The String of Pearls/Chapter 9

IX Johanna At Home, and the ResolutionEdit

      Johanna Oakley would not allow Colonel Jeffery to accompany her all the way home, and he, appreciating the scruples of the young girl, did not press his attention on her, but left her at the corner of Fore-street, after getting a half promise that she would meet him again on that day week, at the same hour, in the Temple-gardens.
      'I ask this of you, Johanna Oakley,' he said, 'because I have resolved to make all the exertion in my power to discover what has become of Mr Thornhill, in whose fate I am sure I have succeeded in interesting you, although you care so little for the string of pearls, which he has in trust for you.'
      'I do, indeed, care little for them,' said Johanna, 'so little, that it might be said to amount to nothing.'
      'But still they are yours, and you ought to have the option of disposing of them as you please. It is not well to despise such gifts of fortune; for if you can yourself do nothing with them, there are surely some others whom you may know, upon whom they would bestow great happiness.'
      'A string of pearls, great happiness?' said Johanna, enquiringly.
      'Your mind is so occupied by your grief that you quite forget such strings are of great value. I have seen those pearls, Johanna, and can assure you that they are in themselves a fortune.'
      'I suppose,' she said sadly, 'it is too much for human nature to expect two blessings at once. I had the fond, warm heart that loved me without the fortune, that would have enabled us to live in comfort and affluence; and now, when that is perchance within my grasp, the heart that was by far the most costly possession, and the richest jewel of them all, lies beneath the wave, with its bright influences, and its glorious and romantic aspirations, quenched for ever.'
      'You will meet me, then, as I request of you, to hear if I have any news for you?'
      'I will endeavour to do so. I have all the will; but Heaven knows if I may have the power.'
      'What mean you, Johanna?'
      'I cannot tell what a week's anxiety may do; I know not but that a sick bed may be my resting-place, until I exchange it for the tomb. I feel even now my strength fail me, and I am scarcely able to totter to my home. Farewell, sir! I owe you my best thanks, as well for the trouble you have taken, as for the kindly manner in which you have detailed to me what has passed.'
      'Remember!' said Colonel Jeffery, 'that I bid you adieu, with the hope of meeting you again.'
      It was thus they parted, and Johanna proceeded to her father's house. Who now that had met her and chanced not to see that sweet face, which could never be forgotten, would have supposed her to be the once gay and sprightly Johanna Oakley? Her steps were sad and solemn, and all the juvenile elasticity of her frame seemed to be gone. She seemed like one prepared for death; and she hoped that she would be able to glide, silently and unobserved, to her own little bedchamber - that chamber where she had slept since she was a little child, and on the little couch, on which she had so often laid down to sleep, that holy and calm slumber, which such hearts as hers can only know. But she was doomed to be disappointed, for the Rev Mr Lupin was still there, and as Mrs Oakley had placed before that pious individual a great assortment of creature comforts, and among the rest some mulled wine, which seemed particularly to agree with him, he showed no disposition to depart. It unfortunately happened that this wine of which the reverend gentleman partook with such a holy relish, was kept in a cellar, and Mrs Oakley had had occasion twice to go down to procure a fresh supply, and it was on a third journey for the same purpose that she encountered poor Johanna, who had just let herself in at the private door.
      'Oh! you have come home, have you?' said Mrs Oakley, 'I wonder where you have been to, gallivanting; but I suppose I may wonder long enough before you will tell me. Go into the parlour, I want to speak to you.'
      Now poor Johanna had quite forgotten the very existence of Mr Lupin - so, rather than explain to her mother, which would beget more questions, she wished to go to bed at once, notwithstanding it was an hour before the usual time for so doing. She walked unsuspectingly into the parlour, and as Mr Lupin was sitting, the slightest movement of his chair closed the door, so she could not escape. Under any other circumstances probably Johanna would have insisted upon leaving the apartment; but a glance at the countenance of the pious individual was quite sufficient to convince her he had been sacrificing sufficiently to Bacchus to be capable of any amount of effrontery, so that she dreaded passing him, more especially as he swayed his arms about like the sails of a windmill.
      She thought at least that when her mother returned she would rescue her; but in that hope she was mistaken, and Johanna had no more idea of the extent to which religious fanaticism will carry its victim, than she had of the manners and customs of the inhabitants of the moon. When Mrs Oakley did return, she had some difficulty in getting into the apartment, inasmuch as Mr Lupin's chair occupied so large a o portion of it; but when she did obtain admission, and Johanna said, 'Mother, I beg of you to protect me against this man, and allow me a free passage from the apartment,' Mrs Oakley affected to lift up her hands in amazement as she said,-
      'How dare you speak so disrespectfully of a chosen vessel. How dare you, I say, do such a thing - it's enough to drive anyone mad to see young girls nowadays!'
      'Don't snub her - don't snub the virgin,' said Mr Lupin; 'she don't know the honour yet that's intended her.'
      'She don't deserve it,' said Mrs Oakley, 'she don't deserve it.'
      'Never mind, madam - never mind; we - we - we don't get all what we deserve in this world.'
      'Take a drop of something, Mr Lupin; you have got the hiccups.'
      'Yes; I - I rather think I have a little. Isn't it a shame that anybody so intimate with the lord should have the hiccups? What a lot of lights you have got burning, Mrs Oakley!'
      'A lot of lights, Mr Lupin! Why, there is only one; but perhaps you allude to the lights of the gospel?'
      'No; I - I don't, just at present; damn the lights of the gospel - that is, I mean damn all backsliders! But there is a lot of lights, and no mistake, Mrs Oakley. Give us a drop of something, I'm as dry as dust.'
      'There is some more mulled wine, Mr Lupin; but I am surprised that you think there is more than one light.'
      'It's a miracle, madam, in consequence of my great faith. I have faith in s-s-s-six lights, and here they are.'
      'Do you see that, Johanna,' exclaimed Mrs Oakley, 'are you not convinced now of the holiness of Mr Lupin?'
      'I am convinced of his drunkenness, mother, and entreat of you to let me leave the room at once.
      'Tell her of the honour,' said Mr Lupin - 'tell her of the honour.'
      'I don't know, Mr Lupin; but don't you think it would be better to take some other opportunity?'
      'Very well, then, this is the opportunity.'
      'If it's your pleasure, Mr Lupin, I will. You must know, then, Johanna, that Mr Lupin has been kind enough to consent to save my soul on condition that you marry him, and I am quite sure you can have no reasonable objection; indeed, I think it's the least you can do, whether you have any objection or not.
      'Well put,' said Mr Lupin, 'excellently well put.'
      'Mother,' said Johanna, 'if you are so far gone in superstition as to believe this miserable drunkard ought to come between you and heaven, I am not so lost as not to be able to reject the offer with more scorn and contempt than ever I thought I could have entertained for any human being; but hypocrisy never, to my mind, wears so disgusting a garb as when it attires itself in the outward show of religion.'
      'This conduct is unbearable,' cried Mrs Oakley; 'am I to have one of the Lord's saints insulted under my own roof?'
      'If he were ten times a saint, mother, instead of being nothing but a miserable drunken profligate, it would be better that he should be insulted ten times over, than that you should permit your own child to have passed through the indignity of having to reject such a proposition as that which has just been made. I must claim the protection of my father; he will not suffer one, towards whom he has ever shown his affection, the remembrance of which sinks deep into my heart, to meet with so cruel an insult beneath his roof.'
      'That's right, my dear,' cried Mr Oakley, at that moment pushing open the parlour door. 'That's right, my dear; you never spoke truer words in your life.'
      A faint scream came from Mrs Oakley, and the Rev Mr Lupin immediately seized upon the fresh jug of mulled wine, and finished it at a draught.
      'Get behind me, Satan,' he said. 'Mr Oakley, you will be damned if you say a word to me.'
      'It's all the same, then,' said Mr Oakley; 'for I'll be damned if I don't. Then, Ben, Ben, come - come in, Ben.'
      'I'm coming,' said a deep voice, and a man about six feet four inches in height, and nearly two-thirds of that amount in width, entered the parlour. 'I'm a-coming, Oakley, my boy. Put on your blessed spectacles, and tell me which is the fellow.'
      'I could have sworn,' said Mrs Oakley, as she gave the table a knock, with her fist - 'I could have sworn, sworn when you came in, Oakley - I could have sworn, you little snivelling, shrivelled-up wretch. You'd no more have dared to come into this parlour as never was with those words in your mouth than you'd have dared to have flown, if you hadn't had your cousin, Big Ben, the beef-eater from the Tower, with you.
      'Take it easy, ma'am,' said Ben, as he sat down in a chair, which immediately broke all to pieces with his weight. 'Take it easy, ma'am; the devil - what's this?'
      'Never mind, Ben,' said Mr Oakley; 'it's only a chair; get up.'
      'A cheer,' said Ben; 'do you call that a cheer? but never mind - take it easy.'
      'Why, you big, bullying, idle, swilling and guttling ruffian!'
      'Go on, ma'am, go on.
      'You good-for-nothing lump of carrion; a dog wears his own coat, but you wear your master's, you great stupid overgrown, lurking hound. You parish brought-up wild beast, go and mind your lions and elephants in the Tower, and don't come into honest people's houses, you cutthroat, bullying, pickpocketing wretch.'
      'Go on, ma'am, go on.'
      This was a kind of dialogue that could not last, and Mrs Oakley sat down exhausted, and then Ben said, 'I tell you what, ma'am, I considers you - I looks upon you, ma'am, as a female variety of that 'ere animal as is very useful and sagacious, ma'am.'
      There was no mistake in this allusion, and Mrs Oakley was about to make some reply, when the Rev Mr Lupin rose from his chair, saying,-
      'Bless you all! I think I'll go home.'
      'Not yet, Mr Tulip,' said Ben; 'you had better sit down again - we've got something to say to you.
      'Young man, young man, let me pass. If you do not, you will endanger your soul.'
      'I ain't got none,' said Ben; 'I'm only a beefeater, and don't pretend to such luxuries.'
      'The heathen!' exclaimed Mrs Oakley, 'the horrid heathen! but there's one consolation, and that is, that he will be fried in his own fat for everlasting.'
      'Oh, that's nothing,' said Ben; 'I think I shall like it, especially if it's any pleasure to you. I suppose that's what you call a Christian consolation. Will you sit down, Mr Tulip?'
      'My name ain't Tulip, but Lupin; but if you wish it, I don't mind sitting down, of course.'
      The beefeater, with a movement of his foot, kicked away the reverend gentleman's chair, and down he sat with a dab upon the floor.
      'My dear,' said Mr Oakley to Johanna, 'you go to bed, and then your mother can't say you have anything to do with this affair. I intend to rid my house of this man. Good night, my dear, good night.'
      Johanna kissed her father on the cheek, and then left the room, not at all sorry that so vigorous a movement was being made for the suppression of Mr Lupin.
      When she was gone, Mrs Oakley spoke, saying, 'Mr Lupin, I bid you good night, and of course after the rough treatment of these wretches, I can hardly expect you to come again. Good night, Mr Lupin, good night.'
      'That's all very well, ma'am,' said Ben, 'but before this 'ere wild beast of a parson goes away, I want to admonish him. He don't seem to be wide awake, and I must rouse him up.'
      Ben took hold of the reverend gentleman's nose, and gave it such an awful pinch that when he took his finger and thumb away, it was perfectly blue.
      'Murder, oh murder! my nose! my nose!' shrieked Mr Lupin, and at that moment Mrs Oakley, who was afraid to attack Ben, gave her husband such an open-handed whack on the side of his head, that the little man reeled again, and saw a great many more lights than the Rev Mr Lupin had done under the influence of the mulled wine.
      'Very good,' said Ben, 'now we are getting into the thick of it.'
      With this Ben took from his pocket a coil of rope, one end of which was a noose, and that he dexterously threw over Mrs Oakley's head.
      'Murder!' she shrieked. 'Oakley, are you going to see me murdered before your eyes?'
      'There is such a singing in my ears,' said Mr Oakley, 'that I can't see anything.'
      'This is the way,' said Ben, 'we manages the wild beastesses when they shuts their ears to all sorts of argument. Now, ma'am, if you please, a little this way.'
      Ben looked about until he found a strong hook in the wall, over which, in consequence of his great height, he was enabled to draw the rope, and then the other end of it he tied securely to the leg of a heavy secretaire that was in the room, so that Mrs Oakley was well secured.
      'Murder!' she cried. 'Oakley, are you a man, that you stand by and see me treated in this way by a big brute?'
      'I can't see anything,' said Mr Oakley; 'there is such a singing in my ears; I told you so before - I can't see anything.'
      'Now, ma'am, you may just say what you like,' said Ben; 'it won't matter a bit, any more than the grumbling of a bear with a sore head; and as for your Mr Tulip, you'll just get down on your knees, and beg Mr Oakley's pardon for coming and drinking his tea without his leave, and having the infernal impudence to speak to his daughter.'
      'Don't do it, Mr Lupin,' cried Mrs Oakley - 'don't do it.'
      'You hear,' said Ben, 'what the lady advises. Now, I am quite different; I advise you to do it - for, if you don't, I shan't hurt you; but it strikes me I shall be obliged to fall on you and crush you.'
      'I think I will,' said Mr Lupin; 'the saints were always forced to yield to the Philistines.'
      'If you call me any names,' said Ben, 'I'll just wring your neck.'
      'Young man, young man, let me exhort you. Allow me to go, and I will put up prayers for your conversion.
      'Confound your impudence! what do you suppose the beasts in the Tower would do, if I was converted? Why, that 'ere tiger we have had lately, would eat his own tail, to think I had turned out such an ass. Come, I can't waste any more of my precious time; and if you don't get down on your knees directly, we'll see what we can do.'
      'I must,' said Mr Lupin, 'I must, I suppose'; and down he flopped on his knees.
      'Very good; now repeat after me. I am a wolf that stole sheep's clothing.'
      'Yes; I am a wolf that stole sheep's clothing - the Lord forgive me.'
      'Perhaps he may, and perhaps he mayn't. Now go on - all that's wirtuous is my loathing.'
      'Oh dear, yes - all that's wirtuous is my loathing.'
      'Mr Oakley; I have offended.'
      'Yes; I am a miserable sinner, Mr Oakley, I have offended.'
      'And ask his pardon, on my bended -'
      'Oh dear, yes - I asks his pardon on my bended - The Lord have mercy on us miserable sinners.'
      'Knees - I won't do so more.'
      'Yes - knees, I won't do so more.'
      'As sure as I lies on this floor.'
      'Yes - as sure as I lies on this floor. Death and the devil, you've killed me!'
      Ben took hold of the reverend gentleman by the back of the neck, and pressed his head down upon the floor, until his nose, which had before been such a sufferer, was nearly completely flattened with his face.
      'Now; you may go,' said Ben.
      Mr Lupin scrambled to his feet; but Ben followed him into the passage, and did not yet let him go, until he had accelerated his movements by two hearty kicks. And then the victorious beefeater returned to the parlour.
      'Why, Ben,' said Mr Oakley, 'you are quite a poet.'
      'I believe you, Oakley, my boy,' said Ben, 'and now let us be off, and have a pint round the corner.'
      'What!' exclaimed Mrs Oakley, 'and leave me here, you wretches?'
      'Yes,' said Ben, 'unless you promises never to be a female variety of the useful animal again, and begs pardon of Mr Oakley, for giving him all this trouble; as for me, I'll let you off cheap, you shall only have to give me a kiss, and say you loves me.'
      'If I do, may I be -'
      'Damned, you mean.'
      'No, I don't; choked I was going to say.'
      'Then you may be choked, for you have nothing to do but to let your legs go from under you, and you will be hung as comfortable as possible - come along, Oakley.'
      'Mr Oakley - stop - stop - don't leave me here. I am sorry.'
      'That's enough,' said Mr Oakley; 'and now, my dear, bear in mind one thing from me. I intend from this time forward to be master in my own house. If you and I are to live together, we must do so on very different terms to what we have been living, and if you won't make yourself agreeable, Lawyer Hutchins tells me that I can turn you out and give you a maintenance; and, in that case, I'll have home my sister Rachel to mind house for me; so now you know my determination, and what you have to expect. If you wish to begin, well do so at once, by getting something nice and tasty for Ben's supper.'
      Mrs Oakley made the required promise, and being released, she set about preparations for the supper in real earnest; but whether she was really subdued or not, we shall, in due time, see.