THE LITTLE COUPLE.
"I wish my dear Hassy," said Mrs. Webb to her husband, "I do really wish that we had a house of our own; I dislike to live at lodgings, it leaves me so little to do. When my baby is dressed and your bureau is put in order, I have nothing to do but to sew, no exercise at all; and as to you, you read, read until you lose your colour and health. Now, if we had a house to ourselves, you would have exercise enough in going to market—(Heavens, Mr. Webb go to market!!)—and in one little odd notion or other; and as to me, I should be as busy as a bee, and would scarcely have time to sit down from morning till night."
"My dear Winny," said her husband, "I detest this mode of life as much as you can do, I am even more anxious to leave these lodgings than you are—and—I have several times lately been going to mention the subject to you. I have weighed it over and over in my own mind for a long time, and if you have no material objection—(Here Mr. Webb refrained from looking at his wife)—I should prefer, when we do move, to live in the country."
Now, this was precisely what Mrs. Webb disliked; she had for some time been dreading that her husband would make a proposal of this kind, and she had fortified herself well to meet it. She, too, as she thought, had weighed the affair well, and all things being considered, her decision was, that there was more real comfort for man, woman and child, in the city than in the country. "When one comes to speak of horses, cows and dogs," said she one day to a friend, "why then the case is altered. Keeping a horse at livery is an expensive thing, as Mr. Webb finds to his cost, and milk from cows which are fed about a stable yard, is unfit to drink. Dogs to be sure, nine cases in ten, are useless and worthless animals, in any place; but they lead a life of misery in the city, kicked and cuffed and half starved as they always are. If dogs must be kept, the country is the best place for them too."
Mr. Ahasuerus Webb was a gentleman born and bred; the peculiar cast of his mind led him to study theology, and but for his timidity, for he distrusted his own powers, he would have destined himself to the church. His friends, however, thought there was a much stronger objection to his taking orders than what arose from timidity or the absence of powerful talent. Mr. Webb was one of the most diminutive of men—almost a dwarf.—But was there ever a small man who felt conscious that he was unable to achieve actions which belonged exclusively to those possessing superior stature and strength?
Year after year, however, passed away in irresolution on his part in choosing an occupation which might increase his income. He had no employments but such as were the result of reading; and his friends at length ceased to urge him to exertion, as there seemed every probability that he would always remain single, having then attained his twenty-eighth year.
But Mr. Webb at last fell in love and married; and the lady that he selected, independently of the obligation which his marriage vows laid him under, of loving her with the greatest tenderness, was entitled to his utmost sympathy from another cause—she was even of smaller stature than himself. She suited him therefore, in every particular but two, which at the time of courtship seemed no difference at all; but which, now that they had been man and wife for two years, seemed likely to result in a very uncomfortable state of things. Mrs. Webb hated books, and she detested the thoughts of living in the country; on the contrary, Mr. Webb was a great reader, and was passionately fond of the country, and of rural occupations.
"You are not very partial to the country, my dear Winny," said he, venturing to cast a look at his wife, whose tiny fingers were plying like lightning over her work, while her cheeks were flushed with agitation, "but if you will give up this small point."
"Small point, Mr. Webb, do you call that a small point which is so very disagreeable to me? Nay," said she, laughing, "if it be such a small point, why contend about it; do you concede this small point to me, and when it comes to one that you consider of greater magnitude, why—exert your prerogative my dear."
Mr. Webb looked grave and sighed; the little lady, although very fond of her husband, was not disposed to yield, much as her husband's sighs and grave looks affected her. She continued to sew very fast, without looking up for some time. At length, finding that his eyes were again dropped on his book, and that he had resumed his tranquil manner, she called his attention to the offer of a compromise. "Suppose my dear Hassy, that we both give up a little? Do you give up this small point of living in the country, and I will live as frugally as I can in ever so small a house in the city, that you may purchase books and keep the horse—and—and—now my dear Hassy," said she, drawing her chair nearer to her husband and looking up to his face—"think of the very great point lam going to give up for your small one—you shall have the naming of our little girl!"
This was indeed a temptation, for Mr. Webb was of a romantic turn of mind, and considered a good name as a thing of vital importance. His own name, Ahasuerus, had been a source of much mortification to him; and that of his wife, Winifred, was equally inharmonious and distasteful. But Mrs. Webb had no romance about her; she called her husband's horse Mush, because the animal happened one day to run his nose into a dishful of that article; and a fine handsome little terrier she called Scratch, although her husband had named the one Orelio and the other Bevis.
As to her own name, or that of her husband, she saw nothing disagreeable in either of them; and could she have followed her own inclinations she would have called her little girl Rachel. But, although thus indifferent about names, which in general were thought old fashioned—such as Margaret, Magdalen, Sarah and the like, yet she had an active dislike to fanciful ones; Emily, Caroline and Matilda, had nothing notable or thrifty in their character; they were novel names, and she hated novels. Still less did she like those of Myrtilla, Flora, Narcissa; they savoured too much of the country; she dreaded her husband's tastes either way.
If romances were uppermost at the time, then the first mentioned names would be present to his imagination; and if her child were so unfortunate as to get one of them, it might be the means of fastening a lackadaisical character on her for life; she would never be fit for any rational employment.
If, on the contrary, her husband had the country mania on him, then what could she hope for but a Pastorella or a Daphne? What a milk and water creature would this make of her child! For Mrs. Webb, too, in her way, was of opinion that peculiar names gave a peculiar turn to character. In either case, therefore, she was in a dilemma, and the baby, now three months old, had no name.
Mr. Webb laid down his book at this unlooked-for offer of a compromise, and was about to enter into a discussion concerning it, when a servant announced a visiter. An elderly gentleman entered, at whose appearance Mrs. Webb started up in great dismay and confusion. She hastily, and in much trepidation, introduced the stranger as her uncle, Mr. Banks, her mother's only brother.
Mr. Banks, a rich planter, had just arrived from Jamaica, where his principal estates lay. He had never seen Mr. Webb; and had now come to pay his first visit. As Mrs. Webb was the only child of his only sister, the old gentleman, in his way, had been very fond of her; yet, in spite of this, and of his real goodness of heart, he could never see his niece without laughing at her tiny little figure; and she was always called by him, "the Little Fairy." His only hope was, that she would either not marry at all, or else choose a husband of ordinary size, that their offspring might have a chance of looking as if they had not come from fairy land. He had hardly got over the mirth of his niece's marriage, when he learned that her husband was as diminutive as herself; and his impatience to see them together overcame his discretion. After making a few purchases, as presents to the little couple, he posted immediately to their lodgings.
"And so Winny," said the old gentleman, after he had kissed his niece, and had shaken hands with her husband, (without looking at him though) "so, this is your—husband, and you have a baby too, they say; where is it? cannot I see it? what is its name? tell the servant to bring it in." He could hardly restrain his impatience, so much did he want to see the child of this diminutive couple; and when the maid brought it in, dressed in its very best; its little cap, with pink bows; its little sleeves, looped up with pink ribands; and its pretty little frock, all stiff with delicate needlework, he was in an ecstasy of delight. He snatched the child from the maid, and holding it from him, at arm's length, he laughed so loud and long that the poor child screamed with fright.
He then drew the innocent, terrified little creature close to him to take a nearer look; but no sooner had he examined its little features, and had poised it in his arms, to ascertain its weight, than his laughter was renewed with redoubled energy; and so little command had he over himself, that if Mr. Webb, angrily enough, had not taken the child from him, it must have fallen to the ground.
There seemed no end to the old gentleman's mirth, when Mrs. Webb, unable to contain herself any longer, indignantly exclaimed—"Uncle Banks, I wonder at your coming here to insult us in this manner! What can make you act in this strange unnatural way? You have hurt my husband's feelings; which, I can tell you, is more painful to me than if you had insulted me alone."
When the old gentleman could stop himself, he held out his arms as if he still held the child—"Here, Winny," said he, the tears of laughter running down his cheeks—"here, take the baby; why don't you take the child, I say? I shall certainly let it fall."
"Uncle Banks, if you would only come to your senses, you would know that"—
"Hold your peace, Winny, and take the doll—the baby I mean."
"You know well enough, uncle, that Mr. Webb took the child from you and left the room. I could see that he was exceedingly hurt at"—
"What?" said the obdurate man—"what, did he actually take away the baby, and I not miss it nor him either? Winny, I thought it was light, but I did not dream it was so feathery that I could not tell whether I held it or not—why I should have missed a down pincushion."
Mrs. Webb burst into tears. This sobered the old man at once. "My dear Winny," said he, going suddenly to her, and kissing her cheek, "how foolish it is in you to mind what your old uncle says or does in his fun. Come, deary, do not cry any more, but save your eyes to look at the pretty things I have brought you. Here, girl," calling to a servant, "tell those men to bring in that trunk."
A large trunk was brought in, which he hastened to open; and it was not in the nature of one so constituted as Mrs. Webb, to remain insensible to the pleasure of examining such presents as her uncle had placed before her. She forgot her vexation, and her eyes sparkled with delight as the old gentleman, with much ostentatious parade, drew out each valuable article. When he had, in this way, emptied the trunk, he asked her if she had forgiven him for his laughter.
"Indeed, uncle Banks," said she, "I am so used to your humour, that if I alone were concerned, I should not mind it; but Mr. Webb feels such things keenly, for he has a great deal of sensibility. I am sure, however, that he will be delighted with the books—how elegantly they are bound—and he will be more than pleased with this beautiful tea set of silver. What a great help this is to our housekeeping; and all these spoons too, and silver forks—Mr. Webb has a great fondness for silver plate. I must call him in to thank you."
"No don't, Winny, don't," said her uncle, "I shall relapse, for I can hardly help going at it fresh again when I think of his tiny, slender little figure. Why don't you send him in the country, to get a little flesh on his little bones?"
Mrs. Webb reddened, but a look at the presents, as they lay on the floor, kept her from replying; and finding him tolerably grave, she thought it better for her husband to get accustomed to the coarse ways of her uncle at once. She, therefore, went to him to prepare the way for a better understanding. Mr. Webb, however, felt no willingness to be under obligations to so vulgar a mind; but seeing his wife's distress, in consequence of his refusal to go into the room, and having, likewise, a point to gain with her, he at length resolved to bear with the folly of the old man, without showing his sense of the indignity.
It was some time before he made his appearance. Meantime Mrs. Webb had been coaxing her uncle to behave with decency before her husband. "You can but turn your back," said she, "if you think you cannot refrain from laughing; but if you knew how kind he is to me, and how much every body respects him, you would not mind his size. You have no idea what an excellent scholar he is. It is really cruel, my dear uncle, to make game of what, by your mirth, you consider as a ludicrous affliction—a thing which we neither of us have been instrumental in doing; and which we would alter if we could. Do, dear sir, let him see what you really are—a kind and affectionate man. I will give my husband a chair the moment he comes in; he does not look so small when he sits."
This last unlucky observation undid all that her previous conversation had effected; and when Mr. Webb entered, the old man was in a roar of laughter; and only one glance at the unfortunate man, as he came into the room, increased it to such a degree, that he fairly rolled over the floor.
In fact, a person of even more refinement, would have had his risible faculties excited at the appearance which Mr. Webb made. Conscious of his inferior size, and being now, for the first time, coarsely treated in consequence of it, he had taken some pains to improve his figure. He had on a long skirted coat and high heeled boots, with a hat of an uncommonly high crown. His walk, as he entered, was constrained, and his manner was formal. He was exceedingly provoked at the old gentleman's mirth; and nothing less than his wife's distress could have induced him to remain one moment in the room. But he did stay, and he even helped the silly old man to rise, who, through sheer weakness, was unable to move from the floor.
When he had, in some measure, composed his features, he beckoned to his niece, who stood looking very angrily at him; and, as she came near, he mustered up resolution enough to restrain himself so that he could articulate. He whispered in her ear, in a sort of hoarse giggle—"My dear Winny—take off his hat, and get between us, while you coax him to look at the things on the floor—the boots I do not mind—make him sit, Winny, will you?—and then I shall not see his coat."
Mrs. Webb could not, at length, help laughing herself; so she twitched off the unfortunate hat, got a chair for her husband, and, after putting a pile of books in his lap, she endeavoured to screen him from her uncle's view. In this way they all sat for a few minutes; the old gentleman in a sort of convulsive titter, which he tried to disguise by keeping a handkerchief close to his mouth. Mrs. Webb was then compelled to leave the room on account of the poor little child, who could not recover from its fright; but, as she was going out, she whispered to her husband not to mind her uncle. "Laugh with him, my dear," said she, "it is the only way to stop him; but, above all, look at the beautiful silver, and do not let his folly vex you. I will be back in a few minutes."
Mr. Banks behaved much better after his niece left the room; and he even trusted his voice in making an apology. By degrees, poor Mr. Webb was appeased; and, in looking at his dress, he could not but acknowledge that he cut an exceedingly grotesque figure. He was, therefore, soon disposed to bear with the oddity of his relation; and, in fact, to join in his mirth, when the old gentleman put on his high crowned hat, by mistake, for his own.
"Well, sir," said he, "that hat, I must confess, is rather of the tallest, and I can join you in your laugh. You may laugh at my slight, small figure, and I will laugh at your robust one, and your red face, for one is as fit a subject for mirth as the other."
"You are very much mistaken," said the old gentleman, rousing himself suddenly. "You can see nothing at all to laugh at in me; for I am made like most people—and—besides—I allow no man to laugh at me. This reminds me, Mr. Webb, of the golden rule—I beg your pardon for my mirth; but, really, the hat and coat, to say nothing of the boots, were too much for me. But, my little man—hem—Mr. Webb, I mean, why do you not go into the country and gather a little colour and flesh? You would look more like a—hem—you would look as well again. Little Winny and the little—doll—baby—would be the better for country air too."
Mr. Webb, thoroughly good tempered, had long since smiled off his chagrin, for he had a splendid edition of Shakspeare on his lap; and he could not but think that the hint of the country might be of use to him. He thought there was a possibility of drawing Mr. Banks over to his scheme of living there; he, therefore, hastily explained his reasons for being in town; and spoke of his regrets at not being able to live in the country, both on his child's account and his own. He finished by stating his wife's strong aversion to the plan, and of the impossibility of her ever consenting to it.
"What income have you, my little—hem—Mr. Webb, I mean."
"Why, sir, we have about six hundred dollars a year. Now I think that sum, with my wife's economy—and I have no expensive habits"—
"No, I'll be sworn that your clothes won't cost you much—nay," said he, on seeing the colour fly into Mr. Webb's face, "let me have my joke, and I'll make you amends. In the first place, I will manage your wife, so that she shall come into your plans. Winny always liked to have her own way; and, as I helped to spoil her, when young, it is but fair that I should endeavour to set things a little square now. And, to repay you for bearing so well with an old man's humour—which, considering how little there is of you—nay, my boy—Mr. Webb, I mean, don't look so angry; I was only going to observe, that I might as well give you, in my lifetime, what I should certainly leave you at my death. I mean a little estate I have, called Oak Valley. It is just the very thing for two such little—I mean two such agreeable young people."
"I am much obliged to you for your kindness, sir, but it will be a useless present; you forget your niece has a strong aversion to the country."
"What, Winny? Have I not told you to let me manage her; hush, there she comes. I hope she has left the little doll—baby I mean—behind; two I can stand, now that I am used to it, but a third would set me going again. Well, Winny, your husband is not so much vexed at my laughter as you are. I think him a good, pleasant tempered little—fellow. In short, Winny, I begin to like him, he bears a joke so well. Now, a joke to me is a great thing; and I shall be tempted, now that I find you in the city, to remain here a year or two, and pitch my tent near you. If you lived in the country I should not be able to enjoy your society, as I never go there. But here, in the city, I could see you very often; and I know two or three old fellows like myself, who would often come with me to pay you an evening visit. You will soon get used to my jokes, eh, Mr. Webb. You will not mind my laughing, Winny, when it comes to be a daily thing?"
Mrs. Webb was struck dumb. What! to undergo the same torture daily? To see her sensitive husband daily, hourly, exposed to such coarse insults as he had been obliged to submit to during this day?—and before strangers too, to be the butt of vulgar and unfeeling people?—It was too much—nothing on earth could compensate for such an evil. She cast her eye towards her husband, not doubting but that he was feeling precisely as she did; but his back was towards her, and she could not learn how this communication affected him. It would not do—that she knew at once; she saw nothing but misery in having her uncle near them, and she therefore determined to make an effort to prevent the threatened evil.
"My dear uncle," said she, with much embarrassment, for she knew that her husband was likewise interested in what she was saying,—"you would no doubt be very kind to us, if we lived together in the city, which, on many accounts, I should prefer to the country; but just before you came in Mr. Webb had been expressing a strong desire to go in the country—and—and—you know you, yourself, recommended our going—you advised me to it, you know."
"Yes, Winny, I told you that you had better send the little man—I mean your little husband—in short, Winny, where is the use of your reddening up to your temples every time I make a mistake? You must get used to it if I live near you. I must call your husband little, while I am near him, and see that he is small. At my time of life people want indoor amusement, and you three here, would be a great—no, a little help, to wile away an hour or two in a rainy evening."
This settled the matter with poor Mrs. Webb; not for worlds would she put herself in the way of such an evil; she therefore, with much pretended humility, disclaimed all right to decide on the question of living in the town or country; she said that, like a prudent wife, she meant to give up her own wishes to please her husband—that she was certain of its being better for him and the child to be in pure air, and now all that she should ask for this full compliance with his wishes was, that she should have the privilege of naming their little girl.
"That is but fair, Winny," said her uncle, "you have certainly the right of naming little tiny as you choose. But stop—let me see—let me give the child a name; I will stand godfather to it, and, what is better, I will act as a godfather should. I will settle a thousand dollars a year on her, and will give you a very pretty little farm—my Oak Valley farm. Winny, you remember that farm."
"You shall have the naming of our little girl—remember Oak Valley! yes, indeed I do; I can safely trust her name to you—my dear husband, you can have no objection; you will give your consent, I hope."
"Certainly," said poor Mr. Webb, his mind misgiving him about the name, as on looking at Mr. Banks, he saw his features announcing a new burst of merriment—"I have no objection to a scripture name, and I would even prefer Winnifred,"—casting a timid glance at the old humourist,—"to many that I know."
"Well, you both consent then, and will not retract—give me your word of honour to let me name the child as I like, in case I settle a thousand dollars a year upon her." Mrs. Webb eagerly gave her word, and her husband, after again expressing his entire willingness, once more hinted that a plain scripture name was quite as agreeable to him now, as any other.
"Well, then," said Mr. Banks, "the thing is settled. I will now take my leave and go to my lodgings. The deed for Oak Valley shall be made out immediately, as shall the settlement on our little dolly—but, Winny," said he, casting a sly look at Mr. Webb—"you had better change your mind and live in the city; your going so far off from me will drive me back to Jamaica—what, you are determined? well, I must submit; but remember, I must name dolly." Saying this, he walked nimbly out of the house, apparently unwilling to trust himself a minute longer in their sight.
In the course of the next day the deeds were sent to them by which the estate of Oak Valley was secured to them, as was likewise a settlement of one thousand dollars a year, which sum was for the use of the parents until the child came of age. There was a letter accompanying the papers, saying that he would tell them his mind concerning the name of the child, meantime he had sent them each a present, which he hoped would do away all past offences.
"Generous man," said the enraptured Mrs. Webb, "I have no doubt but that these two parcels, so carefully sealed, contain bank notes; here, my dear, this one is directed to you—let him laugh, I only wish I may be able to sleep this night under such a load of kindness. That farm of Oak Valley, my dear, is a very excellent one—such pasturage, such fine springs on it"—and while she was regaling herself with a recollection of its many beauties and comforts, she was at the same time opening her little packet, which was enveloped in fold after fold of paper, each one carefully sealed. Mr. Webb was, however, in such a pleasing reverie, that her words fell on his ear without his having any very distinct notion of what she was saying, further than that they were harmonizing with his feelings. As to his own packet, it remained untouched in his hand.
"And then there is such a pretty river, navigable too for small craft, running at the very foot of the farm; you can take⸻what a curious conceit this is of Uncle Banks, what trouble he has given himself and me to, in enclosing this money, for such I have no doubt it is, in so many covers; I am afraid to tear them loose at once, lest I may tear the notes—my dear, why do you not begin to open yours? I am sorry my poor uncle does not like the country, for all things considered we might bear with his fooleries—there, thank goodness, I have opened the last pa"⸻. But what was her chagrin on finding that it contained the old story book, "There was a little woman, as I've heard tell."
Casting her quick eye towards her husband, she saw that his "eye was in fine frenzy rolling," and that he had been long past attending either to her packet or his own; so, wishing to spare him the mortification which she had just encountered, she gently took the unopened parcel from his unresisting hand, and went quietly out of the room. She opened this second parcel with much less ceremony than she did her own, cutting and tearing through the numerous folds, and just as she expected, she saw a book of the same size as the other, called, "There was a little man, and he wooed a little maid."
Indignation was the first effect, as she threw the books across the room, but surprise and pleasure soon succeeded, for as the books dashed against the wall, sundry bank notes fell out and were scattered on the floor. On examination she found that the eccentric humourist had placed a one hundred dollar bank note between every two leaves of each book.
"I know exactly, my dear Hassy," said the now delighted wife, as she rushed into the room, "I know what uncle Banks means by these handsome presents—here is a thousand dollars for you and the same sum for me. Your money is to purchase stock for the farm, and mine is to buy furniture; was there ever any one so generous!—laugh? who cares for his laughter and his odd ways, when he atones for them in such a handsome manner as this? Here, my dear, put the money carefully away, while I pick up these foolish bits of paper."
She raised herself from her stooping posture on hearing her husband sigh. "What, upon earth, my dear Hassy, is the matter with you?" said she, in great alarm, for she feared that this sudden accession of wealth had disturbed his brain, particularly as her own was in a whirl. She recollected, too, at the moment, that Mr. Webb had read some observations of Dr. Burroughs on the subject of insanity, which went to prove that there were more frequently cases of aberration of mind from a rise to sudden prosperity, than from adversity. "What can ail you? surely you are not one of those weak minded persons who cannot bear a sudden turn of good fortune?"
"My dear Winny," said her husband, in the most rueful tone imaginable, "I am not thinking in the least of the money, nor of the farm, but of the probability of our child's having a preposterous name."
Mrs. Webb fairly laughed aloud. "Is that all?" said she. "Why, my dear Hassy, I would not care if she were called Nebuchadnezzar—provided she were a boy—fret about a name! Why, cannot we make a pleasant abbreviation of it in case it be an ugly one? But my uncle is an old fashioned man, and I apprehend nothing worse than Jerusha, or Kezia, or Margaret."
"I hope it may be so, Winny, but I fear that you are too sanguine; I dread to hear the name—nothing can compensate me if the name be a ridiculous one."
After breakfast the next morning a note was brought from Mr. Banks, bidding them farewell, saying that urgent business called him immediately to Jamaica. He said that he had dwelt with much anxiety on the subject of selecting a suitable name for their baby, and after discarding a number of them he had at length pitched on one that he thought would suit all parties; that it was a little of the longest, to be sure, but then this fault was made up in its dignity. The child, he said, should be called Glumdalclitch.
Any one would have pitied the poor little couple if they could have seen the consternation which this billet produced.
"I never will consent to this," said Mr. Webb, as soon as his anger and shame would allow him to speak—"never shall my child reproach me with fastening such a ridiculous name upon her. I will write this instant to your uncle and refuse to accept any of his gifts on such disgraceful conditions. No, no, my dear Winny, we are—I, at least, am mark enough for ridicule, but this is a thing which I have learned to bear, as it has been our Creator's will to make me as I am; but to name our child in such fantastic fashion, would be indeed to invite both scorn and laughter."
But prudent Mrs. Webb had cooled in proportion as her husband was excited. She had felt a good deal mortified at first at the outlandish name; but during the indignant burst of feeling of her husband, she began to think that Glumdalclitch, although harsh and difficult to pronounce, might have a short and pleasant abridgment, at any rate there was no prohibition to a double name.
Clearing up as this passed through her mind, she then turned to give her husband what comfort she could; for little refinement as she had in general, she still could comprehend the morbid sensibilities of those she loved. How few men there are who know how to appreciate the sympathy of a prudent, tender wife! Mr. Webb understood the excellence of the woman who now stood with affectionate earnestness before him, and before she had talked the matter over the third time—in her vague yet decisive way—he had recovered his equanimity. Happy to perceive that he had resumed his quiet manner again, Mrs. Webb continued,
"One thousand dollars a year may easily compensate for an ugly name; and even if we do not choose to give the child a middle name, which is optional with us, she will not have to be called by her Christian name long; for after a girl is in her teens, she gets the title of her surname. She will be called Miss Webb, you know. Perhaps, after all, my dear, this name which is so disagreeable to us, may not be thought ugly by some people."
"Ugly," said her husband, "do you know what this name means?—but no—I heard you say the other day that you had never read Gulliver's travels, my dear Winny," blushing deeply as he said it—"Glumdalclitch is the name of a giantess!"
"Well, this comes of so much reading; I bless my want of taste that way; it is enough to make one forswear books; never reproach me again for my indifference towards them. I am sure I wish Mr. Gulliver had staid at home, if he could have communicated nothing better than such a hideous name. But where is the use of fretting? since it is so, we must make the best of it, and then you know we need not call the name out in full; you never call me Winnifred, nor do I call you Ahasuerus. Let us shorten the name to Glummy—no? Well, how would Clitchy sound—you don't like that. Let us shorten it to Dally, that I know will please you, for it is the name of a flower."
"How often Winny," said her fretted husband, "have I told you that the flower is called Dahlia;" suspending for a moment his right to feel indignant and irritable, to do justice to the pronunciation of the name of a flower.
"Dahlia is it? well, that is the way an Irishman would call Delia. Let us call her Delia then, it is a pretty pastoral name;" and as she said this, she cast a side glance at her husband.
After this, and other conversations of the kind, they agreed to give the child this uncouth name, for the charm of living in the country was hourly growing more captivating to Mr. Webb, and Mrs. Webb had a great reverence for a thousand dollars a year. Besides, the misery of living where they would daily be subject to the coarse mirth of her uncle, when he made his regular visits to the city, which he had until of late years, been always in the habit of doing, was becoming more and more apparent. She even with more alacrity than one could expect, set about making preparations for her departure to Oak Valley.
"This is all very hard upon you, my dear wife," said Mr. Webb to her one day when he saw how cheerfully she was preparing for their removal; "this is worse for you than for me. With the one part, at least, I am more than gratified, whereas your feelings and taste have not been consulted at all. You have neither the satisfaction of living where you like best, nor the pleasure of having a decent name for your child."
"But I have the pleasure of knowing that my little girl will have a handsome independence—and do you think, my dear Hassy, that it is no gratification to me to see that our going to the country is an event of great importance to your health and happiness?"
"My dearest Winny," said her tender-hearted, conscience-stricken husband, "I do not deserve this goodness. I cannot enjoy the thought of going into the country, unless I tell you how it has been brought about. You were manœuvred into this scheme, my dear wife; and I here declare, that much as I wish to leave the city, you shall yet remain if you wish it. Your uncle had no intention of living near us, if we remained here; he was eager to get us all into the country, on the score of our health, and he made use of this stratagem to induce you to consent to it. Now that I have told you the truth, pray do as you like best; but with respect to the settlement on our child, much as I dislike the name, I fear she would not thank us if we gave that up for a thing of such little consequence. Giving up the farm," continued he, sighing deeply, "is another affair."
"Yes," said his wife laughing, "I see it is, and it would be a worse affair if you knew what a sweet spot Oak Valley is; but here is this money, this two thousand dollars—would you think it right to return this too,—my part of it I need not return, for I am persuaded it was to purchase furniture, which will suit me either for a town or a country house. Your's was no doubt, for purchasing stock for the farm; if we live in the city we can have no pretence for keeping that part of it."
But Mr. Webb did not like this view of the business at all, and he was besides getting quite uneasy, notwithstanding his late compunctious feelings, lest his wife should take him at his word, and remain where she was.
Strange perplexities for these little people, but money always brings as much pain as pleasure. Mrs. Webb had, however, accommodated herself wonderfully to circumstances; she generally looked on the sunny side of a question, and she had, by working it over in her mind early and late, viewing it in every possible shape, fairly brought herself to think, that all things considered (this was a favourite expression of hers) farm, income, money and health, and, though last not least, the pleasure of obliging her husband; and if it must be told, the hold she would have on him for this double disappointment of hers—the plan of living in the country would be the very best thing for them all.
The spring opened delightfully, and the farm was to be ready for them in a few days; but Mr. Webb, wishing to make the removal as pleasant as possible, could not bear to let his wife go until every thing was tolerably well arranged in their new house. He proposed, therefore, that she and the child should go to see a relation of his who had never yet seen her, and who had several times given her pressing invitations to pay her a visit. The rooms they occupied at present had been let, and new boarders were to take possession of them immediately.
But Mrs. Webb strongly objected to this plan—"My dear Hassy," said she, "no fear of my fatiguing myself or of taking cold. I shall remain quietly in my room until the carpets are down and the furniture unpacked. You will never catch me paying a visit to a near relation in the spring of the year, unless there be other guests there at the same time; I have seen too much of that."
"But why," said Mr. Webb, "why in the spring of the year more than in any other season?"
"Because, then you are treated most scandalously. In the first place, they begin with—a constrained smile on their face all the while—I am very sorry that you have come just at this time, not sorry on our account, but on your own; we are pulling every thing to pieces to commence house cleaning. Our best bed-room, which you ought to have, is all upside down; you will have to take the third story—and such a room, my dear Hassy—you can have no idea of it; I shudder when I think of exposing my baby to it. Perhaps it has been a nursery or neglected school room; spots of ink and grease cover the floor, great black knots show themselves, and the unseasoned boards gape wide. Three odd chairs, a half circular wooden toilet table without a cover, and a slim-posted, ricketty bedstead, with a feather bed scantily filled, and which still more scantily covers the bedstead—happy if it have a sacking instead of a rope bottom—coarse patched sheets, darned pillow cases, an old heirloom blue chequered counterpane, a broken wash basin on a little foot-square tottering table, and a blurred looking glass, complete the furniture of this cold north room. I shall say nothing of 'the hearth unconscious of a fire,' nor of the long deep cracks in the coarse whitewashed walls, nor of the rattling of the window sashes."
"What a picture you have drawn, Winny! you speak very feelingly; have you ever been compelled to sleep in such a room? But what sort of fare do you receive under such circumstances?"
"Oh, the worst in the world; when it is meal time, then you hear this, or something like it: 'How unfortunate to come at this unpropitious season? it is so uncomfortable for you; no vegetables, but old potatoes; no salad yet; all our hams gone; nothing but shoulders; and the hens are so backward this spring.'—No, no, my dear Hassy, unless there be visiters of some consequence in the house, never go near a relation in the spring of the year; I mean, if they live in the country. There is no exertion made to gratify your taste or your palate; a more forlorn state of things cannot be imagined. Now in June, or July, you may, on the score of your being a near relation, which is always a justifiable excuse, be ushered up in that comfortless north room; but then coolness and shade is not unpleasant—there are strawberries and blackberries, in their season, along the hedges and meadows, if none are to be had in the garden—then there are fresh milch cows, and the hens cannot help laying if they would—new potatoes come in plenty, and dock and pigweed grow without culture. I would rather have them than spinach at any time; buttermilk too can be had for asking; and you can rove about uncared for and unheeded, which I can tell you is as great a luxury when you are in the country, as to eat fresh eggs and breathe fresh air."
Mr. Webb was exceedingly amused with this description, and as his wife did not seem to consider it an evil to go to an unaired house, he did not think it prudent to make her think it one. Her pliant, well-regulated mind soon enabled her to overcome her dislike to country occupations; and even to exult in her achievement in the way of making butter and cheese, and she soon excelled in raising poultry—three things which formerly belonged to female management alone. Now, however, in these wonder-working days, so ravenous are men for monopolies and for experimentalizing, that they have encroached on privileges, which even the old taskmasters of the female sex unreluctantly yielded to them.
Mrs. Webb, although of slender figure, and small in size, had a mind as active and as comprehensive, a temper as irritable, and was as bold an asserter of her own rights, as the stoutest of her sex. She soon regulated her household in a quiet, economical way, and had none but female servants within doors; detesting, as well she might, the appearance of a stale, heavy-looking, half-dirty man about the room, doing woman's work, when he should be out of doors with a spade or a hoe.
What a bower did the happy Mr. Webb make of Oak Valley! Such a profusion of sweet-scented shrubs and flowers had never before been seen in the neighbourhood. Fruit trees soon made their appearance; and their crops of grain and grass were abundant and good. But what his wife most admired was, the regular supply of wood which he provided for the house—nicely cut and piled; a thing generally less attended to, and the cause of more vexatious disputes between the farmer and his wife than any other part of their arrangements. All things, therefore, considered, which Mrs. Webb was still in the habit of saying, "it really was preferable to live on such a pleasant, well regulated farm than in a narrow street or at lodgings."
Then there was so much speculation about the right breed of cows and poultry. Mr. Webb first inclined to long-horns, then to short-horns; but Mrs. Webb cut the matter short by declaring for no horns; and to this day they have from ten to fifteen of these meek, subdued animals, so fat that they could not do much in the way of running from a cross cur if any such should attack them.
She had her own way, too, with the poultry. She soon banished the coarse, long-legged Buck's county fowls, with their uncouth looking bodies. She said their tread was almost as heavy as a young colt's; and, really, when she pointed to a dozen of them which were picking their way over a strawberry bed, her husband submitted in silence to the order given to the farmer, to prepare them for market. "And, David," said Mrs. Webb, after the man had chased the fowls from the garden, "see what prospect there is of selling off our stock of Bantoms. It takes twenty of their eggs to make a pudding, and they lay no more eggs a day than other hens—and, David, when you return from Wicklowe, cross over to neighbour Haywood's, and see what he will take for two or three pair of those old fashioned kind of hens—those full, broad breasted, pale speckled ones; sometimes a dingy yellow and sometimes brown and gray, with large spreading tails. Those are the only kind. But above all, David, see that they have flesh coloured legs; they fatten well; those with yellow or black legs are not worth raising—strange that people are so inattentive to such important matters."
Sixteen years passed away, and time, as the little lady said, seemed to fly with them; every thing prospered. Mr. Banks, to their great surprise, never came near them. He contented himself with sending them a yearly present; and heard of the birth of each succeeding child with a fresh burst of merriment. Their children, all girls, were six in number; and their income was now about three thousand dollars a year.
Mr. Webb, in the most peaceable, unaccountable manner, had been allowed the pleasure of naming four of his children. Perhaps—for woman's tenderness will sometimes increase—perhaps she felt for his first disappointment; and, as it rose out of the caprice of a relative of her own, she determined on remaining quiet, only resolving to interfere if an outrageously romantic name presented itself to his imagination.
The first child literally had no name until the birth of the second; then, as the "child," or the "baby" could no longer distinguish it, they took it to the font and had it christened. The clergyman, old Mr. Saxeweld, was then a stranger to them, for through very shame they would not apply to their own pastor. He did not rightly understand what Mr. Webb said, when he demanded the name of the child, for he never, for a moment, dreamed of Gulliver. He asked over and over again, and still the sound of Glumdalclitch came to his ear. "Is it a French name?" said he, looking angrily at Mrs. Webb, who, nothing disconcerted by all this hubbub about the name, was enjoying the triumph which she should have over her husband when she got home, in telling him that there was one other person in the world beside herself who had not read Gulliver's Travels.
Mr. Webb was ready to sink in the earth; he felt that he could at that moment renounce the world and all its vanities, as well as the child's income, which had caused all this disgrace.
"I presume," said Mr. Saxeweld, willing to put an end to the scene, "I presume it is a French name. Colombe—what?" But Mr. Webb was past appeal; he felt a hollow ringing in his ears; and, in time to save him from fainting, the child was christened Colombe.
The clergyman, a testy old man, was so provoked at what he thought stupidity in the father of the child, that he felt disposed to rebuke him; and when poor Mr. Webb turned to him, as he was leaving the church, to offer him the accustomed fee, he not only refused it, but broke out in this way—"Never come to me again; you, with a name bigger than your whole body; and which is too long for your mouth to utter. If it had not been for my knowledge of French, I should have christened your child Glumdalclitch, and it would have been serving you right if I had."
After Colombe came Flora, then Rosa, then Imogen, then Christabelle; and, when the sixth was old enough for baptism, while Mr. Webb was deciding between Diana and Lilius, Mrs. Webb went to church during a week-day service, with a friend, and came home in triumph, with the only Christian name, as she said, in the family—it was Rebecca. Mr. Webb thanked his stars that it was no worse.
Old Mr. Banks made no other remarks, when he heard of the mistake in the child's name, than that the income should now be divided between the children, as at the time he did not imagine that the little girl would ever have any rivals. When the little Rebecca was about two years old, the old gentleman took it into his head to pay the tiny family a visit, to see how they all looked together.
Early, one fine spring morning, he made his appearance at Oak Valley, accompanied by Stephen Haywood, with whose father he had long been acquainted. While on the way to the farm, he entertained our young friend Stephen with an account of his first interview with the little couple and their tiny little child. "How I shall stand it now," said he, "I cannot tell; but I am sixteen years older, and a man of eighty has nearly expended all his laughter. It is high time, I think."
Young Haywood, who, although not introduced to the family at that time, yet knew them well, from report, could not help smiling; but the old gentleman's attention was soon directed to the neatness and order of the farm; and, when Stephen asked him if he had an idea that the children were all as small as their parents, he could scarcely answer.
"Assuredly they are; why, if any one of the six had been but an inch taller than themselves, they would have sent an express to me at Jamaica."
A servant came to the door, and Mr. Banks asked eagerly, if Mr. and Mrs. Webb and the six little children were at home. The girl stared, but replied that Mr. and Mrs. Webb, and some of the children, were in the garden, and some of the younger ones were in the nursery; but that Miss Webb, the eldest daughter, was in the parlour. "Show me in, show me in," said he; and into the room he nimbly stepped, winking aside to young Haywood, to express his glee. He seemed quite disappointed at seeing only a middle sized young lady sitting there. She arose on the old gentleman's precipitate entrance, while he exclaimed, "I thought to find one of Mr. Webb's tiny little children here."
"I am Mr. Webb's eldest daughter," said the young lady, blushing, "my parents will be in presently—will you sit down?" and she presented each gentleman with a chair.
Never was man more amazed—this young lady his little niece's daughter?—he certainly saw a likeness; but it was altogether a puzzle. At length he roused himself to say, "Why did not your mother write me word that they had a child as tall as you are? What is your name? Oh,—I remember—Colombe. It is a foolish name enough; but it might have been worse. Never mind, my dear, I will make you amends for your French name; better though than—but no matter; let me introduce you to Mr. Stephen Haywood."
Just then the door opened, and his niece, with her husband, and the five children, made their appearance. But if Mr. Banks was amazed at seeing the respectable height of the eldest daughter, how much more so was he when he saw that there was not one of the diminutive stature of the parents. Even the youngest, a rosy little girl, just beginning to walk, bade fair to be as tall as her sisters.
Mrs. Webb enjoyed her uncle's amazement; not without suspicion, however, that he was disappointed at bottom, because there were no dwarfs among them. But in a short time, the old gentleman's good-natured eye glistened at the pictures of health, order and obedience of the children, and at the improved looks of the parents. He did not laugh once during his visit, which was of a week's duration; and when he left them, he had the satisfaction of seeing that Stephen Haywood was following his advice; which was, to fall in love with his pretty pigeon as fast as possible.