Browns might have vented itself, had not a perfectly providential occurrence changed the tide of public feeling. Mrs. Johnson Parker, the mother of seven extremely fine girls—all unmarried—hastily reported to several other mammas of several other unmarried families, that five old men, six old women, and children innumerable, in the free seats near her pew, were in the habit of coming to church every Sunday, without either bible or prayer-book. Was this to be borne in a civilised country? Could such things be tolerated in a Christian land? Never! A ladies’ bible and prayer-book distribution society was instantly formed: president, Mrs. Johnson Parker; treasurers, auditors, and secretary, the Misses Johnson Parker: subscriptions were entered into, books were bought, all the free-seat people provided therewith, and when the first lesson was given out, on the first Sunday succeeding these events, there was such a dropping of books, and rustling of leaves, that it was morally impossible to hear one word of the service for five minutes afterwards.

 
The three Miss Browns, and their party, saw the approaching danger, and endeavoured to avert it by ridicule and sarcasm. Neither the old men nor the old women could read their books, now they had got them, said the three Miss Browns. Never mind; they could learn, replied Mrs. Johnson Parker. The children couldn’t read either, suggested the three Miss Browns. No matter; they could be taught, retorted Mrs. Johnson Parker. A balance of parties took place. The Miss Browns publicly examined—popular feeling inclined to the child’s examination society. The Miss Johnson Parkers publicly distributed—a reaction took place in favour of the prayer-book distribution. A feather would have turned the scale, and a feather did turn it. A missionary returned from the West Indies; he was to be presented to the Dissenters’ Missionary Society on his marriage with a wealthy widow. Overtures were made to the Dissenters by the Johnson Parkers. Their object was the same, and why not have a joint meeting of the two societies? The proposition was accepted. The meeting was duly heralded by public announcement, and the room was crowded to suffocation. The Missionary appeared on the platform; he was hailed with enthusiasm. He repeated a dialogue he had heard between two negroes, behind a hedge, on the subject of distribution societies; the approbation was tumultuous. He gave an imitation of the two negroes in broken English; the roof was rent with applause. From that period we date (with one trifling exception) a daily increase in the popularity of the distribution society, and an increase of popularity, which the feeble and impotent opposition of the examination party, has only tended to augment.

 
Now, the great points about the childbed-linen monthly loan society are, that it is less dependent on the fluctuations of public opinion than either the distribution or the child’s examination; and that, come what may, there is never any lack of objects on which to exercise its benevolence. Our parish is a very populous one, and, if anything, contributes, we should be disposed to say, rather more than its due share to the aggregate amount of births in the metropolis and its environs. The consequence is, that the monthly loan society flourishes, and invests its members with a most enviable amount of bustling patronage. The society (whose only notion of dividing time, would appear to be its allotment into months) holds monthly tea-drinkings, at which the monthly report is received, a secretary elected for the month ensuing, and such of the monthly boxes as may not happen to be out on loan for the month, carefully examined.

 
We were never present at one of these meetings, from all of which it is scarcely necessary to say, gentlemen are carefully excluded; but Mr. Bung has been called before the board once or twice, and we have his authority for stating, that its proceedings are conducted with great order and regularity: not more than four members being allowed to speak at one time on any pretence whatever. The regular committee is composed exclusively of married ladies, but a vast number of young unmarried ladies of from eighteen to twenty-five years of age, respectively, are admitted as honorary members, partly because they are very useful in replenishing the boxes, and visiting the confined; partly because it is highly desirable that they should be initiated, at an early period, into the more serious and matronly duties of after-life; and partly, because prudent mammas have not unfrequently been known to turn this circumstance to wonderfully good account in matrimonial speculations.

 
In addition to the loan of the monthly boxes (which are always painted blue, with the name of the society in large white letters on the lid), the society dispense occasional grants of beef-tea, and a composition of warm beer, spice, eggs, and sugar, commonly known by the name of ‘candle,’ to its patients. And here again the services of the honorary members are called into requisition, and most cheerfully conceded. Deputations of twos or threes are sent out to visit the patients, and on these occasions there is such a tasting of candle and beef-tea, such a stirring about of little messes in tiny saucepans on the hob, such a dressing and undressing of infants, such a tying, and folding, and pinning; such a nursing and warming of little legs and feet before the fire, such a delightful confusion of talking and cooking, bustle, importance, and officiousness, as never can be enjoyed in its full extent but on similar occasions.

 
In rivalry of these two institutions, and as a last expiring effort to acquire parochial popularity, the child’s examination people determined, the other day, on having a grand public examination of the pupils; and the large school-room of the national seminary was, by and with the consent of the parish authorities, devoted to the purpose. Invitation circulars were forwarded to all the principal parishioners, including, of course, the heads of the other two societies, for whose especial behoof and edification the display was intended; and a large audience was confidently anticipated on the occasion. The floor was carefully scrubbed the day before, under the immediate superintendence of the three Miss Browns; forms were placed across the room for the accommodation of the visitors, specimens in writing were carefully selected, and as carefully patched and touched up, until they astonished the children who had written them, rather more than the company who read them; sums in compound addition were rehearsed and re-rehearsed until all the children had the totals by heart; and the preparations altogether were on the most labourious and most comprehensive scale. The morning arrived: the children were yellow-soaped and flannelled, and towelled, till their faces shone again; every pupil’s hair was carefully combed into his or her eyes, as the case might be; the girls were adorned with snow-white tippets, and caps bound round the head by a single purple ribbon: the necks of the elder boys were fixed into collars of startling dimensions.
The doors were thrown open, and the Misses Brown and Co. were discovered in plain white muslin dresses, and caps of the same—the child’s examination uniform. The room filled: the greetings of the company were loud and cordial. The distributionists trembled, for their popularity was at stake. The eldest boy fell forward, and delivered a propitiatory address from behind his collar. It was from the pen of Mr. Henry Brown; the applause was universal, and the Johnson Parkers were aghast. The examination proceeded with success, and terminated in triumph. The child’s examination society gained a momentary victory, and the Johnson Parkers retreated in despair.

 
A secret council of the distributionists was held that night, with Mrs. Johnson Parker in the chair, to consider of the best means of recovering the ground they had lost in the favour of the parish. What could be done? Another meeting! Alas! who was to attend it? The Missionary would not do twice; and the slaves were emancipated. A bold step must be taken. The parish must be astonished in some way or other; but no one was able to suggest what the step should be. At length, a very old lady was heard to mumble, in indistinct tones, ‘Exeter Hall.’ A sudden light broke in upon the meeting. It was unanimously resolved, that a deputation of old ladies should wait upon a celebrated orator, imploring his assistance, and the favour of a speech; and the deputation should also wait on two or three other imbecile old women, not resident in the parish, and entreat their attendance. The application was successful, the meeting was held; the orator (an Irishman) came. He talked of green isles—other shores—vast Atlantic—bosom of the deep—Christian charity—blood and extermination—mercy in hearts—arms in hands—altars and homes—household gods. He wiped his eyes, he blew his nose, and he quoted Latin. The effect was tremendous—the Latin was a decided hit. Nobody knew exactly what it was about, but everybody knew it must be affecting, because even the orator was overcome. The popularity of the distribution society among the ladies of our parish is unprecedented; and the child’s examination is going fast to decay.

The Broker’s Man

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The thirteenth sketch, and the third of the ‘Our Parish’ followed on from the events of ‘The Election for Beadle’ thereby giving the readership a sense of continuity.  The subject matter was close to Dickens’ heart as it dealt with the topic of debt (the broker’s man of the title undertook the job of remaining in a home until a debt was repaid, or re-possession of goods could be carried out).  Despite the terrible memories of his own childhood the piece begins lightly, but by the end of what is a short sketch the tone has turned to utter tragedy.

It was a subject to which Dickens would return often.

 

The Broker’s Man was first published in The Evening Chronicle on July 28th, 1835

 

The Broker’s Man

The excitement of the late election has subsided, and our parish being once again restored to a state of comparative tranquillity, we are enabled to devote our attention to those parishioners who take little share in our party contests or in the turmoil and bustle of public life. And we feel sincere pleasure in acknowledging here, that in collecting materials for this task we have been greatly assisted by Mr. Bung himself, who has imposed on us a debt of obligation which we fear we can never repay. The life of this gentleman has been one of a very chequered description: he has undergone transitions—not from grave to gay, for he never was grave—not from lively to severe, for severity forms no part of his disposition; his fluctuations have been between poverty in the extreme, and poverty modified, or, to use his own emphatic language, ‘between nothing to eat and just half enough.’ He is not, as he forcibly remarks, ‘one of those fortunate men who, if they were to dive under one side of a barge stark-naked, would come up on the other with a new suit of clothes on, and a ticket for soup in the waistcoat-pocket:’ neither is he one of those, whose spirit has been broken beyond redemption by misfortune and want. He is just one of the careless, good-for-nothing, happy fellows, who float, cork-like, on the surface, for the world to play at hockey with: knocked here, and there, and everywhere: now to the right, then to the left, again up in the air, and anon to the bottom, but always reappearing and bounding with the stream buoyantly and merrily along. Some few months before he was prevailed upon to stand a contested election for the office of beadle, necessity attached him to the service of a broker; and on the opportunities he here acquired of ascertaining the condition of most of the poorer inhabitants of the parish, his patron, the captain, first grounded his claims to public support. Chance threw the man in our way a short time since. We were, in the first instance, attracted by his prepossessing impudence at the election; we were not surprised, on further acquaintance, to find him a shrewd, knowing fellow, with no inconsiderable power of observation; and, after conversing with him a little, were somewhat struck (as we dare say our readers have frequently been in other cases) with the power some men seem to have, not only of sympathising with, but to all appearance of understanding feelings to which they themselves are entire strangers. We had been expressing to the new functionary our surprise that he should ever have served in the capacity to which we have just adverted, when we gradually led him into one or two professional anecdotes. As we are induced to think, on reflection, that they will tell better in nearly his own words, than with any attempted embellishments of ours, we will at once entitle them.

 
MR BUNG’S NARRATIVE.

 
‘It’s very true, as you say, sir,’ Mr. Bung commenced, ‘that a broker’s man’s is not a life to be envied; and in course you know as well as I do, though you don’t say it, that people hate and scout ’em because they’re the ministers of wretchedness, like, to poor people. But what could I do, sir? The thing was no worse because I did it, instead of somebody else; and if putting me in possession of a house would put me in possession of three and sixpence a day, and levying a distress on another man’s goods would relieve my distress and that of my family, it can’t be expected but what I’d take the job and go through with it. I never liked it, God knows; I always looked out for something else, and the moment I got other work to do, I left it. If there is anything wrong in being the agent in such matters—not the principal, mind you—I’m sure the business, to a beginner like I was, at all events, carries its own punishment along with it. I wished again and again that the people would only blow me up, or pitch into me—that I wouldn’t have minded, it’s all in my way; but it’s the being shut up by yourself in one room for five days, without so much as an old newspaper to look at, or anything to see out o’ the winder but the roofs and chimneys at the back of the house, or anything to listen to, but the ticking, perhaps, of an old Dutch clock, the sobbing of the missis, now and then, the low talking of friends in the next room, who speak in whispers, lest “the man” should overhear them, or perhaps the occasional opening of the door, as a child peeps in to look at you, and then runs half-frightened away—it’s all this, that makes you feel sneaking somehow, and ashamed of yourself; and then, if it’s wintertime, they just give you fire enough to make you think you’d like more, and bring in your grub as if they wished it ’ud choke you—as I dare say they do, for the matter of that, most heartily. If they’re very civil, they make you up a bed in the room at night, and if they don’t, your master sends one in for you; but there you are, without being washed or shaved all the time, shunned by everybody, and spoken to by no one, unless some one comes in at dinner-time, and asks you whether you want any more, in a tone as much to say, “I hope you don’t,” or, in the evening, to inquire whether you wouldn’t rather have a candle, after you’ve been sitting in the dark half the night. When I was left in this way, I used to sit, think, think, thinking, till I felt as lonesome as a kitten in a wash-house copper with the lid on; but I believe the old brokers’ men who are regularly trained to it, never think at all. I have heard some on ’em say, indeed, that they don’t know how!

 
‘I put in a good many distresses in my time (continued Mr. Bung), and in course I wasn’t long in finding, that some people are not as much to be pitied as others are, and that people with good incomes who get into difficulties, which they keep patching up day after day and week after week, get so used to these sort of things in time, that at last they come scarcely to feel them at all. I remember the very first place I was put in possession of, was a gentleman’s house in this parish here, that everybody would suppose couldn’t help having money if he tried. I went with old Fixem, my old master, ’bout half arter eight in the morning; rang the area-bell; servant in livery opened the door: “Governor at home?”—“Yes, he is,” says the man; “but he’s breakfasting just now.” “Never mind,” says Fixem, “just you tell him there’s a gentleman here, as wants to speak to him partickler.” So the servant he opens his eyes, and stares about him all ways—looking for the gentleman, as it struck me, for I don’t think anybody but a man as was stone-blind would mistake Fixem for one; and as for me, I was as seedy as a cheap cowcumber. Hows’ever, he turns round, and goes to the breakfast-parlour, which was a little snug sort of room at the end of the passage, and Fixem (as we always did in that profession), without waiting to be announced, walks in arter him, and before the servant could get out, “Please, sir, here’s a man as wants to speak to you,” looks in at the door as familiar and pleasant as may be. “Who the devil are you, and how dare you walk into a gentleman’s house without leave?” says the master, as fierce as a bull in fits. “My name,” says Fixem, winking to the master to send the servant away, and putting the warrant into his hands folded up like a note, “My name’s Smith,” says he, “and I called from Johnson’s about that business of Thompson’s.”—“Oh,” says the other, quite down on him directly, “How is Thompson?” says he; “Pray sit down, Mr. Smith: John, leave the room.” Out went the servant; and the gentleman and Fixem looked at one another till they couldn’t look any longer, and then they varied the amusements by looking at me, who had been standing on the mat all this time. “Hundred and fifty pounds, I see,” said the gentleman at last. “Hundred and fifty pound,” said Fixem, “besides cost of levy, sheriff’s poundage, and all other incidental expenses.”—“Um,” says the gentleman, “I shan’t be able to settle this before to-morrow afternoon.”—“Very sorry; but I shall be obliged to leave my man here till then,” replies Fixem, pretending to look very miserable over it. “That’s very unfort’nate,” says the gentleman, “for I have got a large party here to-night, and I’m ruined if those fellows of mine get an inkling of the matter—just step here, Mr. Smith,” says he, after a short pause. So Fixem walks with him up to the window, and after a good deal of whispering, and a little chinking of suverins, and looking at me, he comes back and says, “Bung, you’re a handy fellow, and very honest I know. This gentleman wants an assistant to clean the plate and wait at table to-day, and if you’re not particularly engaged,” says old Fixem, grinning like mad, and shoving a couple of suverins into my hand, “he’ll be very glad to avail himself of your services.” Well, I laughed: and the gentleman laughed, and we all laughed; and I went home and cleaned myself, leaving Fixem there, and when I went back, Fixem went away, and I polished up the plate, and waited at table, and gammoned the servants, and nobody had the least idea I was in possession, though it very nearly came out after all; for one of the last gentlemen who remained, came down-stairs into the hall where I was sitting pretty late at night, and putting half-a-crown into my hand, says, “Here, my man,” says he, “run and get me a coach, will you?” I thought it was a do, to get me out of the house, and was just going to say so, sulkily enough, when the gentleman (who was up to everything) came running down-stairs, as if he was in great anxiety. “Bung,” says he, pretending to be in a consuming passion. “Sir,” says I. “Why the devil an’t you looking after that plate?”—“I was just going to send him for a coach for me,” says the other gentleman. “And I was just a-going to say,” says I—“Anybody else, my dear fellow,” interrupts the master of the house, pushing me down the passage to get out of the way—“anybody else; but I have put this man in possession of all the plate and valuables, and I cannot allow him on any consideration whatever, to leave the house. Bung, you scoundrel, go and count those forks in the breakfast-parlour instantly.” You may be sure I went laughing pretty hearty when I found it was all right. The money was paid next day, with the addition of something else for myself, and that was the best job that I (and I suspect old Fixem too) ever got in that line.

 
‘But this is the bright side of the picture, sir, after all,’ resumed Mr. Bung, laying aside the knowing look and flash air, with which he had repeated the previous anecdote—‘and I’m sorry to say, it’s the side one sees very, very seldom, in comparison with the dark one. The civility which money will purchase, is rarely extended to those who have none; and there’s a consolation even in being able to patch up one difficulty, to make way for another, to which very poor people are strangers. I was once put into a house down George’s-yard—that little dirty court at the back of the gas-works; and I never shall forget the misery of them people, dear me! It was a distress for half a year’s rent—two pound ten, I think. There was only two rooms in the house, and as there was no passage, the lodgers up-stairs always went through the room of the people of the house, as they passed in and out; and every time they did so—which, on the average, was about four times every quarter of an hour—they blowed up quite frightful: for their things had been seized too, and included in the inventory. There was a little piece of enclosed dust in front of the house, with a cinder-path leading up to the door, and an open rain-water butt on one side. A dirty striped curtain, on a very slack string, hung in the window, and a little triangular bit of broken looking-glass rested on the sill inside. I suppose it was meant for the people’s use, but their appearance was so wretched, and so miserable, that I’m certain they never could have plucked up courage to look themselves in the face a second time, if they survived the fright of doing so once. There was two or three chairs, that might have been worth, in their best days, from eightpence to a shilling a-piece; a small deal table, an old corner cupboard with nothing in it, and one of those bedsteads which turn up half way, and leave the bottom legs sticking out for you to knock your head against, or hang your hat upon; no bed, no bedding. There was an old sack, by way of rug, before the fireplace, and four or five children were grovelling about, among the sand on the floor. The execution was only put in, to get ’em out of the house, for there was nothing to take to pay the expenses; and here I stopped for three days, though that was a mere form too: for, in course, I knew, and we all knew, they could never pay the money. In one of the chairs, by the side of the place where the fire ought to have been, was an old ’ooman—the ugliest and dirtiest I ever see—who sat rocking herself backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards, without once stopping, except for an instant now and then, to clasp together the withered hands which, with these exceptions, she kept constantly rubbing upon her knees, just raising and depressing her fingers convulsively, in time to the rocking of the chair. On the other side sat the mother with an infant in her arms, which cried till it cried itself to sleep, and when it ’woke, cried till it cried itself off again. The old ’ooman’s voice I never heard: she seemed completely stupefied; and as to the mother’s, it would have been better if she had been so too, for misery had changed her to a devil. If you had heard how she cursed the little naked children as was rolling on the floor, and seen how savagely she struck the infant when it cried with hunger, you’d have shuddered as much as I did. There they remained all the time: the children ate a morsel of bread once or twice, and I gave ’em best part of the dinners my missis brought me, but the woman ate nothing; they never even laid on the bedstead, nor was the room swept or cleaned all the time. The neighbours were all too poor themselves to take any notice of ’em, but from what I could make out from the abuse of the woman up-stairs, it seemed the husband had been transported a few weeks before. When the time was up, the landlord and old Fixem too, got rather frightened about the family, and so they made a stir about it, and had ’em taken to the workhouse. They sent the sick couch for the old ’ooman, and Simmons took the children away at night. The old ’ooman went into the infirmary, and very soon died. The children are all in the house to this day, and very comfortable they are in comparison. As to the mother, there was no taming her at all. She had been a quiet, hard-working woman, I believe, but her misery had actually drove her wild; so after she had been sent to the house of correction half-a-dozen times, for throwing inkstands at the overseers, blaspheming the churchwardens, and smashing everybody as come near her, she burst a blood-vessel one mornin’, and died too; and a happy release it was, both for herself and the old paupers, male and female, which she used to tip over in all directions, as if they were so many skittles, and she the ball.

 
‘Now this was bad enough,’ resumed Mr. Bung, taking a half-step towards the door, as if to intimate that he had nearly concluded. ‘This was bad enough, but there was a sort of quiet misery—if you understand what I mean by that, sir—about a lady at one house I was put into, as touched me a good deal more. It doesn’t matter where it was exactly: indeed, I’d rather not say, but it was the same sort o’ job. I went with Fixem in the usual way—there was a year’s rent in arrear; a very small servant-girl opened the door, and three or four fine-looking little children was in the front parlour we were shown into, which was very clean, but very scantily furnished, much like the children themselves. “Bung,” says Fixem to me, in a low voice, when we were left alone for a minute, “I know something about this here family, and my opinion is, it’s no go.” “Do you think they can’t settle?” says I, quite anxiously; for I liked the looks of them children. Fixem shook his head, and was just about to reply, when the door opened, and in come a lady, as white as ever I see any one in my days, except about the eyes, which were red with crying. She walked in, as firm as I could have done; shut the door carefully after her, and sat herself down with a face as composed as if it was made of stone. “What is the matter, gentlemen?” says she, in a surprisin’ steady voice. “Is this an execution?” “It is, mum,” says Fixem. The lady looked at him as steady as ever: she didn’t seem to have understood him. “It is, mum,” says Fixem again; “this is my warrant of distress, mum,” says he, handing it over as polite as if it was a newspaper which had been bespoke arter the next gentleman.

 
‘The lady’s lip trembled as she took the printed paper. She cast her eye over it, and old Fixem began to explain the form, but saw she wasn’t reading it, plain enough, poor thing. “Oh, my God!” says she, suddenly a-bursting out crying, letting the warrant fall, and hiding her face in her hands. “Oh, my God! what will become of us!” The noise she made, brought in a young lady of about nineteen or twenty, who, I suppose, had been a-listening at the door, and who had got a little boy in her arms: she sat him down in the lady’s lap, without speaking, and she hugged the poor little fellow to her bosom, and cried over him, till even old Fixem put on his blue spectacles to hide the two tears, that was a-trickling down, one on each side of his dirty face. “Now, dear ma,” says the young lady, “you know how much you have borne. For all our sakes—for pa’s sake,” says she, “don’t give way to this!”—“No, no, I won’t!” says the lady, gathering herself up, hastily, and drying her eyes; “I am very foolish, but I’m better now—much better.” And then she roused herself up, went with us into every room while we took the inventory, opened all the drawers of her own accord, sorted the children’s little clothes to make the work easier; and, except doing everything in a strange sort of hurry, seemed as calm and composed as if nothing had happened. When we came down-stairs again, she hesitated a minute or two, and at last says, “Gentlemen,” says she, “I am afraid I have done wrong, and perhaps it may bring you into trouble. I secreted just now,” she says, “the only trinket I have left in the world—here it is.” So she lays down on the table a little miniature mounted in gold. “It’s a miniature,” she says, “of my poor dear father! I little thought once, that I should ever thank God for depriving me of the original, but I do, and have done for years back, most fervently. Take it away, sir,” she says, “it’s a face that never turned from me in sickness and distress, and I can hardly bear to turn from it now, when, God knows, I suffer both in no ordinary degree.” I couldn’t say nothing, but I raised my head from the inventory which I was filling up, and looked at Fixem; the old fellow nodded to me significantly, so I ran my pen through the “Mini” I had just written, and left the miniature on the table.

 
‘Well, sir, to make short of a long story, I was left in possession, and in possession I remained; and though I was an ignorant man, and the master of the house a clever one, I saw what he never did, but what he would give worlds now (if he had ’em) to have seen in time. I saw, sir, that his wife was wasting away, beneath cares of which she never complained, and griefs she never told. I saw that she was dying before his eyes; I knew that one exertion from him might have saved her, but he never made it. I don’t blame him: I don’t think he could rouse himself. She had so long anticipated all his wishes, and acted for him, that he was a lost man when left to himself. I used to think when I caught sight of her, in the clothes she used to wear, which looked shabby even upon her, and would have been scarcely decent on any one else, that if I was a gentleman it would wring my very heart to see the woman that was a smart and merry girl when I courted her, so altered through her love for me. Bitter cold and damp weather it was, yet, though her dress was thin, and her shoes none of the best, during the whole three days, from morning to night, she was out of doors running about to try and raise the money. The money was raised and the execution was paid out. The whole family crowded into the room where I was, when the money arrived. The father was quite happy as the inconvenience was removed—I dare say he didn’t know how; the children looked merry and cheerful again; the eldest girl was bustling about, making preparations for the first comfortable meal they had had since the distress was put in; and the mother looked pleased to see them all so. But if ever I saw death in a woman’s face, I saw it in hers that night.

 
‘I was right, sir,’ continued Mr. Bung, hurriedly passing his coat-sleeve over his face; ‘the family grew more prosperous, and good fortune arrived. But it was too late. Those children are motherless now, and their father would give up all he has since gained—house, home, goods, money: all that he has, or ever can have, to restore the wife he has lost.’

Introducing Sir Sidney McSprocket

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Those of you who follow my blog posts know that I perform one man theatre shows based on the life and works of my great great grandfather, Charles Dickens.  It is a respectable calling and to have a script writer who was one of the greatest novelists the planet has ever seen is quite a privilege.  It is fair to say that Charles Dickens guided my professional life for more than 25 years, but there is another individual who recently has occasionally tweaked the tiller and navigated me down a slightly different stream.  The gentleman in question is titled (Dickens never was) and is a man of astounding eccentricity, not to mention great imagination.  I never know when he will holler, but for ten years or so I have answered his call on numerous occasions.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is time to introduce you to Sir Sidney McSprocket.

untitled

 

Let me explain.  Many years ago I was recording a series of audiobooks featuring unabridged works of Dickens. I was working with a major independent radio company based in London and the idea was to record the complete works in order but unfortunately the corporate suits cut budgets and decided that audio books had no place in the station’s output.  It seemed as if the plan had foundered, leaving me, and more importantly, a talented group of producers without work.  But from the ashes rose the phoenix of Create Productions, the brainchild of Suzy Jamison and John Hirst.  Initially the company took studios in London’s famous Denmark Street, the heart of the capital’s music scene. On recording days I would enter a saxophone shop and then make my way up four flights of stairs (the rickety caged lift took an age to arrive and in one of those quirks of fate it was always at the top of the building when I arrived, and the bottom when I was ready to leave), before arriving somewhat breathless into the stylishly decorated Create offices.

Working with a succession of young producers I would sit in a tiny studio and steadily read Dickens aloud from 10 until 4. Together we recorded The Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby, The Old Curiosity Shop and Barnaby Rudge, as well as A Christmas Carol and some of the other short stories.  It was intense work, but great fun and gave me a much deeper knowledge and respect for Charles’ output.

At one recording session one of the producers asked if I wouldn’t mind passing my eye over a script for a new radio show which Create had been engaged to produce on behalf of their client, Fun Kids, a national radio station for children and their families available on DAB digital radio and http://www.funkidslive.com.  Fun Kids were launching a show to promote science and technology.  The brief was that children should be entertained and inspired so the ‘host’ of the programme needed to be fun, engaging and a little bit bonkers, and this is when Sir Sidney McSprocket was born.

Sidney is a Scottish Laird, living somewhere in the Highlands.  He is an inventor of only limited success, for most of his inventions either explode or leave unpleasant smells in their wake, but you can never criticize him for his enthusiasm and quest for advancement.  During each episode the listener finds him working on some outlandish invention, before talking about a real-life product, inventor or engineer.  Inevitably he is having his favourite snack, a toasted teacake, for he often feels ‘something rumbly in my tumbly!’

For the initial recording (which I now suppose was an audition) I adopted a Scottish accent never before heard on these isles – it was sort of like a sing-song Mrs Doubtfire, without the veracity of Robin Williams’ performance.  As his voice soared to high peaks of enthusiasm dogs across the nation must have been howling, wondering what this strange call was.

The wonderful thing was, a year or so later I was invited back to record another series, and another and now I am the official voice of Sir Sidney McSprocket.

During these long months of lockdown I have not worked, with all forms of theatre and public entertainment being impossible under the strict distancing measures that are currently in force.  It has been a hard time, and professionally speaking it has felt as if my reason for being has been removed.  Of course there is a personal positive flip side to that, being that I have been able to spend so much more time with Liz and our children, enjoying the peace and pace of the countryside, listening to birdsong, watching the trees turn from bare to green and the crops in the fields grow.  Together we have discovered beautiful scenery on our doorstep.  However as the months have come and gone so have various dates when I should have been on stage performing, and each one has hurt a little bit more.

It was with delight, then, that I opened an email a few weeks ago from Create Productions asking me if there was any way I could record a new series of Sidney McSprocket programmes for Fun Kids.  I send a couple recordings made on my phone and laptop, but they were not of suitable quality, so Charlotte, the producer, arranged for a professional microphone to be delivered to the house.  I tested the acoustic of various rooms in the house until we discovered that the bedroom, with the blind pulled down, offered the best sound quality:  Sir Sidney was ready to ride again.

Charlotte sent me ten scripts, and each one began ‘Och! Hello!  Sir Sidney McSprocket here!’ (lots of exclamation marks).  The theme throughout this season was linking inventors who exhibited in The Great Exhibition in 1851 with their 21st Century counterparts, making the point to children that inventions were not only something that happened in the olden days, but a constant occurrence and that anyone with an idea and imagination can possibly change the world and be a truly GREAT Briton.

I tackled each script with as much energy as I could muster, whilst ensuring that the story of each invention was told.  From 1851 I had such delights as the J Harrison steam loom, the Stereoscope invented by Charles Wheatstone and GM Gilbert’s eccentric Pilot Kite, which was a horseless carriage tugged by a 5 metre kite through the streets of London (quite how Gilbert planned to get around the problem of numerous vehicles making turns at road junctions without all become tangled up was not explained in the script!).  Each Victorian inventor was paired with a modern day one and featured in the scripts were James Dyson, (of Ball-Barrow, Dyson bagless vacuum and Airblade handrier fame), Jonathan Ive, the designer behind the stylish look of Apple products and Lucy Hughes who has created MarinaTex a plastic substitute made out of the waste products from fish production, which biodegrades within 6 weeks, thereby protecting the ocean environment.

I don’t know about the children who will be listening to the programmes, but I was becoming more and more inspired!

But then I came to two modern inventors who brought both Sidney and Gerald to a crashing halt: Oluwaseyi Sosanya and Jane Ni Dhulchaointigh.  This collections of letters looked less like pronounceable names and more like an eyesight test at a high street optician and the thought of attempting them in my McSprocket accent was terrifying.

Taking Sosanya first, I searched the internet and eventually found a YouTube clip that featured his name, allowing me to write down a phonetic pronunciation of his name, which actually proved easier than I had anticipated.  For the record Oluwaseyi has developed a method of weaving in three dimensions, as well as a computer programme that allows the user to build the model in virtual reality.

Jane proved to be more difficult prospect, however.  The scriptwriters from Fun Kids had helpfully provided their own phonetic translation, but I wasn’t convinced, they suggested that Jane Niggle Quintish would suffice, but I wanted to delve deeper.  As the YouTube route had proved so successful with  Oluwaseyi Sosanya I returned to that platform and sure enough discovered a documentary about Jane and her Sugru company.  The piece was narrated by an Irish reporter which meant I would get not only the correct pronunciation but the inflection as well although unfortunately he glided through the name with a silky speed which meant that I couldn’t distinguish any specific syllables, beyond realising that ‘Niggle Quintish’ wasn’t going to work.

My next idea was to send message to my sister Nicky who lives in Ireland. It ran: ‘Panic! Help needed from Ireland!! I am doing some voiceovers for a children’s science radio programme and have to talk about a young Irish inventor: Jane Ni Dhulchaointigh. – HOW DO I PRONOUNCE!!!!!?????’  Subtle, adult and to the point, I am sure you will agree.

Although Nicky is not an Irish speaker her daughter-in-law Una certainly is (and a teacher, to boot), so my request was swiftly forwarded to her and returned, with a full explanation as to how the Irish language works, which was fascinating in its own right.  Not only did Una provide the phonetics but also recorded a beautifully modulated, and slow, voice memo.  Oh, families are a wonderful thing.

I printed out the name and placed it on the wall behind my laptop so when the time came I could easily read it.

crib sheet

 

I started the script and as the first use of Jane’s name approached, I glanced at my crib sheet: would I get the pronunciation right?  Could I do it in Sidney’s accent?  YES! was the answer to both questions, I sailed through JANE KNEE GULL-QUAAN TIGH only to find the next line completely impossible to deliver: ‘From Ireland, Jane is the inventor of Sugru – an innovative mouldable glue’  Innovative modular glue?  Impossible to say, and my pride took a severe fall as I attempted take after take

Finally I got the entire series recorded and sent it back to Charlotte at Create.  What a fun couple of days I had inhabiting my old friend the mad professor, and I hope that he is waiting for me with more mad experiments.

But for the time being, As Sir Sidney McSprocket himself says at the end of these episodes: ‘Tatty bye for now!’

 

 

For those interested in listening to some previous episodes of Inspiring Engineering here are the links:

Inspiring Engineering

Everyday Items

How’s It Made with Sidney McSprocket!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Election For Beadle

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The twelfth Sketch and the second to be published in The Evening Chronicle is one of my favourites.  I have performed ‘The Election for Beadle’ on many occasions and often post it online at election time.  It is a brilliant observation of petty jealousies, long-held rivalries and political malpractice.  Charles Dickens was of course working as a parliamentary reporter at this time, so his knowledge of politics was great, and this scene would be expanded and developed in The Pickwick Papers when the members of the club traveled to the East Anglian town of Eatanswill.

 

The Election For Beadle

 

A great event has recently occurred in our parish. A contest of paramount interest has just terminated; a parochial convulsion has taken place. It has been succeeded by a glorious triumph, which the country—or at least the parish—it is all the same—will long remember. We have had an election; an election for beadle. The supporters of the old beadle system have been defeated in their stronghold, and the advocates of the great new beadle principles have achieved a proud victory.

 
Our parish, which, like all other parishes, is a little world of its own, has long been divided into two parties, whose contentions, slumbering for a while, have never failed to burst forth with unabated vigour, on any occasion on which they could by possibility be renewed. Watching-rates, lighting-rates, paving-rates, sewer’s-rates, church-rates, poor’s-rates—all sorts of rates, have been in their turns the subjects of a grand struggle; and as to questions of patronage, the asperity and determination with which they have been contested is scarcely credible.

 
The leader of the official party—the steady advocate of the churchwardens, and the unflinching supporter of the overseers—is an old gentleman who lives in our row. He owns some half a dozen houses in it, and always walks on the opposite side of the way, so that he may be able to take in a view of the whole of his property at once. He is a tall, thin, bony man, with an interrogative nose, and little restless perking eyes, which appear to have been given him for the sole purpose of peeping into other people’s affairs with. He is deeply impressed with the importance of our parish business, and prides himself, not a little, on his style of addressing the parishioners in vestry assembled. His views are rather confined than extensive; his principles more narrow than liberal. He has been heard to declaim very loudly in favour of the liberty of the press, and advocates the repeal of the stamp duty on newspapers, because the daily journals who now have a monopoly of the public, never give verbatim reports of vestry meetings. He would not appear egotistical for the world, but at the same time he must say, that there are speeches—that celebrated speech of his own, on the emoluments of the sexton, and the duties of the office, for instance—which might be communicated to the public, greatly to their improvement and advantage.

 
His great opponent in public life is Captain Purday, the old naval officer on half-pay, to whom we have already introduced our readers. The captain being a determined opponent of the constituted authorities, whoever they may chance to be, and our other friend being their steady supporter, with an equal disregard of their individual merits, it will readily be supposed, that occasions for their coming into direct collision are neither few nor far between. They divided the vestry fourteen times on a motion for heating the church with warm water instead of coals: and made speeches about liberty and expenditure, and prodigality and hot water, which threw the whole parish into a state of excitement. Then the captain, when he was on the visiting committee, and his opponent overseer, brought forward certain distinct and specific charges relative to the management of the workhouse, boldly expressed his total want of confidence in the existing authorities, and moved for ‘a copy of the recipe by which the paupers’ soup was prepared, together with any documents relating thereto.’ This the overseer steadily resisted; he fortified himself by precedent, appealed to the established usage, and declined to produce the papers, on the ground of the injury that would be done to the public service, if documents of a strictly private nature, passing between the master of the workhouse and the cook, were to be thus dragged to light on the motion of any individual member of the vestry. The motion was lost by a majority of two; and then the captain, who never allows himself to be defeated, moved for a committee of inquiry into the whole subject. The affair grew serious: the question was discussed at meeting after meeting, and vestry after vestry; speeches were made, attacks repudiated, personal defiances exchanged, explanations received, and the greatest excitement prevailed, until at last, just as the question was going to be finally decided, the vestry found that somehow or other, they had become entangled in a point of form, from which it was impossible to escape with propriety. So, the motion was dropped, and everybody looked extremely important, and seemed quite satisfied with the meritorious nature of the whole proceeding.

 
This was the state of affairs in our parish a week or two since, when Simmons, the beadle, suddenly died. The lamented deceased had over-exerted himself, a day or two previously, in conveying an aged female, highly intoxicated, to the strong room of the work-house. The excitement thus occasioned, added to a severe cold, which this indefatigable officer had caught in his capacity of director of the parish engine, by inadvertently playing over himself instead of a fire, proved too much for a constitution already enfeebled by age; and the intelligence was conveyed to the Board one evening that Simmons had died, and left his respects.

 
The breath was scarcely out of the body of the deceased functionary, when the field was filled with competitors for the vacant office, each of whom rested his claims to public support, entirely on the number and extent of his family, as if the office of beadle were originally instituted as an encouragement for the propagation of the human species. ‘Bung for Beadle. Five small children!’—‘Hopkins for Beadle. Seven small children!!’—‘Timkins for Beadle. Nine small children!!!’ Such were the placards in large black letters on a white ground, which were plentifully pasted on the walls, and posted in the windows of the principal shops. Timkins’s success was considered certain: several mothers of families half promised their votes, and the nine small children would have run over the course, but for the production of another placard, announcing the appearance of a still more meritorious candidate. ‘Spruggins for Beadle. Ten small children (two of them twins), and a wife!!!’ There was no resisting this; ten small children would have been almost irresistible in themselves, without the twins, but the touching parenthesis about that interesting production of nature, and the still more touching allusion to Mrs. Spruggins, must ensure success. Spruggins was the favourite at once, and the appearance of his lady, as she went about to solicit votes (which encouraged confident hopes of a still further addition to the house of Spruggins at no remote period), increased the general prepossession in his favour. The other candidates, Bung alone excepted, resigned in despair. The day of election was fixed; and the canvass proceeded with briskness and perseverance on both sides.

 
The members of the vestry could not be supposed to escape the contagious excitement inseparable from the occasion. The majority of the lady inhabitants of the parish declared at once for Spruggins; and the quondam overseer took the same side, on the ground that men with large families always had been elected to the office, and that although he must admit, that, in other respects, Spruggins was the least qualified candidate of the two, still it was an old practice, and he saw no reason why an old practice should be departed from. This was enough for the captain. He immediately sided with Bung, canvassed for him personally in all directions, wrote squibs on Spruggins, and got his butcher to skewer them up on conspicuous joints in his shop-front; frightened his neighbour, the old lady, into a palpitation of the heart, by his awful denunciations of Spruggins’s party; and bounced in and out, and up and down, and backwards and forwards, until all the sober inhabitants of the parish thought it inevitable that he must die of a brain fever, long before the election began.

 
The day of election arrived. It was no longer an individual struggle, but a party contest between the ins and outs. The question was, whether the withering influence of the overseers, the domination of the churchwardens, and the blighting despotism of the vestry-clerk, should be allowed to render the election of beadle a form—a nullity: whether they should impose a vestry-elected beadle on the parish, to do their bidding and forward their views, or whether the parishioners, fearlessly asserting their undoubted rights, should elect an independent beadle of their own.

 
The nomination was fixed to take place in the vestry, but so great was the throng of anxious spectators, that it was found necessary to adjourn to the church, where the ceremony commenced with due solemnity. The appearance of the churchwardens and overseers, and the ex-churchwardens and ex-overseers, with Spruggins in the rear, excited general attention. Spruggins was a little thin man, in rusty black, with a long pale face, and a countenance expressive of care and fatigue, which might either be attributed to the extent of his family or the anxiety of his feelings. His opponent appeared in a cast-off coat of the captain’s—a blue coat with bright buttons; white trousers, and that description of shoes familiarly known by the appellation of ‘high-lows.’ There was a serenity in the open countenance of Bung—a kind of moral dignity in his confident air—an ‘I wish you may get it’ sort of expression in his eye—which infused animation into his supporters, and evidently dispirited his opponents.

 
The ex-churchwarden rose to propose Thomas Spruggins for beadle. He had known him long. He had had his eye upon him closely for years; he had watched him with twofold vigilance for months. (A parishioner here suggested that this might be termed ‘taking a double sight,’ but the observation was drowned in loud cries of ‘Order!’) He would repeat that he had had his eye upon him for years, and this he would say, that a more well-conducted, a more well-behaved, a more sober, a more quiet man, with a more well-regulated mind, he had never met with. A man with a larger family he had never known (cheers). The parish required a man who could be depended on (‘Hear!’ from the Spruggins side, answered by ironical cheers from the Bung party). Such a man he now proposed (‘No,’ ‘Yes’). He would not allude to individuals (the ex-churchwarden continued, in the celebrated negative style adopted by great speakers). He would not advert to a gentleman who had once held a high rank in the service of his majesty; he would not say, that that gentleman was no gentleman; he would not assert, that that man was no man; he would not say, that he was a turbulent parishioner; he would not say, that he had grossly misbehaved himself, not only on this, but on all former occasions; he would not say, that he was one of those discontented and treasonable spirits, who carried confusion and disorder wherever they went; he would not say, that he harboured in his heart envy, and hatred, and malice, and all uncharitableness. No! He wished to have everything comfortable and pleasant, and therefore, he would say—nothing about him (cheers).

 
The captain replied in a similar parliamentary style. He would not say, he was astonished at the speech they had just heard; he would not say, he was disgusted (cheers). He would not retort the epithets which had been hurled against him (renewed cheering); he would not allude to men once in office, but now happily out of it, who had mismanaged the workhouse, ground the paupers, diluted the beer, slack-baked the bread, boned the meat, heightened the work, and lowered the soup (tremendous cheers). He would not ask what such men deserved (a voice, ‘Nothing a-day, and find themselves!’). He would not say, that one burst of general indignation should drive them from the parish they polluted with their presence (‘Give it him!’). He would not allude to the unfortunate man who had been proposed—he would not say, as the vestry’s tool, but as Beadle. He would not advert to that individual’s family; he would not say, that nine children, twins, and a wife, were very bad examples for pauper imitation (loud cheers). He would not advert in detail to the qualifications of Bung. The man stood before him, and he would not say in his presence, what he might be disposed to say of him, if he were absent. (Here Mr. Bung telegraphed to a friend near him, under cover of his hat, by contracting his left eye, and applying his right thumb to the tip of his nose). It had been objected to Bung that he had only five children (‘Hear, hear!’ from the opposition). Well; he had yet to learn that the legislature had affixed any precise amount of infantine qualification to the office of beadle; but taking it for granted that an extensive family were a great requisite, he entreated them to look to facts, and compare data, about which there could be no mistake. Bung was 35 years of age. Spruggins—of whom he wished to speak with all possible respect—was 50. Was it not more than possible—was it not very probable—that by the time Bung attained the latter age, he might see around him a family, even exceeding in number and extent, that to which Spruggins at present laid claim (deafening cheers and waving of handkerchiefs)? The captain concluded, amidst loud applause, by calling upon the parishioners to sound the tocsin, rush to the poll, free themselves from dictation, or be slaves for ever.

 
On the following day the polling began, and we never have had such a bustle in our parish since we got up our famous anti-slavery petition, which was such an important one, that the House of Commons ordered it to be printed, on the motion of the member for the district. The captain engaged two hackney-coaches and a cab for Bung’s people—the cab for the drunken voters, and the two coaches for the old ladies, the greater portion of whom, owing to the captain’s impetuosity, were driven up to the poll and home again, before they recovered from their flurry sufficiently to know, with any degree of clearness, what they had been doing. The opposite party wholly neglected these precautions, and the consequence was, that a great many ladies who were walking leisurely up to the church—for it was a very hot day—to vote for Spruggins, were artfully decoyed into the coaches, and voted for Bung. The captain’s arguments, too, had produced considerable effect: the attempted influence of the vestry produced a greater. A threat of exclusive dealing was clearly established against the vestry-clerk—a case of heartless and profligate atrocity. It appeared that the delinquent had been in the habit of purchasing six penn’orth of muffins, weekly, from an old woman who rents a small house in the parish, and resides among the original settlers; on her last weekly visit, a message was conveyed to her through the medium of the cook, couched in mysterious terms, but indicating with sufficient clearness, that the vestry-clerk’s appetite for muffins, in future, depended entirely on her vote on the beadleship. This was sufficient: the stream had been turning previously, and the impulse thus administered directed its final course. The Bung party ordered one shilling’s-worth of muffins weekly for the remainder of the old woman’s natural life; the parishioners were loud in their exclamations; and the fate of Spruggins was sealed.

 
It was in vain that the twins were exhibited in dresses of the same pattern, and night-caps, to match, at the church door: the boy in Mrs. Spruggins’s right arm, and the girl in her left—even Mrs. Spruggins herself failed to be an object of sympathy any longer. The majority attained by Bung on the gross poll was four hundred and twenty-eight, and the cause of the parishioners triumphed.

The Four Sisters

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After the double-header ‘A Passage in the Life of Mr Watkins Tottle’, which was published in February 1835 there was a hiatus in the Sketches until June of the same year, almost as if Dickens were living in lockdown!  When they reappeared they were no longer in The Monthly Magazine, but now in The Evening Chronicle, the new sister publication to The Morning Chronicle to which Charles was already engaged as a political journalist.  Following the popularity of the Monthly Magazine sketches the editor of the Chronicle, one George Hogarth (who would soon become the young writer’s father in law), asked Dickens to write a series of sketches especially for the paper’s launch and so Boz introduced his readers to his ‘Scenes from London’, and specifically the cast of characters from ‘Our Parish’:

 

The Four Sisters

 

The row of houses in which the old lady and her troublesome neighbour reside, comprises, beyond all doubt, a greater number of characters within its circumscribed limits, than all the rest of the parish put together. As we cannot, consistently with our present plan, however, extend the number of our parochial sketches beyond six, it will be better perhaps, to select the most peculiar, and to introduce them at once without further preface.
The four Miss Willises, then, settled in our parish thirteen years ago. It is a melancholy reflection that the old adage, ‘time and tide wait for no man,’ applies with equal force to the fairer portion of the creation; and willingly would we conceal the fact, that even thirteen years ago the Miss Willises were far from juvenile. Our duty as faithful parochial chroniclers, however, is paramount to every other consideration, and we are bound to state, that thirteen years since, the authorities in matrimonial cases, considered the youngest Miss Willis in a very precarious state, while the eldest sister was positively given over, as being far beyond all human hope. Well, the Miss Willises took a lease of the house; it was fresh painted and papered from top to bottom: the paint inside was all wainscoted, the marble all cleaned, the old grates taken down, and register-stoves, you could see to dress by, put up; four trees were planted in the back garden, several small baskets of gravel sprinkled over the front one, vans of elegant furniture arrived, spring blinds were fitted to the windows, carpenters who had been employed in the various preparations, alterations, and repairs, made confidential statements to the different maid-servants in the row, relative to the magnificent scale on which the Miss Willises were commencing; the maid-servants told their ‘Missises,’ the Missises told their friends, and vague rumours were circulated throughout the parish, that No. 25, in Gordon-place, had been taken by four maiden ladies of immense property.
At last, the Miss Willises moved in; and then the ‘calling’ began. The house was the perfection of neatness—so were the four Miss Willises. Everything was formal, stiff, and cold—so were the four Miss Willises. Not a single chair of the whole set was ever seen out of its place—not a single Miss Willis of the whole four was ever seen out of hers. There they always sat, in the same places, doing precisely the same things at the same hour. The eldest Miss Willis used to knit, the second to draw, the two others to play duets on the piano. They seemed to have no separate existence, but to have made up their minds just to winter through life together. They were three long graces in drapery, with the addition, like a school-dinner, of another long grace afterwards—the three fates with another sister—the Siamese twins multiplied by two. The eldest Miss Willis grew bilious—the four Miss Willises grew bilious immediately. The eldest Miss Willis grew ill-tempered and religious—the four Miss Willises were ill-tempered and religious directly. Whatever the eldest did, the others did, and whatever anybody else did, they all disapproved of; and thus they vegetated—living in Polar harmony among themselves, and, as they sometimes went out, or saw company ‘in a quiet-way’ at home, occasionally icing the neighbours. Three years passed over in this way, when an unlooked for and extraordinary phenomenon occurred. The Miss Willises showed symptoms of summer, the frost gradually broke up; a complete thaw took place. Was it possible? one of the four Miss Willises was going to be married!
Now, where on earth the husband came from, by what feelings the poor man could have been actuated, or by what process of reasoning the four Miss Willises succeeded in persuading themselves that it was possible for a man to marry one of them, without marrying them all, are questions too profound for us to resolve: certain it is, however, that the visits of Mr. Robinson (a gentleman in a public office, with a good salary and a little property of his own, besides) were received—that the four Miss Willises were courted in due form by the said Mr Robinson—that the neighbours were perfectly frantic in their anxiety to discover which of the four Miss Willises was the fortunate fair, and that the difficulty they experienced in solving the problem was not at all lessened by the announcement of the eldest Miss Willis,—‘We are going to marry Mr. Robinson.’
It was very extraordinary. They were so completely identified, the one with the other, that the curiosity of the whole row—even of the old lady herself—was roused almost beyond endurance. The subject was discussed at every little card-table and tea-drinking. The old gentleman of silk-worm notoriety did not hesitate to express his decided opinion that Mr. Robinson was of Eastern descent, and contemplated marrying the whole family at once; and the row, generally, shook their heads with considerable gravity, and declared the business to be very mysterious. They hoped it might all end well;—it certainly had a very singular appearance, but still it would be uncharitable to express any opinion without good grounds to go upon, and certainly the Miss Willises were quite old enough to judge for themselves, and to be sure people ought to know their own business best, and so forth.
At last, one fine morning, at a quarter before eight o’clock, a.m., two glass-coaches drove up to the Miss Willises’ door, at which Mr. Robinson had arrived in a cab ten minutes before, dressed in a light-blue coat and double-milled kersey pantaloons, white neckerchief, pumps, and dress-gloves, his manner denoting, as appeared from the evidence of the housemaid at No. 23, who was sweeping the door-steps at the time, a considerable degree of nervous excitement. It was also hastily reported on the same testimony, that the cook who opened the door, wore a large white bow of unusual dimensions, in a much smarter head-dress than the regulation cap to which the Miss Willises invariably restricted the somewhat excursive tastes of female servants in general.
The intelligence spread rapidly from house to house. It was quite clear that the eventful morning had at length arrived; the whole row stationed themselves behind their first and second floor blinds, and waited the result in breathless expectation.
At last the Miss Willises’ door opened; the door of the first glass-coach did the same. Two gentlemen, and a pair of ladies to correspond—friends of the family, no doubt; up went the steps, bang went the door, off went the first class-coach, and up came the second.
The street door opened again; the excitement of the whole row increased—Mr. Robinson and the eldest Miss Willis. ‘I thought so,’ said the lady at No. 19; ‘I always said it was Miss Willis!’—‘Well, I never!’ ejaculated the young lady at No. 18 to the young lady at No. 17.—‘Did you ever, dear!’ responded the young lady at No. 17 to the young lady at No. 18. ‘It’s too ridiculous!’ exclaimed a spinster of an uncertain age, at No. 16, joining in the conversation. But who shall portray the astonishment of Gordon-place, when Mr. Robinson handed in all the Miss Willises, one after the other, and then squeezed himself into an acute angle of the glass-coach, which forthwith proceeded at a brisk pace, after the other glass-coach, which other glass-coach had itself proceeded, at a brisk pace, in the direction of the parish church! Who shall depict the perplexity of the clergyman, when all the Miss Willises knelt down at the communion-table, and repeated the responses incidental to the marriage service in an audible voice—or who shall describe the confusion which prevailed, when—even after the difficulties thus occasioned had been adjusted—all the Miss Willises went into hysterics at the conclusion of the ceremony, until the sacred edifice resounded with their united wailings!
As the four sisters and Mr. Robinson continued to occupy the same house after this memorable occasion, and as the married sister, whoever she was, never appeared in public without the other three, we are not quite clear that the neighbours ever would have discovered the real Mrs. Robinson, but for a circumstance of the most gratifying description, which will happen occasionally in the best-regulated families. Three quarter-days elapsed, and the row, on whom a new light appeared to have been bursting for some time, began to speak with a sort of implied confidence on the subject, and to wonder how Mrs. Robinson—the youngest Miss Willis that was—got on; and servants might be seen running up the steps, about nine or ten o’clock every morning, with ‘Missis’s compliments, and wishes to know how Mrs. Robinson finds herself this morning?’ And the answer always was, ‘Mrs. Robinson’s compliments, and she’s in very good spirits, and doesn’t find herself any worse.’ The piano was heard no longer, the knitting-needles were laid aside, drawing was neglected, and mantua-making and millinery, on the smallest scale imaginable, appeared to have become the favourite amusement of the whole family. The parlour wasn’t quite as tidy as it used to be, and if you called in the morning, you would see lying on a table, with an old newspaper carelessly thrown over them, two or three particularly small caps, rather larger than if they had been made for a moderate-sized doll, with a small piece of lace, in the shape of a horse-shoe, let in behind: or perhaps a white robe, not very large in circumference, but very much out of proportion in point of length, with a little tucker round the top, and a frill round the bottom; and once when we called, we saw a long white roller, with a kind of blue margin down each side, the probable use of which, we were at a loss to conjecture. Then we fancied that Dr. Dawson, the surgeon, &c., who displays a large lamp with a different colour in every pane of glass, at the corner of the row, began to be knocked up at night oftener than he used to be; and once we were very much alarmed by hearing a hackney-coach stop at Mrs. Robinson’s door, at half-past two o’clock in the morning, out of which there emerged a fat old woman, in a cloak and night-cap, with a bundle in one hand, and a pair of pattens in the other, who looked as if she had been suddenly knocked up out of bed for some very special purpose.
When we got up in the morning we saw that the knocker was tied up in an old white kid glove; and we, in our innocence (we were in a state of bachelorship then), wondered what on earth it all meant, until we heard the eldest Miss Willis, in propriâ personâ say, with great dignity, in answer to the next inquiry, ‘My compliments, and Mrs. Robinson’s doing as well as can be expected, and the little girl thrives wonderfully.’ And then, in common with the rest of the row, our curiosity was satisfied, and we began to wonder it had never occurred to us what the matter was, before.

A Passage In The Life Of Mr Watkins Tottle. Part Two

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The second part of ‘A Passage In The Life Of Mr Watkins Tottle’ picks up as our hero decides to declare his love to Miss Lillerton (the fact that he is deeply in debt and she is possessed of a fortune can hardly have come into his thoughts!)  However at the point of his supposed proposal he is hit by the reality of a series of very unfortunate misunderstandings and thoughts of future bliss are ripped away from him!  The Sketch, which was published in The Monthly Magazine of February 1835 and features a quite shocking and mournful conclusion.

 

CHAPTER THE SECOND

‘The first coach has not come in yet, has it, Tom?’ inquired Mr. Gabriel Parsons, as he very complacently paced up and down the fourteen feet of gravel which bordered the lawn,’ on the Saturday morning which had been fixed upon for the Beulah Spa jaunt.
‘No, sir; I haven’t seen it,’ replied a gardener in a blue apron, who let himself out to do the ornamental for half-a-crown a day and his ‘keep.’

 
‘Time Tottle was down,’ said Mr. Gabriel Parsons, ruminating–‘Oh, here he is, no doubt,’ added Gabriel, as a cab drove rapidly up the hill; and he buttoned his dressing-gown, and opened the gate to receive the expected visitor. The cab stopped, and out jumped a man in a coarse Petersham great-coat, whity-brown neckerchief, faded black suit, gamboge-coloured top-boots, and one of those large-crowned hats, formerly seldom met with, but now very generally patronised by gentlemen and costermongers.

 
‘Mr. Parsons?’ said the man, looking at the superscription of a note he held in his hand, and addressing Gabriel with an inquiring air.

 
‘MY name is Parsons,’ responded the sugar-baker.

 
‘I’ve brought this here note,’ replied the individual in the painted tops, in a hoarse whisper: ‘I’ve brought this here note from a gen’lm’n as come to our house this mornin’.’
‘I expected the gentleman at my house,’ said Parsons, as he broke the seal, which bore the impression of her Majesty’s profile as it is seen on a sixpence.

 
‘I’ve no doubt the gen’lm’n would ha’ been here, replied the stranger, ‘if he hadn’t happened to call at our house first; but we never trusts no gen’lm’n furder nor we can see him–no mistake about that there’–added the unknown, with a facetious grin; ‘beg
your pardon, sir, no offence meant, only–once in, and I wish you may–catch the idea, sir?’

 
Mr. Gabriel Parsons was not remarkable for catching anything suddenly, but a cold. He therefore only bestowed a glance of profound astonishment on his mysterious companion, and proceeded to unfold the note of which he had been the bearer. Once opened and the idea was caught with very little difficulty. Mr. Watkins Tottle had been suddenly arrested for 33l. 10s. 4d., and dated his communication from a lock-up house in the vicinity of Chancery-lane.

 
‘Unfortunate affair this!’ said Parsons, refolding the note.

 
‘Oh! nothin’ ven you’re used to it,’ coolly observed the man in the Petersham.

 
‘Tom!’ exclaimed Parsons, after a few minutes’ consideration, ‘just put the horse in, will you?–Tell the gentleman that I shall be there almost as soon as you are,’ he continued, addressing the sheriff-officer’s Mercury.

 
‘Werry well,’ replied that important functionary; adding, in a confidential manner, ‘I’d adwise the gen’lm’n’s friends to settle. You see it’s a mere trifle; and, unless the gen’lm’n means to go up afore the court, it’s hardly worth while waiting for detainers, you know. Our governor’s wide awake, he is. I’ll never say nothin’ agin him, nor no man; but he knows what’s o’clock, he does, uncommon.’ Having delivered this eloquent, and, to Parsons, particularly intelligible harangue, the meaning of which was eked out by divers nods and winks, the gentleman in the boots reseated himself in the cab, which went rapidly off, and was soon out of sight. Mr. Gabriel Parsons continued to pace up and down the pathway for some minutes, apparently absorbed in deep meditation. The result of his cogitations seemed to be perfectly satisfactory to himself, for he ran briskly into the house; said that business had suddenly summoned him to town; that he had desired the messenger to inform Mr. Watkins Tottle of the fact; and that they would return together to dinner. He then hastily equipped himself for a drive, and mounting his gig, was soon on his way to the establishment of Mr. Solomon Jacobs, situate (as Mr. Watkins Tottle had informed him) in Cursitor-street, Chancery-lane.

 
When a man is in a violent hurry to get on, and has a specific object in view, the attainment of which depends on the completion of his journey, the difficulties which interpose themselves in his way appear not only to be innumerable, but to have been called into existence especially for the occasion. The remark is by no means a new one, and Mr. Gabriel Parsons had practical and painful experience of its justice in the course of his drive. There are three classes of animated objects which prevent your driving with
any degree of comfort or celerity through streets which are but little frequented–they are pigs, children, and old women. On the occasion we are describing, the pigs were luxuriating on cabbage- stalks, and the shuttlecocks fluttered from the little deal battledores, and the children played in the road; and women, with a basket in one hand, and the street-door key in the other, WOULD cross just before the horse’s head, until Mr. Gabriel Parsons was perfectly savage with vexation, and quite hoarse with hoi-ing and
imprecating. Then, when he got into Fleet-street, there was ‘a stoppage,’ in which people in vehicles have the satisfaction of remaining stationary for half an hour, and envying the slowest pedestrians; and where policemen rush about, and seize hold of horses’ bridles, and back them into shop-windows, by way of clearing the road and preventing confusion. At length Mr. Gabriel Parsons turned into Chancery-lane, and having inquired for, and been directed to Cursitor-street (for it was a locality of which he was quite ignorant), he soon found himself opposite the house of Mr. Solomon Jacobs. Confiding his horse and gig to the care of one of the fourteen boys who had followed him from the other side of Blackfriars-bridge on the chance of his requiring their services,
Mr. Gabriel Parsons crossed the road and knocked at an inner door, the upper part of which was of glass, grated like the windows of this inviting mansion with iron bars–painted white to look comfortable.

 
The knock was answered by a sallow-faced, red-haired, sulky boy, who, after surveying Mr. Gabriel Parsons through the glass, applied a large key to an immense wooden excrescence, which was in reality a lock, but which, taken in conjunction with the iron nails with which the panels were studded, gave the door the appearance of
being subject to warts.

 
‘I want to see Mr. Watkins Tottle,’ said Parsons.

 
‘It’s the gentleman that come in this morning, Jem,’ screamed a voice from the top of the kitchen-stairs, which belonged to a dirty woman who had just brought her chin to a level with the passage-floor. ‘The gentleman’s in the coffee-room.’

 
‘Up-stairs, sir,’ said the boy, just opening the door wide enough to let Parsons in without squeezing him, and double-locking it the moment he had made his way through the aperture–‘First floor–door on the left.’

 
Mr. Gabriel Parsons thus instructed, ascended the uncarpeted and ill-lighted staircase, and after giving several subdued taps at the before-mentioned ‘door on the left,’ which were rendered inaudible by the hum of voices within the room, and the hissing noise
attendant on some frying operations which were carrying on below stairs, turned the handle, and entered the apartment. Being informed that the unfortunate object of his visit had just gone up- stairs to write a letter, he had leisure to sit down and observe
the scene before him.

 
The room–which was a small, confined den–was partitioned off into boxes, like the common-room of some inferior eating-house. The dirty floor had evidently been as long a stranger to the scrubbing- brush as to carpet or floor-cloth: and the ceiling was completely blackened by the flare of the oil-lamp by which the room was lighted at night. The gray ashes on the edges of the tables, and the cigar ends which were plentifully scattered about the dusty grate, fully accounted for the intolerable smell of tobacco which pervaded the place; and the empty glasses and half-saturated slices of lemon on the tables, together with the porter pots beneath them, bore testimony to the frequent libations in which the individuals who honoured Mr. Solomon Jacobs by a temporary residence in his house indulged. Over the mantel-shelf was a paltry looking-glass,
extending about half the width of the chimney-piece; but by way of counterpoise, the ashes were confined by a rusty fender about twice as long as the hearth.

 
From this cheerful room itself, the attention of Mr. Gabriel Parsons was naturally directed to its inmates. In one of the boxes two men were playing at cribbage with a very dirty pack of cards, some with blue, some with green, and some with red backs–selections from decayed packs. The cribbage board had been long ago formed on the table by some ingenious visitor with the assistance of a pocket-knife and a two-pronged fork, with which the necessary number of holes had been made in the table at proper
distances for the reception of the wooden pegs. In another box a stout, hearty-looking man, of about forty, was eating some dinner which his wife–an equally comfortable-looking personage–had brought him in a basket: and in a third, a genteel-looking young
man was talking earnestly, and in a low tone, to a young female, whose face was concealed by a thick veil, but whom Mr. Gabriel Parsons immediately set down in his own mind as the debtor’s wife. A young fellow of vulgar manners, dressed in the very extreme of the prevailing fashion, was pacing up and down the room, with a
lighted cigar in his mouth and his hands in his pockets, ever and anon puffing forth volumes of smoke, and occasionally applying, with much apparent relish, to a pint pot, the contents of which were ‘chilling’ on the hob.

 
‘Fourpence more, by gum!’ exclaimed one of the cribbage-players, lighting a pipe, and addressing his adversary at the close of the game; ‘one ‘ud think you’d got luck in a pepper-cruet, and shook it out when you wanted it.’

 
‘Well, that a’n’t a bad un,’ replied the other, who was a horse- dealer from Islington.

 
‘No; I’m blessed if it is,’ interposed the jolly-looking fellow, who, having finished his dinner, was drinking out of the same glass as his wife, in truly conjugal harmony, some hot gin-and-water.  The faithful partner of his cares had brought a plentiful supply of
the anti-temperance fluid in a large flat stone bottle, which looked like a half-gallon jar that had been successfully tapped for the dropsy. ‘You’re a rum chap, you are, Mr. Walker–will you dip your beak into this, sir?’

 
‘Thank’ee, sir,’ replied Mr. Walker, leaving his box, and advancing  to the other to accept the proffered glass. ‘Here’s your health, sir, and your good ‘ooman’s here. Gentlemen all–yours, and better luck still. Well, Mr. Willis,’ continued the facetious prisoner, addressing the young man with the cigar, ‘you seem rather down to- day–floored, as one may say. What’s the matter, sir? Never say die, you know.’

 
‘Oh! I’m all right,’ replied the smoker. ‘I shall be bailed out to-morrow.’

 
‘Shall you, though?’ inquired the other. ‘Damme, I wish I could say the same. I am as regularly over head and ears as the Royal George, and stand about as much chance of being BAILED OUT. Ha! ha! ha!’

 
‘Why,’ said the young man, stopping short, and speaking in a very loud key, ‘look at me. What d’ye think I’ve stopped here two days for?’

 
”Cause you couldn’t get out, I suppose,’ interrupted Mr. Walker, winking to the company. ‘Not that you’re exactly obliged to stop here, only you can’t help it. No compulsion, you know, only you must–eh?’

 
‘A’n’t he a rum un?’ inquired the delighted individual, who had offered the gin-and-water, of his wife.

 
‘Oh, he just is!’ replied the lady, who was quite overcome by these flashes of imagination.

 

‘Why, my case,’ frowned the victim, throwing the end of his cigar into the fire, and illustrating his argument by knocking the bottom of the pot on the table, at intervals,–‘my case is a very singular one. My father’s a man of large property, and I am his son.’
‘That’s a very strange circumstance!’ interrupted the jocose Mr. Walker, en passant.
‘–I am his son, and have received a liberal education. I don’t owe no man nothing–not the value of a farthing, but I was induced, you see, to put my name to some bills for a friend–bills to a large amount, I may say a very large amount, for which I didn’t receive no consideration. What’s the consequence?’

 
‘Why, I suppose the bills went out, and you came in. The acceptances weren’t taken up, and you were, eh?’ inquired Walker.

 
‘To be sure,’ replied the liberally educated young gentleman. ‘To be sure; and so here I am, locked up for a matter of twelve hundred pound.’

 
‘Why don’t you ask your old governor to stump up?’ inquired Walker, with a somewhat sceptical air.

 
‘Oh! bless you, he’d never do it,’ replied the other, in a tone of expostulation–‘Never!’

 
‘Well, it is very odd to–be–sure,’ interposed the owner of the flat bottle, mixing another glass, ‘but I’ve been in difficulties, as one may say, now for thirty year. I went to pieces when I was in a milk-walk, thirty year ago; arterwards, when I was a fruiterer, and kept a spring wan; and arter that again in the coal and ‘tatur line–but all that time I never see a youngish chap come into a place of this kind, who wasn’t going out again directly, and
who hadn’t been arrested on bills which he’d given a friend and for which he’d received nothing whatsomever–not a fraction.’

 
‘Oh! it’s always the cry,’ said Walker. ‘I can’t see the use on it; that’s what makes me so wild. Why, I should have a much better opinion of an individual, if he’d say at once in an honourable and gentlemanly manner as he’d done everybody he possibly could.’
‘Ay, to be sure,’ interposed the horse-dealer, with whose notions of bargain and sale the axiom perfectly coincided, ‘so should I.’

 
The young gentleman, who had given rise to these observations, was on the point of offering a rather angry reply to these sneers, but the rising of the young man before noticed, and of the female who had been sitting by him, to leave the room, interrupted the conversation. She had been weeping bitterly, and the noxious atmosphere of the room acting upon her excited feelings and delicate frame, rendered the support of her companion necessary as they quitted it together.

 
There was an air of superiority about them both, and something in their appearance so unusual in such a place, that a respectful silence was observed until the WHIRR–R–BANG of the spring door announced that they were out of hearing. It was broken by the wife of the ex-fruiterer.

 
‘Poor creetur!’ said she, quenching a sigh in a rivulet of gin-and- water. ‘She’s very young.’

 
‘She’s a nice-looking ‘ooman too,’ added the horse-dealer.

 
‘What’s he in for, Ikey?’ inquired Walker, of an individual who was spreading a cloth with numerous blotches of mustard upon it, on one of the tables, and whom Mr. Gabriel Parsons had no difficulty in recognising as the man who had called upon him in the morning.

 
‘Vy,’ responded the factotum, ‘it’s one of the rummiest rigs you ever heard on. He come in here last Vensday, which by-the-bye he’s a-going over the water to-night–hows’ever that’s neither here nor there. You see I’ve been a going back’ards and for’ards about his business, and ha’ managed to pick up some of his story from the servants and them; and so far as I can make it out, it seems to be summat to this here effect–‘

 
‘Cut it short, old fellow,’ interrupted Walker, who knew from former experience that he of the top-boots was neither very concise nor intelligible in his narratives.

 
‘Let me alone,’ replied Ikey, ‘and I’ll ha’ wound up, and made my lucky in five seconds. This here young gen’lm’n’s father–so I’m told, mind ye–and the father o’ the young voman, have always beenon very bad, out-and-out, rig’lar knock-me-down sort o’ terms;  but somehow or another, when he was a wisitin’ at some gentlefolk’s house, as he knowed at college, he came into contract with the young lady. He seed her several times, and then he up and said he’d keep company with her, if so be as she vos agreeable. Vell,
she vos as sweet upon him as he vos upon her, and so I s’pose they made it all right; for they got married ’bout six months arterwards, unbeknown, mind ye, to the two fathers–leastways so I’m told. When they heard on it–my eyes, there was such a combustion! Starvation vos the very least that vos to be done to ’em. The young gen’lm’n’s father cut him off vith a bob, ‘cos he’d cut himself off vith a wife; and the young lady’s father he behaved even worser and more unnat’ral, for he not only blow’d her up dreadful, and swore he’d never see her again, but he employed a chap as I knows–and as you knows, Mr. Valker, a precious sight too well–to go about and buy up the bills and them things on which the young husband, thinking his governor ‘ud come round agin, had raised the vind just to blow himself on vith for a time; besides vich, he made all the interest he could to set other people agin him. Consequence vos, that he paid as long as he could; but things he never expected to have to meet till he’d had time to turn himself round, come fast upon him, and he vos nabbed. He vos brought here, as I said afore, last Vensday, and I think there’s about–ah, half-a-dozen detainers agin him down-stairs now. I have been,’ added Ikey, ‘in the purfession these fifteen year, and I never met vith such windictiveness afore!’

 
‘Poor creeturs!’ exclaimed the coal-dealer’s wife once more: again resorting to the same excellent prescription for nipping a sigh in the bud. ‘Ah! when they’ve seen as much trouble as I and my old man here have, they’ll be as comfortable under it as we are.’
‘The young lady’s a pretty creature,’ said Walker, ‘only she’s a little too delicate for my taste–there ain’t enough of her. As to the young cove, he may be very respectable and what not, but he’s too down in the mouth for me–he ain’t game.’

 
‘Game!’ exclaimed Ikey, who had been altering the position of a green-handled knife and fork at least a dozen times, in order that he might remain in the room under the pretext of having something to do. ‘He’s game enough ven there’s anything to be fierce about; but who could be game as you call it, Mr. Walker, with a pale young creetur like that, hanging about him?–It’s enough to drive any man’s heart into his boots to see ’em together–and no mistake at all about it. I never shall forget her first comin’ here; he wrote to her on the Thursday to come–I know he did, ‘cos I took the letter. Uncommon fidgety he was all day to be sure, and in the evening he goes down into the office, and he says to Jacobs, says he, “Sir, can I have the loan of a private room for a few minutes this evening, without incurring any additional expense–just to see my wife in?” says he. Jacobs looked as much as to say–“Strike me bountiful if you ain’t one of the modest sort!” but as the gen’lm’n who had been in the back parlour had just gone out, and had paid for it for that day, he says–werry grave–“Sir,” says he, “it’s agin our rules to let private rooms to our lodgers on gratis terms, but,” says he, “for a gentleman, I don’t mind breaking through them for once.” So then he turns round to me, and says, “Ikey, put two mould candles in the back parlour, and charge ’em to this gen’lm’n’s account,” vich I did. Vell, by-and-by a hackney-coach comes up to the door, and there, sure enough, was the young lady, wrapped up in a hopera-cloak, as it might be, and all alone. I opened the gate that night, so I went up when the coach come, and he vos a waitin’ at the parlour door–and wasn’t he a trembling, neither? The poor creetur see him, and could hardly walk to meet
him. “Oh, Harry!” she says, “that it should have come to this; and all for my sake,” says she, putting her hand upon his shoulder. So he puts his arm round her pretty little waist, and leading her gently a little way into the room, so that he might be able to shut the door, he says, so kind and soft-like–“Why, Kate,” says he–‘

 
‘Here’s the gentleman you want,’ said Ikey, abruptly breaking off in his story, and introducing Mr. Gabriel Parsons to the crest- fallen Watkins Tottle, who at that moment entered the room. Watkins advanced with a wooden expression of passive endurance, and accepted the hand which Mr. Gabriel Parsons held out.

 
‘I want to speak to you,’ said Gabriel, with a look strongly expressive of his dislike of the company.

 
‘This way,’ replied the imprisoned one, leading the way to the front drawing-room, where rich debtors did the luxurious at the rate of a couple of guineas a day.

 
‘Well, here I am,’ said Mr. Watkins, as he sat down on the sofa; and placing the palms of his hands on his knees, anxiously glanced at his friend’s countenance.

 
‘Yes; and here you’re likely to be,’ said Gabriel, coolly, as he rattled the money in his unmentionable pockets, and looked out of the window.

 
‘What’s the amount with the costs?’ inquired Parsons, after an awkward pause. ‘Have you any money?’

 
‘Nine and sixpence halfpenny.’

 
Mr. Gabriel Parsons walked up and down the room for a few seconds, before he could make up his mind to disclose the plan he had formed; he was accustomed to drive hard bargains, but was always most anxious to conceal his avarice. At length he stopped short,
and said, ‘Tottle, you owe me fifty pounds.’
‘I do.’

 

‘And from all I see, I infer that you are likely to owe it to me.’
‘I fear I am.’
‘Though you have every disposition to pay me if you could?’
‘Certainly.’
‘Then,’ said Mr. Gabriel Parsons, ‘listen: here’s my proposition. You know my way of old. Accept it–yes or no–I will or I won’t.  I’ll pay the debt and costs, and I’ll lend you 10l. more (which, added to your annuity, will enable you to carry on the war well) if you’ll give me your note of hand to pay me one hundred and fifty pounds within six months after you are married to Miss Lillerton.’
‘My dear–‘
‘Stop a minute–on one condition; and that is, that you propose to Miss Lillerton at once.’
‘At once! My dear Parsons, consider.’
‘It’s for you to consider, not me. She knows you well from reputation, though she did not know you personally until lately.  Notwithstanding all her maiden modesty, I think she’d be devilish glad to get married out of hand with as little delay as possible.  My wife has sounded her on the subject, and she has confessed.’
‘What–what?’ eagerly interrupted the enamoured Watkins.
‘Why,’ replied Parsons, ‘to say exactly what she has confessed, would be rather difficult, because they only spoke in hints, and so forth; but my wife, who is no bad judge in these cases, declared to me that what she had confessed was as good as to say that she was not insensible of your merits–in fact, that no other man should have her.’
Mr. Watkins Tottle rose hastily from his seat, and rang the bell.
‘What’s that for?’ inquired Parsons.
‘I want to send the man for the bill stamp,’ replied Mr. Watkins Tottle.
‘Then you’ve made up your mind?’
‘I have,’–and they shook hands most cordially. The note of hand was given–the debt and costs were paid–Ikey was satisfied for his trouble, and the two friends soon found themselves on that side of Mr. Solomon Jacobs’s establishment, on which most of his visitors were very happy when they found themselves once again–to wit, the OUTside.
‘Now,’ said Mr. Gabriel Parsons, as they drove to Norwood together–‘you shall have an opportunity to make the disclosure to-night, and mind you speak out, Tottle.’
‘I will–I will!’ replied Watkins, valorously.
‘How I should like to see you together,’ ejaculated Mr. Gabriel Parsons.–‘What fun!’ and he laughed so long and so loudly, that he disconcerted Mr. Watkins Tottle, and frightened the horse.
‘There’s Fanny and your intended walking about on the lawn,’ said Gabriel, as they approached the house. ‘Mind your eye, Tottle.’
‘Never fear,’ replied Watkins, resolutely, as he made his way to the spot where the ladies were walking.
‘Here’s Mr. Tottle, my dear,’ said Mrs. Parsons, addressing Miss Lillerton. The lady turned quickly round, and acknowledged his courteous salute with the same sort of confusion that Watkins had noticed on their first interview, but with something like a slight expression of disappointment or carelessness.
‘Did you see how glad she was to see you?’ whispered Parsons to his friend.
‘Why, I really thought she looked as if she would rather have seen somebody else,’ replied Tottle.
‘Pooh, nonsense!’ whispered Parsons again–‘it’s always the way with the women, young or old. They never show how delighted they are to see those whose presence makes their hearts beat. It’s the way with the whole sex, and no man should have lived to your time
of life without knowing it. Fanny confessed it to me, when we were first married, over and over again–see what it is to have a wife.’
‘Certainly,’ whispered Tottle, whose courage was vanishing fast.
‘Well, now, you’d better begin to pave the way,’ said Parsons, who, having invested some money in the speculation, assumed the office of director.
‘Yes, yes, I will–presently,’ replied Tottle, greatly flurried.
‘Say something to her, man,’ urged Parsons again. ‘Confound it! pay her a compliment, can’t you?’
‘No! not till after dinner,’ replied the bashful Tottle, anxious to postpone the evil moment.
‘Well, gentlemen,’ said Mrs. Parsons, ‘you are really very polite; you stay away the whole morning, after promising to take us out, and when you do come home, you stand whispering together and take no notice of us.’
‘We were talking of the BUSINESS, my dear, which detained us this morning,’ replied Parsons, looking significantly at Tottle.
‘Dear me! how very quickly the morning has gone,’ said Miss Lillerton, referring to the gold watch, which was wound up on state occasions, whether it required it or not.
‘I think it has passed very slowly,’ mildly suggested Tottle.
(‘That’s right–bravo!’) whispered Parsons.
‘Indeed!’ said Miss Lillerton, with an air of majestic surprise.
‘I can only impute it to my unavoidable absence from your society, madam,’ said Watkins, ‘and that of Mrs. Parsons.’
During this short dialogue, the ladies had been leading the way to the house.  ‘What the deuce did you stick Fanny into that last compliment for?’ inquired Parsons, as they followed together; ‘it quite spoilt the effect.’
‘Oh! it really would have been too broad without,’ replied Watkins Tottle, ‘much too broad!’
‘He’s mad!’ Parsons whispered his wife, as they entered the drawing-room, ‘mad from modesty.’
‘Dear me!’ ejaculated the lady, ‘I never heard of such a thing.’
‘You’ll find we have quite a family dinner, Mr. Tottle,’ said Mrs. Parsons, when they sat down to table: ‘Miss Lillerton is one ofus, and, of course, we make no stranger of you.’
Mr. Watkins Tottle expressed a hope that the Parsons family never would make a stranger of him; and wished internally that his bashfulness would allow him to feel a little less like a stranger himself.
‘Take off the covers, Martha,’ said Mrs. Parsons, directing the shifting of the scenery with great anxiety. The order was obeyed, and a pair of boiled fowls, with tongue and et ceteras, were displayed at the top, and a fillet of veal at the bottom. On one side of the table two green sauce-tureens, with ladles of the same, were setting to each other in a green dish; and on the other was an curried rabbit, in a brown suit, turned up with lemon.
‘Miss Lillerton, my dear,’ said Mrs. Parsons, ‘shall I assist you?’
‘Thank you, no; I think I’ll trouble Mr. Tottle.’
Watkins started–trembled–helped the rabbit–and broke a tumbler.
The countenance of the lady of the house, which had been all smiles previously, underwent an awful change.
‘Extremely sorry,’ stammered Watkins, assisting himself to currie and parsley and butter, in the extremity of his confusion.
‘Not the least consequence,’ replied Mrs. Parsons, in a tone which
implied that it was of the greatest consequence possible,– directing aside the researches of the boy, who was groping under the table for the bits of broken glass.
‘I presume,’ said Miss Lillerton, ‘that Mr. Tottle is aware of the interest which bachelors usually pay in such cases; a dozen glasses for one is the lowest penalty.’
Mr. Gabriel Parsons gave his friend an admonitory tread on the toe. Here was a clear hint that the sooner he ceased to be a bachelor and emancipated himself from such penalties, the better. Mr. Watkins Tottle viewed the observation in the same light, and
challenged Mrs. Parsons to take wine, with a degree of presence of mind, which, under all the circumstances, was really extraordinary.
‘Miss Lillerton,’ said Gabriel, ‘may I have the pleasure?’
‘I shall be most happy.’
‘Tottle, will you assist Miss Lillerton, and pass the decanter.
Thank you.’ (The usual pantomimic ceremony of nodding and sipping gone through) – ‘Tottle, were you ever in Suffolk?’ inquired the master of the house, who was burning to tell one of his seven stock stories.
‘No,’ responded Watkins, adding, by way of a saving clause, ‘but I’ve been in Devonshire.’
‘Ah!’ replied Gabriel, ‘it was in Suffolk that a rather singular circumstance happened to me many years ago. Did you ever happen to hear me mention it?’
Mr. Watkins Tottle HAD happened to hear his friend mention it some four hundred times. Of course he expressed great curiosity, and evinced the utmost impatience to hear the story again. Mr. Gabriel Parsons forthwith attempted to proceed, in spite of the
interruptions to which, as our readers must frequently have observed, the master of the house is often exposed in such cases. We will attempt to give them an idea of our meaning.
‘When I was in Suffolk–‘ said Mr. Gabriel Parsons.
‘Take off the fowls first, Martha,’ said Mrs. Parsons. ‘I beg your pardon, my dear.’
‘When I was in Suffolk,’ resumed Mr. Parsons, with an impatient glance at his wife, who pretended not to observe it, ‘which is now years ago, business led me to the town of Bury St. Edmund’s. I had to stop at the principal places in my way, and therefore, for the sake of convenience, I travelled in a gig. I left Sudbury one dark night–it was winter time- about nine o’clock; the rain poured in torrents, the wind howled among the trees that skirted the roadside, and I was obliged to proceed at a foot-pace, for I could hardly see my hand before me, it was so dark–‘
‘John,’ interrupted Mrs. Parsons, in a low, hollow voice, ‘don’t spill that gravy.’
‘Fanny,’ said Parsons impatiently, ‘I wish you’d defer these domestic reproofs to some more suitable time. Really, my dear, these constant interruptions are very annoying.’
‘My dear, I didn’t interrupt you,’ said Mrs. Parsons.
‘But, my dear, you DID interrupt me,’ remonstrated Mr. Parsons.
‘How very absurd you are, my love! I must give directions to the servants; I am quite sure that if I sat here and allowed John to spill the gravy over the new carpet, you’d be the first to find fault when you saw the stain to-morrow morning.’
‘Well,’ continued Gabriel with a resigned air, as if he knew there was no getting over the point about the carpet, ‘I was just saying, it was so dark that I could hardly see my hand before me. The road was very lonely, and I assure you, Tottle (this was a device to
arrest the wandering attention of that individual, which was distracted by a confidential communication between Mrs. Parsons and Martha, accompanied by the delivery of a large bunch of keys), I assure you, Tottle, I became somehow impressed with a sense of the loneliness of my situation–‘
‘Pie to your master,’ interrupted Mrs. Parsons, again directing the servant.
‘Now, pray, my dear,’ remonstrated Parsons once more, very pettishly. Mrs. P. turned up her hands and eyebrows, and appealed in dumb show to Miss Lillerton. ‘As I turned a corner of the road,’ resumed Gabriel, ‘the horse stopped short, and reared tremendously. I pulled up, jumped out, ran to his head, and found a man lying on his back in the middle of the road, with his eyes fixed on the sky. I thought he was dead; but no, he was alive, and there appeared to be nothing the matter with him. He jumped up, and putting his hand to his chest, and fixing upon me the most earnest gaze you can imagine, exclaimed–‘
‘Pudding here,’ said Mrs. Parsons.
‘Oh! it’s no use,’ exclaimed the host, now rendered desperate.
‘Here, Tottle; a glass of wine. It’s useless to attempt relating anything when Mrs. Parsons is present.’
This attack was received in the usual way. Mrs. Parsons talked TO Miss Lillerton and AT her better half; expatiated on the impatience of men generally; hinted that her husband was peculiarly vicious in this respect, and wound up by insinuating that she must be one of the best tempers that ever existed, or she never could put up with it. Really what she had to endure sometimes, was more than any one who saw her in every-day life could by possibility suppose.–The story was now a painful subject, and therefore Mr. Parsons declined to enter into any details, and contented himself by stating that the man was a maniac, who had escaped from a neighbouring mad-house.
The cloth was removed; the ladies soon afterwards retired, and Miss Lillerton played the piano in the drawing-room overhead, very loudly, for the edification of the visitor. Mr. Watkins Tottle and Mr. Gabriel Parsons sat chatting comfortably enough, until the
conclusion of the second bottle, when the latter, in proposing an adjournment to the drawing-room, informed Watkins that he had concerted a plan with his wife, for leaving him and Miss Lillerton alone, soon after tea.
‘I say,’ said Tottle, as they went up-stairs, ‘don’t you think it would be better if we put it off till-till-to-morrow?’
‘Don’t YOU think it would have been much better if I had left you in that wretched hole I found you in this morning?’ retorted Parsons bluntly.
‘Well–well–I only made a suggestion,’ said poor Watkins Tottle, with a deep sigh.

 

 

Tea was soon concluded, and Miss Lillerton, drawing a small work- table on one side of the fire, and placing a little wooden frame upon it, something like a miniature clay-mill without the horse, was soon busily engaged in making a watch-guard with brown silk.
‘God bless me!’ exclaimed Parsons, starting up with well-feigned surprise, ‘I’ve forgotten those confounded letters. Tottle, I know you’ll excuse me.’
If Tottle had been a free agent, he would have allowed no one to leave the room on any pretence, except himself. As it was, however, he was obliged to look cheerful when Parsons quitted the apartment.
He had scarcely left, when Martha put her head into the room, with- -‘Please, ma’am, you’re wanted.’ Mrs. Parsons left the room, shut the door carefully after her, and Mr. Watkins Tottle was left alone with Miss Lillerton. For the first five minutes there was a dead silence.–Mr. Watkins Tottle was thinking how he should begin, and Miss Lillerton
appeared to be thinking of nothing. The fire was burning low; Mr. Watkins Tottle stirred it, and put some coals on.
‘Hem!’ coughed Miss Lillerton; Mr. Watkins Tottle thought the fair creature had spoken. ‘I beg your pardon,’ said he.
‘Eh?’
‘I thought you spoke.’
‘No.’
‘Oh!’
‘There are some books on the sofa, Mr. Tottle, if you would like to look at them,’ said Miss Lillerton, after the lapse of another five minutes.
‘No, thank you,’ returned Watkins; and then he added, with a courage which was perfectly astonishing, even to himself, ‘Madam, that is Miss Lillerton, I wish to speak to you.’
‘To me!’ said Miss Lillerton, letting the silk drop from her hands, and sliding her chair back a few paces.–‘Speak–to me!’
‘To you, madam–and on the subject of the state of your affections.’ The lady hastily rose and would have left the room; but Mr. Watkins Tottle gently detained her by the hand, and holding it as far from him as the joint length of their arms would permit, he thus proceeded: ‘Pray do not misunderstand me, or suppose that I am led to address you, after so short an acquaintance, by any feeling of my own merits–for merits I have none which could give me a claim to your hand. I hope you will acquit me of any presumption when I explain that I have been acquainted through Mrs. Parsons, with the state–that is, that Mrs. Parsons has told me–at least, not Mrs. Parsons, but–‘ here Watkins began to wander, but Miss Lillerton relieved him.
‘Am I to understand, Mr. Tottle, that Mrs. Parsons has acquainted you with my feeling–my affection–I mean my respect, for an individual of the opposite sex?’
‘She has.’
‘Then, what?’ inquired Miss Lillerton, averting her face, with a girlish air, ‘what could induce YOU to seek such an interview as this? What can your object be? How can I promote your happiness, Mr. Tottle?’
Here was the time for a flourish–‘By allowing me,’ replied Watkins, falling bump on his knees, and breaking two brace-buttons and a waistcoat-string, in the act–‘By allowing me to be your slave, your servant–in short, by unreservedly making me the confidant of your heart’s feelings–may I say for the promotion of your own happiness–may I say, in order that you may become the wife of a kind and affectionate husband?’

 
‘Disinterested creature!’ exclaimed Miss Lillerton, hiding her face in a white pocket-handkerchief with an eyelet-hole border.

 
Mr. Watkins Tottle thought that if the lady knew all, she might possibly alter her opinion on this last point. He raised the tip of her middle finger ceremoniously to his lips, and got off his knees, as gracefully as he could. ‘My information was correct?’ he tremulously inquired, when he was once more on his feet. ‘It was.’ Watkins elevated his hands, and looked up to the ornament in the centre of the ceiling, which had been made for a
lamp, by way of expressing his rapture.

 
‘Our situation, Mr. Tottle,’ resumed the lady, glancing at him through one of the eyelet-holes, ‘is a most peculiar and delicate one.’

 
‘It is,’ said Mr. Tottle.

 
‘Our acquaintance has been of SO short duration,’ said Miss Lillerton.

 
‘Only a week,’ assented Watkins Tottle.

 
‘Oh! more than that,’ exclaimed the lady, in a tone of surprise.

 
‘Indeed!’ said Tottle.

 
‘More than a month–more than two months!’ said Miss Lillerton.

 
‘Rather odd, this,’ thought Watkins.

 
‘Oh!’ he said, recollecting Parsons’s assurance that she had known him from report, ‘I understand. But, my dear madam, pray, consider. The longer this acquaintance has existed, the less reason is there for delay now. Why not at once fix a period for gratifying the hopes of your devoted admirer?’

 
‘It has been represented to me again and again that this is the course I ought to pursue,’ replied Miss Lillerton, ‘but pardon my feelings of delicacy, Mr. Tottle–pray excuse this embarrassment–I have peculiar ideas on such subjects, and I am quite sure that I never could summon up fortitude enough to name the day to my future husband.’

 
‘Then allow ME to name it,’ said Tottle eagerly.

 
‘I should like to fix it myself,’ replied Miss Lillerton, bashfully, ‘but I cannot do so without at once resorting to a third party.’

 
‘A third party!’ thought Watkins Tottle; ‘who the deuce is that to be, I wonder!’

 
‘Mr. Tottle,’ continued Miss Lillerton, ‘you have made me a most disinterested and kind offer–that offer I accept. Will you at once be the bearer of a note from me to–to Mr. Timson?’

 
‘Mr. Timson!’ said Watkins.

 
‘After what has passed between us,’ responded Miss Lillerton, still averting her head, ‘you must understand whom I mean; Mr. Timson, the–the–clergyman.’

 
‘Mr. Timson, the clergyman!’ ejaculated Watkins Tottle, in a state of inexpressible beatitude, and positive wonder at his own success.

 
‘Angel! Certainly–this moment!’

 
‘I’ll prepare it immediately,’ said Miss Lillerton, making for the door; ‘the events of this day have flurried me so much, Mr. Tottle, that I shall not leave my room again this evening; I will send you the note by the servant.’

 
‘Stay,–stay,’ cried Watkins Tottle, still keeping a most respectful distance from the lady; ‘when shall we meet again?’

 
‘Oh! Mr. Tottle,’ replied Miss Lillerton, coquettishly, ‘when WE are married, I can never see you too often, nor thank you too much;’ and she left the room.

 
Mr. Watkins Tottle flung himself into an arm-chair, and indulged in the most delicious reveries of future bliss, in which the idea of ‘Five hundred pounds per annum, with an uncontrolled power of disposing of it by her last will and testament,’ was somehow or
other the foremost. He had gone through the interview so well, and it had terminated so admirably, that he almost began to wish he had expressly stipulated for the settlement of the annual five hundred on himself.

 
‘May I come in?’ said Mr. Gabriel Parsons, peeping in at the door.

 
‘You may,’ replied Watkins.

 
‘Well, have you done it?’ anxiously inquired Gabriel.

 
‘Have I done it!’ said Watkins Tottle. ‘Hush–I’m going to the clergyman.’

 
‘No!’ said Parsons. ‘How well you have managed it!’

 
‘Where does Timson live?’ inquired Watkins.

 
‘At his uncle’s,’ replied Gabriel, ‘just round the lane. He’s waiting for a living, and has been assisting his uncle here for the last two or three months. But how well you have done it–I didn’t think you could have carried it off so!’

 
Mr. Watkins Tottle was proceeding to demonstrate that the Richardsonian principle was the best on which love could possibly be made, when he was interrupted by the entrance of Martha, with a little pink note folded like a fancy cocked-hat.

 
‘Miss Lillerton’s compliments,’ said Martha, as she delivered it into Tottle’s hands, and vanished.

 
‘Do you observe the delicacy?’ said Tottle, appealing to Mr. Gabriel Parsons. ‘COMPLIMENTS, not LOVE, by the servant, eh?’

 
Mr. Gabriel Parsons didn’t exactly know what reply to make, so he poked the forefinger   his right hand between the third and fourth ribs of Mr. Watkins Tottle.

 
‘Come,’ said Watkins, when the explosion of mirth, consequent on this practical jest, had subsided, ‘we’ll be off at once–let’s lose no time.’

 
‘Capital!’ echoed Gabriel Parsons; and in five minutes they were at the garden-gate of the villa tenanted by the uncle of Mr. Timson.

 
‘Is Mr. Charles Timson at home?’ inquired Mr. Watkins Tottle of Mr. Charles Timson’s uncle’s man.

 
‘Mr. Charles IS at home,’ replied the man, stammering; ‘but he desired me to say he couldn’t be interrupted, sir, by any of the parishioners.’

 
‘_I_ am not a parishioner,’ replied Watkins.

 
‘Is Mr. Charles writing a sermon, Tom?’ inquired Parsons, thrusting himself forward.

 
‘No, Mr. Parsons, sir; he’s not exactly writing a sermon, but he is practising the violoncello in his own bedroom, and gave strict orders not to be disturbed.’

 
‘Say I’m here,’ replied Gabriel, leading the way across the garden; ‘Mr. Parsons and Mr. Tottle, on private and particular business.’

 
They were shown into the parlour, and the servant departed to deliver his message. The distant groaning of the violoncello ceased; footsteps were heard on the stairs; and Mr. Timson presented himself, and shook hands with Parsons with the utmost cordiality.

 
‘How do you do, sir?’ said Watkins Tottle, with great solemnity.

 
‘How do YOU do, sir?’ replied Timson, with as much coldness as if it were a matter of perfect indifference to him how he did, as it very likely was.

 
‘I beg to deliver this note to you,’ said Watkins Tottle, producing the cocked-hat.

 
‘From Miss Lillerton!’ said Timson, suddenly changing colour. ‘Pray sit down.’

 
Mr. Watkins Tottle sat down; and while Timson perused the note, fixed his eyes on an oyster-sauce-coloured portrait of the Archbishop of Canterbury, which hung over the fireplace.

 
Mr. Timson rose from his seat when he had concluded the note, and looked dubiously at Parsons. ‘May I ask,’ he inquired, appealing to Watkins Tottle, ‘whether our friend here is acquainted with the object of your visit?’

 
‘Our friend is in MY confidence,’ replied Watkins, with considerable importance.

 
‘Then, sir,’ said Timson, seizing both Tottle’s hands, ‘allow me in his presence to thank you most unfeignedly and cordially, for the noble part you have acted in this affair.’

 
‘He thinks I recommended him,’ thought Tottle. ‘Confound these fellows! they never think of anything but their fees.’

 

‘I deeply regret having misunderstood your intentions, my dear sir,’ continued Timson. ‘Disinterested and manly, indeed! There are very few men who would have acted as you have done.’

 

Mr. Watkins Tottle could not help thinking that this last remark was anything but complimentary. He therefore inquired, rather hastily, ‘When is it to be?’

 
‘On Thursday,’ replied Timson,–‘on Thursday morning at half-past eight.’

 
‘Uncommonly early,’ observed Watkins Tottle, with an air of triumphant self-denial. ‘I shall hardly be able to get down here by that hour.’ (This was intended for a joke.)

 
‘Never mind, my dear fellow,’ replied Timson, all suavity, shaking hands with Tottle again most heartily, ‘so long as we see you to breakfast, you know–‘

 
‘Eh!’ said Parsons, with one of the most extraordinary expressions of countenance that ever appeared in a human face.

 
‘What!’ ejaculated Watkins Tottle, at the same moment.

 
‘I say that so long as we see you to breakfast,’ replied Timson, ‘we will excuse your being absent from the ceremony, though of course your presence at it would give us the utmost pleasure.’

 
Mr. Watkins Tottle staggered against the wall, and fixed his eyes on Timson with appalling perseverance.

 
‘Timson,’ said Parsons, hurriedly brushing his hat with his left arm, ‘when you say “us,” whom do you mean?’

 
Mr. Timson looked foolish in his turn, when he replied, ‘Why–Mrs. Timson that will be this day week: Miss Lillerton that is–‘

 
‘Now don’t stare at that idiot in the corner,’ angrily exclaimed Parsons, as the extraordinary convulsions of Watkins Tottle’s countenance excited the wondering gaze of Timson,–‘but have the goodness to tell me in three words the contents of that note?’

 
‘This note,’ replied Timson, ‘is from Miss Lillerton, to whom I have been for the last five weeks regularly engaged. Her singular scruples and strange feeling on some points have hitherto prevented my bringing the engagement to that termination which I so anxiously
desire. She informs me here, that she sounded Mrs. Parsons with the view of making her her confidante and go-between, that Mrs. Parsons informed this elderly gentleman, Mr. Tottle, of the circumstance, and that he, in the most kind and delicate terms, offered to assist us in any way, and even undertook to convey this note, which contains the promise I have long sought in vain–an act of kindness for which I can never be sufficiently grateful.’

 
‘Good night, Timson,’ said Parsons, hurrying off, and carrying the bewildered Tottle with him.

 
‘Won’t you stay–and have something?’ said Timson.

 
‘No, thank ye,’ replied Parsons; ‘I’ve had quite enough;’ and away he went, followed by Watkins Tottle in a state of stupefaction. Mr. Gabriel Parsons whistled until they had walked some quarter of a mile past his own gate, when he suddenly stopped, and said –

 
‘You are a clever fellow, Tottle, ain’t you?’

 
‘I don’t know,’ said the unfortunate Watkins.

 
‘I suppose you’ll say this is Fanny’s fault, won’t you?’ inquired Gabriel.

 
‘I don’t know anything about it,’ replied the bewildered Tottle.

 
‘Well,’ said Parsons, turning on his heel to go home, ‘the next time you make an offer, you had better speak plainly, and don’t throw a chance away. And the next time you’re locked up in a spunging-house, just wait there till I come and take you out, there’s a good fellow.’

 
How, or at what hour, Mr. Watkins Tottle returned to Cecil-street is unknown. His boots were seen outside his bedroom-door next morning; but we have the authority of his landlady for stating that he neither emerged therefrom nor accepted sustenance for four-and- twenty hours. At the expiration of that period, and when a council of war was being held in the kitchen on the propriety of summoning the parochial beadle to break his door open, he rang his bell, and demanded a cup of milk-and-water. The next morning he went through the formalities of eating and drinking as usual, but a week afterwards he was seized with a relapse, while perusing the list of marriages in a morning paper, from which he never perfectly recovered.

 
A few weeks after the last-named occurrence, the body of a gentleman unknown, was found in the Regent’s canal. In the trousers-pockets were four shillings and threepence halfpenny; a matrimonial advertisement from a lady, which appeared to have been
cut out of a Sunday paper: a tooth-pick, and a card-case, which it is confidently believed would have led to the identification of the unfortunate gentleman, but for the circumstance of there being none but blank cards in it. Mr. Watkins Tottle absented himself from his lodgings shortly before. A bill, which has not been taken up,
was presented next morning; and a bill, which has not been taken down, was soon afterwards affixed in his parlour-window.