Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 1/Uncle Simkinson and Mrs. Mountelephant

Once a Week, Series 1, Volume I  (1859) 
Uncle Simkinson and Mrs. Mountelephant
by A. Armstrong


If you look into any newly-established chemist’s shop in a country town, at any hour, you will probably see some neatly dressed young female waiting to be served. Early and late, winter and summer, spring-time and autumn, the same phenomenon presents itself. We have observed it on so many occasions, that we long since began to theorise upon it, and we fancy with some success. Is the feminine tooth in perpetual suffering? for chemists are dentists as well as druggists. Are delicate little fingers continually being pinched in malignant wickets? Do chilblains need medical advice; or is honey required for chaps when the thermometer is at 93 degrees in the shade? We have no hesitation in giving these questions a most unflinching negative.

How, then, do we account for the shops of young chemists being the chosen resort of the gentle sex? Simply in this way: because the young chemist is looking out for a partnership—not chemical—but connubial—and every pretty and sensible young person—maid or widow—knows it, and turns that knowledge to profitable account.

That is our theory.

In a year or two a change takes place. Instead of a lady being constantly before the counter, one is occasionally seen behind it. The most meritorious candidate has been selected for preferment. With proper feeling the opposition retire, and business is allowed to flow in its natural and legitimate channels. The sale of cosmetics is greatly reduced, depilatories are in less request, and casualties, such as the pricking of thumbs, or burns from Italian-irons, are of very rare occurrence.

The young chemist is no longer a marked man—his individuality has fallen like a drop of rain, and been swallowed up in the mighty ocean of matrimony.

Such are the vicissitudes to which chemistry and its professors are exposed, and which were experienced in their full force by Josiah Simkinson on his setting up for himself, to use a homely and intelligible phrase. Josiah had been only a few months out of his apprenticeship, when aided by his uncle Simkinson’s capital, he opened a smart little chemist’s shop, amply adorned with red and blue bottles, not a hundred miles, or anything like it, from the market-town of G——, in the pleasant county of Surrey. The usual course of things followed. Though a remarkably sedate young man, Josiah was by no means ill-favoured—his eyes being blue, and his whiskers luxuriant though sandy. For advice, therefore, all the fair and unappropriated inhabitants of G—— resorted to the Golden Horn, where Mr. Simkinson supplied it gratis, but without that display of sympathy which many young pharmacopolists would have deemed it politic and kind to exhibit to patients who so much desired and perhaps deserved it. The fact is, that Josiah was not adapted for his profession; he had no command of small talk; he was grossly ignorant of the soothing system; had quite forgotten, if he had ever learnt, that in prescribing for the “nerves,” a little flattery is sometimes as serviceable as a little ether, or sal-volatile. He was a stoic, not of the woods, but of the gallipots, with some modesty, an upright and gentlemanly figure, a very white hand, and a very white apron.

In addition, however, to his natural cynicism, he had another motive power which prompted him to treat the artifices of speculating spinsters with profound indifference. He was engaged to Sophy Pinnett, a very little but astonishingly pretty milliner, who, having lost her father, a master mariner, at an early age, had supported herself and mother for many years, partly by her industry and skill.

One evening, shortly after Josiah had lit his gas, and was busy spreading a diachylon plaster with a hot spatula, the postman placed a letter on his counter, which he opened with evident alarm. It was from Uncle Simkinson, and ran as follows:—

My dear Josiah,—I dare say you will be rather surprised to hear it, but I am going to enter into the happy state of wedlock, with a very nice middle-aged widow lady, Mrs. Mountelephant, whom you may remember we met at Waterloo last summer, and whose two daughters—very tall and commanding in appearance, like their mamma—you will find highly intellectual, speaking German with great fluency. If you have any idea of changing your condition, and becoming a benedict, you couldn’t do better than at once make your election: my vote and interest you may rely upon. Please send me a bottle of eau-de-Cologne, and a large piece of sponge, free from grit, and believe me,

Your affectionate uncle,
Nehemiah Simkinson.

The perusal of this letter quite unmanned the chemist, and, laying down his spatula with a heavy heart, he remained for some minutes buried in solemn meditation.

He was restored to consciousness by the entrance of a brisk, fresh-looking, but corpulent old gentleman in spectacles, with a white hat, blue coat, and bright buttons.

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