The Steam Excursion

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The Eighth of Charles Dickens Sketches was published in The Monthly Magazine in October 1834.  In it he describes a day’s excursion on which the boat is filled with a cast of brilliantly drawn characters, including the two catty pairs of sisters, the Tauntons and the Briggses, constantly trying to upstage the others: ‘If Mrs. Taunton appeared in a cap of all the hues of the rainbow, Mrs. Briggs forthwith mounted a toque, with all the patterns of the kaleidoscope. If Miss Sophia Taunton learnt a new song, two of the Miss Briggses came out with a new duet.

The Tauntons had once gained a temporary triumph with the assistance of a harp, but the Briggses brought three guitars into the field, and effectually routed the enemy. There was no end to the rivalry between them.’

 

The protagonist, Percy Noakes, lives in elegant apartments in Furnival’s Inn, as would Charles Dickens, and suffers from problems with various creditors, an affliction well known to the young author thanks to the improvident lifestyle of his father John Dickens.  The river excursion takes the passengers from London to Gravesend, close to where Dickens himself would live at the end of his life in Gad’s Hill Place.

 

The Steam Excursion links the young Boz with the mature Dickens in many ways Continue reading

Sentiment

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Whilst writing the early Sketches the young Charles Dickens was working as a Parliamentary reporter for the Mirror of Parliament.  He had reported extensively on the Great Reform Act that was passed in 1832, so politicians were a good target for him.  In ‘Sentiment’ we meet Cornelius Brook Dingwall, Esq., M.P., ‘haughty, solemn, and portentous. ‘  The first of many such political figures who would people the works of Charles Dickens over the next 36 years:

 

The Miss Crumptons, or to quote the authority of the inscription on the garden-gate of Minerva House, Hammersmith, ‘The Misses Crumpton,’ were two unusually tall, particularly thin, and exceedingly skinny personages: very upright, and very yellow. Miss Amelia Crumpton owned to thirty-eight, and Miss Maria Crumpton admitted she was forty; an admission which was rendered perfectly unnecessary by the self-evident fact of her being at least fifty. They dressed in the most interesting manner–like twins! and looked as happy and comfortable as a couple of marigolds run to seed. They were very precise, had the strictest possible ideas of propriety, wore false hair, and always smelt very strongly of lavender.
Minerva House, conducted under the auspices of the two sisters, was a ‘finishing establishment for young ladies,’ where some twenty girls of the ages of from thirteen to nineteen inclusive, acquired a smattering of everything, and a knowledge of nothing; instruction in French and Italian, dancing lessons twice a-week; and other necessaries of life. The house was a white one, a little removed from the roadside, with close palings in front. The bedroom windows were always left partly open, to afford a bird’s-eye view of numerous little bedsteads with very white dimity furniture, and thereby impress the passer-by with a due sense of the luxuries of the establishment; and there was a front parlour hung round with highly varnished maps which nobody ever looked at, and filled with books which no one ever read, appropriated exclusively to the reception of parents, who, whenever they called, could not fail to be struck with the very deep appearance of the place.
‘Amelia, my dear,’ said Miss Maria Crumpton, entering the school-room one morning, with her false hair in papers: as she occasionally did, in order to impress the young ladies with a conviction of its reality. ‘Amelia, my dear, here is a most gratifying note I have just received. You needn’t mind reading it aloud.’
Miss Amelia, thus advised, proceeded to read the following note with an air of great triumph:

 

‘Cornelius Brook Dingwall, Esq., M.P., presents his compliments to Miss Crumpton, and will feel much obliged by Miss Crumpton’s calling on him, if she conveniently can, to-morrow morning at one o’clock, as Cornelius Brook Dingwall, Esq., M.P., is anxious to see
Miss Crumpton on the subject of placing Miss Brook Dingwall under her charge.

‘Adelphi.

‘Monday morning.’

 

‘A Member of Parliament’s daughter!’ ejaculated Amelia, in an ecstatic tone.

 

‘A Member of Parliament’s daughter!’ repeated Miss Maria, with a smile of delight, which, of course, elicited a concurrent titter of pleasure from all the young ladies.
‘It’s exceedingly delightful!’ said Miss Amelia; whereupon all the young ladies murmured their admiration again. Courtiers are but school-boys, and court-ladies school-girls.
So important an announcement at once superseded the business of the day. A holiday was declared, in commemoration of the great event; the Miss Crumptons retired to their private apartment to talk it over; the smaller girls discussed the probable manners and customs of the daughter of a Member of Parliament; and the young ladies verging on eighteen wondered whether she was engaged, whether she was pretty, whether she wore much bustle, and many other WHETHERS of equal importance.

 

The two Miss Crumptons proceeded to the Adelphi at the appointed time next day, dressed, of course, in their best style, and looking as amiable as they possibly could–which, by-the-bye, is not saying much for them. Having sent in their cards, through the medium of a red-hot looking footman in bright livery, they were ushered into the august presence of the profound Dingwall.
Cornelius Brook Dingwall, Esq., M.P., was very haughty, solemn, and portentous. He had, naturally, a somewhat spasmodic expression of countenance, which was not rendered the less remarkable by his wearing an extremely stiff cravat. He was wonderfully proud of the M.P. attached to his name, and never lost an opportunity of reminding people of his dignity. He had a great idea of his own abilities, which must have been a great comfort to him, as no one else had; and in diplomacy, on a small scale, in his own family arrangements, he considered himself unrivalled. He was a county magistrate, and discharged the duties of his station with all due justice and impartiality; frequently committing poachers, and occasionally committing himself. Miss Brook Dingwall was one of that numerous class of young ladies, who, like adverbs, may be known by their answering to a commonplace question, and doing nothing else.
On the present occasion, this talented individual was seated in a small library at a table covered with papers, doing nothing, but trying to look busy, playing at shop. Acts of Parliament, and letters directed to ‘Cornelius Brook Dingwall, Esq., M.P.,’ were ostentatiously scattered over the table; at a little distance from which, Mrs. Brook Dingwall was seated at work. One of those public nuisances, a spoiled child, was playing about the room, dressed after the most approved fashion–in a blue tunic with a black belt a quarter of a yard wide, fastened with an immense buckle–looking like a robber in a melodrama, seen through a diminishing glass.

 

After a little pleasantry from the sweet child, who amused himself by running away with Miss Maria Crumpton’s chair as fast as it was placed for her, the visitors were seated, and Cornelius Brook Dingwall, Esq., opened the conversation. He had sent for Miss Crumpton, he said, in consequence of the high character he had received of her establishment from his friend, Sir Alfred Muggs.
Miss Crumpton murmured her acknowledgments to him (Muggs), and Cornelius proceeded.
‘One of my principal reasons, Miss Crumpton, for parting with my daughter, is, that she has lately acquired some sentimental ideas, which it is most desirable to eradicate from her young mind.’ (Here the little innocent before noticed, fell out of an arm-chair with an awful crash.)
‘Naughty boy!’ said his mamma, who appeared more surprised at his taking the liberty of falling down, than at anything else; ‘I’ll ring the bell for James to take him away.’
‘Pray don’t check him, my love,’ said the diplomatist, as soon as he could make himself heard amidst the unearthly howling consequent upon the threat and the tumble. ‘It all arises from his great flow of spirits.’ This last explanation was addressed to Miss Crumpton.
‘Certainly, sir,’ replied the antique Maria: not exactly seeing, however, the connexion between a flow of animal spirits, and a fall from an arm-chair.

 

Silence was restored, and the M.P. resumed: ‘Now, I know nothing so likely to effect this object, Miss Crumpton, as her mixing constantly in the society of girls of her own age; and, as I know that in your establishment she will meet such as are not likely to contaminate her young mind, I propose to send her to you.’
The youngest Miss Crumpton expressed the acknowledgments of the establishment generally. Maria was rendered speechless by bodily pain. The dear little fellow, having recovered his animal spirits, was standing upon her most tender foot, by way of getting his face (which looked like a capital O in a red-lettered play-bill) on a level with the writing-table.
‘Of course, Lavinia will be a parlour boarder,’ continued the enviable father; ‘and on one point I wish my directions to be strictly observed. The fact is, that some ridiculous love affair, with a person much her inferior in life, has been the cause of her present state of mind. Knowing that of course, under your care, she can have no opportunity of meeting this person, I do not object to–indeed, I should rather prefer–her mixing with such society as you see yourself.’

 

This important statement was again interrupted by the high-spirited little creature, in the excess of his joyousness breaking a pane of glass, and nearly precipitating himself into an adjacent area. James was rung for; considerable confusion and screaming succeeded; two little blue legs were seen to kick violently in the air as the man left the room, and the child was gone.
‘Mr. Brook Dingwall would like Miss Brook Dingwall to learn everything,’ said Mrs. Brook Dingwall, who hardly ever said anything at all.
‘Certainly,’ said both the Miss Crumptons together.
‘And as I trust the plan I have devised will be effectual in weaning my daughter from this absurd idea, Miss Crumpton,’ continued the legislator, ‘I hope you will have the goodness to comply, in all respects, with any request I may forward to you.’
The promise was of course made; and after a lengthened discussion, conducted on behalf of the Dingwalls with the most becoming diplomatic gravity, and on that of the Crumptons with profound respect, it was finally arranged that Miss Lavinia should be forwarded to Hammersmith on the next day but one, on which occasion the half-yearly ball given at the establishment was to take place. It might divert the dear girl’s mind. This, by the way, was another bit of diplomacy.
Miss Lavinia was introduced to her future governess, and both the Miss Crumptons pronounced her ‘a most charming girl;’ an opinion which, by a singular coincidence, they always entertained of any new pupil.

 

Courtesies were exchanged, acknowledgments expressed, condescension exhibited, and the interview terminated.

 

Preparations, to make use of theatrical phraseology, ‘on a scale of magnitude never before attempted,’ were incessantly made at Minerva House to give every effect to the forthcoming ball. The largest room in the house was pleasingly ornamented with blue calico roses, plaid tulips, and other equally natural-looking artificial flowers, the work of the young ladies themselves. The carpet was taken up, the folding-doors were taken down, the furniture was taken out, and rout-seats were taken in. The linen-drapers of Hammersmith were astounded at the sudden demand for blue sarsenet ribbon, and long white gloves. Dozens of geraniums were purchased for bouquets, and a harp and two violins were bespoke from town, in addition to the grand piano already on the premises. The young ladies who were selected to show off on the occasion, and do credit to the establishment, practised incessantly, much to their own satisfaction, and greatly to the annoyance of the lame old gentleman over the way; and a constant correspondence was kept up, between the Misses Crumpton and the Hammersmith pastrycook.
The evening came; and then there was such a lacing of stays, and tying of sandals, and dressing of hair, as never can take place with a proper degree of bustle out of a boarding-school. The smaller girls managed to be in everybody’s way, and were pushed about accordingly; and the elder ones dressed, and tied, and flattered, and envied, one another, as earnestly and sincerely as if they had actually COME OUT.
‘How do I look, dear?’ inquired Miss Emily Smithers, the belle of the house, of Miss Caroline Wilson, who was her bosom friend, because she was the ugliest girl in Hammersmith, or out of it.
‘Oh! charming, dear. How do I?’
‘Delightful! you never looked so handsome,’ returned the belle, adjusting her own dress, and not bestowing a glance on her poor companion.
‘I hope young Hilton will come early,’ said another young lady to Miss somebody else, in a fever of expectation.
‘I’m sure he’d be highly flattered if he knew it,’ returned the other, who was practising l’ete.
‘Oh! he’s so handsome,’ said the first.
‘Such a charming person!’ added a second.
‘Such a distingue air!’ said a third.
‘Oh, what DO you think?’ said another girl, running into the room; ‘Miss Crumpton says her cousin’s coming.’
‘What! Theodosius Butler?’ said everybody in raptures.
‘Is HE handsome?’ inquired a novice.
‘No, not particularly handsome,’ was the general reply; ‘but, oh, so clever!’
Mr. Theodosius Butler was one of those immortal geniuses who are to be met with in almost every circle. They have, usually, very deep, monotonous voices. They always persuade themselves that they are wonderful persons, and that they ought to be very miserable, though they don’t precisely know why. They are very conceited, and usually possess half an idea; but, with enthusiastic young ladies, and silly young gentlemen, they are very wonderful persons. The individual in question, Mr. Theodosius, had written a pamphlet containing some very weighty considerations on the expediency of doing something or other; and as every sentence contained a good many words of four syllables, his admirers took it for granted that he meant a good deal.
‘Perhaps that’s he,’ exclaimed several young ladies, as the first pull of the evening threatened destruction to the bell of the gate.
An awful pause ensued. Some boxes arrived and a young lady–Miss Brook Dingwall, in full ball costume, with an immense gold chain round her neck, and her dress looped up with a single rose; an ivory fan in her hand, and a most interesting expression of despair
in her face.

 

The Miss Crumptons inquired after the family, with the most excruciating anxiety, and Miss Brook Dingwall was formally introduced to her future companions. The Miss Crumptons conversed with the young ladies in the most mellifluous tones, in order that
Miss Brook Dingwall might be properly impressed with their amiable treatment.
Another pull at the bell. Mr. Dadson the writing-master, and his wife. The wife in green silk, with shoes and cap-trimmings to correspond: the writing-master in a white waistcoat, black knee-shorts, and ditto silk stockings, displaying a leg large enough for two writing-masters. The young ladies whispered one another, and the writing-master and his wife flattered the Miss Crumptons, who were dressed in amber, with long sashes, like dolls.
Repeated pulls at the bell, and arrivals too numerous to particularise: papas and mammas, and aunts and uncles, the owners and guardians of the different pupils; the singing-master, Signor Lobskini, in a black wig; the piano-forte player and the violins;
the harp, in a state of intoxication; and some twenty young men, who stood near the door, and talked to one another, occasionally bursting into a giggle. A general hum of conversation. Coffee handed round, and plentifully partaken of by fat mammas, who looked like the stout people who come on in pantomimes for the sole purpose of being knocked down.
The popular Mr. Hilton was the next arrival; and he having, at the request of the Miss Crumptons, undertaken the office of Master of the Ceremonies, the quadrilles commenced with considerable spirit. The young men by the door gradually advanced into the middle of the room, and in time became sufficiently at ease to consent to be
introduced to partners. The writing-master danced every set, springing about with the most fearful agility, and his wife played a rubber in the back-parlour–a little room with five book-shelves, dignified by the name of the study. Setting her down to whist was
a half-yearly piece of generalship on the part of the Miss Crumptons; it was necessary to hide her somewhere, on account of her being a fright.
The interesting Lavinia Brook Dingwall was the only girl present, who appeared to take no interest in the proceedings of the evening. In vain was she solicited to dance; in vain was the universal homage paid to her as the daughter of a member of parliament. She
was equally unmoved by the splendid tenor of the inimitable Lobskini, and the brilliant execution of Miss Laetitia Parsons, whose performance of ‘The Recollections of Ireland’ was universally declared to be almost equal to that of Moscheles himself. Not even the announcement of the arrival of Mr. Theodosius Butler could induce her to leave the corner of the back drawing-room in which she was seated.
‘Now, Theodosius,’ said Miss Maria Crumpton, after that enlightened pamphleteer had nearly run the gauntlet of the whole company, ‘I must introduce you to our new pupil.’
Theodosius looked as if he cared for nothing earthly.
‘She’s the daughter of a member of parliament,’ said Maria.– Theodosius started.
‘And her name is–?’ he inquired.
‘Miss Brook Dingwall.’
‘Great Heaven!’ poetically exclaimed Theodosius, in a low tone.
Miss Crumpton commenced the introduction in due form. Miss Brook Dingwall languidly raised her head.
‘Edward!’ she exclaimed, with a half-shriek, on seeing the well-known nankeen legs.
Fortunately, as Miss Maria Crumpton possessed no remarkable share of penetration, and as it was one of the diplomatic arrangements that no attention was to be paid to Miss Lavinia’s incoherent exclamations, she was perfectly unconscious of the mutual agitation
of the parties; and therefore, seeing that the offer of his hand for the next quadrille was accepted, she left him by the side of Miss Brook Dingwall.
‘Oh, Edward!’ exclaimed that most romantic of all romantic young ladies, as the light of science seated himself beside her,

 

‘Oh, Edward, is it you?’
Mr. Theodosius assured the dear creature, in the most impassioned manner, that he was not conscious of being anybody but himself.
‘Then why–why–this disguise? Oh! Edward M’Neville Walter, whatmhave I not suffered on your account?’
‘Lavinia, hear me,’ replied the hero, in his most poetic strain.  ‘Do not condemn me unheard. If anything that emanates from the soul of such a wretch as I, can occupy a place in your recollection–if any being, so vile, deserve your notice–you may remember that I once published a pamphlet (and paid for its publication) entitled “Considerations on the Policy of Removing the Duty on Bees’-wax.”‘
‘I do–I do!’ sobbed Lavinia.
‘That,’ continued the lover, ‘was a subject to which your father was devoted heart and soul.’
‘He was–he was!’ reiterated the sentimentalist.
‘I knew it,’ continued Theodosius, tragically; ‘I knew it–I forwarded him a copy. He wished to know me. Could I disclose my real name? Never! No, I assumed that name which you have so often pronounced in tones of endearment. As M’Neville Walter, I devoted myself to the stirring cause; as M’Neville Walter I gained your heart; in the same character I was ejected from your house by your father’s domestics; and in no character at all have I since been enabled to see you. We now meet again, and I proudly own that I
am–Theodosius Butler.’
The young lady appeared perfectly satisfied with this argumentative address, and  bestowed a look of the most ardent affection on the immortal advocate of bees’-wax.
‘May I hope,’ said he, ‘that the promise your father’s violent behaviour interrupted, may be renewed?’
‘Let us join this set,’ replied Lavinia, coquettishly–for girls of nineteen CAN coquette.
‘No,’ ejaculated he of the nankeens. ‘I stir not from this spot, writhing under this torture of suspense. May I–may I–hope?’
‘You may.’
‘The promise is renewed?’
‘It is.’
‘I have your permission?’
‘You have.’
‘To the fullest extent?’
‘You know it,’ returned the blushing Lavinia. The contortions of the interesting Butler’s visage expressed his raptures.
We could dilate upon the occurrences that ensued. How Mr. Theodosius and Miss Lavinia danced, and talked, and sighed for the remainder of the evening–how the Miss Crumptons were delighted thereat. How the writing-master continued to frisk about with one-horse power, and how his wife, from some unaccountable freak, left the whist-table in the little back-parlour, and persisted in displaying her green head-dress in the most conspicuous part of the drawing-room. How the supper consisted of small triangular sandwiches in trays, and a tart here and there by way of variety; and how the visitors consumed warm water disguised with lemon, and dotted with nutmeg, under the denomination of negus. These, and other matters of as much interest, however, we pass over, for the purpose of describing a scene of even more importance.
A fortnight after the date of the ball, Cornelius Brook Dingwall, Esq., M.P., was seated at the same library-table, and in the same room, as we have before described. He was alone, and his face bore an expression of deep thought and solemn gravity–he was drawing up ‘A Bill for the better observance of Easter Monday.’
The footman tapped at the door–the legislator started from his reverie, and ‘Miss Crumpton’ was announced. Permission was given for Miss Crumpton to enter the sanctum; Maria came sliding in, and having taken her seat with a due portion of affectation, the footman retired, and the governess was left alone with the M.P.
Oh! how she longed for the presence of a third party! Even the facetious young gentleman would have been a relief.
Miss Crumpton began the duet. She hoped Mrs. Brook Dingwall and the handsome little boy were in good health. They were. Mrs. Brook Dingwall and little Frederick were at Brighton.
‘Much obliged to you, Miss Crumpton,’ said Cornelius, in his most dignified manner, ‘for your attention in calling this morning. I should have driven down to Hammersmith, to see Lavinia, but your account was so very satisfactory, and my duties in the House occupy me so much, that I determined to postpone it for a week. How has she gone on?’
‘Very well indeed, sir,’ returned Maria, dreading to inform the father that she had gone off.
‘Ah, I thought the plan on which I proceeded would be a match for her.’
Here was a favourable opportunity to say that somebody else had been a match for her. But the unfortunate governess was unequal to the task.
‘You have persevered strictly in the line of conduct I prescribed, Miss Crumpton?’
‘Strictly, sir.’
‘You tell me in your note that her spirits gradually improved.’
‘Very much indeed, sir.’
‘To be sure. I was convinced they would.’
‘But I fear, sir,’ said Miss Crumpton, with visible emotion, ‘I fear the plan has not succeeded, quite so well as we could have wished.’
No!’ exclaimed the prophet. ‘Bless me! Miss Crumpton, you look alarmed. What has happened?’
‘Miss Brook Dingwall, sir–‘
‘Yes, ma’am?’
‘Has gone, sir’–said Maria, exhibiting a strong inclination to faint.
‘Gone!’
‘Eloped, sir.’
‘Eloped!–Who with–when–where–how?’ almost shrieked the agitated diplomatist.
The natural yellow of the unfortunate Maria’s face changed to all the hues of the rainbow, as she laid a small packet on the member’s table.
He hurriedly opened it. A letter from his daughter, and another from Theodosius. He glanced over their contents–

 

‘Ere this reaches you, far distant–appeal to feelings–love to distraction–bees’- wax–slavery,’ &c., &c. He dashed his hand to his forehead, and paced the room with fearfully long strides, to the great alarm of the precise Maria.
‘Now mind; from this time forward,’ said Mr. Brook Dingwall, suddenly stopping at the table, and beating time upon it with his hand; ‘from this time forward, I never will, under any circumstances whatever, permit a man who writes pamphlets to enter any other room of this house but the kitchen.–I’ll allow my daughter and her husband one hundred and fifty pounds a-year, and never see their faces again: and, damme! ma’am, I’ll bring in a bill for the abolition of finishing-schools.’
Some time has elapsed since this passionate declaration. Mr. and Mrs. Butler are at present rusticating in a small cottage at Ball’s-pond, pleasantly situated in the immediate vicinity of a brick-field. They have no family. Mr. Theodosius looks very important, and writes incessantly; but, in consequence of a gross combination on the part of publishers, none of his productions appear in print. His young wife begins to think that ideal misery is preferable to real unhappiness; and that a marriage, contracted in haste, and repented at leisure, is the cause of more substantial wretchedness than she ever anticipated.
On cool reflection, Cornelius Brook Dingwall, Esq., M.P., was reluctantly compelled to admit that the untoward result of his admirable arrangements was attributable, not to the Miss Crumptons, but his own diplomacy. He, however, consoles himself, like some other small diplomatists, by satisfactorily proving that if his plans did not succeed, they ought to have done so. Minerva House is in status quo, and ‘The Misses Crumpton’ remain in the peaceable and undisturbed enjoyment of all the advantages resulting from
their Finishing-School.

 

 

The Boarding House

THE BOARDING-HOUSE.

The fifth of the Sketches was published in The Monthly Magazine in May 1843.  The denouement is like a classic Whitehall farce in which everyone announces their plans to marry on the same day, and there is even a forerunner of another plotline from The Pickwick Papers with the unfortunate circumstance of a court case for ‘breach of promise of marriage’

The other interesting point about this Sketch is that it was the first time that Dickens left a teaser at the end, alluding to a sequel, drawing his readers back for further adventures featuring the same characters

 
CHAPTER 1.
Mrs. Tibbs was, beyond all dispute, the most tidy, fidgety, thrifty little personage that ever inhaled the smoke of London; and the house of Mrs. Tibbs was, decidedly, the neatest in all Great Coram-street. The area and the area-steps, and the street-door and the street-door steps, and the brass handle, and the door-plate, and the knocker, and the fan-light, were all as clean and bright, as indefatigable white-washing, and hearth-stoning, and scrubbing and rubbing, could make them. The wonder was, that the brass door-plate, with the interesting inscription ‘Mrs. Tibbs,’ had never caught fire from constant friction, so perseveringly was it polished. There were meat-safe-looking blinds in the parlour-windows, blue and gold curtains in the drawing-room, and spring-roller blinds, as Mrs. Tibbs was wont in the pride of her heart to boast, ‘all the way up.’ The bell-lamp in the passage looked as clear as a soap-bubble; you could see yourself in all the tables, and French-polish yourself on any one of the chairs. The banisters were bees-waxed; and the very stair-wires made your eyes wink, they were so glittering.

 
Mrs. Tibbs was somewhat short of stature, and Mr. Tibbs was by no means a large man. He had, moreover, very short legs, but, by way of indemnification, his face was peculiarly long. He was to his wife what the 0 is in 90—he was of some importance with her—he was nothing without her. Mrs. Tibbs was always talking. Mr. Tibbs rarely spoke; but, if it were at any time possible to put in a word, when he should have said nothing at all, he had that talent. Mrs. Tibbs detested long stories, and Mr. Tibbs had one, the conclusion of which had never been heard by his most intimate friends. It always began, ‘I recollect when I was in the volunteer corps, in eighteen hundred and six,’—but, as he spoke very slowly and softly, and his better half very quickly and loudly, he rarely got beyond the introductory sentence. He was a melancholy specimen of the story-teller. He was the wandering Jew of Joe Millerism.

 
Mr. Tibbs enjoyed a small independence from the pension-list—about 43l. 15s. 10d. a year. His father, mother, and five interesting scions from the same stock, drew a like sum from the revenue of a grateful country, though for what particular service was never known. But, as this said independence was not quite sufficient to furnish two people with all the luxuries of this life, it had occurred to the busy little spouse of Tibbs, that the best thing she could do with a legacy of 700l., would be to take and furnish a tolerable house—somewhere in that partially-explored tract of country which lies between the British Museum, and a remote village called Somers-town—for the reception of boarders.

 

Great Coram-street was the spot pitched upon. The house had been furnished accordingly; two female servants and a boy engaged; and an advertisement inserted in the morning papers, informing the public that ‘Six individuals would meet with all the comforts of a cheerful musical home in a select private family, residing within ten minutes’ walk of’—everywhere. Answers out of number were received, with all sorts of initials; all the letters of the alphabet seemed to be seized with a sudden wish to go out boarding and lodging; voluminous was the correspondence between Mrs. Tibbs and the applicants; and most profound was the secrecy observed. ‘E.’ didn’t like this; ‘I.’ couldn’t think of putting up with that; ‘I. O. U.’ didn’t think the terms would suit him; and ‘G. R.’ had never slept in a French bed. The result, however, was, that three gentlemen became inmates of Mrs. Tibbs’s house, on terms which were ‘agreeable to all parties.’ In went the advertisement again, and a lady with her two daughters, proposed to increase—not their families, but Mrs. Tibbs’s.

 
‘Charming woman, that Mrs. Maplesone!’ said Mrs. Tibbs, as she and her spouse were sitting by the fire after breakfast; the gentlemen having gone out on their several avocations. ‘Charming woman, indeed!’ repeated little Mrs. Tibbs, more by way of soliloquy than anything else, for she never thought of consulting her husband. ‘And the two daughters are delightful. We must have some fish to-day; they’ll join us at dinner for the first time.’

 
Mr. Tibbs placed the poker at right angles with the fire shovel, and essayed to speak, but recollected he had nothing to say.

 
‘The young ladies,’ continued Mrs. T., ‘have kindly volunteered to bring their own piano.’
Tibbs thought of the volunteer story, but did not venture it.

 
A bright thought struck him—

 
‘It’s very likely—’ said he.

 
‘Pray don’t lean your head against the paper,’ interrupted Mrs. Tibbs; ‘and don’t put your feet on the steel fender; that’s worse.’

 
Tibbs took his head from the paper, and his feet from the fender, and proceeded. ‘It’s very likely one of the young ladies may set her cap at young Mr. Simpson, and you know a marriage—’

 
‘A what!’ shrieked Mrs. Tibbs. Tibbs modestly repeated his former suggestion.

 
‘I beg you won’t mention such a thing,’ said Mrs. T. ‘A marriage, indeed to rob me of my boarders—no, not for the world.’

 
Tibbs thought in his own mind that the event was by no means unlikely, but, as he never argued with his wife, he put a stop to the dialogue, by observing it was ‘time to go to business.’ He always went out at ten o’clock in the morning, and returned at five in the afternoon, with an exceedingly dirty face, and smelling mouldy. Nobody knew what he was, or where he went; but Mrs. Tibbs used to say with an air of great importance, that he was engaged in the City.

 
The Miss Maplesones and their accomplished parent arrived in the course of the afternoon in a hackney-coach, and accompanied by a most astonishing number of packages. Trunks, bonnet-boxes, muff-boxes and parasols, guitar-cases, and parcels of all imaginable shapes, done up in brown paper, and fastened with pins, filled the passage. Then, there was such a running up and down with the luggage, such scampering for warm water for the ladies to wash in, and such a bustle, and confusion, and heating of servants, and curling-irons, as had never been known in Great Coram-street before.

 

Little Mrs. Tibbs was quite in her element, bustling about, talking incessantly, and distributing towels and soap, like a head nurse in a hospital. The house was not restored to its usual state of quiet repose, until the ladies were safely shut up in their respective bedrooms, engaged in the important occupation of dressing for dinner.

 
‘Are these gals ’andsome?’ inquired Mr. Simpson of Mr. Septimus Hicks, another of the boarders, as they were amusing themselves in the drawing-room, before dinner, by lolling on sofas, and contemplating their pumps.

 
‘Don’t know,’ replied Mr. Septimus Hicks, who was a tallish, white-faced young man, with spectacles, and a black ribbon round his neck instead of a neckerchief—a most interesting person; a poetical walker of the hospitals, and a ‘very talented young man.’ He was fond of ‘lugging’ into conversation all sorts of quotations from Don Juan, without fettering himself by the propriety of their application; in which particular he was remarkably independent. The other, Mr. Simpson, was one of those young men, who are in society what walking gentlemen are on the stage, only infinitely worse skilled in his vocation than the most indifferent artist. He was as empty-headed as the great bell of St. Paul’s; always dressed according to the caricatures published in the monthly fashion; and spelt Character with a K.

 
‘I saw a devilish number of parcels in the passage when I came home,’ simpered Mr. Simpson.

 
‘Materials for the toilet, no doubt,’ rejoined the Don Juan reader.

 
—‘Much linen, lace, and several pair of stockings, slippers, brushes, combs, complete;
With other articles of ladies fair,
To keep them beautiful, or leave them neat.’

 
‘Is that from Milton?’ inquired Mr. Simpson.

 
‘No—from Byron,’ returned Mr. Hicks, with a look of contempt. He was quite sure of his author, because he had never read any other. ‘Hush! Here come the gals,’ and they both commenced talking in a very loud key.

 
‘Mrs. Maplesone and the Miss Maplesones, Mr. Hicks. Mr. Hicks—Mrs. Maplesone and the Miss Maplesones,’ said Mrs. Tibbs, with a very red face, for she had been superintending the cooking operations below stairs, and looked like a wax doll on a sunny day. ‘Mr. Simpson, I beg your pardon—Mr. Simpson—Mrs. Maplesone and the Miss Maplesones’—and vice versâ. The gentlemen immediately began to slide about with much politeness, and to look as if they wished their arms had been legs, so little did they know what to do with them. The ladies smiled, curtseyed, and glided into chairs, and dived for dropped pocket-handkerchiefs: the gentlemen leant against two of the curtain-pegs; Mrs. Tibbs went through an admirable bit of serious pantomime with a servant who had come up to ask some question about the fish-sauce; and then the two young ladies looked at each other; and everybody else appeared to discover something very attractive in the pattern of the fender.

 
‘Julia, my love,’ said Mrs. Maplesone to her youngest daughter, in a tone loud enough for the remainder of the company to hear—‘Julia.’

 
‘Yes, Ma.’

 
‘Don’t stoop.’—This was said for the purpose of directing general attention to Miss Julia’s figure, which was undeniable. Everybody looked at her, accordingly, and there was another pause.

 
‘We had the most uncivil hackney-coachman to-day, you can imagine,’ said Mrs. Maplesone to Mrs. Tibbs, in a confidential tone.

 
‘Dear me!’ replied the hostess, with an air of great commiseration. She couldn’t say more, for the servant again appeared at the door, and commenced telegraphing most earnestly to her ‘Missis.’

 
‘I think hackney-coachmen generally are uncivil,’ said Mr. Hicks in his most insinuating tone.

 
‘Positively I think they are,’ replied Mrs. Maplesone, as if the idea had never struck her before.

 
‘And cabmen, too,’ said Mr. Simpson. This remark was a failure, for no one intimated, by word or sign, the slightest knowledge of the manners and customs of cabmen.

 
‘Robinson, what do you want?’ said Mrs. Tibbs to the servant, who, by way of making her presence known to her mistress, had been giving sundry hems and sniffs outside the door during the preceding five minutes.

 
‘Please, ma’am, master wants his clean things,’ replied the servant, taken off her guard.

 

The two young men turned their faces to the window, and ‘went off’ like a couple of bottles of ginger-beer; the ladies put their handkerchiefs to their mouths; and little Mrs. Tibbs bustled out of the room to give Tibbs his clean linen,—and the servant warning.

 
Mr. Calton, the remaining boarder, shortly afterwards made his appearance, and proved a surprising promoter of the conversation. Mr. Calton was a superannuated beau—an old boy. He used to say of himself that although his features were not regularly handsome, they were striking. They certainly were. It was impossible to look at his face without being reminded of a chubby street-door knocker, half-lion half-monkey; and the comparison might be extended to his whole character and conversation. He had stood still, while everything else had been moving. He never originated a conversation, or started an idea; but if any commonplace topic were broached, or, to pursue the comparison, if anybody lifted him up, he would hammer away with surprising rapidity.

 

He had the tic-douloureux occasionally, and then he might be said to be muffled, because he did not make quite as much noise as at other times, when he would go on prosing, rat-tat-tat the same thing over and over again. He had never been married; but he was still on the look-out for a wife with money. He had a life interest worth about 300l. a year—he was exceedingly vain, and inordinately selfish. He had acquired the reputation of being the very pink of politeness, and he walked round the park, and up Regent-street, every day.

 
This respectable personage had made up his mind to render himself exceedingly agreeable to Mrs. Maplesone—indeed, the desire of being as amiable as possible extended itself to the whole party; Mrs. Tibbs having considered it an admirable little bit of management to represent to the gentlemen that she had some reason to believe the ladies were fortunes, and to hint to the ladies, that all the gentlemen were ‘eligible.’ A little flirtation, she thought, might keep her house full, without leading to any other result.

 
Mrs. Maplesone was an enterprising widow of about fifty: shrewd, scheming, and good-looking. She was amiably anxious on behalf of her daughters; in proof whereof she used to remark, that she would have no objection to marry again, if it would benefit her dear girls—she could have no other motive. The ‘dear girls’ themselves were not at all insensible to the merits of ‘a good establishment.’ One of them was twenty-five; the other, three years younger. They had been at different watering-places, for four seasons; they had gambled at libraries, read books in balconies, sold at fancy fairs, danced at assemblies, talked sentiment—in short, they had done all that industrious girls could do—but, as yet, to no purpose.

 
‘What a magnificent dresser Mr. Simpson is!’ whispered Matilda Maplesone to her sister Julia.

 
‘Splendid!’ returned the youngest. The magnificent individual alluded to wore a maroon-coloured dress-coat, with a velvet collar and cuffs of the same tint—very like that which usually invests the form of the distinguished unknown who condescends to play the ‘swell’ in the pantomime at ‘Richardson’s Show.’

 
‘What whiskers!’ said Miss Julia.

 
‘Charming!’ responded her sister; ‘and what hair!’ His hair was like a wig, and distinguished by that insinuating wave which graces the shining locks of those chef-d’oeuvres of art surmounting the waxen images in Bartellot’s window in Regent-street; his whiskers meeting beneath his chin, seemed strings wherewith to tie it on, ere science had rendered them unnecessary by her patent invisible springs.

 
‘Dinner’s on the table, ma’am, if you please,’ said the boy, who now appeared for the first time, in a revived black coat of his master’s.

 
‘Oh! Mr. Calton, will you lead Mrs. Maplesone?—Thank you.’ Mr. Simpson offered his arm to Miss Julia; Mr. Septimus Hicks escorted the lovely Matilda; and the procession proceeded to the dining-room. Mr. Tibbs was introduced, and Mr. Tibbs bobbed up and down to the three ladies like a figure in a Dutch clock, with a powerful spring in the middle of his body, and then dived rapidly into his seat at the bottom of the table, delighted to screen himself behind a soup-tureen, which he could just see over, and that was all. The boarders were seated, a lady and gentleman alternately, like the layers of bread and meat in a plate of sandwiches; and then Mrs. Tibbs directed James to take off the covers. Salmon, lobster-sauce, giblet-soup, and the usual accompaniments were discovered: potatoes like petrifactions, and bits of toasted bread, the shape and size of blank dice.

 
‘Soup for Mrs. Maplesone, my dear,’ said the bustling Mrs. Tibbs. She always called her husband ‘my dear’ before company. Tibbs, who had been eating his bread, and calculating how long it would be before he should get any fish, helped the soup in a hurry, made a small island on the table-cloth, and put his glass upon it, to hide it from his wife.

 
‘Miss Julia, shall I assist you to some fish?’

 
‘If you please—very little—oh! plenty, thank you’ (a bit about the size of a walnut put upon the plate).

 
‘Julia is a very little eater,’ said Mrs. Maplesone to Mr. Calton

 

.
The knocker gave a single rap. He was busy eating the fish with his eyes: so he only ejaculated, ‘Ah!’

 
‘My dear,’ said Mrs. Tibbs to her spouse after every one else had been helped, ‘what do you take?’ The inquiry was accompanied with a look intimating that he mustn’t say fish, because there was not much left. Tibbs thought the frown referred to the island on the table-cloth; he therefore coolly replied, ‘Why—I’ll take a little—fish, I think.’

 
‘Did you say fish, my dear?’ (another frown).

 
‘Yes, dear,’ replied the villain, with an expression of acute hunger depicted in his countenance. The tears almost started to Mrs. Tibbs’s eyes, as she helped her ‘wretch of a husband,’ as she inwardly called him, to the last eatable bit of salmon on the dish.

 
‘James, take this to your master, and take away your master’s knife.’ This was deliberate revenge, as Tibbs never could eat fish without one. He was, however, constrained to chase small particles of salmon round and round his plate with a piece of bread and a fork, the number of successful attempts being about one in seventeen.

 
‘Take away, James,’ said Mrs. Tibbs, as Tibbs swallowed the fourth mouthful—and away went the plates like lightning.

 
‘I’ll take a bit of bread, James,’ said the poor ‘master of the house,’ more hungry than ever.

 
‘Never mind your master now, James,’ said Mrs. Tibbs, ‘see about the meat.’ This was conveyed in the tone in which ladies usually give admonitions to servants in company, that is to say, a low one; but which, like a stage whisper, from its peculiar emphasis, is most distinctly heard by everybody present.

 
A pause ensued, before the table was replenished—a sort of parenthesis in which Mr. Simpson, Mr. Calton, and Mr. Hicks, produced respectively a bottle of sauterne, bucellas, and sherry, and took wine with everybody—except Tibbs. No one ever thought of him.
Between the fish and an intimated sirloin, there was a prolonged interval.

 
Here was an opportunity for Mr. Hicks. He could not resist the singularly appropriate quotation—
‘But beef is rare within these oxless isles;
Goats’ flesh there is, no doubt, and kid, and mutton,
And when a holiday upon them smiles,
A joint upon their barbarous spits they put on.’

 
‘Very ungentlemanly behaviour,’ thought little Mrs. Tibbs, ‘to talk in that way.’

 
‘Ah,’ said Mr. Calton, filling his glass. ‘Tom Moore is my poet.’

 
‘And mine,’ said Mrs. Maplesone.

 
‘And mine,’ said Miss Julia.

 
‘And mine,’ added Mr. Simpson.

 
‘Look at his compositions,’ resumed the knocker.

 
‘To be sure,’ said Simpson, with confidence.

 
‘Look at Don Juan,’ replied Mr. Septimus Hicks.

 
‘Julia’s letter,’ suggested Miss Matilda.

 
‘Can anything be grander than the Fire Worshippers?’ inquired Miss Julia.

 
‘To be sure,’ said Simpson.

 
‘Or Paradise and the Peri,’ said the old beau

 

.
‘Yes; or Paradise and the Peer,’ repeated Simpson, who thought he was getting through it capitally.

 
‘It’s all very well,’ replied Mr. Septimus Hicks, who, as we have before hinted, never had read anything but Don Juan. ‘Where will you find anything finer than the description of the siege, at the commencement of the seventh canto?’

 
‘Talking of a siege,’ said Tibbs, with a mouthful of bread—‘when I was in the volunteer corps, in eighteen hundred and six, our commanding officer was Sir Charles Rampart; and one day, when we were exercising on the ground on which the London University now stands, he says, says he, Tibbs (calling me from the ranks), Tibbs—’

 
‘Tell your master, James,’ interrupted Mrs. Tibbs, in an awfully distinct tone, ‘tell your master if he won’t carve those fowls, to send them to me.’ The discomfited volunteer instantly set to work, and carved the fowls almost as expeditiously as his wife operated on the haunch of mutton. Whether he ever finished the story is not known but, if he did, nobody heard it.

 
As the ice was now broken, and the new inmates more at home, every member of the company felt more at ease. Tibbs himself most certainly did, because he went to sleep immediately after dinner. Mr. Hicks and the ladies discoursed most eloquently about poetry, and the theatres, and Lord Chesterfield’s Letters; and Mr. Calton followed up what everybody said, with continuous double knocks. Mrs. Tibbs highly approved of every observation that fell from Mrs. Maplesone; and as Mr. Simpson sat with a smile upon his face and said ‘Yes,’ or ‘Certainly,’ at intervals of about four minutes each, he received full credit for understanding what was going forward. The gentlemen rejoined the ladies in the drawing-room very shortly after they had left the dining-parlour. Mrs. Maplesone and Mr. Calton played cribbage, and the ‘young people’ amused themselves with music and conversation. The Miss Maplesones sang the most fascinating duets, and accompanied themselves on guitars, ornamented with bits of ethereal blue ribbon. Mr. Simpson put on a pink waistcoat, and said he was in raptures; and Mr. Hicks felt in the seventh heaven of poetry or the seventh canto of Don Juan—it was the same thing to him. Mrs. Tibbs was quite charmed with the newcomers; and Mr. Tibbs spent the evening in his usual way—he went to sleep, and woke up, and went to sleep again, and woke at supper-time.

 
* * * * *

 
We are not about to adopt the licence of novel-writers, and to let ‘years roll on;’ but we will take the liberty of requesting the reader to suppose that six months have elapsed, since the dinner we have described, and that Mrs. Tibbs’s boarders have, during that period, sang, and danced, and gone to theatres and exhibitions, together, as ladies and gentlemen, wherever they board, often do. And we will beg them, the period we have mentioned having elapsed, to imagine farther, that Mr. Septimus Hicks received, in his own bedroom (a front attic), at an early hour one morning, a note from Mr. Calton, requesting the favour of seeing him, as soon as convenient to himself, in his (Calton’s) dressing-room on the second-floor back.

 
‘Tell Mr. Calton I’ll come down directly,’ said Mr. Septimus to the boy. ‘Stop—is Mr. Calton unwell?’ inquired this excited walker of hospitals, as he put on a bed-furniture-looking dressing-gown.

 
‘Not as I knows on, sir,’ replied the boy. ‘ Please, sir, he looked rather rum, as it might be.’

 
‘Ah, that’s no proof of his being ill,’ returned Hicks, unconsciously. ‘Very well: I’ll be down directly.’ Downstairs ran the boy with the message, and down went the excited Hicks himself, almost as soon as the message was delivered. ‘Tap, tap.’ ‘Come in.’—Door opens, and discovers Mr. Calton sitting in an easy chair. Mutual shakes of the hand exchanged, and Mr. Septimus Hicks motioned to a seat. A short pause. Mr. Hicks coughed, and Mr. Calton took a pinch of snuff. It was one of those interviews where neither party knows what to say. Mr. Septimus Hicks broke silence.

 
‘I received a note—’ he said, very tremulously, in a voice like a Punch with a cold.

 
‘Yes,’ returned the other, ‘you did.’

 
‘Exactly.’

 
‘Yes.’

 
Now, although this dialogue must have been satisfactory, both gentlemen felt there was something more important to be said; therefore they did as most men in such a situation would have done—they looked at the table with a determined aspect. The conversation had been opened, however, and Mr. Calton had made up his mind to continue it with a regular double knock. He always spoke very pompously.

 
‘Hicks,’ said he, ‘I have sent for you, in consequence of certain arrangements which are pending in this house, connected with a marriage.’

 
‘With a marriage!’ gasped Hicks, compared with whose expression of countenance, Hamlet’s, when he sees his father’s ghost, is pleasing and composed.

 
‘With a marriage,’ returned the knocker. ‘I have sent for you to prove the great confidence I can repose in you.’

 
‘And will you betray me?’ eagerly inquired Hicks, who in his alarm had even forgotten to quote.

 
‘I betray you! Won’t you betray me?’

 
‘Never: no one shall know, to my dying day, that you had a hand in the business,’ responded the agitated Hicks, with an inflamed countenance, and his hair standing on end as if he were on the stool of an electrifying machine in full operation.

 
‘People must know that, some time or other—within a year, I imagine,’ said Mr. Calton, with an air of great self-complacency. ‘We may have a family.’

 
‘We!—That won’t affect you, surely?’

 
‘The devil it won’t!’

 
‘No! how can it?’ said the bewildered Hicks. Calton was too much inwrapped in the contemplation of his happiness to see the equivoque between Hicks and himself; and threw himself back in his chair. ‘Oh, Matilda!’ sighed the antique beau, in a lack-a-daisical voice, and applying his right hand a little to the left of the fourth button of his waistcoat, counting from the bottom. ‘Oh, Matilda!’

 
‘What Matilda?’ inquired Hicks, starting up.

 
‘Matilda Maplesone,’ responded the other, doing the same.

 
‘I marry her to-morrow morning,’ said Hicks.

 
‘It’s false,’ rejoined his companion: ‘I marry her!’

 
‘You marry her?’

 
‘I marry her!’

 
‘You marry Matilda Maplesone?’

 
‘Matilda Maplesone.’

 
‘Miss Maplesone marry you?’

 
‘Miss Maplesone! No; Mrs. Maplesone.’

 
‘Good Heaven!’ said Hicks, falling into his chair: ‘You marry the mother, and I the daughter!’

 
‘Most extraordinary circumstance!’ replied Mr. Calton, ‘and rather inconvenient too; for the fact is, that owing to Matilda’s wishing to keep her intention secret from her daughters until the ceremony had taken place, she doesn’t like applying to any of her friends to give her away. I entertain an objection to making the affair known to my acquaintance just now; and the consequence is, that I sent to you to know whether you’d oblige me by acting as father.’

 
‘I should have been most happy, I assure you,’ said Hicks, in a tone of condolence; ‘but, you see, I shall be acting as bridegroom. One character is frequently a consequence of the other; but it is not usual to act in both at the same time. There’s Simpson—I have no doubt he’ll do it for you.’

 
‘I don’t like to ask him,’ replied Calton, ‘he’s such a donkey.’

 
Mr. Septimus Hicks looked up at the ceiling, and down at the floor; at last an idea struck him. ‘Let the man of the house, Tibbs, be the father,’ he suggested; and then he quoted, as peculiarly applicable to Tibbs and the pair—

 
‘Oh Powers of Heaven! what dark eyes meets she there?

’Tis—’tis her father’s—fixed upon the pair.’

 
‘The idea has struck me already,’ said Mr. Calton: ‘but, you see, Matilda, for what reason I know not, is very anxious that Mrs. Tibbs should know nothing about it, till it’s all over. It’s a natural delicacy, after all, you know.’

 
‘He’s the best-natured little man in existence, if you manage him properly,’ said Mr. Septimus Hicks. ‘Tell him not to mention it to his wife, and assure him she won’t mind it, and he’ll do it directly. My marriage is to be a secret one, on account of the mother and my father; therefore he must be enjoined to secrecy.’

 
A small double knock, like a presumptuous single one, was that instant heard at the street-door. It was Tibbs; it could be no one else; for no one else occupied five minutes in rubbing his shoes. He had been out to pay the baker’s bill.

 
‘Mr. Tibbs,’ called Mr. Calton in a very bland tone, looking over the banisters.

 
‘Sir!’ replied he of the dirty face.

 
‘Will you have the kindness to step up-stairs for a moment?’

 
‘Certainly, sir,’ said Tibbs, delighted to be taken notice of. The bedroom-door was carefully closed, and Tibbs, having put his hat on the floor (as most timid men do), and been accommodated with a seat, looked as astounded as if he were suddenly summoned before the familiars of the Inquisition.

 
‘A rather unpleasant occurrence, Mr. Tibbs,’ said Calton, in a very portentous manner, ‘obliges me to consult you, and to beg you will not communicate what I am about to say, to your wife.’

 
Tibbs acquiesced, wondering in his own mind what the deuce the other could have done, and imagining that at least he must have broken the best decanters.

 
Mr. Calton resumed; ‘I am placed, Mr. Tibbs, in rather an unpleasant situation.’

 
Tibbs looked at Mr. Septimus Hicks, as if he thought Mr. H.’s being in the immediate vicinity of his fellow-boarder might constitute the unpleasantness of his situation; but as he did not exactly know what to say, he merely ejaculated the monosyllable ‘Lor!’

 
‘Now,’ continued the knocker, ‘let me beg you will exhibit no manifestations of surprise, which may be overheard by the domestics, when I tell you—command your feelings of astonishment—that two inmates of this house intend to be married to-morrow morning.’ And he drew back his chair, several feet, to perceive the effect of the unlooked-for announcement.

 
If Tibbs had rushed from the room, staggered down-stairs, and fainted in the passage—if he had instantaneously jumped out of the window into the mews behind the house, in an agony of surprise—his behaviour would have been much less inexplicable to Mr. Calton than it was, when he put his hands into his inexpressible-pockets, and said with a half-chuckle, ‘Just so.’

 

 

‘You are not surprised, Mr. Tibbs?’ inquired Mr. Calton.

 
‘Bless you, no, sir,’ returned Tibbs; ‘after all, its very natural. When two young people get together, you know—’

 
‘Certainly, certainly,’ said Calton, with an indescribable air of self-satisfaction.

 
‘You don’t think it’s at all an out-of-the-way affair then?’ asked Mr. Septimus Hicks, who had watched the countenance of Tibbs in mute astonishment.

 
‘No, sir,’ replied Tibbs; ‘I was just the same at his age.’ He actually smiled when he said this.

 
‘How devilish well I must carry my years!’ thought the delighted old beau, knowing he was at least ten years older than Tibbs at that moment.

 
‘Well, then, to come to the point at once,’ he continued, ‘I have to ask you whether you will object to act as father on the occasion?’

 
‘Certainly not,’ replied Tibbs; still without evincing an atom of surprise.

 
‘You will not?’

 
‘Decidedly not,’ reiterated Tibbs, still as calm as a pot of porter with the head off.

 
Mr. Calton seized the hand of the petticoat-governed little man, and vowed eternal friendship from that hour. Hicks, who was all admiration and surprise, did the same.

 
‘Now, confess,’ asked Mr. Calton of Tibbs, as he picked up his hat, ‘were you not a little surprised?’

 
‘I b’lieve you!’ replied that illustrious person, holding up one hand; ‘I b’lieve you! When I first heard of it.’

 
‘So sudden,’ said Septimus Hicks.

 
‘So strange to ask me, you know,’ said Tibbs.

 
‘So odd altogether!’ said the superannuated love-maker; and then all three laughed.

 
‘I say,’ said Tibbs, shutting the door which he had previously opened, and giving full vent to a hitherto corked-up giggle, ‘what bothers me is, what will his father say?’

 
Mr. Septimus Hicks looked at Mr. Calton.

 
‘Yes; but the best of it is,’ said the latter, giggling in his turn, ‘I haven’t got a father—he! he! he!’

 
‘You haven’t got a father. No; but he has,’ said Tibbs.

 
‘Who has?’ inquired Septimus Hicks.

 
‘Why, him.’

 
‘Him, who? Do you know my secret? Do you mean me?’

 
‘You! No; you know who I mean,’ returned Tibbs with a knowing wink.

 
‘For Heaven’s sake, whom do you mean?’ inquired Mr. Calton, who, like Septimus Hicks, was all but out of his senses at the strange confusion.

 
‘Why Mr. Simpson, of course,’ replied Tibbs; ‘who else could I mean?’

 
‘I see it all,’ said the Byron-quoter; ‘Simpson marries Julia Maplesone to-morrow morning!’

 
‘Undoubtedly,’ replied Tibbs, thoroughly satisfied, ‘of course he does.’

 
It would require the pencil of Hogarth to illustrate—our feeble pen is inadequate to describe—the expression which the countenances of Mr. Calton and Mr. Septimus Hicks respectively assumed, at this unexpected announcement. Equally impossible is it to describe, although perhaps it is easier for our lady readers to imagine, what arts the three ladies could have used, so completely to entangle their separate partners.

 

Whatever they were, however, they were successful. The mother was perfectly aware of the intended marriage of both daughters; and the young ladies were equally acquainted with the intention of their estimable parent. They agreed, however, that it would have a much better appearance if each feigned ignorance of the other’s engagement; and it was equally desirable that all the marriages should take place on the same day, to prevent the discovery of one clandestine alliance, operating prejudicially on the others. Hence, the mystification of Mr. Calton and Mr. Septimus Hicks, and the pre-engagement of the unwary Tibbs.

 
On the following morning, Mr. Septimus Hicks was united to Miss Matilda Maplesone. Mr. Simpson also entered into a ‘holy alliance’ with Miss Julia; Tibbs acting as father, ‘his first appearance in that character.’ Mr. Calton, not being quite so eager as the two young men, was rather struck by the double discovery; and as he had found some difficulty in getting any one to give the lady away, it occurred to him that the best mode of obviating the inconvenience would be not to take her at all. The lady, however, ‘appealed,’ as her counsel said on the trial of the cause, Maplesone v. Calton, for a breach of promise, ‘with a broken heart, to the outraged laws of her country.’ She recovered damages to the amount of 1,000l. which the unfortunate knocker was compelled to pay. Mr. Septimus Hicks having walked the hospitals, took it into his head to walk off altogether. His injured wife is at present residing with her mother at Boulogne. Mr. Simpson, having the misfortune to lose his wife six weeks after marriage (by her eloping with an officer during his temporary sojourn in the Fleet Prison, in consequence of his inability to discharge her little mantua-maker’s bill), and being disinherited by his father, who died soon afterwards, was fortunate enough to obtain a permanent engagement at a fashionable haircutter’s; hairdressing being a science to which he had frequently directed his attention. In this situation he had necessarily many opportunities of making himself acquainted with the habits, and style of thinking, of the exclusive portion of the nobility of this kingdom. To this fortunate circumstance are we indebted for the production of those brilliant efforts of genius, his fashionable novels, which so long as good taste, unsullied by exaggeration, cant, and quackery, continues to exist, cannot fail to instruct and amuse the thinking portion of the community.

 
It only remains to add, that this complication of disorders completely deprived poor Mrs. Tibbs of all her inmates, except the one whom she could have best spared—her husband. That wretched little man returned home, on the day of the wedding, in a state of partial intoxication; and, under the influence of wine, excitement, and despair, actually dared to brave the anger of his wife. Since that ill-fated hour he has constantly taken his meals in the kitchen, to which apartment, it is understood, his witticisms will be in future confined: a turn-up bedstead having been conveyed there by Mrs. Tibbs’s order for his exclusive accommodation. It is possible that he will be enabled to finish, in that seclusion, his story of the volunteers.

 
The advertisement has again appeared in the morning papers. Results must be reserved for another chapter.

The Bloomsbury Christening

The fourth of the Sketches was published in The Monthly Magazine in April of 1834.  It features the beautifully drawn Nicodemus Dumps as the central character.  What is more interesting to me, though, is the first appearance of a conductor on the omnibus who would re-appear in The Pickwick Papers and who would change the course of Charles Dickens’ career.  When the young fellow says ‘‘Oh! vy, it’s rather a sing’ler circumstance about this here door, sir, that it von’t shut without banging,’ replied the conductor; and he opened the door very wide, and shut it again with a terrific bang, in proof of the assertion.’, so Sam Weller was born.

 

 

Mr. Nicodemus Dumps, or, as his acquaintance called him, ‘long Dumps,’ was a bachelor, six feet high, and fifty years old: cross, cadaverous, odd, and ill-natured. He was never happy but when he was miserable; and always miserable when he had the best reason to be happy. The only real comfort of his existence was to make everybody about him wretched—then he might be truly said to enjoy life. He was afflicted with a situation in the Bank worth five hundred a-year, and he rented a ‘first-floor furnished,’ at Pentonville, which he originally took because it commanded a dismal prospect of an adjacent churchyard. He was familiar with the face of every tombstone, and the burial service seemed to excite his strongest sympathy. His friends said he was surly—he insisted he was nervous; they thought him a lucky dog, but he protested that he was ‘the most unfortunate man in the world.’ Cold as he was, and wretched as he declared himself to be, he was not wholly unsusceptible of attachments. He revered the memory of Hoyle, as he was himself an admirable and imperturbable whist-player, and he chuckled with delight at a fretful and impatient adversary. He adored King Herod for his massacre of the innocents; and if he hated one thing more than another, it was a child. However, he could hardly be said to hate anything in particular, because he disliked everything in general; but perhaps his greatest antipathies were cabs, old women, doors that would not shut, musical amateurs, and omnibus cads. He subscribed to the ‘Society for the Suppression of Vice’ for the pleasure of putting a stop to any harmless amusements; and he contributed largely towards the support of two itinerant methodist parsons, in the amiable hope that if circumstances rendered any people happy in this world, they might perchance be rendered miserable by fears for the next.

 
Mr. Dumps had a nephew who had been married about a year, and who was somewhat of a favourite with his uncle, because he was an admirable subject to exercise his misery-creating powers upon. Mr. Charles Kitterbell was a small, sharp, spare man, with a very large head, and a broad, good-humoured countenance. He looked like a faded giant, with the head and face partially restored; and he had a cast in his eye which rendered it quite impossible for any one with whom he conversed to know where he was looking. His eyes appeared fixed on the wall, and he was staring you out of countenance; in short, there was no catching his eye, and perhaps it is a merciful dispensation of Providence that such eyes are not catching. In addition to these characteristics, it may be added that Mr. Charles Kitterbell was one of the most credulous and matter-of-fact little personages that ever took to himself a wife, and for himself a house in Great Russell-street, Bedford-square. (Uncle Dumps always dropped the ‘Bedford-square,’ and inserted in lieu thereof the dreadful words ‘Tottenham-court-road.’)

 
‘No, but, uncle, ’pon my life you must—you must promise to be godfather,’ said Mr. Kitterbell, as he sat in conversation with his respected relative one morning.

 
‘I cannot, indeed I cannot,’ returned Dumps.

 
‘Well, but why not? Jemima will think it very unkind. It’s very little trouble.’

 
‘As to the trouble,’ rejoined the most unhappy man in existence, ‘I don’t mind that; but my nerves are in that state—I cannot go through the ceremony. You know I don’t like going out.—For God’s sake, Charles, don’t fidget with that stool so; you’ll drive me mad.’ Mr. Kitterbell, quite regardless of his uncle’s nerves, had occupied himself for some ten minutes in describing a circle on the floor with one leg of the office-stool on which he was seated, keeping the other three up in the air, and holding fast on by the desk.

 
‘I beg your pardon, uncle,’ said Kitterbell, quite abashed, suddenly releasing his hold of the desk, and bringing the three wandering legs back to the floor, with a force sufficient to drive them through it.

 
‘But come, don’t refuse. If it’s a boy, you know, we must have two godfathers.’
‘If it’s a boy!’ said Dumps; ‘why can’t you say at once whether it is a boy or not?’

 
‘I should be very happy to tell you, but it’s impossible I can undertake to say whether it’s a girl or a boy, if the child isn’t born yet.’

 
‘Not born yet!’ echoed Dumps, with a gleam of hope lighting up his lugubrious visage. ‘Oh, well, it may be a girl, and then you won’t want me; or if it is a boy, it may die before it is christened.’

 
‘I hope not,’ said the father that expected to be, looking very grave.

 
‘I hope not,’ acquiesced Dumps, evidently pleased with the subject. He was beginning to get happy. ‘I hope not, but distressing cases frequently occur during the first two or three days of a child’s life; fits, I am told, are exceedingly common, and alarming convulsions are almost matters of course.’

 
‘Lord, uncle!’ ejaculated little Kitterbell, gasping for breath.

 
‘Yes; my landlady was confined—let me see—last Tuesday: an uncommonly fine boy. On the Thursday night the nurse was sitting with him upon her knee before the fire, and he was as well as possible. Suddenly he became black in the face, and alarmingly spasmodic. The medical man was instantly sent for, and every remedy was tried, but—’

 
‘How frightful!’ interrupted the horror-stricken Kitterbell.

 
‘The child died, of course. However, your child may not die; and if it should be a boy, and should live to be christened, why I suppose I must be one of the sponsors.’ Dumps was evidently good-natured on the faith of his anticipations.

 
‘Thank you, uncle,’ said his agitated nephew, grasping his hand as warmly as if he had done him some essential service. ‘Perhaps I had better not tell Mrs. K. what you have mentioned.’

 
‘Why, if she’s low-spirited, perhaps you had better not mention the melancholy case to her,’ returned Dumps, who of course had invented the whole story; ‘though perhaps it would be but doing your duty as a husband to prepare her for the worst.’

 
A day or two afterwards, as Dumps was perusing a morning paper at the chop-house which he regularly frequented, the following-paragraph met his eyes:-
‘Births.—On Saturday, the 18th inst., in Great Russell-street, the lady of Charles Kitterbell, Esq., of a son.’

 
‘It is a boy!’ he exclaimed, dashing down the paper, to the astonishment of the waiters. ‘It is a boy!’ But he speedily regained his composure as his eye rested on a paragraph quoting the number of infant deaths from the bills of mortality.

 
Six weeks passed away, and as no communication had been received from the Kitterbells, Dumps was beginning to flatter himself that the child was dead, when the following note painfully resolved his doubts:- ‘Great Russell-street, Monday morning.

 
DEAR UNCLE,—You will be delighted to hear that my dear Jemima has left her room, and that your future godson is getting on capitally. He was very thin at first, but he is getting much larger, and nurse says he is filling out every day. He cries a good deal, and is a very singular colour, which made Jemima and me rather uncomfortable; but as nurse says it’s natural, and as of course we know nothing about these things yet, we are quite satisfied with what nurse says. We think he will be a sharp child; and nurse says she’s sure he will, because he never goes to sleep. You will readily believe that we are all very happy, only we’re a little worn out for want of rest, as he keeps us awake all night; but this we must expect, nurse says, for the first six or eight months. He has been vaccinated, but in consequence of the operation being rather awkwardly performed, some small particles of glass were introduced into the arm with the matter. Perhaps this may in some degree account for his being rather fractious; at least, so nurse says. We propose to have him christened at twelve o’clock on Friday, at Saint George’s church, in Hart-street, by the name of Frederick Charles William. Pray don’t be later than a quarter before twelve. We shall have a very few friends in the evening, when of course we shall see you. I am sorry to say that the dear boy appears rather restless and uneasy to-day: the cause, I fear, is fever.

 
‘Believe me, dear Uncle, ‘Yours affectionately, ‘CHARLES KITTERBELL.

 
‘P.S.—I open this note to say that we have just discovered the cause of little Frederick’s restlessness. It is not fever, as I apprehended, but a small pin, which nurse accidentally stuck in his leg yesterday evening. We have taken it out, and he appears more composed, though he still sobs a good deal.’

 
It is almost unnecessary to say that the perusal of the above interesting statement was no great relief to the mind of the hypochondriacal Dumps. It was impossible to recede, however, and so he put the best face—that is to say, an uncommonly miserable one—upon the matter; and purchased a handsome silver mug for the infant Kitterbell, upon which he ordered the initials ‘F. C. W. K.,’ with the customary untrained grape-vine-looking flourishes, and a large full stop, to be engraved forthwith.

 
Monday was a fine day, Tuesday was delightful, Wednesday was equal to either, and Thursday was finer than ever; four successive fine days in London! Hackney-coachmen became revolutionary, and crossing-sweepers began to doubt the existence of a First Cause. The Morning Herald informed its readers that an old woman in Camden Town had been heard to say that the fineness of the season was ‘unprecedented in the memory of the oldest inhabitant;’ and Islington clerks, with large families and small salaries, left off their black gaiters, disdained to carry their once green cotton umbrellas, and walked to town in the conscious pride of white stockings and cleanly brushed Bluchers. Dumps beheld all this with an eye of supreme contempt—his triumph was at hand. He knew that if it had been fine for four weeks instead of four days, it would rain when he went out; he was lugubriously happy in the conviction that Friday would be a wretched day—and so it was. ‘I knew how it would be,’ said Dumps, as he turned round opposite the Mansion-house at half-past eleven o’clock on the Friday morning. ‘I knew how it would be. I am concerned, and that’s enough;’—and certainly the appearance of the day was sufficient to depress the spirits of a much more buoyant-hearted individual than himself.

 

 

It had rained, without a moment’s cessation, since eight o’clock; everybody that passed up Cheapside, and down Cheapside, looked wet, cold, and dirty. All sorts of forgotten and long-concealed umbrellas had been put into requisition. Cabs whisked about, with the ‘fare’ as carefully boxed up behind two glazed calico curtains as any mysterious picture in any one of Mrs. Radcliffe’s castles; omnibus horses smoked like steam-engines; nobody thought of ‘standing up’ under doorways or arches; they were painfully convinced it was a hopeless case; and so everybody went hastily along, jumbling and jostling, and swearing and perspiring, and slipping about, like amateur skaters behind wooden chairs on the Serpentine on a frosty Sunday.

 
Dumps paused; he could not think of walking, being rather smart for the christening. If he took a cab he was sure to be spilt, and a hackney-coach was too expensive for his economical ideas. An omnibus was waiting at the opposite corner—it was a desperate case—he had never heard of an omnibus upsetting or running away, and if the cad did knock him down, he could ‘pull him up’ in return.

 
‘Now, sir!’ cried the young gentleman who officiated as ‘cad’ to the ‘Lads of the Village,’ which was the name of the machine just noticed. Dumps crossed.

 
‘This vay, sir!’ shouted the driver of the ‘Hark-away,’ pulling up his vehicle immediately across the door of the opposition—‘This vay, sir—he’s full.’ Dumps hesitated, whereupon the ‘Lads of the Village’ commenced pouring out a torrent of abuse against the ‘Hark-away;’ but the conductor of the ‘Admiral Napier’ settled the contest in a most satisfactory manner, for all parties, by seizing Dumps round the waist, and thrusting him into the middle of his vehicle which had just come up and only wanted the sixteenth inside.

 
‘All right,’ said the ‘Admiral,’ and off the thing thundered, like a fire-engine at full gallop, with the kidnapped customer inside, standing in the position of a half doubled-up bootjack, and falling about with every jerk of the machine, first on the one side, and then on the other, like a ‘Jack-in-the-green,’ on May-day, setting to the lady with a brass ladle.

 
‘For Heaven’s sake, where am I to sit?’ inquired the miserable man of an old gentleman, into whose stomach he had just fallen for the fourth time.

 
‘Anywhere but on my chest, sir,’ replied the old gentleman in a surly tone.

 
‘Perhaps the box would suit the gentleman better,’ suggested a very damp lawyer’s clerk, in a pink shirt, and a smirking countenance.

 
After a great deal of struggling and falling about, Dumps at last managed to squeeze himself into a seat, which, in addition to the slight disadvantage of being between a window that would not shut, and a door that must be open, placed him in close contact with a passenger, who had been walking about all the morning without an umbrella, and who looked as if he had spent the day in a full water-butt—only wetter.

 
‘Don’t bang the door so,’ said Dumps to the conductor, as he shut it after letting out four of the passengers; I am very nervous—it destroys me.’

 
‘Did any gen’lm’n say anythink?’ replied the cad, thrusting in his head, and trying to look as if he didn’t understand the request.

 
‘I told you not to bang the door so!’ repeated Dumps, with an expression of countenance like the knave of clubs, in convulsions.

 
‘Oh! vy, it’s rather a sing’ler circumstance about this here door, sir, that it von’t shut without banging,’ replied the conductor; and he opened the door very wide, and shut it again with a terrific bang, in proof of the assertion.

 
‘I beg your pardon, sir,’ said a little prim, wheezing old gentleman, sitting opposite Dumps, ‘I beg your pardon; but have you ever observed, when you have been in an omnibus on a wet day, that four people out of five always come in with large cotton umbrellas, without a handle at the top, or the brass spike at the bottom?’

 
‘Why, sir,’ returned Dumps, as he heard the clock strike twelve, ‘it never struck me before; but now you mention it, I—Hollo! hollo!’ shouted the persecuted individual, as the omnibus dashed past Drury-lane, where he had directed to be set down.—‘Where is the cad?’

 
‘I think he’s on the box, sir,’ said the young gentleman before noticed in the pink shirt, which looked like a white one ruled with red ink.

 
‘I want to be set down!’ said Dumps in a faint voice, overcome by his previous efforts.
‘I think these cads want to be set down,’ returned the attorney’s clerk, chuckling at his sally.

 
‘Hollo!’ cried Dumps again.

 
‘Hollo!’ echoed the passengers. The omnibus passed St. Giles’s church.

 
‘Hold hard!’ said the conductor; ‘I’m blowed if we ha’n’t forgot the gen’lm’n as vas to be set down at Doory-lane.—Now, sir, make haste, if you please,’ he added, opening the door, and assisting Dumps out with as much coolness as if it was ‘all right.’ Dumps’s indignation was for once getting the better of his cynical equanimity. ‘Drury-lane!’ he gasped, with the voice of a boy in a cold bath for the first time.

 
‘Doory-lane, sir?—yes, sir,—third turning on the right-hand side, sir.’

 
Dumps’s passion was paramount: he clutched his umbrella, and was striding off with the firm determination of not paying the fare. The cad, by a remarkable coincidence, happened to entertain a directly contrary opinion, and Heaven knows how far the altercation would have proceeded, if it had not been most ably and satisfactorily brought to a close by the driver.

 
‘Hollo!’ said that respectable person, standing up on the box, and leaning with one hand on the roof of the omnibus. ‘Hollo, Tom! tell the gentleman if so be as he feels aggrieved, we will take him up to the Edge-er (Edgeware) Road for nothing, and set him down at Doory-lane when we comes back. He can’t reject that, anyhow.’

 
The argument was irresistible: Dumps paid the disputed sixpence, and in a quarter of an hour was on the staircase of No. 14, Great Russell-street.

 
Everything indicated that preparations were making for the reception of ‘a few friends’ in the evening. Two dozen extra tumblers, and four ditto wine-glasses—looking anything but transparent, with little bits of straw in them on the slab in the passage, just arrived.

 

There was a great smell of nutmeg, port wine, and almonds, on the staircase; the covers were taken off the stair-carpet, and the figure of Venus on the first landing looked as if she were ashamed of the composition-candle in her right hand, which contrasted beautifully with the lamp-blacked drapery of the goddess of love. The female servant (who looked very warm and bustling) ushered Dumps into a front drawing-room, very prettily furnished, with a plentiful sprinkling of little baskets, paper table-mats, china watchmen, pink and gold albums, and rainbow-bound little books on the different tables.

 
‘Ah, uncle!’ said Mr. Kitterbell, ‘how d’ye do? Allow me—Jemima, my dear—my uncle. I think you’ve seen Jemima before, sir?’

 
‘Have had the pleasure,’ returned big Dumps, his tone and look making it doubtful whether in his life he had ever experienced the sensation.

 
‘I’m sure,’ said Mrs. Kitterbell, with a languid smile, and a slight cough. ‘I’m sure—hem—any friend—of Charles’s—hem—much less a relation, is—’

 
‘I knew you’d say so, my love,’ said little Kitterbell, who, while he appeared to be gazing on the opposite houses, was looking at his wife with a most affectionate air: ‘Bless you!’ The last two words were accompanied with a simper, and a squeeze of the hand, which stirred up all Uncle Dumps’s bile.

 
‘Jane, tell nurse to bring down baby,’ said Mrs. Kitterbell, addressing the servant. Mrs. Kitterbell was a tall, thin young lady, with very light hair, and a particularly white face—one of those young women who almost invariably, though one hardly knows why, recall to one’s mind the idea of a cold fillet of veal. Out went the servant, and in came the nurse, with a remarkably small parcel in her arms, packed up in a blue mantle trimmed with white fur.—This was the baby.

 
‘Now, uncle,’ said Mr. Kitterbell, lifting up that part of the mantle which covered the infant’s face, with an air of great triumph, ‘Who do you think he’s like?’

 
‘He! he! Yes, who?’ said Mrs. K., putting her arm through her husband’s, and looking up into Dumps’s face with an expression of as much interest as she was capable of displaying.

 
‘Good God, how small he is!’ cried the amiable uncle, starting back with well-feigned surprise; ‘remarkably small indeed.’

 
‘Do you think so?’ inquired poor little Kitterbell, rather alarmed. ‘He’s a monster to what he was—ain’t he, nurse?’

 
‘He’s a dear,’ said the nurse, squeezing the child, and evading the question—not because she scrupled to disguise the fact, but because she couldn’t afford to throw away the chance of Dumps’s half-crown.

 
‘Well, but who is he like?’ inquired little Kitterbell.

 
Dumps looked at the little pink heap before him, and only thought at the moment of the best mode of mortifying the youthful parents.

 
‘I really don’t know who he’s like,’ he answered, very well knowing the reply expected of him.

 
‘Don’t you think he’s like me?’ inquired his nephew with a knowing air.

 
‘Oh, decidedly not!’ returned Dumps, with an emphasis not to be misunderstood.

 

 

‘Decidedly not like you.—Oh, certainly not.’

 
‘Like Jemima?’ asked Kitterbell, faintly.

 
‘Oh, dear no; not in the least. I’m no judge, of course, in such cases; but I really think he’s more like one of those little carved representations that one sometimes sees blowing a trumpet on a tombstone!’ The nurse stooped down over the child, and with great difficulty prevented an explosion of mirth. Pa and ma looked almost as miserable as their amiable uncle.

 
‘Well!’ said the disappointed little father, ‘you’ll be better able to tell what he’s like by-and-by. You shall see him this evening with his mantle off.’

 
‘Thank you,’ said Dumps, feeling particularly grateful.

 
‘Now, my love,’ said Kitterbell to his wife, ‘it’s time we were off. We’re to meet the other godfather and the godmother at the church, uncle,—Mr. and Mrs. Wilson from over the way—uncommonly nice people. My love, are you well wrapped up?’

 
‘Yes, dear.’

 
‘Are you sure you won’t have another shawl?’ inquired the anxious husband.

 
‘No, sweet,’ returned the charming mother, accepting Dumps’s proffered arm; and the little party entered the hackney-coach that was to take them to the church; Dumps amusing Mrs. Kitterbell by expatiating largely on the danger of measles, thrush, teeth-cutting, and other interesting diseases to which children are subject.

 
The ceremony (which occupied about five minutes) passed off without anything particular occurring. The clergyman had to dine some distance from town, and had two churchings, three christenings, and a funeral to perform in something less than an hour.

 

 

The godfathers and godmother, therefore, promised to renounce the devil and all his works—‘and all that sort of thing’—as little Kitterbell said—‘in less than no time;’ and with the exception of Dumps nearly letting the child fall into the font when he handed it to the clergyman, the whole affair went off in the usual business-like and matter-of-course manner, and Dumps re-entered the Bank-gates at two o’clock with a heavy heart, and the painful conviction that he was regularly booked for an evening party.

 
Evening came—and so did Dumps’s pumps, black silk stockings, and white cravat which he had ordered to be forwarded, per boy, from Pentonville. The depressed godfather dressed himself at a friend’s counting-house, from whence, with his spirits fifty degrees below proof, he sallied forth—as the weather had cleared up, and the evening was tolerably fine—to walk to Great Russell-street. Slowly he paced up Cheapside, Newgate-street, down Snow-hill, and up Holborn ditto, looking as grim as the figure-head of a man-of-war, and finding out fresh causes of misery at every step. As he was crossing the corner of Hatton-garden, a man apparently intoxicated, rushed against him, and would have knocked him down, had he not been providentially caught by a very genteel young man, who happened to be close to him at the time. The shock so disarranged Dumps’s nerves, as well as his dress, that he could hardly stand. The gentleman took his arm, and in the kindest manner walked with him as far as Furnival’s Inn. Dumps, for about the first time in his life, felt grateful and polite; and he and the gentlemanly-looking young man parted with mutual expressions of good will.

 
‘There are at least some well-disposed men in the world,’ ruminated the misanthropical Dumps, as he proceeded towards his destination.

 
Rat—tat—ta-ra-ra-ra-ra-rat—knocked a hackney-coachman at Kitterbell’s door, in imitation of a gentleman’s servant, just as Dumps reached it; and out came an old lady in a large toque, and an old gentleman in a blue coat, and three female copies of the old lady in pink dresses, and shoes to match.

 
‘It’s a large party,’ sighed the unhappy godfather, wiping the perspiration from his forehead, and leaning against the area-railings. It was some time before the miserable man could muster up courage to knock at the door, and when he did, the smart appearance of a neighbouring greengrocer (who had been hired to wait for seven and sixpence, and whose calves alone were worth double the money), the lamp in the passage, and the Venus on the landing, added to the hum of many voices, and the sound of a harp and two violins, painfully convinced him that his surmises were but too well founded.

 
‘How are you?’ said little Kitterbell, in a greater bustle than ever, bolting out of the little back parlour with a cork-screw in his hand, and various particles of sawdust, looking like so many inverted commas, on his inexpressibles.

 
‘Good God!’ said Dumps, turning into the aforesaid parlour to put his shoes on, which he had brought in his coat-pocket, and still more appalled by the sight of seven fresh-drawn corks, and a corresponding number of decanters. ‘How many people are there up-stairs?’

 
‘Oh, not above thirty-five. We’ve had the carpet taken up in the back drawing-room, and the piano and the card-tables are in the front. Jemima thought we’d better have a regular sit-down supper in the front parlour, because of the speechifying, and all that. But, Lord! uncle, what’s the matter?’ continued the excited little man, as Dumps stood with one shoe on, rummaging his pockets with the most frightful distortion of visage. ‘What have you lost? Your pocket-book?’

 
‘No,’ returned Dumps, diving first into one pocket and then into the other, and speaking in a voice like Desdemona with the pillow over her mouth.

 
‘Your card-case? snuff-box? the key of your lodgings?’ continued Kitterbell, pouring question on question with the rapidity of lightning.

 
‘No! no!’ ejaculated Dumps, still diving eagerly into his empty pockets.

 
‘Not—not—the mug you spoke of this morning?’

 
‘Yes, the mug!’ replied Dumps, sinking into a chair.

 
‘How could you have done it?’ inquired Kitterbell. ‘Are you sure you brought it out?’

 
‘Yes! yes! I see it all!’ said Dumps, starting up as the idea flashed across his mind; ‘miserable dog that I am—I was born to suffer. I see it all: it was the gentlemanly-looking young man!’

 
‘Mr. Dumps!’ shouted the greengrocer in a stentorian voice, as he ushered the somewhat recovered godfather into the drawing-room half an hour after the above declaration.

 

 

‘Mr. Dumps!’—everybody looked at the door, and in came Dumps, feeling about as much out of place as a salmon might be supposed to be on a gravel-walk.

 
‘Happy to see you again,’ said Mrs. Kitterbell, quite unconscious of the unfortunate man’s confusion and misery; ‘you must allow me to introduce you to a few of our friends:- my mamma, Mr. Dumps—my papa and sisters.’ Dumps seized the hand of the mother as warmly as if she was his own parent, bowed to the young ladies, and against a gentleman behind him, and took no notice whatever of the father, who had been bowing incessantly for three minutes and a quarter.

 
‘Uncle,’ said little Kitterbell, after Dumps had been introduced to a select dozen or two, ‘you must let me lead you to the other end of the room, to introduce you to my friend Danton. Such a splendid fellow!—I’m sure you’ll like him—this way,’—Dumps followed as tractably as a tame bear.

 
Mr. Danton was a young man of about five-and-twenty, with a considerable stock of impudence, and a very small share of ideas: he was a great favourite, especially with young ladies of from sixteen to twenty-six years of age, both inclusive. He could imitate the French-horn to admiration, sang comic songs most inimitably, and had the most insinuating way of saying impertinent nothings to his doting female admirers. He had acquired, somehow or other, the reputation of being a great wit, and, accordingly, whenever he opened his mouth, everybody who knew him laughed very heartily.
The introduction took place in due form. Mr. Danton bowed, and twirled a lady’s handkerchief, which he held in his hand, in a most comic way. Everybody smiled.
‘Very warm,’ said Dumps, feeling it necessary to say something.

 
‘Yes. It was warmer yesterday,’ returned the brilliant Mr. Danton.—A general laugh.

 
‘I have great pleasure in congratulating you on your first appearance in the character of a father, sir,’ he continued, addressing Dumps—‘godfather, I mean.’—The young ladies were convulsed, and the gentlemen in ecstasies.

 
A general hum of admiration interrupted the conversation, and announced the entrance of nurse with the baby. An universal rush of the young ladies immediately took place. (Girls are always so fond of babies in company.)

 
‘Oh, you dear!’ said one.

 
‘How sweet!’ cried another, in a low tone of the most enthusiastic admiration.

 
‘Heavenly!’ added a third.

 
‘Oh! what dear little arms!’ said a fourth, holding up an arm and fist about the size and shape of the leg of a fowl cleanly picked.

 
‘Did you ever!’—said a little coquette with a large bustle, who looked like a French lithograph, appealing to a gentleman in three waistcoats—‘Did you ever!’

 
‘Never, in my life,’ returned her admirer, pulling up his collar.

 
‘Oh! do let me take it, nurse,’ cried another young lady. ‘The love!’

 
‘Can it open its eyes, nurse?’ inquired another, affecting the utmost innocence.—Suffice it to say, that the single ladies unanimously voted him an angel, and that the married ones, nem. con., agreed that he was decidedly the finest baby they had ever beheld—except their own.

 
The quadrilles were resumed with great spirit. Mr. Danton was universally admitted to be beyond himself; several young ladies enchanted the company and gained admirers by singing ‘We met’—‘I saw her at the Fancy Fair’—and other equally sentimental and interesting ballads. ‘The young men,’ as Mrs. Kitterbell said, ‘made themselves very agreeable;’ the girls did not lose their opportunity; and the evening promised to go off excellently. Dumps didn’t mind it: he had devised a plan for himself—a little bit of fun in his own way—and he was almost happy! He played a rubber and lost every point Mr. Danton said he could not have lost every point, because he made a point of losing: everybody laughed tremendously. Dumps retorted with a better joke, and nobody smiled, with the exception of the host, who seemed to consider it his duty to laugh till he was black in the face, at everything. There was only one drawback—the musicians did not play with quite as much spirit as could have been wished. The cause, however, was satisfactorily explained; for it appeared, on the testimony of a gentleman who had come up from Gravesend in the afternoon, that they had been engaged on board a steamer all day, and had played almost without cessation all the way to Gravesend, and all the way back again.

 
The ‘sit-down supper’ was excellent; there were four barley-sugar temples on the table, which would have looked beautiful if they had not melted away when the supper began; and a water-mill, whose only fault was that instead of going round, it ran over the table-cloth. Then there were fowls, and tongue, and trifle, and sweets, and lobster salad, and potted beef—and everything. And little Kitterbell kept calling out for clean plates, and the clean plates did not come: and then the gentlemen who wanted the plates said they didn’t mind, they’d take a lady’s; and then Mrs. Kitterbell applauded their gallantry, and the greengrocer ran about till he thought his seven and sixpence was very hardly earned; and the young ladies didn’t eat much for fear it shouldn’t look romantic, and the married ladies eat as much as possible, for fear they shouldn’t have enough; and a great deal of wine was drunk, and everybody talked and laughed considerably.

 
‘Hush! hush!’ said Mr. Kitterbell, rising and looking very important. ‘My love (this was addressed to his wife at the other end of the table), take care of Mrs. Maxwell, and your mamma, and the rest of the married ladies; the gentlemen will persuade the young ladies to fill their glasses, I am sure.’

 
‘Ladies and gentlemen,’ said long Dumps, in a very sepulchral voice and rueful accent, rising from his chair like the ghost in Don Juan, ‘will you have the kindness to charge your glasses? I am desirous of proposing a toast.’

 
A dead silence ensued, and the glasses were filled—everybody looked serious.

 
‘Ladies and gentlemen,’ slowly continued the ominous Dumps, ‘I’—(here Mr. Danton imitated two notes from the French-horn, in a very loud key, which electrified the nervous toast-proposer, and convulsed his audience).

 
‘Order! order!’ said little Kitterbell, endeavouring to suppress his laughter.

 
‘Order!’ said the gentlemen.

 
‘Danton, be quiet,’ said a particular friend on the opposite side of the table.

 
‘Ladies and gentlemen,’ resumed Dumps, somewhat recovered, and not much disconcerted, for he was always a pretty good hand at a speech—‘In accordance with what is, I believe, the established usage on these occasions, I, as one of the godfathers of Master Frederick Charles William Kitterbell—(here the speaker’s voice faltered, for he remembered the mug)—venture to rise to propose a toast. I need hardly say that it is the health and prosperity of that young gentleman, the particular event of whose early life we are here met to celebrate—(applause). Ladies and gentlemen, it is impossible to suppose that our friends here, whose sincere well-wishers we all are, can pass through life without some trials, considerable suffering, severe affliction, and heavy losses!’—Here the arch-traitor paused, and slowly drew forth a long, white pocket-handkerchief—his example was followed by several ladies. ‘That these trials may be long spared them is my most earnest prayer, my most fervent wish (a distinct sob from the grandmother). I hope and trust, ladies and gentlemen, that the infant whose christening we have this evening met to celebrate, may not be removed from the arms of his parents by premature decay (several cambrics were in requisition): that his young and now apparently healthy form, may not be wasted by lingering disease. (Here Dumps cast a sardonic glance around, for a great sensation was manifest among the married ladies.) You, I am sure, will concur with me in wishing that he may live to be a comfort and a blessing to his parents. (“Hear, hear!” and an audible sob from Mr. Kitterbell.) But should he not be what we could wish—should he forget in after times the duty which he owes to them—should they unhappily experience that distracting truth, “how sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child”’—Here Mrs. Kitterbell, with her handkerchief to her eyes, and accompanied by several ladies, rushed from the room, and went into violent hysterics in the passage, leaving her better half in almost as bad a condition, and a general impression in Dumps’s favour; for people like sentiment, after all.

 
It need hardly be added, that this occurrence quite put a stop to the harmony of the evening. Vinegar, hartshorn, and cold water, were now as much in request as negus, rout-cakes, and bon-bons had been a short time before. Mrs. Kitterbell was immediately conveyed to her apartment, the musicians were silenced, flirting ceased, and the company slowly departed. Dumps left the house at the commencement of the bustle, and walked home with a light step, and (for him) a cheerful heart. His landlady, who slept in the next room, has offered to make oath that she heard him laugh, in his peculiar manner, after he had locked his door. The assertion, however, is so improbable, and bears on the face of it such strong evidence of untruth, that it has never obtained credence to this hour.

 
The family of Mr. Kitterbell has considerably increased since the period to which we have referred; he has now two sons and a daughter; and as he expects, at no distant period, to have another addition to his blooming progeny, he is anxious to secure an eligible godfather for the occasion. He is determined, however, to impose upon him two conditions. He must bind himself, by a solemn obligation, not to make any speech after supper; and it is indispensable that he should be in no way connected with ‘the most miserable man in the world.’

 

Horatio Sparkins

The third Sketch that Dickens wrote was published in ‘The Monthly Magazine’ in February 1834:

 

‘Indeed, my love, he paid Teresa very great attention on the last assembly night,’ said Mrs. Malderton, addressing her spouse, who, after the fatigues of the day in the City, was sitting with a silk handkerchief over his head, and his feet on the fender, drinking his port;—‘very great attention; and I say again, every possible encouragement ought to be given him. He positively must be asked down here to dine.’

 

 
‘Who must?’ inquired Mr. Malderton.

 

 
‘Why, you know whom I mean, my dear—the young man with the black whiskers and the white cravat, who has just come out at our assembly, and whom all the girls are talking about. Young—dear me! what’s his name?—Marianne, what is his name?’ continued Mrs. Malderton, addressing her youngest daughter, who was engaged in netting a purse, and looking sentimental.

 

 
‘Mr. Horatio Sparkins, ma,’ replied Miss Marianne, with a sigh.

 

 
‘Oh! yes, to be sure—Horatio Sparkins,’ said Mrs. Malderton. ‘Decidedly the most gentleman-like young man I ever saw. I am sure in the beautifully-made coat he wore the other night, he looked like—like—’

 

 
‘Like Prince Leopold, ma—so noble, so full of sentiment!’ suggested Marianne, in a tone of enthusiastic admiration.

 

 
‘You should recollect, my dear,’ resumed Mrs. Malderton, ‘that Teresa is now eight-and-twenty; and that it really is very important that something should be done.’

 

 
Miss Teresa Malderton was a very little girl, rather fat, with vermilion cheeks, but good-humoured, and still disengaged, although, to do her justice, the misfortune arose from no lack of perseverance on her part. In vain had she flirted for ten years; in vain had Mr. and Mrs. Malderton assiduously kept up an extensive acquaintance among the young eligible bachelors of Camberwell, and even of Wandsworth and Brixton; to say nothing of those who ‘dropped in’ from town. Miss Malderton was as well known as the lion on the top of Northumberland House, and had an equal chance of ‘going off.’

 

 
‘I am quite sure you’d like him,’ continued Mrs. Malderton, ‘he is so gentlemanly!’

 

 
‘So clever!’ said Miss Marianne.

 

 
‘And has such a flow of language!’ added Miss Teresa.

 

 
‘He has a great respect for you, my dear,’ said Mrs. Malderton to her husband. Mr. Malderton coughed, and looked at the fire.

 

 
‘Yes I’m sure he’s very much attached to pa’s society,’ said Miss Marianne.

 

 
‘No doubt of it,’ echoed Miss Teresa.

 

 
‘Indeed, he said as much to me in confidence,’ observed Mrs. Malderton.

 

 
‘Well, well,’ returned Mr. Malderton, somewhat flattered; ‘if I see him at the assembly to-morrow, perhaps I’ll ask him down. I hope he knows we live at Oak Lodge, Camberwell, my dear?’

 

 
‘Of course—and that you keep a one-horse carriage.’

 

 
‘I’ll see about it,’ said Mr. Malderton, composing himself for a nap; ‘I’ll see about it.’

 

 
Mr. Malderton was a man whose whole scope of ideas was limited to Lloyd’s, the Exchange, the India House, and the Bank. A few successful speculations had raised him from a situation of obscurity and comparative poverty, to a state of affluence. As frequently happens in such cases, the ideas of himself and his family became elevated to an extraordinary pitch as their means increased; they affected fashion, taste, and many other fooleries, in imitation of their betters, and had a very decided and becoming horror of anything which could, by possibility, be considered low. He was hospitable from ostentation, illiberal from ignorance, and prejudiced from conceit. Egotism and the love of display induced him to keep an excellent table: convenience, and a love of good things of this life, ensured him plenty of guests. He liked to have clever men, or what he considered such, at his table, because it was a great thing to talk about; but he never could endure what he called ‘sharp fellows.’ Probably, he cherished this feeling out of compliment to his two sons, who gave their respected parent no uneasiness in that particular. The family were ambitious of forming acquaintances and connexions in some sphere of society superior to that in which they themselves moved; and one of the necessary consequences of this desire, added to their utter ignorance of the world beyond their own small circle, was, that any one who could lay claim to an acquaintance with people of rank and title, had a sure passport to the table at Oak Lodge, Camberwell.

 

 
The appearance of Mr. Horatio Sparkins at the assembly, had excited no small degree of surprise and curiosity among its regular frequenters. Who could he be? He was evidently reserved, and apparently melancholy. Was he a clergyman?—He danced too well. A barrister?—He said he was not called. He used very fine words, and talked a great deal. Could he be a distinguished foreigner, come to England for the purpose of describing the country, its manners and customs; and frequenting public balls and public dinners, with the view of becoming acquainted with high life, polished etiquette, and English refinement?—No, he had not a foreign accent. Was he a surgeon, a contributor to the magazines, a writer of fashionable novels, or an artist?—No; to each and all of these surmises, there existed some valid objection.—‘Then,’ said everybody, ‘he must be somebody.’—‘I should think he must be,’ reasoned Mr. Malderton, within himself, ‘because he perceives our superiority, and pays us so much attention.’

 

 
The night succeeding the conversation we have just recorded, was ‘assembly night.’ The double-fly was ordered to be at the door of Oak Lodge at nine o’clock precisely. The Miss Maldertons were dressed in sky-blue satin trimmed with artificial flowers; and Mrs. M. (who was a little fat woman), in ditto ditto, looked like her eldest daughter multiplied by two. Mr. Frederick Malderton, the eldest son, in full-dress costume, was the very beau idéal of a smart waiter; and Mr. Thomas Malderton, the youngest, with his white dress-stock, blue coat, bright buttons, and red watch-ribbon, strongly resembled the portrait of that interesting, but rash young gentleman, George Barnwell. Every member of the party had made up his or her mind to cultivate the acquaintance of Mr. Horatio Sparkins. Miss Teresa, of course, was to be as amiable and interesting as ladies of eight-and-twenty on the look-out for a husband, usually are. Mrs. Malderton would be all smiles and graces. Miss Marianne would request the favour of some verses for her album. Mr. Malderton would patronise the great unknown by asking him to dinner. Tom intended to ascertain the extent of his information on the interesting topics of snuff and cigars. Even Mr. Frederick Malderton himself, the family authority on all points of taste, dress, and fashionable arrangement; who had lodgings of his own in town; who had a free admission to Covent-garden theatre; who always dressed according to the fashions of the months; who went up the water twice a-week in the season; and who actually had an intimate friend who once knew a gentleman who formerly lived in the Albany,—even he had determined that Mr. Horatio Sparkins must be a devilish good fellow, and that he would do him the honour of challenging him to a game at billiards.

 

 
The first object that met the anxious eyes of the expectant family on their entrance into the ball-room, was the interesting Horatio, with his hair brushed off his forehead, and his eyes fixed on the ceiling, reclining in a contemplative attitude on one of the seats.

 

 
‘There he is, my dear,’ whispered Mrs. Malderton to Mr. Malderton.

 

 
‘How like Lord Byron!’ murmured Miss Teresa.

 

 
‘Or Montgomery!’ whispered Miss Marianne.

 

 
‘Or the portraits of Captain Cook!’ suggested Tom.

 

 
‘Tom—don’t be an ass!’ said his father, who checked him on all occasions, probably with a view to prevent his becoming ‘sharp’—which was very unnecessary.

 

 
The elegant Sparkins attitudinised with admirable effect, until the family had crossed the room. He then started up, with the most natural appearance of surprise and delight; accosted Mrs. Malderton with the utmost cordiality; saluted the young ladies in the most enchanting manner; bowed to, and shook hands with Mr. Malderton, with a degree of respect amounting almost to veneration; and returned the greetings of the two young men in a half-gratified, half-patronising manner, which fully convinced them that he must be an important, and, at the same time, condescending personage.

 

 
‘Miss Malderton,’ said Horatio, after the ordinary salutations, and bowing very low, ‘may I be permitted to presume to hope that you will allow me to have the pleasure—’

 

 
‘I don’t think I am engaged,’ said Miss Teresa, with a dreadful affectation of indifference—‘but, really—so many—’

 

 
Horatio looked handsomely miserable.

 

 
‘I shall be most happy,’ simpered the interesting Teresa, at last. Horatio’s countenance brightened up, like an old hat in a shower of rain.

 

 
‘A very genteel young man, certainly!’ said the gratified Mr. Malderton, as the obsequious Sparkins and his partner joined the quadrille which was just forming.

 

 
‘He has a remarkably good address,’ said Mr. Frederick.

 

 
‘Yes, he is a prime fellow,’ interposed Tom, who always managed to put his foot in it—‘he talks just like an auctioneer.’

 

 
‘Tom!’ said his father solemnly, ‘I think I desired you, before, not to be a fool.’ Tom looked as happy as a cock on a drizzly morning.

 

 
‘How delightful!’ said the interesting Horatio to his partner, as they promenaded the room at the conclusion of the set—‘how delightful, how refreshing it is, to retire from the cloudy storms, the vicissitudes, and the troubles, of life, even if it be but for a few short fleeting moments: and to spend those moments, fading and evanescent though they be, in the delightful, the blessed society of one individual—whose frowns would be death, whose coldness would be madness, whose falsehood would be ruin, whose constancy would be bliss; the possession of whose affection would be the brightest and best reward that Heaven could bestow on man?’

 

 
‘What feeling! what sentiment!’ thought Miss Teresa, as she leaned more heavily on her companion’s arm.

 

 
‘But enough—enough!’ resumed the elegant Sparkins, with a theatrical air. ‘What have I said? what have I—I—to do with sentiments like these! Miss Malderton’—here he stopped short—‘may I hope to be permitted to offer the humble tribute of—’

 

 
‘Really, Mr. Sparkins,’ returned the enraptured Teresa, blushing in the sweetest confusion, ‘I must refer you to papa. I never can, without his consent, venture to—’

 

 
‘Surely he cannot object—’

 

 
‘Oh, yes. Indeed, indeed, you know him not!’ interrupted Miss Teresa, well knowing there was nothing to fear, but wishing to make the interview resemble a scene in some romantic novel.

 

 
‘He cannot object to my offering you a glass of negus,’ returned the adorable Sparkins, with some surprise.

 

 
‘Is that all?’ thought the disappointed Teresa. ‘What a fuss about nothing!’

 

 
‘It will give me the greatest pleasure, sir, to see you to dinner at Oak Lodge, Camberwell, on Sunday next at five o’clock, if you have no better engagement,’ said Mr. Malderton, at the conclusion of the evening, as he and his sons were standing in conversation with Mr. Horatio Sparkins.

 

 
Horatio bowed his acknowledgments, and accepted the flattering invitation.

 

 
‘I must confess,’ continued the father, offering his snuff-box to his new acquaintance, ‘that I don’t enjoy these assemblies half so much as the comfort—I had almost said the luxury—of Oak Lodge. They have no great charms for an elderly man.’

 

 
‘And after all, sir, what is man?’ said the metaphysical Sparkins. ‘I say, what is man?’

 

 
‘Ah! very true,’ said Mr. Malderton; ‘very true.’

 

 
‘We know that we live and breathe,’ continued Horatio; ‘that we have wants and wishes, desires and appetites—’

 

 
‘Certainly,’ said Mr. Frederick Malderton, looking profound.

 

 
‘I say, we know that we exist,’ repeated Horatio, raising his voice, ‘but there we stop; there, is an end to our knowledge; there, is the summit of our attainments; there, is the termination of our ends. What more do we know?’

 

 
‘Nothing,’ replied Mr. Frederick—than whom no one was more capable of answering for himself in that particular. Tom was about to hazard something, but, fortunately for his reputation, he caught his father’s angry eye, and slunk off like a puppy convicted of petty larceny.

 

 
‘Upon my word,’ said Mr. Malderton the elder, as they were returning home in the fly, ‘that Mr. Sparkins is a wonderful young man. Such surprising knowledge! such extraordinary information! and such a splendid mode of expressing himself!’

 

 
‘I think he must be somebody in disguise,’ said Miss Marianne. ‘How charmingly romantic!’

 

 
‘He talks very loud and nicely,’ timidly observed Tom, ‘but I don’t exactly understand what he means.’

 

 
‘I almost begin to despair of your understanding anything, Tom,’ said his father, who, of course, had been much enlightened by Mr. Horatio Sparkins’s conversation.

 

 
‘It strikes me, Tom,’ said Miss Teresa, ‘that you have made yourself very ridiculous this evening.’

 

 
‘No doubt of it,’ cried everybody—and the unfortunate Tom reduced himself into the least possible space. That night, Mr. and Mrs. Malderton had a long conversation respecting their daughter’s prospects and future arrangements. Miss Teresa went to bed, considering whether, in the event of her marrying a title, she could conscientiously encourage the visits of her present associates; and dreamed, all night, of disguised noblemen, large routs, ostrich plumes, bridal favours, and Horatio Sparkins.

 

 
Various surmises were hazarded on the Sunday morning, as to the mode of conveyance which the anxiously-expected Horatio would adopt. Did he keep a gig?—was it possible he could come on horseback?—or would he patronize the stage? These, and other various conjectures of equal importance, engrossed the attention of Mrs. Malderton and her daughters during the whole morning after church.

 

 
‘Upon my word, my dear, it’s a most annoying thing that that vulgar brother of yours should have invited himself to dine here to-day,’ said Mr. Malderton to his wife. ‘On account of Mr. Sparkins’s coming down, I purposely abstained from asking any one but Flamwell. And then to think of your brother—a tradesman—it’s insufferable! I declare I wouldn’t have him mention his shop, before our new guest—no, not for a thousand pounds! I wouldn’t care if he had the good sense to conceal the disgrace he is to the family; but he’s so fond of his horrible business, that he will let people know what he is.’

 
Mr. Jacob Barton, the individual alluded to, was a large grocer; so vulgar, and so lost to all sense of feeling, that he actually never scrupled to avow that he wasn’t above his business: ‘he’d made his money by it, and he didn’t care who know’d it.’

 
‘Ah! Flamwell, my dear fellow, how d’ye do?’ said Mr. Malderton, as a little spoffish man, with green spectacles, entered the room. ‘You got my note?’

 
‘Yes, I did; and here I am in consequence.’

 
‘You don’t happen to know this Mr. Sparkins by name? You know everybody?’

 
Mr. Flamwell was one of those gentlemen of remarkably extensive information whom one occasionally meets in society, who pretend to know everybody, but in reality know nobody. At Malderton’s, where any stories about great people were received with a greedy ear, he was an especial favourite; and, knowing the kind of people he had to deal with, he carried his passion of claiming acquaintance with everybody, to the most immoderate length. He had rather a singular way of telling his greatest lies in a parenthesis, and with an air of self-denial, as if he feared being thought egotistical.

 
‘Why, no, I don’t know him by that name,’ returned Flamwell, in a low tone, and with an air of immense importance. ‘I have no doubt I know him, though. Is he tall?’

 
‘Middle-sized,’ said Miss Teresa.

 
‘With black hair?’ inquired Flamwell, hazarding a bold guess.

 
‘Yes,’ returned Miss Teresa, eagerly.

 
‘Rather a snub nose?’

 
‘No,’ said the disappointed Teresa, ‘he has a Roman nose.’

 
‘I said a Roman nose, didn’t I?’ inquired Flamwell. ‘He’s an elegant young man?’

 
‘Oh, certainly.’

 
‘With remarkably prepossessing manners?’

 
‘Oh, yes!’ said all the family together. ‘You must know him.’

 
‘Yes, I thought you knew him, if he was anybody,’ triumphantly exclaimed Mr. Malderton. ‘Who d’ye think he is?’

 
‘Why, from your description,’ said Flamwell, ruminating, and sinking his voice, almost to a whisper, ‘he bears a strong resemblance to the Honourable Augustus Fitz-Edward Fitz-John Fitz-Osborne. He’s a very talented young man, and rather eccentric. It’s extremely probable he may have changed his name for some temporary purpose.’

 
Teresa’s heart beat high. Could he be the Honourable Augustus Fitz-Edward Fitz-John Fitz-Osborne! What a name to be elegantly engraved upon two glazed cards, tied together with a piece of white satin ribbon! ‘The Honourable Mrs. Augustus Fitz-Edward Fitz-John Fitz-Osborne!’ The thought was transport.

 
‘It’s five minutes to five,’ said Mr. Malderton, looking at his watch: ‘I hope he’s not going to disappoint us.’

 
‘There he is!’ exclaimed Miss Teresa, as a loud double-knock was heard at the door. Everybody endeavoured to look—as people when they particularly expect a visitor always do—as if they were perfectly unsuspicious of the approach of anybody.

 
The room-door opened—‘Mr. Barton!’ said the servant.

 
‘Confound the man!’ murmured Malderton. ‘Ah! my dear sir, how d’ye do! Any news?’

 
‘Why no,’ returned the grocer, in his usual bluff manner. ‘No, none partickler. None that I am much aware of. How d’ye do, gals and boys? Mr. Flamwell, sir—glad to see you.’

 
‘Here’s Mr. Sparkins!’ said Tom, who had been looking out at the window, ‘on such a black horse!’ There was Horatio, sure enough, on a large black horse, curvetting and prancing along, like an Astley’s supernumerary. After a great deal of reining in, and pulling up, with the accompaniments of snorting, rearing, and kicking, the animal consented to stop at about a hundred yards from the gate, where Mr. Sparkins dismounted, and confided him to the care of Mr. Malderton’s groom. The ceremony of introduction was gone through, in all due form. Mr. Flamwell looked from behind his green spectacles at Horatio with an air of mysterious importance; and the gallant Horatio looked unutterable things at Teresa.

 
‘Is he the Honourable Mr. Augustus What’s-his-name?’ whispered Mrs. Malderton to Flamwell, as he was escorting her to the dining-room.

 
‘Why, no—at least not exactly,’ returned that great authority—‘not exactly.’

 
‘Who is he then?’

 
‘Hush!’ said Flamwell, nodding his head with a grave air, importing that he knew very well; but was prevented, by some grave reasons of state, from disclosing the important secret. It might be one of the ministers making himself acquainted with the views of the people.

 
‘Mr. Sparkins,’ said the delighted Mrs. Malderton, ‘pray divide the ladies. John, put a chair for the gentleman between Miss Teresa and Miss Marianne.’ This was addressed to a man who, on ordinary occasions, acted as half-groom, half-gardener; but who, as it was important to make an impression on Mr. Sparkins, had been forced into a white neckerchief and shoes, and touched up, and brushed, to look like a second footman.

 
The dinner was excellent; Horatio was most attentive to Miss Teresa, and every one felt in high spirits, except Mr. Malderton, who, knowing the propensity of his brother-in-law, Mr. Barton, endured that sort of agony which the newspapers inform us is experienced by the surrounding neighbourhood when a pot-boy hangs himself in a hay-loft, and which is ‘much easier to be imagined than described.’

 
‘Have you seen your friend, Sir Thomas Noland, lately, Flamwell?’ inquired Mr. Malderton, casting a sidelong look at Horatio, to see what effect the mention of so great a man had upon him.

 
‘Why, no—not very lately. I saw Lord Gubbleton the day before yesterday.’

 
‘All! I hope his lordship is very well?’ said Malderton, in a tone of the greatest interest. It is scarcely necessary to say that, until that moment, he had been quite innocent of the existence of such a person.

 
‘Why, yes; he was very well—very well indeed. He’s a devilish good fellow. I met him in the City, and had a long chat with him. Indeed, I’m rather intimate with him. I couldn’t stop to talk to him as long as I could wish, though, because I was on my way to a banker’s, a very rich man, and a member of Parliament, with whom I am also rather, indeed I may say very, intimate.’

 
‘I know whom you mean,’ returned the host, consequentially—in reality knowing as much about the matter as Flamwell himself.—‘He has a capital business.’

 
This was touching on a dangerous topic.

 
‘Talking of business,’ interposed Mr. Barton, from the centre of the table. ‘A gentleman whom you knew very well, Malderton, before you made that first lucky spec of yours, called at our shop the other day, and—’

 
‘Barton, may I trouble you for a potato?’ interrupted the wretched master of the house, hoping to nip the story in the bud.

 
‘Certainly,’ returned the grocer, quite insensible of his brother-in-law’s object—‘and he said in a very plain manner—’

 
‘Floury, if you please,’ interrupted Malderton again; dreading the termination of the anecdote, and fearing a repetition of the word ‘shop.’

 
‘He said, says he,’ continued the culprit, after despatching the potato; ‘says he, how goes on your business? So I said, jokingly—you know my way—says I, I’m never above my business, and I hope my business will never be above me. Ha, ha!’

 
‘Mr. Sparkins,’ said the host, vainly endeavouring to conceal his dismay, ‘a glass of wine?’

 
‘With the utmost pleasure, sir.’

 
‘Happy to see you.’

 
‘Thank you.’

 
‘We were talking the other evening,’ resumed the host, addressing Horatio, partly with the view of displaying the conversational powers of his new acquaintance, and partly in the hope of drowning the grocer’s stories—‘we were talking the other night about the nature of man. Your argument struck me very forcibly.’

 
‘And me,’ said Mr. Frederick. Horatio made a graceful inclination of the head.

 
‘Pray, what is your opinion of woman, Mr. Sparkins?’ inquired Mrs. Malderton. The young ladies simpered.

 
‘Man,’ replied Horatio, ‘man, whether he ranged the bright, gay, flowery plains of a second Eden, or the more sterile, barren, and I may say, commonplace regions, to which we are compelled to accustom ourselves, in times such as these; man, under any circumstances, or in any place—whether he were bending beneath the withering blasts of the frigid zone, or scorching under the rays of a vertical sun—man, without woman, would be—alone.’

 
‘I am very happy to find you entertain such honourable opinions, Mr. Sparkins,’ said Mrs. Malderton.

 
‘And I,’ added Miss Teresa. Horatio looked his delight, and the young lady blushed.
‘Now, it’s my opinion—’ said Mr. Barton.

 
‘I know what you’re going to say,’ interposed Malderton, determined not to give his relation another opportunity, ‘and I don’t agree with you.’

 
‘What!’ inquired the astonished grocer.

 
‘I am sorry to differ from you, Barton,’ said the host, in as positive a manner as if he really were contradicting a position which the other had laid down, ‘but I cannot give my assent to what I consider a very monstrous proposition.’

 
‘But I meant to say—’

 
‘You never can convince me,’ said Malderton, with an air of obstinate determination. ‘Never.’

 
‘And I,’ said Mr. Frederick, following up his father’s attack, ‘cannot entirely agree in Mr. Sparkins’s argument.’

 
‘What!’ said Horatio, who became more metaphysical, and more argumentative, as he saw the female part of the family listening in wondering delight—‘what! Is effect the consequence of cause? Is cause the precursor of effect?’

 
‘That’s the point,’ said Flamwell.

 
‘To be sure,’ said Mr. Malderton.

 
‘Because, if effect is the consequence of cause, and if cause does precede effect, I apprehend you are wrong,’ added Horatio.

 
‘Decidedly,’ said the toad-eating Flamwell.

 
‘At least, I apprehend that to be the just and logical deduction?’ said Sparkins, in a tone of interrogation.

 
‘No doubt of it,’ chimed in Flamwell again. ‘It settles the point.’

 
‘Well, perhaps it does,’ said Mr. Frederick; ‘I didn’t see it before.’

 
‘I don’t exactly see it now,’ thought the grocer; ‘but I suppose it’s all right.’

 
‘How wonderfully clever he is!’ whispered Mrs. Malderton to her daughters, as they retired to the drawing-room.

 
‘Oh, he’s quite a love!’ said both the young ladies together; ‘he talks like an oracle. He must have seen a great deal of life.’

 
The gentlemen being left to themselves, a pause ensued, during which everybody looked very grave, as if they were quite overcome by the profound nature of the previous discussion. Flamwell, who had made up his mind to find out who and what Mr. Horatio Sparkins really was, first broke silence.

 
‘Excuse me, sir,’ said that distinguished personage, ‘I presume you have studied for the bar? I thought of entering once, myself—indeed, I’m rather intimate with some of the highest ornaments of that distinguished profession.’

 
‘N-no!’ said Horatio, with a little hesitation; ‘not exactly.’

 
‘But you have been much among the silk gowns, or I mistake?’ inquired Flamwell, deferentially.

 
‘Nearly all my life,’ returned Sparkins.

 
The question was thus pretty well settled in the mind of Mr. Flamwell. He was a young gentleman ‘about to be called.’

 
‘I shouldn’t like to be a barrister,’ said Tom, speaking for the first time, and looking round the table to find somebody who would notice the remark.

 
No one made any reply.

 
‘I shouldn’t like to wear a wig,’ said Tom, hazarding another observation.

 
‘Tom, I beg you will not make yourself ridiculous,’ said his father. ‘Pray listen, and improve yourself by the conversation you hear, and don’t be constantly making these absurd remarks.’

 
‘Very well, father,’ replied the unfortunate Tom, who had not spoken a word since he had asked for another slice of beef at a quarter-past five o’clock, p.m., and it was then eight.

 
‘Well, Tom,’ observed his good-natured uncle, ‘never mind! I think with you. I shouldn’t like to wear a wig. I’d rather wear an apron.’

 
Mr. Malderton coughed violently. Mr. Barton resumed—‘For if a man’s above his business—’

 
The cough returned with tenfold violence, and did not cease until the unfortunate cause of it, in his alarm, had quite forgotten what he intended to say.

 
‘Mr. Sparkins,’ said Flamwell, returning to the charge, ‘do you happen to know Mr. Delafontaine, of Bedford-square?’

 
‘I have exchanged cards with him; since which, indeed, I have had an opportunity of serving him considerably,’ replied Horatio, slightly colouring; no doubt, at having been betrayed into making the acknowledgment.

 
‘You are very lucky, if you have had an opportunity of obliging that great man,’ observed Flamwell, with an air of profound respect.

 
‘I don’t know who he is,’ he whispered to Mr. Malderton, confidentially, as they followed Horatio up to the drawing-room. ‘It’s quite clear, however, that he belongs to the law, and that he is somebody of great importance, and very highly connected.’

 
‘No doubt, no doubt,’ returned his companion.

 
The remainder of the evening passed away most delightfully. Mr. Malderton, relieved from his apprehensions by the circumstance of Mr. Barton’s falling into a profound sleep, was as affable and gracious as possible. Miss Teresa played the ‘Fall of Paris,’ as Mr. Sparkins declared, in a most masterly manner, and both of them, assisted by Mr. Frederick, tried over glees and trios without number; they having made the pleasing discovery that their voices harmonised beautifully. To be sure, they all sang the first part; and Horatio, in addition to the slight drawback of having no ear, was perfectly innocent of knowing a note of music; still, they passed the time very agreeably, and it was past twelve o’clock before Mr. Sparkins ordered the mourning-coach-looking steed to be brought out—an order which was only complied with, on the distinct understanding that he was to repeat his visit on the following Sunday.

 
‘But, perhaps, Mr. Sparkins will form one of our party to-morrow evening?’ suggested Mrs. M. ‘Mr. Malderton intends taking the girls to see the pantomime.’ Mr. Sparkins bowed, and promised to join the party in box 48, in the course of the evening.

 
‘We will not tax you for the morning,’ said Miss Teresa, bewitchingly; ‘for ma is going to take us to all sorts of places, shopping. I know that gentlemen have a great horror of that employment.’ Mr. Sparkins bowed again, and declared that he should be delighted, but business of importance occupied him in the morning. Flamwell looked at Malderton significantly.—‘It’s term time!’ he whispered.

 
At twelve o’clock on the following morning, the ‘fly’ was at the door of Oak Lodge, to convey Mrs. Malderton and her daughters on their expedition for the day. They were to dine and dress for the play at a friend’s house. First, driving thither with their band-boxes, they departed on their first errand to make some purchases at Messrs. Jones, Spruggins, and Smith’s, of Tottenham-court-road; after which, they were to go to Redmayne’s in Bond-street; thence, to innumerable places that no one ever heard of. The young ladies beguiled the tediousness of the ride by eulogising Mr. Horatio Sparkins, scolding their mamma for taking them so far to save a shilling, and wondering whether they should ever reach their destination. At length, the vehicle stopped before a dirty-looking ticketed linen-draper’s shop, with goods of all kinds, and labels of all sorts and sizes, in the window. There were dropsical figures of seven with a little three-farthings in the corner; ‘perfectly invisible to the naked eye;’ three hundred and fifty thousand ladies’ boas, from one shilling and a penny halfpenny; real French kid shoes, at two and ninepence per pair; green parasols, at an equally cheap rate; and ‘every description of goods,’ as the proprietors said—and they must know best—‘fifty per cent. under cost price.’

 
‘Lor! ma, what a place you have brought us to!’ said Miss Teresa; ‘what would Mr. Sparkins say if he could see us!’

 
‘Ah! what, indeed!’ said Miss Marianne, horrified at the idea.

 
‘Pray be seated, ladies. What is the first article?’ inquired the obsequious master of the ceremonies of the establishment, who, in his large white neckcloth and formal tie, looked like a bad ‘portrait of a gentleman’ in the Somerset-house exhibition.

 
‘I want to see some silks,’ answered Mrs. Malderton.

 
‘Directly, ma’am.—Mr. Smith! Where is Mr. Smith?’

 
‘Here, sir,’ cried a voice at the back of the shop.

 
‘Pray make haste, Mr. Smith,’ said the M.C. ‘You never are to be found when you’re wanted, sir.’

 
Mr. Smith, thus enjoined to use all possible despatch, leaped over the counter with great agility, and placed himself before the newly-arrived customers. Mrs. Malderton uttered a faint scream; Miss Teresa, who had been stooping down to talk to her sister, raised her head, and beheld—Horatio Sparkins!

 
‘We will draw a veil,’ as novel-writers say, over the scene that ensued. The mysterious, philosophical, romantic, metaphysical Sparkins—he who, to the interesting Teresa, seemed like the embodied idea of the young dukes and poetical exquisites in blue silk dressing-gowns, and ditto ditto slippers, of whom she had read and dreamed, but had never expected to behold, was suddenly converted into Mr. Samuel Smith, the assistant at a ‘cheap shop;’ the junior partner in a slippery firm of some three weeks’ existence.

 

 

The dignified evanishment of the hero of Oak Lodge, on this unexpected recognition, could only be equalled by that of a furtive dog with a considerable kettle at his tail. All the hopes of the Maldertons were destined at once to melt away, like the lemon ices at a Company’s dinner; Almack’s was still to them as distant as the North Pole; and Miss Teresa had as much chance of a husband as Captain Ross had of the north-west passage.

 
Years have elapsed since the occurrence of this dreadful morning. The daisies have thrice bloomed on Camberwell-green; the sparrows have thrice repeated their vernal chirps in Camberwell-grove; but the Miss Maldertons are still unmated. Miss Teresa’s case is more desperate than ever; but Flamwell is yet in the zenith of his reputation; and the family have the same predilection for aristocratic personages, with an increased aversion to anything low.

 

 

Mrs Joseph Porter

The second of the Sketches written by Charles Dickens for The Monthly Magazine describes a wonderful amateur theatrical, and was quite prophetic, for over twenty years later Dickens himself would convert his London house into a theatre to stage a grand production of ‘The Frozen Deep.  The description of the dining room being ‘…dismantled of its furniture, and ornaments’ could just as easily applied to the reality of Tavistock House as to the fictitious Rose Villa.  Dickens, or Boz, was in his element!

 

Mrs Joseph Porter

 

Most extensive were the preparations at Rose Villa, Clapham Rise, in the occupation of Mr. Gattleton (a stock-broker in especially comfortable circumstances), and great was the anxiety of Mr. Gattleton’s interesting family, as the day fixed for the representation of the Private Play which had been ‘many months in preparation,’ approached. The whole family was infected with the mania for Private Theatricals; the house, usually so clean and tidy, was, to use Mr. Gattleton’s expressive description, ‘regularly turned out o’ windows;’ the large dining-room, dismantled of its furniture, and ornaments, presented a strange jumble of flats, flies, wings, lamps, bridges, clouds, thunder and lightning, festoons and flowers, daggers and foil, and various other messes in theatrical slang included under the comprehensive name of ‘properties.’ The bedrooms were crowded with scenery, the kitchen was occupied by carpenters. Rehearsals took place every other night in the drawing-room, and every sofa in the house was more or less damaged by the perseverance and spirit with which Mr. Sempronius Gattleton, and Miss Lucina, rehearsed the smothering scene in ‘Othello’—it having been determined that that tragedy should form the first portion of the evening’s entertainments.

 
‘When we’re a leetle more perfect, I think it will go admirably,’ said Mr. Sempronius, addressing his corps dramatique, at the conclusion of the hundred and fiftieth rehearsal. In consideration of his sustaining the trifling inconvenience of bearing all the expenses of the play, Mr. Sempronius had been, in the most handsome manner, unanimously elected stage-manager. ‘Evans,’ continued Mr. Gattleton, the younger, addressing a tall, thin, pale young gentleman, with extensive whiskers—‘Evans, you play Roderigo beautifully.’

 
‘Beautifully,’ echoed the three Miss Gattletons; for Mr. Evans was pronounced by all his lady friends to be ‘quite a dear.’ He looked so interesting, and had such lovely whiskers: to say nothing of his talent for writing verses in albums and playing the flute! Roderigo simpered and bowed.

 
‘But I think,’ added the manager, ‘you are hardly perfect in the—fall—in the fencing-scene, where you are—you understand?’

 
‘It’s very difficult,’ said Mr. Evans, thoughtfully; ‘I’ve fallen about, a good deal, in our counting-house lately, for practice, only I find it hurts one so. Being obliged to fall backward you see, it bruises one’s head a good deal.’

 
‘But you must take care you don’t knock a wing down,’ said Mr. Gattleton, the elder, who had been appointed prompter, and who took as much interest in the play as the youngest of the company. ‘The stage is very narrow, you know.’

 
‘Oh! don’t be afraid,’ said Mr. Evans, with a very self-satisfied air; ‘I shall fall with my head “off,” and then I can’t do any harm.’

 
‘But, egad,’ said the manager, rubbing his hands, ‘we shall make a decided hit in “Masaniello.” Harleigh sings that music admirably.’

 
Everybody echoed the sentiment. Mr. Harleigh smiled, and looked foolish—not an unusual thing with him—hummed’ Behold how brightly breaks the morning,’ and blushed as red as the fisherman’s nightcap he was trying on.

 
‘Let’s see,’ resumed the manager, telling the number on his fingers, ‘we shall have three dancing female peasants, besides Fenella, and four fishermen. Then, there’s our man Tom; he can have a pair of ducks of mine, and a check shirt of Bob’s, and a red nightcap, and he’ll do for another—that’s five. In the choruses, of course, we can sing at the sides; and in the market-scene we can walk about in cloaks and things. When the revolt takes place, Tom must keep rushing in on one side and out on the other, with a pickaxe, as fast as he can. The effect will be electrical; it will look exactly as if there were an immense number of ’em. And in the eruption-scene we must burn the red fire, and upset the tea-trays, and make all sorts of noises—and it’s sure to do.’

 
‘Sure! sure!’ cried all the performers unâ voce—and away hurried Mr. Sempronius Gattleton to wash the burnt cork off his face, and superintend the ‘setting up’ of some of the amateur-painted, but never-sufficiently-to-be-admired, scenery.

 
Mrs. Gattleton was a kind, good-tempered, vulgar soul, exceedingly fond of her husband and children, and entertaining only three dislikes. In the first place, she had a natural antipathy to anybody else’s unmarried daughters; in the second, she was in bodily fear of anything in the shape of ridicule; lastly—almost a necessary consequence of this feeling—she regarded, with feelings of the utmost horror, one Mrs. Joseph Porter over the way. However, the good folks of Clapham and its vicinity stood very much in awe of scandal and sarcasm; and thus Mrs. Joseph Porter was courted, and flattered, and caressed, and invited, for much the same reason that induces a poor author, without a farthing in his pocket, to behave with extraordinary civility to a twopenny postman.

 
‘Never mind, ma,’ said Miss Emma Porter, in colloquy with her respected relative, and trying to look unconcerned; ‘if they had invited me, you know that neither you nor pa would have allowed me to take part in such an exhibition.’

 
‘Just what I should have thought from your high sense of propriety,’ returned the mother. ‘I am glad to see, Emma, you know how to designate the proceeding.’ Miss P., by-the-bye, had only the week before made ‘an exhibition’ of herself for four days, behind a counter at a fancy fair, to all and every of her Majesty’s liege subjects who were disposed to pay a shilling each for the privilege of seeing some four dozen girls flirting with strangers, and playing at shop.

 
‘There!’ said Mrs. Porter, looking out of window; ‘there are two rounds of beef and a ham going in—clearly for sandwiches; and Thomas, the pastry-cook, says, there have been twelve dozen tarts ordered, besides blancmange and jellies. Upon my word! think of the Miss Gattletons in fancy dresses, too!’

 
‘Oh, it’s too ridiculous!’ said Miss Porter, hysterically.
‘I’ll manage to put them a little out of conceit with the business, however,’ said Mrs. Porter; and out she went on her charitable errand.

 
‘Well, my dear Mrs. Gattleton,’ said Mrs. Joseph Porter, after they had been closeted for some time, and when, by dint of indefatigable pumping, she had managed to extract all the news about the play, ‘well, my dear, people may say what they please; indeed we know they will, for some folks are so ill-natured. Ah, my dear Miss Lucina, how d’ye do? I was just telling your mamma that I have heard it said, that—’

 
‘What?’

 
‘Mrs. Porter is alluding to the play, my dear,’ said Mrs. Gattleton; ‘she was, I am sorry to say, just informing me that—’

 
‘Oh, now pray don’t mention it,’ interrupted Mrs. Porter; ‘it’s most absurd—quite as absurd as young What’s-his-name saying he wondered how Miss Caroline, with such a foot and ankle, could have the vanity to play Fenella.’

 
‘Highly impertinent, whoever said it,’ said Mrs. Gattleton, bridling up.

 
‘Certainly, my dear,’ chimed in the delighted Mrs. Porter; ‘most undoubtedly! Because, as I said, if Miss Caroline does play Fenella, it doesn’t follow, as a matter of course, that she should think she has a pretty foot;—and then—such puppies as these young men are—he had the impudence to say, that—’

 
How far the amiable Mrs. Porter might have succeeded in her pleasant purpose, it is impossible to say, had not the entrance of Mr. Thomas Balderstone, Mrs. Gattleton’s brother, familiarly called in the family ‘Uncle Tom,’ changed the course of conversation, and suggested to her mind an excellent plan of operation on the evening of the play.

 
Uncle Tom was very rich, and exceedingly fond of his nephews and nieces: as a matter of course, therefore, he was an object of great importance in his own family. He was one of the best-hearted men in existence: always in a good temper, and always talking. It was his boast that he wore top-boots on all occasions, and had never worn a black silk neckerchief; and it was his pride that he remembered all the principal plays of Shakspeare from beginning to end—and so he did. The result of this parrot-like accomplishment was, that he was not only perpetually quoting himself, but that he could never sit by, and hear a misquotation from the ‘Swan of Avon’ without setting the unfortunate delinquent right. He was also something of a wag; never missed an opportunity of saying what he considered a good thing, and invariably laughed until he cried at anything that appeared to him mirth-moving or ridiculous.

 
‘Well, girls!’ said Uncle Tom, after the preparatory ceremony of kissing and how-d’ye-do-ing had been gone through—‘how d’ye get on? Know your parts, eh?—Lucina, my dear, act II., scene I—place, left-cue—“Unknown fate,”—What’s next, eh?—Go on—“The Heavens—”’

 
‘Oh, yes,’ said Miss Lucina, ‘I recollect –  “The heavens forbid But that our loves and comforts should increase Even as our days do grow!”’

 
‘Make a pause here and there,’ said the old gentleman, who was a great critic. ‘“But that our loves and comforts should increase”—emphasis on the last syllable, “crease,”—loud “even,”—one, two, three, four; then loud again, “as our days do grow;” emphasis on days. That’s the way, my dear; trust to your uncle for emphasis. Ah! Sem, my boy, how are you?’

 
‘Very well, thankee, uncle,’ returned Mr. Sempronius, who had just appeared, looking something like a ringdove, with a small circle round each eye: the result of his constant corking. ‘Of course we see you on Thursday.’

 
‘Of course, of course, my dear boy.’

 
‘What a pity it is your nephew didn’t think of making you prompter, Mr. Balderstone!’ whispered Mrs. Joseph Porter; ‘you would have been invaluable.’

 
‘Well, I flatter myself, I should have been tolerably up to the thing,’ responded Uncle Tom.

 
‘I must bespeak sitting next you on the night,’ resumed Mrs. Porter; ‘and then, if our dear young friends here, should be at all wrong, you will be able to enlighten me. I shall be so interested.’

 
‘I am sure I shall be most happy to give you any assistance in my power’
‘Mind, it’s a bargain.’

 
‘Certainly.’

 
‘I don’t know how it is,’ said Mrs. Gattleton to her daughters, as they were sitting round the fire in the evening, looking over their parts, ‘but I really very much wish Mrs. Joseph Porter wasn’t coming on Thursday. I am sure she’s scheming something.’

 
‘She can’t make us ridiculous, however,’ observed Mr. Sempronius Gattleton, haughtily.

 
The long-looked-for Thursday arrived in due course, and brought with it, as Mr. Gattleton, senior, philosophically observed, ‘no disappointments, to speak of.’ True, it was yet a matter of doubt whether Cassio would be enabled to get into the dress which had been sent for him from the masquerade warehouse. It was equally uncertain whether the principal female singer would be sufficiently recovered from the influenza to make her appearance; Mr. Harleigh, the Masaniello of the night, was hoarse, and rather unwell, in consequence of the great quantity of lemon and sugar-candy he had eaten to improve his voice; and two flutes and a violoncello had pleaded severe colds.

 

 

What of that? the audience were all coming. Everybody knew his part: the dresses were covered with tinsel and spangles; the white plumes looked beautiful; Mr. Evans had practised falling until he was bruised from head to foot and quite perfect; Iago was sure that, in the stabbing-scene, he should make ‘a decided hit.’ A self-taught deaf gentleman, who had kindly offered to bring his flute, would be a most valuable addition to the orchestra; Miss Jenkins’s talent for the piano was too well known to be doubted for an instant; Mr. Cape had practised the violin accompaniment with her frequently; and Mr. Brown, who had kindly undertaken, at a few hours’ notice, to bring his violoncello, would, no doubt, manage extremely well.

 
Seven o’clock came, and so did the audience; all the rank and fashion of Clapham and its vicinity was fast filling the theatre. There were the Smiths, the Gubbinses, the Nixons, the Dixons, the Hicksons, people with all sorts of names, two aldermen, a sheriff in perspective, Sir Thomas Glumper (who had been knighted in the last reign for carrying up an address on somebody’s escaping from nothing); and last, not least, there were Mrs. Joseph Porter and Uncle Tom, seated in the centre of the third row from the stage; Mrs. P. amusing Uncle Tom with all sorts of stories, and Uncle Tom amusing every one else by laughing most immoderately.

 
Ting, ting, ting! went the prompter’s bell at eight o’clock precisely, and dash went the orchestra into the overture to ‘The Men of Prometheus.’ The pianoforte player hammered away with laudable perseverance; and the violoncello, which struck in at intervals, ‘sounded very well, considering.’ The unfortunate individual, however, who had undertaken to play the flute accompaniment ‘at sight,’ found, from fatal experience, the perfect truth of the old adage, ‘ought of sight, out of mind;’ for being very near-sighted, and being placed at a considerable distance from his music-book, all he had an opportunity of doing was to play a bar now and then in the wrong place, and put the other performers out. It is, however, but justice to Mr. Brown to say that he did this to admiration. The overture, in fact, was not unlike a race between the different instruments; the piano came in first by several bars, and the violoncello next, quite distancing the poor flute; for the deaf gentleman too-too’d away, quite unconscious that he was at all wrong, until apprised, by the applause of the audience, that the overture was concluded. A considerable bustle and shuffling of feet was then heard upon the stage, accompanied by whispers of ‘Here’s a pretty go!—what’s to be done?’ &c. The audience applauded again, by way of raising the spirits of the performers; and then Mr. Sempronius desired the prompter, in a very audible voice, to ‘clear the stage, and ring up.’

 
Ting, ting, ting! went the bell again. Everybody sat down; the curtain shook; rose sufficiently high to display several pair of yellow boots paddling about; and there remained.

 
Ting, ting, ting! went the bell again. The curtain was violently convulsed, but rose no higher; the audience tittered; Mrs. Porter looked at Uncle Tom; Uncle Tom looked at everybody, rubbing his hands, and laughing with perfect rapture. After as much ringing with the little bell as a muffin-boy would make in going down a tolerably long street, and a vast deal of whispering, hammering, and calling for nails and cord, the curtain at length rose, and discovered Mr. Sempronius Gattleton solus, and decked for Othello. After three distinct rounds of applause, during which Mr. Sempronius applied his right hand to his left breast, and bowed in the most approved manner, the manager advanced and said:

 
‘Ladies and Gentlemen—I assure you it is with sincere regret, that I regret to be compelled to inform you, that Iago who was to have played Mr. Wilson—I beg your pardon, Ladies and Gentlemen, but I am naturally somewhat agitated (applause)—I mean, Mr. Wilson, who was to have played Iago, is—that is, has been—or, in other words, Ladies and Gentlemen, the fact is, that I have just received a note, in which I am informed that Iago is unavoidably detained at the Post-office this evening. Under these circumstances, I trust—a—a—amateur performance—a—another gentleman undertaken to read the part—request indulgence for a short time—courtesy and kindness of a British audience.’ Overwhelming applause. Exit Mr. Sempronius Gattleton, and curtain falls.

 
The audience were, of course, exceedingly good-humoured; the whole business was a joke; and accordingly they waited for an hour with the utmost patience, being enlivened by an interlude of rout-cakes and lemonade. It appeared by Mr. Sempronius’s subsequent explanation, that the delay would not have been so great, had it not so happened that when the substitute Iago had finished dressing, and just as the play was on the point of commencing, the original Iago unexpectedly arrived. The former was therefore compelled to undress, and the latter to dress for his part; which, as he found some difficulty in getting into his clothes, occupied no inconsiderable time. At last, the tragedy began in real earnest. It went off well enough, until the third scene of the first act, in which Othello addresses the Senate: the only remarkable circumstance being, that as Iago could not get on any of the stage boots, in consequence of his feet being violently swelled with the heat and excitement, he was under the necessity of playing the part in a pair of Wellingtons, which contrasted rather oddly with his richly embroidered pantaloons. When Othello started with his address to the Senate (whose dignity was represented by, the Duke, a carpenter, two men engaged on the recommendation of the gardener, and a boy), Mrs. Porter found the opportunity she so anxiously sought.
Mr. Sempronius proceeded:

 
‘“Most potent, grave, and reverend signiors, My very noble and approv’d good masters, That I have ta’en away this old man’s daughter, It is most true;—rude am I in my speech—”’

 
‘Is that right?’ whispered Mrs. Porter to Uncle Tom.

 
‘No.’

 
‘Tell him so, then.’

 
‘I will. Sem!’ called out Uncle Tom, ‘that’s wrong, my boy.’

 
‘What’s wrong, uncle?’ demanded Othello, quite forgetting the dignity of his situation.

 

 
‘You’ve left out something. “True I have married—”’

 

 
‘Oh, ah!’ said Mr. Sempronius, endeavouring to hide his confusion as much and as ineffectually as the audience attempted to conceal their half-suppressed tittering, by coughing with extraordinary violence –

 

 
– ‘“true I have married her; – The very head and front of my offending Hath this extent; no more.”

 
(Aside) Why don’t you prompt, father?’

 
‘Because I’ve mislaid my spectacles,’ said poor Mr. Gattleton, almost dead with the heat and bustle.

 
‘There, now it’s “rude am I,”’ said Uncle Tom.

 
‘Yes, I know it is,’ returned the unfortunate manager, proceeding with his part.
It would be useless and tiresome to quote the number of instances in which Uncle Tom, now completely in his element, and instigated by the mischievous Mrs. Porter, corrected the mistakes of the performers; suffice it to say, that having mounted his hobby, nothing could induce him to dismount; so, during the whole remainder of the play, he performed a kind of running accompaniment, by muttering everybody’s part as it was being delivered, in an under-tone. The audience were highly amused, Mrs. Porter delighted, the performers embarrassed; Uncle Tom never was better pleased in all his life; and Uncle Tom’s nephews and nieces had never, although the declared heirs to his large property, so heartily wished him gathered to his fathers as on that memorable occasion.

 
Several other minor causes, too, united to damp the ardour of the dramatis personae. None of the performers could walk in their tights, or move their arms in their jackets; the pantaloons were too small, the boots too large, and the swords of all shapes and sizes. Mr. Evans, naturally too tall for the scenery, wore a black velvet hat with immense white plumes, the glory of which was lost in ‘the flies;’ and the only other inconvenience of which was, that when it was off his head he could not put it on, and when it was on he could not take it off. Notwithstanding all his practice, too, he fell with his head and shoulders as neatly through one of the side scenes, as a harlequin would jump through a panel in a Christmas pantomime. The pianoforte player, overpowered by the extreme heat of the room, fainted away at the commencement of the entertainments, leaving the music of ‘Masaniello’ to the flute and violoncello. The orchestra complained that Mr. Harleigh put them out, and Mr. Harleigh declared that the orchestra prevented his singing a note. The fishermen, who were hired for the occasion, revolted to the very life, positively refusing to play without an increased allowance of spirits; and, their demand being complied with, getting drunk in the eruption-scene as naturally as possible. The red fire, which was burnt at the conclusion of the second act, not only nearly suffocated the audience, but nearly set the house on fire into the bargain; and, as it was, the remainder of the piece was acted in a thick fog.

 
In short, the whole affair was, as Mrs. Joseph Porter triumphantly told everybody, ‘a complete failure.’ The audience went home at four o’clock in the morning, exhausted with laughter, suffering from severe headaches, and smelling terribly of brimstone and gunpowder. The Messrs. Gattleton, senior and junior, retired to rest, with the vague idea of emigrating to Swan River early in the ensuing week.

 
Rose Villa has once again resumed its wonted appearance; the dining-room furniture has been replaced; the tables are as nicely polished as formerly; the horsehair chairs are ranged against the wall, as regularly as ever; Venetian blinds have been fitted to every window in the house to intercept the prying gaze of Mrs. Joseph Porter. The subject of theatricals is never mentioned in the Gattleton family, unless, indeed, by Uncle Tom, who cannot refrain from sometimes expressing his surprise and regret at finding that his nephews and nieces appear to have lost the relish they once possessed for the beauties of Shakspeare, and quotations from the works of that immortal bard.

A Dinner at Poplar Walk (Mr Minns And His Cousin)

In 1833 a young reporter by the name of Charles Dickens posted a manuscript through the letterbox of The Monthly Magazine.  The story was called A Dinner at Poplar Walk and beneath the title was written the pen name of Boz.

This was the first of the famous ‘Sketches’ and was also the first published work of the author whose works would go on to influence not only his own generations but also those that followed.

With all of this extra time on your hands you may enjoy going back to where it all began:

 

A Dinner at Poplar Walk.  By Boz:

Mr. Augustus Minns was a bachelor, of about forty as he said—of about eight-and-forty as his friends said. He was always exceedingly clean, precise, and tidy; perhaps somewhat priggish, and the most retiring man in the world. He usually wore a brown frock-coat without a wrinkle, light inexplicables without a spot, a neat neckerchief with a remarkably neat tie, and boots without a fault; moreover, he always carried a brown silk umbrella with an ivory handle. He was a clerk in Somerset-house, or, as he said himself, he held ‘a responsible situation under Government.’ He had a good and increasing salary, in addition to some 10,000l. of his own (invested in the funds), and he occupied a first floor in Tavistock-street, Covent-garden, where he had resided for twenty years, having been in the habit of quarrelling with his landlord the whole time: regularly giving notice of his intention to quit on the first day of every quarter, and as regularly countermanding it on the second. There were two classes of created objects which he held in the deepest and most unmingled horror; these were dogs, and children. He was not unamiable, but he could, at any time, have viewed the execution of a dog, or the assassination of an infant, with the liveliest satisfaction. Their habits were at variance with his love of order; and his love of order was as powerful as his love of life. Mr. Augustus Minns had no relations, in or near London, with the exception of his cousin, Mr. Octavius Budden, to whose son, whom he had never seen (for he disliked the father), he had consented to become godfather by proxy. Mr. Budden having realised a moderate fortune by exercising the trade or calling of a corn-chandler, and having a great predilection for the country, had purchased a cottage in the vicinity of Stamford-hill, whither he retired with the wife of his bosom, and his only son, Master Alexander Augustus Budden. One evening, as Mr. and Mrs. B. were admiring their son, discussing his various merits, talking over his education, and disputing whether the classics should be made an essential part thereof, the lady pressed so strongly upon her husband the propriety of cultivating the friendship of Mr. Minns in behalf of their son, that Mr. Budden at last made up his mind, that it should not be his fault if he and his cousin were not in future more intimate.

 
‘I’ll break the ice, my love,’ said Mr. Budden, stirring up the sugar at the bottom of his glass of brandy-and-water, and casting a sidelong look at his spouse to see the effect of the announcement of his determination, ‘by asking Minns down to dine with us, on Sunday.’

 
‘Then pray, Budden, write to your cousin at once,’ replied Mrs. Budden. ‘Who knows, if we could only get him down here, but he might take a fancy to our Alexander, and leave him his property?—Alick, my dear, take your legs off the rail of the chair!’

 
‘Very true,’ said Mr. Budden, musing, ‘very true indeed, my love!’ On the following morning, as Mr. Minns was sitting at his breakfast-table, alternately biting his dry toast and casting a look upon the columns of his morning paper, which he always read from the title to the printer’s name, he heard a loud knock at the street-door; which was shortly afterwards followed by the entrance of his servant, who put into his hands a particularly small card, on which was engraven in immense letters, ‘Mr. Octavius Budden, Amelia Cottage (Mrs. B.’s name was Amelia), Poplar-walk, Stamford-hill.’

 
‘Budden!’ ejaculated Minns, ‘what can bring that vulgar man here!—say I’m asleep—say I’m out, and shall never be home again—anything to keep him down-stairs.’

 
‘But please, sir, the gentleman’s coming up,’ replied the servant, and the fact was made evident, by an appalling creaking of boots on the staircase accompanied by a pattering noise; the cause of which, Minns could not, for the life of him, divine.

 
‘Hem—show the gentleman in,’ said the unfortunate bachelor. Exit servant, and enter Octavius preceded by a large white dog, dressed in a suit of fleecy hosiery, with pink eyes, large ears, and no perceptible tail.

 
The cause of the pattering on the stairs was but too plain. Mr. Augustus Minns staggered beneath the shock of the dog’s appearance.

 
‘My dear fellow, how are you?’ said Budden, as he entered.

 
He always spoke at the top of his voice, and always said the same thing half-a-dozen times.

 
‘How are you, my hearty?’

 
‘How do you do, Mr. Budden?—pray take a chair!’ politely stammered the discomfited Minns.

 
‘Thank you—thank you—well—how are you, eh?’

 
‘Uncommonly well, thank you,’ said Minns, casting a diabolical look at the dog, who, with his hind legs on the floor, and his fore paws resting on the table, was dragging a bit of bread and butter out of a plate, preparatory to devouring it, with the buttered side next the carpet.

 
‘Ah, you rogue!’ said Budden to his dog; ‘you see, Minns, he’s like me, always at home, eh, my boy!—Egad, I’m precious hot and hungry! I’ve walked all the way from Stamford-hill this morning.’

 
‘Have you breakfasted?’ inquired Minns.

 
‘Oh, no!—came to breakfast with you; so ring the bell, my dear fellow, will you? and let’s have another cup and saucer, and the cold ham.—Make myself at home, you see!’ continued Budden, dusting his boots with a table-napkin. ‘Ha!—ha!—ha!—’pon my life, I’m hungry.’

 
Minns rang the bell, and tried to smile.

 
‘I decidedly never was so hot in my life,’ continued Octavius, wiping his forehead; ‘well, but how are you, Minns? ‘Pon my soul, you wear capitally!’

 
‘D’ye think so?’ said Minns; and he tried another smile.

 
‘’Pon my life, I do!’

 
‘Mrs. B. and—what’s his name—quite well?’

 
‘Alick—my son, you mean; never better—never better. But at such a place as we’ve got at Poplar-walk, you know, he couldn’t be ill if he tried. When I first saw it, by Jove! it looked so knowing, with the front garden, and the green railings and the brass knocker, and all that—I really thought it was a cut above me.’

 
‘Don’t you think you’d like the ham better,’ interrupted Minns, ‘if you cut it the other way?’ He saw, with feelings which it is impossible to describe, that his visitor was cutting or rather maiming the ham, in utter violation of all established rules.

 
‘No, thank ye,’ returned Budden, with the most barbarous indifference to crime, ‘I prefer it this way, it eats short. But I say, Minns, when will you come down and see us? You will be delighted with the place; I know you will. Amelia and I were talking about you the other night, and Amelia said—another lump of sugar, please; thank ye—she said, don’t you think you could contrive, my dear, to say to Mr. Minns, in a friendly way—come down, sir—damn the dog! he’s spoiling your curtains, Minns—ha!—ha!—ha!’ Minns leaped from his seat as though he had received the discharge from a galvanic battery.

 
‘Come out, sir!—go out, hoo!’ cried poor Augustus, keeping, nevertheless, at a very respectful distance from the dog; having read of a case of hydrophobia in the paper of that morning. By dint of great exertion, much shouting, and a marvellous deal of poking under the tables with a stick and umbrella, the dog was at last dislodged, and placed on the landing outside the door, where he immediately commenced a most appalling howling; at the same time vehemently scratching the paint off the two nicely-varnished bottom panels, until they resembled the interior of a backgammon-board.

 
‘A good dog for the country that!’ coolly observed Budden to the distracted Minns, ‘but he’s not much used to confinement. But now, Minns, when will you come down? I’ll take no denial, positively. Let’s see, to-day’s Thursday.—Will you come on Sunday? We dine at five, don’t say no—do.’

 
After a great deal of pressing, Mr. Augustus Minns, driven to despair, accepted the invitation, and promised to be at Poplar-walk on the ensuing Sunday, at a quarter before five to the minute.

 
‘Now mind the direction,’ said Budden: ‘the coach goes from the Flower-pot, in Bishopsgate-street, every half hour. When the coach stops at the Swan, you’ll see, immediately opposite you, a white house.’

 
‘Which is your house—I understand,’ said Minns, wishing to cut short the visit, and the story, at the same time.

 
‘No, no, that’s not mine; that’s Grogus’s, the great ironmonger’s. I was going to say—you turn down by the side of the white house till you can’t go another step further—mind that!—and then you turn to your right, by some stables—well; close to you, you’ll see a wall with “Beware of the Dog” written on it in large letters—(Minns shuddered)—go along by the side of that wall for about a quarter of a mile—and anybody will show you which is my place.’

 
‘Very well—thank ye—good-bye.’

 
‘Be punctual.’

 
‘Certainly: good morning.’

 
‘I say, Minns, you’ve got a card.’

 
‘Yes, I have; thank ye.’ And Mr. Octavius Budden departed, leaving his cousin looking forward to his visit on the following Sunday, with the feelings of a penniless poet to the weekly visit of his Scotch landlady.

 
Sunday arrived; the sky was bright and clear; crowds of people were hurrying along the streets, intent on their different schemes of pleasure for the day; everything and everybody looked cheerful and happy except Mr. Augustus Minns.

 
The day was fine, but the heat was considerable; when Mr. Minns had fagged up the shady side of Fleet-street, Cheapside, and Threadneedle-street, he had become pretty warm, tolerably dusty, and it was getting late into the bargain. By the most extraordinary good fortune, however, a coach was waiting at the Flower-pot, into which Mr. Augustus Minns got, on the solemn assurance of the cad that the vehicle would start in three minutes—that being the very utmost extremity of time it was allowed to wait by Act of Parliament. A quarter of an hour elapsed, and there were no signs of moving. Minns looked at his watch for the sixth time.

 
‘Coachman, are you going or not?’ bawled Mr. Minns, with his head and half his body out of the coach window.

 
‘Di-rectly, sir,’ said the coachman, with his hands in his pockets, looking as much unlike a man in a hurry as possible.

 
‘Bill, take them cloths off.’ Five minutes more elapsed: at the end of which time the coachman mounted the box, from whence he looked down the street, and up the street, and hailed all the pedestrians for another five minutes.

 
‘Coachman! if you don’t go this moment, I shall get out,’ said Mr. Minns, rendered desperate by the lateness of the hour, and the impossibility of being in Poplar-walk at the appointed time.

 
‘Going this minute, sir,’ was the reply;—and, accordingly, the machine trundled on for a couple of hundred yards, and then stopped again. Minns doubled himself up in a corner of the coach, and abandoned himself to his fate, as a child, a mother, a bandbox and a parasol, became his fellow-passengers.

 
The child was an affectionate and an amiable infant; the little dear mistook Minns for his other parent, and screamed to embrace him.

 
‘Be quiet, dear,’ said the mamma, restraining the impetuosity of the darling, whose little fat legs were kicking, and stamping, and twining themselves into the most complicated forms, in an ecstasy of impatience. ‘Be quiet, dear, that’s not your papa.’
‘Thank Heaven I am not!’ thought Minns, as the first gleam of pleasure he had experienced that morning shone like a meteor through his wretchedness.

 
Playfulness was agreeably mingled with affection in the disposition of the boy. When satisfied that Mr. Minns was not his parent, he endeavoured to attract his notice by scraping his drab trousers with his dirty shoes, poking his chest with his mamma’s parasol, and other nameless endearments peculiar to infancy, with which he beguiled the tediousness of the ride, apparently very much to his own satisfaction.

 
When the unfortunate gentleman arrived at the Swan, he found to his great dismay, that it was a quarter past five. The white house, the stables, the ‘Beware of the Dog,’—every landmark was passed, with a rapidity not unusual to a gentleman of a certain age when too late for dinner. After the lapse of a few minutes, Mr. Minns found himself opposite a yellow brick house with a green door, brass knocker, and door-plate, green window-frames and ditto railings, with ‘a garden’ in front, that is to say, a small loose bit of gravelled ground, with one round and two scalene triangular beds, containing a fir-tree, twenty or thirty bulbs, and an unlimited number of marigolds. The taste of Mr. and Mrs. Budden was further displayed by the appearance of a Cupid on each side of the door, perched upon a heap of large chalk flints, variegated with pink conch-shells. His knock at the door was answered by a stumpy boy, in drab livery, cotton stockings and high-lows, who, after hanging his hat on one of the dozen brass pegs which ornamented the passage, denominated by courtesy ‘The Hall,’ ushered him into a front drawing-room commanding a very extensive view of the backs of the neighbouring houses. The usual ceremony of introduction, and so forth, over, Mr. Minns took his seat: not a little agitated at finding that he was the last comer, and, somehow or other, the Lion of about a dozen people, sitting together in a small drawing-room, getting rid of that most tedious of all time, the time preceding dinner.

 
‘Well, Brogson,’ said Budden, addressing an elderly gentleman in a black coat, drab knee-breeches, and long gaiters, who, under pretence of inspecting the prints in an Annual, had been engaged in satisfying himself on the subject of Mr. Minns’s general appearance, by looking at him over the tops of the leaves—‘Well, Brogson, what do ministers mean to do? Will they go out, or what?’

 
‘Oh—why—really, you know, I’m the last person in the world to ask for news. Your cousin, from his situation, is the most likely person to answer the question.’

 
Mr. Minns assured the last speaker, that although he was in Somerset-house, he possessed no official communication relative to the projects of his Majesty’s Ministers. But his remark was evidently received incredulously; and no further conjectures being hazarded on the subject, a long pause ensued, during which the company occupied themselves in coughing and blowing their noses, until the entrance of Mrs. Budden caused a general rise.

 
The ceremony of introduction being over, dinner was announced, and down-stairs the party proceeded accordingly—Mr. Minns escorting Mrs. Budden as far as the drawing-room door, but being prevented, by the narrowness of the staircase, from extending his gallantry any farther. The dinner passed off as such dinners usually do. Ever and anon, amidst the clatter of knives and forks, and the hum of conversation, Mr. B.’s voice might be heard, asking a friend to take wine, and assuring him he was glad to see him; and a great deal of by-play took place between Mrs. B. and the servants, respecting the removal of the dishes, during which her countenance assumed all the variations of a weather-glass, from ‘stormy’ to ‘set fair.’

 
Upon the dessert and wine being placed on the table, the servant, in compliance with a significant look from Mrs. B., brought down ‘Master Alexander,’ habited in a sky-blue suit with silver buttons; and possessing hair of nearly the same colour as the metal. After sundry praises from his mother, and various admonitions as to his behaviour from his father, he was introduced to his godfather.

 
‘Well, my little fellow—you are a fine boy, ain’t you?’ said Mr. Minns, as happy as a tomtit on birdlime.

 
‘Yes.’

 
‘How old are you?’

 
‘Eight, next We’nsday. How old are you?’

 
‘Alexander,’ interrupted his mother, ‘how dare you ask Mr. Minns how old he is!’
‘He asked me how old I was,’ said the precocious child, to whom Minns had from that moment internally resolved that he never would bequeath one shilling. As soon as the titter occasioned by the observation had subsided, a little smirking man with red whiskers, sitting at the bottom of the table, who during the whole of dinner had been endeavouring to obtain a listener to some stories about Sheridan, called, out, with a very patronising air, ‘Alick, what part of speech is be.’

 
‘A verb.’
‘That’s a good boy,’ said Mrs. Budden, with all a mother’s pride.
‘Now, you know what a verb is?’
‘A verb is a word which signifies to be, to do, or to suffer; as, I am—I rule—I am ruled. Give me an apple, Ma.’

 
‘I’ll give you an apple,’ replied the man with the red whiskers, who was an established friend of the family, or in other words was always invited by Mrs. Budden, whether Mr. Budden liked it or not, ‘if you’ll tell me what is the meaning of be.’

 
‘Be?’ said the prodigy, after a little hesitation—‘an insect that gathers honey.’
‘No, dear,’ frowned Mrs. Budden; ‘B double E is the substantive.’

 
‘I don’t think he knows much yet about common substantives,’ said the smirking gentleman, who thought this an admirable opportunity for letting off a joke. ‘It’s clear he’s not very well acquainted with proper names. He! he! he!’

 
‘Gentlemen,’ called out Mr. Budden, from the end of the table, in a stentorian voice, and with a very important air, ‘will you have the goodness to charge your glasses? I have a toast to propose.’

 
‘Hear! hear!’ cried the gentlemen, passing the decanters. After they had made the round of the table, Mr. Budden proceeded—‘Gentlemen; there is an individual present—’
‘Hear! hear!’ said the little man with red whiskers.

 
‘Pray be quiet, Jones,’ remonstrated Budden.

 
‘I say, gentlemen, there is an individual present,’ resumed the host, ‘in whose society, I am sure we must take great delight—and—and—the conversation of that individual must have afforded to every one present, the utmost pleasure.’ [‘Thank Heaven, he does not mean me!’ thought Minns, conscious that his diffidence and exclusiveness had prevented his saying above a dozen words since he entered the house.] ‘Gentlemen, I am but a humble individual myself, and I perhaps ought to apologise for allowing any individual feeling of friendship and affection for the person I allude to, to induce me to venture to rise, to propose the health of that person—a person that, I am sure—that is to say, a person whose virtues must endear him to those who know him—and those who have not the pleasure of knowing him, cannot dislike him.’

 
‘Hear! hear!’ said the company, in a tone of encouragement and approval.

 
‘Gentlemen,’ continued Budden, ‘my cousin is a man who—who is a relation of my own.’ (Hear! hear!) Minns groaned audibly. ‘Who I am most happy to see here, and who, if he were not here, would certainly have deprived us of the great pleasure we all feel in seeing him. (Loud cries of hear!) Gentlemen, I feel that I have already trespassed on your attention for too long a time. With every feeling—of—with every sentiment of—of—’
‘Gratification’—suggested the friend of the family.

 
‘—Of gratification, I beg to propose the health of Mr. Minns.’

 
‘Standing, gentlemen!’ shouted the indefatigable little man with the whiskers—‘and with the honours. Take your time from me, if you please. Hip! hip! hip!—Za!—Hip! hip! hip!—Za!—Hip hip!—Za-a-a!’

 
All eyes were now fixed on the subject of the toast, who by gulping down port wine at the imminent hazard of suffocation, endeavoured to conceal his confusion. After as long a pause as decency would admit, he rose, but, as the newspapers sometimes say in their reports, ‘we regret that we are quite unable to give even the substance of the honourable gentleman’s observations.’ The words ‘present company—honour—present occasion,’ and ‘great happiness’—heard occasionally, and repeated at intervals, with a countenance expressive of the utmost confusion and misery, convinced the company that he was making an excellent speech; and, accordingly, on his resuming his seat, they cried ‘Bravo!’ and manifested tumultuous applause. Jones, who had been long watching his opportunity, then darted up.

 
‘Budden,’ said he, ‘will you allow me to propose a toast?’

 
‘Certainly,’ replied Budden, adding in an under-tone to Minns right across the table, ‘Devilish sharp fellow that: you’ll be very much pleased with his speech. He talks equally well on any subject.’ Minns bowed, and Mr. Jones proceeded: ‘It has on several occasions, in various instances, under many circumstances, and in different companies, fallen to my lot to propose a toast to those by whom, at the time, I have had the honour to be surrounded, I have sometimes, I will cheerfully own—for why should I deny it?—felt the overwhelming nature of the task I have undertaken, and my own utter incapability to do justice to the subject. If such have been my feelings, however, on former occasions, what must they be now—now—under the extraordinary circumstances in which I am placed. (Hear! hear!) To describe my feelings accurately, would be impossible; but I cannot give you a better idea of them, gentlemen, than by referring to a circumstance which happens, oddly enough, to occur to my mind at the moment. On one occasion, when that truly great and illustrious man, Sheridan, was—’

 
Now, there is no knowing what new villainy in the form of a joke would have been heaped on the grave of that very ill-used man, Mr. Sheridan, if the boy in drab had not at that moment entered the room in a breathless state, to report that, as it was a very wet night, the nine o’clock stage had come round, to know whether there was anybody going to town, as, in that case, he (the nine o’clock) had room for one inside.

 
Mr. Minns started up; and, despite countless exclamations of surprise, and entreaties to stay, persisted in his determination to accept the vacant place. But, the brown silk umbrella was nowhere to be found; and as the coachman couldn’t wait, he drove back to the Swan, leaving word for Mr. Minns to ‘run round’ and catch him. However, as it did not occur to Mr. Minns for some ten minutes or so, that he had left the brown silk umbrella with the ivory handle in the other coach, coming down; and, moreover, as he was by no means remarkable for speed, it is no matter of surprise that when he accomplished the feat of ‘running round’ to the Swan, the coach—the last coach—had gone without him.

 
It was somewhere about three o’clock in the morning, when Mr. Augustus Minns knocked feebly at the street-door of his lodgings in Tavistock-street, cold, wet, cross, and miserable. He made his will next morning, and his professional man informs us, in that strict confidence in which we inform the public, that neither the name of Mr. Octavius Budden, nor of Mrs. Amelia Budden, nor of Master Alexander Augustus Budden, appears therein.

 

Researching Staplehurst

Life is confusing at the moment and across the globe there is a huge sense of uncertainty. Businesses are struggling as the effects of self isolating and social distancing take hold and many people (myself and Liz among them) who are self employed in the so-called ‘gig economy’ are fearful of what the future holds from a financial standpoint.

We know our friends and family are thinking of us just as we are thinking about them, and that includes our many friends across the globe.

I have been writing a blog post over the past couple of weeks, my first since Christmas, and although in the current situation it may seem trite to publish it, I hope that it may divert your fears and restore a sense of normality for a couple of minutes.

Here it is:

 

I have been quiet for a few weeks, for which I apologise, but that does not mean that I have been idle for I have been working to complete the manuscript of my first ever book – a feat that I was never certain I could achieve, so this winter has been a voyage of discovery.

Regular readers of my blog will remember that I have been investigating Charles Dickens’ involvement in the Staplehurst rail disaster of 1865, which occurred on June 9th – five years, to the very day, before he died.

Much of my research has taken place at my laptop, made possible by the fabulous resources available now, such as online census records, the amazing British Newspaper Archive, the complete collection of Charles’ letters.  Added to that cyber collection of information is the huge stack of Dickens biographies that I own, each of which takes a slightly different tack thereby sending me off down different avenues of exploration.  On the way I have become acquainted with others who boarded the tidal train from Folkestone to London on that day and have enjoyed discovering their histories as well as that of my illustrious forebear.

But there is only so much that can be done online and there came a time where good old fashioned legwork was required and it all started at a railway station.  We live in Oxfordshire and our nearest mainline station is Didcot Parkway from where we board the mighty Great Western Railway high speed trains that whisk us into London’s Paddington station.  Nestling behind the electric main lines is The Didcot Railway Centre where a remarkable collection of GWR locomotives and rolling stock is restored, preserved and displayed and it was here that I made my way on a chilly February afternoon to meet Kevin who had offered to explain how a steam locomotive is driven (in writing the book I wanted to take the reader onto the footplate, to feel the heat and hear the noise).

Kevin, wearing a dirty boiler suit made of natural fibres, welcomed me at the gate and gave me an extensive tour of the site, explaining how the locomotive involved in the crash would have looked (he had also been researching and had found out that it was number 199 and had a 2-2-2 configuration.  If you don’t know what any of that means you will just have to buy the book when it is published!).  We stood on footplates and he explained about regulators and valves, brakes and whistles, coal and water. He put up with my ignorance and patiently went through technicalities over and over until it began to make sense to me.

The highlight of the day was the moment that Kevin led me to the steaming panting Railmotor number 93 which was standing at a platform waiting to depart along the short stretch of line, and I was to drive it!  A Railmotor is basically just a carriage with a footplate at one end.  So although one does not get the sensation of riding a huge great locomotive, the manner of driving is the same and this is what Kevin wanted to demonstrate.  On the footplate was the boiler, the drive selector, with which you could select forward or reverse drive, and the huge red leaver attached to the boiler which opened the regulator valve, allowing the huge steam pressure to enter the cylinders and ultimately drive the wheels.

After a very brief lesson I pulled the cord to sound the whistle, and off we went: the sheer amount movement of the boiler suspended in the chassis surprised me and the feeling of such huge latent energy kept in check by purely by iron plates and rivets.  The heat of the furnace, the smell of the coal and steam, the sight of the tracks rushing beneath us, and all the time Kevin telling me to ease off on the regulator, or prepare to sound the whistle, or gently start braking until we came to a smooth stop next to another platform (a feat of which I was ludicrously proud!).

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Having guided the coach back to our starting to point I bade farewell to my new friends taking with me the feeling that at the age of 56 I had driven a steam train, and as I walked back to my car Kevin’s parting words rattled around inside my head: ‘You must come back soon to drive a proper locomotive, so you can understand how limited the visibility is from a cab.’  I didn’t have the heart to tell him that the manuscript will be finished before I can take him up on his offer, because it is one that I will be unable to refuse.

During the week following my visit to Didcot I embarked on my next journey of research when I drove down to the county of my birth, Kent.  I particularly wanted to visit three towns, all of which played an important part in the story.

On the first day I drove to Staplehurst itself, not so much to observe the scene of the crash for I have been there many times, but to board a train bound for Folkestone.  On 9th June 1865 Charles Dickens sailed across the English Channel from Boulogne to Folkestone where he boarded the ill-fated train to London.  I particularly wanted to understand the geography of the quayside, and how passengers would transfer from the steamer to the train.  During the kitchen table period of research I had been sent a few old photographs of the harbour station in Folkestone but I was keen to see it for myself, hence the journey.

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At Staplehurst station I boarded an airy modern train and stood at the window so that I could judge the precise moment we passed over the little bridge crossing the river Beult, the spot at which the accident had occurred 155 years earlier.  Finding the location proved to be difficult as the surrounding fields were flooded obscuring the path of the stream.

The ride to Folkestone lasted around 45 minutes and I disembarked at the modern station to the north of the town and walked towards the harbour.  Folkestone is a typical modern south coast town, slightly down at heel and faded, although the centre is dominated by a huge modern supermarket.  To reach the sea I found myself walking down the ‘Old High Street’ a quaint cobbled lane lined with art galleries and gift shops most of which were closed up for the winter, although one defiantly had its doors open with an ‘A’ board on the pavement declaring that ‘No, this street isn’t closed.  Its just very artisan.’  The other side of the same board read. ‘Thank the Lord that the vapid commercial emptiness of Valentines Day is over.  MOTHER’S DAY IS 22 OF MARCH’

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At the bottom of the steep hill I found myself at the harbour and everything I had read about it in my research began to make sense.  The Harbour Station has long been out of service but in recent years it has been restored and developed as a…I’m not quite sure what, really, a performance space, a gathering spot, who knows?

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What is certain is that I could stand on the old platform and imagine the train waiting to take the passengers from the Victoria steamer.  The platform is built in a long arc stretching towards the end of the sea wall, and next to it there was originally a large custom house of which only the façade survived the war.

From the station itself the Victorian trains would have crossed a swing bridge over the harbour, then over a long viaduct originally built from timber, but now of brick, and then gradually uphill towards the main station in Folkestone at that time, Folkestone Junction, where the main journey to London would have commenced.

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Today the old signal box which stands at the end of the platform, before the swing bridge, has been converted into a tiny café and I found a seat near the old signalling equipment where I did a little writing and enjoyed a ‘Kentish Rarebit’ for my lunch.

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The rest of the afternoon I devoted to a walk around Folkestone, and thanks to the wonders of the internet and Google Maps found my way to an elegant home on the top of a cliff, Albion Villas, where Charles Dickens had stayed for a few months.  As I looked at the building and photographed it a rather frightening woman came out of the door, her head was bound against the chilly wind by a scarlet headscarf and she seemed to be a modern equivalent of Betsy Trotwood from David Copperfield, striding out to admonish me for trespassing on her land.  In reality she couldn’t have been kinder and was happy to tell me all about the house and its history.  We discussed the recent storms which had ravaged Britain and she pointed out an upstairs window which faced the sea: ‘my bedroom!  And, yes, I can confirm that the bed does move!’  With that rather startling revelation in my mind I made my way back to the station for the journey back to Staplehurst.  I made sure that I took in all of the scenery during the ride home so that I could recall exactly what Charles Dickens saw as he rattled through Kent in 1865.  The line of the North Downs to the right, the featureless farmland to the left.  Church spires and conical oast houses with their white cowls, woods and marshes flashed by until I once again crossed the flooded lake that had once been the River Beult and disembarked safely at Staplehurst.  As I drove away from the station I saw a building that had once been the Staplehurst Railway Hotel, which played an important part in the story, for not only were many of the wounded given beds there but the formal inquest was held in the large room downstairs.  It is a hotel no more but has been converted into flats or bedsits and a tiny plaque made of individual self-adhesive black letters on a gold background states that it is now called ‘Charles Dickens Court’, which is ironic for the great man made sure that he did NOT attend the formal proceedings there

 

Boulogne

The second day if my trip was devoted to a trip to France to investigate the city of Boulogne from where the steamer had begun its journey.  I arrived back in Folkestone in plenty of time to catch an early train through the tunnel and arrived in Calais on a beautiful morning.  The drive to Boulogne took a little over half an hour and soon I was searching for a parking space in the shadows of the great ramparts which surround the old town.  Our gold Renault seemed at home in the country of its birth.

My guide for the day was to be Janine Watrin the founder of the Boulogne branch of The Dickens Fellowship organisation and an absolute authority in the subject of Dickens and Boulogne (he had spent a few summers in the city holidaying with his family).  Janine was accompanied by another member of the Fellowship, Hazel, who had been born in Canterbury before marrying a Frenchman and moving to Condette, a few miles outside Boulogne.  Hazel therefore would play the role of translator for the day.

Our tour began with a stroll around the top of the ramparts, a walk that thanks to Janine has recently been named ‘Promenade Charles Dickens’.  Following our perambulations, and having seen a few of the old streets and sights that Dickens knew, we all piled into my car and drove to a large school in a neighbourhood on the edge of the town, set on a hillside.  Janine explained that this is where Charles Dickens and his family stayed when they were in the city.  The view over the docks was beautiful (and would have been more so in Charles’ day, before the proliferation of apartment blocks grew from the soil), and as the bell of the Basilica dully tolled midday I could quite imagine being there, standing on the hillside with great great grandad.

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Lunch was next and we sat in a small café on the quay trying to work out quite where Dickens alighted from the train from Paris and where he boarded the steamer for Folkestone.  Lunch finished Janine (into her 90’s, by the way), led us to a tiny museum located in The Beurières.

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This area of Boulogne was home to the fishermen and was built over 5 streets which were so steep that they form staircases rather than paved roads.  On each side were crammed three story houses, each floor of which was occupied by a single family living in two small rooms, and it was recorded during the 19th Century that 13,000 people lived within the neighbourhood. Children slept on rudimentary cots built into kitchen cupboards to save space, whilst the babies were put down to sleep and shut away in chests of drawers.

There was no running water to these houses, no drainage, no sanitation and the effluent would be disgorged into the street, cascading down the steps in a foul-smelling waterfall.  Rivalries and fights were commonplace, but these were people united in their profession and when a man was lost at sea (as often happened), the community came together to help the grieving family.

Today only one of the streets has survived and the tiny museum in one of the houses at the very top (to which Janine clambered without assistance) was fascinating.  On thing caught my eye particularly, in the background of one of the old photographs of the street there is very definitely a cowl similar to those found on an English Oast House, a design most peculiar to the county of Kent.  I asked our guide what it could be but he did not know.  He did however tell me that the residents of Boulogne traditionally had a much closer relationship with the people of Kent than they did with the citizens of Calais just a few miles up the coast, so the possibility of Kentish industrial architecture influencing the building of businesses in the city is quite understandable.

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Our final stop of the day (having briefly stopped to admire Napoleon standing on top of his column, pointedly facing AWAY from England) was at the Archives where we ploughed through lots of images of Boulogne in the 1860s.  It was here that I was able to discover that the train from Paris came in on one side of the quay and the passengers either walked or took hansom cabs past the fish market to where the steamer waited, moored near to the fashionable casino.

After an hour huddled over a screen the scene that had greeted Charles Dickens in 1865 was a great deal clearer to me and I knew that I could now imbue the facts in my book with a little more local colour.

We all thanked the staff at the archives for their assistance, and then I bade farewell to Janine and Hazel before returning to England where I sat at the little desk in my hotel room and re-wrote the chapter pertaining to Boulogne while the memories were fresh in my mind.

 

Tenterden

Day three of my adventures had been earmarked for Staplehurst itself, possibly visiting the farmer who owns the field through which the railway runs so that I could revisit the scene of the accident once more, but the flooding made such a pilgrimage useless, so instead I decided to visit the Kent and East Sussex Railway in Tenterden to get a little more experience of steam.

When I arrived at the station a fully laden passenger train was getting ready to leave with plumes of white steam seeping from every part of her.  A uniformed guard made sure everyone was onboard, blew his whistle and displayed his flag and from deep within the belly of the great snake a guttural belch answered the actions of the driver and slowly and with great ceremony, the train began to inch forward.  I was positioned near the signal box and level crossing at the end of the platform and with my flat cap and camera I looked every inch a train spotter (I believe that ‘rail enthusiast’ is the correct term).

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When the train had departed I spent a while looking round the site, although the main locomotive museum was sadly closed to visitors, until it was time for the next departure.  I found myself a private compartment and settled into my seat to enjoy the journey.  Having previously experienced the footplate itself, now I wanted to understand how Dickens felt in his carriage and as I looked out of the window it was as if I were rushing through the countryside approaching Staplehurst, crossing small bridges over shallow rivers.

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I have been on many steam railways before but on this occasion I made every effort to remember the exact experience, I tried to analyse the damp smell. and watched how the view was obscured by whisps of steam in the slipstream of the train.  As we rushed towards Bodiam I worked on my laptop and asked the ticket collector to take a picture of me.  ‘Hmmm,’ he must have thought, ‘another train spotter, sorry, rail enthusiast’

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My day ended with the return trip, and this time I walked through the train watching the various families who were spending the half term break together.  I noticed that, on the whole, it was the grandfathers who were enjoying the ride the most whereas the many children were gorging themselves on crisps and snacks as young mothers and fathers struggled to keep them occupied.

Back at Tenterden I left a bygone world behind me and returned to the quiet and comfort of my car and started the drive home.  For all of the factual information that I had previously packed into my manuscript those three days brought it all to life in my mind and now I have to make sure that I pass that on to the reader.

As yet I have no publication date in mind, and indeed do not have a publisher, although one company has shown interest and is currently reviewing my work.  I will let you know how things proceed over the coming months and maybe in the autumn when I am touring again I may have a little volume to sell and sign.

In the meantime, read lots and keep safe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BBC A Christmas Carol 2019: Yay or Nay?

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2019 saw the release of a new television version of A Christmas Carol which was, like those before it, eagerly anticipated.  The joyous tale of Ebenezer Scrooge and his journey to redemption never fails to bring a smile to the faces of those who so cherish and love the story and I’m sure many settled down to watch this new offering with a sense of excitement and warm familiarity: but if they were expecting traditional fare they were in for a shock.

The new version, featuring Guy Pearce as Ebenezer Scrooge, was made produced by Ridley Scott and the team behind the gritty UK gangster drama Peaky Blinders.   The BBC described the series as an ‘unique and original take on Charles Dickens’ iconic ghost story and a haunting, hallucinatory, spine-tingling immersion into Scrooge’s dark night of the soul.’ which might have started to ring warning bells.  The screenplay for the three hour production was written by Steven Wright who has previously credited Charles Dickens as a major inspiration and who plans to adapt a number of the major novels in a similar style.  There was talk of a ‘…timely interpretation of a timeless story.’ and of following plot lines that were signposted by short sentences or observations from the original text although never yet fully explored.

Clearly this adaptation was going to be quite a challenge to those who relished the flickering candlelight, the beautiful prose and the heart-warming familiarity of my great great grandfather’s ‘ghostly little book’.

For my part I made the decision not to watch the first instalment until my own 2019 tour was completed, for I didn’t want any new ideas to cloud or confuse my current version.  Much better to have a year to reflect and ponder and to carefully weave any new influences into my telling for next year.

The first thing to notice about the show is that it is NOT billed as ‘Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol’, it is titled ‘A Christmas Carol.  Based on the novella by Charles Dickens’  The opening scene is in a grey, neglected graveyard and we see a youth urinating over Jacob Marley’s headstone.  OK, time to reset Pickwickian perceptions.

I took the decison to watch the three episodes not as a remake of A Christmas Carol but as a drama in its own right, in the way that ‘West Side Story’ is not a remake of ‘Romeo and Juliet’, ‘Return to Forbidden Planet’ is not a performance of ‘The Tempest’ and ‘Oh Brother, Where Art Thou’ is not a recital of Homer’s ‘The Odyssey’.

Goodness the production tested me in my resolve!  Why did Marley die only 1 year before the action,  not 7? Why did Jacob  announce that the spirits would come at midnight, not at 1?  Why did the Cratchit family have only two children?  Why was Scrooge’s sister called Lottie (more on her later!)?.  Each and every time I reminded myself that all of these details existed in this story and must be accepted as such.  Once I had got myself into the correct state of mind the drama came alive and I found myself leaning forward on the edge of my seat.

The central plot is familiar, of course, with the non-caring and somewhat OCD Ebenezer Scrooge working in his office on Christmas Eve.  His clerk Bob Cratchit has promised his wife Mary, who seems to have a remarkably passionate hatred of her husband’s employer, that he would be home early, but Scrooge demands that a letter complaining to the authorities about extreme displays of jollity in the streets be copied in duplicate.

OK so far.

Nephew Fred appears and invites Scrooge to dinner and the invitation is rejected.

Still a safe telling of the story, but all of the time there are ghostly goings on, a ledger mysteriously opens having been closed and the words ‘Prepare Ye’ are scrawled across the page.

Meanwhile in the world of the dead Jacob Marley finds himself cast in chains forged in a red hot foundry before being hauled behind a horse-drawn carriage to purgatory (which seems to be a Christmas tree farm, although to be honest being in such a place on Christmas Eve probably DOES feel like purgatory), with a jet of Hellish flame soaring into the sky.  This land is presided over by The Ghost of Christmas Past who tells a somewhat confused Jacob that if he is to be released then he must assist the ghosts of Christmasses Past, Present and Future in forcing repentance from Ebenezer Scrooge.

In the counting house of Scrooge and Marley, which company seems to have a reputation for skimping on its health and safety commitments, shop is finally shut up and Scrooge marches into the streets and runs into two gentlemen collecting for charity and strangely it was this that really grated, for Steven Wright used Charles Dickens’ own words: ‘Are there no prisons?’  ‘Plenty of prisons.’  ‘And the union workhouses, are they still in operation?’ ‘They are. Still.  I wish I could say they were not.’  ‘The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour then?’ ‘Both very busy sir.’  ‘Oh!  I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course.’  This exchange comes early in the novel but so successfully had the television adaptation created its own world that the original words seemed out of place in it.

I wont go through the entire three hours scene by scene but the atmosphere became darker and darker, bleaker and bleaker as the story moved on leaving one with the impression that it would be impossible for Scrooge to repent.

Interestingly the cinematography reminded me of the illustrations one of my favourite editions of A Christmas Carol, the one illustrated by Roberto Innocenti with is muted, drab palette.

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Apart from the familiar plotlines Scrooge’s place in Hell seemed assured thanks to the business dealings of his company: a mine shaft had been improperly secured leaving to a collapse that killed many men and children as well as, and this is what seemed to affect Scrooge more than anything, pit ponies. A failing mill that had been purchased by the two businessmen, had been stripped back to its bare bones with most of the staff having been paid off on Boxing Day, before being sold on at a huge profit

These scenes were shown to Ebenezer by The Ghost of Christmas Past who cleverly morphed between different figures: Ali Baba from The Arabian Nights took him back to school, a worker from the mine took him underground, an industrialist from the mill showed him the looms printing nothing but money.  These characters always come back to the grizzled figure who presides over the Christmas tree farm played by Andy Serkis.  The changing faces of The Ghost of Christmas Past pays homage to Dickens’ confused description of the character:

‘It was a strange figure—like a child: yet not so like a child as like an old man, viewed through some supernatural medium, which gave him the appearance of having receded from the view, and being diminished to a child’s proportions……
….Even this, though, when Scrooge looked at it with increasing steadiness, was not its strangest quality. For as its belt sparkled and glittered now in one part and now in another, and what was light one instant, at another time was dark, so the figure itself fluctuated in its distinctness: being now a thing with one arm, now with one leg, now with twenty legs, now a pair of legs without a head, now a head without a body: of which dissolving parts, no outline would be visible in the dense gloom wherein they melted away. And in the very wonder of this, it would be itself again; distinct and clear as ever.’

When the ghost takes Scrooge to the schoolroom scene there is one particular memory that is truly awful that being the suggestion, no, the confirmation, of the sexual abuse he suffered when he was there and this brings us back to the ‘signposts’ in Dickens’ text that the producers had spoken about.

The original scene is written thus:

‘He was not reading now, but walking up and down despairingly. Scrooge looked at the Ghost, and with a mournful shaking of his head, glanced anxiously towards the door.
It opened; and a little girl, much younger than the boy, came darting in, and putting her arms about his neck, and often kissing him, addressed him as her “Dear, dear brother.”

 

“I have come to bring you home, dear brother!” said the child, clapping her tiny hands, and bending down to laugh. “To bring you home, home, home!”
“Home, little Fan?” returned the boy.

 

“Yes!” said the child, brimful of glee. “Home, for good and all. Home, for ever and ever. Father is so much kinder than he used to be, that home’s like Heaven! He spoke so gently to me one dear night when I was going to bed, that I was not afraid to ask him once more if you might come home; and he said Yes, you should; and sent me in a coach to bring you. And you’re to be a man!” said the child, opening her eyes, “and are never to come back here; but first, we’re to be together all the Christmas long, and have the merriest time in all the world.”

 

“You are quite a woman, little Fan!” exclaimed the boy’

 

I have always thought that the mention of the father ‘being so much kinder than he used to be…’ and that ‘he spoke so gently to me….that I was not afraid to ask….’ screams of some sort of abusive home life for both Ebenezer and Fan which has never been properly explored.  In the television adaptation that plot thread is taking further suggesting that Scrooge’s teacher is sexually abusing him, as he alone is left in the school when all of the other boys have gone home for the ‘jolly holidays’

Whilst I am mentioning Scrooge’s sister I should point out a remarkable change to the story  that reminded us that this was made by the team behind Peaky Blinders: In the book Little Fan is described as being much younger than Scrooge and as ‘a delicate creature’  In the adaptation she is somewhat older, called Lottie, and like a good gangster confronts the schoolmaster with a gun!

Lottie becomes even more important for it is in her adult shape that the Ghost of Christmas Present appears and this is another interesting take on the language used in the original, another following of a signpost.  As soon as the ghost appears in the book it is clear that Scrooge trusts him and almost begs him to teach him more, the John Leech illustration shows Scrooge in a penitent pose but with the wisps of a smile on his features.

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By making his sister the mortal figure of the spirit that sense of trust is portrayed beautifully.  Throughout the scene Lottie guides Scrooge like an angel might and constantly calls him ‘dear brother’, which mirrors Dickens’ description of Fan ‘…and putting her arms about his neck, and often kissing him, addressed him as her “Dear, dear brother.”

The story takes us to the Cratchit’s house where we are forced to witness another vile moment in the life of Ebenezer Scrooge.  Seven years before Mrs Cracthit, desperate to save her son Tim, needed money desperately and unbeknown to her husband visited Mr Scrooge begging for a loan.  Ebenezer told her to come to his chambers on Christmas day and if she performed whatever task he asked of her then she could have the cash as a ‘gift’.

On the Christmas morning she presented herself and as Ebenezer looked dispassionately on she began to remove her clothes ready for the debasing act.  Eventually Scrooge tells her that his experiment in understanding human need had been successful and he knew what depths a woman would go to in order to save her child. He dismisses her with disdain (and the cash).

Mrs Cratchit had been emotionally raped, and that completely explains her violent response when Bob toasts ‘Mr Scrooge.  The Founder the of the Feast!’ in the original work: another signpost.

Even as Scrooge travels with the spirit of Lottie it is impossible to imagine how he could possibly repent or reform for even though he is effected by much of what he sees, he still manages to justify everything that has happened to himself..

Once the corpse ghost of Christmas Yet To Come leads Scrooge to the churchyard and he slumps against his own tombstone (also urinated over), he is unrepentant.  He is joined by Jacob Marley (whose release from purgatory relies on Scrooge’s conversion, remember) and in answer to the question ‘Well? have you changed?’ he says simply ‘No.  I refuse.  I refuse to change.  All their efforts were in vain for I refuse redemption.’

‘But, why?’ asks Marley

‘This fate, this piss covered second class grave is exactly what I deserve.  If redemption is to result in some kind of forgiveness I do not want it.’

It is a huge anti climax, and as a viewer you think ‘No!  surely not!  Liberties with the text you can take, changes to the details of the plot are OK, but messing up the whole ending is just NOT ON!’

But our attention is held by the most beautiful bit of facial acting by Guy Pearce, the pause is long, so long, and we can see Ebenezer trying desperately to make sense of what he is feeling.  He is watched not only by Jacob Marley but by the three spirits as well, still haunting him.  On the other side of the Churchyard a funeral is taking place, the funeral of Tim Cratchit.

‘The only thing…..’ another long pause.  ‘The only thing I want the spirits to do, the only change I want them to make is to spare the life of him!’  At that moment the three spirits disappear and Marley sinks back into his grave, a spirit at peace: they have succeeded for Scrooge cares about someone else and that is all that can be asked of him.

The final scene is sheer joy, running through the streets, slipping on the ice and declaring ‘I can FEEL!’  ‘What do you feel? inquires a concerned passer by. ‘At the moment, a pain in my arse!’  Its not quite ‘Im as light as a feather, as happy as an angel, as merry as a schoolboy, as giddy as a drunken man’ but it serves the same purpose.

Ebenezer runs to the Cratchits and the scene is truly, tenderly moving and brought a tear to my eye.  As he leaves Mrs Cratchit follows him and says ‘Your £500 will be welcome but it shall not buy forgiveness’

‘Nor shall forgiveness ever be earned, or expected, or wanted,’ he replies.  ‘My business now is the future.  I will just be the best I can be.’ And with that he leaves.

The conclusion is just as uplifting and affirming and joyous as any other that has been committed to celluloid over the years.

I know that many people will not have enjoyed this adaptation and indeed will not have continued watching passed episode one.  I know that on next year’s American tour nobody will say that their favourite version was the Guy Pearce version  of 2019.  In fact when I am asked which is my favourite version I probably will still say ‘Alastair Sim’, or ‘George C Scott’, or ‘The Muppets’,  but that is not to say that I do not like the new version because I do very much.  I think it is well considered, well scripted and very well performed.

Did I enjoy it?  Enjoy is probably the wrong word for something so dark and at times disturbing,  but I relished it and admired it.  From me the BBC A Christmas Carol gets a very definite ‘Yay’.

 

 

 

 

Highclere Abbey…or Downton Castle?

December 19 1843 was the day that A Christmas Carol was published in England and it is always nice to mark the anniversary in a special manner:  this year I achieved that in some style!

Having returned from Liverpool in the morning I had a little time at home before setting off once again to the magnificent Highclere Castle which is about 45 minutes from our home.  I had been emailing Highclere year after year suggesting that it maybe a good venue for one of my shows but finally this year the stars aligned for Lady Carnavon has written a book called ‘Christmas at Highclere’ and the team at the castle had planned a full programme of Christmas events, of which my show was one.

Just after 5 o’clock on a rainy night I turned into the driveway, ignored the many ‘CASTLE CLOSED!’ signs and approached the magnificent house.  The final sweep of drive was lined by Christmas trees while the floodlit house itself stood out proudly against the black of the sky.

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In the first couple of seasons of Downton Abbey the Grantham family owned a 1911 Renault Landaulette which was usually seen pulling up at the front door of the house loaded with trunks and cases, so I felt very much at home pulling up at the same entrance in my 2016 Renault Kadjar.

The front door was opened for me not by Mr Carson, but by John the house manager who looked at my rather shabby furniture and said ‘you don’t need that!  We have plenty of furniture’.  I’m not sure that he would have been quiet so ebullient had I taken him up on his offer and jumped onto an antique chair as the fiddler at Fezziwig’s ball.

The stage was small and was surrounded on three sides by chairs all of which were packed into the great hall between the towering stone pillars which create the main ‘room’.  Behind the stage was a huge fireplace, one of the oldest parts of the house, and above huge vaulted ceiling.  As I stood on the stage arranging the furniture I was looking at the grand staircase and to my left was the largest Christmas tree that I have ever seen inside a house (obviously those in Trafalgar Square or at the Rockerfeller Center were taller, but those two examples did not need to carried through a doorway before they were erected)

When I had set up I was shown to a little back stage sitting room which was to be my dressing room and on the way passed the loos – I knew that I was in a fine venue because the signs didn’t say ‘gents’ and ‘ladies’ or have little pictorial representations of each gender.  No, at Highclere the signs said ‘Gentleman’s Lavatories’ and ‘Ladies’ Powder Room’.  In my green room I ate a little salad that I had brought with me.  This room was comfortable but very simply decorated in great contrast to the lavishness of the rooms which the public get to see.

Downstairs the guests were arriving dressed in their finery and were being given glasses of champagne as they strolled through the ground floor rooms, guided by Lord and Lady Carnarvon themselves, proudly showing off their home.  Among the guests were Liz and her sister Sheila and brother-in-law Martin.  Liz hadn’t seen me perform A Christmas Carol for almost three years and the show had changed a bit in that time, including the introduction of the sound cues and the red cloth which transforms into the figure of Tiny Tim, so I was particularly anxious to know what she would think of the changes:  I wanted to do a good job for her.

At 7.00 there was a knock at my door and I was led to the top of the staircase with its plush red carpet to await the start of the show.  Below me John took to the stage and with his melodious voice and vowels formed at a fine school he welcomed the guests.  He opened with a little light hearted comment suggesting that he was sure that nobody in the audience could possibly have a taller Christmas tree in their homes and the apparently throw away comment was greeted with laughter from most of the audience.

But one hand was raised.  The tickets for the evening were expensive and there were some members of the audience who exuded sheer wealth.  One thing that the wealthy do not like is being upstaged – size is everything and so it was obviously important for the gentleman to mention that his Christmas tree was larger!  John retorted that the Highclere tree was actually originally seven feet higher than we now saw but it had to be cut down to size because in its original form nobody could reach the top to decorate it properly.

The moment of needless posturing passed and John continued his introduction before giving the stage to Lady Carnarvon who graciously welcomed her guests and took the opportunity to mention her brand new book ‘Christmas at Highclere’ which is a lavishly and impressively produced volume containing many family Christmas recipes as well as plenty of chapters describing various traditions.   She pointed out that we were gathered on the 19th December the anniversary of the publication of A Christmas Carol and also mentioned that Dickens managed to sell some 20,000 volumes before Christmas – and that she would rather like to do the same!

And then my part of the evening began.  The music filled the hall and I made my slow way down the staircase.  when Liz and I had visited the castle in the Summer we decided that this would be a wonderfully dramatic way to open the show but now I was actually doing it I realised it was purely an exercise in vanity, for the audience were all sat with their backs to me (all except Liz, Sheila and Martin who were watching).  When I reached the floor I made sure that the metal ferrule on my walking stick clicked on the wooden floor to alert the audience that I was among them.  I stepped onto the stage and began.

It was an excellent show, one of the best of the season. The acoustics of the hall meant that I didn’t have to work hard and therefore the narrative was pacey and light, which is something that I had been concentrating on achieving during the 2019 season.  I have mentioned in previous blog posts that English audiences can be a little reserved and don’t always appreciate the ‘audience participation’ elements of the show, but the group in Highclere were fun, enthusiastic and playful.  There are a few moments early in the script where I can get a feel for a group and from those moments make decisions about what I will include in the rest of the performance.  My decision on Thursday 19 December was to give them everything!

I was concentrating hard and becoming completely absorbed in the story and characters but there was one moment during the first act when out of the blue I suddenly thought ‘I am HERE!  That’s where Lady Mary and Matthew first kissed as his fiancé looked down from the balcony over there.  I am performing where Dame Nelly Melba  (well, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa) sang.  I am HERE!’  And those thoughts didn’t even take into account the many real ghosts from Carnavon’s past that haunted the halls.

At the interval I returned to my little sitting room and, once I’d changed, just sat an relaxed, waiting for the word that we were ready to recommence.  After 15 minutes or so there was a knock at the door and Lady Carnarvon appeared.  She congratulated me on the show and we sat chatting about this and that.  In her book she had quoted Dickens (A Christmas Carol and The Pickwick Papers), and had also related an anecdote about mourners at Charles’ funeral in Westminster Abbey leaning over the open grave in order to get a better view of Alfred Tennyson.  It seems that the phenomenon of celebrity spotting is not a new one.

Soon there was another knock on the door and it was time to start act 2.  With a top-up of mulled wine inside them the audience were in even higher spirits in the second half, which was just as well because that is where all of the Cratchit and Topper nonsense happens.  The hall of Highclere Castle was filled with laughter and at the end of the show with loud applause too.

Having taken my bows I was briefly able to chat with Liz for a moment before stationing myself at the front door where I was able to shake hands, talk and bid farewell to the audience as they gathered their coats and made their way out into the rainy night.

When the guests had all gone I returned to my room to change and then went to fetch my car which I again parked outside the front door.  All of the Highclere staff helped me pack the Renault and when I was ready to leave they all, including Lady Carnavon, stood outside the front door and waved me goodbye>

My Christmas special at Highclere Castle was over and it had been a highly successful evening and one which I hope that we will repeat in the future.  I certainly know of a lot of people who would very much like to attend performances there.