"Isn't it, sir?" eagerly interrupted Titmouse, his eyes glistening with sudden rapture.
"Ah! ten thous—I must shake hands with you, my dear Mr. Titmouse;" quoth Tag-rag, with affectionate excitement—and, for the first time in their lives, their hands touched, Tag-rag squeezing that of Titmouse with energetic cordiality; while he added, with a little emotion in his tone—"Thomas Tag-rag may be a plain-spoken and wrong-headed man, Mr. Titmouse—but he's a warm heart, I assure you!"
"And did Mr. Gammon tell you all, sir?" eagerly interrupted Titmouse.
"Everything—everything; quite confidential, I assure you, for he saw the interest I felt in you!"
"And did he say about my—hem!—eh? my stopping a few weeks longer with you?" inquired Titmouse, chagrin overspreading his features.
"I think he did, indeed, Mr. Titmouse! He's quite bent on it, sir! And so would any true friend of yours be—because you see!"—here he dropped his voice, and looked very mysteriously at Titmouse—"in short I quite agree with Mr. Gammon!"
"Do you indeed, sir?" exclaimed Titmouse, with rather an uneasy look.
"I do, i' faith! Why, they'd give thousands and thousands to get you out of the way—and what's money to them? But they must look very sharp that get at you in the premises of Thomas Tag-rag, I warrant 'em!—Talking of that, ah, ha!—it will be a funny thing to see you, Mr. Titmouse—Squire Titmouse—ah, ha, ha!"
"You won't hardly expect me to go out with goods, I suppose, sir?" inquired Titmouse, somewhat anxiously.
"Ha, ha, ha!—Ha, ha, ha!—Might as well ask me if I'd clean that beast Lutestring's shoes! No, no, my dear Mr. Titmouse, you and I have done with each other as master and servant; it's only as friends that we know each other now!—You may say and do whatever you like, and come and go when and where you like!—It's true it will make my other hands rather jealous, and get me into trouble; but what do I care? Suppose they do all give me warning for your sake? Let 'em go, say I!" He snapped his fingers with an air of defiance. "Your looks and manners would keep a shop full of customers—one Titmouse is worth a hundred of them."
"'Pon my soul, you speak most uncommon gentleman-like, sir, certainly!" said Titmouse, with a little excitement—"and if you'd only always—but that's all past and gone; and I've no objections to say at once, that all the articles I may want in your line I'll have at your establishment, pay cash down, and ask for no discount. And I'll send all my friends, for, in course, sir, you know I shall have lots of them!"
"Don't forget your oldest, your truest, your humblest friend, Mr. Titmouse," said Tag-rag, with a cringing air.
"That I won't!" replied Titmouse, heatedly.
[It flashed across his mind that a true and old friend would be only too happy to do him some such trifling service as to lend him a ten-pound note.]
"Hem!—Now, are you such a friend, Mr. Tag-rag?" cried he, sheepishly.
"Am I?—Can you doubt me? Try me! See what I would not do for you! Friend, indeed!" and he looked quite fondly at Titmouse.
"Well, I believe you; sir! And the fact is, a—a—a—you see, Mr. Tag-rag, though all this heap of money's coming to me, I'm precious low just now"——
"Ye—e—e—s, Mr. Titmouse," quoth Tag-rag, anxiously; his dull gray eye fixed on that of Titmouse steadfastly.
"Well—if you've a mind to prove your words, Mr. Tag-rag, and don't mind advancing me a ten-pound note"——
"Hem!" involuntarily uttered Tag-rag, so suddenly and violently, that it made Titmouse start. Then Tag-rag's face flushed over; he twirled about his watch-key rapidly, and wriggled about in his chair with visible agitation.
"Oh, you aren't going to do it! If so, you'd better say it at once," quoth Titmouse, rather cavalierly.
"Why—was ever anything so unfortunate?" stammered Tag-rag. "That cursed lot of French goods I bought only yesterday, to be paid for this very morning—and it will drain me of every penny!"
"Ah—yes! True! Well, it don't much signify," said Titmouse, carelessly, running his hand through his bushy hair. "In fact, I needn't have bothered an old friend at all, now I think of it—Mr. Gammon says he's my banker to any amount. I beg pardon, I'm sure"——
Tag-rag was in a horrid dilemma. He felt so flustered by the suddenness and seriousness of the thing, that he could not see his way plain in any direction.
"Let me see," at length he stammered; and pulling a ready-reckoner out of his pocket, he affected to be consulting it, as if to ascertain merely the state of his banker's account, but really desiring a few moments' time to collect his thoughts. 'Twas in vain, however; nothing occurred to him; he saw no way of escape; his old friend the devil deserted him for a moment—supplying him with no ready lie to meet the exigency. He must, he feared, cash up! "Well," said he—"it certainly is rather unfortunate, just at this precise moment; but I'll step to the shop, and see how my ready-money matters stand. It sha'n't be a trifle, Mr. Titmouse, that shall stand between us. But—if I should be hard run—perhaps—eh? Would a five-pound note do?"
"Why—a—a—certainly, if it wouldn't suit you to advance the ten"——
"I dare say," interrupted Tag-rag, a trifle relieved, "I shall be able to accommodate you so far. Perhaps you'll step on to the shop presently, and then we can talk over matters!—By the way, did you ever see anything so odd? forgot the main thing! Do come and take your mutton with me at Clapham next Sunday—my womankind will be quite delighted. Nay, 'tis their invitation—ha, ha!"
"You're uncommon polite," replied Titmouse, coloring with pleasure. Here seemed the first pale primrose of the coming spring—an invitation to Satin Lodge!
"The politeness—the favor—will be yours, Mr. Titmouse! I'm uncommon proud of your coming! We shall be quite alone! have you all to ourselves; only me, my wife, and daughter—an only child, Mr. Titmouse—such a child! She's really often said to me, 'I wonder'—but,—— I won't make you vain, eh? Shall I call it a fixture?"
"'Pon my life, Mr. Tag-rag, you're monstrous uncommon polite. It's true, I was going to dine with Mr. Gammon"——
"Oh! pho! (I mean no disrespect, mind!) he's only a bachelor—I've got ladies in the case, and all that—eh, Mr. Titmouse? and a young one!"
"Well, thank you, sir. Since you're so pressing"——
"That's it! An engagement, poz!—Satin Lodge—for Sunday next," said Tag-rag, rising and looking at his watch. "Time for me to be off. See you soon at the shop? Soon arrange that little matter of business, eh? You understand? Good-by! good-by!" and shaking Titmouse cordially by the hand, Tag-rag took his departure. As he hurried on to his shop, he felt in a most painful perplexity about this loan of five pounds. It was truly like squeezing five drops of blood out of his heart. But what was to be done? Could he offend Titmouse? Where was he to stop, if he once began? Dare he ask for security? Suppose the whole affair should after all turn into smoke?
Now, consider the folly of Tag-rag. Here was he in all this terrible pucker about advancing five pounds on the strength of prospects and chances which he had deemed safe for adventuring his daughter upon—her, the only object on earth, except money, that he regarded with anything like sincere affection. How was this? The splendor of the future possible good fortune of his daughter, might, perhaps, have dazzled and confused his perceptions. Then, again, that was a remote contingent venture; but this sudden appeal to his pocket—the demand of an immediate outlay and venture—was an instant pressure, and he felt it severely. Immediate profit was everything to Tag-rag—'twas his very life's blood! He was, in truth, a tradesman to his heart's core. If he could have seen the immediate quid pro quo, or could, at all events, have got, if only by way of earnest, as it were, a bit of poor Titmouse's heart, and locked it up in his desk, he would not have cared so much; it would have been a little in his line;—but here was a FIVE-POUND NOTE going out forthwith, and nothing immediate, visible, palpable, replacing it. Oh! Titmouse had unconsciously pulled Tag-rag's very heart-strings!
Observe, discriminating reader, that there is all the difference in the world between a TRADESMAN and a MERCHANT; and, moreover, that it is not every tradesman that is a Tag-rag.
All these considerations combined to keep Tag-rag in a perfect fever of doubt and anxiety, which several hearty curses (I regret to say) failed in effectually relieving. By the time, however, that Titmouse had made his appearance at Mr. Tag-rag's shop, with a sufficiently sheepish air, and was beginning to run the gantlet of grinning contempt from the "gents" on each side of the shop, Tag-rag had determined on the course he should pursue in the very embarrassing matter above referred to. To the inexpressible amazement of all present, he bolted out of a little counting-house or side-room, hastened to meet Titmouse with outstretched hand and cordial speech, drew him into his little room, and shut the door. There Tag-rag informed his flurried young friend that he had made arrangements (with a little inconvenience, which, however, between friends, signified nothing) for lending Titmouse five pounds.
"And, as life's uncertain, my dear Mr. Titmouse," said Tag-rag, as Titmouse, with ill-disguised ecstasy, put the five-pound note into his pocket—"even between the dearest friends—eh? Understand? It's not you I fear, nor you me, because we've confidence in each other. But if anything should happen, those we leave behind us"—— Here he took out of his desk an "I. O. U. L5," ready drawn up and dated—"a mere slip—a word or two—is satisfaction to both of us."
"Oh yes, sir! yes, sir!—anything!" said Titmouse; and hastily taking the pen proffered him, signed his name, on which Tag-rag felt a little relieved. Lutestring was then summoned into the room, and thus (not a little to his disgust and astonishment) addressed by his imperious employer: "Mr. Lutestring, you will have the goodness to see that Mr. Titmouse, while he may do me the honor to condescend to be here, is treated by every person in my establishment with the utmost possible respect. Whoever treats this gentleman with the slightest disrespect isn't any longer a servant of mine. D' ye hear me, Mr. Lutestring?" added Tag-rag, sternly, observing a very significant glance of mingled hatred and wonder which Lutestring directed towards Titmouse. "D' ye hear me, sir?"
"Oh, yes, sir! yes, sir! your orders shall be attended to," he replied in as insolent a tone as he could venture upon, leaving the room with a half audible whistle of contempt, while a grin overspread his features. Within five minutes he had filled, the mind of every shopman in the establishment with feelings of mingled wonder, hatred, and fear towards Titmouse. What, thought they, could have happened? What was Mr. Tag-rag about? This was all of a piece with his rage at Lutestring the day before. "Cuss Titmouse! and Tag-rag too!" said or thought every one of them!
Titmouse, for the remainder of the day, felt, as may be imagined, but little at his ease; for—to say nothing of his insuperable repugnance to the discharge of any of his former duties—his uneasiness under the oppressive civilities of Mr. Tag-rag; and the evident disgust towards him entertained by his companions; many most important considerations arising out of recent and coming events—his altering circumstances—were momentarily forcing themselves upon his attention. The first of these was his hair; for Heaven seemed to have suddenly given him the long-coveted means of changing its detested hue; and the next was an eyeglass, without which, he had long felt his appearance and appointments to be painfully incomplete. Early in the afternoon, therefore, on the readily admitted plea of important business, he obtained the permission of the obsequious Mr. Tag-rag to depart for the day; and instantly directed his steps to the well-known shop of a fashionable perfumer and perruquier, in Bond Street—well-known to those, at least, who were in the habit of glancing at the enticing advertisements in the newspapers. Having watched through the window till the coast was clear, (for he felt a natural delicacy in asking for a hair-dye before people who could in an instant perceive his urgent occasion for it,) he entered the shop, where a well-dressed gentleman was sitting behind the counter reading. He was handsome; and his elaborately curled hair was of a heavenly black (so at least Titmouse considered it) which was better than a thousand printed advertisements of the celebrated fluid which formed the chief commodity there vended. Titmouse with a little hesitation, asked this gentleman what was the price of their article "for turning light hair black"—and was answered—"only seven and sixpence for the smaller-sized bottle." One was in a twinkling placed upon the counter, where it lay like a miniature mummy, swathed, as it were, in manifold advertisements. "You'll find the fullest directions within, and testimonials from the highest nobility to the wonderful efficacy of the 'CYANOCHAITANTHROPOPOION.'"
"Sure it will do, sir?" inquired Titmouse, anxiously.
"Is my hair dark enough to your taste, sir?" said the gentleman, with a calm and bland manner—"because I owe it entirely to this invaluable specific."
"Do you, indeed, sir?" inquired Titmouse: adding with a sigh, "but, between ourselves, look at mine!"—and, lifting off his hat for a moment, he exhibited a great crop of bushy, carroty hair.
"Whew! rather ugly that, sir!"—exclaimed the gentleman, looking very serious—"What a curse it is to be born with such hair, isn't it?"
"'Pon my life I think so, sir!" answered Titmouse, mournfully; "and do you really say, sir, that this what's-its-name turned yours of that beautiful black?"
"Think? 'Pon my honor, sir,—certain; no mistake, I assure you! I was fretting myself into my grave about the color of my hair! Why, sir, there was a nobleman in here (I don't like to mention names) the other day, with a head that seemed as if it had been dipped into water, and then powdered with brick-dust; but—I assure you, the Cyanochaitanthropopoion was too much for it—it turned black in a very short time. You should have seen his lordship's ecstasy—[the speaker saw that Titmouse would swallow anything; so he went on with a confident air]—and in a month's time he had married a beautiful woman whom he had loved from a child, but who had vowed she could never bring herself to marry a man with such a head of hair."
"How long does it take to do all this, sir?" interrupted Titmouse, eagerly, with a beating heart.
"Sometimes two—sometimes three days. In four days' time, I'll answer for it, your most intimate friend would not know you. My wife did not know me for a long while, and wouldn't let me salute her—ha, ha!" Here another customer entered; and Titmouse, laying down the five-pound note he had squeezed out of Tag-rag, put the wonder-working bottle into his pocket, and on receiving his change, departed, bursting with eagerness to try the effects of the Cyanochaitanthropopoion. Within half an hour's time he might have been seen driving a hard bargain with a pawnbroker for a massive-looking eyeglass, upon which, as it hung suspended in the window, he had for months cast a longing eye; and he eventually purchased it (his eyesight, I need hardly say, was perfect) for only fifteen shillings. After taking a hearty dinner in a little dusky eating-house in Rupert Street, frequented by fashionable-looking foreigners, with splendid heads of curling hair and mustaches, he hastened home, eager to commence the grand experiment. Fortunately, he was undisturbed that evening. Having lit his candle, and locked his door, with tremulous fingers he opened the papers enveloping the little bottle; and glancing over their contents, got so inflamed with the numberless instances of its efficacy, detailed in brief but glowing terms—as—the "Duke of....—the Countess of....—the Earl of, &c. &c. &c. &c.—the lovely Miss——, the celebrated Sir Little Bull's-eye, (who was so gratified that he allowed his name to be used)—all of whom, from having hair of the reddest possible description, were now possessed of raven-hued locks"—that he threw down the paper, and hurriedly got the cork out of the bottle. Having turned up his coat-cuffs, he commenced the application of the Cyanochaitanthropopoion, rubbing it into his hair, eyebrows, and whiskers, with all the energy he was capable of, for upwards of half an hour. Then he read over again every syllable on the papers in which the bottle had been wrapped; and about eleven o'clock, having given sundry curious glances at the glass, got into bed, full of exciting hopes and delightful anxieties concerning the success of the great experiment he was trying. He could not sleep for several hours. He dreamed a rapturous dream—that he bowed to a gentleman with coal-black hair, whom he fancied he had seen before—and suddenly discovered that he was only looking at himself in a glass!!—This awoke him. Up he jumped—sprang to his little glass breathlessly—but ah! merciful Heavens! he almost dropped down dead! His hair was perfectly green—there could be no mistake about it. He stood staring in the glass in speechless horror, his eyes and mouth distended to their utmost, for several minutes. Then he threw himself on the bed, and felt fainting. Out he presently jumped again, in a kind of ecstasy—rubbed his hair desperately and wildly about—again looked into the glass—there it was, rougher than before; but eyebrows, whiskers, and head—all were, if anything, of a more vivid and brilliant green. Despair came over him. What had all his past troubles been to this?—what was to become of him? He got into bed again, and burst into a perspiration. Two or three times he got into and out of bed, to look at himself—on each occasion deriving only more terrible confirmation than before, of the disaster which had befallen him. After lying still for some minutes, he got out of bed, and kneeling down, tried to say his prayers; but it was in vain—and he rose half choked. It was plain he must have his head shaved, and wear a wig, which would be making an old man of him at once. Getting more and more disturbed in his mind, he dressed himself, half determined on starting off to Bond Street, and breaking every pane of glass in the shop window of the infernal impostor who had sold him the liquid which had so frightfully disfigured him. As he stood thus irresolute, he heard the step of Mrs. Squallop approaching his door, and recollected that he had ordered her to bring up his tea-kettle about that time. Having no time to take his clothes off, he thought the best thing he could do, would be, to pop into bed again, draw his nightcap down to his ears and eyebrows, pretend to be asleep, and, turning his back towards the door, have a chance of escaping the observation of his landlady. No sooner thought of, than done. Into bed he jumped, and drew the clothes over him—not aware, however, that in his hurry he had left his legs, with boots and trousers on, exposed to view—an unusual spectacle to his landlady, who had, in fact, scarcely ever known him in bed at so late an hour before. He lay as still as a mouse. Mrs. Squallop, after glancing with surprise at his legs, happening to direct her eyes towards the window, beheld a small bottle standing there—only half of whose dark contents were remaining. Oh gracious!—of course it must be POISON, and Mr. Titmouse must be dead!—In a sudden fright she dropped the kettle, plucked the clothes off the trembling Titmouse, and cried out—"Oh, Mr. Titmouse! Mr. Titmouse! what have you been"——
"Well, ma'am, what the devil do you mean? How dare you"—— commenced Titmouse, suddenly sitting up, and looking furiously at Mrs. Squallop. An inconceivably strange and horrid figure he looked. He had all his day clothes on; a white cotton nightcap was drawn down to his very eyes, like a man going to be hanged; his face was very pale, and his whiskers were of a bright green color.
"Lard a-mighty!" exclaimed Mrs. Squallop, faintly, the moment that this strange apparition had presented itself; and sinking on the chair, she pointed with a dismayed air to the ominous-looking object standing on the window shelf. Titmouse thence inferred that she had found out the true state of the case. "Well—isn't it an infernal shame, Mrs. Squallop?" said he, getting off the bed; and, plucking off his nightcap, he exhibited the full extent of his misfortune. "What d'ye think of that!" he exclaimed, staring wildly at her. Mrs. Squallop gave a faint shriek, turned her head aside, and motioned him away.
"I shall go mad—I SHALL!" cried Titmouse, tearing his green hair.
"Oh Lord!—oh Lord!" groaned Mrs. Squallop, evidently expecting him to leap upon her. Presently, however, she a little recovered her presence of mind; and Titmouse, stuttering with fury, explained to her what had taken place. As he went on, Mrs. Squallop became less and less able to control herself, and at length burst into a fit of convulsive laughter, and sat holding her hands to her fat shaking sides, and appearing likely to tumble off her chair. Titmouse was almost on the point of striking her! At length, however, the fit went off; and wiping her eyes, she expressed the greatest commiseration for him, and proposed to go down and fetch up some soft soap and flannel, and try what "a good hearty wash would do." Scarce sooner said than done—but, alas, in vain! Scrub, scrub—lather, lather, did they both; but, the instant that the soap-suds had been washed off, there was the head as green as ever!
"Oh, murder, murder! what am I to do, Mrs. Squallop?" groaned Titmouse, having taken another look at himself in the glass.
"Why—really I'd be off to a police-office, and have 'em all taken up, if as how I was you!" quoth Mrs. Squallop.
"No—See if I don't take that bottle, and make the fellow that sold it me swallow what's left—and I'll smash in his shop front besides!"
"Oh, you won't—you mustn't—not on no account! Stop at home a bit, and be quiet; it may go off with all this washing, in the course of the day. Soft soap is an uncommon strong thing for getting colors out—but—a—a—excuse me now, Mr. Titmouse"—said Mrs. Squallop, seriously—"why wasn't you satisfied with the hair God Almighty had given you? D' ye think He didn't know a deal better than you what was best for you? I'm blest if I don't think this is a judgment on you, when one comes to consider!"
"What's the use of your standing preaching to me in this way, Mrs. Squallop?" said Titmouse, first with amazement, and then with fury in his manner—"A'n't I half mad without it? Judgment or no judgment—where's the harm of my wanting black hair any more than black trousers? That a'n't your own hair, Mrs. Squallop—you're as gray as a badger underneath—'pon my soul! I've often remarked it—I have, 'pon my soul!"
"I'll tell you what, Mr. Himperance!" furiously exclaimed Mrs. Squallop, "you're a liar! And you deserve what you've got! It is a judgment, and I hope it will stick by you—so take that for your sauce, you vulgar fellow!" (snapping her fingers at him.) "Get rid of your green hair if you can! It's only carrot tops instead of carrot roots—and some likes one, some the other—ha! ha! ha!"
"I'll tell you what, Mrs. Squ"—— he commenced, but she had gone, having slammed to the door behind her with all her force; and Titmouse was left alone in a half frantic state, in which he continued for nearly two hours. Once again he read over the atrocious puffs which had over-night inflated him to such a degree, and he now saw that they were all lies. This is a sample of them:
"This divine fluid (as it was enthusiastically styled to the inventor, by the lovely Duchess of Dunderwhistle) possesses the inestimable and astonishing quality of changing hair, of whatever color, to a dazzling jet-black; at the same time imparting to it a rich glossy appearance, which wonderfully contributes to the imposing tout-ensemble presented by those who use it. That well-known ornament of the circle of fashion, the young and lovely Mrs. Fitzfrippery, owned to the proprietor that to this surprising fluid it was that she was indebted for those unrivalled raven ringlets which attracted the eyes of envying and admiring crowds," and so forth.
A little farther on:—
"This exquisite effect is not in all cases produced instantaneously; much will of course depend (as the celebrated M. Dupuytren, of the Hotel Dieu, at Paris, informed the inventor) on the physical idiosyncrasy of the party using it, with reference to the constituent particles of the coloring matter constituting the fluid in the capillary vessels. Often a single application suffices to change the most hopeless-looking head of red hair to as deep a black; but, not unfrequently, the hair passes through intermediate shades and tints—all, however, ultimately settling into a deep and permanent black."
This passage not a little revived the drooping spirits of Titmouse. Accidentally, however, an asterisk at the last word in the above sentence, directed his eye to a note at the bottom of the page, printed in such minute type as would have baffled any but the strongest sight and most determined eye to read, and which said note was the following:—
"Though cases do, undoubtedly, occasionally occur, in which the native inherent indestructible qualities of the hair defy all attempts at change or even modification, and resist even this potent remedy: of which, however, in all his experience" (the wonderful specific has been invented for about six months) "the inventor has known but very few instances."
But to this exceedingly select class of unfortunate incurables, poor Titmouse, alas! entertained a dismal suspicion that he belonged.
"Look, sir! Look! Only look here what your cussed stuff has done to my hair!" said Titmouse, on presenting himself soon after to the gentleman who had sold him the infernal liquid; and, taking off his hat, exposed his green hair. The gentleman, however, did not appear at all surprised, or discomposed.
"Ah—yes! I see—I see. You're in the intermediate stage. It differs in different people"——
"Differs, sir! I'm going mad! I look like a green monkey—Cuss me if I don't!"
"In me, now," replied the gentleman, with a matter-of-fact air, "the color was a strong yellow. But have you read the explanations that are given in the wrapper?"
"Read 'em?" echoed Titmouse, furiously—"I should think so? Much good they do me! Sir, you're a humbug!—an impostor! I'm a sight to be seen for the rest of my life! Look at me, sir! Eyebrows, whiskers, and all!"
"Rather a singular appearance, just at present, I must own," said the gentleman, his face turning suddenly red all over with the violent effort he was making to prevent an explosion of laughter. He soon, however, recovered himself, and added coolly—"If you'll only persevere"——
"Persevere be d——d!" interrupted Titmouse, violently clapping his hat on his head, "I'll teach you to persevere in taking in the public! I'll have a warrant out against you in no time!"
"Oh, my dear sir, I'm accustomed to all this!" said the gentleman, coolly.
"The—devil—you—are!" gasped Titmouse, quite aghast.
"Oh, often—often, while the liquid is performing the first stage of the change; but, in a day or two afterwards, the parties generally come back smiling into my shop, with heads as black as crows!"
"No! But really—do they, sir?" interrupted Titmouse, drawing a long breath.
"Hundreds, I may say thousands, my dear sir! And one lady gave me a picture of herself, in her black hair, to make up for her abuse of me when it was in a puce color—Fact, honor!"
"But do you recollect any one's hair turning green, and then getting black?" inquired Titmouse, with trembling anxiety.
"Recollect any? Fifty at least. For instance, there was Lord Albert Addlehead—but why should I mention names? I know hundreds! But everything is honor and confidential here!"
"And did Lord what's-his-name's hair grow green, and then black; and was it at first as light as mine?"
"His hair was redder, and in consequence it became greener, and now is blacker than ever yours will be."
"Well, if I and my landlady have this morning used an ounce, we've used a quarter of a pound of soft soap in"——
"Soft soap!—soft soap!" cried out the gentleman, with an air of sudden alarm—"That explains all," (he forgot how well it had been already explained by him.) "By Heavens, sir!—soft soap! You may have ruined your hair forever!" Titmouse opened his eyes and mouth with a start of terror, it not occurring to his astute mind that the intolerable green had preceded, not followed, the use of the soft soap. "Go home, my dear sir! God bless you—go home, as you value your hair; take this small bottle of DAMASCUS CREAM, and rub it in before it's too late; and then use the remainder of the"——
"Then you don't think it's already too late?" inquired Titmouse, faintly; and, having been assured to the contrary—having asked the price of the Damascus cream, which was "only three-and-sixpence," (stamp included)—he purchased and paid for it with a rueful air, and took his departure. He sneaked homeward along the streets with the air of a pickpocket, fearful that every one he met was an officer who had his eye on him. He was not, in fact, very far off the mark; for many a person smiled, and stared, and turned round to look at him as he went along.
Titmouse slunk up-stairs to his room in a sad state of depression, and spent the next hour in rubbing into his hair the Damascus cream. He rubbed till he could hardly hold his arms up any longer, from sheer fatigue. Having risen at length to mark, from the glass, the progress he had made, he found that the only result of his persevering exertions had been to give a greasy shining appearance to the hair, which remained green as ever. With a half-uttered groan he sank down upon a chair, and fell into a sort of abstraction, which was interrupted by a sharp knock at his door. Titmouse started up, trembled, and stood for a moment or two irresolute, glancing fearfully at the glass; and then, opening the door, let in—Mr. Gammon, who started back a pace or two, as if he had been shot, on catching sight of the strange figure of Titmouse. It was useless for Gammon to try to check his laughter; so, leaning against the door-post, he yielded to the impulse, and laughed without intermission for nearly a couple of minutes. Titmouse felt desperately angry, but feared to show it; and the timid, rueful, lackadaisical air with which he regarded the dreaded Mr. Gammon, only prolonged and aggravated the agonies of that gentleman. When at length he had a little recovered himself, holding his left hand to his side, with an exhausted air, he entered the little apartment, and asked Titmouse what in the name of heaven he had been doing to himself: "Without this" (in the absurd slang of the lawyers) that he suspected most vehemently, all the while, what Titmouse had been about; but he wished to hear Titmouse's own account of the matter!—Titmouse, not daring to hesitate, complied—Gammon listening in an agony of suppressed laughter. He looked as little at Titmouse as he could, and was growing a trifle more sedate, when Titmouse, in a truly lamentable tone, inquired, "What's the good, Mr. Gammon, of ten thousand a-year with such a horrid head of hair as this?" On hearing which Gammon jumped off his chair, started to the window, and laughed for one or two minutes without ceasing. This was too much for Titmouse, who presently cried aloud in a lamentable manner; and Gammon, suddenly ceasing his laughter, turned round and apologized in the most earnest manner; after which he uttered an abundance of sympathy for the sufferings which "he deplored being unable to alleviate." He even restrained himself when Titmouse again and again asked if he could not "have the law" of the man who had so imposed on him. Gammon diverted the thoughts of his suffering client, by taking from his pocket some very imposing packages of paper, tied round with red tape. From time to time, however, he almost split his nose with efforts to restrain his laughter, on catching a fresh glimpse of poor Titmouse's emerald hair. Mr. Gammon was a man of business, however; and in the midst of all this distracting excitement, contrived to get Titmouse's signature to sundry papers of no little consequence; among others, first, to a bond conditioned for the payment of L500; secondly, another for L10,000;—both to Caleb Quirk, gentleman; and lastly, an agreement (of which he gave Titmouse an alleged copy) by which Titmouse, in consideration of Messrs. Quirk, Gammon, and Snap using their best exertions to put him in possession of the estate, &c. &c., bound himself to conform to their wishes in everything, on pain of their instantly throwing up the whole affair, looking out for another heir at law (!) and issuing execution forthwith against Titmouse for all expenses incurred under his retainer. I said that Gammon gave his confiding client an alleged copy of this agreement;—it was not a real copy, for certain stipulations appeared in each, which were not intended to appear in the other, for reasons which were perfectly satisfactory to—Messrs. Quirk, Gammon, and Snap. When Gammon had got to this point, he thought it the fitting opportunity for producing a second five-pound note. He did so, and put Titmouse thereby into an ecstasy, which pushed out of his head for a while all recollection of what had happened to the outside of it. He had at that moment nearly eleven pounds in hard cash. Gammon easily obtained from him an account of his little money transactions with Huckaback—of which, however, all he could tell was—that for ten shillings down, he had given a written engagement to pay fifty pounds on getting the estate. Of this Gammon made a careful memorandum, explaining to Titmouse the atrocious villany of Huckaback—and, in short, that if he (Titmouse) did not look very sharply about him, he would be robbed right and left; so that it was of the utmost consequence to him early to learn how to distinguish between false and true friends. Gammon went on to assure him that the instrument which he had given to Huckaback, was probably, in point of law, not worth a farthing, on the ground of its being both fraudulent and usurious; and intimated something, which Titmouse did not very distinctly comprehend, about the efficacy of a bill in equity for a discovery; which—merely to expose villany—at a very insignificant expense, (not exceeding L100,) would enable the plaintiff in equity to put the defendant in equity, (i. e. Huckaback,) in the way of declaring, on his solemn oath, that he had advanced the full sum of L50; and having obtained this important and satisfactory result, Titmouse would have the opportunity of disproving the statement of Huckaback—if he could: which of course he could not. By this process, however, a little profitable employment would have been afforded to a certain distinguished firm in Saffron Hill—and that was something—to Gammon.
"But, by the way, talking of money," said Titmouse, suddenly, "you can't think how surprising handsome Mr. Tag-rag has behaved to me!"
"Indeed, my dear sir!" exclaimed Gammon, with real curiosity, "what has he done?"
"Advanced to me five pounds—all of his own head!"
"Are you serious, Mr. Titmouse?" inquired Gammon.
Titmouse produced the change which he had obtained for Tag-rag's five-pound note, minus only the prices of the Cyanochaitanthropopoion, the Damascus cream, and the eyeglass. Gammon merely stroked his chin in a thoughtful manner. So occupied, indeed, was he with his reflections, that though his eye was fixed on the ludicrous figure of Titmouse, which so shortly before had occasioned him such paroxysms of laughter, he did not feel the least inclination even to a smile. Tag-rag advance Titmouse five pounds! A-hem!—Throwing as much smiling indifference into his manner as was possible, he asked Titmouse the particulars of so strange a transaction. Titmouse answered (how truly the reader can judge) that Mr. Tag-rag had, in the very handsomest way, volunteered the loan of five pounds; and moreover offered him any further sum he might require!
"What a charming change, Mr. Titmouse!" exclaimed Gammon, with a watchful eye and anxious smile.
"Most delightful, 'pon my soul!"
"Rather sudden, too!—eh?—Mr. Titmouse?"
"Why—no—no; I should say, 'pon my life, certainly not. The fact is, we've long misunderstood each other. He's had an uncommon good opinion of me all the while—people have tried to set him against me; but it's no use, he's found them out—he told me so! And he's not only said, but done the handsome thing! He's turned up, by Jove, a trump all of a sudden—though it's long looked an ugly card, to be sure!"
"Ha, ha, ha!—very!—how curious!" exclaimed Mr. Gammon, mechanically; revolving several important matters in his mind.
"I'm going, too, to dine at Satin Lodge, Mr. Tag-rag's country house, next Sunday."
"Indeed! It will be quite a change for you, Mr. Titmouse!"
"Yes, it will, by Jove; and—a—a—what's more—there's—hem!—you understand?"
"Go on, I beg, my dear Mr. Titmouse"——
"There's a lady in the case—not that she's said anything; but a nod's as good as a wink to a blind horse—eh? Mr. Gammon?"
"I should think so—Miss Tag-rag will have money, of course?"
"You've hit it! Lots! But I've not made up my mind."
[I'd better undeceive this poor devil at once, as to this sordid wretch Tag-rag, (thought Gammon,) otherwise the cunning old rogue may get a very mischievous hold upon him! And a lady in the case! The old scamp has a daughter! Whew! this will never do! The sooner I enlighten my young friend the better—though at a little risk.]
"It's very important to be able to tell who are real and who false friends, as I was saying just now, my dear Titmouse," said Gammon, seriously.
"I think so. Now look for instance, there's that fellow Huckaback. I should say he"——
"Pho! pho! my dear sir, a mere beetle—he's not worth thinking of, one way or the other. But can't you guess another sham friend, who has changed so suddenly?"
"Do you mean Mr. Tag-rag—eh?"
"I mention no names; but it's rather odd, that when I am speaking of hollow-hearted friends, you should at once name Mr. Tag-rag—ah, ha, Mr. Titmouse!"
"The proof of the pudding—handsome is that handsome does; and I've got L5 of his money, at any rate."
"Of course he took no security for such a trifle, between such very close friends?"
"Oh—why—now you mention it—But 'twas only a line—one line—a mere mem. betwixt two gents—and I noticed it had no stamp!"
"I guessed as much, my dear sir," interrupted Gammon, calmly, with a significant smile—"Tag-rag and Huckaback are quite on a par—a brace of worthies—ah, ha, ha! My dear Titmouse, you are too honest and confiding!"
"What keen eyes you lawyers have to be sure! Well—I never"—said Titmouse, looking very grave—for he was evidently somewhat staggered. "I—I—must say," he presently added, looking gratefully at Gammon, "I think I do now know of a true friend, that sent me two five-pound notes, and never asked for any security."
"My dear sir, you really pain me by alluding to such a matter!"
[Oh, Gammon, is not this too bad? What are the papers which you know are now in your pocket, signed only this very evening by Titmouse?]
"You are not a match for Tag-rag, Mr. Titmouse; because he was made for a tradesman—you are not. Do you think he would have parted with his L5 but for value received? Oh, Tag-rag! Tag-rag!"
"I—I really begin to think, Mr. Gammon—'pon my soul, I do think you're right."
"Think!—why—for a man of your acuteness—how could he imagine you could forget the long course of insult and tyranny which you have endured under him: that he should change all of a sudden—just now, when"——
"Ay, by Jove! just when I'm coming into my property," interrupted Titmouse, quickly.
"To be sure—to be sure! just now, I say, to make this sudden change! Bah! bah!"
"I hate Tag-rag, and always did. Now he's trying to take me in, just as he does everybody; but I've found him out; I won't lay out a penny with him!"
"Would you, do you think, ever have seen the inside of Satin Lodge, if you hadn't"——
"Why, I don't know; I really think—hem!"
"Would you, my dear sir?—But now a scheme occurs to me—a very amusing idea indeed! Ah, ha, ha!—Shall I tell you a way of proving to his own face how insincere and interested he is towards you? Go to dinner by all means, eat his good things, hear all that the whole set of them have to say, and just before you go, (it will require you to have your wits about you,) pretend, with a long face, that our affair is all a bottle of smoke: say that Messrs. Quirk, Gammon, and Snap have told you the day before that they had made a horrid mistake, and you were the wrong man"——
"'Pon my life, I—I—really," stammered Titmouse "daren't—I couldn't—I couldn't keep it up—he'd half kill me. Besides, there will be Miss Tag-rag—it would be the death of her, I know."
"Miss Tag-rag! Gracious Heavens! What on earth can you have to do with her? You—why, if you really succeed in getting this fine property, she might make a very suitable wife for one of your grooms—ah, ha!—But for you—absurd!"
"Ah! I don't know—she may be a devilish fine girl, and the old fellow will have a tolerable penny to leave her—and a bird in the hand—eh? Besides, I know what she's all along thought—hem!—but that doesn't signify."
"Pho! pho! Ridiculous! Ha, ha, ha! Fancy Miss Tag-rag Mrs. Titmouse! Your eldest son—ah, ha, ha! Tag-rag Titmouse, Esq. Delightful! Your honored father a draper in Oxford Street!" All this might be very clever, but it did not seem to tell upon Titmouse, whose little heart had been reached by a cunning hint of Tag-rag's concerning his daughter's flattering estimate of Titmouse's personal appearance. The reason why Gammon attacked so seriously a matter which appeared so chimerical and preposterous, was this—that according to his present plan, Titmouse was to remain for some considerable while at Tag-rag's, and might, with his utter weakness of character, be worked upon by Tag-rag and his daughter, and get inveigled into an engagement which might be productive hereafter of no little embarrassment. Gammon succeeded, however, at length, in obtaining Titmouse's promise to adopt his suggestion, and thereby discover the true nature of the feelings entertained towards him at Satin Lodge. He shook Titmouse energetically by the hand, and left him perfectly certain that if there was one person in the world worthy of his esteem, and even reverence, that person was OILY GAMMON, ESQ.
As he bent his steps towards Saffron Hill, he reflected rather anxiously on several matters which had occurred to him during the interview which I have just described. On reaching the office, he was presently closeted with Mr. Quirk, to whom, first and foremost, he exhibited and delivered the documents to which he had obtained Titmouse's signature, and which, the reader will allow me to assure him, were of a somewhat different texture from a certain legal instrument or security which I laid before him some little time ago.
"Now, Gammon," said the old gentleman, as soon as he had locked up in his safe the above-mentioned documents—"Now, Gammon, I think we may be up and at 'em; load our guns, and blaze away," and he rubbed his hands.
"Perhaps so, Mr. Quirk," replied Gammon; "but we must, for no earthly consideration, be premature in our operations! Let me, by the way, tell you one or two little matters that have just happened to Titmouse!"—Then he told Mr. Quirk of the effects which had followed the use of the potent Cyanochaitanthropopoion, at which old Quirk almost laughed himself into fits. When, however, Gammon, with a serious air, mentioned the name of Miss Tag-rag, and his grave suspicions concerning her, Quirk bounced up out of his chair, almost startling Gammon out of his. If Mr. Quirk had just been told that his banker had broken, he could scarce have shown more emotion.
The fact was, that he, too, had a DAUGHTER—an only child—Miss Quirk—whom he had destined to become Mrs. Titmouse.
"A designing old villain!" he exclaimed at length, and Gammon agreed with him; but strange to say, with all his acuteness, never adverted to the real cause of Quirk's sudden and vehement exclamation. When Gammon told him of the manner in which he had opened Titmouse's eyes to the knavery of Tag-rag, and the expedient he had suggested for its complete demonstration to Titmouse, Quirk could have worshipped Gammon, and could not help rising and shaking him very energetically by the hand, much to his astonishment. After a long consultation, they determined to look out fresh lodgings for Titmouse, and remove him presently altogether from the company and influence of Tag-rag. Some time after they had parted, Mr. Quirk came with an eager air into Mr. Gammon's room, with a most important suggestion; viz. whether it would not be possible for them to get Tag-rag to become a surety to them, by and by, on behalf of Titmouse? Gammon was delighted!—He heartily commended Mr. Quirk's sagacity, and promised to turn it about in his thoughts very carefully. Not having been let entirely into Quirk's policy, (of which the reader has, however, just had a glimpse,) Mr. Gammon did not see the difficulties which kept Quirk awake almost all that night; viz. how to protect Titmouse from the machinations of Tag-rag and his daughter, and yet keep Tag-rag sufficiently interested in, and intimate with, Titmouse, to entertain, by and by, the idea of becoming surety for him to them, the said Messrs. Quirk, Gammon, and Snap; and—withal—how to manage Titmouse all the while, so as to forward their objects, and also that of turning his attention towards Miss Quirk; all this formed really rather a difficult problem!—Quirk looked down on Tag-rag with honest indignation, as a mean and mercenary fellow, whose unprincipled schemes, thank Heaven! he already saw through, and from which he resolved to rescue his innocent and confiding client, who was made for better things—to wit, Miss Quirk.
When Titmouse rose the next morning, (Saturday,) behold—he found his hair had become of a variously shaded purple or violet color! Astonishment and apprehension by turns possessed him, as he stared into the glass, at this unlooked-for change of color; and hastily dressing himself, after swallowing a very slight breakfast, off he went once more to the scientific establishment in Bond Street, to which he had been indebted for his recent delightful experiences. The distinguished inventor and proprietor of the Cyanochaitanthropopoion was behind the counter as usual—calm and confident as ever.
"Ah! I see—as I said! as I said!" quoth he, with a sort of glee in his manner. "Isn't it?—coming round quicker than usual—Really, I'm selling more of the article than I can possibly make."
"Well,"—at length said Titmouse, as soon as he had recovered from the surprise occasioned by the sudden volubility with which he had been assailed on entering—"then is it really going on tolerable well?" taking off his hat, and looking anxiously into a glass that hung close by.
"Tolerable well, my dear sir! Delightful! Perfect! Couldn't be better! If you'd studied the thing, you'd know, sir, that purple is the middle color between green and black. Indeed, black's only purple and green mixed, which explains the whole thing!" Titmouse listened with infinite satisfaction to this unanswerable and truly philosophical account of the matter.
"Remember, sir—my hair is to come like yours—eh? you recollect, sir? Honor—that was the bargain, you know!"
"I have very little doubt of it, sir—nay, I am certain of it, knowing it by experience."
[The scamp had been hired expressly for the purpose of lying thus in support of the Cyanochaitanthropopoion; his own hair being a natural black.]
"I'm going to a grand dinner to-morrow, sir," said Titmouse, "with some devilish great people at the west end of the town—eh? you understand? will it do by that time? Would give a trifle to get my hair a shade darker by that time—for—hem!—most lovely gal—eh? you understand the thing?—devilish anxious, and all that sort of thing, you know!"
"Yes—I do," replied the gentleman of the shop, in a confidential tone; and opening one of the glass doors behind him, took out a bottle considerably larger than the first, and handed it to Titmouse. "This," said he, "will complete the thing; it combines chemically with the purple particles, and the result is—generally arrived at in about two days' time"——
"But it will do something in a night's time—eh!—surely."
"I should think so! But here it is—it is called the TETARAGMENON ABRACADABRA."
"What a name!" exclaimed Titmouse, with a kind of awe. "'Pon honor, it almost takes one's breath away"——
"It will do more, sir; it will take your red hair away! By the way, only the day before yesterday, a lady of high rank, (between ourselves, Lady Caroline Carrot,) whose red hair always seemed as if it would have set her bonnet in a blaze—ha, ha!—came here, after two days' use of the Cyanochaitanthropopoion, and one day's use of this Tetaragmenon Abracadabra—and asked me if I knew her. Upon my soul I did not, till she solemnly assured me she was really Lady Caroline!"
"How much is it?" eagerly inquired Titmouse, thrusting his hand into his pocket, with no little excitement.
"Oh, my stars, what a price! Nine-and-six"——
"Ah, but would you have believed it, sir? This extraordinary fluid cost a great German chemist his whole life to bring to perfection; and it contains expensive materials from all the four corners of the world! It's ruined the proprietor long ago!"
"That may be—but really—I've laid out a large figure with you, sir, this day or two! Couldn't you say eight sh"——
"We never abate, sir; it's not our style of doing business," replied the gentleman, in a manner that quite overawed poor Titmouse, who at once bought this, the third abomination; not a little depressed, however, at the heavy prices which he had paid for the three bottles, and the uncertainty he felt as to the ultimate issue. That night he was so well satisfied with the progress which he was making with his hair, (for, by candle light, it really looked much darker than could have been expected,) that he resolved—at all events for the present—to leave well alone; or at the utmost, to try the effects of the Tetaragmenon Abracadabra only upon his eyebrows and whiskers. Into them he rubbed the new specific; which, on the bottle being opened, surprised him in two respects: first, it was perfectly colorless; secondly, it had a most infernal smell. It was, however, no use hesitating: he had bought and paid for it; and the papers in which it was folded gave an account of its success that was really irresistible and unquestionable. Away, therefore, he rubbed; and when he had finished, got into bed, in humble hope as to the result, which would be disclosed by the morning's light. But, alas! would you have believed it? When he looked at himself in the glass, about six o'clock on the ensuing morning, (at which hour he awoke,) I protest it is a fact, that his eyebrows and whiskers were as white as snow; which, combined with the purple color of the hair on his head, rendered him one of the most astounding objects (in human shape) the eye of man had ever beheld. There was the wisdom of age seated in his white eyebrows and whiskers, unspeakable youthful folly in his features, and a purple crown of WONDER on his head.
Really, it seemed as if the devil were wreaking his spite on Mr. Titmouse; nay, perhaps it was the devil himself who had served him with the bottles in Bond Street. Or was it a mere ordinary servant of the devil—some greedy, impudent, unprincipled speculator, who, desirous of acting on the approved maxim—Fiat experimentum in corpore vili—had pitched on Titmouse (seeing the sort of person he was) as a godsend, quite reckless what effect might be produced on his hair, so as the stuff were paid for, and its effects noted? It might possibly have been sport to the gentleman of the shop, but it was near proving death to poor Titmouse, who might possibly have resolved on throwing himself out of the window, only that he saw it was not big enough for a baby to get through. He turned aghast at the monstrous object which his little glass presented to him; and sank down upon the bed with the feeling that he was now fit for death. As before, Mrs. Squallop made her appearance with his kettle for breakfast. He was sitting at the table dressed, and with his arms folded, with a reckless air, not at all caring to conceal the new and still more frightful change which he had undergone since she saw him last. Mrs. Squallop stared at him for a second or two in silence; then, stepping back out of the room, suddenly drew to the door, and stood outside, laughing vehemently.
"I'll kick you down-stairs!" shouted Titmouse, rushing to the door pale with fury, and pulling it open.
"Mr.—Mr.—Titmouse, you'll be the death of me—you will—you will!" gasped Mrs. Squallop, almost black in the face, and the water running out of the kettle, which she was unconsciously holding aslant. After a while, however, they got reconciled. Mrs. Squallop had fancied he had been but rubbing chalk on his eyebrows and whiskers; and seemed dismayed, indeed, on hearing the true state of the case. He implored her to send out for a small bottle of ink; but as it was Sunday morning none could be got;—she knew that no one in the court used ink, and she teased him to try a little blacking! He did—but it was useless!—He sat for an hour or two, in an ecstasy of grief and rage. What would he now have given never to have meddled with the hair which Heaven had thought fit to send him into the world with? Alas, with what mournful force Mrs. Squallop's words again and again recurred to him! To say that he ate breakfast would be scarcely correct. He drank a single cup of cocoa, and ate a small fragment of roll, and then put away his breakfast things on the window shelf. If he had been in the humor to go to church, how could he? He would have been turned out as an object involuntarily exciting everybody to laughter!
Yet, poor soul, in this extremity of misery, he was not utterly neglected; for he had that morning quite a little levee. First came Mr. Snap, who, having quite as keen and clear an eye for his own interest as his senior partners, had early seen how capable was an acquaintance with Titmouse of being turned to his (Snap's) great advantage. He had come, therefore, dressed very stylishly, to do a little bit of toadying on the sly, (on his own exclusive account;) and had brought with him, for the edification of Titmouse, a copy of that day's Sunday Flash, which contained a long account of a bloody fight between Birmingham Bigbones and London Littlego, for L500 a-side, (sixty rounds had been fought, both men killed, and their seconds had bolted to Boulogne.) Poor Snap, however, though he had come with the best intentions, and the most anxious wish to evince profound respect for the future master of ten thousand a-year, was quite taken by storm by the very first glimpse he got of Titmouse, and could not for a long while recover himself. He had come to ask Titmouse to dine with him at a tavern in the Strand, where there was to be capital singing in the evening; and also to accompany him, on the ensuing morning, to the Old Bailey, to hear "a most interesting trial" for bigamy, in which Snap was concerned for the prisoner—a miscreant, who had been married to five living women!! Snap conceived (and very justly) that it would give Titmouse a striking idea of his (Snap's) importance, to see him so much, and apparently so familiarly concerned with well-known counsel. In his own terse and quaint way, he was explaining to Titmouse the various remedies he had against the Bond Street impostor, both by indictment and action on the case, nay, (getting a little, however, beyond his depth,) he assured the eager Titmouse, that a bill of discovery would lie in equity, to ascertain what the Tetaragmenon Abracadabra was composed of, with a view to his preferring an indictment against its owner, when his learned display was interrupted by a double knock, and—oh, mercy on us!—enter Mr. Gammon. Whether he or Snap felt more disconcerted, I cannot say; but Snap looked the most confused and sneaking. Each told the other a lie, in as easy, good-natured a way as he could assume, concerning the object of his visit to Titmouse. Thus they were going on, when—another knock—and, "Is this Mr. Titmouse's?" inquired a voice, which brought a little color into the face of both Gammon and Snap; for it was absolutely old Quirk, who bustled breathless into the room, on his first visit, and seemed completely confounded by the sight of both his partners. What with this, and the amazing appearance presented by Titmouse, Mr. Quirk was so overwhelmed that he scarce spoke a syllable. Each of the three partners felt (in his own way) exquisite embarrassment. Huckaback, some time afterwards, made his appearance; but him Titmouse unceremoniously dismissed in a twinkling, in spite of a vehement remonstrance. Behold, however, presently another arrival—Mr. Tag-rag!! who had come to announce that his carriage (i. e. a queer, rickety, little one-horse chaise, with a tallow-faced boy in it, in faded livery) was waiting to convey Mr. Titmouse to Satin Lodge, and take him a long drive in the country! Each of these four worthies could have spit in the other's face: first, for detecting, and secondly, for rivalling him in his schemes upon Titmouse. A few minutes after the arrival of Tag-rag, Gammon, half-choked with disgust, and despising himself even more than he despised his fellow-visitors, slunk off, followed almost immediately by Quirk, who was dying to consult him on this new aspect of affairs which had presented itself. Snap (who ever since the arrival of Messrs. Quirk and Gammon had felt like an ape on hot irons) very shortly followed in the footsteps of his partners, having made no engagement whatever with Titmouse; and thus the enterprising and determined Tag-rag was left master of the field. He had in fact come to do business, and business he determined to do. As for Gammon, during the short time he had stayed, how he had endeared himself to Titmouse, by explaining, not aware that Titmouse had confessed all to Snap, the singular change in the color of his hair to have been occasioned simply by the intense mental anxiety through which he had lately passed! The touching anecdotes he told of sufferers, whose hair a single night's agony had changed to all the colors of the rainbow! Though Tag-rag outstayed all his fellow-visitors, in the manner which has been described, he could not prevail upon Titmouse to accompany him in his "carriage," for Titmouse pleaded a pressing engagement, (i. e. a desperate attempt he purposed making to obtain some ink,) but pledged himself to make his appearance at Satin Lodge at the appointed hour (half-past three or four o'clock.) Away, therefore, drove Tag-rag, delighted that Satin Lodge would so soon contain so resplendent a visitor—indignant at the cringing, sycophantic attentions of Messrs. Quirk, Gammon, and Snap, against whom he resolved to put Titmouse on his guard, and infinitely astonished at the extraordinary change which had taken place in the color of Titmouse's hair. Partly influenced by the explanation which Gammon had given of the phenomenon, Tag-rag resigned himself to feelings of simple wonder. Titmouse was doubtless passing through stages of physical transmogrification, corresponding with the marvellous change that was taking place in his circumstances; and for all he (Tag-rag) knew, other and more extraordinary changes were going on; Titmouse might be growing at the rate of half an inch a-day, and soon stand before him a man more than six feet high! Considerations such as these invested Titmouse with intense and overpowering interest in the estimation of Tag-rag; how could he make enough of him at Satin Lodge that day? If ever that hardened sinner felt inclined to utter an inward prayer, it was as he drove home that day—that Heaven would array his daughter in angel hues to the eyes of Titmouse!
My friend Tittlebat made his appearance at the gate of Satin Lodge, at about a quarter to four o'clock. Good gracious, how he had dressed himself out! So as very considerably to exceed his appearance when first presented to the reader.
Miss Tag-rag had been before her glass ever since the instant of her return from chapel, up to within ten minutes' time of Titmouse's arrival. An hour and a half at least had she bestowed on her hair, disposing it in little corkscrew and somewhat scanty curls, which quite glistened in bear's grease, hanging on each side of a pair of lean and sallow cheeks. The color which ought to have distributed itself over her cheeks, in roseate delicacy, had, two or three years before, thought fit to collect itself into the tip of her sharp little nose. Her small gray eyes beamed with the gentle and attractive expression perceptible in her father's; and her projecting under lip reminded everybody of that delicate feature in her mother. She was very short, and her figure rather skinny and angular. She wore her lilac-colored frock; her waist being pinched in to a degree which made you think of a fit of the colic when you looked at her—and gave you a dim vision of a coroner's inquest on a case of death by tight lacing! A long red sash, tied in a most elaborate bow, gave a very brilliant air to her dress generally. She had a thin gold chain round her neck, and wore long white gloves; her left hand holding her pocket-handkerchief, which she had so suffused with bergamot that it scented the whole room. Mrs. Tag-rag had made herself very splendid, in a red silk gown and staring head-dress; in fact, she seemed on fire. As for Mr. Tag-rag, whenever he was dressed in his Sunday clothes, he looked the model of a dissenting minister; witness his black coat, waistcoat and trousers, and primly tied white neckerchief, with no shirt-collar visible. For some quarter of an hour had this interesting trio been standing at their parlor window, in anxious expectation of Titmouse's arrival; their only amusement being the numberless dusty stage-coaches driving every five minutes close past their gate, (which was about ten yards from their house,) at once enlivening and ruralizing the scene. Oh, that poor laburnum—laden with dust, drooping with drought, and evidently in the very last stage of a decline—that was planted beside the little gate! Tag-rag spoke of cutting it down; but Mrs. and Miss Tag-rag begged its life a little longer, because none of their neighbors had one!—and then that subject dropped. How was it that though both the ladies had sat under a thundering discourse from Mr. Dismal Horror that morning—they had never once since thought or spoken of him or his sermon—never even opened his exhilarating "Groans"? The reason was plain. They thought of Titmouse, who was bringing "airs from heaven;" while Horror brought only "blasts from——!" and those they had every day in the week, (his sermons on the Sunday, his "Groans" on the weekday.) At length Miss Tag-rag's little heart fluttered violently, for her papa told her that Titmouse was coming up the road—and so he was. Not dreaming that he could be seen, he stood beside the gate for a moment, under the melancholy laburnum; and, taking a dirty-looking silk handkerchief out of his hat, slapped it vigorously about his boots, (from which circumstance it may be inferred that he had walked,) and replaced it in his hat. Then he unbuttoned his surtout, adjusted it nicely, and disposed his chain and eyeglass just so as to let the tip only of the latter be seen peeping out of his waistcoat; twitched up his shirt-collar, plucked down his wristbands, drew the tip of a white pocket handkerchief out of the pocket in the breast of his surtout, pulled a white glove halfway on his left hand; and having thus given the finishing touches to his toilet, opened the gate, and—Tittlebat Titmouse, Esquire, the great guest of the day, for the first time in his life (swinging a little ebony cane about with careless grace) entered the domain of Mr. Tag-rag.
The little performance I have been describing, though every bit of it passing under the eyes of Tag-rag, his wife, and his daughter, had not excited a smile; their anxious feelings were too deep to be reached or stirred by light emotions. Miss Tag-rag turned very pale and trembled.
"La, pa!" said she, faintly, "how could you say he'd got white eyebrows and whiskers? Why—they're a beautiful black!"
Tag-rag was speechless: the fact was so—for Titmouse had fortunately succeeded in obtaining a little bottle of ink, which he had applied with great effect. As Titmouse approached the house, (Tag-rag hurrying out to open the door for him,) he saw the two ladies standing at the windows. Off went his hat, and out dropped the dusty silk handkerchief, not a little disconcerting him for the moment. Tag-rag, however, soon occupied his attention at the door with anxious civilities, shaking him by the hand, hanging up his hat and stick for him, and then introducing him to the sitting-room. The ladies received him with the most profound courtesies, which Titmouse returned with a quick embarrassed bow, and an indistinct—"Hope you're well, mem?"
If they had had presence of mind enough to observe it, the purple color of Titmouse's hair must have surprised them not a little; all they could see standing before them, however, was—the angelic owner of ten thousand a-year.
The only person tolerably at his ease, and he only tolerably, was Mr. Tag-rag; and he asked his guest——
"Wash your hands, Titmouse, before dinner?" But Titmouse said he had washed them before he had come out. [The day was hot, and he had walked five miles at a slapping pace.] In a few minutes, however, he felt a little more assured; it being impossible for him not to perceive the awful deference with which he was treated.
"Seen the Sunday Flash, mem?" he presently inquired, very modestly, addressing Mrs. Tag-rag.
"I—I—that is—not to-day," she replied, coloring.
"Vastly amusing, isn't it?" interposed Tag-rag, to prevent mischief—for he knew his wife would as soon have taken a cockatrice into her hand.
"Ye—e—s," replied Titmouse, who had not even glanced at the copy which Snap had brought him. "An uncommon good fight between Birmingham Big"——
Tag-rag saw his wife getting redder and redder. "No news stirring about things in general, is there?" said he, with a desperate attempt at a diversion.
"Not that I have heard," replied Titmouse. Soon he got a little farther, and said how cheerful the stages going past must make the house. Tag-rag agreed with him. Then there was a little pause. None of the party knew exactly which way to look, nor in what posture to sit. Faint "hems" were occasionally heard. In short, no one felt at home.
"Been to church, mem, this morning, mem?" timidly inquired Titmouse of Miss Tag-rag—the first time of his daring to address her.
"Yes, sir," she replied, faintly coloring, casting her eyes to the ground, and suddenly putting her hand into that of her mother—with such an innocent, engaging simplicity—like a timid fawn lying as close as possible to its dam!
"We always go to chapel, sir," said Mrs. Tag-rag, confidently, in spite of a deadly look from her husband; "the gospel a'n't preached in the Church of England! We sit under Mr. Horror—a heavenly preacher! You've heard of Mr. Horror?"
"Yes, mem! Oh, yes! Capital preacher!" replied Titmouse, who of course (being a true churchman) had never in his life heard of Mr. Horror, or any other dissenter.
"When will dinner be ready, Mrs. T.?" inquired Tag-rag, abruptly, and with a very perceptible dash of sternness in his tone; but dinner was announced the very next moment. He took his wife's arm, and in doing so, gave it a sudden vehement pressure, which, coupled with a furious glance, explained to her the extent to which she had incurred his anger!
Titmouse's offered arm the timid Miss Tag-rag scarcely touched with the tip of her finger, as she walked beside him to dinner. He soon got tolerably composed and cheerful at dinner, (which, contrary to their usual custom—which was to have a cheerless cold dinner on the Sabbath—consisted of a little piece of nice roast beef, with plenty of horse-radish, Yorkshire pudding, a boiled fowl, a plum-pudding made by Mrs. Tag-rag, and custards which had been superintended by Miss Tag-rag herself,) and, to oblige his hospitable host and hostess, ate till he was near bursting. Miss Tag-rag, though really very hungry, could be prevailed upon to take only a very small slice of beef and a quarter of a custard, and drank a third of a glass of quasi sherry (i. e. Cape wine) after dinner. She never once spoke, except in hurried answers, to her papa and mamma; and sitting exactly opposite Titmouse, (with a big plate of greens and a boiled fowl between them,) was continually coloring whenever their eyes happened to encounter one another, on which occasions, hers would suddenly drop, as if overpowered by the brilliance of his. Titmouse began to love her very fast. After the ladies had withdrawn, you should have heard the way in which Tag-rag went on with Titmouse!—I can liken the two to nothing but an old fat spider and a little fly.
"Will you come into my parlor? Said the spider to the fly;"
—in the old song: and it might have been well for Titmouse to have answered, in the language of the aforesaid fly:—
"No, thank you, sir, I really feel No curiosity."
Titmouse, however, swallowed with equal facility Mr. Tag-rag's hard port and his soft blarney; but all fools have large swallows. When, at length, Tag-rag with exquisite skill and delicacy alluded to the painfully evident embarrassment of his "poor Tabby," and said he had "all of a sudden found out what had been so long the matter with her," [ay, even this went down,] and hemmed, and winked his eye, and drained his glass, Titmouse began to get flustered, blushed, and hoped Mr. Tag-rag would soon "join the ladies." They did so, Tag-rag stopping behind for a few moments to lock up the wine and the remains of the fruit, not wishing to subject the servant-boy to temptation by the rare opportunity afforded by fruit left on the table. Miss Tag-rag presided over the tea-things. There were muffins, and crumpets, and reeking-hot buttered toast; and hospitable Mrs. Tag-rag would hear of no denial, "things had been got, and must be eat," she thought within herself; so poor Titmouse, after a most desperate resistance, was obliged to swallow a round of toast, half a muffin, an entire crumpet, and four cups of hot tea; after which they felt that he must feel comfortable; but he, alas, in fact, experienced a very painful degree of turgidity, and a miserable conviction that he should be able neither to eat nor drink anything more for the remainder of the week!
After the tea-things had been removed, Tag-rag, directing Titmouse's attention to the piano, which was open, (with some music on it, ready to be played from,) asked him whether he liked music. Titmouse, with great eagerness, hoped Miss T. would give them some music; and she, after holding out a long and vigorous siege, at length asked her papa what it should be.
"The Battle of Prague," said her papa.
"Before Jehovah's awful throne, my dear!" hastily and anxiously interposed her mamma.
"The Battle," sternly repeated her papa.
"It's Sunday night, Mr. T.," meekly rejoined his wife.
"Which will you have, Mr. Titmouse?" inquired Tag-rag, with The Battle of Prague written in every feature of his face. Titmouse almost burst into a state of perspiration.
"A little of both, sir, if you please."
"Well," replied Tag-rag, slightly relaxing, "that will do. Split the difference—eh? Come, Tab, down with you. Titmouse, will you turn over the music for my little girl?"
Titmouse rose, and having sheepishly taken his station beside Miss Tag-rag, the performances commenced with Before Jehovah's awful throne! But mercy upon us! at what a rate she rattled over that "pious air!" If its respectable composer (whoever he may be) had been present, he must have gone into a fit; but there was no help for it—the heart of the lovely performer was in The Battle of Prague, to which she presently did most ample justice. So much were her feelings engaged in that sublime composition, that the bursting of one of the strings—twang! in the middle of the "cannonading" did not at all disturb her; and, as soon as she had finished the exquisite "finale," Titmouse was in such a tumult of excitement, from a variety of causes, that he could have shed tears. Though he had never once turned over at the right place, Miss Tag-rag thanked him for his services with a smile of infinite sweetness. Titmouse vowed he had never heard such splendid music—begged for more: and away went Miss Tag-rag, hurried away by her excitement. Rondo after rondo, march after march, she rattled over for at least half an hour upon those hideous jingling keys; at the end of which old Tag-rag suddenly kissed her with passionate fondness. Though Mrs. Tag-rag was horrified at the impiety of all this, she kept a very anxious eye on the young couple, and interchanged with her husband, every now and then, very significant looks. Shortly after nine, spirits, wine, and hot and cold water, were brought in. At the sight of them Titmouse looked alarmed—for he knew that he must take something more, though he would have freely given five shillings to be excused—for he felt as if he could not hold another drop! But it was in vain. Willy-nilly, a glass of gin and water stood soon before him; he protested he could not touch it unless Miss Tag-rag would "take something"—whereupon, with a blush, she "thought she would" take a wine-glassful of sherry and water. This was provided her. Then Tag-rag mixed a tumbler of port-wine negus for Mrs. Tag-rag, and a great glass of mahogany-colored brandy and water for himself; and then he looked round the elegant little apartment, and felt perfectly happy. As Titmouse advanced with his gin and water, his spirits got higher and higher, and his tongue more fluent. He once or twice dropped the "Mr." when addressing Tag-rag; several times smiled, and once even winked at the embarrassed Miss Tag-rag. Mr. Tag-rag saw it, and could not control himself—for he had got to the end of his first glass of brandy and water, and (a most unusual procedure with him) mixed himself a second quite as strong as the former.
"Tab! ah, Tab! what has been the matter with you all these months?" said he, chucking her under the chin—and then he winked his eye at her and then at Titmouse.
"Papa!" exclaimed Miss Tag-rag, looking down, and blushing up to her very temples.
"Ah, Titmouse—Titmouse—give me your hand," said Tag-rag; "you'll forget us all when you're a great man—but we shall always remember you!"
"You're very good—very!" said Titmouse, cordially returning the pressure of Tag-rag's hand. At that instant it suddenly occurred to him to adopt the suggestion of Mr. Gammon. Tag-rag was going on very fast, indeed, about the disinterested nature of his feelings towards Titmouse; towards whom, he said, he had always felt just as he did at that moment—'twas in vain to deny it.
"I'm sure your conduct shows it, sir," commenced Titmouse, feeling a shudder like that with which a timid bather approaches the margin of the cold stream. "I could have taken my oath, sir, that when you had heard what has happened, you would have refused to let me come into your house!"——
"Ah, ha!—that's rather an odd idea, too!" said Tag-rag, with good-humored jocularity. "If I felt a true friendship for you as plain Titmouse, it's so likely I should have cut you just when—ahem! My dear sir! It was I that thought you wouldn't have come into my house! A likely thing, indeed!"
Titmouse was puzzled. His perceptions, never very quick or clear, were now undoubtedly somewhat obfuscated with what he had been drinking. In short, he did not understand that Tag-rag had not understood him; and felt rather baffled.
"What surprising ups and downs there are in life, Mr. Titmouse!" said Mrs. Tag-rag, respectfully—"they're all sent from above, you may depend upon it, to try us! No one knows how they'd behave, if as how (in a manner) they were turned upside down."
"I—I hope, mem, I haven't done anything to show that I"——
"Oh! my dear Titmouse," anxiously interrupted Tag-rag, inwardly cursing his wife, who, finding she always went wrong in her husband's eyes whenever she spoke a word, determined for the future to stick to her negus—"The fact is, there's a Mr. Horror here that's for sending all decent people to——. He's filled my wife there with all sorts of—— nay, if she isn't bursting with cant—so never mind her! You done anything wrong! I will say this for you—you always was a pattern of modesty and propriety—your hand, my dear Titmouse!"
"Well—I'm a happy man again," resumed Titmouse, resolved now to go on with his adventure. "And when did they tell you of it, sir?"
"Oh, a few days ago—a week ago," replied Tag-rag, trying to recollect.
"Why—why—sir—a'n't you mistaken?" inquired Titmouse, with a depressed, but at the same time a surprised air. "It only happened this morning, after you left"——
"Eh?—eh?—ah, ha!—What do you mean, Mr. Titmouse?" interrupted Tag-rag, with a faint attempt at a smile. Mrs. Tag-rag and Miss Tag-rag also turned exceedingly startled faces towards Titmouse, who felt as if a house were going to fall down on him.
"Why, sir," he began to cry, (an attempt which was greatly aided by the maudlin condition to which drink had reduced him,) "till to-day, I thought I was heir to ten thousand a-year, and it seems I'm not; it's all a mistake of those cursed people at Saffron Hill!"
Tag-rag's face changed visibly, and showed the desperate shock he had just sustained. His inward agony was forcing out on his slanting forehead a dew of perspiration.
"What—a—capital—joke—Mr.—Titmouse—ah, ha!"—he gasped, hastily passing his handkerchief over his forehead. Titmouse, though greatly alarmed, stood to his gun pretty steadily.
"I—I wish it was a joke! It's been no joke to me, sir. There's another Tittlebat Titmouse, it seems, in Shoreditch, that's the right"——
"Who told you this, sir? Pho, I don't—I can't believe it," said Tag-rag, in a voice tremulous between suppressed rage and fear.
"Too true, though, 'pon my life! It is, so help me——!" in the most earnest and solemn manner.
"How dare you swear before ladies, sir? You're insulting them, sir!" cried Tag-rag, trembling with rage. "And in my presence, too, sir? You're not a gentleman!" He suddenly dropped his voice, and in a trembling and almost beseeching manner, asked Titmouse whether he was really joking or serious.
"Never more serious in my life, sir; and enough to make me so, sir!" replied Titmouse, in a lamentable manner.
"You really mean, then, to tell me it's all a mistake, then—and that you're no more than what you always were?" inquired Tag-rag, with a desperate attempt to speak calmly.
"Oh yes, sir! Yes!" cried Titmouse, mournfully; "and if you'll only be so kind as to let me serve you as I used—I'll serve you faithfully! You know it was no fault of mine, sir! They would tell me it was so!"
'Tis impossible to conceive a more disgusting expression than the repulsive features of Tag-rag wore at that moment, while he gazed in ominous and agitated silence at Titmouse. His lips quivered, and he seemed incapable of speaking.
"Oh, ma, I do feel so ill!" faintly exclaimed Miss Tag-rag, turning deadly pale. Titmouse was on the verge of dropping on his knees and confessing the trick, greatly agitated at the effect unexpectedly produced on Miss Tag-rag; when Tag-rag's heavy hand was suddenly placed on his shoulder, and he whispered in a fierce undertone—"You're an impostor, sir!" which arrested Titmouse, and made something like a MAN of him. He was a fearful fool, but he did not want for mere pluck; and now it was roused. Mrs. Tag-rag exclaimed, "Oh, you shocking scamp!" as she passed Titmouse, with much agitation, and led her daughter out of the room.
"Then an impostor, sir, a'n't fit company for you, of course, sir!" said Titmouse, rising, and trembling with mingled apprehension and anger.
"Pay me my five-pound note!" almost shouted Tag-rag, furiously tightening the grasp by which he held Titmouse's collar.
"Well, sir, and I will, if you'll only take your hand off! Hollo, sir—What the de—— Leave go, sir! Hands off! Are you going to murder me? I'll pay you, and done with you, sir," stammered Titmouse:—when a faint scream was heard, plainly from Miss Tag-rag, overhead, and in hysterics. Then the seething caldron boiled over. "You infernal scoundrel!" exclaimed Tag-rag, almost choked with fury; and suddenly seizing Titmouse by the collar, scarce giving him time, in passing, to get hold of his hat and stick, he urged him along through the passage, down the gravel walk, threw open the gate, thrust him furiously through it, and sent after him such a blast of execration, as was almost strong enough to drive him a hundred yards down the road! Titmouse did not fully recover his breath or his senses for a long while afterwards. When he did, the first thing he experienced, was a dreadful disposition towards sickness; but gradually overcoming it, he felt an inclination to fall down on his knees in the open road, and worship the sagacious and admirable GAMMON, who had so exactly predicted what had come to pass!
And now, Mr. Titmouse, for some little time I have done with you. Away!—give room to your betters. But don't think that I have yet "rifled all your sweetness," or am yet about to "fling you like a noisome weed away."
While the lofty door of a house in Grosvenor Street was yet quivering under the shock of a previously announced dinner-arrival, one of the two servants standing behind a carriage which approached from the direction of Piccadilly, slipped off, and in a twinkling, with a thun-thun-thunder-under-under, thunder-runder-runder, thun-thun-thun! and a shrill thrilling Whir-r-r of the bell, announced the arrival of the Duke of——, the last guest. It was a large and plain carriage, but perfectly well known; and before the door of the house at which it had drawn up had been opened, displaying some four or five servants standing in the hall, in simple but elegant liveries, some half-dozen passengers had stopped to see get out of the carriage an elderly, middle-sized man, with a somewhat spare figure, dressed in plain black clothes, with iron-gray hair, and a countenance which, once seen, was not to be forgotten. That was a great man; one, the like of whom many previous centuries had not seen; whose name shot terror into the hearts of all the enemies of old England all over the world, and fond pride and admiration into the hearts of his fellow-countrymen.
"A quarter to eleven!" he said, in a quiet tone, to the servant who was holding open the carriage door—while the bystanders took off their hats; a courtesy which he acknowledged, as he slowly stepped across the pavement, by touching his hat in a mechanical sort of way with his forefinger. The house-door then closed upon him; the handful of onlookers passed away; off rolled the empty carriage, and all without was quiet as before. The house was that of Mr. Aubrey, one of the members for the borough of YATTON, in Yorkshire—a man of rapidly rising importance in Parliament. Surely his was a pleasant position—that of an independent country gentleman, a member of one of the most ancient noble families in England, with a clear unencumbered rent-roll of ten thousand a-year, and already, in only his thirty-fourth year, the spokesman of his class, and promising to become one of the ablest debaters in the House! Parliament having been assembled, in consequence of a particular emergency, at a much earlier period than usual, the House of Commons, in which Mr. Aubrey had the evening before delivered a well-timed and powerful speech, had adjourned for the Christmas recess, the House of Lords being about to follow its example that evening: an important division, however, being first expected to take place at a late hour. Mr. Aubrey was warmly complimented on his success by several of the select and brilliant circle then assembled; and who were all in high spirits—on account of a considerable triumph just obtained by their party, and to which Mr. Aubrey was assured, by even the Duke of——, his exertions had certainly not a little contributed. While his Grace was energetically intimating to Mr. Aubrey his opinion to this effect, there were two lovely women listening to him with intense eagerness—they were the wife and sister of Mr. Aubrey. The former was a very interesting and handsome woman—with raven hair, and a complexion of dazzling fairness—of nearly eight-and-twenty; the latter was a very beautiful girl, somewhere between twenty and twenty-one. Both were dressed with the utmost simplicity and elegance. Mrs. Aubrey, most dotingly fond of her husband, and a blooming young mother of two as charming children as were to be met with in a day's walk all over both the parks, was, in character and manners, all pliancy and gentleness; while about Miss Aubrey there was a dash of spirit which gave an infinite zest to her beauty. Her blue eyes beamed with the richest expression of feeling—in short, Catherine Aubrey was, both in face and figure, a downright English beauty; and she knew—truth must be told—that such she appeared to the Great Duke, whose cold aquiline eye she often felt to be settled upon her with satisfaction. The fact was that he had penetrated at a first glance beneath the mere surface of an arch, sweet, and winning manner, and detected a certain strength of character in Miss Aubrey which gave him more than usual interest in her, and spread over his iron-cast features a pleasant expression, relaxing their sternness. It might indeed be said, that before her, in his person,
"Grim-visaged war had smooth'd his wrinkled front."
'Twas a subject for a painter, that delicate and blooming girl, her auburn hair hanging in careless grace on each side of her white forehead, while her eyes,
"That might have sooth'd a tiger's rage, Or thaw'd the cold heart of a conqueror,"
were fixed with absorbed interest on the stern and rigid countenance which she reflected had been, as it were, a thousand times darkened with the smoke of the grisly battle-field. But I must not forget that there are others in the room; and among them, standing at a little distance, is Lord De la Zouch, one of Mr. Aubrey's neighbors in Yorkshire. Apparently he is listening to a brother peer talking to him very earnestly about the expected division; but Lord De la Zouch's eye is fixed on you, lovely Kate—and how little can you imagine what is passing through his mind! It has just occurred to him that his sudden arrangement for young Delamere—his only son and heir, come up the day before from Oxford—to call for him about half-past ten, and take his place in Mrs. Aubrey's drawing-room, while Lord De la Zouch goes down to the House—may be attended with certain consequences! He is in truth speculating on the effect of your beauty bursting suddenly on his son—who has not seen you for nearly two years! all this gives him anxiety—but not painful anxiety—for, dear Kate, he knows that your forehead would wear the ancient coronet of the De la Zouches with grace and dignity. But Delamere is as yet too young—and if he gets the image of Catherine Aubrey into his head, it will, fears his father, instantly cast into the shade and displace all the stern visages of those old geometers, poets, orators, historians, philosophers, and statesmen, who ought, in Lord De la Zouch's and his son's tutor's judgment, to occupy exclusively the head of the aforesaid Delamere for some five years to come. That youngster—happy fellow!—frank, high-spirited, and enthusiastic—and handsome to boot—was heir to an ancient title and very great estates; all that his father had considered in looking out for an alliance was—youth, health, beauty, blood—here they all were;—and fortune too—bah! what did it signify to his son—but at any rate 'twas not to be thought of for some years.
"Suppose," said he, aloud, though in a musing manner, "one were to say—twenty-four"——
"Twenty-four!" echoed his companion, with amazement; "my dear De la Zouch, what the deuce do you mean? Eighty-four at the very lowest!"
"Eh? what? oh—yes of course—I should say ninety—I mean—hem!—they will muster about twenty-four only."
"Ah—I beg your pardon!—there you're right, I dare say."—Here the announcement of dinner put an end to the colloquy of the two statesmen. Lord De la Zouch led down Miss Aubrey with an air of the most delicate and cordial courtesy; and felt almost disposed, in the heat of the moment, to tell her that he had arranged all in his own mind—that if she willed it, she had his hearty consent to become the future Lady De la Zouch. He was himself the eleventh who had come to the title in direct descent from father to son; 'twas a point he was not a little nervous and anxious about—he detested collateral succession—and he made himself infinitely agreeable to Miss Aubrey as he sat beside her at dinner! The Duke of—— sat on the right hand side of Mrs. Aubrey, seemingly in high spirits, and she appeared proud enough of her supporter. It was a delightful dinner-party, elegant without ostentation, and select without pretence of exclusiveness. All were cheerful and animated, not merely on account of the over-night's parliamentary victory, which I have already alluded to, but also in contemplation of the coming Christmas; how, and where, and with whom each was to spend that "righte merrie season," being the chief topic of conversation. As there was nothing peculiar in the dinner, and as I have no turn for describing such matters in detail—the clatter of plate, the jingling of silver, the sparkling of wines, and so forth—I shall request the reader to imagine himself led by me quietly out of the dining-room into the library—thus escaping from all the bustle and hubbub attendant upon such an entertainment as is going on in front of the house. We shall be alone in the library—here it is; we enter it, and shut the door. 'Tis a spacious room, all the sides covered with books, of which Mr. Aubrey is a great collector—and the clear red fire (which we must presently replenish, or it will go out) is shedding a subdued ruddy light on all the objects in the room, very favorable for our purpose. The ample table is covered with books and papers; and there is an antique-looking arm-chair drawn opposite to the fire, in which Mr. Aubrey has been indulging in a long revery till the moment of quitting it to go and dress for dinner. This chair I shall sit in myself; you may draw out from the recess for yourself one of two little sloping easy-chairs, which have been placed there by Mrs. and Miss Aubrey for their own sole use, considering that they are excellent judges of the period at which Mr. Aubrey has been long enough alone, and at which they should come in and gossip with him. We may as well draw the dusky green curtains across the window, through which the moon shines at present rather too brightly.—So now, after coaxing up the fire, I will proceed to tell you a little bit of pleasant family history.
The Aubreys are a Yorkshire family—the younger branch of the ancient and noble family of the Dreddlingtons. Their residence, YATTON, is in the north-eastern part of the county, not above fifteen or twenty miles from the sea. The hall is one of those old structures, the sight of which throws you back a couple of centuries in our English history. It stands in a park, crowded with trees, many of them of great age and size, and under which two or three hundred head of deer perform their capricious and graceful gambols. In approaching from London, you strike off from the great north road into a broad by-way; after going down which for about a mile, you come to a straggling little village called Yatton, at the farther extremity of which stands a little aged gray church, with a tall thin spire; an immense yew-tree, with a kind of friendly gloom, overshadowing, in the little churchyard, nearly half the graves. Rather in the rear of the church is the vicarage-house, snug and sheltered by a line of fir-trees. After walking on about eighty yards, you come to high park-gates, and see a lodge just within, on the left hand side, sheltered by an elm-tree. Having passed through these gates, you wind your way for about two-thirds of a mile along a gravel walk, among the thickening trees, till you come to a ponderous old crumbling looking red brick gateway of the time of Henry VII., with one or two deeply set stone windows in the turrets, and mouldering stone-capped battlements peeping through high-climbing ivy. There is an old escutcheon immediately over the point of the arch; and as you pass underneath, if you look up, you can plainly see the groove of the old portcullis still remaining. Having passed under this castellated remnant, you enter a kind of court formed by a high wall completely covered with ivy, running along in a line from the right hand turret of the gateway till it joins the house. Along its course are a number of yew-trees. In the centre of the open space is a quaintly disposed grass-plot, dotted about with stunted box, and in the centre of that stands a weather-beaten stone sundial.