Charles Dickens.

The works of Charles Dickens (Volume 26) online

. (page 22 of 31)
Online LibraryCharles DickensThe works of Charles Dickens (Volume 26) → online text (page 22 of 31)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

by the master of the house that they are all charged, and
waiting for his toast, rises, and begs to remind the gentlemen
present, how much they have been delighted by the dazzling
array of elegance and beauty which the drawing-room has
exhibited that night, and how their senses have been charmed,
and their hearts captivated, by the bewitching concentration
of female loveliness which that very room has so recently
displayed. (Loud cries of " Hear ! ") Much as he (Tupple)
would be disposed to deplore the absence of the ladies, on
other grounds, he cannot but derive some consolation from
the reflection that the very circumstance of their not being
present, enables him to propose a toast, Avhich he would have
otherwise been prevented from giving that toast he begs
to say is "The Ladies T (Great applause.) The Ladies!
among whom the fascinating daughters of their excellent host,
are alike conspicuous for their beauty, their accomplishments,
and their elegance. He begs them to drain a bumper to
" The Ladies, and a happy new year to them ! " (Prolonged


approbation ; above which the noise of the ladies dancing
the Spanish dance among themselves, overhead, is distinctly

The applause consequent on this toast, has scarcely subsided,
when a young gentleman in a pink under-waistcoat, sitting
towards the bottom of the table, is observed to grow very
restless and fidgety, and to evince strong indications of some
latent desire to give vent to his feelings in a speech, which
the wary Tupple at once perceiving, determines to forestall
by speaking himself. He, therefore, rises again, with an air
of solemn importance, and trusts he may be permitted to
propose another toast (unqualified approbation, and Mr.
Tupple proceeds). He is sure they must all be deeply
impressed with the hospitality he may say the splendour
with which they have been that night received by their worthy
host and hostess. (Unbounded applause.) Although this is
the first occasion on which he has had the pleasure and
delight of sitting at that board, he has known his friend
Dobble long and intimately ; he has been connected with him
in business he wishes everybody present knew Dobble as
well as he does. (A cough from the host.) He (Tupple)
can lay his hand upon his (Tupple's) heart, and declare his
confident belief that a better man, a better husband, a better
father, a better brother, a better son, a better relation in
any relation of life, than Dobble, never existed. (Loud cries
of " Hear ! ") They have seen him to-night in the peaceful
bosom of his family; they should see him in the morning,
in the trying duties of his office. Calm in the perusal of the
morning papers, uncompromising in the signature of his name,
dignified in his replies to the inquiries of stranger applicants,
deferential in his behaviour to his superiors, majestic in his
deportment to the messengers. (Cheers.) When he bears
this merited testimony to the excellent qualities of his friend
Dobble, what can he say in approaching such a subject as
Mrs. Dobble ? Is it requisite for him to expatiate on the
qualities of that amiable woman ? No ; he will spare his


friend Debbie's feelings; he will spare the feelings of his
friend if he will allow him to have the honour of calling
him so Mr. Dobble, junior. (Here Mr. Dobble, junior,
who has been previously distending his mouth to a consider-
able width, by thrusting a particularly fine orange into that
feature, suspends operations, and assumes a proper appearance
of intense melancholy.) He will simply say and he is quite
certain it is a sentiment in which all who hear him will
readily concur that his friend Dobble is as superior to any
man he ever knew, as Mrs. Dobble is far beyond any woman
he ever saw (except her daughters); and he will conclude by
proposing their worthy "Host and Hostess, and may they
live to enjoy many more new years !"

The toast is drunk with acclamation ; Dobble returns thanks,
and the whole party rejoin the ladies in the drawing-room.
Young men who were too bashful to dance before supper,
find tongues and partners ; the musicians exhibit unequivocal
symptoms of having drunk the new year in, while the com-
pany were out ; and dancing is kept up, until far in the first
morning of the new year.

We have scarcely written the last word of the previous
sentence, when the first stroke of twelve, peals from the
neighbouring churches. There certainly we must confess it
now is something awful in the sound. Strictly speaking, it
may not be more impressive now, than at any other time;
for the hours steal as swiftly on, at other periods, and their
flight is little heeded. But, we measure man's life by years,
and it is a solemn knell that warns us we have passed another
of the landmarks which stand between us and the grave.
Disguise it as we may, the reflection will force itself on our
minds, that when the next bell announces the arrival of a
new year, we may be insensible alike of the timely warning
we have so often neglected, and of all the warm feelings that
glow within us now.



Mu. SAMUEL WILKINS was a carpenter, a journeyman carpenter
of small dimensions, decidedly below the middle size border-
ing, perhaps, upon the dwarfish. His face was round and
shining, and his hair carefully twisted into the outer corner
of each eye, till it formed a variety of that description of
semi-curls, usually known as " aggerawators." His earnings
were all-sufficient for his wants, varying from eighteen shillings
to one pound five, weekly his manner undeniable his
sabbath waistcoats dazzling. No wonder that, with these
qualifications, Samuel Wilkins found favour in the eyes of
the other sex : many women have been captivated by far less
substantial qualifications. But, Samuel was proof against
their blandishments, until at length his eyes rested on those
of a Being for whom, from that time forth, he felt fate had
destined him. He came, and conquered proposed, and was
accepted loved, and was beloved. Mr. Wilkins " kept
company" with Jemima Evans.

Miss Evans (or Ivins, to adopt the pronunciation most in
vogue with her circle of acquaintance) had adopted in early
life the useful pursuit of shoe-binding, to which she had
afterwards superadded the occupation of a straw-bonnet
maker. Herself, her maternal parent, and two sisters, formed
an harmonious quartett in the most secluded portion of
Camden-town; and here it was that Mr. Wilkins presented


himself, one Monday afternoon, in his best attire, with his
face more shining and his waistcoat more bright than either
had ever appeared before. The family were just going to
tea, and were so glad to see him. It was quite a little feast ;
two ounces of seven-and-sixpenny green, and a quarter of a
pound of the best fresh ; and Mr. Wilkins had brought a
pint of shrimps, neatly folded up in a clean belcher, to give
a zest to the meal, and propitiate Mrs. Ivins. Jemima was
" cleaning herself " up-stairs; so Mr. Samuel Wilkins sat down
and talked domestic economy with Mrs. Ivins, whilst the
two youngest Miss Ivinses poked bits of lighted brown paper
between the bars under the kettle, to make the water boil
for tea.

"I wos a thinking," said Mr. Samuel Wilkins, during a
pause in the conversation "I wos a thinking of taking
J'mima to, the Eagle to-night."" "O my! 11 exclaimed Mrs.
Ivins. " Lor ! how nice ! " said the youngest Miss Ivins.
"Well, I declare!" added the youngest Miss Ivins but one.
"Tell .Tmima to put on her white muslin, Tilly," screamed
Mrs. Ivins, with motherly anxiety ; and down came Jemima
herself soon afterwards in a white muslin gown carefully
hooked and eyed, a little red shawl, plentifully pinned, a
white straw bonnet trimmed with red ribbons, a small neck-
lace, a large pair of bracelets, Denmark satin shoes, and
open-worked stockings ; white cotton gloves on her fingers,
and a cambric pocket-handkerchief, carefully folded up, in
her hand all quite genteel and ladylike. And away went
Miss Jemima Ivins and Mr. Samuel Wilkins, and a dress-cane,
with a gilt knob at the top, to the admiration and envy of
the street in general, and to the high gratification of Mrs.
Ivins, and the two youngest Miss Ivinses in particular. They
had no sooner turned into the Pancras-road, than who should
Miss J'mima Ivins stumble upon, by the most fortunate
accident in the world, but a young lady as she knew, with her
young man ! And it is so strange how things do turn out
sometimes : .hey were actually going to the Eagle too. So


Mr. Samuel Wilkins was introduced to .Miss Jemima Ivins's
friend's young man, and they all walked on together, talking,
and laughing, and joking away like anything; and when they
got as far as Pentonville, Miss Ivins's friend's young man
would have the ladies go into the Crown, to taste some shrub,
which, after a great blushing and giggling, and hiding of
faces in elaborate pocket-handkerchiefs, they consented to do.
Having tasted it once, they were easily prevailed upon to
taste it again ; and they sat out in the garden tasting shrub,
and looking at the Busses alternately, till it was just the
proper time to go to the Eagle ; and then they resumed their
journey, and walked very fast, for fear they should lose the
beginning of the concert in the Rotunda.

" How ev'nly ! " said Miss JTmima Ivins, and Miss J'mima
Ivins's friend, both at once, when they had passed the gate
and were fairly inside the gardens. There were the Avalks,
beautifully gravelled and planted and the refreshment-boxes,
painted and ornamented like so many snuff-boxes and the
variegated lamps shedding their rich light upon the company's
heads and the place for dancing ready chalked for the
company's feet and a Moorish band playing at one end of
the gardens and an opposition military band playing away
at the other. Then, the waiters were rushing to and fro with
glasses of negus, and glasses of brandy-and-water, and bottles
of ale, and bottles of stout ; and ginger-beer was going off
in one place, and practical jokes were going on in another;
and people were crowding to the door of the Rotunda ; and
in short the whole scene was, as Miss J'mima Ivins, inspired
by the novelty, or the shrub, or both, observed "one of
dazzling excitement." As to the concert-room, -never was
anything half so splendid. There was an orchestra for the
singers, all paint, gilding, and plate-glass ; and such an organ !
Miss Jemima Ivins's friend's young man whispered it had cost
"four hundred pound," which Mr. Samuel Wilkins said was
"not dear neither; 11 an opinion in which the ladies perfectly
coincided. The audience were seated on elevated benches round


the room, and crowded into every part of it ; and everybody
was eating and drinking as comfortably as possible. Just
before the concert commenced, Mr. Samuel Wilkins ordered
two glasses of rum-and- water "warm with " and two slices
of lemon, for himself and the other young man, together
with "a pint o 1 sherry wine for the ladies, and some sweet
carraway-seed biscuits ; " and they would have been quite
comfortable and happy, only a strange gentleman with large
whiskers would stare at Miss Jemima Ivins, and another
gentleman in a plaid waistcoat would wink at Miss J'mima
Ivins's friend ; on which Miss J'mima Ivins's friend's young
man exhibited symptoms of boiling over, and began to mutter
about " people's imperence," and " swells out o' luck ; " and
to intimate, in oblique terms, a vague intention of knocking
somebody's head off; which he was only prevented from
announcing more emphatically, by both Miss J'mima Ivins
and her friend threatening to faint away on the spot if he
said another word.

The concert commenced overture on the organ. "How
solemn !" exclaimed Miss J'mima Ivins, glancing, perhaps
unconsciously, at the gentleman with the whiskers. Mr.
Samuel Wilkins, who had been muttering apart for some time
past, as if he were holding a confidential conversation with
the gilt knob of the dress-cane, breathed hard breathing
vengeance, perhaps, but said nothing. "The soldier tired,"
Miss Somebody in white satin. " Ancore ! " cried Miss
J'mima Ivins's friend. " Ancore ! " shouted the gentleman in
the plaid waistcoat immediately, hammering the table with a
stout-bottle. Miss J'mima Ivins's friend's young man eyed
the man behind the waistcoat from head to foot, and cast a
look of interrogative contempt towards Mr. Samuel Wilkins.
Comic song, accompanied on the organ. Miss J'mima Ivins
was convulsed with laughter so was the man with the
whiskers. Everything the ladies did, the plaid waistcoat and
whiskers did, by way of expressing unity of sentiment and
congeniality of soul ; and Miss J'mima Ivins, and Miss J'mima


Ivins's friend, grew lively and talkative, as Mr. Samuel
Wilkins, and Miss J'mima Ivins's friend's young man, grew
morose and surly in inverse proportion.

Now, if the matter had ended here, the little party might
soon have recovered their former equanimity ; but Mr. Samuel
Wilkins and his friend began to throw looks of defiance upon
the waistcoat and whiskers. And the waistcoat and whiskers,
by way of intimating the slight degree in which they were
affected by the looks aforesaid, bestowed glances of increased
admiration upon Miss J'mima Ivins and friend. The concert
and vaudeville concluded, they promenaded the gardens. The
waistcoat and whiskers did the same ; and made divers remarks
complimentary to the ankles of Miss J'mima Ivins and friend,
in an audible tone. At length, not satisfied with these
numerous atrocities, they actually came up and asked Miss
J'mima Ivins, and Miss J'mima Ivins's friend, to dance,
without taking no more notice of Mr. Samuel Wilkins, and
Miss J'mima Ivins^s friend's young man, than if they was
nobody !

" What do you mean by that, scoundrel ! " exclaimed Mr.
Samuel Wilkins, grasping the gilt-knobbed dress-cane firmly
in his right hand. " What's the matter with you, you little
humbug ? " replied the whiskers. " How dare you insult me
and my friend?" inquired the friend's young man. "You
and your friend be hanged ! " responded the waistcoat. " Take
that," exclaimed Mr. Samuel Wilkins. The ferrule of the
gilt-knobbed dress-cane was visible for an instant, and then
the light of the variegated lamps shone brightly upon it
as it whirled into the air, cane and all. "Give it him,"
said the waistcoat. "Horficer!" screamed the ladies. Miss
J'mima Ivins's beau, and the friend's young man, lay gasping
on the gravel, and the waistcoat and whiskers were seen no

Miss J'mima Ivins and friend being conscious that the
affray was in no slight degree attributable to themselves, of
course went into hysterics forthwith ; declared themselves the



most injured of women ; exclaimed, in incoherent ravings,
that they had been suspected wrongfully suspected oh ! that
they should ever have lived to see the day and so forth ;
suffered a relapse every time they opened their eyes and saw
their unfortunate little admirers; and were carried to their
respective abodes in a hackney-coach, and a state of insensi-
bility, compounded of shrub, sherry, and excitement.



WE had been lounging one evening, down Oxford-street,
Holbom, Cheapside, Coleman-street, Finsbury-square, and so
on, with the intention of returning westward, by Pentonville
and the New-road, when we began to feel rather thirsty,
and disposed to rest for five or ten minutes. So, we turned
back towards an old, quiet, decent public-house, which we
remembered to have passed but a moment before (it was not
far from the City-road), for the purpose of solacing ourself
with a glass of ale. The house was none of your stuccoed,
French-polished, illuminated palaces, but a modest public-
house of the old school, with a little old bar, and a little old
landlord, who, with a wife and daughter of the same pattern,
was comfortably seated in the bar aforesaid a snug little
room with a cheerful fire, protected by a large screen : from
behind which the young lady emerged on our representing
our inclination for a glass of ale.

" Won't you walk into the parlour, sir ? " said the young
lady, in seductive tones.

" You had better walk into the parlour, sir," said the little
old landlord, throwing his chair back, and looking round one
side of the screen, to survey our appearance.

" You had much better step into the parlour, sir," said the
little old lady, popping out her head, on the other side of
the screen.


We cast a slight glance around, as if to express our ignor-
ance of the locality so much recommended. The little old
landlord observed it; bustled out of the small door of the
small bar ; and forthwith ushered us into the parlour itself.

It was an ancient, dark-looking room, with oaken wain-
scoting, a sanded floor, and a high mantelpiece. The walls
were ornamented with three or four old coloured prints in
black frames, each print representing a naval engagement,
with a couple of men-of-war banging away at each other most
vigorously, while another vessel or two were blowing up in
the distance, and the foreground presented a miscellaneous
collection of broken masts and blue legs sticking up out of
the water. Depending from the ceiling in the centre of the
room, were a gas-light and bell -pull ; on each side were three
or four long narrow tables, behind which was a thickly-
planted row of those slippery, shiny-looking wooden chairs,
peculiar to hostelries of this description. The monotonous
appearance of the sanded boards was relieved by an occasional
spittoon; and a triangular pile of those useful articles
adorned the two upper corners of the apartment.

At the furthest table, nearest the fire, with his face towards
the door at the bottom of the room, sat a stoutish man of
about forty, whose short, stiff, black hair curled closely round
a broad high forehead, and a face to which something besides
water and exercise had communicated a rather inflamed
appearance. He was smoking a cigar, with his eyes fixed on
the ceiling, and had that confident oracular air which marked
him as the leading politician, general authority, and uni-
versal anecdote-relater, of the place. He had evidently
just delivered himself of something very weighty; for the
remainder of the company were puffing at their respective
pipes and cigars in a kind of solemn abstraction, as if quite
overwhelmed with the magnitude of the subject recently
under discussion.

On his right hand sat an elderly gentleman with a white
head, and broad-brimmed brown hat; on his left, a sharp-


nosed, light-haired man in a brown surtout reaching nearly
to his heels, who took a whiff at his pipe, and an admiring
glance at the red-faced man, alternately.

"Very extraordinary!" said the light-haired man after a
pause of five minutes. A murmur of assent ran through
the company.

"Not at all extraordinary not at all," said the red-faced
man, awakening suddenly from his reverie, and turning upon
the light-haired man, the moment he had spoken.

" Why should it be extraordinary ? why is it extra-
ordinary ? prove it to be extraordinary ! "

"Oh, if you come to that " said the light-haired man,

" Come to that ! " ejaculated the man with the red face ;
"but we must come to that. We stand, in these times,
upon a calm elevation of intellectual attainment, and not in
the dark recess of mental deprivation. Proof, is what I
require proof, and not assertions, in these stirring times.
Every genlem'n that knows me, knows what was the nature
and effect of my observations, when it was in the contempla-
tion of the Old-street Suburban Representative Discovery
Society, to recommend a candidate for that place in Cornwall
there I forget the name of it. 'Mr. Snobee,' said Mr.
Wilson, 'is a fit and proper person to represent the borough
in Parliament.' 'Prove it, 1 says I. 'He is a friend to
Reform," says Mr. Wilson. 'Prove it," says I. 'The
abolitionist of the national debt, the unflinching opponent
of pensions, the uncompromising advocate of the negro, the
reducer of sinecures and the duration of Parliaments ; the
extender of nothing but the suffrages of the people, 1 says
Mr. Wilson. 'Prove it,' says I. 'His acts prove it, 1 says
he. 'Prove them? says I.

"And he could not prove them, 11 said the red-faced man,
looking round triumphantly ; " and the borough didn't have
him; and if you carried this principle to the full extent,
you'd have no debt, no pensions, no sinecures, no negroes,


no nothing. And then, standing upon an elevation of
intellectual attainment, and having reached the summit of
popular prosperity, you might bid defiance to the nations
of the earth, and erect yourselves in the proud confidence of
wisdom and superiority. This is my argument this always
has been my argument and if I was a Member of the
House of Commons to-morrow, I'd make 'em shake in their
shoes with it." And the red-faced man, having struck the
table very hard with his clenched fist, to add weight to the
declaration, smoked away like a brewery.

" Well ! " said the sharp-nosed man, in a very slow and
soft voice, addressing the company in general, " I always do
say, that of all the gentlemen I have the pleasure of
meeting in this room, there is not one whose conversation
I like to hear so much as Mr. Rogers's, or who is such
improving company. 11

" Improving company ! " said Mr. Rogers, for that, it
seemed, was the name of the red-faced man. " You may say
I am improving company, for I've improved you all to some
purpose; though as to my conversation being as my friend
Mr. Ellis here describes it, that is not for me to say any-
thing about. You, gentlemen, are the best judges on that
point; but this I will say, when I came into this parish, and
first used this room, ten years ago, I don't believe there was
one man in it, who knew he was a slave and now you all
know it, and writhe under it. Inscribe that upon my tomb,
and I am satisfied."

"Why, as to inscribing it on your tomb," said a little
greengrocer with a chubby face, "of course you can have
anything chalked up, as you likes to pay for, so far as it
relates to yourself and your affairs ; but, when you come to
talk about slaves, and that there abuse, you'd better keep it
in the family, 'cos I for one don't like to be called them
names, night after night."

" You are a slave," said the red-faced man, " and the most
pitiable of all slaves."


" Werry hard if I am, 1 ' interrupted the greengrocer, " for
I got no good out of the twenty million that was paid for
'mancipation, anyhow."

"A willing slave,"" ejaculated the red-faced man, getting
more red with eloquence, and contradiction " resigning the
dearest birthright of your children neglecting the sacred call
of Liberty who, standing imploringly before you, appeals
to the warmest feelings of your heart, and points to your
helpless infants, but in vain."

"Prove it," said the greengrocer.

" Prove it ! " sneered the man with the red face. " What !
bending beneath the yoke of an insolent and factious
oligarchy ; bowed down by the domination of cruel laws ;
groaning beneath tyranny and oppression on every hand, at
every side, and in every corner. Prove it! " The red-
faced man abruptly broke off, sneered melo-dramatically, and
buried his countenance and his indignation together, in a
quart pot.

"Ah, to be sure, Mr. Rogers," said a stout broker in a
large waistcoat, who had kept his eyes fixed on this luminary
all the time he was speaking. "Ah, to be sure," said the
broker with a sigh, " that's the point."

" Of course, of course," said divers members of the company,
who understood almost as much about the matter as the
broker himself.

" You had better let him alone, Tommy," said the broker,
by way of advice to the little greengrocer; "he can tell
what's o'clock by an eight-day, without looking at the
minute hand, he can. Try it on, on some other suit; it
won't do with him, Tommy."

" What is a man ? " continued the red-faced specimen of the
species, jerking his hat indignantly from its peg on the wall.
" What is an Englishman ? Is he to be trampled upon by
every oppressor ? Is he to be knocked down at everybody's
bidding ? What's freedom ? Not a standing army. What's
a standing army ? Not freedom. What's general happiness ?

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe works of Charles Dickens (Volume 26) → online text (page 22 of 31)