Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 2/Mr. Lorquison's story

Illustrated by Charles Keene


The account of a story-telling party in Once a Week[1] wound up by saying that “Mr. Lorquison excused himself from any recital because he knew not one.” This gentleman (generally full of anecdotes, but which on this occasion he seems to have kept to himself) called upon me two days after the merry meeting by the inn fire, and I at once showed him the passage, and taxed him with the decline of his conversational powers. After some little hesitation, he told me that I ought to have paid more attention to the final part of that paragraph, the commencement of which I have already quoted. On referring, I find it speaks of the quality of the punch.

“Just so,” said Mr. Lorquison, with a queer twinkle, “that accounts for my silence.”

The puzzled look on my face caused him to proceed.

“Why, you see, I do know a great many stories—good ’uns, too, and I had got up one in particular, ready for ’em on that night—only it wasn’t about unpleasant nights and that sort of thing—but whether ’twas the heat of the room, the turn of the stories, or the lateness of the hour, somehow or other my good story went clean out of my head. Mr. Selby told me afterwards that I had greatly amused the company—in what way I can’t distinctly recollect; all I know is, that the next morning I awoke with a splitting headache.”

My curiosity was roused. Did I know the story?

“Well,” said he, “I may have told you at some time or other; but I’ll give it you now if you like; only mind, if you’ve heard it before interrupt me.”

I gave him the required promise, and he thus began:

“I think you’re something of a gardener, are you not?” I admitted horticultural propensities in a small degree, and he continued. “then you’ll enjoy my story all the more. Well, my father was a great florist, en amateur, and used to take immense pleasure in the cultivation of a moderate sized garden attached to our suburban cottage in Islington. You seem surprised at my mentioning such a site for a cottage and garden, but I allude to the Islington as I knew it thirty years ago; when Newington ‘Green Lanes’ was a dangerous place after dark, and an inhabitant of Upper or Lower Clapton was considered a rustic.

“Numerous little cottages, with their neatly trimmed flowerbeds, were to be seen at Islington at the time of which I speak, and conspicuous among them all for artistic arrangement and plants of really great value was my father’s garden. How well I recollect the look of satisfaction with which he used to regard the work of his hands as, sitting in his easy chair on a summer’s Sunday evening, he would slowly puff his after-dinner pipe (he was a widower), while drawing the attention of some friend to the peculiarities of certain cuttings, and the various beauties of his favourite shrubs.

“His companion on one of these occasions was a Mr. Tibbs, a thorough Cockney, with about as much idea of country life and agricultural pursuits as a fish has of nut-cracking. He was a tradesman in the city, had risen to the rank of alderman, and was now within no very great distance of the mayoralty. This ‘achievement of greatness,’ though adding somewhat to his natural pomposity, had in no way diminished his innate relish for a joke. His fun certainly was not refined, nor his raillery elegant; but, as he used to say, ‘a joke’s a joke,’ and undoubtedly Mr. Tibbs’s jokes were peculiarly his own, and no one, I’m sure, would ever think of claiming them.

‘How’s Polly Hanthus?’ was his invariable greeting on entering our house. After the delivery of which facetious allusion to my father, he would indulge in chuckles of some seconds’ duration.

‘Well,’ said he, when my father had finished a long disquisition on the merits of a splendid chrysanthemum, ‘well, Lorquison, I don’t know much about your kissymythumbs, which is Latin or Greek, or—something or other,’ he added after a pause, feeling rather out of his element in an etymological question; ‘but I’ll send you a seed or two, the like of which you’ve never come across, my boy.’ Here, taking his pipe from his mouth, he wagged his head in a fat and happy manner.

‘And what may they be?’ asked my father, with much interest.

‘Well, they may be anything,’ replied Tibbs, with an inward chuckle at his own wit; ‘but they happen to be seeds. Lor’ bless you, I ain’t a-going to tell you what they are. But they’re rare—very rare. Such a gardener’ (he pronounced it gardinger) ‘as you ought to tell what the plant is when you looks at the seed. For my part, I don’t pretend to call ’em any grand name—it’s a very short ’un. Will you have ’em?’

‘Delighted!’ answered my father, ‘send them as soon as possible; and I don’t doubt but we shall be able to get up a curious paper on the subject in the “Gardeners’ Magazine.

‘Very good; then mind you take care in planting of ’em, Lorquison, ’cos they’ve never been sown afore in this country.’

“Here Mr. Tibbs was taken with a violent fit of coughing, which, although he attributed it to the evening air, or the smoke going ‘the wrong way,’ my young eyes detected as the effect caused by a series of suppressed chuckles. My father, elated with the idea of his new acquisition, did not remark this.

‘Here’s my coach,’ said Tibbs, knocking the ashes out of his pipe.

‘Don’t forget the seeds,’ were my father’s last words as his guest departed.

“I believe my father scarcely slept all that night: he was never a sluggard, but on that Monday morning he was up earlier than ever, and working in his garden with a diligence worthy of ‘The old Corycian.’ He was clearing out a space of ground for the reception of the promised seeds.

“During breakfast he was in a perpetual state of fidget; the postman was late—stay—would it come by post—no, by carrier. At last, however, the postman did arrive, and delivered into my father’s hands, ready at the front gate to receive him, a small packet with a letter from Tibbs, containing an apology for having sent only twenty seeds, and pleading their value as his excuse.

“These twenty little wonders were quite round and very small, being, as it appeared to us, of a dark red colour.

“My father inspected them, and looked puzzled; smelt them, and said ‘humph!’ That ‘humph’ was portentous; even the stolid Tibbs would cease his chuckle at my father’s ‘humph!’

“Perhaps you know that all gardeners examine with a glass, and taste their seeds; my father was now about to go through this double process. He looked at them through his powerful microscope.

‘Why, surely—’ said my father, and took another survey. Something was wrong. ‘I do believe—’ he began, and then followed the trial by tasting. He smacked his lips and clicked his tongue against his palate—frowned—spat out the seed—bent down his head to the microscope, and then exclaimed: ‘Confound that Tibbs!’ I waited anxiously for what was to follow. ‘Seeds! Why he’s sent me the dried roe of a herring!

“I recollect how amused I was, as a child, at this practical joke of Tibbs’s. My father laughed heartily in spite of his vexation, and folding up the packet previous to putting it away in his private drawer, said quietly, ‘Very well, Mr. Tibbs,’ by which I knew that he intended to repay our Cockney friend in his own coin. He wrote, however, thanking Tibbs for his present, and that little gentleman, I have no doubt, retailed the joke to many a friend on ’Change, and began to look upon himself as the Hook of private life.

“But they laugh longest who laugh last.

“Three weeks after this, Tibbs met my father one Saturday afternoon in the City.

‘How’s Polly Hanthus?’ inquired Tibbs.

‘Well, thank you,’ replied my father. ‘Will you dine with me to-morrow?’

“Tibbs was not the man to refuse a good offer.

‘By the way,’ he slily asked, almost bursting with chuckles, ‘how about those seeds, eh?’

‘What seeds?’ asked my father, with an air of utter ignorance.

‘Oh, that won’t do!’ returned Tibbs. ‘I say, are they growing? ’Twan’t bad, was it?

“My father’s serious face prevented a burst of laughter in which his friend was about to indulge.

‘If you mean those seeds which you sent to me as a curiosity three weeks ago, I can only say, that they’re getting on capitally.’

‘Hey! what?’ exclaimed the alderman.

‘Well! I grant you that it is a lusus naturæ.’

‘O, indeed!’ said Tibbs, thinking that this might be the horticiultural Latin for a herring.

‘But come to-morrow, and you’ll see them yourself. Good bye!’

‘Very curious—very!’ murmured the bewildered Tibbs to himself, as my father hurried off.

“When my father returned to Islington on that Saturday night, he brought with him twenty red herrings.

“Tibbs, according to promise, dined with us on Sunday.

‘After the post-prandial pipe, you shall see how well your seeds are progressing.’

“Tibbs put his hands in his pockets and feebly smiled at my father’s words. He had tried during dinner to discover whether real seeds had been sent by some mistake, or the trick had been discovered. But my father began talking about sea anemones, prickly fish, jelly fish, of strange marine inhabitants that had the appearance of vegetables, and so on, till Mr. Tibbs saw but slight differenoe between a codfish and a fir-tree, and began to think his joke was not so good a one after all.

“Dinner finished, the pipe smoked, my father led the way down the garden-walk. He was enjoying himself immensely. Tibbs began to think of all the persons to whom he had told the excellent story of Lorquison and the Herrings, and repented that he had not given more of his time to the study of natural history. On he walked, following my father through rows of geraniums, pinks, bright roses, and marvellous tulips, until at length they arrived at a sequestered part, where, on a fresh dug bed, overshadowed by two fine laburnums, stood twenty inverted flower-pots arranged in four rows.

Mr Lorquisons Story.png

“Here my father stopped.

‘Now,’ said he, ‘you mustn’t be disappointed if they’re not so far advanced as you expected: but I think they’re getting on admirably, considering ’tis the first time they’ve ever been planted in this country.’

“Tibbs remembered his own words, and mumbled something about “first time—this country—who’d ha’ thought”—and looked very foolish.

‘There!’ said my father, lifting up the first pot. Tibbs caught sight of something beneath it.

‘Good gracious!’ he exclaimed, and put on his spectacles.

Sure enough there was the nose of a red herring just visible above the ground.

‘Cover it up, Tibbs, the cold air may hurt it,’ cried my father, who had been pretending to examine the other pots.

‘Here is a better one—it has had more sun:’ he pointed to one which he had just uncovered, whose eyes, just visible above the black earth, were looking up in the most impudent manner.

“Tibbs moved on silently: carefully did he replace the first pot, and with the gravest face imaginable examined all the herrings in turn.

‘They’re getting on well,’ said my father. ’Tis a curious sight.’

‘Curious!’ echoed Tibbs, regaining his speech, ‘It’s wonderful!! Sir,’ said he, taking my father aside in his most impressive manner, ‘I thought yesterday ’twas a joke; but I give you my solemn word of honour, that I shouldn’t have believed it, if I hadn’t seen it.

“Having given utterance to this remarkable sentence, he slowly turned on his heel and walked towards the house; my father following, with his handkerchief tightly pressed against his mouth.

“As for me, I stopped behind, and pulled up the twenty herrings one after the other; and when I returned to the house Mr. Tibbs had departed.

“Not bad, was it?”

F. C. Burnand

  1. See Vol. I. p. 542.