Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 2/The science of matrimony - Part 2
THE SCIENCE OF MATRIMONY.
THE WANDERING JEW.
(Continued from p. 346.)
“At length I roused myself from my despondency, and looking at the old man, who had again filled his pipe, and was smoking moodily by the river’s bank, said:
“‘But how is it, Mysterious Being, that you are able to exercise so terrible a fascination over the minds of successive generations of young and beautiful females? Pardon me for the abruptness of my observation, but to my eyes, Jew, you are somewhat unlovely, and destitute of those personal attractions which in all ages have been supposed—’
“‘Ha, ha, ha!’ replied the Wanderer.
“‘—which have been always supposed, I say, to exercise a certain influence over the hearts of ladies. Is it not so?’
“The Jew cast a heavy purse up in the air, and catching it once, twice, and thrice, pronounced the word, ‘Shettlementsh!’ and relapsed into his tobacco dream.
“‘Jew!’ I said, somewhat sternly, ‘whatever my own sufferings may have been, I will not sit here, and hear the sex so maligned. I draw a broad line of distinction between the young girl and the grim matron conscious of her awful powers. What is the meaning of novels in three volumes, illustrative of the tender passion, if the scenes so eloquently described by the authors do not touch some responsive chord in the human heart? What is the use of Poetry?’
“‘Don’t know, and can’t shay,’ replied the Jew, ‘exshept it acts like gin. Werry likely so. But, ma tear, you’ve no notion of the amount of good bottled-up Proshe in de female bresht. It’s the men—worsh luck—who do the potry part of the biznesh. Do you shuppose now, ma friend, that when you’ve been sitting up at nights writin’ of verses, and that short of ting, that the young ’ooman they are meant for is doin’ the same?—not a bit of it. She’s having a tidy little shupper, or putting away her tings, or trying the new ponnet on before the glass—and a thinkin, that plue becomes her sweet pretty face petter than pink. And when Penjamin is valking up and down shnivelling in de shnow, to catch a look of his shveetheart’s shadow upon the vinda-blind, think you Sarah would like to join him in the shlop? She put her little feet on the fender—she wrap her fat white shoulders up in a silken gown—she purr into the red fire like a little kitten, and shay, “Ah, Penjamin catch such a cold—he’ll want so many pocket-ankerchers to-morrow, Penjamin will. How funny are de men!” That is the thought of the Hidden One.’
“‘Even so, Jew; but would you deprive men of the one small grain of consolation in their long and unhappy lives? Better to be self-deceived—better the terrible awakening—than not to have known the generous frenzy, the Divine Folly—if you will—of First Love!’
“‘Ach!’ replied the Wanderer. ‘So shays Ikey, even after the shad experiensh of 266 wives besides his tear Shalome!’
“As I hesitated what to reply, I was surprised to see the marks of deep feeling evinced by my strange companion. Hot tears rolled down his furrowed cheeks—he removed his pipe—and sang, whilst his thoughts were busy with the Past:
Oh! for the good old time
When Ikey in his prime
Sang a song of true love at his shveetart’s toor!
Love’s fever ran so high,
He thought that he must die,
Unless his sorrow’s burden on her buzzim he could pour!
He vos so shad,
But yet so glad,
The Jew vos!
Oh, for the good old time!
“‘Wanderer,’ I replied, ‘I respect your sufferings, but your verses are not worth much. Mean you then to tell me, as the result of an experience now spread over well-nigh nineteen centuries, that women are invariably, or even as a general rule, admitting but of few exceptions—mercenary?’
“‘You can gammon de young ’uns if dey have not been well prought up—but petween twenty and forty, ma tear, which is a woman’s real life, look to yourself in de pargain. They know the value of every yellow hair in their shweet heads to a fraction. Now you try it on: now just try. It’s what you can give them—where you can place them—they care for—not you. De hushband, ma tear, is just the fifth wheel in de hackney coach. Mind you musht never say this—it is one of the Jew’s shecrets, else they will call out: ‘Oh! de nashty, nashty man, and kickle at you—so.’
“‘But, Jew, I know of exceptions.’
“‘Aha! and I know of little shildren mit six legs and three heads in spirits of wine. Dere are some at Leyden.’
“‘Is it then a delusion from first to last? Why are our mortal frames impregnated with such a passion if it is destined but to lead us on from deception to deception, and terminate—as you give me cause, Jew, to apprehend—in eternal woe? For I would not have you ignorant of the fact—and I suppose that here I may breathe my secret in safety—that if I am destined to a more lasting union with my Caroline—I allude to Mrs. Robert Bircham—the prospect is not agreeable. Perhaps you can tell me, Wanderer, is suicide possible beyond the grave?’
“‘Don’t know, and can’t shay. I’ve tried it often enough, even here. I’ve chawed strychnine like sailors chaw ’bacco: I’ve quenched ma thirst with a cool pint of prussic acid: I’ve let off revolvers at my head—tied myself up to lampposts—thrown myself from de Monument at de foot of London Bridge—and skiffed over Niagara: but it was no use, ma tear, I always found a fresh woife a-vaitin for me at te pottom—for my punishment was not to cease.’
“‘Unhappy Being! But has not your long experience of the sex helped you to such knowledge as may enable you to live with them at least—in peace? The serpent-charmers of India handle the gilded but deadly snakes with impunity. Van Amburgh passed a tolerably peaceful existence amongst Royal Bengal Tigers, and Hunting Leopards. The untameable Cruiser in Mr. Rarey’s hands became gentle as a Quakeress. Surely eighteen centuries of continuous husbandry might have suggested some means of handling even such a sorrow as this?’
“‘Yesh—ma tear—if I could practishe what I could teach. I have a shecret which could make all husbands comfortable.’
“‘Oh! Jew, Jew—and will you let the knowledge die with you?’
“‘Tie mit me! Tie mit me! Ikey cannot tie—but if I gave it out at Charing Cross nobody would ever use it, ma tear. I cannot use it maself. I have made 266 mishtakes besides Shalome—and I shall make another yet to-night. Dat is my cursh. Most hushbandsh, I can tell you, have settled the question for life within a month of the ring-day. But see the moon is high—the pall is pegun—we must pe off, or the fairest partners will be engaged!’
“‘Partners, Jew!—Partners!’ I yelled, rather than spoke. ‘Before I “request the honour”—may my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth! May my hand be withered if I ever put on straw-coloured glove again! Let us rather go to the reptile-house in the Zoological Gardens, and have the pythons, and boas, and cobras out for a lark. Let us spend the night safely at least. Partners, Jew!—Partners!’
“‘Yesh! Partners—de pretty little tears is vaiting for de Old Jew. I feel again ma purple youth bubbling in my veins. How they glide about the floor, like sunpeams which have sucked the violet-peds dry—glancing here, and glancing there. How their soft white dresses fan my heart as they whirl by in the frenzy of the tance. How the touch of the yellow-haired Miriam drives the blood like a cataract back upon my heart!’
“‘By George! Ikey,’ I remarked, in amazement at the altered tone of my companion, ‘that’s rather strong. I think the best service I can do you, as a friend, is to get you locked up for the night at the nearest station-house, on a charge of being drunk and disorderly.’
“‘No, no! To de pall—let us go to de pall. Miriam is there—Miriam, whose yellow hair floats around her like a sunrise. This time there is no mishtake. She will be my comfort and my choy. She will make the old man amends for all his sorrows. I have made two hundred and shixty-shiksh mishtakes (beshides Shalome), but I have found my tove at last. The thought of her is pleasant to me as the thought of water in the Desert, or of the vine upon his cottage to the storm-tossed seaman off the Cape. To de pall!’
“It was clear to me that this hapless Being was again under the influence of the Curse. He was preparing for himself a fresh disappointment, and to add yet another to the two hundred and sixty-six rings which marked his previous failures in this direction. It was, however, idle to reason with him—perhaps the terrible thought of his lawful wife might yet avail.
“‘Jew!’ I said, ‘think of Salome! You have told me yourself that it was written in your destiny that she should join you to-night.’
“‘That for Shalome!’ replied the Wanderer, striking his staff violently upon the pavement. ‘I vill tear her hag’s limbs asunder! I vill put her between two feather-beds, and cast her into the Thames mud by the mouth of the Great Sewer! I vill tie her to the screw of an outward-bound steamer for New York! I vill—’
“‘But, said you not that there was a way by which you could get rid of her without resorting to measures which even I—husband as I am—must admit to be extreme?’
“The Jew paused in his frenzied demonstrations, and as he gazed at me his venerable but passionate lineaments were steeped in the moonlight. He then gave me two slow, deliberate winks, one with his left, the other with his right eye (not a feat easy of accomplishment), and added in his old way:
“‘Yesh, ma tear, I have de shecret which will free you from your eternal Caroline; but ve vos to teal after the pall, yes, to teal! Would you trick de poor old Jew out of his Secret?’
“Even in the very midst of his storm of passionate excitement, the poor old Hebrew’s cautious and bargaining spirit had not deserted him. I was again baffled and foiled. Before I had time to push the discussion any further, the old man had shouldered his pack, and moved away rapidly, with a yell rather than a cry of
“‘Klo! Klo! Any Old Klo?’
“I was still under the influence of the fatal spell, and was constrained to follow where he led. Through dull, monotonous piles of brick-work we passed along. We glided rapidly through streets where shell-fish appeared to be the sole sustenance of the inhabitants; indeed, as far as they were concerned, and from what I saw, I should be apt to name periwinkles as the staff of life. We passed out into more lighted quarters, where the inhabitants dealt in nautical instruments and glass beads. I could now comprehend how it was that the soft desires of the dwellers in the Polynesian Archipelago were satisfied. Establishments of considerable importance were devoted to the sale of barley-sugar—yellow and red; and a thriving business was evidently driven in mutton pies and cranberry tarts. We passed the establishment of Moses and Son—the Taj Mahal of this quarter. It was indeed a glorious vision, resplendent with floods of gaslight, while a banner from the top floated in defiance of all opposition. The strange thing was—as far as I could gather from a hasty glance which I cast that way, as I followed the Jew in his swift career—that there were no customers in the shop, although the fact is undoubted that the firm drive a thriving trade. Along other nameless streets we passed, sometimes in the gaslight, sometimes in the dark, until I became aware that we had become members of a gradually-increasing crowd, all advancing in one direction, and evidently intent rather upon thoughts of pleasure than of business. We came at last to the establishment where the Jews’ Ball was to be held. I had supposed that the beautiful beings who were the chief attraction of the place would have been mainly dark-haired, slim as palmtrees, and of appearance generally suggestive of an Eastern origin. It was not so. The prevailing figure was dumpy: the hair of the Jewish maidens most commonly light, and their complexion rather fair than dark. However much the eye might be satiated with Hebrew beauty, I cannot say that all senses were gratified as we entered the dazzling halls where dancing had already been kept up for a time with considerable spirit. It seemed to me also to be a somewhat unfortunate arrangement, that Jewish matrons in such numbers were present at the scene of enchantment—for who would care to pluck a rose-bud of Sharon if these were the full-blown flowers in their pride of bloom? I had not been long in the room before I noticed that, as of the fairer sex, so of the men, there were three or four types—and upon one or other of these few types they seemed to have been made by the dozen. There might be shades of difference distinguishable by more practised eyes than mine, but I could not make them out. The company, of both sexes, were for the most part decidedly of short stature. Another of the noticeable features of this entertainment was, that everybody danced and talked, and pranced and laughed with everybody—there was no exclusiveness in Houndsditch.
“It was not, however, to describe the ball that I went there. My other object is known to you all. Although I had darkly speculated on such an issue before as a possibility, yet I had now been absolutely informed by the Mysterious Jew, that unless I could obtain possession of a secret known to him alone, the tortures which I had endured, and was still enduring, upon earth, would be continued for ever. Eternal Caroline was before me, behind me, around me, above me, beneath me—everywhere Caroline! The Being who could deliver me was actually in the room—willing, as he said, to deal—in a few minutes I might be delivered from my burden, but my Deliverer seemed to be given up to the very toils from which I sought to escape. Yes! there he is, executing a dance, which bears to a common polka the relation which a hurricane bears to an ordinary breeze, and floating round him there is a net of yellow hair. In its silken meshes the Wanderer has been caught for the two hundred and sixty-seventh time. Hapless Being! his case is beyond the reach of art. I see it in the vulturelike look with which he devours the charms of the yellow-haired Miriam. It is an awful sight to see all that suffering, and experience, and wisdom subjugated—though but for an hour—by a foolish puppet, whom I or any bystander, not being in love with her, can easily enough perceive to be the ordinary mixture of coquetry and commonplace. Ah, Ikey, Ikey! when the dream has passed away, and you see her again with your pulse at 63°, you would as soon think of writing verses upon the slit in a Post-office, as upon what you now call her ruby lips: the silken tresses which delight you now will seem to you then but as a pound of tow: the accents which now fall upon your ear soft as the laughter of the angels, you will then deem senseless and irrelevant babble: and you will become painfully aware that her tiny feet would be better employed by the horticulturist for the purpose of keeping his gravel-walks in order, and for the destruction of insect life, than in trampling upon your poor old heart!
“I thought I would yet endeavour to save him for his own sake, and followed the pair about the room, trying to catch the eye of my aged friend. In vain: the Wanderer either would not brook interruption, or was in reality so entranced with the charms of his captivator, that he did not notice my well-intended attempts. By this time a change had come over the spirit of the music; in place of the mincing and mopping polka, with its emphatic beats, the orchestra struck up a galop, and poured forth a wild strain which seemed to rouse the dancers to madness. It went ill with the Jew—it went ill! The yellow-haired Miriam threw her head back upon her shoulder, whilst with nervous grasp he swept her through the crowd, pouring forth, as I conceived, wild protestations of affection the while. The lady was as cool as if she had been partaking of early shrimps at Gravesend, and could I am very confident, have instantly named the result arising from the arithmetical espousals of 7 and 9. What is this? She becomes more attentive. As they pass me by, I hear him hissing into her ear:
“‘Shixty—sheventy—a hundred tousand pounds? Would you have rupies? Would you have emeralts? Would you have tiamonts, Miriam of my shoul?’
“‘Not tiamonts, tear, but you. I hate de foolish young men.’
“‘I vill cover you mit gold, peautiful lily of the valley.’
“‘Ven you are mine, Ikey, life will be gold to me—but vere is your broberdy?’
“‘In Govermment shecurities, my wild kazelle. I am teep in Intian shtock.’
“‘Ikey of my heart! it shtands at 35 premium.’
“‘It does! it does! my mattening turtle-tove! Miriam of my poozum, you will be tenter mit de old man. I feel like a leetel shild. I vould veep and pour out gold in your lap, my yellow puttercup.’
“‘Do not veep, my Ikey—but ish it not funny, now? I vood have dat leetel ring—because, you know, it would come from you! Are the shtones real, Ikey—you would not tesheive your trusting Miriam?’
“These sentences had, of course, only fallen on my ear in a fragmentary way, as the enamoured couple swept past me in the dance. With the last words they stopped just in front of me, and the Wanderer drew from his gnarled finger a diamond ring, which he handed to the fair-haired Miriam, with the remark that it was worth eight hundred pounds. The lady put it to her lips in, as I supposed, graceful acknowledgment of the generosity of her aged lover. It was not so. I found that, by the application of her tongue to the gems, this invaluable young person was able in a moment to make a shrewd guess whether the diamonds were real or fictitious. The result of the test seemed to be satisfactory, for the tender Miriam’s eyes swam with affection whilst she pronounced the jewels to be ‘all right,’ adding that she doted on the dear old man with all the fresh warmth of her ingenuous and virgin heart. The Wanderer, overwhelmed with this proof of the young lady’s disinterested affection, blubbered like a child, and I almost feared that he would proceed to bless her in true patriarchal fashion. It was high time for me to interfere, so I tapped him on the shoulder, and said:
“‘Wanderer! what was it you told me by the river’s edge to-night whilst the stream flowed on? Such folly as yours might be excusable in ordinary men, but you have had 266 warnings. Wretched man, is all experience thrown away? There will be a terrible to-morrow to the frenzy of to-night.’
“In place of evincing any gratitude for my well-timed interference, the Jew turned on me with the fury of a wild beast at bay, and poured forth on my devoted head all the choicest vituperations of his picturesque vocabulary. The gentle Miriam called me ‘a nashty man,’ adding that I was but as dirt in the highway—indeed, I am not sure that she did not make use of a still more forcible expression. She would stamp upon me—she would tear my eyes out, and carry them to the ravens in Leadenhall Market. The Angel had become a Fury; but the Wanderer did not draw from the fact the necessary inference for his own security. At last he turned round in an emphatic way, and whispered some words, which I could not catch, in the ears of the bystanders. Was he giving instructions to have me conducted to the nearest pump? For the anticipated ducking I cared but little; but if I was forcibly torn away from his presence, what became of my chances of solving the great Caroline enigma—the sole object of my life? Well, if they attack me I suppose I must defend myself; but I am sadly outnumbered, and it seem just possible that some of the hook-nosed, beetle-browed, glass-eyed men around me are honorary members of the Prize Ring.
“To my great surprise I found, in place of the anticipated attack, a greeting from the crowd, who had gathered round me with so warm an interest that I was at a loss to comprehend its meaning. Every one would shake hands with me—the ladies claimed me as their partner for the ensuing dance—the gentlemen thrust upon me offers of liquor to an unlimited amount. Whatever may have been the words pronounced by the Wanderer, he had evidently succeeded in investing me with the character of an illustrious stranger—unless, indeed, all this seeming kindness was a mere mockery, and a prelude to violence. I knew not what to say; but at length threw myself on the protection of a portly Jewess covered with gold ornaments, who seemed to exercise some kind of authority amongst the crowd. I offered her my arm, which she accepted, and led me away to a distant part of the room, where six young ladies were standing together, of various degrees of corpulence, but all showily dressed—all covered with gold rings and collars, and all with the same keen, eager, Jewish look. To them, after a preliminary whisper from their mother, I was successively presented—Leah, Salome, Esther, Miriam, Sarah, and the little Keziah. How yellow and luscious they were!—how they fawned upon me, and flattered me—and pawed me! It was a similar scene to that which occurs in a West-End ballroom when a young Baronet, with a well-ascertained £20,000 per annum, and family diamonds, trusts himself amidst its fascinations—but in a grosser and more natural form. It was clear to me that there was some mistake—and the more so when the amiable lady who had contributed these six fair creatures to the common stock of humanity informed me, with a fat smile, ‘that her coot man Ephraim—Ephraim Moss—who was in my line, was eager to make my acquaintance, and to admit me to the joys of his family circle. There were pesides her three sons—Aaron, and Joseph, and Benjamin, who were panting to be friends with me!’ Whatever doubts I might have entertained as to the pursuits or amusements of many of the gentlemen present, there could be none that these three young gentlemen, either professionally or for their diversion, entertained habitual relations with the P. R. The gristle of Aaron’s portentous nose had been well smashed on to his face—Joseph Moss had lost one eye in his martial struggles—and so many of Benjamin’s teeth had been knocked down his throat, that his speech amounted to little more than a kind of slobbering whistle. The three brothers were short and bow-legged—and the biceps muscle in each was most formidably developed. I received from them three friendly but terrible grasps, as the result of which my right arm was actually paralysed. What could it all mean? In vain I protested that, however gratified I felt by the attention of this amiable family, I was quite unconscious of doing or being anything which gave me a right to their kindness. It was of no use. Joseph winked at me with his one eye—Aaron put his finger to his broken nose, and Benjamin standing in the attitude of a bull-dog ready for work, whistled out ‘I was shly—werry shly—but it was always coot to be shly in pizziness.’ So far from losing in his esteem the young gentleman actually assured me that I was the gainer by my reserve. I was forced into a seat between the fat Leah and the fatter Esther—Salome and Miriam toyed with my watch-chain, and asked me “what prishe those coots fetched at Vienna?’ whilst sweet Sarah (I can state, with some confidence, that the young lady must have weighed at least fourteen stone) asked me ‘if I had a shveethart in Germany?’—and the little Keziah pulled my hair, as she thought, playfully, but the tears started into my eyes with pain. Aaron stood on guard behind me on one side, and Joseph on the other, whilst young Benjamin was in front, and had effectually cut off my retreat. Mrs. Moss meanwhile leered lovingly at this touching family scene. Where was it all to end? Alas! I was soon to receive information upon the point.
“An old Jew—a thin Jew—a small Jew—a Jew with spectacles—a most ill-looking, and abominable Jew was soon seen hurrying to the corner of the room where I was toying in silken dalliance with this galaxy of Hebrew fair ones. No sooner had he cast his eyes upon me than he called out:
“‘An imposhtor! An imposhtor! ma tears. That ish not Ishaak—de son of my old friend Isshacar Grunne, de great rag-merchant of Vienna, who is coming to England to take him a woife. An imposhtor, ma tears, a very apominable imposhter inteet. Avay mit him, poys!’
It was idle for me to protest my innocence of all complicity with the deception in which I had borne so prominent and so innocent a part. The young ladies in chorus protested that I had told them jointly and severally that I was Isaac Grunne, and when I ventured to controvert, or contest the statement in the most delicate manner, Aaron hit me a blow behind which sent me staggering into Benjamin’s arms. ‘Did I call his shisters liars—a low peasht!’ Benjamin hit me back! ‘What did I mean by tumbling up against a shentleman?’ Joseph hit at me right and left, without wasting any time in preliminary observations. In the twinkling of an eye I was hustled and pummelled to the head of the staircase. I saw there seated on a bench the Wanderer with the fair-haired Miriam reclining upon his breast, and playfully counting the contents of a purse with which, as I presumed, he had just presented her. I had not, however, much time for observation. There had been a pause, during which Aaron held me by the collar—Joseph had taken up a position a little below on the first landing—his brother Benjamin descended to the second, which was only divided by a straight flight of steps from the street. When these preparations were completed, there was a cry—
“‘Go a’ed, Haaron!’
“—and a kick. I flew into space—and then a kick; I flew further into space—a third kick, and yet further; but this time I was landed in the street, and there were no more kicks. Three such, indeed, were enough for the lifetime of any man.
“Even in the midst of my unmerited sufferings I resolved not to lose sight of the great object of my visit to the ball. What were these kicks, after all, so that I procured for myself immunity from the presence of Mrs. Robert, when I had shuffled off this mortal coil?
“I took up my station in an archway which commanded a view of the entrance of the scene of festivity, for surely at length the Wanderer would come forth with his 267th Bride, and I would summon him to keep his word, and reveal the Secret.
“I watched for hours, and at length my patience was rewarded. I saw the Ancient Man step forth into the light with the fair-haired Miriam on his arm. He was bending over and arranging her shawl round the delicate form of the Hebrew Maiden, lest the night-wind should blow on it too roughly. They paused in expectation, and the Wanderer looked down the street. It was borne in on my mind that he was waiting for a cab. There followed the rumble of wheels which announced the approach of the vehicle in question. Now, or never, was my Time. I advanced to where the Mysterious Being was standing. He regarded me with a benevolent smile, a contrast to his behaviour during the Ball when I had endeavoured to save him—but in vain—from the talons of the hunting Leopard who was now bearing him off to her den.
“‘Young man,’ he said at length, in solemn tone, ‘you meant me vell—and perhapsh I vosh hard upon you. Never you meddle mit true-love knotsh again—but now I vill tell you the shecret vithout revard. Yesh! it ish true—vunsh married—alvaysh married. The Fatal Ring binds you to all time, and throughout Eternity, unlesh—but I vill put you, my love, firsht into de cab.”
“It was strange. The top of the cab was piled high with luggage, and as the Wanderer was about to open the door, the fattest and oldest Jewess—as I think the world ever saw—put her face to the window, and said:
“‘Ikey, don’t be a fool! Come along home mit me!’
“‘Shalome, ma tear, Shalome!’
“‘Don’t be a fool, Ikey, come along!’
“Never shall I forget the look of horror in the Wanderer’s face, whilst he continued to pour forth the expressions of welcome, and winked at me—the traitor!—to offer my arm to the yellow-haired Miriam.
“‘Shall I take a sheat by de triver, ma tear? You are shtout, and in good case; there may not be room for both inshide.’
“The lady threw open the door, and beckoned the Wanderer in. He obeyed with a passive frozen obedience. The eyes of the ancient Jewess were indeed awful as she glared at us in the moonlight. But when the Wanderer had squeezed into the cab, and the lady had pronounced the terrible word—‘Home!’ driven to despair, I rushed to the window, and clasping my hands in wild entreaty exclaimed:
“‘The Secret, Jew, the Secret!’
“Scarcely had the words passed my lips, when I became aware that a portentous female hand and arm were thrust from the window of the cab, and I received a box on the ear worthy of such an instrument. I fell senseless to the ground.
“When I recovered my senses it was grey morning, and I was lying indeed on the pavement in a remote street near the river—but of the Wandering Jew, or his awful consort, I have never been able to recover a trace.
“Was it reality? Was it a dream? Is Caroline my fate for ever?—for ever?”
THE G.C. CLUB AGAIN.—3.45 A.M.
There was a short silence when Gloomy Bob had brought his sad history to a conclusion. The Club was puzzled. On the whole the general idea was that our friend had been the victim of some strange delusion, to be accounted for by the magnetic influences which had been so long playing round his nervous system. He persisted, however, in his statements, and mentioned the exact spot where he found himself when he awoke from his strange stupor, or swoon. His watch and purse were both gone, and surely, as he well remarked, these could not have disappeared solely by spiritual agencies. It had always been his opinion that the fair-haired Miriam had removed them from his possession lest they might fall into dishonest hands, and had been unable to return them on account of the difficulty about the address. On the other hand, the bulk of the Members were distinctly of opinion that the peripatetic Phantom, known under the name of the Wandering Jew, was the mere creation of the superstitious imagination of the Dark Ages. Would it be pretended that the Flying Dutchman—a similar instance—was merely a Hollander in connnbial difficulties, ever out on one cruising ground or another in order to avoid his placens uxor? More than this, the supposition involved in the eternity of the connubial tie—so at least the majority appeared to think—was so absurd as to disprove itself. The usual result of argument followed; Gloomy Bob was confirmed in his own opinion:—the Club, the same. Our poor friend was left to his despondency, and to the awful anticipation of an eternal Caroline. However, where was medicine to be found for this diseased mind?
The hour had now arrived when the G.C.’s—like so many ghosts in so many Hamlets—must return to their penitential fires. The jollity had become ghastly. There was a kind of reckless tone about the final orders given to the Acolytes which did not seem to be indicative of tranquil minds. A brief consultation was held as to the best method of commencing the great national undertaking which the Club had taken in hand. Each Member would, of course, contribute his own mite of connubial information to the common stock, and when these materials were before the Committee, they would take counsel as to the best method of utilising them for the common benefit. It was, however, clear that yet more definite results would follow, if the Committee would investigate in a philosophical spirit—the origin, rise, and progress of the British Matron. What of Boarding Schools for Young Ladies? Surely that was a subject of sufficient importance to deserve the most anxious investigation. The Chairman, Mr. Brown, was of opinion that if the suggestion received the approval of the Members, it would be well if he and another Member of the Committee were at once to betake themselves to Helmston, as it was a well-ascertained fact that that delightful watering-place was the chosen training-ground, where not only the thews and sinews of the future British Matron were strung and knitted for the impending struggle—but there it was that at the Finishing School she received the last instructions from the ablest Professors of the science of husband-taming. The undertaking was surrounded with difficulties; for how was the deputation to gain access to these establishments, guarded as they were by the vigilance of the sternest and most experienced Duennas in the civilised world? Should Mr. Josiah Meek,—the only Member of the Committee, besides the Chairman, who at this moment could effect his escape from the conjugal domicile—be instructed to apply for the situation of Buttons at one of these institutions? He was a small, whiskerless husband, of boyish appearance, although at bottom a very sad dog. Should Mr. Brown who, on the other hand, was a gentleman of the most fatherly and portly appearance, present himself boldly before the Principals, alleging that three nieces had been consigned to his charge, from Australia or British India, with instructions to place them in some establishment where their tastes would be cultivated and refined—their minds disciplined in those useful arts which constitute the stock of female education in this country—but, above all, where scholastic training was combined with the comforts of a home? Every member had his suggestion—and these suggestions were so numerous and so various that the G. C.’s were at last driven to the conclusion that all points of detail must be left to the direction of the two gentlemen who had undertaken this anxious duty, when present on the spot.
These matters being settled there was a rising—and a shuffling. The members stood round in a circle with their pipes in their mouths, and made a miserable intonement in grand chorus of the old song of “Sweet Home”—but when they came to the famous passage of—
“Through pleasures and palaces, where’er we may roam,
Yet go where we can, there is no place like Home,”
how they did wink at each other to be sure. The curtain falls for awhile. The famous G. C. Club is but as the baseless fabric of a vision to the general world.
A strong breeze from the south-west incommoded the promenaders on either cliff in this romantic watering-place on the morning which followed the night on which had occurred the disgraceful orgies which we have feebly endeavoured to commemorate. From Tadmor Square to the Pie-House—from the Pie-House to Jones’s Drain, where the gusts were most tremendous—from Jones’s Drain to the Jetty—from the Jetty to the Blockade Station, the wind reigned supreme, and tyrannised over the drapery of the fair beings who were not to be deterred by the eventualities of an untoward gust from gladdening the hearts of the human race by the brightness of their presence. What fascinating Spanish hats secured by veils dexterously tucked under dainty chins! What suggestions from Balmorals surmounted by petticoats of brilliant red! How the fair creatures were flattened one way as they walked east, and another as they struggled west! How the unprincipled boatmen endeavoured to decoy the visitors into their nauseating craft, under the wicked pretext that now or never was the time for a sail! How squadrons of long-suffering horses trotted up and down, mounted by angelic beings of every age, and—may I say?—volume! How solemn and reserved was the aspect of the riding-masters, careful of their important charge! How the young gentlemen jogged each other as they fought their way along the Esplanade, and exchanged jokes with reference to the various members of the angel-interest whom they passed as they were were clutching hold of their Mandarin hats! How sailors carried huge cod-fish about with their fingers in the gills—and how the stout nurses thrust the perambulators, heavy with babies, over the corns of testy old gentlemen, who did not keep their tempers! What a pleasant day it was at Helmston!
Such incidents are common to many watering-places; but about Helmston there is one peculiarity. Just as you see gangs of seafaring men about Portsmouth or Plymouth—or long columns of gloomy, unwholesome-looking youths in black costume, threading their way like files of black beetles about the streets of Rome—or groups of artillery men at Chatham—in the same way the distinctive feature of Helmston at certain hours of the day is the solemn promenade of the “Boarding Schools for Young Ladies.” How confidentially the taller and more charming creatures in front of these flying columns are conversing together! How the middling-sized ones gabble! How the smaller and youngest recruits appear to be poking fun at the passers by! How the two governesses behind—one probably a French lady (accompanied by a more favoured parlour-boarder, who seems old enough and imposing enough to have an affair of the heart upon her hands already)—cast glances of mild reproof at the horrid Light Dragoons, who allow their incendiary glances to fall for a moment upon their timid flock! How strong they are in their weakness—and what a lot they always seem to have to talk about! Are the Doves pecking at a poor Assistant Governess?—or indulging in rosy dreams of the Future—when more permanent dolls are delivered over to their mercies? It is difficult to found any theory upon such scraps of conversation as a hasty man can pick up, with all his ingenuity. Stand intently gazing at the gyrations of the sea-gulls, or walk back fast, as if you had forgotten your pocket-handkerchief, and all you will gather from the lips of the fair and youthful Vestals in frilled trousers will be such scraps as “I’m sure I told Miss—” or “Oh! Mary Jane, you naughty!” Surely a Cuvier in the Social Sciences would be puzzled to re-construct the entire fabric of these beautiful young lives from such meagre fragments as these.
Boarding School Helmston was out emphatically for an airing! Amongst the various schools, the pupils in charge of the Misses Fitzchauncey were distinguished by their general correctness of demeanour and the variety of their accomplishments. The establishment was situated in Metropolis Crescent, and united in itself the two functions of the ordinary seminary and the finishing school. The seminary was out a-walking. The finishing school was at home. The finishing school never walked in its public capacity. The finishing pupils were six in number. They went out for airings in carriages when they had mastered the exceedingly difficult art of getting into one. A fly was kept in the back-yard for their instruction in this matter—just as the model ship has been set up behind Greenwich Hospital for the benefit of the young sailors. Then they had regular rides on horseback with a riding-master all covered over with military medals in attendance;—and professors of callisthenics, and music, and dancing, and water colours, and poetry, and the exact sciences, were never out of the house. But when all this was done, little was done. It was for her tutelage and education of the latent energies and capabilities of the female mind that Miss Harriet Mountchauncey, the elder of the two sisters, was so widely celebrated. The professors instructed the young ladies in the various arts and sciences, but Miss Harriet Mountchauncey fitted them for empire.
I love precision in all things, and so here are the names of the six finishing pupils with a few marginal notes.
- Miss Sophia Sparrow, 16 years of age, short, plump, auburn-hair, restless, and given to the fidgets; parents, eminent solicitor and lady—resident in Dorset Square.
- Miss Theresa Tilly—tall, languid, dark-hair—tendency to thrust her left shoulder out of her dress—exceedingly indisposed to early hours; romantic in appearance—bnt in truth as matter of fact as a Dutch cheese. An orphan—Guardian, Mr. Thomas Jago, of Montague Place.
- Miss Selina Tender—fair, blue-eyed, sentimental—her mother—widow of a General Officer, resident at Cheltenham—reluctant to receive her daughter home. The fair Selina spent a large portion of her existence in tears, and read more novels on the sly than any young lady of her age.
- Miss Jane Sprott—stout—underhung—cast in her sweet eye—a romp—a distressing girl—full of practical jokes, and with a soul equal to apple-pie beds—neither dark nor fair—nothing particular about her appearance but the points named.
- Pretty Lucy Trimmer—the despair of Miss Harriet Mountchauncey—from a hopeless simplicity of character, which, as that lady frequently told her, would eventually prove her ruin.
- Letitia O’Rourke—such a specimen from the County of Roscommon—dark-browed—black-hair, and plenty of it—blue eyes—frank; and generally gushing, but with brogue enough to knock you down. How she did despise Sophy Sparrow—a low girl!
Miss Harriet Mountchauncey had summoned the bevy of fair young creatures to her private room—and as the day was windy—and unpropitious, as this lady was pleased to observe for the display of the more delicate capabilities of the sex—she proposed to put them through a course of General Fascination. Then they were to be required to answer Examination Papers, the result of Miss H. M.’s long experience of human life—but just as she had begun with—
“Ladies, my dear pupils, are delicate creatures—unlike that rough and disagreeable creature man—whose subjection, however, should be the daily and hourly object of their lives. Their sensibilities are extreme. Their feelings, like the unpremeditated harmonies of the vocal songstress of the leafy woods——”
A tap was heard at the door, and a Being—was it a man?—was it a boy?—was it the Talking Fish in the Page’s costume?—entered the apartment with a note in his hand!!! and offered it to Miss Harriet Mountchauncey’s acceptance. That lady instantly assumed the demeanour of a Judge who has put on the Black Cap.
“Caspar! how often have I told you—how often must I tell you again, that all epistolary communications addressed to a lady, and delivered into the hands of a lady by a man-servant”—(words would fail to express the calm intensity of contempt with which Miss H. M. pronounced these last words)—“must be brought under her notice upon a silver vehicle. Nor does it alter the case that the billet, or poulet, note, or letter is sent from a lady to a lady. The masculine hand is equally impure. The lady equally requires the protection of the silver vehicle. Caspar, I will not see that you have that letter in your hand. I will not be aware of its existence, until it is submitted to my inspection on the proper vehicle. Begone, sir,—you know your duty!”
The anomalous Caspar stumbled out of the room upsetting a chair in his way—an accident which elicited from Miss H. M. a triumphant “There! There!” When the door was closed upon him, Miss H. M. continued to improve the occasion:
“Ladies, my beloved pupils are sacred things—physically weak; but, morally, of tremendous power. In your future establishments be careful to surround yourselves with all the protection that the graceful majesty of etiquette can throw around you. Treat, for example, such a painful incident as the one we have just witnessed as what it really is—a treasonable act against feminine dignity. The Spanish Court in old days knew the value——”
Here Caspar re-entered, bearing the note upon a huge silver salver. Miss H. B. removed it contemptuously from the vehicle, and, with a quiet “Wait,” proceeded to inform herself of its contents.
“I see, my dear young friends, that a person is about to call at Mountchauncey House with the view of seeking admission to its precincts for three young ladies—his (the person’s) nieces. I must leave you for a brief space in order to receive the person in a suitable way. During my absence, my sweet loves, you will employ your time in throwing upon paper your ideas of how 1200l. per annum—a paltry stipend indeed!—can be best employed for securing the felicity of a family.”
Miss Mountchauncey disappeared, leaving Caspar still standing in the middle of the room with the silver salver in his hand. The odd thing was, that although dressed in a page’s dress, Caspar, upon closer inspection, proved to be a man of middle-age—perhaps more. He was without whiskers, his collar was turned down, and tied with a ribbon. The Mountchauncey livery was bottle-green, and the Mountchauncey buttons upon Caspar’s uniform were innumerable. There was a strange seriousness about his face: he had seen, known, and suffered much. For the half minute after Miss Mountchauncey had quitted the room the young doves remained unfluttered; but when it might reasonably be inferred that there was no chance of her return, how they started up, and swarmed about Caspar like young butterflies! How playfully, with the exception of sweet Theresa Tilly, they pulled his hair! and how Sophia Sparrow applied a bottle of salts to his nose! and how, when poor Caspar was in the act of sneezing, Jane Sprott tilted the silver vehicle out of his grasp! Poor Caspar was fairly driven beside himself at this last outrage, and said:
“Ugh! you tiger-cats, let me go, or I’ll wop some of you. If the gentlemen out of doors only knowed half as much as I do about you, precious few of you would be conducted to the haltar!”
Chorus of doves. “We’ll tell, we’ll tell.”
Caspar. “Tell the old girl as much as you like. Do you think she’d find another full-growed man to put on these togs—one who hates you all as I do—eh? I only stops here to plague you—and if ever I goes avay, it’ll be to set up as a lady’s hundertaker!” Gamma.