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CHAPTER I - THE BOARDING-HOUSE.
Mrs. Tibbs was, beyond all dispute, the most tidy, fidgety, thrifty little personage that ever inhaled the smoke of London; and the house of Mrs. Tibbs was, decidedly, the neatest in all Great Coramstreet. The area and the area-steps, and the street-door and the street-door steps, and the brass handle, and the door-plate, and the knocker, and the fan-light, were all as clean and bright, as indefatigable white-washing, and hearth-stoning, and scrubbing and rubbing, could make them. The wonder was, that the brass doorplate, with the interesting inscription 'MRS. TIBBS,' had never caught fire from constant friction, so perseveringly was it polished. There were meat-safe-looking blinds in the parlourwindows, blue and gold curtains in the drawing-room, and springroller blinds, as Mrs. Tibbs was wont in the pride of her heart to boast, 'all the way up.' The bell-lamp in the passage looked as clear as a soap-bubble; you could see yourself in all the tables, and French-polish yourself on any one of the chairs. The banisters were bees-waxed; and the very stair-wires made your eyes wink, they were so glittering.
Mrs. Tibbs was somewhat short of stature, and Mr. Tibbs was by no means a large man. He had, moreover, very short legs, but, by way of indemnification, his face was peculiarly long. He was to his wife what the 0 is in 90 - he was of some importance WITH her - he was nothing without her. Mrs. Tibbs was always talking. Mr. Tibbs rarely spoke; but, if it were at any time possible to put in a word, when he should have said nothing at all, he had that talent. Mrs. Tibbs detested long stories, and Mr. Tibbs had one, the conclusion of which had never been heard by his most intimate friends. It always began, 'I recollect when I was in the volunteer corps, in eighteen hundred and six,' - but, as he spoke very slowly and softly, and his better half very quickly and loudly, he rarely got beyond the introductory sentence. He was a melancholy specimen of the story-teller. He was the wandering Jew of Joe Millerism.
Mr. Tibbs enjoyed a small independence from the pension-list about 43L. 15S. 10D. a year. His father, mother, and five interesting scions from the same stock, drew a like sum from the revenue of a grateful country, though for what particular service was never known. But, as this said independence was not quite sufficient to furnish two people with ALL the luxuries of this life, it had occurred to the busy little spouse of Tibbs, that the best thing she could do with a legacy of 700L., would be to take and furnish a tolerable house - somewhere in that partiallyexplored tract of country which lies between the British Museum, and a remote village called Somers-town - for the reception of boarders. Great Coram-street was the spot pitched upon. The house had been furnished accordingly; two female servants and a boy engaged; and an advertisement inserted in the morning papers, informing the public that 'Six individuals would meet with all the comforts of a cheerful musical home in a select private family, residing within ten minutes' walk of' - everywhere. Answers out of number were received, with all sorts of initials; all the letters of the alphabet seemed to be seized with a sudden wish to go out boarding and lodging; voluminous was the correspondence between Mrs. Tibbs and the applicants; and most profound was the secrecy observed. 'E.' didn't like this; 'I.' couldn't think of putting up with that; 'I. O. U.' didn't think the terms would suit him; and 'G. R.' had never slept in a French bed. The result, however, was, that three gentlemen became inmates of Mrs. Tibbs's house, on terms which were 'agreeable to all parties.' In went the advertisement again, and a lady with her two daughters, proposed to increase not their families, but Mrs. Tibbs's.
'Charming woman, that Mrs. Maplesone!' said Mrs. Tibbs, as she and her spouse were sitting by the fire after breakfast; the gentlemen having gone out on their several avocations. 'Charming woman, indeed!' repeated little Mrs. Tibbs, more by way of soliloquy than anything else, for she never thought of consulting her husband. 'And the two daughters are delightful. We must have some fish today; they'll join us at dinner for the first time.'
Mr. Tibbs placed the poker at right angles with the fire shovel, and essayed to speak, but recollected he had nothing to say.
'The young ladies,' continued Mrs. T., 'have kindly volunteered to bring their own piano.'
Tibbs thought of the volunteer story, but did not venture it.
A bright thought struck him -
'It's very likely - ' said he.
'Pray don't lean your head against the paper,' interrupted Mrs. Tibbs; 'and don't put your feet on the steel fender; that's worse.'
Tibbs took his head from the paper, and his feet from the fender, and proceeded. 'It's very likely one of the young ladies may set her cap at young Mr. Simpson, and you know a marriage - '
'A what!' shrieked Mrs. Tibbs. Tibbs modestly repeated his former suggestion.
'I beg you won't mention such a thing,' said Mrs. T. 'A marriage, indeed to rob me of my boarders - no, not for the world.'
Tibbs thought in his own mind that the event was by no means unlikely, but, as he never argued with his wife, he put a stop to the dialogue, by observing it was 'time to go to business.' He always went out at ten o'clock in the morning, and returned at five in the afternoon, with an exceedingly dirty face, and smelling mouldy. Nobody knew what he was, or where he went; but Mrs. Tibbs used to say with an air of great importance, that he was engaged in the City.
The Miss Maplesones and their accomplished parent arrived in the course of the afternoon in a hackney-coach, and accompanied by a most astonishing number of packages. Trunks, bonnet-boxes, muffboxes and parasols, guitar-cases, and parcels of all imaginable shapes, done up in brown paper, and fastened with pins, filled the passage. Then, there was such a running up and down with the luggage, such scampering for warm water for the ladies to wash in, and such a bustle, and confusion, and heating of servants, and curling-irons, as had never been known in Great Coram-street before. Little Mrs. Tibbs was quite in her element, bustling about, talking incessantly, and distributing towels and soap, like a head nurse in a hospital. The house was not restored to its usual state of quiet repose, until the ladies were safely shut up in their respective bedrooms, engaged in the important occupation of dressing for dinner.
'Are these gals 'andsome?' inquired Mr. Simpson of Mr. Septimus Hicks, another of the boarders, as they were amusing themselves in the drawing-room, before dinner, by lolling on sofas, and contemplating their pumps.
'Don't know,' replied Mr. Septimus Hicks, who was a tallish, whitefaced young man, with spectacles, and a black ribbon round his neck instead of a neckerchief - a most interesting person; a poetical walker of the hospitals, and a 'very talented young man.' He was fond of 'lugging' into conversation all sorts of quotations from Don Juan, without fettering himself by the propriety of their application; in which particular he was remarkably independent. The other, Mr. Simpson, was one of those young men, who are in society what walking gentlemen are on the stage, only infinitely worse skilled in his vocation than the most indifferent artist. He was as empty-headed as the great bell of St. Paul's; always dressed according to the caricatures published in the monthly fashion; and spelt Character with a K.
'I saw a devilish number of parcels in the passage when I came home,' simpered Mr. Simpson.
'Materials for the toilet, no doubt,' rejoined the Don Juan reader.
- 'Much linen, lace, and several pair Of stockings, slippers, brushes, combs, complete; With other articles of ladies fair, To keep them beautiful, or leave them neat.'
'Is that from Milton?' inquired Mr. Simpson.
'No - from Byron,' returned Mr. Hicks, with a look of contempt. He was quite sure of his author, because he had never read any other. 'Hush! Here come the gals,' and they both commenced talking in a very loud key.
'Mrs. Maplesone and the Miss Maplesones, Mr. Hicks. Mr. Hicks Mrs. Maplesone and the Miss Maplesones,' said Mrs. Tibbs, with a very red face, for she had been superintending the cooking operations below stairs, and looked like a wax doll on a sunny day. 'Mr. Simpson, I beg your pardon - Mr. Simpson - Mrs. Maplesone and the Miss Maplesones' - and VICE VERSA. The gentlemen immediately began to slide about with much politeness, and to look as if they wished their arms had been legs, so little did they know what to do with them. The ladies smiled, curtseyed, and glided into chairs, and dived for dropped pocket-handkerchiefs: the gentlemen leant against two of the curtain-pegs; Mrs. Tibbs went through an admirable bit of serious pantomime with a servant who had come up to ask some question about the fish-sauce; and then the two young ladies looked at each other; and everybody else appeared to discover something very attractive in the pattern of the fender.
'Julia, my love,' said Mrs. Maplesone to her youngest daughter, in a tone loud enough for the remainder of the company to hear 'Julia.'
'Don't stoop.' - This was said for the purpose of directing general attention to Miss Julia's figure, which was undeniable. Everybody looked at her, accordingly, and there was another pause.
'We had the most uncivil hackney-coachman to-day, you can imagine,' said Mrs. Maplesone to Mrs. Tibbs, in a confidential tone.
'Dear me!' replied the hostess, with an air of great commiseration. She couldn't say more, for the servant again appeared at the door, and commenced telegraphing most earnestly to her 'Missis.'
'I think hackney-coachmen generally ARE uncivil,' said Mr. Hicks in his most insinuating tone.
'Positively I think they are,' replied Mrs. Maplesone, as if the idea had never struck her before.
'And cabmen, too,' said Mr. Simpson. This remark was a failure, for no one intimated, by word or sign, the slightest knowledge of the manners and customs of cabmen.
'Robinson, what DO you want?' said Mrs. Tibbs to the servant, who, by way of making her presence known to her mistress, had been giving sundry hems and sniffs outside the door during the preceding five minutes.
'Please, ma'am, master wants his clean things,' replied the servant, taken off her guard. The two young men turned their faces to the window, and 'went off' like a couple of bottles of gingerbeer; the ladies put their handkerchiefs to their mouths; and little Mrs. Tibbs bustled out of the room to give Tibbs his clean linen, - and the servant warning.
Mr. Calton, the remaining boarder, shortly afterwards made his appearance, and proved a surprising promoter of the conversation. Mr. Calton was a superannuated beau - an old boy. He used to say of himself that although his features were not regularly handsome, they were striking. They certainly were. It was impossible to look at his face without being reminded of a chubby street-door knocker, half-lion half-monkey; and the comparison might be extended to his whole character and conversation. He had stood still, while everything else had been moving. He never originated a conversation, or started an idea; but if any commonplace topic were broached, or, to pursue the comparison, if anybody LIFTED HIM UP, he would hammer away with surprising rapidity. He had the ticdouloureux occasionally, and then he might be said to be muffled, because he did not make quite as much noise as at other times, when he would go on prosing, rat-tat-tat the same thing over and over again. He had never been married; but he was still on the look-out for a wife with money. He had a life interest worth about 300L. a year - he was exceedingly vain, and inordinately selfish. He had acquired the reputation of being the very pink of politeness, and he walked round the park, and up Regent-street, every day.
This respectable personage had made up his mind to render himself exceedingly agreeable to Mrs. Maplesone - indeed, the desire of being as amiable as possible extended itself to the whole party; Mrs. Tibbs having considered it an admirable little bit of management to represent to the gentlemen that she had SOME reason to believe the ladies were fortunes, and to hint to the ladies, that all the gentlemen were 'eligible.' A little flirtation, she thought, might keep her house full, without leading to any other result.
Mrs. Maplesone was an enterprising widow of about fifty: shrewd, scheming, and good-looking. She was amiably anxious on behalf of her daughters; in proof whereof she used to remark, that she would have no objection to marry again, if it would benefit her dear girls - she could have no other motive. The 'dear girls' themselves were not at all insensible to the merits of 'a good establishment.' One of them was twenty-five; the other, three years younger. They had been at different watering-places, for four seasons; they had gambled at libraries, read books in balconies, sold at fancy fairs, danced at assemblies, talked sentiment - in short, they had done all that industrious girls could do - but, as yet, to no purpose.
'What a magnificent dresser Mr. Simpson is!' whispered Matilda Maplesone to her sister Julia.
'Splendid!' returned the youngest. The magnificent individual alluded to wore a maroon-coloured dress-coat, with a velvet collar and cuffs of the same tint - very like that which usually invests the form of the distinguished unknown who condescends to play the 'swell' in the pantomime at 'Richardson's Show.'
'What whiskers!' said Miss Julia.
'Charming!' responded her sister; 'and what hair!' His hair was like a wig, and distinguished by that insinuating wave which graces the shining locks of those CHEF-D'OEUVRES of art surmounting the waxen images in Bartellot's window in Regent-street; his whiskers meeting beneath his chin, seemed strings wherewith to tie it on, ere science had rendered them unnecessary by her patent invisible springs.
'Dinner's on the table, ma'am, if you please,' said the boy, who now appeared for the first time, in a revived black coat of his master's.
'Oh! Mr. Calton, will you lead Mrs. Maplesone? - Thank you.' Mr. Simpson offered his arm to Miss Julia; Mr. Septimus Hicks escorted the lovely Matilda; and the procession proceeded to the diningroom. Mr. Tibbs was introduced, and Mr. Tibbs bobbed up and down to the three ladies like a figure in a Dutch clock, with a powerful spring in the middle of his body, and then dived rapidly into his seat at the bottom of the table, delighted to screen himself behind a soup-tureen, which he could just see over, and that was all. The boarders were seated, a lady and gentleman alternately, like the layers of bread and meat in a plate of sandwiches; and then Mrs. Tibbs directed James to take off the covers. Salmon, lobstersauce, giblet-soup, and the usual accompaniments were discovered: potatoes like petrifactions, and bits of toasted bread, the shape and size of blank dice.
'Soup for Mrs. Maplesone, my dear,' said the bustling Mrs. Tibbs. She always called her husband 'my dear' before company. Tibbs, who had been eating his bread, and calculating how long it would be before he should get any fish, helped the soup in a hurry, made a small island on the table-cloth, and put his glass upon it, to hide it from his wife.
'Miss Julia, shall I assist you to some fish?'
'If you please - very little - oh! plenty, thank you' (a bit about the size of a walnut put upon the plate).
'Julia is a VERY little eater,' said Mrs. Maplesone to Mr. Calton.
The knocker gave a single rap. He was busy eating the fish with his eyes: so he only ejaculated, 'Ah!'
'My dear,' said Mrs. Tibbs to her spouse after every one else had been helped, 'what do YOU take?' The inquiry was accompanied with a look intimating that he mustn't say fish, because there was not much left. Tibbs thought the frown referred to the island on the table-cloth; he therefore coolly replied, 'Why - I'll take a little - fish, I think.'
'Did you say fish, my dear?' (another frown).
'Yes, dear,' replied the villain, with an expression of acute hunger depicted in his countenance. The tears almost started to Mrs. Tibbs's eyes, as she helped her 'wretch of a husband,' as she inwardly called him, to the last eatable bit of salmon on the dish.
'James, take this to your master, and take away your master's knife.' This was deliberate revenge, as Tibbs never could eat fish without one. He was, however, constrained to chase small particles of salmon round and round his plate with a piece of bread and a fork, the number of successful attempts being about one in seventeen.
'Take away, James,' said Mrs. Tibbs, as Tibbs swallowed the fourth mouthful - and away went the plates like lightning.
'I'll take a bit of bread, James,' said the poor 'master of the house,' more hungry than ever.
'Never mind your master now, James,' said Mrs. Tibbs, 'see about the meat.' This was conveyed in the tone in which ladies usually give admonitions to servants in company, that is to say, a low one; but which, like a stage whisper, from its peculiar emphasis, is most distinctly heard by everybody present.
A pause ensued, before the table was replenished - a sort of parenthesis in which Mr. Simpson, Mr. Calton, and Mr. Hicks, produced respectively a bottle of sauterne, bucellas, and sherry, and took wine with everybody - except Tibbs. No one ever thought of him.
Between the fish and an intimated sirloin, there was a prolonged interval.
Here was an opportunity for Mr. Hicks. He could not resist the singularly appropriate quotation -
'But beef is rare within these oxless isles; Goats' flesh there is, no doubt, and kid, and mutton, And when a holiday upon them smiles, A joint upon their barbarous spits they put on.'
'Very ungentlemanly behaviour,' thought little Mrs. Tibbs, 'to talk in that way.'
'Ah,' said Mr. Calton, filling his glass. 'Tom Moore is my poet.'
'And mine,' said Mrs. Maplesone.
'And mine,' said Miss Julia.
'And mine,' added Mr. Simpson.
'Look at his compositions,' resumed the knocker.
'To be sure,' said Simpson, with confidence.
'Look at Don Juan,' replied Mr. Septimus Hicks.
'Julia's letter,' suggested Miss Matilda.
'Can anything be grander than the Fire Worshippers?' inquired Miss Julia.
'To be sure,' said Simpson.
'Or Paradise and the Peri,' said the old beau.
'Yes; or Paradise and the Peer,' repeated Simpson, who thought he was getting through it capitally.
'It's all very well,' replied Mr. Septimus Hicks, who, as we have before hinted, never had read anything but Don Juan. 'Where will you find anything finer than the description of the siege, at the commencement of the seventh canto?'
'Talking of a siege,' said Tibbs, with a mouthful of bread - 'when I was in the volunteer corps, in eighteen hundred and six, our commanding officer was Sir Charles Rampart; and one day, when we were exercising on the ground on which the London University now stands, he says, says he, Tibbs (calling me from the ranks), Tibbs - '
'Tell your master, James,' interrupted Mrs. Tibbs, in an awfully distinct tone, 'tell your master if he WON'T carve those fowls, to send them to me.' The discomfited volunteer instantly set to work, and carved the fowls almost as expeditiously as his wife operated on the haunch of mutton. Whether he ever finished the story is not known but, if he did, nobody heard it.
As the ice was now broken, and the new inmates more at home, every member of the company felt more at ease. Tibbs himself most certainly did, because he went to sleep immediately after dinner. Mr. Hicks and the ladies discoursed most eloquently about poetry, and the theatres, and Lord Chesterfield's Letters; and Mr. Calton followed up what everybody said, with continuous double knocks. Mrs. Tibbs highly approved of every observation that fell from Mrs. Maplesone; and as Mr. Simpson sat with a smile upon his face and said 'Yes,' or 'Certainly,' at intervals of about four minutes each, he received full credit for understanding what was going forward. The gentlemen rejoined the ladies in the drawing-room very shortly after they had left the dining-parlour. Mrs. Maplesone and Mr. Calton played cribbage, and the 'young people' amused themselves with music and conversation. The Miss Maplesones sang the most fascinating duets, and accompanied themselves on guitars, ornamented with bits of ethereal blue ribbon. Mr. Simpson put on a pink waistcoat, and said he was in raptures; and Mr. Hicks felt in the seventh heaven of poetry or the seventh canto of Don Juan - it was the same thing to him. Mrs. Tibbs was quite charmed with the newcomers; and Mr. Tibbs spent the evening in his usual way - he went to sleep, and woke up, and went to sleep again, and woke at supper-time.
* * * * *
We are not about to adopt the licence of novel-writers, and to let 'years roll on;' but we will take the liberty of requesting the reader to suppose that six months have elapsed, since the dinner we have described, and that Mrs. Tibbs's boarders have, during that period, sang, and danced, and gone to theatres and exhibitions, together, as ladies and gentlemen, wherever they board, often do. And we will beg them, the period we have mentioned having elapsed, to imagine farther, that Mr. Septimus Hicks received, in his own bedroom (a front attic), at an early hour one morning, a note from Mr. Calton, requesting the favour of seeing him, as soon as convenient to himself, in his (Calton's) dressing-room on the second-floor back.
'Tell Mr. Calton I'll come down directly,' said Mr. Septimus to the boy. 'Stop - is Mr. Calton unwell?' inquired this excited walker of hospitals, as he put on a bed-furniture-looking dressing-gown.
'Not as I knows on, sir,' replied the boy. ' Please, sir, he looked rather rum, as it might be.'
'Ah, that's no proof of his being ill,' returned Hicks, unconsciously. 'Very well: I'll be down directly.' Downstairs ran the boy with the message, and down went the excited Hicks himself, almost as soon as the message was delivered. 'Tap, tap.' 'Come in.' - Door opens, and discovers Mr. Calton sitting in an easy chair. Mutual shakes of the hand exchanged, and Mr. Septimus Hicks motioned to a seat. A short pause. Mr. Hicks coughed, and Mr. Calton took a pinch of snuff. It was one of those interviews where neither party knows what to say. Mr. Septimus Hicks broke silence.
'I received a note - ' he said, very tremulously, in a voice like a Punch with a cold.
'Yes,' returned the other, 'you did.'
Now, although this dialogue must have been satisfactory, both gentlemen felt there was something more important to be said; therefore they did as most men in such a situation would have done - they looked at the table with a determined aspect. The conversation had been opened, however, and Mr. Calton had made up his mind to continue it with a regular double knock. He always spoke very pompously.
'Hicks,' said he, 'I have sent for you, in consequence of certain arrangements which are pending in this house, connected with a marriage.'
'With a marriage!' gasped Hicks, compared with whose expression of countenance, Hamlet's, when he sees his father's ghost, is pleasing and composed.
'With a marriage,' returned the knocker. 'I have sent for you to prove the great confidence I can repose in you.'
'And will you betray me?' eagerly inquired Hicks, who in his alarm had even forgotten to quote.
'I betray YOU! Won't YOU betray ME?'
'Never: no one shall know, to my dying day, that you had a hand in the business,' responded the agitated Hicks, with an inflamed countenance, and his hair standing on end as if he were on the stool of an electrifying machine in full operation.
'People must know that, some time or other - within a year, I imagine,' said Mr. Calton, with an air of great self-complacency. 'We MAY have a family.'
'WE! - That won't affect you, surely?'
'The devil it won't!'
'No! how can it?' said the bewildered Hicks. Calton was too much inwrapped in the contemplation of his happiness to see the equivoque between Hicks and himself; and threw himself back in his chair. 'Oh, Matilda!' sighed the antique beau, in a lack-adaisical voice, and applying his right hand a little to the left of the fourth button of his waistcoat, counting from the bottom. 'Oh, Matilda!'
'What Matilda?' inquired Hicks, starting up.
'Matilda Maplesone,' responded the other, doing the same.
'I marry her to-morrow morning,' said Hicks.
'It's false,' rejoined his companion: 'I marry her!'
'You marry her?'
'I marry her!'
'You marry Matilda Maplesone?'
'MISS Maplesone marry YOU?'
'Miss Maplesone! No; Mrs. Maplesone.'
'Good Heaven!' said Hicks, falling into his chair: 'You marry the mother, and I the daughter!'
'Most extraordinary circumstance!' replied Mr. Calton, 'and rather inconvenient too; for the fact is, that owing to Matilda's wishing to keep her intention secret from her daughters until the ceremony had taken place, she doesn't like applying to any of her friends to give her away. I entertain an objection to making the affair known to my acquaintance just now; and the consequence is, that I sent to you to know whether you'd oblige me by acting as father.'
'I should have been most happy, I assure you,' said Hicks, in a tone of condolence; 'but, you see, I shall be acting as bridegroom. One character is frequently a consequence of the other; but it is not usual to act in both at the same time. There's Simpson - I have no doubt he'll do it for you.'
'I don't like to ask him,' replied Calton, 'he's such a donkey.'
Mr. Septimus Hicks looked up at the ceiling, and down at the floor; at last an idea struck him. 'Let the man of the house, Tibbs, be the father,' he suggested; and then he quoted, as peculiarly applicable to Tibbs and the pair -
'Oh Powers of Heaven! what dark eyes meets she there? 'Tis - 'tis her father's - fixed upon the pair.'
'The idea has struck me already,' said Mr. Calton: 'but, you see, Matilda, for what reason I know not, is very anxious that Mrs. Tibbs should know nothing about it, till it's all over. It's a natural delicacy, after all, you know.'
'He's the best-natured little man in existence, if you manage him properly,' said Mr. Septimus Hicks. 'Tell him not to mention it to his wife, and assure him she won't mind it, and he'll do it directly. My marriage is to be a secret one, on account of the mother and MY father; therefore he must be enjoined to secrecy.'
A small double knock, like a presumptuous single one, was that instant heard at the street-door. It was Tibbs; it could be no one else; for no one else occupied five minutes in rubbing his shoes. He had been out to pay the baker's bill.
'Mr. Tibbs,' called Mr. Calton in a very bland tone, looking over the banisters.
'Sir!' replied he of the dirty face.
'Will you have the kindness to step up-stairs for a moment?'
'Certainly, sir,' said Tibbs, delighted to be taken notice of. The bedroom-door was carefully closed, and Tibbs, having put his hat on the floor (as most timid men do), and been accommodated with a seat, looked as astounded as if he were suddenly summoned before the familiars of the Inquisition.
'A rather unpleasant occurrence, Mr. Tibbs,' said Calton, in a very portentous manner, 'obliges me to consult you, and to beg you will not communicate what I am about to say, to your wife.'
Tibbs acquiesced, wondering in his own mind what the deuce the other could have done, and imagining that at least he must have broken the best decanters.
Mr. Calton resumed; 'I am placed, Mr. Tibbs, in rather an unpleasant situation.'
Tibbs looked at Mr. Septimus Hicks, as if he thought Mr. H.'s being in the immediate vicinity of his fellow-boarder might constitute the unpleasantness of his situation; but as he did not exactly know what to say, he merely ejaculated the monosyllable 'Lor!'
'Now,' continued the knocker, 'let me beg you will exhibit no manifestations of surprise, which may be overheard by the domestics, when I tell you - command your feelings of astonishment - that two inmates of this house intend to be married to-morrow morning.' And he drew back his chair, several feet, to perceive the effect of the unlooked-for announcement.
If Tibbs had rushed from the room, staggered down-stairs, and fainted in the passage - if he had instantaneously jumped out of the window into the mews behind the house, in an agony of surprise - his behaviour would have been much less inexplicable to Mr. Calton than it was, when he put his hands into his inexpressiblepockets, and said with a half-chuckle, 'Just so.'
'You are not surprised, Mr. Tibbs?' inquired Mr. Calton.
'Bless you, no, sir,' returned Tibbs; 'after all, its very natural. When two young people get together, you know - '
'Certainly, certainly,' said Calton, with an indescribable air of self-satisfaction.
'You don't think it's at all an out-of-the-way affair then?' asked Mr. Septimus Hicks, who had watched the countenance of Tibbs in mute astonishment.
'No, sir,' replied Tibbs; 'I was just the same at his age.' He actually smiled when he said this.
'How devilish well I must carry my years!' thought the delighted old beau, knowing he was at least ten years older than Tibbs at that moment.
'Well, then, to come to the point at once,' he continued, 'I have to ask you whether you will object to act as father on the occasion?'
'Certainly not,' replied Tibbs; still without evincing an atom of surprise.
'You will not?'
'Decidedly not,' reiterated Tibbs, still as calm as a pot of porter with the head off.
Mr. Calton seized the hand of the petticoat-governed little man, and vowed eternal friendship from that hour. Hicks, who was all admiration and surprise, did the same.
'Now, confess,' asked Mr. Calton of Tibbs, as he picked up his hat, 'were you not a little surprised?'
'I b'lieve you!' replied that illustrious person, holding up one hand; 'I b'lieve you! When I first heard of it.'
'So sudden,' said Septimus Hicks.
'So strange to ask ME, you know,' said Tibbs.
'So odd altogether!' said the superannuated love-maker; and then all three laughed.
'I say,' said Tibbs, shutting the door which he had previously opened, and giving full vent to a hitherto corked-up giggle, 'what bothers me is, what WILL his father say?'
Mr. Septimus Hicks looked at Mr. Calton.
'Yes; but the best of it is,' said the latter, giggling in his turn, 'I haven't got a father - he! he! he!'
'You haven't got a father. No; but HE has,' said Tibbs.
'WHO has?' inquired Septimus Hicks.
'Him, who? Do you know my secret? Do you mean me?'
'You! No; you know who I mean,' returned Tibbs with a knowing wink.
'For Heaven's sake, whom do you mean?' inquired Mr. Calton, who, like Septimus Hicks, was all but out of his senses at the strange confusion.
'Why Mr. Simpson, of course,' replied Tibbs; 'who else could I mean?'
'I see it all,' said the Byron-quoter; 'Simpson marries Julia Maplesone to-morrow morning!'
'Undoubtedly,' replied Tibbs, thoroughly satisfied, 'of course he does.'
It would require the pencil of Hogarth to illustrate - our feeble pen is inadequate to describe - the expression which the countenances of Mr. Calton and Mr. Septimus Hicks respectively assumed, at this unexpected announcement. Equally impossible is it to describe, although perhaps it is easier for our lady readers to imagine, what arts the three ladies could have used, so completely to entangle their separate partners. Whatever they were, however, they were successful. The mother was perfectly aware of the intended marriage of both daughters; and the young ladies were equally acquainted with the intention of their estimable parent. They agreed, however, that it would have a much better appearance if each feigned ignorance of the other's engagement; and it was equally desirable that all the marriages should take place on the same day, to prevent the discovery of one clandestine alliance, operating prejudicially on the others. Hence, the mystification of Mr. Calton and Mr. Septimus Hicks, and the pre-engagement of the unwary Tibbs.
On the following morning, Mr. Septimus Hicks was united to Miss Matilda Maplesone. Mr. Simpson also entered into a 'holy alliance' with Miss Julia; Tibbs acting as father, 'his first appearance in that character.' Mr. Calton, not being quite so eager as the two young men, was rather struck by the double discovery; and as he had found some difficulty in getting any one to give the lady away, it occurred to him that the best mode of obviating the inconvenience would be not to take her at all. The lady, however, 'appealed,' as her counsel said on the trial of the cause, MAPLESONE v. CALTON, for a breach of promise, 'with a broken heart, to the outraged laws of her country.' She recovered damages to the amount of 1,000L. which the unfortunate knocker was compelled to pay. Mr. Septimus Hicks having walked the hospitals, took it into his head to walk off altogether. His injured wife is at present residing with her mother at Boulogne. Mr. Simpson, having the misfortune to lose his wife six weeks after marriage (by her eloping with an officer during his temporary sojourn in the Fleet Prison, in consequence of his inability to discharge her little mantua-maker's bill), and being disinherited by his father, who died soon afterwards, was fortunate enough to obtain a permanent engagement at a fashionable haircutter's; hairdressing being a science to which he had frequently directed his attention. In this situation he had necessarily many opportunities of making himself acquainted with the habits, and style of thinking, of the exclusive portion of the nobility of this kingdom. To this fortunate circumstance are we indebted for the production of those brilliant efforts of genius, his fashionable novels, which so long as good taste, unsullied by exaggeration, cant, and quackery, continues to exist, cannot fail to instruct and amuse the thinking portion of the community.
It only remains to add, that this complication of disorders completely deprived poor Mrs. Tibbs of all her inmates, except the one whom she could have best spared - her husband. That wretched little man returned home, on the day of the wedding, in a state of partial intoxication; and, under the influence of wine, excitement, and despair, actually dared to brave the anger of his wife. Since that ill-fated hour he has constantly taken his meals in the kitchen, to which apartment, it is understood, his witticisms will be in future confined: a turn-up bedstead having been conveyed there by Mrs. Tibbs's order for his exclusive accommodation. It is possible that he will be enabled to finish, in that seclusion, his story of the volunteers.
The advertisement has again appeared in the morning papers. Results must be reserved for another chapter.
Turn to the next chapter: CHAPTER THE SECOND.