She and I - Volume 1
by John Conroy Hutcheson ___________ The setting is a dull suburb in London, just after the middle of the nineteenth century. The hero spots a very pretty young lady in church, and falls in love with her. The first problem is to get an introduction. He manages this, but the girl's mother, with an eye to the long-term, knows that our hero is not well-off, while others, who we can see are not the sort of person the girl would like to marry, are. Various parties and expeditions involving the church's congregation take place, and eventually the wooing of the young lady appears successful.
The book is altogether in a different style to Hutcheson's later works, which are mostly nautical. Possibly a period of twenty years separates this book from the later ones. Certainly this book has about it, at times, a feeling of the experimental, particularly in the use of certain words, which one feels Hutcheson may have thought up, and which have not "caught on." Another symptom is the use of unusual hyphenated words, and an over-use of common ones. There are also several quotations from poetry, which one does not mind while they are in English, or perhaps French, but which get a bit tedious when they are in other languages. I particularly dislike this habit when one of these foreign poems is used at the start of the chapter. Couldn't a good translation have done just as well? ___________ SHE AND I - VOLUME ONE
BY JOHN CONROY HUTCHESON
AT FIRST SIGHT.
"I muse, as in a trance, when e'er The languors of thy love-deep eyes Float on me. I would I were So tranced, so wrapt in ecstasies, To stand apart, and to adore, Gazing on thee for evermore!"
I saw her first in church.
Do you happen to know a quaint, dreamy old region in the west of London, which bricks and mortar have not, as yet, overtaken, nor newfangled villas vulgarised?
A region of innumerable market gardens that are principally laid out in long, narrow beds, lost into nothingness as they dwindle down in the dim vista of perspective, and which are planted with curly endive, piquante- looking lettuces, and early cabbages; squat rows of gooseberry bushes and currant trees, with a rose set here and there in between; and sweet- smelling, besides, of hidden violets and honeysuckles, and the pink and white hawthorn of the hedges in May:—
A region of country lanes, ever winding and seemingly never ending, leading down to and past and from the whilom silent, whilom bustling river, that never heeds their tortuous intricacies, but hurries by on its way through the busy city towards the sea below; lanes wherein are to be occasionally met with curious old stone houses, of almost historical antecedents and dreamy as the region in which they lie, scattered about in the queerest situations without plan or precedent, on which the casual pedestrian comes when he least expects:—
Do you know this quaint old region, this fleeting oasis in the Sahara of the building-mad suburban metropolis? I do, well; its market gardens, its circumambient lanes, its old, antiquarian stone houses, and all!
Many a time have I wandered through them; many a time watched the heavy waggons as they went creaking on their way to town and the great emporium at Covent Garden, groaning beneath the wealth and weight of the vegetable produce they carried, and laden so high with cunningly- arranged nests of baskets on baskets, that one believed each moment that they would topple over, and held the breath for fear of hastening their fall; many a time sought to trace each curving lane to its probable goal, or tried to hunt out the hidden histories which lay concealed within the crumbling walls of the old dwellings on which I might happen to light in my walks.
But my favourite ramble, eclipsing all others now in pleasant recollections of by-gone days, was through the Prebend's Walk, bordered with its noble grove of stately lime trees and oaks and elms on either hand; and passing by open fields, that are, in spring, rich with yellow buttercups and star-spangled daisies, and, in summer, ripe with the aromatic odours of new-mown hay.
The Prebend's Walk, beyond where the lime-grove ends, whence the prebend's residence can be faintly distinguished through the clustering masses of tree-foliage, merges into the open, commanding the river in front; but it is still marked out by a stray elm or horse-chestnut, placed at scanty intervals, to keep up the idea of the ancient avenue beyond.
Here, turning to the right and crossing a piece of unkempt land, half copse, half meadow, the scene again changed.
You came to a stile. That surmounted and left behind, a narrow by-path led you through its twisting turns until you reached a tiny, rustic stone bridge—such a tiny, little bridge! This was over the sluice and aqueduct from the adjacent river, which supplied the fosse that in olden times surrounded the prebend's residence, when there were such things as sieges and besiegements in this fair land of ours.
The prebend's residence was then a castle, protected, probably, by battlements and mantlets and turreted walls, and with its keep and its drawbridge, its postern and its fosse—simple works of defence that were armed for retaliation, with catapult and mangonel, the canon raye of the period, besides arquebuse and other hand weapons wielded, no doubt, by mighty men at arms, mail-clad and helmeted, who knew how to give and take with the best of them; now, it was but a peaceful priest's dwelling, inhabited by as true a clergyman and gentleman as ever lived, although it was still a fine old house.
As for the fosse, it sank long ages ago to the level and capacity of a common ditch, and was almost hidden from view by the overhanging boughs and branches of the park trees on the opposite side, and the half- decayed trunks of former monarchs of the forest that filled its bed—a ditch covered with a superstratum of slimy, green water, lank weeds, and rank vegetation; and wherein, at flood time, urchin anglers could fish for eels and sticklebats, and, at ebb, the village ducks disport themselves and mudlarks play.
Along this fosse, the path continued. Further on, it widened into a broader way, which led you direct to the churchyard of Saint Canon's. So studded is it with weatherworn tombstones, inclining at all angles like so many miniature leaning towers of Pisa, ivy-wreathed obelisks and quaintly-fashioned, railed-in monuments, that you can scarcely make out the lower buttresses of the ancient church that stands up from amongst their midst.
With its whitish-grey walls, time-stained and rain-eaten, its severe- looking, square Norman tower, and its generally-formal style of architecture, that edifice does not present a very imposing appearance from without; but, within, the case is different.
Lofty, pointed, stained-glass windows light it. The chancel bears the stamp of the Restoration. Oaken beams; carved galleries, curiously contrived to fit into every available space; high, upright box pews—of the sort instituted, in the reign of Anne, by the renowned Bishop Burnett to restrain the roving eyes of the congregation and make gallants better attend to their devotions; all these, in addition to the memorial slabs and tablets, and weeping angels over cinereal urns, tend to give the church that air of ugliness and comfort which the modern churchman detests.
Dear old church!
I love its old walls, its old chancel, its old pews, its form of worship, and all; for it was there that I first saw her,—my own, my darling!
O, Min, Min! can I ever forget that time?
One Sunday—it is not so long ago that my hair is grey, nor so recently as to prevent my having a story to tell—I was in Saint Canon's church, sitting in one of its old, square box pews, where one was, as it were, shut up in a small, private house, away from all connection with the outer world; for you could not see anything when the door was closed, with the exception of the roof overhead, and, mayhap, the walls around. I was listening to the varied fugue introitus that the organist was playing from the gallery beyond the pulpit,—playing with the full wind power of the venerable reed instrument he skilfully manipulated, having all the stops out,—diapasons, trumpet, vox humana, and the rest. The music was from Handel, a composer of whom the maestro was especially fond; so fond, indeed, that any of the congregation who might have the like musical proclivities need seldom fear disappointment. They could reckon upon hearing the Hallelujah Chorus at least once a fortnight, and the lesser morceaux of Israel in Egypt at intervals in between.
Presently, just before the vicar and curate made their customary processional entry, ere the service began, two ladies were ushered into the large pew which I occupied alone in solitary state. There was room enough, in all conscience. It could have accommodated a round dozen, and that without any squeezing.
Both the ladies were dressed in half-mourning, which attracted my attention and made me observe them more closely than I might otherwise have done. My mind was soon engaged wondering, as one is apt to do— when in church, more particularly—who and what they were. One, I saw, was middle-aged: the other had not, probably, as yet reached her eighteenth year; and what a charming face she had,—what an expression!
I could not take my eyes off her.
How shall I describe her? I had ample opportunity of taking a study, as she faced me on the opposite side of the pew, seated beside the other and elder lady, who, I could see at a glance, was her mother, from the striking likeness between them—although, there was a wonderful difference the while.
Have you never observed the slight, yet unmistakable traits of family resemblance, and the various points in which they are displayed? They may sometimes be only traceable in a single feature, a smile, a look, or in some peculiar mannerism of speech, or action, or even thought; but there they are; and, however indistinct they may be, however faint on casual inspection, a practised eye can seldom fail to perceive them and distinguish the relationship betwixt father and son, or mother and daughter:—the kinship of brothers and sisters is not so evident to strangers. In the present case no one could doubt: the younger lady must certainly be the daughter of the other.
But, what was she like, you ask?
Well, she was not beautiful. She was not even what empty-headed people, unaware of the real signification of the term, call "pretty." She was interesting—will that word suit?
No. The description would not give you the least idea of what her face really was like—much less of her expression, in which consisted its great charm.
Shall I endeavour to picture her to you as I saw her for that first time in church, before Love's busy fingers had woven a halo of romance around her, only allowing me to behold her through a sort of fairy glamour; and making me forget everything concerning her, save that she was "Min," and that I loved her, and that she was the darling of my heart?
Her figure seemed to me then a trifle below the middle height, but so well-proportioned that one could not easily tell, unless standing beside her, whether she was actually short or tall. Her features were Grecian in outline, as regarded the upper portion of her face, and irregular below; with such a delightful little dimple in her curving chin, and full, pouting lips. Her eyes, calm, steady, quiet, loving, grey eyes,— eyes symbolical of faith and constancy, and unswerving fidelity of purpose: eyes that looked like tranquil depths through which you could see the soul-light reflected from below; and which only wanted the stirring power of some great motive or passion to illumine them with a myriad irradiating gems.
But,—pshaw! How can I describe her? It is sacrilege thus to weigh and consider the points and merits of one we love. Besides, even the most perfect and faultlessly-beautiful face in the world would be unable to stand the test of minute examination in detail. As Thomson sings, to put his poetry into prose, how can you "from the diamond single out each ray, when all, though trembling with ten thousand hues, effuse one dazzling undivided light?"
It is impossible. No words of mine could put before you what her face really was like, as it appeared to me then and afterwards when I had learnt to watch and decipher every versatile look and expression it wore. Sometimes, when in repose, it reminded me of one of Raphael's angels. At other times, when moved by mirth and with arch glances dancing in the deep, grey eyes,—and they could make merry when they willed,—it was a witching, teasing, provoking little face. Or, again, if changed by grief,—under which aspect, thank God! I seldom saw it,— a noble, resolute face, bearing that indescribable look of calm, set, high resolve, which the face of the heart-broken daughter of Lear, or the deep-suffering mother of the Gracchi might have borne. You may say, perhaps, that this is rhapsody; but what is love without rhapsody?— what, a love story?
I determined at first, before I had studied it more attentively, that her face lacked expression; but I made a grievous error. I quickly altered my opinion on seeing it in profile and upturned; for I marked the embodiment of devotion it betrayed during the service, when her voice was raised in the praise of her Maker. She looked now exactly like the picture of Saint Cecilia; and her appearance recalled to my mind what one of the American essayists, I forget who it is, observes quaintly somewhere, that it is no wonder that Catholics pay their vows to the queen of heaven, for "the unpoetical side of Protestantism is, that it has no woman to be worshipped."
Of course I had fallen in love with her,—love at first sight; and, although you may not credit the assertion, allow me to put you right upon the point and inform you that such a thing is not only possible, but much more probable, and of more frequent occurrence than a good many people imagine or believe. Love is sometimes the growth of degrees: it may also bound into existence in a moment; for there is a certain sympathetic attraction between some persons, as there is between others an antipathetical, repulsive force. Understand, passion is not here alluded to. That is, of the senses. What I mean is, the essence or spirit of love, as pure as that which may subsist amongst the angels above.
I felt such love growing within me, as I looked at her, with her downcast eyes bent over her Bible, or as she sat, with head upraised and attentive ear, drinking in the words of spiritual wisdom addressed us by our good old pastor, of which at the time I took but little heed. She did not seem at all conscious that she was being observed; although she doubtless knew that I was looking at her, in that instinctive way common to her sex, in which they manage to take cognisance of everything going on around them, without so much as raising an eyelid. Indeed, she told me afterwards that she had been well aware of my watch, and added that she thought me "very rude, too;" but, just now, she took no notice of my looks and longings, as far as I could see.
It was not until the close of the service, and when she and her mother were leaving the pew, that I obtained a glance, a look, which dwelt in my memory for days and days. She had brought with her into church a tiny spray of mignonette, and this she left behind her on the seat close to where she had been sitting. I perceived it, and taking it up, made as if to restore it to its lawful owner.
A half smile faintly played across her slightly parted lips, as she looked at me for an instant, an amused sparkle in her clear, grey eyes, and then turned away with a polite inclination and shake of her little head, in refusal of the mignonette, which I have kept ever since. But that smile!
Her whole face lit up, gaining just the colour and expression which it appeared to lack. My fate was sealed; and, as the organ pealed forth the grand prayer from Mose in Egitto for the exodus of the congregation, and I slowly paced down the aisle after my enchantress, my soul expanded into a very heaven of adoration and love!
"With what a leaden and retarding weight, Does expectation load the wing of time!"
When, after a few minutes, I got outside the church, she had disappeared, although I had endeavoured to follow as close as I could on her footsteps, without, of course, appearing to be intrusively watching her.
I had managed too cleverly. She was gone. I had been so long, to my great vexation, painfully pacing after the slowly-moving, out-shuffling mass of ex-worshippers—dexterously essaying the while to avoid treading on the trailing trains of the ladies, or incurring the anathemas, "not loud, but deep," of gouty old gentlemen with tender feet, which they would put in one's way—that, on my succeeding at length in arriving at the outer porch, and being enabled to don my hat once more, there was not a single trace of either her mother or herself to be seen anywhere in sight.
Here was a disappointment! While getting-out, I had made up my mind to track them home, and find out where they lived; and now, they might be beyond my ken for ever.
I had noted them both so keenly, as to their appearance and the manner in which each was dressed, for, in spite of mother and daughter being alike "in mourning," there were still distinctive features in their toilets, that I could not have failed to distinguish them from the rest of the congregation.
But now, my plans were entirely overthrown. What should I do in the emergency? Stop, there was Horner; I would ask him if he had seen them. There, dressed a merveille and with his inseparable eye-glass stuck askew in the corner of his left eye, he stood listlessly criticising the people as they came forth from prayer, in his usual impertinently- inoffensive way. He was just as likely as not to have seen them, and could naturally give me the information I sought about the direction in which they had gone.
"Jack Horner," as he was familiarly styled by those having the honour of his acquaintance, was a clerk in Downing Street languishing on a hundred-and-fifty pounds per annum, which paltry income he received from an ungrateful country in consideration of his valuable services on behalf of the state. How he contrived merely to dress himself and follow the ever-changing fashions on that sum, paid quarterly though it was, appeared a puzzle to many; but he did, and well, too. It was currently believed, besides, by his congeners, that he never got into debt, happy fellow that he was! notwithstanding that, in addition to his hopes of promotion at "the office," he had considerable "expectations" from a bachelor uncle, reported to be enormously wealthy and with no near kindred to leave his money to save our friend Horner, who cultivated him accordingly.
No, Horner never got into debt. He was said to be in the habit of promptly discharging all his tailor's claims punctually every year, as the gay and festive season of Christmas—and bills!—came round.
Truth to say, however, there need not have been any great astonishment concerning Horner in this respect. The surprise would have been that he had not discharged his just obligations to his tailor and others; for his habits were regular, and he was guiltless of the faintest soupcon of extravagance. He never played billiards, did not smoke, did not care about "little dinners" at Richmond or elsewhere, never betted, never went to the Derby, seldom, if ever, patronised the theatre, unless admitted through the medium of orders; consequently, he had no expenditure, with the exception of that required for his toilet, as he eschewed all those many and various ways mentioned for running through money, which more excitable but less conscientious mortals than himself find thrown in their way.
His neatly-clad form and constant eye-glass were in great request at all tea-parties and carpet dances that took place in the social circle to which he belonged; but, beyond such slight beguilements of "life's dull weary round," his existence was uneventful. His character altogether might be said to have been a negative one, as the only speciality for which he was particularly distinguished was for the variety of intonation and meaning which he could give to his two favourite exclamations, "Yaas," and "Bai-ey Je-ove!"—thus economising his conversational powers to a considerable extent, which was a great advantage for him—and others, too, as he might, you know, have had little more to say.
Horner's principal amusement when at home on a Sunday, was to go to church; that is, if he had not to go to town, which was sometimes the case even on the great day of rest, through his diplomatic skill being required in Downing Street. This was what he said, pleading his having to adjust some nice and knotty point of difference between the valiant King of Congo and the neighbouring and pugnacious Ja Ja, or else to remonstrate, in firm and equable language, as Officialdom knows so well how to do, against the repeated unjustifiable homicides of the despot of Dahomey, in sacrifice to his gods, beneath the sheltering shade of the tum-tum tree.
Well, what of that—you may pertinently remark—a most praiseworthy proceeding, surely, on his part to go to church whenever he possibly could? Granted; but then, Horner was prone to indulge in another practice which might not be held quite so praiseworthy in some people's view.
Quite contrary to his abnormal mode of progression, he would hasten out of the sacred edifice immediately after the doxology; and, planting himself easily and gracefully in a studied attitude some short distance from the doors, would from that commanding position proceed to stare at and minutely observe the congregation, collectively and severally, as they came tripping forth from the porch after him. This was, really, very indefensible; and yet, I do not think that Horner meant to commit any deliberate wrong in so doing.
Be the motive what it may, such was his general habit.
He would always courteously acknowledge the passing salutations of men- folk with an almost imperceptible nod, so as not to disarrange the careful adjustment of his eye-glass, or disturb the poise of his beaver: to ladies, on the contrary, he was all "effusion," as the French say, dashing off his hat as if he metaphorically flung it at their feet for a gage d'amour, not of battle—just like an Ethiopian minstrel striking the gay tambourine on his knee in a sudden flight of enthusiasm. All in all, Horner was essentially a ladies' man, his points lying in that way; and, although what is popularly known as "harmless," he was not by any means a bad sort of fellow on the whole, when judged by the more exacting masculine standard, being very good-natured and obliging, like most of us, when you did not put him out of his way or expect too much from him.
To me at this crisis of my fate, he appeared for the nonce an angel in human form. He would be just the person who could tell me in what direction my unknown enchantress went. I would ask him.
"Hullo, Horner!" I said, tapping him at once on the shoulder, and arresting him from the abstracted contemplation of two stylish girls in pink, who were just turning the corner of the churchyard out of sight.
"Yaas, 'do?" he replied, moving his head round slowly, as if it worked on a pivot which, wanted greasing, so as to confront me. He was as mild and imperturbable as usual. An earthquake, I believe, would not have quickened his movements.
"How d'ye do?" responded I to his mono-syllabical greeting. "I say, old fellow," I continued, "did you chance to see which way two ladies went who came out a minute or so before myself? One was middle-aged, or thereabouts; the other young; both were dressed in half-mourning. They looked strangers to the parish, I think: you must have seen them, I'm sure, eh?"
"Bai-ey Je-ove! Two middle-aged ladies; one dwessed in hawf-mawning?—"
"Nonsense, Horner!" said I, interrupting him; "what a mess you are making of it! I said one lady was middle-aged; and both dressed in half-mourning."
"Weally, now? No, Lorton, 'pon honah; didn't see 'em, I asshaw you. Was it Baby Blake and her moth-ah, now, ah?" and he smiled complacently, as if he had given me a fund of information.
"Baby Blake!" I ejaculated in disgust—"why, Horner, you're quite absurd. Do you take me for a fool? I think I ought to know Baby Blake as well as yourself by this time, my Solon!"
"Yaas; but, my deah fellah, I don't know who you know, you know. Bai-ey Je-ove! there's Lizzie Dangler. Who's that man she's got in tow, ah?"
"Hang Lizzie Dangler!" I exclaimed, impatiently. "Can't you answer a question for once in your life—did you see them, or not?"
"Weally, Lorton," said he, in quite an imploring way, "you needn't get angwy with a fellah, because he can't tell you what you want to know, you know! It's weally too hot for that sawt of thing. I didn't see them, I tell you. I can't say mo-ah than that, can I? You mustn't expect a fellah to see evwybody. Why, it's seem-plee impawsible!"
His languid drawl exasperated me.
"Oh, bother!" I muttered, sotto voce, but loud enough for him to hear; and turned away from him angrily, leaving him still standing in his pet attitude, taking mental stock of all the fast-looking fair ones who might come under his notice. "Oh, bother?" I am not prepared to assert positively that I did not use a much stronger expletive. He ought to have seen them! What the deuce was the use of his sticking star-gazing there, unless to observe people, I should like to know?
Just fancy, too, his comparing my last madonna, the image and eidolon of whose witching face filled my heart, to that odious little flirt, Baby Blake, a young damsel that hawked her tender affections about at the beck and call of every male biped who might for the moment be enthralled by her charms! It was like his cool impudence. And then, again, his asking me his stupid, inane questions, as if I cared what man, and how many. Lizzie Dangler or any other girl might have "in tow," as he called it. Idiot! I declare to you I positively hated Horner at that moment, inoffensive and harmless as he was.
I left the precincts of the church; and, walking along the path by the fosse, directed my steps towards the Prebend's Walk, hoping to light upon the object of my quest.
The air was filled with the fragrance of wild flowers and the smell of the new-mown hay from the adjacent meadows. One heard the buzzing sound of busy insect life around, and the love-calls of song-birds from the hedge-rows; while the grateful shade of the lime-grove seemed to invite repose and suggest peaceful meditation: but I heeded none of these things. I felt, like the singer of "The Banks and Braes of Bonny Doon," out of harmony with nature and all its surroundings. My thoughts were jostling one another in a wild dance through my breast. Where on earth could they have disappeared so very suddenly! It was quite inexplicable. I must find them. Himmel! I must see her again. I felt in a perfect state of frenzy. So excited was I, that, although it was a broiling hot day in July, I walked along as if I were walking for a wager. I do not think, by the way, that a very learned and distinguished philosopher was so very much out in his reckoning after all, when he laid down the general dogma, that all men are more or less mad. I know, at all events, that I felt mad enough at this moment, as I was careering along the Prebend's Walk. I was almost nerved up to desperation.
I was an only child; and my parents being both elderly people, rarely mixing in society, I could not make use of home influence, as I might have done if I had had any kind sister to assist me in the way that kind sisters sometimes can assist their brothers when they fall victims to the tender passion. Whom should I ask to help me in my strait? I could not go round everywhere, asking everybody after two ladies dressed in half-mourning, could I? Not exactly. People might take me for a maniac at large; and, even should I be one, still, I would naturally wish to keep my mental derangement to myself. What could I do?
While I was thus perplexing myself with vain imaginings, the recollection of the Dashers occurred to my mind. How was it that I had not thought of them before, when they were the very people for my purpose? Why, not a soul could come into Saint Canon's parish without their knowledge, and a fresh face in church would set them at once on the qui vive. The Dashers, of course, must have seen my unknown ladies, and would be able to give me more information concerning them than I could expect from any one else. I had often heard three to one betted, with no "takers," that they would tell you everything about any particular person, his, or her, antecedents, prospects, and position, who had but remained for ten consecutive minutes within a radius of one mile of their house. To the Dashers I would consequently go, by all means—thank Providence for the suggestion, and their existence!
Lady Dasher, the head of this all-wise circle, was the youngest daughter of a deceased Irish peer, whom she was continually bringing on the carpet, and causing—unhappy ghost that he was—to retrace his weary way from wherever the spirits of defunct Hibernian nobles most do congregate.
She did not do this through family pride, or with any boastful intention, but simply from sheer morbidity. She was always scoring down grievances in the present by looking back on the past. With her, it was all repining and retrospect. When her poor father, the earl, was alive, she was never slighted in this way. Had her dear papa but now existed, Mistress So-and-So would have returned her call, and not insulted her by her palpable neglect. It was very Christian-like and charitable to say otherwise; but she knew better: it was on account of her being poor, and living in a small house. Oh, yes! she was very well aware of that; yet, although she could not keep up a grand establishment and was poor, she was proud, and would never forget that she was an earl's daughter. She would not be ground down with impunity! Even the worm will turn: and so on. You can understand her character almost without another word of description.
In spite of being a kindly-hearted soul at bottom, she was really, I believe, the most morbid and melancholic person that ever breathed,—at least, in my experience. Should you, unfortunately, be forced to remain for any length of time in her presence, she had a most singularly depressing influence on your spirits. Wet blanket? Bless your heart! that would be no name for her. She was a patent shower-bath, coming down on all your cherished sentiments, hopes, and schemes, with a "whish" of heavy extinguishment. The cheeriest, sprightliest mortal in the world could not have continued gay in her society. Mark Tapley would have met his match in her, I'm certain.
Next to the demise of her lamented parent—which was indeed an after consideration—Lady Dasher's marriage was the source and well-spring of all her woes. She had espoused, as soon as she had a will of her own, a handsome young gin distiller, who "ran" a large manufactory in Essex. People said it was entirely a love match; but, whether that was the case or no, all I know is, that on changing the honoured name of Planetree—the first Earl had been boot-black to the conquering Cromwell in Ireland—for the base-born patronymic Dasher, all her troubles began. Her noble relatives cut her dead in the first instance, as Dasher, aspiring though he was, aspired a trifle too high. The connection was never acknowledged; and his papa-in-law, utterly ignoring his entity, never gave him the honour of an invitation to Ballybrogue Castle, the ancestral seat of the Planetrees in Tipperary.
This was not the worst of it, either. Dasher, forgetting that simplicity of his forefathers which had promoted his fortunes, learnt on his marriage to launch out into unheard-of extravagances, spending his hardly-gained substance in riotous living. He kept open house in town and country, getting laughed at, en parenthese, by the toadies who spunged upon him; failed; got into "the Gazette;" and?—died of a broken heart. Poor Dasher!
On the death of her other half—it is problematical which half he was, whether better or worse—Lady Dasher found herself left with a couple of daughters and a few thousands, which her husband had taken care to settle on her so as to be beyond the reach of his creditors. The provision was ample to have enabled her to live in comfort, if she had practised the slightest economy; but, never having learnt that species of common sense, called "savoir faire," which is useful in every-day life, Lady Dasher soon outran the constable. She then had to appeal to her father, Earl Planetree, who, now that poor Dasher disgraced the family escutcheon no longer by living, acknowledged her once more, relieving her necessities; and when he, too, died, he bequeathed her a fair income, on which, by dint of hard struggling, she contrived to support existence and repine at her bitter lot.
She was in the habit of telling people—who, between ourselves, were hopelessly ignorant that such a person as the late earl had ever breathed, and cared less, probably, about the fact—that had her poor papa been yet alive, things would have been "very different with her;" an assertion of questionable accuracy.
There are some persons in this world who can never by any possibility take a rose-coloured view of life. No matter what vivid touches the great painter puts in on the canvas of their every-day being, they always remain mentally colour-blind, and perceive but one monotonous neutral tint—as they will continue to do until the end, when, perchance, their proper sight may be restored.
Lady Dasher was one of these. She persisted in taking a despondent view of everything around her—her past, her future, her position, her prospects; nay, even the circumstances and surroundings of her friends and few intimates came to be regarded in the same unsatisfactory light. She was unacquainted with the healthy tone of wisdom contained in the old quatrain,—
"That man, I trow, is doubly blest, Who of the worst can make the best; And he, I'm sure, is doubly curst, Who of the best doth make the worst!"
Morbid and melancholic had been her disposition at the commencement of the chapter:—morbid and melancholic she would naturally remain to its close.
With all her morbidity, however, she took a wonderful, albeit lachrymose, interest in the temporal matters of the parish; and was acquainted with most of the contemporary facts and incidents with which her neighbours were mixed up, being mostly indebted for her information, as she seldom went out herself, to her daughters Bessie and Seraphine— the latter commonly known amongst audacious young men as "the Seraph," on account of her petite figure, her blue eyes, and her musical voice, the latter having just a suspicion of Irish brogue and blarney about it.
They were nice lively girls and much liked, as they were quite a contrast to their mother. Indeed, it was surprising, considering her disposition and their bringing up, that they were what they were. Had it not been for them, Lady Dasher's existence would have been considerably more monotonous and dreary than it was; but, thanks to their assistance, she was kept thoroughly "posted up" in all the social life going on in her midst, in which, through her own lache, she was unable to take part.
Bessie and Seraphine did not attend parties, although sprightly, taking girls like themselves would have been welcomed in almost any circle. The fact was, people would have been glad enough to invite them, had their mother not been jealous of any attention paid to her daughters that was not extended to herself; and, hospitable as their friends might be, it was but reasonable that a monument of grief and picture of woe unutterable should not be earnestly sought after for the centre-piece of a social gathering. It was owing to the same reason, also, that neither of the girls had yet got married; for Lady Dasher would certainly have expected any matrimonial proposal to have been made to herself in the first instance, when, after declining the honour, she could have passed the handkerchief to her daughters. Besides, the mere dread of having the infliction of such a mother-in-law would have sufficed to frighten off the most ardent wooer or rabid aspirant for connubial felicity.
Notwithstanding this, the girls went about to some extent in their own ways; and, on their return home, naturally gossiped with their mother over all they had seen and heard abroad. Thus it was that Lady Dasher was so well-informed in all local matters, and why I thought of appealing to her aid. But I should have to manage cautiously. She would think nothing—she was such a simple-minded body—of detailing all your inquiries to the very subject of them, in a fit of unguarded confidence. Cross-examining her was a most diplomatic proceeding. If you went the right way about it, you could get anything out of her without committing yourself in the slightest way; whereas, if you set to work wrongly, you might not only be foundered by a provoking reticence, which she could assume at times, but might, also, some day hear that your secret intentions and machiavellian conduct were the common talk of the parish.
Lady Dasher, although of a strictly pious turn of mind, did not object to Sunday callers. Good. I would go there that very afternoon after lunch, and see how the land lay.
I kept my resolve, and went.
Ushered into the well-known little drawing-room of the corner house of The Terrace, whose windows had a commanding view of the main thoroughfare of our suburb, I had ample leisure, before the ladies appeared, of observing the arrangement of certain fuchsias in a monster flower-stand that took up half the room, on the growth and excellence of which Lady Dasher prided herself greatly. Praise her fuchsias, and you were the most excellent of men; pass them by unnoticed, and you might be capable of committing the worst sin in the decalogue.
Is it not curious, how particular scents of flowers and their appearance will call up old scenes and circumstances to your memory? To this day, the mere sight of a fuchsia will bring back to my mind Lady Dasher's little drawing-room; and I can fancy myself sitting in the old easy- chair by the window, and listening to that morbid lady's chit-chat.
Presently my lady came in, pale and melancholy, as usual, and with her normal expression of acutest woe.
"Dear me, Mr Lorton! how very ill you are looking, to be sure. Is there not consumption in your family?"
"Not that I'm aware of, Lady Dasher, thank you," I replied; "but how well you are looking, if one may judge by appearances."
"Ah!" she sighed with deep sadness, "appearances, my young friend, are very deceptive. I am not well—far from it, in fact. I believe, Mr Lorton, that I am fast hastening to that bourne from whence no traveller ever returns. I would not be at all surprised to wake up some morning and find that I was dead!"
"Indeed!" I said, for the fact she hinted at would have been somewhat astonishing to a weak-minded person. I then tried to change the conversation from this sombre subject to one I had more at heart; but it was very hard to lead her on the track I wished. "We had a good congregation to-day, Lady Dasher, I think," said I; "the church seemed to be quite crammed."
"Really, now; do you think so? I did not consider it at all a large gathering. When poor dear papa was alive, I've seen twice the number there, I am certain. You may say that the falling off is due to the hot weather and people going out of town, but I think it is owing to the spread of unbelief. We are living in terrible times, Mr Lorton. It seems to me that every one is becoming more atheistic and wicked every day. I don't know what we shall come to, unless we have another deluge, or something of that sort, to recall us to our senses!"
Fortunately at this juncture, before Lady Dasher, could get into full swing on her favourite theological hobby-horse—the degeneracy of the present age—Bessie and Seraphine entered the room. The conversation then became a trifle livelier, and we discussed the weather, the fashions, and various items of clerical gossip.
I discreetly asked if they had seen any new faces in church. But no; neither of them had, it was evident, seen my ladies in half-mourning, about whom I was diffident of inquiring directly.
Were any fresh people coming to reside in the neighbourhood that they had heard of?
"No," said Lady Dasher, with a melancholy shake of her head. "No; how should they? It is not very likely that any new residents would come here! The place may suit poor people like me, but would not take the fancy of persons having plenty of money to spend, who can select a house where they like. Ah! the miseries of poverty, Mr Lorton, and to be poor but proud! I hope you will never have my bitter experience, I'm sure!"—with another sad shake of her head, and an expression on her face that she was pretty certain that I would one day arrive at the same hollow estimate of life as herself. "No," she continued, "no new people are at all likely to come here. I saw Mr Shuffler yesterday, and asked if that house which he has to let in The Terrace were yet taken, but he said, 'not that he knew of;' he had 'heard of nobody coming'—had I? I assure you he was quite impertinent about it. He would not have spoken to me so uncivilly had poor dear papa been alive, I know! But it is always the way with that class of people:—they only look upon you in the light of how much you are worth!"
"Oh, ma!" said Bessie Dasher, "I think Mr Shuffler very civil and polite. He always makes me quite a low bow whenever he sees me."
"Ah! my dear," said her mother, "that's because you are young and pretty, as I was once. He never bows to me as he used to do when your grandpapa lived."
After a little more harping on the same string, the conversation drooped; and, as none of them could give me any further information towards assisting my quest, I took my leave of Lady Dasher and her daughters, in a much less buoyant frame of mind than when I had first thought of my visit an hour or so previously.
I had made certain that they would know something of the mysterious ladies in half-mourning; consequently, I was all the more disappointed. However, they had given me one hint; I would ask Shuffler himself, on the morrow, whether any new residents were expected in the suburb.
Shuffler was a house-agent who had to do with all the letting and taking, overhauling and repairing, of most of the habitations in our neighbourhood. He was a portly, oily personage; one who clipped his English royally, and walked, through the effects of bunions, I believe— although some mistook it for gout, and gave him the credit of being afflicted with that painful but aristocratic malady—as if he were continuously on pattens, or wore those clumsy wooden sabots which the Normandy peasantry use. He was also one-eyed, like Cyclops, the place of the missing organ being temporarily filled with a round glass orb, whose nature could be detected at a glance; this seemed to stare at you with a dull, searching look and take mental and disparaging stock of your person, while the sound eye was winking and blinking at you as jovially as you please.
Shuffler was affable enough to me, as usual, in despite of Lady Dasher having such a bad opinion of his manners; but, he could give me no information such as I wanted to hear. Everybody, really, appeared to be as cautious as "Non mi recordo" was on Queen Caroline's trial. Nobody had heard of anybody coming to our neighbourhood. Nobody had seen any strange faces about. Nobody knew anything!
It was quite vexatious.
I haunted the Prebend's Walk. I went to church three times every Sunday, but did not meet her. The only thing I had to assure me that it was not all a dream, and that I had really seen her, was the little spray of mignonette, which I carried next my heart.
It was now July.
Sultry August came and passed; dull September followed suit; dreary October ensued, in the natural cycle of the seasons; foggy, suicidal November came; and yet, she came not!
I felt almost weary of waiting and looking out and longing, notwithstanding the inward assurance I had, and the fact of my whole nature being imbued with the belief that we should meet again. We must meet. I knew that, I felt firmly convinced of it.
Thus the year wore on. Weeks and months elapsed since our meeting in church, which I should never, never forget.
Dreary, dreary expectation! I lost interest regarding things in which I had formerly been interested. The society of people which I had previously coveted became distasteful to me.
Lady Dasher, you may be sure, I never went nigh; she would have altogether overwhelmed me.
As for that insufferable ass, Horner, he was always asking me whenever we met, which was much oftener than I cared about, with a provoking simper and his unmeaning, eye-glass stare and drawling voice—coupled with a tone of would-be-facetious irony—"Bai-ey Je-ove! I say, old fellah, seen those ladies in hawf-mawning yet, ah?"
Brute! I could have kicked him; and I wonder now that I didn't!
"She's coming, my own, my sweet! Had she never so airy a tread, My heart would hear her, and beat, Were it earth in an earthy bed!"
It was now November, as I have already said; and a very dull, dismal, desolate November it was—more so, even, than usual. Fogs were frequent, rain regular, and the sun singular in his appearance. It was enough to make one feel miserable, without the haunting thoughts that affected me; so, before the weather became too much for me and turned me insane, I determined to go abroad for a short time to try what change of air and scene could do towards relaxing my mind, although nothing could banish the remembrance of her from my heart.
When I came back to England, it was close on Christmas, and Christmas, you must know, was always a busy and stirring time with us in our suburb, especially so, too, for its younger and prettier parishioners.
Then the church had to be decorated—a matter not to be trifled with. Commencing about a week or ten days before the festival, these young ladies would gather themselves together in the old school-room, which was a detached building, situated a short distance from Saint Canon's.
Here, the scholars being dismissed for their long holidays, they would change the look of the academic apartment into that of a miniature Covent Garden market or greengrocer's shop, filling it up with heaps of evergreens—holly and ivy and yew, ad libitum, to be transformed by the aid of their nimble fingers into all sorts of floral decorations. Garlands were woven, elaborate illuminated texts and scrolls painted, and wondrous crosses of commingled laurel leaves and holly berries contrived; all of which went so far to change the aspect of the old church, that those well acquainted with it could not help wondering within themselves, if, indeed, it was really so very old and ancient after all as learned archaeologists said; while new comers, who only saw it in its festal trim, had serious doubts as to whether they were not in a ritualistic edifice—the vicar allowing the girls to have their own way and import as much natural ornament as they pleased. The flowers and shrubs were God's handiwork, he said, so why should they not be used in God's service, to do honour to "the Giver of the feast?"
This year was no exception to the general practice. On my going down to the school-room on the first day that the work of "the decorations" began, which was the very morning after my return from the continent, I found things just as they had been in previous years, save that some half-a-dozen panes of glass had been smashed in the oriel window at the eastern end of the room, through the incautious manipulation of a bunch of holly by some "green" hand.
There were the usual number of young ladies, all of whose faces I knew so well, engaged in the pious work; with Horner, Mr Mawley the curate, and one or two other attendant male aides, to minister to their needs—such as stripping off leaves for wreath making—and help them to flirt the dull hours away. Dear little Miss Pimpernell, our vicar's maiden sister and good right hand, presided, also, to preserve order and set an example for industrious souls to follow, just as she had been in the habit of presiding as far back as I could recollect.
She was not there merely as a chaperon. Oh no! If Lady Dasher, sitting on an upturned form in a corner, like a very melancholy statue of Patience, was not sufficient to prevent the prudent proprieties from being outraged, there was, also, the "model of all the virtues" present—Miss Spight—a lady of a certain age, who, believing, as the kindly beings of her order do, that there was too large a flow of the milk of human kindness current in the world, deemed it her mission to temper this dispensation by the admixture of as much vitriol and vinegar as in her lay: she succeeded pretty well, too, for that matter, in her practice and belief.
Little Miss Pimpernell was quite a different sort of body altogether to Miss Spight. Every one who knew her, or ever saw her kindly face, loved her and venerated her.
She was the very impersonification of good-nature, good-will, and good action. Did any misfortune chance to befall some one with whom she was acquainted, or any casual stranger with whom she might be brought in contact, there was none of that "I told you so" spirit of philosophy about her.
No; she tried to do her best for the sufferer as well as she was able; and would not be contented until she was absolutely satisfied that matters had somewhat mended.
Young and old, rich and poor, alike considered her as one of their best friends—as indeed she was—a good Samaritan to whom they might always confide their griefs and ailments, their sufferings and privations, with the assurance that they would certainly meet with a kindly sympathy and a word of comfort, in addition to as much practical assistance in their adversity and physical consolation in their need as "little" Miss Pimpernell—that was the fond title she was always known by—could compass or give.
The worst of it was, that she was in such general request, that we had to make up our minds to lose her sometimes.
Of course it was a selfish consideration, but we missed her and grumbled at her visits and absences sadly; for, when she was away, everything appeared to go wrong in the parish. Still none, knowing the gratification that her ministrations gave her, would have grudged her their indulgence.
She was never so happy as when she was helping somebody; and, of course, people took advantage of her weakness, and were merciless in their calls upon her time.
Whenever the most distant cousin or stray relative happened to be ill— or about to move into a new house, or be married, or increase the population in defiance of Malthus, or depart from the pomps and vanities of this wicked world—as sure as possible would Miss Pimpernell be sent for post haste. She had, as a matter of course, to nurse the patient, assist the flitting, accelerate the wedding, welcome the little stranger, or console the mourners as the case might be.
We, the inhabitants of the suburb which she blessed with her presence, thought all this a gross infringement of our rights in her possession, although we welcomed the dear old lady all the more gladly when we got her back again amongst us once more.
As for confidences, I believe she had the skeleton secret of every soul in the place confided to her sacred keeping at some one time or other; and love stories! why, she must have been cram full of them—from the heart-breaking affair of poor little Polly Skittles, the laundress' pretty daughter, up to Baby Blake's last flirtation.
What her brother would have done without her, it would be impossible to tell. She had quite as much to do with the parish as he; and, I'm sure, if little Miss Pimpernell had not kept house for him and minded all his temporal affairs, he would never have known what to eat or drink, or what to put on.
The vicar had lost his wife soon after his marriage, when he was quite a young man; but, instead of being bowed down by his affliction, as might have been the case with a good many ardent natures like his, he earnestly fought against it, buckling to his work, all the more vigorously perhaps, as one of Christ's ministers.
Everybody thenceforth was wife and child, brother and sister to him: humanity in general took the place of all family ties.
He was the purest Christian character I have ever come across, lovable, intelligent, winning and merry, too, at times, in spite of his grief— would that all ministers were like him to uphold the old love and honour of our national Church!
No orator or skilled preacher in the pulpit, he simply led you captive by his earnestness and evident thorough belief in all that he uttered; so that "those who came to scoff, remained to pray." No hard, metallic repetition by rote was his; but the plain, unvarnished story of the gospel which he felt and of whose truth he was assured, animated by a broad spirit of Protestantism that led him to extend a raising hand to every erring brother, and see religion in other creeds besides his own.
"In his duty prompt at every call, He watch'd and wept, he pray'd and felt for all; And, as a bird each fond endearment tries, To tempt its new-fledged offspring to the skies, He tried each art, reproved each dull delay, Allured to brighter worlds, and led the way!"
He and his good sister were, in fact, a pair of heart-oddities, whom to know was to admire with reverential affection. They could not have had an enemy or slanderer in the world. Even Miss Spight had never a word to say against either; that alone spoke volumes for them.
"Oh, Frank," exclaimed little Miss Pimpernell as I entered the school- room—she always called me by my Christian name, or styled me her "boy," having known me from childhood—"Oh, Frank! Here you are at last! I am so glad to see you back again, my boy: you have just come in time to help us. I was really afraid those nasty Frenchmen had eaten you up, you have been such a long time away!"
"I dare say there's enough left of him," sneered Mr Mawley the curate. He was the direct opposite of the vicar; and a man whom I cordially detested, the feeling, I believe, being mutual. He was consequential, dogmatic, and with all the self-asserting priggishness of young Oxford fresh upon him. I confess I was pretty much inclined the same way myself; so, it was but natural that we should disagree: two suns, you know, cannot shine in the same hemisphere.
Before I could answer him, Miss Pimpernell hastily interposed. She hated to hear us arguing and bickering as was generally our way when we met. "Please bring the measuring tape, Frank," she said, "you will find it on that bench in the corner; and come and see how long my wreath is. It should be just nineteen feet, but I'm afraid I am a yard short."
By the time I had done as my old friend requested, the conversation which I had interrupted by my advent resumed its course. They were talking about the future world, and ventilating sundry curious thoughts on the subject.
"And what do you think heaven will be like?" asked Seraphine Dasher, appealing to me. "Everybody's opinion has been given but yours and Miss Pimpernell's, and Mr Mawley's; and I'm coming to them presently."
"I'm sure I can't say," I answered, "perhaps a combination of choral music, running water, I mean the sound of brooks gliding and fountains splashing, with almond toffee at discretion: that's my idea of earthly felicity at least."
"Oh, fie!" said my interlocutor; while I could hear Miss Spight murmur "What deplorable levity," as she glowered at me severely and looked sympathisingly at Mr Mawley.
"Well," said I, "I was only joking then; for, really, I've never seriously thought about the matter. As far as I can believe, however, I do not imagine heaven is going to be a place where we'll be singing hymns all day. I think we shall be happy there, each in our several ways, as we are on earth, and be in the company of those we love: heaven would be miserable without that, I think."
"And what do you say, Miss Pimpernell?" next asked Seraphine.
"I do not say anything at all, my dear: the subject is beyond me. I leave it to One who is wiser than us all to tell me in his own good time."
"And you, Mr Mawley?" continued our fair questioner.
"We should not seek to understand the mysteries of the oracles of God," said the curate pompously.
"My dear, I can tell you," said the vicar, who had slipped in quietly, unknown to us all, "'Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him!'"
"I wonder, sir," said I, "whether that text, 'In My Father's house are many mansions,' means that there are different degrees of happiness in the future world?"
"That passage," said the vicar, "is one whose interpretation has been more disputed than any I know. Some say it has the meaning which you attach to it; while others, with whom I am more inclined to agree, think that it conveys only the promise and assurance that in heaven there will be found room for us all. You must remember that we in the present day have the Bible through the medium of translation; and all translations are liable to error. Why, if you read the Book of Job, for instance, in the original Hebrew, without the arbitrary division into verses which the translators of the authorised version inserted, you would find it a perfect poem!"
"For my part," said Mr Mawley, "I do not think we ought to speak about religious matters in this sort of way, and make them subjects for general conversation."
"I don't agree with you, Mawley," said the vicar, "the truth is not so brittle that we should be afraid of handling it; if religion were more openly discussed and brought into our daily life, I believe we should be all the better for it."
"Ah, you are Broad Church!" said the curate.
"Very well, be it so," said the vicar good-humouredly; "I'm not ashamed of it, so long as you allow that I'm at least a Christian."
"What is Broad Church, Mr Mawley?" asked Bessie Dasher, who was suspected of having tender feelings towards the curate, for she generally deferred to his views and opinions.
"Broad Church," said Mr Mawley, "holds that every man is at liberty to judge for himself; and that any Sectarian or Unitarian, or heathen, has as much chance of heaven as you or I."
"Positively shocking!" said Miss Spight, in virtuous indignation at any nonconformist being esteemed as worthy of future salvation as herself.
"Oliver Wendell Holmes," I said, "gives a truer exposition. He says that 'the narrow church may be seen in the ship's boats of humanity, in the long boat, in the jolly boat, in the captain's gig, lying off the poor old vessel, thanking God that they are safe, and reckoning how soon the hulk containing the mass of their fellow-creatures will go down. The Broad Church is on board, working hard at the pumps, and very slow to believe that the ship will be swallowed up with so many poor people in it, fastened down under the hatches ever since it floated!'"
"Ah, that is better," said the vicar. "It is there put very aptly. If we could only be less bigoted, and assimilate our various sects together, what a happy church would ours be! We all have the same sure fundamental ground of belief, and only differ in details."
"But, my dear sir," said the curate, in pious horror, "that is rank latitudinarianism!"
"Latitudinarianism or not, Mawley," said the vicar, "it is the Christianity and doctrine that earnest thinkers like Kingsley and Maurice preach and practise. If we could only all act up to it—all act up to it!"
"Then, I suppose," said Mr Mawley, "that you agree with the writers of Essays and Reviews?"
"Suppose nothing, my dear Mawley," said the vicar, kindly but seriously, "except what you have facts to vouch for. I do not say I agree with them or not."
"And do you think the hare chewed the cud, as Colenso says?" asked Baby Blake, with such a serious face that we could not help laughing at her.
"Proximus ille deo est qui scit ratione tacere!" said the vicar, putting on his hat and moving towards the door.
"And what does that mean, brother?" asked Miss Pimpernell.
"My dear, it is only Dionysius Cato's original Latin for our old English proverb, 'A silent tongue shows a wise head!'" said the vicar; and he then went out to attend to his parish duties, promising to look in upon us again, and see how we were getting on before we separated for the day.
On his departure, our conversation veered round to local chit-chat.
"Have you heard the news about The Terrace yet, Frank?" asked Miss Pimpernell.
"No," I said. "What is it?"
"Number sixty-five is let at last!"
"Indeed," said I; "how pleased old Shuffler must be, for the house has hung a long time on his hands. Who are the people that have taken it?"
"A widow lady and her daughter. Their name is Clyde, and they have a good deal of money, I believe," said Bessie Dasher.
"Bai-ey Je-ove!" exclaimed Horner. "I say, old fellah, p'waps they ah those ladies in hawf-mawning, ah?"
"Dear me! this is quite interesting," said Miss Spight. "Do let me know what the joke is about ladies in half-mourning, Mr Lorton—something romantic, I've no doubt." She was always keen to scent out what might be disagreeable to other people, was Miss Spight!
"Oh, it's only Horner's nonsense!" said I. "But what are these Clydes like?"
"Very nice, indeed!" said Miss Pimpernell. "The mother is extremely well-bred and ladylike, and the daughter Minnie—such a pretty name, Frank—is quite a little darling. I'm positively in love with her, and I'm sure you will like her. They are very nice people indeed, my boy, and thorough acquisitions to our little society."
"I only hope so, Miss Pimpernell," sighed Lady Dasher; "but appearances, you know, are so deceitful sometimes."
"Ah!" ejaculated Miss Spight, "handsome is as handsome does! We'll see them by and by in their true colours; new brooms, Lady Dasher, sweep clean. Ah!"
There was a world in that "ah!"
"Well," said little Miss Pimpernell, in her staunch good-nature, "I think it is best to be charitable and take people as we find them. I have seen a good deal of the Clydes during the month they have been here and like them very much. But you will have an opportunity of judging for yourself, Frank, as Minnie Clyde promised me to come down to-day and help us with the decorations."
"She's a very nice-looking girl," said the curate.
"Do you really think her pretty?" asked Bessie Dasher. One could detect a slight tone of dissatisfaction in her voice, and she spoke with a decided pout.
"Well, perhaps she's not exactly pretty," said Mr Mawley, diplomatically; "but nice-looking, at all events—that was the word I used, Miss Bessie."
"But she dresses so plainly!" said Lizzie Dangler.
"I call her quite a dowdthy!" lisped Baby Blake.
"And I say she's very nice!" said Seraphine Dasher, who had none of the petty dislike of her sex to praise another girl that might turn out to be a possible rival.
"That's right, my dear," said Miss Pimpernell; "I'm glad, Seraphine, to hear you take the part of the absent; Miss Clyde ought to be here now— she promised me to come soon after luncheon."
Even as the good old soul spoke, I heard the outer door of the school- room open, and a light footstep along the passage. "There she is now, I do believe!" whispered Miss Pimpernell to me.
I could scarcely breathe. I felt that I had at last arrived at the crisis of my life. It must be her, I thought, for my heart palpitated with wild pulsations.
And, as the thought thrilled through me, my lost madonna entered the room.
I was not one whit surprised. I had been certain that I should see her again!
"The wit, the vivid energy of sense, The truth of nature, which, with Attic point, And kind, well-temper'd satire, smoothly keen, Steals through the soul, and without pain corrects."
Yes, she it was of whom I had thought and dreamt, and built airy castles on imaginative foundations—chateaux en Espagne—that had almost crumbled into vacancy during those long and weary weeks, and monotonous months, of waiting, and watching, and longing!
She entered; and the dull, disordered school-room, with its leaf-strewn floor all covered with broken branches and naked boughs of chopped-up evergreens, its mass of piled forms, its lumbering desks and hassocks, its broken windows, its down-hanging maps of colossal continents, seemed changed all at once, in a moment, as if by the touch of some magic wand, into an enchanted palace.
The fairy princess had at last appeared, the sleeping beauty been awakened; and all was altered.
The semi-transparent sprig of mistletoe, which Seraphine Dasher had mischievously suspended over the doorway, looked like a chaplet of pearls; the pointed stems of yew became frosted in silver; the variegated holly was transformed into branches of malachite, ornamented with a network of gold, its bright red berries glowing with a ruddy reflection as of interspersed rubies; while, above all, the glorious sunshine, streaming in through the shattered panes of the oriel at the eastern end, cast floods of quickening, mellow light, to the remotest corners of the room, making the floating atoms of dust turn to waves of powdery amber, and enriching every object it touched with its luminous rays. Even the very representations of Europe, Asia, and Africa, on the walls, lost their typographical characteristics, and shone out to me in the guise of tapestried chronicles, ancient as those of Bayeux, describing deeds of gallant chivalry—so my fancy pictured—and love, and knight-errantry, painted over with oriental arabesques in crimson gilding, the cunning handiwork of the potent sun-god. Her coming in effected all this to my mind.
What a darling she looked, sitting there, with a pretty little scarlet and white sontag, of soft wool knitting, crossed over her bosom and clasped round her dainty, dainty waist; her busy fingers industriously weaving broad ivy garlands for the church columns, and her sweet, calm face bent earnestly over her task—the surrounding foliage, scattered here, there, and everywhere, bringing out her well-formed figure in relief, just like a picture in some rustic portrait frame! Micat inter omnes, as Virgil sang of "the young Marcellus," his hero: she "glistened out before them all."
Of course she was introduced to me.
"Mr Lorton—Miss Minnie Clyde." Now, at last, I had met her and knew her name! What a pretty name she had, too, as little Miss Pimpernell had said! Just in keeping with its owner.
As my name was pronounced, she raised her beautiful grey eyes from the garland in her lap; and I could perceive, from a sudden gleam of intelligence which shot through them for an instant, that I was at once recognised:—from my face, I'm sure, she must have noticed that she had not been forgotten.
I was in heaven; I would not have relinquished my position, kneeling at her feet and stripping off ivy leaves for her use, no, not for a dukedom!
Our conversation became again imperceptibly of a higher tone. Hers was light, sparkling, brilliant; and one could see that she possessed a fund of native drollery within herself, despite her demure looks and downcast eyes. She had a sweet, low voice, "that most excellent thing in woman;" while her light, silvery laughter rippled forth ever and anon, like a chime of well-tuned bells, enchaining me as would chords of Offenbach's champagne music.
In comparison with her, Lizzie Dangler's prosy platitudes, which some deemed wit—Horner, par exemple—sank into nothingness, and Baby Blake, one of the "gushing" order of girlhood, appeared as a stick, or, rather, a too pliant sapling—her inane "yes's" and lisping "no's" having an opportunity of being "weighed in the balance," and consequently, in my opinion, "found wanting." All were mediocre beside her. Perhaps I was prejudiced; but, now, the remarks of the other girls seemed to me singularly silly.
From light badinage, we got talking of literature. Some one, Mr Mawley the curate, I think, drew a parallel between Douglas Jerrold and Thackeray, describing both, in his blunt, dogmatic way, as cynics.
To this I immediately demurred. In the first place, because Mawley was so antipathetical to me, that I dearly loved to combat his assertions; and, secondly, on account of his disparaging my beau ideal of all that is grand and good in a writer and in man.
"You make a great mistake," I said, "for Thackeray is a satirist pur et simple. Jerrold was a cynic, if you please, although he had a wonderful amount of kindly feeling even in his bitterest moods—indeed I would rather prefer calling him a one-sided advocate of the poor against the rich, than apply to him your opprobrious term."
"Well, cynic or satirist, I should like to know what great difference lies between the two?" the curate retorted, glad of an argument, and wishing, as usual, to display his critical acumen by demolishing me.
"I will tell you with pleasure," said I, not a bit "put out," according to his evident wish and expectation, "and I will use the plainest language in my exposition, so that you may be able to understand me! A cynic, I take it, is one who talks or writes bitterly, in the gratification of a malicious temperament, merely for the sake of inflicting pain on the object of his attack, just as a bad-dispositioned boy will stick pins in a donkey, or persecute a frog, for the sheer sake of seeing it wince: a satirist, on the contrary, is a philosopher who ridicules traits of character, customs and mannerisms, with the intention of remedying existing evils, abolishing abuses, and reforming society—in the same way as a surgeon performs an operation to remove an injured limb, inflicting temporary pain on his patient, with the prospect of ultimate good resulting from it. I have never seen this definition given anywhere; consequently, as it is but my own private opinion, you need only take it for what it is worth."
"Thank you, Mr Lorton," said somebody, giving me a gratefully intelligent look from a pair of deep, thinking grey eyes.
"Oh, indeed! so that's your opinion, Lorton?" put in Mr Mawley, as antagonistic as ever. "So that's your opinion, is it? I will do as you say, and take it for what it is worth—that is, keep my own still! You may be very sharp and clever, and all that sort of thing, my dear fellow; but I don't see the difference between the two that you have so lucidly pointed out. Satire and cynicism are co-equal terms to my mind: your argument won't persuade me, Lorton, although I must say that you are absolutely brilliant to-day. You should really start a school of Modern Literature, my dear fellow, and set up as a professor of the same!"
"Please get my scissors, Frank," said Miss Pimpernell, trying to stop our wordy warfare. I got them; but I had my return blow at the curate all the same.
"I suppose you'd be one of my first pupils, Mr Mawley," I said. "I think I could coach you up a little!"
He was going to crush me with some of his sledge-hammer declamation, being thoroughly roused, when Bessie Dasher averted the storm, by entering the arena and changing the conversation to a broader footing.
"How I dote on Thackeray!" she exclaimed with all her natural impulsiveness. "What a dear, delicious creature Becky Sharp is; and that funny old baronet, Sir Pitt something or other, too! When I first took up Vanity Fair I could not let it out of my hands until I finished it."
"That's more than I can say," said the curate. "I don't like Thackeray. He cuts up every one and everything. Is not that a cynic for you?"
"Not everybody," said Min—I cannot call her anything else now—coming to my assistance, "not everybody, Mr Mawley. I think Thackeray, with all his satire and kindly laughter in his sleeve at persons that ought to be laughed down, has yet given us some of the most pathetic touches of human nature existing in English literature. There's the old colonel in The Newcomes, for instance. That little bit about his teaching his tiny grandson to say his prayers, before he put him into bed in his poor chamber in the Charter House, to which he was reduced, would make any one cry. And Henry Esmond, and Warrington, and Laura—where would you find more nobly-drawn characters than those?" and she stopped, out of breath with her defence of one of the greatest writers we have ever had, indignant, with such a pretty indignation, at his merits being questioned for a moment.
"Of course I must bow to your decision, Miss Clyde," said the curate, with one of those stock ceremonial bows that stood him in such good stead amongst the female community of the parish. He was a cunning fellow, Mawley. Knew which way his interest lay; and never went against the ladies if he could help it. "But," he continued, "if we talk of pathos, there's 'the great master of fiction,' Dickens; who can come up to him?"
"Ah, yes! Mr Mawley,"—chorused the majority of the girls—"we quite agree with you: there's nobody like Dickens!"
It is a strange thing how perverse the divine sex is, in preferring confectionery to solid food; and superficial writers, to those who dive beneath the surface of society and expose its rottenness—like as they esteem Tupper's weak-minded version of Solomon's Proverbs beyond the best poetry that ever was written!
I wasn't going to be beaten by the curate, however, prattled he never so wisely with the cunning of the serpent-charmer. "I grant you," said I, "that Dickens appeals oftener to our susceptible sympathies; but he is unreal in comparison with Thackeray. The one was a far more correct student of human nature than the other. Dickens selected exceptionalities and invested them with attributes which we never see possessed by their prototypes whom we may meet in the world. He gives us either caricature, or pictures of men and women seen through a rose- coloured medium: Thackeray, on the other hand, shows you life as it is. He takes you behind the scenes and lets you perceive for yourself how the 'dummies' and machinery are managed, how rough the distemper painting, all beauty from the front of 'the house,' looks on nearer inspection, how the 'lifts' work, and the 'flats' are pushed on; besides disclosing all the secrets connected with masks and 'properties.' He is not content in merely allowing you to witness the piece from before the curtain, in the full glory of that distance from the place of action which lends enchantment to the view, and with all the deceptive concomitants of music and limelights and Bengal fire! To adopt another illustration, I should say that Dickens was the John Leech of fictional literature, Thackeray its Hogarth. Even Jerrold, I think, in his most bitter, cynical moods, was truer to life and nature than Dickens. Did you ever read the former's Story of a Feather, by the way?"
"No," answered Mawley, testily, "I can't say I ever did; and I don't think it likely I ever will."
"Well, I dare say you are quite right, Frank," said the kindly voice of my usual ally little Miss Pimpernell, interposing just at the right time—as she always did, indeed—to throw oil on the troubled waters. "But, still, I like Dickens the best. Do you know, children," she went on, looking round, as we all sat watching her dear old wrinkled face beaming cheerily on us through her spectacles, "do you know, children, I've no doubt you'll laugh at me for telling you, but, when I first read 'David Copperfield'—and I was an old woman then—I cried my eyes out over the account of the death of poor Dora's little dog Gyp. Dear little fellow! Don't you recollect how he crawled out of his tiny Chinese pagoda house, and licked his master's hand and died? I think it's the most affecting thing in fiction I ever read in my life."
"And I, too, dear Miss Pimpernell," said Min, in her soft, low voice, which had a slight tremor as she spoke, and there was a misty look in her clear grey eyes—silent witnesses of the emotion that stirred her heart. "I shed more tears over poor Gyp than I can bear to think of now—except when I cried over little Tiny Tim, in the 'Christmas Carol,' where, you remember, the spirit told Uncle Scrooge that the cripple boy would die. That affected me equally, I believe; and I could not read it dry-eyed now."
"Nor I," lisped Baby Blake, following suit, in order to keep up her reputation for sentimentality; "I would thob my eyth out!"
"See," quoted the curate, grandiloquently, "how 'one touch of nature makes the whole world kin!'"
"For my part," exclaimed Miss Spight, who had taken no share in our conversation since we had dropped personalities, "I don't see the use of people crying over the fabulous woes of a lot of fictitious persons that never existed, when there is such an amount of real grief and misery going on in the world."
"That is not brought home to us," said Min, courageously; "but the troubles and trials of the people in fiction are; and I believe that every kind thought which a writer makes throb through our hearts, better enables us to pity the sorrows of actual persons."
"Bai-ey Je-ove!" exclaimed Horner, twisting his eye-glass round and making an observation for the first time—the discussion before had been apparently beyond his depth,—"Bai-ey Je-ove! Ju-ust what I was gaw-ing to say! Bai-ey Je-ove, yaas! But Miss Spight is much above human emawtion, you know, and all that sawt of thing, you know-ah!"
"Besides," continued Min, not taking any notice of our friend's original remark I was glad to see, "one does not always cry over novels. I'm sure I've laughed more than I've wept over Dickens, and other authors."
"Ah!" said Lady Dasher, with a melancholy shake of her head, "life is too serious for merry-making! It is better to mourn than to rejoice, as I've often heard my poor dear papa say when he was alive."
"Nonsense, ma!" pertly said her daughter Seraphine; "you can't believe that. I'm sure I'd rather laugh than cry, any day. And so would you, too, ma, in spite of your seriousness!"
"Your mamma is quite right in some respects, my dear," said little Miss Pimpernell. "We should not be always thinking of nothing but merry- making. Don't you recollect those lines of my favourite Herrick?—
"'Time flies away fast! The while we never remember, How soon our life here Grows old with the year, That dies in December.'"
"Yes, I do, you cross old thing!" said the seraph, shaking her golden locks and laughing saucily; "and I remember also that your 'favourite Herrick' says something else about one's 'gathering rose-buds whilst one may.'"
"You naughty girl!" said Miss Pimpernell, trying to look angry and frown at her; but the attempt was such a palpable pretence that we all laughed at her as much as the delinquent.
"And what is your favourite style of poetry, Miss Clyde?" asked the curate, taking advantage of the introduction of Herrick to change the subject.
And then there followed a chorus of discussion: Miss Spight declared she adored Wordsworth: Mr Mawley tried to show off his superiority, and I attempted to put him down; I believe I was jealous lest Min should agree with him.
"Now, Frank," exclaimed Miss Pimpernell, "I will not have any more sparring between you and Mr Mawley, for I'm sure you've argued enough. It is 'the merry Christmas-time,' you know; and we ought all to be at peace, and gay and happy, too! What do you say, girls?"
"But what shall we do to be merry?" asked Bessie Dasher.
"Ah! my dear," groaned her mother; "it is not right to be foolishly 'merry,' as you call it. This season of the year is a very sad one, and we ought to be thinking, as my poor dear papa used to say, of what our Saviour did for us and the other world! We have now arrived at the end of another year, and it is very sad, very sad!"
"What!" exclaimed Min, "wrong to be merry at Christmas? The vicar said in his sermon last Sunday, that our hearts ought to expand with joy at this time; and that we should try, not only to be glad and happy in ourselves, but also to make others glad and happy, too. It appears to me," and her face flushed with excitement as she spoke, "a very erroneous idea of religion that would only associate it with gloom and sadness. The same Creator endowed us with the faculty to laugh as well as cry; and we must take poor comfort in him if we cannot be glad in his company, to which the Christmas season always brings us nearer and into more intimate connection, as it were."
"Bravo, my little champion!" said the vicar, who had again stolen in unperceived by us all. "That is the spirit of true Christianity. You have preached a more practical sermon than I, my dear." Then, seeing her confusion at being thus singled out and her embarrassment at having, as she thought, been too forward in speaking out impulsively on the spur of the moment, the vicar created a diversion. "And now, young ladies," he said, "as we are going to be merry, what shall we play at?"
"Oh, puss in the corner!" cried Seraphine Dasher. "That will be delightful!"
"With all my heart; puss in the corner be it," said the vicar, who could be a boy again on fitting occasions, and play with the best of us. "Come, Mawley," he added, "come and exert yourself; and help to pull these forms out of the way," setting to work vigorously at the same time, himself.
In another minute or two we were in the middle of a wild romp, wherein little Miss Pimpernell and the vicar were the most active participants— they showing themselves to be quite as active as the younger hands; while Miss Spight and Lady Dasher were the only idle spectators. Min at first did not join in, as she was not accustomed to the ways of us old habitues, but she presently participated, being soon as gay and noisy as any. What fun we had in blindfolding Horner, and manoeuvring so that he should rush into the arms of Miss Spight! What a shout of laughter there was when he exclaimed, clasping her the while, "Bai-ey Je-ove! Yaas, I've cawght you at lawst!"
The look of pious horror which settled on the face of the elderly maiden was a study.
Thus our working day ended; and it became time to separate and go home. I had the further happiness of seeing Min to her door, both of us living in the same direction.
It was the same on the morrow, and on the morrow after that, for a whole week.
Of course, we did not talk "Shakspeare and the musical glasses" always. Our discourse was generally composed of much lighter elements, especially when Mr Mawley and I did not come in contact—argument being then, naturally, as a dead letter. Our conversation during these peaceful interregnums mainly consisted in friendly banter, parish news, and gossip. Scandal Miss Pimpernell never permitted; indeed, no one would have had the heart to say an ill-natured thing of anybody else in her presence.
Day after day Min and I were closely associated together, learning to know more of one another than we might have acquired in years of ordinary society intercourse; day after day, I would watch her dainty figure, and study her beautiful face, and gaze into the fathomless depths of her honest grey eyes, my love towards her increasing by such rapid strides, that, at length, I almost worshipped the very ground on which she trod.
And so the week wore by, until Christmas Eve arrived. Then our task was finished, and we decorated Saint Canon's old church with all the wreaths and garlands, the crosses and illuminations, on which we had been so busy in the school-room; making it look quite modern in its festal preparation for the ensuing day, when the result of our handiwork would be displayed to the admiration, we hoped, of the congregation at large.
On parting with Min late in the evening at her door—for our work at the church had occupied us longer than usual—I thought it the happiest Christmas Eve I had ever passed; and, as I went to bed that night, I wondered, dreamily, if the morning's sun would rise for another as happy a day, while I prayed to God that He would shape my life in accordance with the fervent desire of my heart.
"Love took up the glass of Time, and turn'd it in his glowing hands; Every moment, lightly shaken, ran itself in golden sands. Love took up the harp of life, and smote on all the chords with might; Smote the chord of self that, trembling, pass'd in music out of sight!"
It was a regular joyous, jolly, old-fashioned Christmas morning: bright, sparkling, exhilarating.
Just sufficient snow had fallen during the night to give that semblance of winter to the house-tops and hedge-rows, with a faint white powdering of the roadway and pavement, which adds so much to the quondam season of family gatherings, merrymakings, and plum-pudding; and this, King Frost had hardened by his patent adamantine process, so that it might not cause any inconvenience to foot passengers or lose its virgin freshness; while, at the same time, he decked and bedizened each separate twig and branch of the poor, leafless, skeleton trees with rare festal jewels and ear-drops of glittering icicles; besides weaving fantastic devices of goblin castles and airy, feathery foliage on the window panes, fairy armies in martial array and delicate gnome-tracery—transforming their appearance from that of ordinary glass into brilliantly-embroidered flakes of transparent, lucent crystal. Ah me! Jack Frost is a cunning enchanter: his will is all-powerful, his taste wondrous.
The clanging church bells were merrily ringing in "the day of glad tidings," as our good vicar styled it, when I jumped out of bed and looked out to see what the weather was like. It was exactly as I could have wished—if I had had any choice in the matter—Christmas all over!
A little robin acquaintance, who never omitted his daily call at my window-ledge for his matutinal crumbs, was stretching his tiny crimson throat to its fullest extent, with quivering heart-notes of choral song, from a solitary poplar-tree in the adjacent garden on which my room out- looked, making the still air re-echo with his melody; my old retriever, Catch, a good dog and true, was pawing and scratching at the door to be admitted, in his customary way, and sniffing a cordial welcome, as he wondered and grumbled, in the most intelligible doggy language, at my being so late in taking him out for his preprandial walk—when it was such a fine morning, too! I heard the maid wishing me a cheery "Merry Christmas, sir!" as she left my hot water; so, it is not to be wondered that, after I had had the moral courage to plunge into my cold tub, dressing afterwards in a subsequent glow, I became infected with the buoyant spirit of all these social surroundings; and felt as light- hearted and "seasonable" as Santa Claus and his wintry comrades, the church bells, little robin redbreast, dog Catch, and Bridget the maid, could either inspire or expect.
Dog Catch and I sallied forth for our walk—I, cheerful, and drinking in healthy draughts of the fresh, frosty aether; he with great red tongue lolling out, as he trotted along in front of me, coming back every second step and looking up into my face with a broad grin on his jaws and a roguish glance in his brown eyes—I suppose at some funny canine joke or other, which he could not permit me to share—or else, darting backwards and forwards, gleefully barking and making sundry feints and dashes at me; or, prancing up in his elephantine bounds, with felonious intentions regarding my walking stick, which he considered he had a much better right to carry than myself.
We had lots of meetings and greetings when strolling along.
First, there was the gardener's dog at the corner, an old chum of Catch's, who passed the time of day to us with a cheerful bow-wow; although I was surprised to see that he had not "a posy tied to his tail," according to the orthodox adage of typical smartness. Then there was the milkman's dog, a gaunt retriever like mine, but of a very bad disposition, and a surly brute withal. He and Catch were deadly foes, as is frequently the case with dogs of the same breed; so, of course, they could never meet without quarrelling: on this occasion they exchanged ferocious challenges, and parted with signs and symptoms of unmitigated contempt on both sides, expressed by growls and barks, tail risings, and mane upliftings.
Further on, we encountered Mrs O'Flannagan, an Irish lady, who kept the fruit stall at the corner by the cross roads. She was dressed, as neatly as a new pin, in an "illigant" Connemara cloak, which seemed to be donned for the first time, besides a bran new bonnet; and, thanks to "elbow grease," her peachy, soap-scrubbed cheeks shone again. She was returning from early chapel, whither she had gone to mass and confession; and where I trust she had received absolution for her little peccadilloes. I've no doubt she did get absolution, for she told me that Father Macmanus was "a raal gintleman."
Then Catch chased a roving cat until it got within the neighbouring shelter of its domiciliary railings, whence it me-ai-ouwed to him, through all the vowels of pussy's vocabulary, a Christmas compliment— with, probably, a curse tacked on to the tail of it, or that "phoo! phoo! phiz!" meant nothing. But the feline expletives were all thrown away; for Catch was only "full of fun and with nobody to play with him," like Peter Mooney's goose, and had only chased pussy in the natural exuberance of his spirits, having no "hard feelings" towards her, or any desire, I know, to injure her soft tabby fur.
We next came across old Shuffler, the house-agent, waddling along, with his sound eye rolling buoyantly on its axis, while the artificial orb glared steadily forward in a fixed, glassy stare.
"Bootiful weether!" said he, cordially, to me, touching his hat—"bootiful weether, sir!"
"It is a fine day," I responded. "A merry Christmas to you, Mr Shuffler."
"Same to you, sir, and many on 'em," he replied, courteously.
"Thank you, Shuffler," I said, satisfied with the colloquy, "but I must now say good day!"
"Good day, and a 'appy noo year to you," answered he, passing on his way. Really, everybody appeared to be very civil and good natured to- day; and everything joyous and rose-coloured! Was it owing to the bright morning, or to the fact of its being Christmas, or to the sweet feelings I had lying hidden in my heart anent my darling?
I cannot tell: can you?
After a time Catch and I reached the river. It was not now rolling by, a muddy, silent, whilom sluggish, whilom busy stream. It was quite transformed in its appearance and resembled more some frozen arctic stream than the old Thames which I knew so well. Far as the eye could reach, it was covered with sheets of broken ice, again congealed together and piled up with snow—so many little bergs, that had been born at Great Marlow and Hampton, and other spots above the locks; gradually increasing in size and bulk as they span round and swept by on the current, until they should reach the bridges below. Then, they would, perhaps, be formed into one great icefield, stretching from bank to bank, whereon a grand bullock-roasting festival might be held, or a fancy fair instituted, as happened in the reign of James, the king, "of ever pious memory:" that is, if my chronology be right and my memory not at fault, as may very possibly be the case.
Doggy did not mind the ice a bit, however. He plunged in, time after time, to fetch out my in-thrown stick, with a frisky bound; emerging after the performance with ice-pendants to his glossy, silken ears and coat smartly curled, as if he had just paid a visit to Truefitt's, and been manipulated by the dexterous hands of one of the assistants at that celebrated establishment, armed with the crinal tongs and anybody's best macassar.