Page images
PDF

out for me? Heaven bless and reward her. Boo!" (Here, for reasons which need not be named, the orator squeezes his fists into his eyes.) "I want shelter; ain't I in good quarters? I want work; haven't I got work, and did you not get it for me? You should just see, Sir, how I polished off' that book of travels this

morning. I read some of the article to Char ,

to Miss , to some friends, in fact. I don't mean to say that they are very intellectual people, but your common humdrum average audience is the public to try. Recollect Moliere and his housekeeper, you know."

"By the housekeeper do you mean Mrs. Baynes?" I ask, in my amontillado mauner. (By-the-way, who ever heard of amontillado in the early days of which I write ?) "In mauner she would do, and I dare say in accomplishments; but I doubt about her temper."

"You're almost as worldly as the Twysdens, by George, you are! Unless persons are of a certain monde, you don't value them. A little adversity would do you good, Pen; and I heartily wish you might get it, except for the dear wife and children. You measure your morality by May-fair standards; and if an angel unawares came to you in pattens and a cotton umbrella, you would turn away from her. You would never have found out the Little Sister. A duchess—God bless her! A creature of an imperial generosity, and delicacy, and intrepidity, and the finest sense of humor, but she drops her h's often, and how could you pardon such a crime? Sir, you are my better in wit and a dexterous application of your powers; but I think, Sir," says Phil, curling the flaming mustaches, "I am your superior in a certain magnanimity; though, by Jove, old fellow, man and boy, you have always been one of the best fellows in the world to P. F.; one of the best fellows, and the most generous, and the most cordial—that you have: only you do rile me when you sing in that confounded May-fair twang."

Here one of the children summoned us to tea —and "Papa was laughing, and uncle Philip was flinging his hands about and pulling his beard off," said the little messenger.

"I shall keep a fine lock of it for you, Nelly, my dear," says uncle Philip. On which the child said, "Oh no! I know whom you'll give it to, don't I, mamma?" and she goes up to her mamma, and whispers.

Miss Nelly knows? At what age do those little match-makers begin to know, and how soon do they practice the use of their young eyes, their little smiles, wiles, and ogles? This young woman, I believe, coquetted while she was yet a baby in arms, over her nurse's shoulder. Before she could speak she could be proud of her new vermilion shoes, and would point out the charms of her blue sash. She was jealous in the nursery, and her little heart had beat for years and years before she left off pinafores.

For whom will Philip keep a lock of that red, red gold which curls round his face? Can you guess? Of what color is the hair in that little

locket which the gentleman himself occultly wears? A few months ago, I believe, a pale straw-colored wisp of hair occupied that place of honor; now it is a chestnut-brown, as far as I can see, of precisely the same color as that which waves round Charlotte Baynes's pretty face, and tumbles in clusters on her neck, very nearly the color of Mrs. Paynter's this last season. So, you see, we chop and we change: straw gives place to chestnut, and chestnut is succeeded by ebony; and for our own parts, we defy time; and if you want a lock of my hair, Belinda, take this pair of scissors, and look in that cupboard, in the band-box marked No. 3, and cut off a thick glossy piece, darling, and wear it, dear, and my blessings go with thee! What is this? Am I sneering because Corydon and Phillis are wooing and happy? You see I pledged myself not to have any sentimental nonsense. To describe love-making is immoral and immodest; you know it is. To describe it as it really is, or would appear to you and me as lookers-on, would be to describe the most dreary farce, to chronicle the most tautological twaddle. To take a note of sighs, hand-squeezes, looks at the moon, and so forth—does this business become our dignity as historians? Come away from those foolish young people — they don't want us; and dreary as their farce is, and tautological as their twaddle, you may be sure it amuses them, and that they are happy enough without us. Happy? Is there any happiness like it, pray? Was it not rapture to watch the messenger, to seize the note, and fee the bearer?—to retire out of sight of all prying eyes and read: "Dearest! Mamma's cold is better this morning. The Joneses came to tea, and Julia sang. I did not enjoy it, as my dear was at his horrid diuner, whero I hope he amused himself. Send me a word by Buttles, who brings this, if only to say you are your Louisa's own, own," etc., etc., etc. That used to be the kind of thing. In such coy lines artless Innocence used to whisper its little vows. So she used to smile; so she used to warble; so she used to prattle. Young people, at present engaged in the pretty sport, be assured your middle-aged parents have played the game, and remember the rules of it. Yes, under papa's bow-window of a waistcoat is a heart which took very violent exercise when that waist was slim. Now he sits tranquilly in his tent, and watches the lads going in for their innings. Why, look at grandmamma in her spectacles reading that sermon. In her old heart there is a corner as romantic still as when she used to read the "Wild Irish Girl" or the "Scottish Chiefs" in the days of her misshood. And as for your grandfather, my dears, to see him now you would little suppose that that calm, polished, dear old gentleman was once as wild

—as wild as Orson Under my windows, as

I write, there passes an itinerant flower-merchant. He has his roses and geraniums on a cart drawn by a quadruped—a little long-eared quadruped, which lifts up its voice, and sings after its manner. When I was young, donkeys

[merged small][graphic][subsumed][subsumed]

Our new friends lived for a while contentedly enough at Boulogne, where they found comrades and acquaintances gathered together from those many regions which they had visited in the course of their military career. Mrs. Baynes, out of the field, was the commanding officer over the general. She ordered his clothes for him, tied his neckeloth into a neat bow, and, on teaparty evenings, pinued h's brooch into his shirtfrill. She gave him to understand when he had had enough to eat or drink at dinner, and explained, with great frankness, how this or that dish did not agree with him. If he was disposed to exceed, she would call out, in a loud voice, "Remember, general, what you took this morning!" Knowing his constitution, as she said, she knew the remedies which were necessary for her husband, and administered them to him with great liberality. Resistance was impossible, as the veteran officer acknowledged. "The boys have fought about the medicine since we came home," he confessed, "but she has me under her thumb, by George. She really is a magnificent physician now. She has got some invaluable prescriptions, and in India she used to doctor the whole station." She would have taken the present writer's little household under her care, and proposed several remedies for my children, until their alarmed mother was obliged to keep them out of her sight. I am not saying this was an agreeable woman. Her voice was loud and harsh. The aneedotes which she was forever narrating related to military personages in foreign countries with whom I was unacquainted, and whose history failed to interest me. She took her wine with much spirit while engaged in this prattle. I have heard talk not

less foolish in much finer company, and known people delighted to listen to aneedotes of the duchess and the marchioness who would yawn over the history of Captain Jones's quarrels with his lady, or Mrs. Major Wolfe's monstrous flirtations with young Ensign Kyd. My wife, with the mischievousness of her sex, would mimic the Baynes's conversation very drolly, but always insisted that she was not more really vulgar than many much greater persons.

For all this, Mrs. General Baynes did not hesitate to declare that we were "stuck-up" people; and from the very first setting eyes on us she declared that she viewed us with a constant darkling suspicion. Mrs. P. was a harmless, washed-out creature with nothing in her. As for that high and mighty Mr. P. and his airs, she would bo glad to know whether the wife of a British general officer who had seen service in every part of the globe, and met the most distinguished governors, generals, and their ladies, several of whom were noblemen—she would bo glad to know whether such people were not good enough for, etc., etc. Who has not met with these difficulties in life, and who can escape them? "Hang it, Sir," Phil would say, twirling the red mustaches, "I like to be hated by some fellows;" and it must be owned that Mr. Philip got what he liked. I suppose Mr. Philip's friend and biographer had something of the same feeling. At any rate, in regard of this lady the hypocrisy of politeness was very hard to keep up; wanting us for reasons of her own, she covered the dagger with which she would have stabbed us: but we knew it was there clenched in her skinny hand in her meagre pocket. She would pay us the most fulsome compliments with anger raging out of her eyes—a little hatebearing woman, envious, malicious, but loving her cubs, and nursing them, and clutching them in her lean arms with a jealous strain. It was "Good-by, darling! I shall leave you here with your friends. Oh, how kind you are to her, Mrs. Pendennis! How can I ever thank you, and Mr. P. I am sure;" and she looked as if she could poison both of us, as she went away, courtesying and darting dreary parting smiles.

The lady had an intimate friend and companion in arms, Mrs. Colonel Bunch, in fact, of the —the Bengal cavalry, who was now in Europe with Bunch and their children, who were residing at Paris for the young folks' education. At first, as we have heard, Mrs. Baynes's predilections had been all for Tours, where her sister was living, and where lodgings were cheap and food reasonable in proportion. But Bunch happening to pass through Boulogne on his way to his wife at Paris, and meeting his old comrade, gave General Baynes such an account of the cheapness and pleasures of the French capital, as to induce the general to think of bending his steps thither. Mrs. Baynes would not hear of such a plan. She was all for her dear sister and Tours; but when, in the course of conversation, Colonel Bunch described a ball at the Tuileries, where he and Mrs. B. had been received with

the most flattering politeness by the royal family, it was remarked that Mrs. Baynes's mind underwent a change. When Bunch went on to aver that the balls at Government House at Calcutta were nothing compared to those at the Tuileries or the Prefecture of the Seine; that the English were invited and respected every where; that the embassador was most hospitable; that the clergymen were admirable; and that at their boarding-house, kept by Madame la Ge'ne'rale Baronne de Smolensk, at the Petit Chateau d'Espagne, Avenue de Valmy, Champs Elysees, they had balls twice a month, the most comfortable apartments, the most choice society, and every comfort and luxury at so many francs per month, with an allowance for children—I say, Mrs. Baynes was very greatly moved. "It is not," she said, "in consequence of the balls at the embassador's or the Tuileries, for I am an old woman; and in spite of what you say, colonel, I can't fancy, after Government House, anything more magnificent in any French palace. It is not for me, goodness knows, I speak: but the children should have education, and my Charlotte an entree into the world; and what

you say of the invaluable clergyman, Mr. X ,

I have been thinking of it all night; but above all, above all, of the chances of education for my darlings. Nothing should give way to that— nothing!" On this a long and delightful conversation and calculation took place. Bunch produced his bills at the Baroness de Smolensk's. The two gentlemen jotted up accounts, and made calculatious all through the evening. It was hard even for Mrs. Baynes to force the figures into such a shape as to make them accord with the general's income; but, driven away by one calculation after another, she returned again and again to the charge, until she overeame the stubborn arithmetical difficulties, and the pounds, shillings, and pence lay prostrate before her. They could save upon this point; they could screw upon that; they must make a sacrifice to educate the children. '' Sarah Bunch and her girls go to Court, indeed! Why shouldn't mine go?" she asked. On which her general said, "By George, Eliza, that's the point you are thinkingof." On which Eliza said, "No," and repeated "No" a score of times, growing more angry as she uttered each denial. And she declared before Heaven she did not want to go to any Court. Had she not refused to be presented at home, though Mrs. Colonel Flack went, because she did not choose to go to the wicked expense of a train? And it was base of the general, base and mean of him to say so. And there was a fine scene, as I am given to understand; not that I was present at this family fight: but my informant was Mr. Firmin; and Mr. Firmin had his information from a little person who, about this time, had got to prattle out all the secrets of her young heart to him; who would have jumped off the pier-head with her hand in his if he had said "Come, " without his hand if he had said " Go:" a little person whose whole life had been changed —changed for a month past—changed in one |

minute, that minute when she saw Philip's fiery whiskers and heard his great big voice saluting her father among the commissioners on the quai before the custom-house.

Tours was, at any rate, a hundred and fifty miles further off than Paris from—from a city where a young gentleman lived in whom Miss Charlotte Baynes felt an interest; hence, I suppose, arose her delight that her parents had determined upon taking up their residence in the larger and nearer city. Besides, she owned, in the course of her artless confidences to my wife, that, when together, mamma and aunt MacWhirter quarreled unceasingly; and had once caused the old boys, the major and the general, to call each other out. She preferred, then, to live away from aunt Mac. She had never had such a friend as Laura, never. She had never been so happy as at Boulogne, never. She should always love every body in our house, that she should, forever and ever— and so forth, and so forth. The ladies meet; cling together; osculations are carried round the whole family circle, from our wondering eldest boy, who cries, "I say, hullo! what are you kissing me so about?" to darling baby, crowing and sputtering uncouscious in the rapturous young girl's embraces. I tell you, these two women were making fools of themselves, and they were burning with enthusiasm for the "preserver" of the Baynes family, as they called that big fellow yonder, whose biographer I have aspired to be. The lazy rogue lay basking in the glorious warmth and sunshine of early love. He would stretch his big limbs out in our garden; pour out his feelings with endless volubility; call upon heminum dhumqne voluptas, alma Venus; vow that he had never lived or been happy until now; declare that he laughed poverty to scorn and all her ills; and fume against his masters of the Pall Mall Gazette, because they declined to insert certain love verses which Mr. Philip now composed almost every day. Poor little Charlotte! And didst thou receive those treasures of song; and wonder over them, not perhaps comprehending them altogether; and lock them up in thy heart's inmost casket as well as in thy little desk; and take them out in quiet hours, and kiss them, and bless Heaven for giving thee such jewels? I dare say. I can fancy all this without seeing it. I can read the little letters in the little desk without picking lock or breaking seal. Poor little letters! Sometimes they are not spelled right, quite; but I don't know that the style is worse for that. Poor little letters! You are flung to the winds sometimes and forgotten with all your sweet secrets and loving, artless confessious; but not always—no, not always. As for Philip, who was the most careless creature alive, and left all his clothes and haberdashery sprawling on his bedroom floor, he had at this time a breastpocket stuffed out with papers which crackled in the most ridiculous way. He was always looking down at this precious pocket, and putting one of his great hands over it as though he would guard it. The pocket did not contain banknotes, you may be sure of that. It contained documents stating that mamma's cold is better; the Joneses came to tea, and Julia sang, etc. Ah, friend, however old you are now, however cold you are now, however tough, I hope you, too, remember how Julia sang, and the Joneses came to tea.

Mr. Philip staid on week after week, declaring to my wife that she was a perfect angel for keeping him so long. Bunch wrote from his boarding-house more and more enthusiastic reports about the comforts of the establishment. For his sake, Madame la Baroune do Smolensk would make unheard-of sacrifices, in order to accommodate the general and his distinguished party. The balls were going to be perfectly splendid that winter. There were several old Indians living near; in fact, they could form a regular little club. It was agreed that Baynes should go and reconnoitre the ground. He did go. Madame de Smolensk, a most elegant woman, had a magnificent dinner for him—quite splendid, I give you my word, but only what they have every day. Soup, of course, my love; fish, capital wine, and, I should say, some five or six and thirty made dishes. The general was quite enraptured. Bunch had put his boys to a famous school, where they might "whop" the French boys, and learn all the modern languages. The little ones would dine early; the baroness would take the whole family at an astonishingly cheap rate. In a word, the Baynes's column got the route for Paris shortly before our family-party was crossing the seas to return to London fogs and duty.

You have, no doubt, remarked how, under certain tender circumstances, women will help one another. They help where they ought not to help. When Mr. Darby ought to be separated from Miss Joan, and the best thing that could happen for both would be a lettre de cache! to whip off Mons. Darby to the Bastile for five years, and an order from her parents to lock up Mademoiselle Jeanne in a convent, some aunt, some relative, some pitying female friend is sure to be found, who will give the pair a chance of meeting, and turn her head away while those unhappy lovers are warbling endless good-bys close up to each other's ears. My wife, I have said, chose to feel this absurd sympathy for the young people about whom we have been just talking. As the day for Charlotte's departure drew near this wretched, misguiding matron would take the girl out walking into I know not what unfrequented by-lanes, quiet streets, rampart-nooks, and the like; and la! by the most singular coincidence, Mr. Philip's hulking boots would assuredly come tramping after the women's little feet. What will you say, when I tell you that I myself, the father of the family, the renter of the old-fashioned house, Rue Roncoule, Haute Ville, Boulogne-sur-Mer—as I am going into my own study—am met at the threshold by Helen, my eldest daughter, who puts her little arms before the glass-door at which I was about to enter, and says, "You must not go in

there, papa! Mamma says we none of us are to go in there."

"And why, pray?" I ask. "Because uncle Philip and Charlotte are talking secrets there; and nobody is to disturb them—nobody /"

Upon my word, wasn't this too monstrous? Am I Sir Pandarus of Troy become? Am I going to allow a penniless young man to steal away the heart of a young girl who has not twopence half-penny to her fortune? Shall I, I say, lend myself to this most unjustifiable intrigue?

"Sir," says my wife (we happened to have been bred up from childhood together, and I own to have had one or two foolish initiatory flirtations before I settled down to matrimonial fidelity)—"Sir," says she, "when you were so wild—so spoony, I think is your elegant word— about Blanche, and used to put letters into a hollow tree for her at home, I used to see the letters, and I never disturbed them. These two people have much warmer hearts, and are a great deal fonder of each other than you and Blanche used to be. I should not like to separate Charlotte from Philip now. It is too late, Sir. She can never like any body else as she likes him. If she lives to be a hundred, she will never forget him. Why should not the poor thing be happy a little, while she may?"

An old house, with a green old court-yard and an ancient mossy wall, through breaks of which I can see the roofs and gables of the quaint old town, the city below, the shining sea, and the white English cliffs beyond; a green old court-yard, and a tall old stone house rising up in it, grown over with many a creeper on which the sun casts flickering shadows; and under the shadows, and through the glass of a tall gray window, I can just peep into a brown twilight parlor, and there I see two hazy figures by a table. One slim figure has brown hair, and one has flame-colored whiskers. Look! a ray of sunshine has just peered into the room, and is lighting the whiskers up!

"Poor little thing," whispers my wife, very gently. "They are going away to-morrow. Let them have their talk out. She is crying her little eyes out, I am sure. Poor little Charlotte!"

While my wife was pitying Miss Charlotte in this pathetic way, and was going, I dare say, to have recourse to her own pocket-handkerchief, as I live there came a burst of laughter from the darkling chamber where the two lovers were billing and cooing. First came Mr. Philip's great boom (such a roar—such a haw-haw, or hee-haw, I never heard any other riro-legged animal perform). Then follows Miss Charlotte's tinkling peal; and presently that young person comes out into the garden, with her round face not bedewed with tears at all, but perfectly rosy, fresh, dimpled, and good-humored. Charlotte gives me a little courtesy, and my wife a hand and a kind glance. They retreat through the j open casement, twining round each other as the

[graphic][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]
« PreviousContinue »