« AnteriorContinua »
“Would you favour me with a few minutes' conversation?” And the stranger, taking off his hat, bowed politely. My enlightened parent, never behind-hand in manners, also uncovered, and, making a very low bow, ushered the gentleman in-doors, and lodged him in the little parlour. At sight of Bob's sitting-room, the gentleman, as many had done before him, smiled slightly. It was really fitted up with such elegant taste. The ceiling represented clouds in a very blue sky, and the centre ornament was a bright yellow sun, from the middle of which, on grand occasions, a lamp-or, as my father said, a chandelier-was suspended. The paper was of a Chinese pattern, representing, upon a red ground, a yellow pagoda, on the summit of which was perched a large bird,—-certainly foreign, which had the very gayest plumage imaginable; blue, and green, and carmine, and white, and black, and yellow, and orange, all of the most brilliant quality, were huddled beautifully together : then, on the top of the bird, was a flower with long stalk, large fantastic leaves, and blossom of the deepest crimson, supporting another pagoda, bird, flower, and so on, upwards ;-a number of these, side by side, formed the pattern. But this was not half of its beauty :-my father had hired a paper-hanger from Bond Street to put it up; and he, being an Englishman, and unacquainted with the foreign articles represented on the scroll, had reversed them. Thus, at the base was the blossom of the flower, on the extremity of the stalk the bird was balancing itself upon its head, and, nicely adjusted, on the claw of the bird, yet threatening every minute to fall by the force of gravity, stood the pagoda on its apex. The ceiling being mainly blue, and the walls principally red, the carpet, of a very ugly kaleidoscope pattern, was intensely yellow; the window-curtains green; with a green cloth upon the table; and the chairs were all carefully covered with brown holland. On a side-table, in the recess of the window, lay half a dozen annuals : Bob had bought them of those men who stand at coach-offices, thinking it of vital importance that travellers should be provided with the literary entertainment of a two-year old annual, together with a sixbladed penknife to cut the leaves, and a shilling's worth of oranges, to suck meanwhile, for the purpose of diluting the dryness of its contents. Then the fireplace was filled with shavings, dyed of every colour; and there were bell-ropes equally gaudy: there were two ottomans; on one of which some one had worked a poodle dog, and on the other a fierce tom-cat : on the wall, moreover, were several hunting daubs that my father had purchased, because he was taken with the red jackets of the sportsmen ; together with a plate or two of Parisian fashions, which my father was determined his wife should look at, although she had not taste enough to adopt them.
Such was, in my father's eyes, the “ highly genteel" appearance of the room into which the stranger was ushered.
“Will you please to be seated ?" said my father, pointing gracefully to one of the holland-covered chairs. The gentleman looked at Tom Briton and myself.—“My son,” explained the paternal Bob," my son, and a very particular friend. What may be the object of your visit?"
“ You have, I believe, six brothers ?" observed the gentleman, in an inquiring tone.
"No," said Bob, “ eight."
“Of the six that remain, five only are in England, the eldest being abroad.”
“What of that ?" asked Bob, wondering. “Yes, he went to the Hinges when he was a boy."
“Supposing him, then, to be dead-you, I believe, are the eldest of the family ?”
" Yes, sir, I am the head of the famerly, and vhen I looks around and sees the jintility of my persition in life, I thinks to myself, thinks I-happy is that there famerly wot's got a head like memi, sir "
“ Exactly," interrupted the gentleman; “ but, the facts of the case being so, as, indeed, I had already ascertained, I have to communicate to you an important change in your affairs."
“ Indeed !” cried my father, open-mouthed, and slightly terrified.
“ Your brother having arrived in India, became the sport and pet of fortune; he amassed immense wealth, is dead, and
** Well!” cried Bob,“ well !”-trembling with eagerness. "And you are his residuary legatee !"
“Is that all ?” cried my father, disappointed; “I suppose that means Latin for eldest surwiving brother?”
“It means, sir,—and I congratulate you on its meaning, -it means that you are the fortunate possessor of wealth almost unlimited."
“What !” cried Bob Pike, Esquire; “ do you mean to say I've got nearly two thousand pounds ?”
“ Four hundred times that amount,” said the gentleman, smiling.
“Oh!" cried my father, for his breath was taken away by the shock the information gave him; then slowly he continued, mumbling to himself,—“Nought times nought's nought; nought's nought; nought's nought; nought; nought-o, what a lot of noughts !" then he ran to the bell, and rang a tremendous peal, until he had pulled each bellrope down upon his head. “Wife, wife !—Mrs. Pike! Susan!”
My mother, who was making a pudding in the kitchen, thought murder was going on, and rushed in, rolling pin in her hand, and a white apron tied round her waist.
“Wife! you're a duchess-you're a lord—I'm a knight-you're a lady-we don't live in Camberwell no more !— We've money without end, and won't we be genteel ?"
“At present, Mr. Pike," said the gentleman, seeing how things were going on," I must leave you. In the evening I shall do myself the honour to call again."
When he was gone, my father's ecstacy increased.
"I suppose we shall make ourselves very comfortable," replied my mother: "I want the arm-chair new stuffed, and
“Nonsense !" cried Bob Pike, Esquire; “I'll have a house in Belgrave Square, or Park Lane, or-I'll have a carriage-and-four, six footmen behind,-butler's pantry,—servants' hall, --swarries, -levées ; -Oh! only think of what Aunt Tabitha will say !” Ideas seemed flowing in abundance through my father's brain, and thus they tumbled over one another for about half an hour, to the great discomforture of my mother, who could not understand what it all meant.
“Opera, theatre, -wally de sham,-tailors, barbers, perfumers, bills, duns, -won't I be genteel?”
“ What can be the matter, Fitzroy ?” asked my mother.
“ Nothing, mother,” replied I; “ except that we are now placed in independent circumstances, and the thought of money need trouble us no longer."
“But it seems now to be troubling your father more than ever it did !"
Suddenly Bob Pike, Esquire, rushed to the street-door, opened it, and burst forth into the little garden in front; there he danced a hornpipe on one of the flower-beds, and returned, somewhat calmed, and perfectly satisfied with his performance.
Reason no longer remaining to dread the wrath of Aunt Tabitha or Dorothea, my father now received a correct account of last night's practice, with which he was partly amused and a little angered. All feelings of indignation, however, were stilled in his breast, when Tom Briton proposed that he, Bob Pike, Esquire, with his son and friend, should call personally on the maiden ladies to inform them of his good fortune. When my father heard of the gentle malady with which the spinsters were afflicted, he rejoiced greatly, and crowed aloud :—even my mother laughed; but, good soul, did all she could to dissuade us from visiting her amiable sisters, lest we might anger them.
Argument, of course, was vain ; and once more we sallied forthfirst to call upon the beloved milkman, secondly on the loving maidens; Tom Briton having vowed by his troth that he intended to get up a wedding.
My aunts dwelt in Vauxhall ; thitherward, therefore, we steered our course, discussing many things by the way. At length we arrived in the “ beat” of Walter Pump, and, by dint of inquiry, discovered, in a by-street, a whitewashed tenement, on which was inscribed in large black letters" PUMP DAIRY.” In the window we saw good proof of his literary attainments exhibited in the following announcement, couched in that beautiful poetic dress that scorns the vulgar fastenings of measure :“Skim milk here sold is a pint for a penny;
New milk's twopence for the same quantity, a better a’n't sold by any." There being neither knocker nor bell, my father, having made use of his knuckles, leaned with his back against the door:-unfortunately it was not fastened, and he fell backwards upon the stairs. Having picked up my parent and found him uninjured, we followed Tom Briton, who, in virtue of being the most impudent, had been the first to commence an ascent. After opening several wrong doors, each disclosing mysteries that it would have been sacrilege to invade, we at length all three burst upon the literary milkman. He was seated in attitude of profound thought,-or profound vacancy,-before a pile of papers, and rose as we entered, placing himself in a studied posture of surprise and inquiry.
Walter Pump was anything but literary in appearance; a short, thick, snub-nosed man, with tremendous bushy whiskers, and a head
covered with matted hair. He wore a gay “Turkish” dressing gown, covered with ink spots, and the fingers of his right hand gave equal signs of close fellowship with the prime minister to his vocation. The papers before him were all covered with the same handwriting, a sprawling scrawl, in which each letter seemed to quarrel with its neighbours, and to take lessons of a different posture-master.
“Good morrow, gents,” said he, with a theatrical air ; “an' ye desire the lacteal beverage,—the shop's below !”
“Sir," said Tom, "we come on a matter of vital importance to your credit."
“ By Jove, my credit's good !" cried Walter Pump; “I have been refused trust only by the baker's wife, and she's a vixen!”
“Sir," said Tom, “your honour is at stake!”
“Ha! Am I not an honourable man? I am, I am! Genius is honourable!”
“Rumours are afloat," said Tom, “they say. " “Indeed! what says the busy hum of men ?”
“ It says that between you and Tabitha Jones there exists an attachment."
This, I thought, was coming to the point, at all events !
""Tis false ! 'tis scandalously false!” cried the excited milkman, “true to my Philomela I remain, as I said in one of my own poems:
Tho' all the world 'gainst us combine,
Still, Philomela, I am thine.'
"Indeed," said Tom, “I am much obliged; but Miss Jones—the public-must be satisfied,—they say you call three times a day!”
“Tis true, most true-alas! for my vocation! And yet, as I quoted in one of my novels
'I am a fool to weep at that I am glad of!' Why should I despise my vocation-dispensing to all men Nature's, maternal Nature's, first sweet gift?”
“Tabitha Jones is rich,” suggested Tom.
“Oh, Philomela's in my heart, what do I care for riches? How much may Miss Tabitha be worth ?”
“Four thousand pounds,—and they say she loves you dearly.”
"Ahem !-what are thousands in the way of love. Love is not sordid !- Is the property well invested ?”
"All in the funds.”
“Alas! why should I not pity a dear heart that dotes on me? surely 'tis a pardonable, an amiable weakness, as I say in my poem of Affection'-
'Sweet as crystal sugars be
So sweet am, dearest, I to thee!' I’n think of this matter ;-allow me, sir, meanwhile, to read to you the last chapter of a novel I have completed. I assure you 'tis written in a very favourite style,-although I sent it to the Editor of a Magazine -and he would not condescend to put it into his pages !”. “Indeed! that was shameful negligence !" “Shameful! I shall withdraw my patronage from him !”. “Did you write much in his Magazine before ?” asked Tom. Mr. Pump did not think fit to answer the question ; but, notwithstanding that he saw my father fidgetty, and me exceedingly restless, taking courage from the patient impudence of Tom Briton, he proceeded to read aloud, in excited tones, the following
CHAPTER OF GENUINE ROMANCE. Riven with the jarring bolts of fathomless despair, stood the unfor: tunate, the miserable Fitz-Arnley :-still upon his afflicted ear rang the fearful malediction of a dying father,-" Curse thee, my son !” he said :-“Curse thee, my son!” was, even now, the tremendous voice of the storm-spirit, as it swept over the miserable hero of our tale. With leaden eye he gazed upon the corpse; the storm, still raging, waved in its fury among the old man's snowy locks, and the fitfal flash of the vivid flame that poured from the unpitying sky, cast upon his ghastly features a pale, unearthly light. The corpse seemed as though it moved when the lightning played upon its lifeless mass, and the loud thunder-clap seemed to echo forth in angry sound the paternal malediction.
“ Spirits of Air!” cried the wretched Fitz-Arnley,“ Spirits of Air and Earth! Spirits of flaming Element, or ye unearthly tenants of the wave! Ye who dwell in green grottoes by the calm sea-side, or hear the babbling fountain of Egeria! Ye who wander on the grassy river bank! Ye who sport in the lightning's flame, or Ay whither rolls the voice of the rumbling thunder's rage !-Spirits of every clime and age,-ye that in Holland's distant realms or by Geneva lake do hold your habitation,-hear me adjure! No mortal more am I, all earthly love do I cast off, - paternal curses drive me from my thoughts of all humanity ;-henceforth, then,-Spirits hear !-let me-me whom the world rejects—become one of your roving and mysterious band; give me your power, and freely I will take the direst penalties, the dreadest pains, anguish unutterable in future years,—give me potential power!"
He spake,-and the storm ceased; but darkness deep continued : - there was a solemn stillness, not a little leaf rustled, as a slow, still voice, speaking from roseate light, replied, -" Thy prayer is granted !”'
“ Enough!” he cried : “ Away, on spirit's wings, to Emmelina's chamber !"
Emmelina ! fair girl, beloved by all, how little did she reck of the hard fate, the cruel, bitter, miserable sting, that that inhuman and unmanly man would make her portion !-0, ye cruel Fates ! why cease ye not your labour ? Weep, sistren three, weep for the maiden !-Her alabaster neck supported a head that emulated the charms of the beauteous Medusa, her cherry-coloured hair hung in ringlets at her back, and her black lips were sugared with the honey of love, her Grecian eyes shot darts around, and her large blue nose captivated all beholders ! *
Such was she, who now rising from an uneasy seat, swam in tears to the lattice window, and there looked forth among the jessamine that circled her paternal porch.
A wind passed her and entered the room,—then a voice, a voice she knew, (O too, too well!) called her by name,-she looked, but
* So in the original. But some commentators think that Walter Pump has made a slight confusion of epithets.