TOWN AND TODGER’S
Surely there never was, in any other borough, city, or hamlet in the world, such a singular sort of a place as Todgers’s. And surely London, to judge from that part of it which hemmed Todgers’s round and hustled it, and crushed it, and stuck its brick–and–mortar elbows into it, and kept the air from it, and stood perpetually between it and the light, was worthy of Todgers’s, and qualified to be on terms of close relationship and alliance with hundreds and thousands of the odd family to which Todgers’s belonged.
You couldn’t walk about Todgers’s neighbourhood, as you could in any other neighbourhood. You groped your way for an hour through lanes and byways, and court–yards, and passages; and you never once emerged upon anything that might be reasonably called a street. A kind of resigned distraction came over the stranger as he trod those devious mazes, and, giving himself up for lost, went in and out and round about and quietly turned back again when he came to a dead wall or was stopped by an iron railing, and felt that the means of escape might possibly present themselves in their own good time, but that to anticipate them was hopeless. Instances were known of people who, being asked to dine at Todgers’s, had travelled round and round for a weary time, with its very chimney–pots in view; and finding it, at last, impossible of attainment, had gone home again with a gentle melancholy on their spirits, tranquil and uncomplaining. Nobody had ever found Todgers’s on a verbal direction, though given within a few minutes’ walk of it. Cautious emigrants from Scotland or the North of England had been known to reach it safely, by impressing a charity–boy, town–bred, and bringing him along with them; or by clinging tenaciously to the postman; but these were rare exceptions, and only went to prove the rule that Todgers’s was in a labyrinth, whereof the mystery was known but to a chosen few.
Several fruit–brokers had their marts near Todgers’s; and one of the first impressions wrought upon the stranger’s senses was of oranges — of damaged oranges — with blue and green bruises on them, festering in boxes, or mouldering away in cellars. All day long, a stream of porters from the wharves beside the river, each bearing on his back a bursting chest of oranges, poured slowly through the narrow passages; while underneath the archway by the public–house, the knots of those who rested and regaled within, were piled from morning until night. Strange solitary pumps were found near Todgers’s hiding themselves for the most part in blind alleys, and keeping company with fire–ladders. There were churches also by dozens, with many a ghostly little churchyard, all overgrown with such straggling vegetation as springs up spontaneously from damp, and graves, and rubbish. In some of these dingy resting–places which bore much the same analogy to green churchyards, as the pots of earth for mignonette and wall–flower in the windows overlooking them did to rustic gardens, there were trees; tall trees; still putting forth their leaves in each succeeding year, with such a languishing remembrance of their kind (so one might fancy, looking on their sickly boughs) as birds in cages have of theirs. Here, paralysed old watchmen guarded the bodies of the dead at night, year after year, until at last they joined that solemn brotherhood; and, saving that they slept below the ground a sounder sleep than even they had ever known above it, and were shut up in another kind of box, their condition can hardly be said to have undergone any material change when they, in turn, were watched themselves.
Among the narrow thoroughfares at hand, there lingered, here and there, an ancient doorway of carved oak, from which, of old, the sounds of revelry and feasting often came; but now these mansions, only used for storehouses, were dark and dull, and, being filled with wool, and cotton, and the like — such heavy merchandise as stifles sound and stops the throat of echo — had an air of palpable deadness about them which, added to their silence and desertion, made them very grim. In like manner, there were gloomy courtyards in these parts, into which few but belated wayfarers ever strayed, and where vast bags and packs of goods, upward or downward bound, were for ever dangling between heaven and earth from lofty cranes There were more trucks near Todgers’s than you would suppose whole city could ever need; not active trucks, but a vagabond race, for ever lounging in the narrow lanes before their masters’ doors and stopping up the pass; so that when a stray hackney–coach or lumbering waggon came that way, they were the cause of such an uproar as enlivened the whole neighbourhood, and made the bells in the next churchtower vibrate again. In the throats and maws of dark no–thoroughfares near Todgers’s, individual wine–merchants and wholesale dealers in grocery–ware had perfect little towns of their own; and, deep among the foundations of these buildings, the ground was undermined and burrowed out into stables, where cart–horses, troubled by rats, might be heard on a quiet Sunday rattling their halters, as disturbed spirits in tales of haunted houses are said to clank their chains.
To tell of half the queer old taverns that had a drowsy and secret existence near Todgers’s, would fill a goodly book; while a second volume no less capacious might be devoted to an account of the quaint old guests who frequented their dimly lighted parlours. These were, in general, ancient inhabitants of that region; born, and bred there from boyhood. who had long since become wheezy and asthmatical, and short of breath, except in the article of story–telling; in which respect they were still marvellously long–winded. These gentry were much opposed to steam and all new–fangled ways, and held ballooning to be sinful, and deplored the degeneracy of the times; which that particular member of each little club who kept the keys of the nearest church, professionally, always attributed to the prevalence of dissent and irreligion; though the major part of the company inclined to the belief that virtue went out with hair–powder, and that Old England’s greatness had decayed amain with barbers.
As to Todgers’s itself — speaking of it only as a house in that neighbourhood, and making no reference to its merits as a commercial boarding establishment — it was worthy to stand where it did. There was one staircase–window in it, at the side of the house, on the ground floor; which tradition said had not been opened for a hundred years at least, and which, abutting on an always dirty lane, was so begrimed and coated with a century’s mud, that no one pane of glass could possibly fall out, though all were cracked and broken twenty times. But the grand mystery of Todgers’s was the cellarage, approachable only by a little back door and a rusty grating; which cellarage within the memory of man had had no connection with the house, but had always been the freehold property of somebody else, and was reported to be full of wealth; though in what shape — whether in silver, brass, or gold, or butts of wine, or casks of gun–powder — was matter of profound uncertainty and supreme indifference to Todgers’s and all its inmates.
The top of the house was worthy of notice. There was a sort of terrace on the roof, with posts and fragments of rotten lines, once intended to dry clothes upon; and there were two or three tea–chests out there, full of earth, with forgotten plants in them, like old walking–sticks. Whoever climbed to this observatory, was stunned at first from having knocked his head against the little door in coming out; and after that, was for the moment choked from having looked perforce, straight down the kitchen chimney; but these two stages over, there were things to gaze at from the top of Todgers’s, well worth your seeing too. For first and foremost, if the day were bright, you observed upon the house–tops, stretching far away, a long dark path; the shadow of the Monument; and turning round, the tall original was close beside you, with every hair erect upon his golden head, as if the doings of the city frightened him. Then there were steeples, towers, belfries, shining vanes, and masts of ships; a very forest. Gables, housetops, garret–windows, wilderness upon wilderness. Smoke and noise enough for all the world at once.
After the first glance, there were slight features in the midst of this crowd of objects, which sprung out from the mass without any reason, as it were, and took hold of the attention whether the spectator would or no. Thus, the revolving chimney–pots on one great stack of buildings seemed to be turning gravely to each other every now and then, and whispering the result of their separate observation of what was going on below. Others, of a crook–backed shape, appeared to be maliciously holding themselves askew, that they might shut the prospect out and baffle Todgers’s. The man who was mending a pen at an upper window over the way, became of paramount importance in the scene, and made a blank in it, ridiculously disproportionate in its extent, when he retired. The gambols of a piece of cloth upon the dyer’s pole had far more interest for the moment than all the changing motion of the crowd. Yet even while the looker–on felt angry with himself for this, and wondered how it was, the tumult swelled into a roar; the hosts of objects seemed to thicken and expand a hundredfold, and after gazing round him, quite scared, he turned into Todgers’s again, much more rapidly than he came out; and ten to one he told M. Todgers afterwards that if he hadn’t done so, he would certainly have come into the street by the shortest cut; that is to say, head–foremost.
So said the two Miss Pecksniffs, when they retired with Mrs Todgers from this place of espial, leaving the youthful porter to close the door and follow them downstairs; who, being of a playful temperament, and contemplating with a delight peculiar to his sex and time of life, any chance of dashing himself into small fragments, lingered behind to walk upon the parapet.
It being the second day of their stay in London, the Miss Pecksniffs and Mrs Todgers were by this time highly confidential, insomuch that the last–named lady had already communicated the particulars of three early disappointments of a tender nature; and had furthermore possessed her young friends with a general summary of the life, conduct, and character of Mr Todgers. Who, it seemed, had cut his matrimonial career rather short, by unlawfully running away from his happiness, and establishing himself in foreign countries as a bachelor.
‘Your pa was once a little particular in his attentions, my dears,’ said Mrs Todgers, ‘but to be your ma was too much happiness denied me. You’d hardly know who this was done for, perhaps?’
She called their attention to an oval miniature, like a little blister, which was tacked up over the kettle–holder, and in which there was a dreamy shadowing forth of her own visage.
‘It’s a speaking likeness!’ cried the two Miss Pecksniffs.
‘It was considered so once,’ said Mrs Todgers, warming herself in a gentlemanly manner at the fire; ‘but I hardly thought you would have known it, my loves.’
They would have known it anywhere. If they could have met with it in the street, or seen it in a shop window, they would have cried ‘Good gracious! Mrs Todgers!’
‘Presiding over an establishment like this, makes sad havoc with the features, my dear Miss Pecksniffs,’ said Mrs Todgers. ‘The gravy alone, is enough to add twenty years to one’s age, I do assure you.’
‘Lor’!’ cried the two Miss Pecksniffs.
‘The anxiety of that one item, my dears,’ said Mrs Todgers, ‘keeps the mind continually upon the stretch. There is no such passion in human nature, as the passion for gravy among commercial gentlemen. It’s nothing to say a joint won’t yield — a whole animal wouldn’t yield — the amount of gravy they expect each day at dinner. And what I have undergone in consequence,’ cried Mrs Todgers, raising her eyes and shaking her head, ‘no one would believe!’
‘Just like Mr Pinch, Merry!’ said Charity. ‘We have always noticed it in him, you remember?’
‘Yes, my dear,’ giggled Merry, ‘but we have never given it him, you know.’
‘You, my dears, having to deal with your pa’s pupils who can’t help themselves, are able to take your own way,’ said Mrs Todgers; ‘but in a commercial establishment, where any gentleman may say any Saturday evening, “Mrs Todgers, this day week we part, in consequence of the cheese,” it is not so easy to preserve a pleasant understanding. Your pa was kind enough,’ added the good lady, ‘to invite me to take a ride with you to–day; and I think he mentioned that you were going to call upon Miss Pinch. Any relation to the gentleman you were speaking of just now, Miss Pecksniff?’
‘For goodness sake, Mrs Todgers,’ interposed the lively Merry, ‘don’t call him a gentleman. My dear Cherry, Pinch a gentleman! The idea!’
‘What a wicked girl you are!’ cried Mrs Todgers, embracing her with great affection. ‘You are quite a quiz, I do declare! My dear Miss Pecksniff, what a happiness your sister’s spirits must be to your pa and self!’
‘He’s the most hideous, goggle–eyed creature, Mrs Todgers, in existence,’ resumed Merry: ‘quite an ogre. The ugliest, awkwardest frightfullest being, you can imagine. This is his sister, so I leave you to suppose what SHE is. I shall be obliged to laugh outright, I know I shall!’ cried the charming girl, ‘I never shall be able to keep my countenance. The notion of a Miss Pinch presuming to exist at all is sufficient to kill one, but to see her — oh my stars!’
Mrs Todgers laughed immensely at the dear love’s humour, and declared she was quite afraid of her, that she was. She was so very severe.
‘Who is severe?’ cried a voice at the door. ‘There is no such thing as severity in our family, I hope!’ And then Mr Pecksniff peeped smilingly into the room, and said, ‘May I come in, Mrs Todgers?’
Mrs Todgers almost screamed, for the little door of communication between that room and the inner one being wide open, there was a full disclosure of the sofa bedstead in all its monstrous impropriety. But she had the presence of mind to close this portal in the twinkling of an eye; and having done so, said, though not without confusion, ‘Oh yes, Mr Pecksniff, you can come in, if you please.’
‘How are we to–day,’ said Mr Pecksniff, jocosely. ‘and what are our plans? Are we ready to go and see Tom Pinch’s sister? Ha, ha, ha! Poor Thomas Pinch!’
‘Are we ready,’ returned Mrs Todgers, nodding her head with mysterious intelligence, ‘to send a favourable reply to Mr Jinkins’s round–robin? That’s the first question, Mr Pecksniff.’
‘Why Mr Jinkins’s robin, my dear madam?’ asked Mr Pecksniff, putting one arm round Mercy, and the other round Mrs Todgers, whom he seemed, in the abstraction of the moment, to mistake for Charity. ‘Why Mr Jinkins’s?’
‘Because he began to get it up, and indeed always takes the lead in the house,’ said Mrs Todgers, playfully. ‘That’s why, sir.’
‘Jinkins is a man of superior talents,’ observed Mr Pecksniff. ‘I have conceived a great regard for Jinkins. I take Jinkins’s desire to pay polite attention to my daughters, as an additional proof of the friendly feeling of Jinkins, Mrs Todgers.’
‘Well now,’ returned that lady, ‘having said so much, you must say the rest, Mr Pecksniff; so tell the dear young ladies all about it.’
With these words she gently eluded Mr Pecksniff’s grasp, and took Miss Charity into her own embrace; though whether she was impelled to this proceeding solely by the irrepressible affection she had conceived for that young lady, or whether it had any reference to a lowering, not to say distinctly spiteful expression which had been visible in her face for some moments, has never been exactly ascertained. Be this as it may, Mr Pecksniff went on to inform his daughters of the purport and history of the round–robin aforesaid, which was in brief, that the commercial gentlemen who helped to make up the sum and substance of that noun of multitude signifying many, called Todgers’s, desired the honour of their presence at the general table, so long as they remained in the house, and besought that they would grace the board at dinner–time next day, the same being Sunday. He further said, that Mrs Todgers being a consenting party to this invitation, he was willing, for his part, to accept it; and so left them that he might write his gracious answer, the while they armed themselves with their best bonnets for the utter defeat and overthrow of Miss Pinch.
Tom Pinch’s sister was governess in a family, a lofty family; perhaps the wealthiest brass and copper founders’ family known to mankind. They lived at Camberwell; in a house so big and fierce, that its mere outside, like the outside of a giant’s castle, struck terror into vulgar minds and made bold persons quail. There was a great front gate; with a great bell, whose handle was in itself a note of admiration; and a great lodge; which being close to the house, rather spoilt the look–out certainly but made the look–in tremendous. At this entry, a great porter kept constant watch and ward; and when he gave the visitor high leave to pass, he rang a second great bell, responsive to whose note a great footman appeared in due time at the great halldoor, with such great tags upon his liveried shoulder that he was perpetually entangling and hooking himself among the chairs and tables, and led a life of torment which could scarcely have been surpassed, if he had been a blue–bottle in a world of cobwebs.
To this mansion Mr Pecksniff, accompanied by his daughters and Mrs Todgers, drove gallantly in a one–horse fly. The foregoing ceremonies having been all performed, they were ushered into the house; and so, by degrees, they got at last into a small room with books in it, where Mr Pinch’s sister was at that moment instructing her eldest pupil; to wit, a premature little woman of thirteen years old, who had already arrived at such a pitch of whalebone and education that she had nothing girlish about her, which was a source of great rejoicing to all her relations and friends.
‘Visitors for Miss Pinch!’ said the footman. He must have been an ingenious young man, for he said it very cleverly; with a nice discrimination between the cold respect with which he would have announced visitors to the family, and the warm personal interest with which he would have announced visitors to the cook.
‘Visitors for Miss Pinch!’
Miss Pinch rose hastily; with such tokens of agitation as plainly declared that her list of callers was not numerous. At the same time, the little pupil became alarmingly upright, and prepared herself to take mental notes of all that might be said and done. For the lady of the establishment was curious in the natural history and habits of the animal called Governess, and encouraged her daughters to report thereon whenever occasion served; which was, in reference to all parties concerned, very laudable, improving, and pleasant.
It is a melancholy fact; but it must be related, that Mr Pinch’s sister was not at all ugly. On the contrary, she had a good face; a very mild and prepossessing face; and a pretty little figure — slight and short, but remarkable for its neatness. There was something of her brother, much of him indeed, in a certain gentleness of manner, and in her look of timid trustfulness; but she was so far from being a fright, or a dowdy, or a horror, or anything else, predicted by the two Miss Pecksniffs, that those young ladies naturally regarded her with great indignation, feeling that this was by no means what they had come to see.
Miss Mercy, as having the larger share of gaiety, bore up the best against this disappointment, and carried it off, in outward show at least, with a titter; but her sister, not caring to hide her disdain, expressed it pretty openly in her looks. As to Mrs Todgers, she leaned on Mr Pecksniff’s arm and preserved a kind of genteel grimness, suitable to any state of mind, and involving any shade of opinion.
‘Don’t be alarmed, Miss Pinch,’ said Mr Pecksniff, taking her hand condescendingly in one of his, and patting it with the other. ‘I have called to see you, in pursuance of a promise given to your brother, Thomas Pinch. My name — compose yourself, Miss Pinch — is Pecksniff.’
The good man emphasised these words as though he would have said, ‘You see in me, young person, the benefactor of your race; the patron of your house; the preserver of your brother, who is fed with manna daily from my table; and in right of whom there is a considerable balance in my favour at present standing in the books beyond the sky. But I have no pride, for I can afford to do without it!’
The poor girl felt it all as if it had been Gospel truth. Her brother writing in the fullness of his simple heart, had often told her so, and how much more! As Mr Pecksniff ceased to speak, she hung her head, and dropped a tear upon his hand.
‘Oh very well, Miss Pinch!’ thought the sharp pupil, ‘crying before strangers, as if you didn’t like the situation!’
‘Thomas is well,’ said Mr Pecksniff; ‘and sends his love and this letter. I cannot say, poor fellow, that he will ever be distinguished in our profession; but he has the will to do well, which is the next thing to having the power; and, therefore, we must bear with him. Eh?’
‘I know he has the will, sir,’ said Tom Pinch’s sister, ‘and I know how kindly and considerately you cherish it, for which neither he nor I can ever be grateful enough, as we very often say in writing to each other. The young ladies too,’ she added, glancing gratefully at his two daughters, ‘I know how much we owe to them.’
‘My dears,’ said Mr Pecksniff, turning to them with a smile: ‘Thomas’s sister is saying something you will be glad to hear, I think.’
‘We can’t take any merit to ourselves, papa!’ cried Cherry, as they both apprised Tom Pinch’s sister, with a curtsey, that they would feel obliged if she would keep her distance. ‘Mr Pinch’s being so well provided for is owing to you alone, and we can only say how glad we are to hear that he is as grateful as he ought to be.’
‘Oh very well, Miss Pinch!’ thought the pupil again. ‘Got a grateful brother, living on other people’s kindness!’
‘It was very kind of you,’ said Tom Pinch’s sister, with Tom’s own simplicity and Tom’s own smile, ‘to come here; very kind indeed; though how great a kindness you have done me in gratifying my wish to see you, and to thank you with my own lips, you, who make so light of benefits conferred, can scarcely think.’
‘Very grateful; very pleasant; very proper,’ murmured Mr Pecksniff.
‘It makes me happy too,’ said Ruth Pinch, who now that her first surprise was over, had a chatty, cheerful way with her, and a single–hearted desire to look upon the best side of everything, which was the very moral and image of Tom; ‘very happy to think that you will be able to tell him how more than comfortably I am situated here, and how unnecessary it is that he should ever waste a regret on my being cast upon my own resources. Dear me! So long as I heard that he was happy, and he heard that I was,’ said Tom’s sister, ‘we could both bear, without one impatient or complaining thought, a great deal more than ever we have had to endure, I am very certain.’ And if ever the plain truth were spoken on this occasionally false earth, Tom’s sister spoke it when she said that.
‘Ah!’ cried Mr Pecksniff whose eyes had in the meantime wandered to the pupil; ‘certainly. And how do YOU do, my very interesting child?’
‘Quite well, I thank you, sir,’ replied that frosty innocent.
‘A sweet face this, my dears,’ said Mr Pecksniff, turning to his daughters. ‘A charming manner!’
Both young ladies had been in ecstasies with the scion of a wealthy house (through whom the nearest road and shortest cut to her parents might be supposed to lie) from the first. Mrs Todgers vowed that anything one quarter so angelic she had never seen. ‘She wanted but a pair of wings, a dear,’ said that good woman, ‘to be a young syrup’ — meaning, possibly, young sylph, or seraph.
‘If you will give that to your distinguished parents, my amiable little friend,’ said Mr Pecksniff, producing one of his professional cards, ‘and will say that I and my daughters —’
‘And Mrs Todgers, pa,’ said Merry.
‘And Mrs Todgers, of London,’ added Mr Pecksniff; ‘that I, and my daughters, and Mrs Todgers, of London, did not intrude upon them, as our object simply was to take some notice of Miss Pinch, whose brother is a young man in my employment; but that I could not leave this very chaste mansion, without adding my humble tribute, as an Architect, to the correctness and elegance of the owner’s taste, and to his just appreciation of that beautiful art to the cultivation of which I have devoted a life, and to the promotion of whose glory and advancement I have sacrified a — a fortune — I shall be very much obliged to you.’
‘Missis’s compliments to Miss Pinch,’ said the footman, suddenly appearing, and speaking in exactly the same key as before, ‘and begs to know wot my young lady is a–learning of just now.’
‘Oh!’ said Mr Pecksniff, ‘Here is the young man. HE will take the card. With my compliments, if you please, young man. My dears, we are interrupting the studies. Let us go.’
Some confusion was occasioned for an instant by Mrs Todgers’s unstrapping her little flat hand–basket, and hurriedly entrusting the ‘young man’ with one of her own cards, which, in addition to certain detailed information relative to the terms of the commercial establishment, bore a foot–note to the effect that M. T. took that opportunity of thanking those gentlemen who had honoured her with their favours, and begged they would have the goodness, if satisfied with the table, to recommend her to their friends. But Mr Pecksniff, with admirable presence of mind, recovered this document, and buttoned it up in his own pocket.
Then he said to Miss Pinch — with more condescension and kindness than ever, for it was desirable the footman should expressly understand that they were not friends of hers, but patrons:
‘Good morning. Good–bye. God bless you! You may depend upon my continued protection of your brother Thomas. Keep your mind quite at ease, Miss Pinch!’
‘Thank you,’ said Tom’s sister heartily; ‘a thousand times.’
‘Not at all,’ he retorted, patting her gently on the head. ‘Don’t mention it. You will make me angry if you do. My sweet child’ — to the pupil — ‘farewell! That fairy creature,’ said Mr Pecksniff, looking in his pensive mood hard at the footman, as if he meant him, ‘has shed a vision on my path, refulgent in its nature, and not easily to be obliterated. My dears, are you ready?’
They were not quite ready yet, for they were still caressing the pupil. But they tore themselves away at length; and sweeping past Miss Pinch with each a haughty inclination of the head and a curtsey strangled in its birth, flounced into the passage.
The young man had rather a long job in showing them out; for Mr Pecksniff’s delight in the tastefulness of the house was such that he could not help often stopping (particularly when they were near the parlour door) and giving it expression, in a loud voice and very learned terms. Indeed, he delivered, between the study and the hall, a familiar exposition of the whole science of architecture as applied to dwelling–houses, and was yet in the freshness of his eloquence when they reached the garden.
‘If you look,’ said Mr Pecksniff, backing from the steps, with his head on one side and his eyes half–shut that he might the better take in the proportions of the exterior: ‘If you look, my dears, at the cornice which supports the roof, and observe the airiness of its construction, especially where it sweeps the southern angle of the building, you will feel with me — How do you do, sir? I hope you’re well?’
Interrupting himself with these words, he very politely bowed to a middle–aged gentleman at an upper window, to whom he spoke — not because the gentleman could hear him (for he certainly could not), but as an appropriate accompaniment to his salutation.
‘I have no doubt, my dears,’ said Mr Pecksniff, feigning to point out other beauties with his hand, ‘that this is the proprietor. I should be glad to know him. It might lead to something. Is he looking this way, Charity?’
‘He is opening the window pa!’
‘Ha, ha!’ cried Mr Pecksniff softly. ‘All right! He has found I’m professional. He heard me inside just now, I have no doubt. Don’t look! With regard to the fluted pillars in the portico, my dears —’
‘Hallo!’ cried the gentleman.
‘Sir, your servant!’ said Mr Pecksniff, taking off his hat. ‘I am proud to make your acquaintance.’
‘Come off the grass, will you!’ roared the gentleman.
‘I beg your pardon, sir,’ said Mr Pecksniff, doubtful of his having heard aright. ‘Did you — ?’
‘Come off the grass!’ repeated the gentleman, warmly.
‘We are unwilling to intrude, sir,’ Mr Pecksniff smilingly began.
‘But you ARE intruding,’ returned the other, ‘unwarrantably intruding. Trespassing. You see a gravel walk, don’t you? What do you think it’s meant for? Open the gate there! Show that party out!’
With that he clapped down the window again, and disappeared.
Mr Pecksniff put on his hat, and walked with great deliberation and in profound silence to the fly, gazing at the clouds as he went, with great interest. After helping his daughters and Mrs Todgers into that conveyance, he stood looking at it for some moments, as if he were not quite certain whether it was a carriage or a temple; but having settled this point in his mind, he got into his place, spread his hands out on his knees, and smiled upon the three beholders.
But his daughters, less tranquil–minded, burst into a torrent of indignation. This came, they said, of cherishing such creatures as the Pinches. This came of lowering themselves to their level. This came of putting themselves in the humiliating position of seeming to know such bold, audacious, cunning, dreadful girls as that. They had expected this. They had predicted it to Mrs Todgers, as she (Todgers) could depone, that very morning. To this, they added, that the owner of the house, supposing them to be Miss Pinch’s friends, had acted, in their opinion, quite correctly, and had done no more than, under such circumstances, might reasonably have been expected. To that they added (with a trifling inconsistency), that he was a brute and a bear; and then they merged into a flood of tears, which swept away all wandering epithets before it.
Perhaps Miss Pinch was scarcely so much to blame in the matter as the Seraph, who, immediately on the withdrawal of the visitors, had hastened to report them at head–quarters, with a full account of their having presumptuously charged her with the delivery of a message afterwards consigned to the footman; which outrage, taken in conjunction with Mr Pecksniff’s unobtrusive remarks on the establishment, might possibly have had some share in their dismissal. Poor Miss Pinch, however, had to bear the brunt of it with both parties; being so severely taken to task by the Seraph’s mother for having such vulgar acquaintances, that she was fain to retire to her own room in tears, which her natural cheerfulness and submission, and the delight of having seen Mr Pecksniff, and having received a letter from her brother, were at first insufficient to repress.
As to Mr Pecksniff, he told them in the fly, that a good action was its own reward; and rather gave them to understand, that if he could have been kicked in such a cause, he would have liked it all the better. But this was no comfort to the young ladies, who scolded violently the whole way back, and even exhibited, more than once, a keen desire to attack the devoted Mrs Todgers; on whose personal appearance, but particularly on whose offending card and hand–basket, they were secretly inclined to lay the blame of half their failure.
Todgers’s was in a great bustle that evening, partly owing to some additional domestic preparations for the morrow, and partly to the excitement always inseparable in that house from Saturday night, when every gentleman’s linen arrived at a different hour in its own little bundle, with his private account pinned on the outside. There was always a great clinking of pattens downstairs, too, until midnight or so, on Saturdays; together with a frequent gleaming of mysterious lights in the area; much working at the pump; and a constant jangling of the iron handle of the pail. Shrill altercations from time to time arose between Mrs Todgers and unknown females in remote back kitchens; and sounds were occasionally heard, indicative of small articles of iron mongery and hardware being thrown at the boy. It was the custom of that youth on Saturdays, to roll up his shirt sleeves to his shoulders, and pervade all parts of the house in an apron of coarse green baize; moreover, he was more strongly tempted on Saturdays than on other days (it being a busy time), to make excursive bolts into the neighbouring alleys when he answered the door, and there to play at leap–frog and other sports with vagrant lads, until pursued and brought back by the hair of his head or the lobe of his ear; thus he was quite a conspicuous feature among the peculiar incidents of the last day in the week at Todgers’s.
He was especially so on this particular Saturday evening, and honoured the Miss Pecksniffs with a deal of notice; seldom passing the door of Mrs Todgers’s private room, where they sat alone before the fire, working by the light of a solitary candle, without putting in his head and greeting them with some such compliments as, ‘There you are agin!’ ‘An’t it nice?’ — and similar humorous attentions.
‘I say,’ he whispered, stopping in one of his journeys to and fro, ‘young ladies, there’s soup to–morrow. She’s a–making it now. An’t she a–putting in the water? Oh! not at all neither!’
In the course of answering another knock, he thrust in his head again.
‘I say! There’s fowls to–morrow. Not skinny ones. Oh no!’
Presently he called through the key–hole:
‘There’s a fish to–morrow. Just come. Don’t eat none of him!’ And, with this special warning, vanished again.
By–and–bye, he returned to lay the cloth for supper; it having been arranged between Mrs Todgers and the young ladies, that they should partake of an exclusive veal–cutlet together in the privacy of that apartment. He entertained them on this occasion by thrusting the lighted candle into his mouth, and exhibiting his face in a state of transparency; after the performance of which feat, he went on with his professional duties; brightening every knife as he laid it on the table, by breathing on the blade and afterwards polishing the same on the apron already mentioned. When he had completed his preparations, he grinned at the sisters, and expressed his belief that the approaching collation would be of ‘rather a spicy sort.’
‘Will it be long, before it’s ready, Bailey?’ asked Mercy.
‘No,’ said Bailey, ‘it IS cooked. When I come up, she was dodging among the tender pieces with a fork, and eating of ’em.’
But he had scarcely achieved the utterance of these words, when he received a manual compliment on the head, which sent him staggering against the wall; and Mrs Todgers, dish in hand, stood indignantly before him.
‘Oh you little villain!’ said that lady. ‘Oh you bad, false boy!’
‘No worse than yerself,’ retorted Bailey, guarding his head, on a principle invented by Mr Thomas Cribb. ‘Ah! Come now! Do that again, will yer?’
‘He’s the most dreadful child,’ said Mrs Todgers, setting down the dish, ‘I ever had to deal with. The gentlemen spoil him to that extent, and teach him such things, that I’m afraid nothing but hanging will ever do him any good.’
‘Won’t it!’ cried Bailey. ‘Oh! Yes! Wot do you go a–lowerin the table–beer for then, and destroying my constitooshun?’
‘Go downstairs, you vicious boy,’ said Mrs Todgers, holding the door open. ‘Do you hear me? Go along!’
After two or three dexterous feints, he went, and was seen no more that night, save once, when he brought up some tumblers and hot water, and much disturbed the two Miss Pecksniffs by squinting hideously behind the back of the unconscious Mrs Todgers. Having done this justice to his wounded feelings, he retired underground; where, in company with a swarm of black beetles and a kitchen candle, he employed his faculties in cleaning boots and brushing clothes until the night was far advanced.
Benjamin was supposed to be the real name of this young retainer but he was known by a great variety of names. Benjamin, for instance, had been converted into Uncle Ben, and that again had been corrupted into Uncle; which, by an easy transition, had again passed into Barnwell, in memory of the celebrated relative in that degree who was shot by his nephew George, while meditating in his garden at Camberwell. The gentlemen at Todgers’s had a merry habit, too, of bestowing upon him, for the time being, the name of any notorious malefactor or minister; and sometimes when current events were flat they even sought the pages of history for these distinctions; as Mr Pitt, Young Brownrigg, and the like. At the period of which we write, he was generally known among the gentlemen as Bailey junior; a name bestowed upon him in contradistinction, perhaps, to Old Bailey; and possibly as involving the recollection of an unfortunate lady of the same name, who perished by her own hand early in life, and has been immortalised in a ballad.
The usual Sunday dinner–hour at Todgers’s was two o’clock — a suitable time, it was considered for all parties; convenient to Mrs Todgers, on account of the bakers; and convenient to the gentlemen with reference to their afternoon engagements. But on the Sunday which was to introduce the two Miss Pecksniffs to a full knowledge of Todgers’s and its society, the dinner was postponed until five, in order that everything might be as genteel as the occasion demanded.
When the hour drew nigh, Bailey junior, testifying great excitement, appeared in a complete suit of cast–off clothes several sizes too large for him, and in particular, mounted a clean shirt of such extraordinary magnitude, that one of the gentlemen (remarkable for his ready wit) called him ‘collars’ on the spot. At about a quarter before five, a deputation, consisting of Mr Jinkins, and another gentleman, whose name was Gander, knocked at the door of Mrs Todgers’s room, and, being formally introduced to the two Miss Pecksniffs by their parent who was in waiting, besought the honour of conducting them upstairs.
The drawing–room at Todgers’s was out of the common style; so much so indeed, that you would hardly have taken it to be a drawingroom, unless you were told so by somebody who was in the secret. It was floor–clothed all over; and the ceiling, including a great beam in the middle, was papered. Besides the three little windows, with seats in them, commanding the opposite archway, there was another window looking point blank, without any compromise at all about it into Jinkins’s bedroom; and high up, all along one side of the wall was a strip of panes of glass, two–deep, giving light to the staircase. There were the oddest closets possible, with little casements in them like eight–day clocks, lurking in the wainscot and taking the shape of the stairs; and the very door itself (which was painted black) had two great glass eyes in its forehead, with an inquisitive green pupil in the middle of each.
Here the gentlemen were all assembled. There was a general cry of ‘Hear, hear!’ and ‘Bravo Jink!’ when Mr Jinkins appeared with Charity on his arm; which became quite rapturous as Mr Gander followed, escorting Mercy, and Mr Pecksniff brought up the rear with Mrs Todgers.
Then the presentations took place. They included a gentleman of a sporting turn, who propounded questions on jockey subjects to the editors of Sunday papers, which were regarded by his friends as rather stiff things to answer; and they included a gentleman of a theatrical turn, who had once entertained serious thoughts of ‘coming out,’ but had been kept in by the wickedness of human nature; and they included a gentleman of a debating turn, who was strong at speech–making; and a gentleman of a literary turn, who wrote squibs upon the rest, and knew the weak side of everybody’s character but his own. There was a gentleman of a vocal turn, and a gentleman of a smoking turn, and a gentleman of a convivial turn; some of the gentlemen had a turn for whist, and a large proportion of the gentlemen had a strong turn for billiards and betting. They had all, it may be presumed, a turn for business; being all commercially employed in one way or other; and had, every one in his own way, a decided turn for pleasure to boot. Mr Jinkins was of a fashionable turn; being a regular frequenter of the Parks on Sundays, and knowing a great many carriages by sight. He spoke mysteriously, too, of splendid women, and was suspected of having once committed himself with a Countess. Mr Gander was of a witty turn being indeed the gentleman who had originated the sally about ‘collars;’ which sparkling pleasantry was now retailed from mouth to mouth, under the title of Gander’s Last, and was received in all parts of the room with great applause. Mr Jinkins it may be added, was much the oldest of the party; being a fish–salesman’s book–keeper, aged forty. He was the oldest boarder also; and in right of his double seniority, took the lead in the house, as Mrs Todgers had already said.
There was considerable delay in the production of dinner, and poor Mrs Todgers, being reproached in confidence by Jinkins, slipped in and out, at least twenty times to see about it; always coming back as though she had no such thing upon her mind, and hadn’t been out at all. But there was no hitch in the conversation nevertheless; for one gentleman, who travelled in the perfumery line, exhibited an interesting nick–nack, in the way of a remarkable cake of shaving soap which he had lately met with in Germany; and the gentleman of a literary turn repeated (by desire) some sarcastic stanzas he had recently produced on the freezing of the tank at the back of the house. These amusements, with the miscellaneous conversation arising out of them, passed the time splendidly, until dinner was announced by Bailey junior in these terms:
‘The wittles is up!’
On which notice they immediately descended to the banquet–hall; some of the more facetious spirits in the rear taking down gentlemen as if they were ladies, in imitation of the fortunate possessors of the two Miss Pecksniffs.
Mr Pecksniff said grace — a short and pious grace, involving a blessing on the appetites of those present, and committing all persons who had nothing to eat, to the care of Providence; whose business (so said the grace, in effect) it clearly was, to look after them. This done, they fell to with less ceremony than appetite; the table groaning beneath the weight, not only of the delicacies whereof the Miss Pecksniffs had been previously forewarned, but of boiled beef, roast veal, bacon, pies and abundance of such heavy vegetables as are favourably known to housekeepers for their satisfying qualities. Besides which, there were bottles of stout, bottles of wine, bottles of ale, and divers other strong drinks, native and foreign.
All this was highly agreeable to the two Miss Pecksniffs, who were in immense request; sitting one on either hand of Mr Jinkins at the bottom of the table; and who were called upon to take wine with some new admirer every minute. They had hardly ever felt so pleasant, and so full of conversation, in their lives; Mercy, in particular, was uncommonly brilliant, and said so many good things in the way of lively repartee that she was looked upon as a prodigy. ‘In short,’ as that young lady observed, ‘they felt now, indeed, that they were in London, and for the first time too.’
Their young friend Bailey sympathized in these feelings to the fullest extent, and, abating nothing of his patronage, gave them every encouragement in his power; favouring them, when the general attention was diverted from his proceedings, with many nods and winks and other tokens of recognition, and occasionally touching his nose with a corkscrew, as if to express the Bacchanalian character of the meeting. In truth, perhaps even the spirits of the two Miss Pecksniffs, and the hungry watchfulness of Mrs Todgers, were less worthy of note than the proceedings of this remarkable boy, whom nothing disconcerted or put out of his way. If any piece of crockery, a dish or otherwise, chanced to slip through his hands (which happened once or twice), he let it go with perfect good breeding, and never added to the painful emotions of the company by exhibiting the least regret. Nor did he, by hurrying to and fro, disturb the repose of the assembly, as many well–trained servants do; on the contrary, feeling the hopelessness of waiting upon so large a party, he left the gentlemen to help themselves to what they wanted, and seldom stirred from behind Mr Jinkins’s chair, where, with his hands in his pockets, and his legs planted pretty wide apart, he led the laughter, and enjoyed the conversation.
The dessert was splendid. No waiting either. The pudding–plates had been washed in a little tub outside the door while cheese was on, and though they were moist and warm with friction, still there they were again, up to the mark, and true to time. Quarts of almonds; dozens of oranges; pounds of raisins; stacks of biffins; soup–plates full of nuts. — Oh, Todgers’s could do it when it chose! mind that.
Then more wine came on; red wines and white wines; and a large china bowl of punch, brewed by the gentleman of a convivial turn, who adjured the Miss Pecksniffs not to be despondent on account of its dimensions, as there were materials in the house for the decoction of half a dozen more of the same size. Good gracious, how they laughed! How they coughed when they sipped it, because it was so strong; and how they laughed again when somebody vowed that but for its colour it might have been mistaken, in regard of its innocuous qualities, for new milk! What a shout of ‘No!’ burst from the gentlemen when they pathetically implored Mr Jinkins to suffer them to qualify it with hot water; and how blushingly, by little and little, did each of them drink her whole glassful, down to its very dregs!
Now comes the trying time. The sun, as Mr Jinkins says (gentlemanly creature, Jinkins — never at a loss!), is about to leave the firmament. ‘Miss Pecksniff!’ says Mrs Todgers, softly, ‘will you — ?’ ‘Oh dear, no more, Mrs Todgers.’ Mrs Todgers rises; the two Miss Pecksniffs rise; all rise. Miss Mercy Pecksniff looks downward for her scarf. Where is it? Dear me, where CAN it be? Sweet girl, she has it on; not on her fair neck, but loose upon her flowing figure. A dozen hands assist her. She is all confusion. The youngest gentleman in company thirsts to murder Jinkins. She skips and joins her sister at the door. Her sister has her arm about the waist of Mrs Todgers. She winds her arm around her sister. Diana, what a picture! The last things visible are a shape and a skip. ‘Gentlemen, let us drink the ladies!’
The enthusiasm is tremendous. The gentleman of a debating turn rises in the midst, and suddenly lets loose a tide of eloquence which bears down everything before it. He is reminded of a toast — a toast to which they will respond. There is an individual present; he has him in his eye; to whom they owe a debt of gratitude. He repeats it — a debt of gratitude. Their rugged natures have been softened and ameliorated that day, by the society of lovely woman. There is a gentleman in company whom two accomplished and delightful females regard with veneration, as the fountain of their existence. Yes, when yet the two Miss Pecksniffs lisped in language scarce intelligible, they called that individual ‘Father!’ There is great applause. He gives them ‘Mr Pecksniff, and God bless him!’ They all shake hands with Mr Pecksniff, as they drink the toast. The youngest gentleman in company does so with a thrill; for he feels that a mysterious influence pervades the man who claims that being in the pink scarf for his daughter.
What saith Mr Pecksniff in reply? Or rather let the question be, What leaves he unsaid? Nothing. More punch is called for, and produced, and drunk. Enthusiasm mounts still higher. Every man comes out freely in his own character. The gentleman of a theatrical turn recites. The vocal gentleman regales them with a song. Gander leaves the Gander of all former feasts whole leagues behind. HE rises to propose a toast. It is, The Father of Todgers’s. It is their common friend Jink — it is old Jink, if he may call him by that familiar and endearing appellation. The youngest gentleman in company utters a frantic negative. He won’t have it — he can’t bear it — it mustn’t be. But his depth of feeling is misunderstood. He is supposed to be a little elevated; and nobody heeds him.
Mr Jinkins thanks them from his heart. It is, by many degrees, the proudest day in his humble career. When he looks around him on the present occasion, he feels that he wants words in which to express his gratitude. One thing he will say. He hopes it has been shown that Todgers’s can be true to itself; and that, an opportunity arising, it can come out quite as strong as its neighbours — perhaps stronger. He reminds them, amidst thunders of encouragement, that they have heard of a somewhat similar establishment in Cannon Street; and that they have heard it praised. He wishes to draw no invidious comparisons; he would be the last man to do it; but when that Cannon Street establishment shall be able to produce such a combination of wit and beauty as has graced that board that day, and shall be able to serve up (all things considered) such a dinner as that of which they have just partaken, he will be happy to talk to it. Until then, gentlemen, he will stick to Todgers’s.
More punch, more enthusiasm, more speeches. Everybody’s health is drunk, saving the youngest gentleman’s in company. He sits apart, with his elbow on the back of a vacant chair, and glares disdainfully at Jinkins. Gander, in a convulsing speech, gives them the health of Bailey junior; hiccups are heard; and a glass is broken. Mr Jinkins feels that it is time to join the ladies. He proposes, as a final sentiment, Mrs Todgers. She is worthy to be remembered separately. Hear, hear. So she is; no doubt of it. They all find fault with her at other times; but every man feels now, that he could die in her defence.
They go upstairs, where they are not expected so soon; for Mrs Todgers is asleep, Miss Charity is adjusting her hair, and Mercy, who has made a sofa of one of the window–seats is in a gracefully recumbent attitude. She is rising hastily, when Mr Jinkins implores her, for all their sakes, not to stir; she looks too graceful and too lovely, he remarks, to be disturbed. She laughs, and yields, and fans herself, and drops her fan, and there is a rush to pick it up. Being now installed, by one consent, as the beauty of the party, she is cruel and capricious, and sends gentlemen on messages to other gentlemen, and forgets all about them before they can return with the answer, and invents a thousand tortures, rending their hearts to pieces. Bailey brings up the tea and coffee. There is a small cluster of admirers round Charity; but they are only those who cannot get near her sister. The youngest gentleman in company is pale, but collected, and still sits apart; for his spirit loves to hold communion with itself, and his soul recoils from noisy revellers. She has a consciousness of his presence and adoration. He sees it flashing sometimes in the corner of her eye. Have a care, Jinkins, ere you provoke a desperate man to frenzy!
Mr Pecksniff had followed his younger friends upstairs, and taken a chair at the side of Mrs Todgers. He had also spilt a cup of coffee over his legs without appearing to be aware of the circumstance; nor did he seem to know that there was muffin on his knee.
‘And how have they used you downstairs, sir?’ asked the hostess.
‘Their conduct has been such, my dear madam,’ said Mr Pecksniff, ‘as I can never think of without emotion, or remember without a tear. Oh, Mrs Todgers!’
‘My goodness!’ exclaimed that lady. ‘How low you are in your spirits, sir!’
‘I am a man, my dear madam,’ said Mr Pecksniff, shedding tears and speaking with an imperfect articulation, ‘but I am also a father. I am also a widower. My feelings, Mrs Todgers, will not consent to be entirely smothered, like the young children in the Tower. They are grown up, and the more I press the bolster on them, the more they look round the corner of it.’
He suddenly became conscious of the bit of muffin, and stared at it intently; shaking his head the while, in a forlorn and imbecile manner, as if he regarded it as his evil genius, and mildly reproached it.
‘She was beautiful, Mrs Todgers,’ he said, turning his glazed eye again upon her, without the least preliminary notice. ‘She had a small property.’
‘So I have heard,’ cried Mrs Todgers with great sympathy.
‘Those are her daughters,’ said Mr Pecksniff, pointing out the young ladies, with increased emotion.
Mrs Todgers had no doubt about it.
‘Mercy and Charity,’ said Mr Pecksniff, ‘Charity and Mercy. Not unholy names, I hope?’
‘Mr Pecksniff!’ cried Mrs Todgers. ‘What a ghastly smile! Are you ill, sir?’
He pressed his hand upon her arm, and answered in a solemn manner, and a faint voice, ‘Chronic.’
‘Cholic?’ cried the frightened Mrs Todgers.
‘Chron–ic,’ he repeated with some difficulty. ‘Chron–ic. A chronic disorder. I have been its victim from childhood. It is carrying me to my grave.’
‘Heaven forbid!’ cried Mrs Todgers.
‘Yes, it is,’ said Mr Pecksniff, reckless with despair. ‘I am rather glad of it, upon the whole. You are like her, Mrs Todgers.’
‘Don’t squeeze me so tight, pray, Mr Pecksniff. If any of the gentlemen should notice us.’
‘For her sake,’ said Mr Pecksniff. ‘Permit me — in honour of her memory. For the sake of a voice from the tomb. You are VERY like her Mrs Todgers! What a world this is!’
‘Ah! Indeed you may say that!’ cried Mrs Todgers.
‘I’m afraid it is a vain and thoughtless world,’ said Mr Pecksniff, overflowing with despondency. ‘These young people about us. Oh! what sense have they of their responsibilities? None. Give me your other hand, Mrs Todgers.’
The lady hesitated, and said ‘she didn’t like.’
‘Has a voice from the grave no influence?’ said Mr Pecksniff, with, dismal tenderness. ‘This is irreligious! My dear creature.’
‘Hush!’ urged Mrs Todgers. ‘Really you mustn’t.’
‘It’s not me,’ said Mr Pecksniff. ‘Don’t suppose it’s me; it’s the voice; it’s her voice.’
Mrs Pecksniff deceased, must have had an unusually thick and husky voice for a lady, and rather a stuttering voice, and to say the truth somewhat of a drunken voice, if it had ever borne much resemblance to that in which Mr Pecksniff spoke just then. But perhaps this was delusion on his part.
‘It has been a day of enjoyment, Mrs Todgers, but still it has been a day of torture. It has reminded me of my loneliness. What am I in the world?’
‘An excellent gentleman, Mr Pecksniff,’ said Mrs Todgers.
‘There is consolation in that too,’ cried Mr Pecksniff. ‘Am I?’
‘There is no better man living,’ said Mrs Todgers, ‘I am sure.’
Mr Pecksniff smiled through his tears, and slightly shook his head. ‘You are very good,’ he said, ‘thank you. It is a great happiness to me, Mrs Todgers, to make young people happy. The happiness of my pupils is my chief object. I dote upon ’em. They dote upon me too — sometimes.’
‘Always,’ said Mrs Todgers.
‘When they say they haven’t improved, ma’am,’ whispered Mr Pecksniff, looking at her with profound mystery, and motioning to her to advance her ear a little closer to his mouth. ‘When they say they haven’t improved, ma’am, and the premium was too high, they lie! I shouldn’t wish it to be mentioned; you will understand me; but I say to you as to an old friend, they lie.’
‘Base wretches they must be!’ said Mrs Todgers.
‘Madam,’ said Mr Pecksniff, ‘you are right. I respect you for that observation. A word in your ear. To Parents and Guardians. This is in confidence, Mrs Todgers?’
‘The strictest, of course!’ cried that lady.
‘To Parents and Guardians,’ repeated Mr Pecksniff. ‘An eligible opportunity now offers, which unites the advantages of the best practical architectural education with the comforts of a home, and the constant association with some, who, however humble their sphere and limited their capacity — observe! — are not unmindful of their moral responsibilities.’
Mrs Todgers looked a little puzzled to know what this might mean, as well she might; for it was, as the reader may perchance remember, Mr Pecksniff’s usual form of advertisement when he wanted a pupil; and seemed to have no particular reference, at present, to anything. But Mr Pecksniff held up his finger as a caution to her not to interrupt him.
‘Do you know any parent or guardian, Mrs Todgers,’ said Mr Pecksniff, ‘who desires to avail himself of such an opportunity for a young gentleman? An orphan would be preferred. Do you know of any orphan with three or four hundred pound?’
Mrs Todgers reflected, and shook her head.
‘When you hear of an orphan with three or four hundred pound,’ said Mr Pecksniff, ‘let that dear orphan’s friends apply, by letter post–paid, to S. P., Post Office, Salisbury. I don’t know who he is exactly. Don’t be alarmed, Mrs Todgers,’ said Mr Pecksniff, falling heavily against her; ‘Chronic — chronic! Let’s have a little drop of something to drink.’
‘Bless my life, Miss Pecksniffs!’ cried Mrs Todgers, aloud, ‘your dear pa’s took very poorly!’
Mr Pecksniff straightened himself by a surprising effort, as every one turned hastily towards him; and standing on his feet, regarded the assembly with a look of ineffable wisdom. Gradually it gave place to a smile; a feeble, helpless, melancholy smile; bland, almost to sickliness. ‘Do not repine, my friends,’ said Mr Pecksniff, tenderly. ‘Do not weep for me. It is chronic.’ And with these words, after making a futile attempt to pull off his shoes, he fell into the fireplace.
The youngest gentleman in company had him out in a second. Yes, before a hair upon his head was singed, he had him on the hearth–rug — her father!
She was almost beside herself. So was her sister. Jinkins consoled them both. They all consoled them. Everybody had something to say, except the youngest gentleman in company, who with a noble self–devotion did the heavy work, and held up Mr Pecksniff’s head without being taken notice of by anybody. At last they gathered round, and agreed to carry him upstairs to bed. The youngest gentleman in company was rebuked by Jinkins for tearing Mr Pecksniff’s coat! Ha, ha! But no matter.
They carried him upstairs, and crushed the youngest gentleman at every step. His bedroom was at the top of the house, and it was a long way; but they got him there in course of time. He asked them frequently on the road for a little drop of something to drink. It seemed an idiosyncrasy. The youngest gentleman in company proposed a draught of water. Mr Pecksniff called him opprobious names for the suggestion.
Jinkins and Gander took the rest upon themselves, and made him as comfortable as they could, on the outside of his bed; and when he seemed disposed to sleep, they left him. But before they had all gained the bottom of the staircase, a vision of Mr Pecksniff, strangely attired, was seen to flutter on the top landing. He desired to collect their sentiments, it seemed, upon the nature of human life.
‘My friends,’ cried Mr Pecksniff, looking over the banisters, ‘let us improve our minds by mutual inquiry and discussion. Let us be moral. Let us contemplate existence. Where is Jinkins?’
‘Here,’ cried that gentleman. ‘Go to bed again’
‘To bed!’ said Mr Pecksniff. ‘Bed! ’Tis the voice of the sluggard, I hear him complain, you have woke me too soon, I must slumber again. If any young orphan will repeat the remainder of that simple piece from Doctor Watts’s collection, an eligible opportunity now offers.’
‘This is very soothing,’ said Mr Pecksniff, after a pause. ‘Extremely so. Cool and refreshing; particularly to the legs! The legs of the human subject, my friends, are a beautiful production. Compare them with wooden legs, and observe the difference between the anatomy of nature and the anatomy of art. Do you know,’ said Mr Pecksniff, leaning over the banisters, with an odd recollection of his familiar manner among new pupils at home, ‘that I should very much like to see Mrs Todgers’s notion of a wooden leg, if perfectly agreeable to herself!’
As it appeared impossible to entertain any reasonable hopes of him after this speech, Mr Jinkins and Mr Gander went upstairs again, and once more got him into bed. But they had not descended to the second floor before he was out again; nor, when they had repeated the process, had they descended the first flight, before he was out again. In a word, as often as he was shut up in his own room, he darted out afresh, charged with some new moral sentiment, which he continually repeated over the banisters, with extraordinary relish, and an irrepressible desire for the improvement of his fellow creatures that nothing could subdue.
Under these circumstances, when they had got him into bed for the thirtieth time or so, Mr Jinkins held him, while his companion went downstairs in search of Bailey junior, with whom he presently returned. That youth having been apprised of the service required of him, was in great spirits, and brought up a stool, a candle, and his supper; to the end that he might keep watch outside the bedroom door with tolerable comfort.
When he had completed his arrangements, they locked Mr Pecksniff in, and left the key on the outside; charging the young page to listen attentively for symptoms of an apoplectic nature, with which the patient might be troubled, and, in case of any such presenting themselves, to summon them without delay. To which Mr Bailey modestly replied that ‘he hoped he knowed wot o’clock it wos in gineral, and didn’t date his letters to his friends from Todgers’s for nothing.’