A BAD EGG.
We men and women are, after all, little better than a set of puppets fastened together by a concatenation of unseen wires, so that when one puppet begins dancing at A, another pirouettes at B, which may be ten thousand miles away. The sentiment conveyed in the above apothegm is neither new nor profound, but it is forcibly suggested by the circumstances hereinafter narrated.
Know, then, that in a certain year—no matter when—a dreadful murrain desolated the poultry-yards of the province of Vologda, in Russia. I don’t know whether it was the pip, or the roup, or the gapes, or something quite different to any of these diseases; suffice to say that old Ivan, Count Cochinski’s head-labourer, grew quite stiff in the back from stooping to pick up the dead fowls, for no sooner did he go to one end of the yard to gather up the defunct, than he was summoned by half-a-dozen bodies in the opposite direction. Now, if there was one thing that Count Cochinski liked better than another, it was a new-laid egg. A simple natural taste, you will say, and one easily to be gratified by a wealthy Muscovite nobleman. I grant you, in ordinary times; but this was an extraordinary epoch, when the chickens were playing hazard for their very lives, and were a great deal too nervous and excitable to think of laying any eggs. So Monsieur Crêvecœur, the count’s French cook, was at his wit’s end, and, I suspect, by the event that followed, laid in a stock of those kind of eggs which we see in the cheesemonger’s shops labelled twenty-four a shilling and not warranted.
At all events, one morning as the Count was seated at breakfast (he was a widower) surrounded by his blooming family, and supported at the other end of the table by the English governess, a most estimable lady, of superior birth and irreproachable principles, who had conducted his half-dozen daughters through the whole of Carl Czerny’s hundred-and-one pianoforte exercises with brilliant success, not to speak of other accomplishments: as the Count was seated thus, he suddenly exclaimed in a voice of thunder, which made the glasses on the sideboard ring again, “Send Crêvecœur hither!”
In a few minutes, clad in the white robes of his sacred profession, the high priest of the kitchen appeared, bowing reverently.
“Crêvecœur!” said the Count, displaying an unmistakeable specimen of addledom, “how is this? A bad egg at Count Cochinski’s table!”
“Oh! your highness,” exclaimed the cook, with an insinuating grimace, and a bow so profound, that the Count was enabled to see the nape of the professor’s neck, “that egg was not intended for your highness, it was intended for Madame, the governess.”
The governess darted one withering look of scorn at the Frenchman, gathered up her voluminous skirts, and rushed from the table. There had for long been a smouldering feud between herself and Crêvecœur, but this crowning insult was a declaration of open battle. So she retired to her chamber and composed an eloquent letter, in French, addressed to the Count, the purport of which was that either she or the cook must go, and she hinted politely, in conclusion, that she did not much care which. The fact was that Madame was tired of being frozen up six months of the year, and having scraped together a nice little independence, was anxious to return to her ancestral Upper Holloway. The Count read the letter and pondered. There were many governesses in the world—there was but one Crêvecœur. Madame was somewhat exacting in temper, besides being well stricken in years. The girls were well grounded now in their Czerny, and he should like somebody a thought prettier and younger at the other end of his long table. So Madame departed, and Crêvecœur stayed. Well, the Count thought he also would take a trip to England for the sake of enjoying our delightfully mild winter, and picking up a fresh instructor of his children. The Czar was graciously pleased to grant him permission to travel, and he accordingly proceeded to London. Now you will see how the bad egg in Vologda affected the Reverend Reuben Fowler, curate of Chickenhampstead, Yolkshire.
Reuben was a tall, thin, shambling sort of fellow, whose long legs seemed perpetually apologising for their lengthiness by knocking against each other. He was a quiet youth of simple, contented habits, and was satisfied to do all the parochial work of Chickenhampstead on seventy pounds a-year; while the absentee rector lived in clover at Bath (where he drank the waters for an apoplectic affection), and discharged his conscience of any twinges it might feel by preaching a sermon, once a-year, when he came down for his tithes, and sending Reuben a turkey at Christmas.
Reuben was an orphan, without a near relation in the world, except one sister, and his cup of joy would have been filled to overflowing if that sister had come to live with him. In his collegiate dreams (he was educated at Saint Shells’, a remote provincial college,) he had always pictured Leonora sitting in the snug curacy cottage pouring out the tea, or smiling at him over her embroidery, while he put the finishing touches to his Sunday’s sermon.
But it was ordained otherwise. Leonora was a good-looking young lady, with a trim figure, bright complexion, and glossy black curls. Now natural attractions are set off by dress—Leonora was fond of dress—and as dress costs money, which was a scarce commodity under Reuben’s roof, Leonora preferred going as governess into the family of Sir John Rooster, where she could afford to dress well, and could also be seen when dressed. There she was made quite a pet of. The young ladies loved her like a sister; she talked politics with Sir John, after dinner, to perfection; she flirted with the heir of the house, who was in the Coldstream Guards, when he came down for the hunting season—in short, Lady Rooster, a most amiable woman, troubled with perennial tic-douloureux, became quite uncomfortable about it; and it must have been at her instigation—for I know the daughters shed floods of tears, and Sir John was as sulky as a bear for three weeks after—that Count Cochinski made such dazzling offers to Miss Leonora Fowler, when he came to stay with the Roosters, that she closed with him at once.
One day Reuben received a letter, of which the following is a true copy:
Hatcham Lodge, March —, 18—.
My dearest Reu,—You darling old poky thing! I can just picture you now, going down the village, with your umbrella under your arm, to call on Widow Drum, that old lady who is so distressingly deaf that you have to shout to her as if you were hailing a ship. A ship did I say? That brings me to my news, which I won’t put, as horrid men declare we do, all in the postscript. My dear Reu, I am going among the Russian bears. Only think of it! Doesn’t it make you shiver? That great land of ice-palaces, fir-forests, wolves following the sledges, knouts, &c. But I can’t believe Count Cochinski is a Tartar. He is a most gentlemanlike man, speaks English with, oh! the least possible accent, and so young-looking; he has a daughter of eighteen, and looks only thirty-five!! He is very handsome, with small black mustachios (I never know how to spell that word). We sail from London for Hamburgh, as the Baltic is exceedingly dangerous at this season. I think Lady Rooster has (entre nous) behaved rather ungratefully, after all I have done for those darling girls, but I will not dilate on my private griefs. I will rather remain, ever
Your loving Sister,
P.S.—After all, I must have a horrid postscript. I cannot go to London alone. I shall be utterly distracted with so many boxes, &c. You, dearest, must come too. It will do you good. You have actually never been to London. Write, like a darling brother, and say you will meet me at Eggleton Junction, on Wednesday morning next, for the 11.34 up-train (am I not commercially accurate?).
Reuben was a model brother, and met his sister at Eggleton. While he was waiting for the train, and setting his watch by the station-clock, the glass fell out, and was broken to pieces on the pavement. There was a quarter of an hour to spare, so he ran off to a watchmaker’s in Eggleton. The proprietor of the shop was out, but would be in in a minute, so the boy said. Reuben waited and waited, but the watchmaker did not come, so he left his watch in the shop, consoling himself with the thought that it was safer there than in his pocket amid the roguery of London. At last the train arrived, and a lovely face, set in a charming bonnet, smiled upon him from one of the carriage-windows. The commercial traveller opposite envied Reuben that resounding kiss. The loving pair reached London without adventure, and drove straight to Clucking’s Hotel, a hostelrie described in the advertisements of Bradshaw as being within five minutes’ walk of the Colosseum, the Bank of England, and all the theatres. Mr. Clucking probably labours under some optical delusion. The evening was spent by Leonora in making sundry purchases of a feminine character, which dipped so deeply into her purse that she begged her brother to discharge the hotel bill, promising early remittances from Russia. The Chanticleer was advertised to sail on the following morning, and at ten o’clock, on that eventful day, Reuben and his sister went on board. Count Cochinski, who was calmly pacing the quarter-deck, received Miss Fowler with cordiality, and her brother with lofty civility. Reuben soon began to find himself de trop. The Chanticleer showed no signs of speedy departure, but kept blowing off her superfluous steam in a recklessly extravagant manner, and receiving into her interior more barrels of porter than Reuben conceived all the English in Hamburg could drink in a twelvemonth. Leonora retired below, where, aided by the officious stewardess, she began to unpack her boxes and arrange her cabin. The Count continued to pace the deck in silence, so Reuben amused himself for awhile watching the cargo being taken in. Here, however, he was perpetually getting in the way, heavy chests were slung with a “By your leave, sir,” on to the deck within an inch of his toes, until at last, the second mate, an over-worked person, with a dirty pocket-book in his hand, asked if he was a passenger, and upon Reuben’s replying in the negative, said he’d better clear out of the gangway, if he didn’t want to do himself a mischief. The bewildered curate retired precipitately into the cabin to bid his sister farewell.
“Then you’ll pay the hotel bill, dear brother?” said she in the course of their parting words. “Have you money enough?”
“Oh yes, I’ve the whole of my quarter’s pay, seventeen pounds fifteen,” he replied. “I wonder the waiter let us go without paying.”
“But you’re to sleep there to-night,” rejoined Leonora: “besides, you look such a respectable old dear, they’d trust you anywhere.”
With a final embrace, and a formal bow to the Count on deck, Reuben took his departure.
Which of the sights of London should he go and see? was his next consideration. He hailed the first omnibus that passed, determining to settle the question there, as being a place of comparative solitude and seclusion. Two young ladies charitably contracted their crinolines, and allowed Reuben to plunge down between them. After he was fairly settled in his seat, he glanced shyly at his fair neighbours. Both were elegantly dressed and nice-looking. One was a brunette, something like Leonora; the other was a mild, placid, innocent-looking blonde, who sat with her eyes cast down, and her neatly-gloved hands clasped together, the image of a modern Madonna. Reuben was a prudent young man, and took the opportunity of being in such respectable company to examine his pocket-book. The contents were “in order,” as commercial men say. He folded the two sovereigns and the half-sovereign into the three five-pound notes, putting five shillings into his waistcoat pocket for casual expenses, as his other money had been exhausted by cabs and porterage, then replaced the notes and gold in his pocket-book, which he carefully lowered into the breast-pocket of his overcoat. In Cheapside the brunette got out, followed immediately by the blonde lady. Reuben proceeded as far as Charing Cross, where he alighted, and commenced sight-seeing in earnest. He visited the Polytechnic and Zoological Gardens; made one or two trifling purchases in the Pantheon, and then stared into innumerable shop windows, besides assisting at sundry out-door exhibitions. He witnessed hairs, selected from the heads of promiscuous street boys, cut in two by a razor sharpened with diamond dust; he beheld grease-stains removed from coat collars with magical rapidity; he saw the Caoutchouc family form a human pyramid, so that the topmost member was enabled to survey the internal economy of a third floor in Rupert Street, Haymarket; he admired the skill of the starving artists (expelled from the Royal Academy by the jealousy of the Hanging Committee) who draw fish and moonlight scenes in chalk on the street pavement; finally, about five, p.m., he found himself in the Strand again, somewhat tired and very hungry: suddenly a face passed him in the throng, which he thought he knew. He looked back; the face looked back, too, and was staring at him over its shoulder. Another minute, and a mutual recognition and shaking of hands took place. Jack Dorking was delighted to meet his old College chum, Reuben Fowler. Sooth to say, they had not been very intimate at College, for the current of Jack’s career had run too rapidly to please the professors in that abode of learning; in short, Jack had been looked upon as a black sheep, and got rid of in a summary manner. But what did it matter? On a stranger in London, lonely and desolate amid the unsympathising crowd, an old familiar face beams with surpassing brightness; in other and humbler language, Reuben was very glad to see Jack, and they agreed to dine together. The curate’s economical mind suggested a modest eating-house, where a reasonable dinner could be obtained for about eighteenpence ahead, but the ambitious soul of Jack Dorking scorned the suggestion.
“My dear fellow,” said he, “you’re my guest to day, and we’ll have a really nice little dinner together. Besides, are you aware,” he continued solemnly, “that at these ‘slap-bangs,’ as they are termed, from the feverish method of thumping down the dishes adopted by the jaded waiters, the anchovy paste is entirely composed of red lead and brick-dust, the soup is derived from the carcases of cab horses (the proprietors contract for those which die in the street), while a Newfoundland dog licks the plates clean, and will, in due course of time, when he has ‘shuffled off this mortal coil,’ appear in those very plates, whose purity he formerly so faithfully maintained, in the shape of haricot mutton. Now here,” said; he, as they entered the portals of a magnificent saloon, ornamented with plate-glass, gilding and evergreens in elegantly-designed vases—“here you will dine as sentient beings gifted with stomachs and palates ought to dine.”
Let us look at Jack Dorking while he is ordering an elaborate little dinner. He was a well-dressed, rather good-looking fellow, except that his features—especially his nose—were somewhat swollen and inflamed. This may possibly be owing (I throw out the suggestion for the benefit of Dr. Letheby) to the metropolitan fogs, as I have often observed the same appearance in medical students and others, after some years’ residence in London. Jack had a restless, wandering eye, and a habit of looking so suddenly over his shoulder at some imaginary object, as rather to discompose Reuben’s tranquillity. He began dinner with a glass of Cognac brandy, which his temperate companion thought was putting the cart before the horse. As the repast proceeded, Jack swallowed a good deal of wine, and became extremely lively. He recalled to Reuben’s memory numerous College pranks, and imitated the old Principal of Saint Shells’ so admirably, that Reuben burst into a fit of uncontrollable laughter. The noise of his mirth attracted several pairs of eyes to their table, which made Reuben blush. Among the persons who gazed with more than usual intensity at them, Reuben observed two well-dressed gentlemen with high features, and a profusion of rings and jewellery. They whispered together, then one of them rose, and advancing to the table, touched Jack Dorking lightly on the shoulder. Reuben thought the stranger must have established contact with the galvanic battery he had that day seen at the Polytechnic, or else that he was the electrical eel himself in a frock-coat; for as soon as Jack raised his eyes to see who touched him, an involuntary shudder pervaded his person, and he sprang up from the table. A few hurried words, in a low tone of voice, passed between Jack and his mysterious acquaintance; then saying to Reuben, “I shall be back in half-an-hour, old fellow—I must settle this outside;” he left the saloon, closely followed by both his bejewelled friends. Reuben stared in silent astonishment—he could not tell what to make of it—he looked at the waiter, and saw him smile significantly to another waiter, who grinned pantomimically in return. The waiter was less obsequious than he had been, as he brought the cheese, and entered into conversation.
“Nice weather for the time of year, sir?”
“Yes,” answered Reuben, “the young wheat’s looking well.”
“Come from the country, sir?”
“Yes. My first visit to London.”
“Oh, indeed, sir. Friend from the country, sir?”
“H’m—no,” replied Reuben.
“Called away—very particular business—just now, sir?”
“I suppose so. I have no idea on what business.”
“Oh, sir. Coming, sir!” answered the waiter, retiring in obedience to a totally imaginary summons from another part of the room.
“I don’t like the looks of it,” he whispered in confidence to the head waiter: “he’s either precious green or precious deep.”
After the lapse of some minutes, Reuben began to grow exceedingly uncomfortable. The half-hour had elapsed, and there was no sign of Jack’s re-appearance. The waiter brought him the bill. This proceeding seemed to attract the notice of the other attendants in an unaccountable manner. Three or four of them hovered round the table. Reuben opened the bill and read the amount—seventeen shillings and sixpence!
“Waiter!” he said in a tremulous voice, “I—I—you can’t expect me to pay this. The other gentleman——”
The circle of attendants drew ominously closer.
“Sir,” said Reuben’s waiter, in a voluble, not to say insolent manner, “when two gents comes in and eats a dinner, and one gent walks off, the other gent pays the bill. That’s law, isn’t it?” said he, appealing to the head waiter.
“That’s the usual thing, sir,” the head waiter politely explained to Reuben, washing his hands with an imaginary cake of soap.
Just then one of the jewelled gentlemen entered the dining-saloon, walked straight up to Reuben’s table, and placed a letter in his hand. He opened it, and read thus:
My dear Fowler,—An unforeseen accident, arising out of the petty malignity of a retail tradesman, prevents my rejoining you at dinner. Would you therefore kindly settle the bill, and if, in recollection of our old happy days at Saint Shells', you could advance me a ten-pound note, the bearer of this missive, Mr. Levison, will take charge of it, and I will repay you on Monday next. No—I like to be particular—on Tuesday next. My remittances will then have reached me.
Your faithful old chum,John Dorking.
This letter, which was dated from a street in the neighbourhood of Chancery Lane, Reuben read with feelings of indignation. “He’s a bad fellow,” thought he, “claiming assistance on the score of a college intimacy which never existed. However, I must buy my knowledge of the world, I suppose, and this seventeen and sixpence is the beginning of my purchases.” Reuben then dismissed Mr. Levison by informing him that there was no reply to the letter he had brought, and proceeded to discharge his bill. The first step necessary to this end was to take out his pocket-book. He accordingly thrust his hand into the breast pocket of his coat. There was no pocket-book there! Pale with anxiety and flurried with excitement, he searched pocket after pocket unavailingly. In examining his coat he found that a perpendicular slit had been made through the cloth with some sharp instrument, and the valuable contents abstracted.
Reuben threw himself back in his chair, and covered his face with his hands. When he ventured to look up, the circle of waiters pressed closely and threateningly around him, backed by the various faces of half the customers in the saloon.
“Waiter,” at length he said in a broken voice, “I’ve been robbed; I’ve no money but this,” producing from his waistcoat pocket a threepenny piece and twopence in coppers. “Where is the master of this place?”
“I am the proprietor,” said a stout gentleman with an authoritative voice.
“Look here, sir!” exclaimed the unfortunate Reuben, “this morning when I left the steam-wharf I had seventeen pounds ten shillings in my pocket—what am I to do?”
“That’s what I want to know,” said the proprietor. “I can’t afford to pay rent and butcher’s bills and find gentlemen dinners gratis.”
“Do you believe my intentions were honest?” inquired Reuben.
“I don’t know anything about your intentions,” retorted the host. “The proverb says, ‘Birds of a feather, &c.,’ and I know you came here in company with a man who was arrested for debt as he left the house.”
“This letter will prove to you,” said Reuben, handing Jack Dorking’s epistle to the landlord, “that the writer considers me a fool rather than a rogue.”
The proprietor read the letter, knitting his brows, and said in a softened voice:
“Hum, well I don’t know, the whole thing may be a dodge. Have you no article of value you can leave as security—your watch, for instance?”
“Unfortunately I left my watch to be repaired in the country, and I never wear rings,” replied the unlucky Reuben, spreading out his hands.
The landlord’s brow darkened. He said:
“I’ve been victimised too often this way. Charles” (to Reuben’s waiter), “fetch a policeman.”
Reuben entreated the landlord to pause a few minutes while he related his adventures, beginning with a short sketch of his birth and education to the moment when he found himself moneyless and unable to pay for his dinner.
“Well, sir,” said the landlord, “I hardly know what to say. It’s a very unpleasant predicament for all parties. However I won’t proceed to extremities. Charles, take this gentleman over to Clucking’s hotel, and see if you can arrange anything there.”
“You won’t object to my taking your arm, sir?” said the waiter, as soon as they got outside. “It looks more gentlemanly, and don’t excite observation.”
Reuben complied unhesitatingly, although he found that walking arm-in-arm with a bare-headed waiter in low shoes, through the Strand on a chilly March evening, did excite a good deal of comment; but waiters are an extraordinary race of beings, with a chronic aversion to hats.
They reached that celebrated hotel of five-minutes’-walk notoriety, and asked for Mr. Clucking. He was in his inner sanctum—a handsome room well-furnished with books and pictures. Mr. Clucking did not answer in the least to Reuben’s preconceived notions of a landlord; being tall, thin, and youthful, with elaborately drooping whiskers, and a languid manner.
Reuben explained the purport of his visit.
“Ya—as,” said Mr. Clucking, “it’s a very nasty thing, to be sure, to have your pocket picked. Very cleverly done too,” continued he, examining Reuben’s coat, “upon my word. Well, sir, what can I do for you in the matter?”
“I thought.” stammered Reuben, “you would pay this man’s claim, and charge it in the bill.”
“Ya—as, a very nice, pleasant arrangement,” pursued Mr. Clucking; “but don’t you perceive, my dear sir, that you would only be transferring the difficulty to my shoulders? Anthony!” he exclaimed in a brisk business voice, quite opposed to the drawling Bond Street manner he had hitherto adopted. “Anthony!”
“Sir,” replied a withered elderly man with a pen behind his ear.
“Let me look at this gentleman’s account. Let me see” (to Reuben) “what number, sir?”
“Fifty-one and fifty-two,” replied Reuben.
“Hum, hum,” murmured Mr. Clucking over the bill, “five and four’s nine, and five’s fourteen: your bill amounts already to one pound one and six. You’ve had a private sitting-room, sir?”
“Yes,” said Reuben.
“May I ask what luggage you have?”
“Only a small carpet-bag.”
“Then the lady who was with you, removed all her boxes without discharging the bill.”
“Certainly,” said Reuben. “It was never asked for.”
“Anthony,” exclaimed Mr. Clucking, in his severest City voice, “never let this occur again. When parties remove their luggage, parties must settle their accounts.”
Anthony murmured a humble assent to this doctrine, and shuffled away.
“Well, my dear sir,” continued Mr. Clucking, relapsing into the West-end, “as I said before, it is an awkward affair. I should telegraph to my friends,” he continued, subsiding into a chair, and using a tooth-pick.
“What friends?” asked Reuben, naïvely.
“Oh! that’s your own affair. I merely throw out a suggestion.”
“I don’t know whom to apply to,” exclaimed the ill-starred curate, clasping his hands. “I wouldn’t have Sir John Rooster know it for the world. Then the rector—he’s a close-fisted, hard man. I might try old Bantam, the clerk, though I doubt if he has the cash by him. Stay!” he said, as his eye suddenly lighted on a London Directory which lay on the table. “To think that I should forget William Cox, my dearest friend at college. He went into the medical profession and settled in London. Would you allow me, sir?” he said to Mr. Clucking, stretching out his hand for the Directory.
“Certainly,” said Mr. Clucking, calmly regarding Reuben from behind his toothpick with an air of quiet amusement, not unmixed with keen observation. The fact was, that Mr. Clucking could not make up his mind whether Reuben was a real greenhorn or a rogue simulating simplicity, though his knowledge of the world inclined him to the former belief.
“Cox—Cox—Cox—Cox,” muttered Reuben, running his finger down the page devoted to the tolerably prolific clan of that ilk. “I have it,” he exclaimed in triumph, “William Cox, M.R.C.S., Alector Villas, Bayswater. Mr. Clucking, if you will advance the funds necessary to pay for a cab, I shall be able to settle with everybody.”
“May I ask in return,” replied the landlord, “for the key of your carpet-bag?”
Reuben handed it to him.
“Now what shall I find in this bag, sir? But stay, Anthony shall examine it.”
Anthony returned in a few minutes, and reported that the bag with its contents, if pledged at a pawnbroker’s, might fetch about twelve-and-six.
“Take a cab,” said Mr. Clucking, in the same tone of voice as when the judge says “Take a rule.” “And you fellow, from what’s-his-name’s in the Strand, go with him.”
Mr. Clucking then lit a cigarette and took up a novel.
Reuben Fowler and Charles the waiter grew quite communicative in the cab. The spirits of the former were buoyant at the prospect of a speedy extrication from all his difficulties, while the latter, foreseeing that a private bonus to himself would probably be the result of the settlement, strove to make himself as agreeable as possible. The doctor’s house in Alector Villas was easily discernible by the red lamps, and the door was swiftly opened as doctor’s doors are wont to be.
“Mr. Cox at home?” asked Reuben.
“Yes, sir,” said the footman; “what name, sir?”
“Oh! say an old friend, a clergyman. I’ll give him an agreeable surprise,” whispered he to Charles.
The doctor upstairs was not in so good a humour as men are generally supposed to be in after dinner. He had just read a slashing review in the “Forceps” of his new work on gutta percha as a prophylactic agent and he had also received a very heavy bill from his wife’s milliner. So he entered his consulting room in somewhat ill-temper.
Reuben had left Charles the waiter in the hall. He was staggered at the alteration in his college friend’s appearance. Little more than six years had elapsed, and his head had become bald, while one of the attributes of Shakspeare’s fifth period in human life had destroyed what used to be a handsome figure.
“Your business, sir?” said the doctor, bowing stiffly.
“Your name is William Cox?” inquired Reuben.
“It is, sir,” answered the doctor.
“William Cox, do you recollect your old college friend?”
“I have had a good many college friends, I do not at this moment recognise you.”
“Can it be my William Cox?” murmured Reuben. “But it must be. He settled in London as a doctor. My dear Cox,” he continued, “will you assist your old friend Fowler in a small matter? I have had the misfortune to be robbed, and I require a small loan—”
“John!” exclaimed the doctor in a stentorian voice.
The footman promptly appeared.
“John,” said the doctor, “show this person the door. How dare you, sir, a perfect stranger, come here to demand money of me? At this time of night, too; eight o’clock! I believe it’s an organised attempt at robbery. So, sir,” he continued, perceiving Charles the waiter seated in the hall, “you’re his accomplice, are you?”
“Then you were never at Saint Shells’ College?” asked Reuben.
“Never, sir,” shouted the doctor. “Never, sir.”
“Well, it’s a mistake, that’s all,” replied Reuben mildly; “you need not put yourself in a passion. I’m very sorry, I’m sure.”
“And I’ll trouble you not to call names,” said Charles the waiter. “I never was an accomplice in my life, nor before a magistrate, which is more than—”
Here the door was violently slammed upon them, thereby putting an end to the altercation.
The return trip in the cab was performed in gloomy silence. Reuben was sunk in the depths of despondency; Charles the waiter was sulky with disappointment, while the epithet “accomplice” rankled in his bosom. As soon as the cab arrived at the hotel, he took Reuben tightly by the arm, and led him into Mr. Clucking’s private room.
“Well, what success?” said that gentleman.
“Reg’lar sell, sir,” answered the waiter, sulkily. “Instead of advancing the money, Mr. Cox shoved us out of the house, and called me a foul name, which I’ll make him pay for.”
“Well, Mr. Fowler,” said Mr. Clucking, “and what do you say?”
“I can only say,” sighed poor Reuben, “that it was an unlucky mistake. We went to the wrong Mr. Cox.”
“And I fear,” replied Mr. Clucking, “that I’ve got the wrong Mr. Fowler. Now, sir,” continued he in his City voice, “this is a serious matter. You run up a bill at an hotel, you have an expensive dinner at a restaurant, and then you’ve no money, no references, no anything. And look here, sir,” said Mr. Clucking, taking up the evening paper, and reading aloud, ‘We understand that the police are actively engaged in endeavouring to trace the whereabouts of a person who has lately succeeded in committing several extensive hotel robberies. The party suspected is about thirty years of age, tall, dark complexioned, and frequently assumes the dress and appearance of a member of the clerical profession.’ Anthony!” shouted Mr. Clucking.
“Fetch a constable. Now, Mr. Fowler, I don’t wish to do anything unpleasantly, but I should prefer a magistrate adjudicating in your case. There, you can read the description in the paper.”
“Hurrah! hurrah!” shouted Reuben, after glancing at the paper for a few moments. “I am saved! my character is saved!” And the poor fellow sunk into a chair, and fairly blubbered with excitement.
“The man’s crazy, I do believe,” said Mr. Clucking. “Never mind the policeman, Anthony. Hang it, I’ll let the poor devil go.”
“I am not mad!” exclaimed Reuben, recovering his excitement. “Read this.”
Mr. Clucking read among the shipping news: “‘Chanticleer, s.s. for Hamburgh, fouled her screw in Gravesend Reach, and has returned to London for repairs.’ How does that affect you?”
“A great deal,” answered Reuben. “My sister is on board—governess to Count Cochinski.”
“Count Cochinski! Why that accounts for that Frenchman turning up again this evening. He wished me good-bye last night. Anthony, my compliments to Monsieur Crêvecœur, and if he’s in the billiard room, I shall be happy to speak to him.”
In a few minutes Anthony returned, ushering in a little gentleman with a closely-cut beard and moustache, attired in a pea jacket and straw hat, à l’Anglaise.
“Why, Crêvecœur, my dear friend,” said Clucking, “I did not recognise you in that rig.”
“Ah, my friend,” replied Crêvecœur, with a shrug, “what better shall I vear? I reserve my white cap and apron for the kitchen; I array myself in my paletôt and varnished boots for the Boulevards; behold me now, attired for your filthy steam-vessels.”
“Well, Crêvecœur, I suppose you are sorry to return to our barbarous island?”
“What else can I call a country,” smiled the Frenchman, “where they have pockets to their billiard tables?”
Mr. Clucking laughed. He then said, “Crêvecœur, what is the name of the Count’s governess?”
“Ah, ah, you naughty man, you Clucking; you are married man; you want to know; I shall tell Mistress Clucking.”
“I want to know seriously. This gentleman, her brother, is in a difficulty.”
“You her brother!” said Crêvecœur, with a profound bow. “I salute you as brother to the most lovely, enchanting young lady these eyes have seen. Clucking, I must have a bottle of wine: we will drink the health of Miss Leonora Fowler.”
The name at once satisfied Mr. Clucking as to the identity of his unlucky guest; and as Crêvecœur remembered to have seen him with his sister on board the Chanticleer, all former disagreeable occurrences were speedily forgotten. Mr. Clucking paid Charles, the waiter, the amount of his master’s bill, with a douceur for himself, and the remainder of the evening was passed by all parties pleasantly enough.
Count Cochinski was staying with his suite at Mivart’s Hotel. Thither Reuben proceeded on the following morning, and received a loving embrace from Leonora, into whose willing ear he poured a recital of all his sufferings on the previous day.
“You dear old thing,” she said, “and it was all through my dragging you up from your quiet curacy to naughty London! How fortunately it has happened that that horrid screw should break when it did. And you shall not lose the money, for the Count will lend it me.”
“Yes, I am sure he will. He is so kind. Oh, you can’t think how kind he was going down to Gravesend: if he had been my husband he could not have been more attentive.”
“Perhaps he will be one of these days,” said Reuben, slyly.
“You naughty Reu, to talk so to a poor governess,” said Leonora, blushing scarlet. “However, I will ask him.”
In twenty minutes she returned in triumph with a slip of paper in her hand. It was a cheque for twenty pounds on a London banker, signed by the Count’s secretary and countersigned by himself.
Reuben’s prophecy came true. In six months from that time Leonora became the Countess Cochinski. When the engagement was first made public, Crêvecœur felt it deeply. He had conceived an intense though secret passion for Leonora, and for several weeks was so affected as to be unable to perform his culinary duties. He had hoped to wed her himself, and display her charms to the eyes of envious neighbours in his native Burgundy. On the eve of the marriage, however, he said to himself, sternly, “Crêvecœur, no weakness;” and then suddenly arousing his gigantic energies which had slumbered so long, he achieved a series of artistic triumphs in cookery such as will long be remembered in the province of Vologda.
After this happy event, Reuben’s tall figure has several times been seen at the dinner-table of the Russian Embassy in London, and it is whispered that through the influence of the ambassador representing that puissant power, he has lately been presented to the rectory of Eggleton.
I may mention in conclusion, that a fashionably-dressed young lady, “well known to the police,” and styled by them “the Madonna,” from her resemblance to a celebrated picture, was lately convicted at the Central Criminal Court of picking pockets in omnibuses. She was provided with a pair of false arms, the hands of which reposed meekly clasped upon her knees, while her real digits were actively engaged in searching the coats and dresses of her neighbours.
Thus have we shown how curiously human events hinge upon one another, and traced Leonora’s title and Reuben’s rectory to a Bad Egg.