Charles Dickens.

Mrs. Lirriper's Legacy online

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Transcribed from the 1894 Chapman and Hall "Christmas Stories" edition by
David Price, email [email protected]





MRS. LIRRIPER'S LEGACY


CHAPTER I - MRS. LIRRIPER RELATES HOW SHE WENT ON, AND WENT OVER


Ah! It's pleasant to drop into my own easy-chair my dear though a little
palpitating what with trotting up-stairs and what with trotting down, and
why kitchen stairs should all be corner stairs is for the builders to
justify though I do not think they fully understand their trade and never
did, else why the sameness and why not more conveniences and fewer
draughts and likewise making a practice of laying the plaster on too
thick I am well convinced which holds the damp, and as to chimney-pots
putting them on by guess-work like hats at a party and no more knowing
what their effect will be upon the smoke bless you than I do if so much,
except that it will mostly be either to send it down your throat in a
straight form or give it a twist before it goes there. And what I says
speaking as I find of those new metal chimneys all manner of shapes
(there's a row of 'em at Miss Wozenham's lodging-house lower down on the
other side of the way) is that they only work your smoke into artificial
patterns for you before you swallow it and that I'd quite as soon swallow
mine plain, the flavour being the same, not to mention the conceit of
putting up signs on the top of your house to show the forms in which you
take your smoke into your inside.

Being here before your eyes my dear in my own easy-chair in my own quiet
room in my own Lodging-House Number Eighty-one Norfolk Street Strand
London situated midway between the City and St. James's - if anything is
where it used to be with these hotels calling themselves Limited but
called unlimited by Major Jackman rising up everywhere and rising up into
flagstaffs where they can't go any higher, but my mind of those monsters
is give me a landlord's or landlady's wholesome face when I come off a
journey and not a brass plate with an electrified number clicking out of
it which it's not in nature can be glad to see me and to which I don't
want to be hoisted like molasses at the Docks and left there telegraphing
for help with the most ingenious instruments but quite in vain - being
here my dear I have no call to mention that I am still in the Lodgings as
a business hoping to die in the same and if agreeable to the clergy
partly read over at Saint Clement's Danes and concluded in Hatfield
churchyard when lying once again by my poor Lirriper ashes to ashes and
dust to dust.

Neither should I tell you any news my dear in telling you that the Major
is still a fixture in the Parlours quite as much so as the roof of the
house, and that Jemmy is of boys the best and brightest and has ever had
kept from him the cruel story of his poor pretty young mother Mrs. Edson
being deserted in the second floor and dying in my arms, fully believing
that I am his born Gran and him an orphan, though what with engineering
since he took a taste for it and him and the Major making Locomotives out
of parasols broken iron pots and cotton-reels and them absolutely a
getting off the line and falling over the table and injuring the
passengers almost equal to the originals it really is quite wonderful.
And when I says to the Major, "Major can't you by _any_ means give us a
communication with the guard?" the Major says quite huffy, "No madam it's
not to be done," and when I says "Why not?" the Major says, "That is
between us who are in the Railway Interest madam and our friend the Right
Honourable Vice-President of the Board of Trade" and if you'll believe me
my dear the Major wrote to Jemmy at school to consult him on the answer I
should have before I could get even that amount of unsatisfactoriness out
of the man, the reason being that when we first began with the little
model and the working signals beautiful and perfect (being in general as
wrong as the real) and when I says laughing "What appointment am I to
hold in this undertaking gentlemen?" Jemmy hugs me round the neck and
tells me dancing, "You shall be the Public Gran" and consequently they
put upon me just as much as ever they like and I sit a growling in my
easy-chair.

My dear whether it is that a grown man as clever as the Major cannot give
half his heart and mind to anything - even a plaything - but must get into
right down earnest with it, whether it is so or whether it is not so I do
not undertake to say, but Jemmy is far out-done by the serious and
believing ways of the Major in the management of the United Grand
Junction Lirriper and Jackman Great Norfolk Parlour Line, "For" says my
Jemmy with the sparkling eyes when it was christened, "we must have a
whole mouthful of name Gran or our dear old Public" and there the young
rogue kissed me, "won't stump up." So the Public took the shares - ten at
ninepence, and immediately when that was spent twelve Preference at one
and sixpence - and they were all signed by Jemmy and countersigned by the
Major, and between ourselves much better worth the money than some shares
I have paid for in my time. In the same holidays the line was made and
worked and opened and ran excursions and had collisions and burst its
boilers and all sorts of accidents and offences all most regular correct
and pretty. The sense of responsibility entertained by the Major as a
military style of station-master my dear starting the down train behind
time and ringing one of those little bells that you buy with the little
coal-scuttles off the tray round the man's neck in the street did him
honour, but noticing the Major of a night when he is writing out his
monthly report to Jemmy at school of the state of the Rolling Stock and
the Permanent Way and all the rest of it (the whole kept upon the Major's
sideboard and dusted with his own hands every morning before varnishing
his boots) I notice him as full of thought and care as full can be and
frowning in a fearful manner, but indeed the Major does nothing by halves
as witness his great delight in going out surveying with Jemmy when he
has Jemmy to go with, carrying a chain and a measuring-tape and driving I
don't know what improvements right through Westminster Abbey and fully
believed in the streets to be knocking everything upside down by Act of
Parliament. As please Heaven will come to pass when Jemmy takes to that
as a profession!

Mentioning my poor Lirriper brings into my head his own youngest brother
the Doctor though Doctor of what I am sure it would be hard to say unless
Liquor, for neither Physic nor Music nor yet Law does Joshua Lirriper
know a morsel of except continually being summoned to the County Court
and having orders made upon him which he runs away from, and once was
taken in the passage of this very house with an umbrella up and the
Major's hat on, giving his name with the door-mat round him as Sir
Johnson Jones, K.C.B. in spectacles residing at the Horse Guards. On
which occasion he had got into the house not a minute before, through the
girl letting him on the mat when he sent in a piece of paper twisted more
like one of those spills for lighting candles than a note, offering me
the choice between thirty shillings in hand and his brains on the
premises marked immediate and waiting for an answer. My dear it gave me
such a dreadful turn to think of the brains of my poor dear Lirriper's
own flesh and blood flying about the new oilcloth however unworthy to be
so assisted, that I went out of my room here to ask him what he would
take once for all not to do it for life when I found him in the custody
of two gentlemen that I should have judged to be in the feather-bed trade
if they had not announced the law, so fluffy were their personal
appearance. "Bring your chains, sir," says Joshua to the littlest of the
two in the biggest hat, "rivet on my fetters!" Imagine my feelings when
I pictered him clanking up Norfolk Street in irons and Miss Wozenham
looking out of window! "Gentlemen," I says all of a tremble and ready to
drop "please to bring him into Major Jackman's apartments." So they
brought him into the Parlours, and when the Major spies his own curly-
brimmed hat on him which Joshua Lirriper had whipped off its peg in the
passage for a military disguise he goes into such a tearing passion that
he tips it off his head with his hand and kicks it up to the ceiling with
his foot where it grazed long afterwards. "Major" I says "be cool and
advise me what to do with Joshua my dead and gone Lirriper's own youngest
brother." "Madam" says the Major "my advice is that you board and lodge
him in a Powder Mill, with a handsome gratuity to the proprietor when
exploded." "Major" I says "as a Christian you cannot mean your words."
"Madam" says the Major "by the Lord I do!" and indeed the Major besides
being with all his merits a very passionate man for his size had a bad
opinion of Joshua on account of former troubles even unattended by
liberties taken with his apparel. When Joshua Lirriper hears this
conversation betwixt us he turns upon the littlest one with the biggest
hat and says "Come sir! Remove me to my vile dungeon. Where is my
mouldy straw?" My dear at the picter of him rising in my mind dressed
almost entirely in padlocks like Baron Trenck in Jemmy's book I was so
overcome that I burst into tears and I says to the Major, "Major take my
keys and settle with these gentlemen or I shall never know a happy minute
more," which was done several times both before and since, but still I
must remember that Joshua Lirriper has his good feelings and shows them
in being always so troubled in his mind when he cannot wear mourning for
his brother. Many a long year have I left off my widow's mourning not
being wishful to intrude, but the tender point in Joshua that I cannot
help a little yielding to is when he writes "One single sovereign would
enable me to wear a decent suit of mourning for my much-loved brother. I
vowed at the time of his lamented death that I would ever wear sables in
memory of him but Alas how short-sighted is man, How keep that vow when
penniless!" It says a good deal for the strength of his feelings that he
couldn't have been seven year old when my poor Lirriper died and to have
kept to it ever since is highly creditable. But we know there's good in
all of us, - if we only knew where it was in some of us, - and though it
was far from delicate in Joshua to work upon the dear child's feelings
when first sent to school and write down into Lincolnshire for his pocket-
money by return of post and got it, still he is my poor Lirriper's own
youngest brother and mightn't have meant not paying his bill at the
Salisbury Arms when his affection took him down to stay a fortnight at
Hatfield churchyard and might have meant to keep sober but for bad
company. Consequently if the Major _had_ played on him with the garden-
engine which he got privately into his room without my knowing of it, I
think that much as I should have regretted it there would have been words
betwixt the Major and me. Therefore my dear though he played on Mr.
Buffle by mistake being hot in his head, and though it might have been
misrepresented down at Wozenham's into not being ready for Mr. Buffle in
other respects he being the Assessed Taxes, still I do not so much regret
it as perhaps I ought. And whether Joshua Lirriper will yet do well in
life I cannot say, but I did hear of his coming, out at a Private Theatre
in the character of a Bandit without receiving any offers afterwards from
the regular managers.

Mentioning Mr. Baffle gives an instance of there being good in persons
where good is not expected, for it cannot be denied that Mr. Buffle's
manners when engaged in his business were not agreeable. To collect is
one thing, and to look about as if suspicious of the goods being
gradually removing in the dead of the night by a back door is another,
over taxing you have no control but suspecting is voluntary. Allowances
too must ever be made for a gentleman of the Major's warmth not relishing
being spoke to with a pen in the mouth, and while I do not know that it
is more irritable to my own feelings to have a low-crowned hat with a
broad brim kept on in doors than any other hat still I can appreciate the
Major's, besides which without bearing malice or vengeance the Major is a
man that scores up arrears as his habit always was with Joshua Lirriper.
So at last my dear the Major lay in wait for Mr. Buffle, and it worrited
me a good deal. Mr. Buffle gives his rap of two sharp knocks one day and
the Major bounces to the door. "Collector has called for two quarters'
Assessed Taxes" says Mr. Buffle. "They are ready for him" says the Major
and brings him in here. But on the way Mr. Buffle looks about him in his
usual suspicious manner and the Major fires and asks him "Do you see a
Ghost sir?" "No sir" says Mr. Buffle. "Because I have before noticed
you" says the Major "apparently looking for a spectre very hard beneath
the roof of my respected friend. When you find that supernatural agent,
be so good as point him out sir." Mr. Buffle stares at the Major and
then nods at me. "Mrs. Lirriper sir" says the Major going off into a
perfect steam and introducing me with his hand. "Pleasure of knowing
her" says Mr. Buffle. "A - hum! - Jemmy Jackman sir!" says the Major
introducing himself. "Honour of knowing you by sight" says Mr. Buffle.
"Jemmy Jackman sir" says the Major wagging his head sideways in a sort of
obstinate fury "presents to you his esteemed friend that lady Mrs. Emma
Lirriper of Eighty-one Norfolk Street Strand London in the County of
Middlesex in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Upon which
occasion sir," says the Major, "Jemmy Jackman takes your hat off." Mr.
Buffle looks at his hat where the Major drops it on the floor, and he
picks it up and puts it on again. "Sir" says the Major very red and
looking him full in the face "there are two quarters of the Gallantry
Taxes due and the Collector has called." Upon which if you can believe
my words my dear the Major drops Mr. Buffle's hat off again. "This - "
Mr. Buffle begins very angry with his pen in his mouth, when the Major
steaming more and more says "Take your bit out sir! Or by the whole
infernal system of Taxation of this country and every individual figure
in the National Debt, I'll get upon your back and ride you like a horse!"
which it's my belief he would have done and even actually jerking his
neat little legs ready for a spring as it was. "This," says Mr. Buffle
without his pen "is an assault and I'll have the law of you." "Sir"
replies the Major "if you are a man of honour, your Collector of whatever
may be due on the Honourable Assessment by applying to Major Jackman at
the Parlours Mrs. Lirriper's Lodgings, may obtain what he wants in full
at any moment."

When the Major glared at Mr. Buffle with those meaning words my dear I
literally gasped for a teaspoonful of salvolatile in a wine-glass of
water, and I says "Pray let it go no farther gentlemen I beg and beseech
of you!" But the Major could be got to do nothing else but snort long
after Mr. Buffle was gone, and the effect it had upon my whole mass of
blood when on the next day of Mr. Buffle's rounds the Major spruced
himself up and went humming a tune up and down the street with one eye
almost obliterated by his hat there are not expressions in Johnson's
Dictionary to state. But I safely put the street door on the jar and got
behind the Major's blinds with my shawl on and my mind made up the moment
I saw danger to rush out screeching till my voice failed me and catch the
Major round the neck till my strength went and have all parties bound. I
had not been behind the blinds a quarter of an hour when I saw Mr. Buffle
approaching with his Collecting-books in his hand. The Major likewise
saw him approaching and hummed louder and himself approached. They met
before the Airy railings. The Major takes off his hat at arm's length
and says "Mr. Buffle I believe?" Mr. Buffle takes off _his_ hat at arm's
length and says "That is my name sir." Says the Major "Have you any
commands for me, Mr. Buffle?" Says Mr. Buffle "Not any sir." Then my
dear both of 'em bowed very low and haughty and parted, and whenever Mr.
Buffle made his rounds in future him and the Major always met and bowed
before the Airy railings, putting me much in mind of Hamlet and the other
gentleman in mourning before killing one another, though I could have
wished the other gentleman had done it fairer and even if less polite no
poison.

Mr. Buffle's family were not liked in this neighbourhood, for when you
are a householder my dear you'll find it does not come by nature to like
the Assessed, and it was considered besides that a one-horse pheayton
ought not to have elevated Mrs. Buffle to that height especially when
purloined from the Taxes which I myself did consider uncharitable. But
they were _not_ liked and there was that domestic unhappiness in the
family in consequence of their both being very hard with Miss Buffle and
one another on account of Miss Buffle's favouring Mr. Buffle's articled
young gentleman, that it _was_ whispered that Miss Buffle would go either
into a consumption or a convent she being so very thin and off her
appetite and two close-shaved gentlemen with white bands round their
necks peeping round the corner whenever she went out in waistcoats
resembling black pinafores. So things stood towards Mr. Buffle when one
night I was woke by a frightful noise and a smell of burning, and going
to my bedroom window saw the whole street in a glow. Fortunately we had
two sets empty just then and before I could hurry on some clothes I heard
the Major hammering at the attics' doors and calling out "Dress
yourselves! - Fire! Don't be frightened! - Fire! Collect your presence of
mind! - Fire! All right - Fire!" most tremenjously. As I opened my
bedroom door the Major came tumbling in over himself and me, and caught
me in his arms. "Major" I says breathless "where is it?" "I don't know
dearest madam" says the Major - "Fire! Jemmy Jackman will defend you to
the last drop of his blood - Fire! If the dear boy was at home what a
treat this would be for him - Fire!" and altogether very collected and
bold except that he couldn't say a single sentence without shaking me to
the very centre with roaring Fire. We ran down to the drawing-room and
put our heads out of window, and the Major calls to an unfeeling young
monkey, scampering by be joyful and ready to split "Where is it? - Fire!"
The monkey answers without stopping "O here's a lark! Old Buffle's been
setting his house alight to prevent its being found out that he boned the
Taxes. Hurrah! Fire!" And then the sparks came flying up and the smoke
came pouring down and the crackling of flames and spatting of water and
banging of engines and hacking of axes and breaking of glass and knocking
at doors and the shouting and crying and hurrying and the heat and
altogether gave me a dreadful palpitation. "Don't be frightened dearest
madam," says the Major, " - Fire! There's nothing to be alarmed at - Fire!
Don't open the street door till I come back - Fire! I'll go and see if I
can be of any service - Fire! You're quite composed and comfortable ain't
you? - Fire, Fire, Fire!" It was in vain for me to hold the man and tell
him he'd be galloped to death by the engines - pumped to death by his over-
exertions - wet-feeted to death by the slop and mess - flattened to death
when the roofs fell in - his spirit was up and he went scampering off
after the young monkey with all the breath he had and none to spare, and
me and the girls huddled together at the parlour windows looking at the
dreadful flames above the houses over the way, Mr. Buffle's being round
the corner. Presently what should we see but some people running down
the street straight to our door, and then the Major directing operations
in the busiest way, and then some more people and then - carried in a
chair similar to Guy Fawkes - Mr. Buffle in a blanket!

My dear the Major has Mr. Buffle brought up our steps and whisked into
the parlour and carted out on the sofy, and then he and all the rest of
them without so much as a word burst away again full speed leaving the
impression of a vision except for Mr. Buffle awful in his blanket with
his eyes a rolling. In a twinkling they all burst back again with Mrs.
Buffle in another blanket, which whisked in and carted out on the sofy
they all burst off again and all burst back again with Miss Buffle in
another blanket, which again whisked in and carted out they all burst off
again and all burst back again with Mr. Buffle's articled young gentleman
in another blanket - him a holding round the necks of two men carrying him
by the legs, similar to the picter of the disgraceful creetur who has
lost the fight (but where the chair I do not know) and his hair having
the appearance of newly played upon. When all four of a row, the Major
rubs his hands and whispers me with what little hoarseness he can get
together, "If our dear remarkable boy was only at home what a delightful
treat this would be for him!"

My dear we made them some hot tea and toast and some hot brandy-and-water
with a little comfortable nutmeg in it, and at first they were scared and
low in their spirits but being fully insured got sociable. And the first
use Mr. Buffle made of his tongue was to call the Major his Preserver and
his best of friends and to say "My for ever dearest sir let me make you
known to Mrs. Buffle" which also addressed him as her Preserver and her
best of friends and was fully as cordial as the blanket would admit of.
Also Miss Buffle. The articled young gentleman's head was a little light
and he sat a moaning "Robina is reduced to cinders, Robina is reduced to
cinders!" Which went more to the heart on account of his having got
wrapped in his blanket as if he was looking out of a violinceller case,
until Mr. Buffle says "Robina speak to him!" Miss Buffle says "Dear
George!" and but for the Major's pouring down brandy-and-water on the
instant which caused a catching in his throat owing to the nutmeg and a
violent fit of coughing it might have proved too much for his strength.
When the articled young gentleman got the better of it Mr. Buffle leaned
up against Mrs. Buffle being two bundles, a little while in confidence,
and then says with tears in his eyes which the Major noticing wiped, "We
have not been an united family, let us after this danger become so, take
her George." The young gentleman could not put his arm out far to do it,
but his spoken expressions were very beautiful though of a wandering
class. And I do not know that I ever had a much pleasanter meal than the
breakfast we took together after we had all dozed, when Miss Buffle made
tea very sweetly in quite the Roman style as depicted formerly at Covent
Garden Theatre and when the whole family was most agreeable, as they have
ever proved since that night when the Major stood at the foot of the Fire-
Escape and claimed them as they came down - the young gentleman
head-foremost, which accounts. And though I do not say that we should be
less liable to think ill of one another if strictly limited to blankets,
still I do say that we might most of us come to a better understanding if
we kept one another less at a distance.

Why there's Wozenham's lower down on the other side of the street. I had
a feeling of much soreness several years respecting what I must still
ever call Miss Wozenham's systematic underbidding and the likeness of the
house in Bradshaw having far too many windows and a most umbrageous and
outrageous Oak which never yet was seen in Norfolk Street nor yet a
carriage and four at Wozenham's door, which it would have been far more
to Bradshaw's credit to have drawn a cab. This frame of mind continued
bitter down to the very afternoon in January last when one of my girls,
Sally Rairyganoo which I still suspect of Irish extraction though family
represented Cambridge, else why abscond with a bricklayer of the Limerick
persuasion and be married in pattens not waiting till his black eye was
decently got round with all the company fourteen in number and one horse
fighting outside on the roof of the vehicle, - I repeat my dear my ill-
regulated state of mind towards Miss Wozenham continued down to the very
afternoon of January last past when Sally Rairyganoo came banging (I can
use no milder expression) into my room with a jump which may be Cambridge
and may not, and said "Hurroo Missis! Miss Wozenham's sold up!" My dear


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