Charles Dickens.

The works of Charles Dickens (Volume 26) online

. (page 23 of 31)
Online LibraryCharles DickensThe works of Charles Dickens (Volume 26) → online text (page 23 of 31)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


Not universal misery. Liberty ain't the window-tax, is it?
The Lords ain't the Commons, are they?" And the red-
faced man, gradually bursting into a radiating sentence, in
which such adjectives as "dastardly," "oppressive," "violent,"
and " sanguinary," formed the most conspicuous words, knocked
his hat indignantly over his eyes, left the room, and slammed
the door after him.

" Wonderful man ! " said he of the sharp nose.

" Splendid speaker ! " added the broker.

"Great power!" said everybody but the greengrocer.
^And as they said it, the whole party shook their heads
mysteriously, and one by one retired, leaving us alone in the
old parlour.

If we had followed the established precedent in all such
instances, we should have fallen into a fit of musing, without
delay. The ancient appearance of the room the old panel-
ling of the wall the chimney blackened with smoke and
age would have carried us back a hundred years at least,
and we should have gone dreaming on, until the pewter-pot
on the table, or the little beer-chiller on the fire, had started
into life, and addressed to us a long story of days gone by.
But, by some means or other, we were not in a romantic
humour; and although we tried very hard to invest the
furniture with vitality, it remained perfectly unmoved,
obstinate, and sullen. Being thus reduced to the unpleasant
necessity of musing about ordinary matters, our thoughts
reverted to the red-faced man, and his oratorical display.

A numerous race are these red-faced men ; there is not a
parlour, or club-room, or benefit society, or humble party of
any kind, without its red-faced man. Weak-pated dolts they
are, and a great deal of mischief they do to their cause, how-
ever good. So, just to hold a pattern one up, to know the
others by, we took his likeness at once, and put him in here.
And that is the reason why we have written this paper.



IN our rambles through the streets of London after evening
has set in, we often pause beneath the windows of some
public hospital, and picture to ourself the gloomy and mourn-
ful scenes that are passing within. The sudden moving of a
taper as its feeble ray shoots from window to window, until
its light gradually disappears, as if it were carried farther
back into the room to the bedside of some suffering patient,
is enough to awaken a whole crowd of reflections ; the mere
glimmering of the low-burning lamps, which, when all other
habitations are wrapped in darkness and slumber, denote the
chamber where so many forms are writhing with pain, or
wasting with disease, is sufficient to check the most boisterous

Who can tell the anguish of those weary hours, when the
only sound the sick man hears, is the disjointed wanderings
of some feverish slumberer near him, the low moan of pain,
or perhaps the muttered, long-forgotten prayer of a dying
man ? Who, but they who have felt it, can imagine the
sense of loneliness and desolation which must be the portion
of those who in the hour of dangerous illness are left to be
tended by strangers ; for what hands, be they ever so gentle^
can wipe the clammy brow, or smooth the restless bed, like
those of mother, wife, or child ?

Impressed with these thoughts, we have turned away,


through the nearly-deserted streets; and the sight of the
few miserable creatures still hovering about them, has not
tended to lessen the pain which such meditations awaken.
The hospital is a refuge and resting-place for hundreds, who
but for such institutions must die in the streets and door-
ways; but what can be the feelings of some outcasts when
they are stretched on the bed of sickness with scarcely a hope
of recovery ? The wretched woman who lingers about the
pavement, hours after midnight, and the miserable shadow of
a man the ghastly remnant that want and drunkenness have
left which crouches beneath a window-ledge, to sleep where
there is some shelter from the rain, have little to bind them
to life, but what have they to look back upon, in death ?
What are the unwonted comforts of a roof and a bed, to
them, when the recollections of a whole life of debasement
stalk before them ; when repentance seems a mockery, and
sorrow comes too late?

About a twelvemonth ago, as we were strolling through
Covent-garden (we had been thinking about these things
over-night), we were attracted by the very prepossessing
appearance of a pickpocket, who having declined to take the
trouble of walking to the Police-office, on the ground that
he hadn't the slightest wish to go there at all, was being
conveyed thither in a wheelbarrow, to the huge delight of
a crowd.

Somehow, we never can resist joining a crowd, so we turned
back with the mob, and entered the office, in company with
our friend the pickpocket, a couple of policemen, and as
many dirty-faced spectators as could squeeze their way in.

There was a powerful, ill-looking young fellow at the bar,
who was undergoing an examination, on the very common
charge of having, on the previous night, ill-treated a woman,
with whom he lived in some court hard by. Several witnesses
bore testimony to acts of the grossest brutality ; and a cer-
tificate was read from the house-surgeon of a neighbouring
hospital, describing the nature of the injuries the woman had


received, and intimating that her recovery was extremely

Some question appeared to have been raised about the
identity of the prisoner ; for when* it was agreed that the
two magistrates should visit the hospital at eight o'clock
that evening, to take her deposition, it was settled that the
man should be taken there also. He turned pale at this,
and we saw him clench the bar very hard when the order
was given. He was removed directly afterwards, and he
spoke not a word.

We felt an irrepressible curiosity to witness this interview,
although it is hard to tell why, at this instant, for we knew
it must be a painful one. It was no very difficult matter for
us to gain permission, and we obtained it.

The prisoner, and the officer who had him in custody, were
already at the hospital when we reached it, and waiting the
arrival of the magistrates in a small room below stairs. The
man was handcuffed, and his hat was pulled forward over
his eyes. It was easy to see, though, by the whiteness of his
countenance, and the constant twitching of the muscles of
his face, that he dreaded what was to come. After a short
interval, the magistrates and clerk were bowed in by the
house-surgeon and a couple of young men who smelt very
strong of tobacco-smoke they were introduced as " dressers w
and after one magistrate had complained bitterly of the
cold, and the other of the absence of any news in the
evening paper, it was announced that the patient was pre-
pared ; and we were conducted to the " casualty ward " in
which she was lying.

The dim light which burnt in the spacious room, increased
rather than diminished the ghastly appearance of the hapless
creatures in the beds, which were ranged in two long rows
on either side. In one bed, lay a child enveloped in bandages,
with its body half-consumed by fire; in another, a female,
rendered hideous by some dreadful accident, was wildly beat-
ing her clenched fists on the coverlet, in pain; on a third,


there lay stretched a young girl, apparently in the heavy
stupor often the immediate precursor of death : her face was
stained with blood, and her breast and arms were bound up
in folds of linen. T\vo or three of the beds were empty, and
their recent occupants were sitting beside them, but with
faces so wan, and eyes so bright and glassy, that it was
fearful to meet their gaze. On every face was stamped the
expression of anguish and suffering.

The object of the visit was lying at the upper end of the
room. She was a fine young woman of about two or three
and twenty. Her long black hair, which had been hastily
cut from near the wounds on her head, streamed over the
pillow in jagged and matted locks. Her face bore deep
marks of the ill-usage she had received : her hand Avas
pressed upon her side, as if her chief pain were there ; her
breathing was short and heavy ; and it was plain to see that
she was dying fast. She murmured a few words in reply to
the magistrate's inquiry whether she was in great pain ; and,
having been raised on the pillow by the nurse, looked vacantly
upon the strange countenances that surrounded her bed. The
magistrate nodded to the officer, to bring the man forward.
He did so, and stationed him at the bedside. The girl looked
on with a wild and troubled expression of face ; but her sight
was dim, and she did not know him.

" Take off his hat, 11 said the magistrate. The officer did as
he was desired, and the man's features were disclosed.

The girl started up, with an energy quite preternatural ;
the fire gleamed in her heavy eyes, and the blood rushed
to her pale and sunken cheeks. It was a convulsive effort.
She fell back upon her pillow, and covering her scarred and
bruised face with her hands, burst into tears. The man cast
an anxious look towards her, but otherwise appeared wholly
unmoved. After a brief pause the nature of the errand was
explained, and the oath tendered.

"Oh, no, gentlemen, 11 said the girl, raising herself once
more, and folding her hands together ; "no, gentlemen, for


God's sake ! I did it myself it was nobody's fault it was
an accident. He didn't hurt me; he wouldn't for all the
world. Jack, dear Jack, you know you wouldn't ! "

Her sight was fast failing her, and her hand groped over
the bedclothes in search of his. Brute as the man was, he was
not prepared for this. He turned his face from the bed, and
sobbed. The girl's colour changed, and her breathing grew
more difficult. She was evidently dying.

" We respect the feelings which prompt you to this," said
the gentleman who had spoken first, "but let me warn you,
not to persist in what you know to be untrue, until it is too
late. It cannot save him."

"Jack," murmured the girl, laying her hand upon his arm,
" they shall not persuade me to swear your life away. He
didn't do it, gentlemen. He never hurt me." She grasped
his arm tightly, and added, in a broken whisper, " I hope
God Almighty will forgive me all the wrong I have done,
and the life I have led. God bless you, Jack. Some kind
gentleman take my love to my poor old father. Five years
ago, he said he wished I had died a child. Oh, I wish I had !
I wish I had!"

The nurse bent over the girl for a few seconds, and then
drew the sheet over her face. It covered a corpse.



IF we had to make a classification of society, there are a
particular kind of men whom we should immediately set
down under the head of " Old Boys ; " and a column of most
extensive dimensions the old boys would require. To what
precise causes the rapid advance of old-boy population is to
be traced, we are unable to determine. It would be an
interesting and curious speculation, but, as we have not
sufficient space to devote to it here, we simply state the fact
that the numbers of the old boys have been gradually
augmenting within the last few years, and that they are at
this moment alarmingly on the increase.

Upon a general review of the subject, and without con-
sidering it minutely in detail, we should be disposed to
subdivide the old boys into two distinct classes the gay old
boys, and the steady old boys. The gay old boys, are paunchy
old men in the disguise of young ones, who frequent the
Quadrant and Regent-street in the day-time: the theatres
(especially theatres under lady management) at night ; and
who assume all the foppishness and levity of boys, without
the excuse of youth or inexperience. The steady old boys
are certain stout old gentlemen of clean appearance, who are
always to be seen in the same taverns, at the same hours
every evening, smoking and drinking in the same company.

There was once a fine collection of old boys to be seen

: iS

^^== :^=^_

-m iFrJFT" W^^Wlip

4^1 1 ?NpJ r



round the circular table at Offley's every night, between the
hours of half-past eight and half-past eleven. We have lost
sight of them for some time. There were, and may be still,
for aught we know, two splendid specimens in full blossom
at the Rainbow Tavern in Fleet-street, who always used to
sit in the box nearest the fireplace, and smoked long cherry-
stick pipes which went under the table, with the bowls
resting on the floor. Grand old boys they were fat, red-
faced, white-headed old fellows always there one on one
side the table, and the other opposite puffing and drinking
away in great state. Everybody knew them, and it was
supposed by some people that they were both immortal.

Mr. John Dounce was an old boy of the latter class (we
don't mean immortal, but steady), a retired glove and braces
maker, a widower, resident with three daughters all grown
up, and all unmarried in Cursitor-street, Chancery-lane.
He was a short, round, large-faced, tubbish sort of man, with
a broad-brimmed hat, and a square coat ; and had that grave,
but confident, kind of roll, peculiar to old boys in general.
Regular as clockwork breakfast at nine dress and tittivate
a little down to the Sir Somebody's Head a glass of ale
and the paper come back again, and take daughters out for
a walk dinner at three glass of grog and pipe nap tea
little walk Sir Somebody's Head again capital house
delightful evenings. There were Mr. Harris, the law-stationer,
and Mr. Jennings, the robe-maker (two jolly young fellows
like himself), and Jones, the barrister's clerk rum fellow
that Jones capital company full of anecdote ! and there
they sat every night till just ten minutes before twelve,
drinking their brandy-and-water, and smoking their pipes,
and telling stories, and enjoying themselves with a kind of
solemn joviality particularly edifying.

Sometimes Jones would propose a half-price visit to Drury
Lane or Covent Garden, to see two acts of a five-act play,
and a new farce, perhaps, or a ballet, on which occasions the
\vhole four of them went together: none of your hurrying


and nonsense, but having their brandy-and-water first, com-
fortably, and ordering a steak and some oysters for their
supper against they came back, and then walking coolly into
the pit, when the " rush " had gone in, as all sensible people
do, and did when Mr. Bounce was a young man, except when
the celebrated Master Betty was at the height of his popu-
larity, and then, sir, then Mr. Bounce perfectly well
remembered getting a holiday from business ; and going to
the pit doors at eleven o'clock in the forenoon, and waiting
there, till six in the afternoon, with some sandwiches in a
pocket-handkerchief and some wine in a phial ; and fainting
after all, with the heat and fatigue, before the play began ; in
which situation he was lifted out of the pit, into one of the
dress boxes, sir, by five of the finest women of that day, sir,
who compassionated his situation and administered restora-
tives, and sent a black servant, six foot high, in blue and silver
livery, next morning with their compliments, and to know
how he found himself, sir by G ! Between the acts Mr.
Bounce arid Mr. Harris, and Mr. Jennings, used to stand up,
and look round the house, and Jones knowing fellow that
Jones knew everybody rpointed out the fashionable and
celebrated Lady So-and-So in the boxes, at the mention of
whose name Mr. Bounce, after brushing up his hair, and
adjusting his neckerchief, would inspect the aforesaid Lady
So-and-So through an immense glass, and remark, either,
that she was a "fine woman very fine woman, indeed," or
that "there might be a little more of her, eh, Jones?" just
as the case might happen to be. When the dancing began,
John Bounce and the other old boys were particularly anxious
to see what was going forward on the stage, and Jones
wicked dog that Jones whispered little critical remarks
into the ears of John Bounce, which John Bounce retailed
to Mr. Harris and Mr. Harris to Mr. Jennings; and then
they all four laughed, until the tears ran down, out of
their eyes.

When the curtain fell, they walked back together, two and


two, to the steaks and oysters ; and when they came to the
second glass of brandy-and-water, Jones hoaxing scamp, that
Jones used to recount how he had observed a lady in white
feathers, in one of the pit boxes, gazing intently on Mr.
Dounce all the evening, and how he had caught Mr. Dounce,
whenever he thought no one was looking at him, bestowing
ardent looks of intense devotion on the lady in return ; on
which Mr. Harris and Mr. Jennings used to laugh very
heartily, and John Dounce more heartily than either of them,
acknowledging, however, that the time had been when he
might have done such things ; upon which Mr. Jones used to
poke him in the ribs, and tell him he had been a sad dog in
his time, which John Dounce with chuckles confessed. And
after Mr. Harris and Mr. Jennings had preferred their claims
to the character of having been sad dogs too, they separated
harmoniously, and trotted home.

The decrees of Fate, and the means by which they are brought
about, are mysterious and inscrutable. John Dounce had led
this life for twenty years and upwards, without wish for
change, or care for variety, when his whole social system was
suddenly upset, and turned completely topsy-turvy not by
an earthquake, or some other dreadful convulsion of nature,
as the reader would be inclined to suppose, but by the simple
agency of an oyster ; and thus it happened.

Mr. John Dounce was returning one night from the Sir
Somebody's Head, to his residence in Cursitor-street not
tipsy, but rather excited, for it was Mr. Jennings's birthday,
and they had had a brace of partridges for supper, and a
brace of extra glasses afterwards, and Jones had been more
than ordinarily amusing when his eyes rested on a newly-
opened oyster-shop, on a magnificent scale, with natives laid,
one deep, in circular marble basins in the windows, together
with little round barrels of oysters directed to Lords and
Baronets, and Colonels and Captains, in every part of the
habitable globe.

Behind the natives were the barrels, and behind the barrels


was a young lady of about five-and-tvventy, all in blue, and
all alone splendid creature, charming face and lovely figure !
It is difficult to say whether Mr. John Bounce's red counte-
nance, illuminated as it was by the flickering gas-light in the
window before which he paused, excited the lady's risibility,
or whether a natural exuberance of animal spirits proved too
much for that staidness of demeanour which the forms of
society rather dictatorially prescribe. But certain it is, that
the lady smiled; then put her finger upon her lip, with a
striking recollection of what was due to herself; and finally
retired, in oyster-like bashfulness, to the very back of the
counter. The sad-dog sort of feeling came strongly upon
John Dounce : he lingered the lady in blue made no sign.
He coughed still she came not. He entered the shop.

"Can you open me an oyster, my dear?" said Mr. John

"Dare say I can, sir, 11 replied the lady in blue, with play-
fulness. And Mr. John Dounce eat one oyster, and then
looked at the young lady, and then eat another, and then
squeezed the young lady's hand as she was opening the third,
and so forth, until he had devoured a dozen of those at eight-
pence in less than no time.

" Can you open me half-a-dozen more, my dear ? *" inquired
Mr. John Dounce.

"Ill see what I can do for you, sir, 11 replied the young
lady in blue, even more bewitchingly than before ; and Mr.
John Dounce eat half-a-dozen more of those at eightpence.

" You couldn't manage to get me a glass of brandy-and-
water, my dear, I suppose? 11 said Mr. John Dounce, when
he had finished the oysters : in a tone which clearly implied
his supposition that she could.

" 111 see, sir, 11 said the young lady : and away she ran out
of the shop, and down the street, her long auburn ringlets
shaking in the wind in the most enchanting manner; and
back she came again, tripping over the coal-cellar lids like a
whipping-top, with a tumbler of brandy-and-water, which Mr.


John Dounce insisted on her taking a share of, as it was
regular ladies' grog hot, strong, sweet, and plenty of it.

So, the young lady sat down with Mr. John Dounce, in a
little red box with a green curtain, and took a small sip of
the brandy-and-water, and a small look at Mr. John Dounce,
and then turned her head away, and went through various
other serio-pantomimic fascinations, which forcibly reminded
Mr. John Dounce of the first time he courted his first wife,
and which made him feel more affectionate than ever; in
pursuance of which affection, and actuated by which feeling,
Mr. John Dounce sounded the young lady on her matrimonial
engagements, when the young lady denied having formed any
such engagements at all she couldn't abear the men, they
were such deceivers : thereupon Mr. John Dounce inquired
whether this sweeping condemnation was meant to include
other than very young men ; on which the young lady blushed
deeply at least she turned away her head, and said Mr. John
Dounce had made her blush, so of course she did blush
and Mr. John Dounce was a long time drinking the brandy-
and-water ; and, at last, John Dounce went home to bed, and
dreamed of his first wife, and his second wife, and the young
lady, and partridges, and oysters, and brandy-and-water, and
disinterested attachments.

The next morning, John Dounce was rather feverish with
the extra brandy-and-water of the previous night ; and, partly
in the hope of cooling himself with an oyster, and partly
with the view of ascertaining whether he owed the young
lady anything, or not, went back to the oyster-shop. If the
young lady had appeared beautiful by night, she was perfectly
irresistible by day; and, from this time forward, a change
came over the spirit of John Dounce's dream. He bought
shirt-pins; wore a ring on his third finger; read poetry;
bribed a cheap miniature-painter to perpetrate a faint resem-
blance to a youthful face, with a curtain over hi& head,
six large books in the background, and an open country
in the distance (this he called his portrait); "went on"


altogether in such an uproarious manner, that the three Miss
Bounces went off on small pensions, he having made the
tenement in Cursitor-street too warm to contain them ; and
in short, comported and demeaned himself in every respect
like an unmitigated old Saracen, as he was.

As to his ancient friends, the other old boys, at the Sir
Somebody's Head, he dropped off' from them by gradual
degrees ; for, even when he did go there, Jones vulgar fellow
that Jones persisted in asking " when it was to be ? " and
" whether he was to have any gloves ? " together with other
inquiries of an equally offensive nature : at which not only
Harris laughed, but Jennings also ; so, he cut the two, alto-
gether, and attached himself solely to the blue young lady
at the smart oyster-shop.

Now comes the moral of the story for it has a moral
after all. The last-mentioned young lady, having derived
sufficient profit and emolument from John Bounce's attach-
ment, not only refused, when matters came to a crisis, to
take him for better for worse, but expressly declared, to use
her own forcible words, that she " wouldn't have him at no
price ; " and John Bounce, having lost his old friends,
alienated his relations, and rendered himself ridiculous to
everybody, made offers successively to a schoolmistress, a
landlady, a feminine tobacconist, and a housekeeper; and,
being directly rejected by each and every of them, was
accepted by his cook, with whom he now lives, a henpecked
husband, a melancholy monument of antiquated misery, and
a living warning to all uxorious old boys.



Miss AMELIA MARTIN was pale, tallish, thin, and two-and-
thirty what ill-natured people would call plain, and police
reports interesting. She was a milliner and dressmaker,
living on her business and not above it. If you had been a
young lady in service, and had wanted Miss Martin, as a
great many young ladies in service did, you would just have

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe works of Charles Dickens (Volume 26) → online text (page 23 of 31)