Uncle Simkinson and Mrs. Mountelephant

IF you look into any newly-established chemist’s shop in a country town, at any hour, you will probably see some neatly dressed young female waiting to be served. Early and late, winter and summer, spring-time and autumn, the same phenomenon presents itself. We have observed it on so many occasions, that we long since began to theorise upon it, and we fancy with some success. Is the feminine tooth in perpetual suffering? for chemists are dentists as well as druggists. Are delicate little fingers continually being pinched in malignant wickets? Do chilblains need medical advice; or is honey required for chaps when the thermometer is at 93 degrees in the shade? We have no hesitation in giving these questions a most unflinching negative.

How, then, do we account for the shops of young chemists being the chosen resort of the gentle sex? Simply in this way: because the young chemist is looking out for a partnership — not chemical — but connubial — and every pretty and sensible young person — maid or widow — knows it, and turns that knowledge to profitable account. That is our theory.

In a year or two a change takes place. Instead of a lady being constantly before the counter, one is occasionally seen behind it. The most meritorious candidate has been selected for preferment. With proper feeling the opposition retire, and business is allowed to flow in its natural and legitimate channels.

The sale of cosmetics is greatly reduced, depilatories are in less request, and casualties, such as the pricking of thumbs, or burns from Italian-irons, are of very rare occurrence.

The young chemist is no longer a marked man his individuality has fallen like a drop of rain, and been swallowed up in the mighty ocean of matrimony.

Such are the vicissitudes to which chemistry and its professors are exposed, and which were experienced in their full force by Josiah Simkinson on his setting up for himself, to use a homely and intelligible phrase. Josiah had been only a few months out of his apprenticeship, when aided by his uncle Simkinson’s capital, he opened a smart little chemist’s shop, amply adorned with red and blue bottles, not a hundred miles, or anything like it, from the market-town of G , in the pleasant county of Surrey.

The usual course of things followed. Though a remarkably sedate young man, Josiah was by no means ill-favoured — his eyes being blue, and his whiskers luxuriant though sandy. For advice, therefore, all the fair and unappropriated inhabitants of G. resorted to the Golden Horn, where Mr. Simkinson supplied it gratis, but without that display of sympathy which many young pharmacopolists would have deemed it politic and kind to exhibit to patients who so much desired and perhaps deserved it.

The fact is, that Josiah was not adapted for his profession; he had no command of small talk; he was grossly ignorant of the soothing system; had quite forgotten, if he had ever learnt, that in prescribing for the “nerves,” a little flattery is sometimes as serviceable as a little ether, or sal-volatile. He was a stoic, not of the woods, but of the gallipots, with some modesty, an upright and gentlemanly figure, a very white hand, and a very white apron.

In addition, however, to his natural cynicism, he had another motive power which prompted him to treat the artifices of speculating spinsters with profound indifference. He was engaged to Sophy Pinnett, a very little but astonishingly pretty milliner, who, having lost her father, a master mariner, at an early age, had supported herself and mother for many years, partly by her industry and skill.

One evening, shortly after Josiah had lit his gas, and was busy spreading a diachylon plaster with a hot spatula, the postman placed a letter on his counter, which he opened with evident alarm. It was from Uncle Simkinson, and ran as follows:

My Dear Josiah:

I dare say you will be rather surprised to hear it, but I am going to enter into the happy state of wedlock, with a very nice middle-aged widow lady, Mrs. Mountelephant, whom you may remember we met at Waterloo last summer, and whose two daughters — very tall and commanding in appearance, like their mamma — you will find highly intellectual, speaking German with great fluency. If you have any idea of changing your condition, and becoming a benedict, you couldn’t do better than at once make your election: my vote and interest you may rely upon. Please send me a bottle of eau-de-Cologne, and a large piece of sponge, free from grit, and believe me, Your affectionate uncle,

NEHEMIAH SIMKINSON.

The perusal of this letter quite unmanned the chemist, and, laying down his spatula with a heavy heart, he remained for some minutes buried in solemn meditation. He was restored to consciousness by the entrance of a brisk, fresh-looking, but corpulent old gentleman in spectacles, with a white hat, blue coat, and bright buttons.

“Well, Josiah,” said the old gentleman, putting his gold-headed cane under his arm, and rubbing his hands cheerfully, ” how goes business, eh?”

Josiah shook his head and sighed.

“What! won’t people be bled, bolused, and blistered?” exclaimed the old gentleman: “do they all cry with Shakspere, ‘throw physic to the dogs — we’ll none on’t’?”

“Well, Mr. Butterfield,” replied Josiah, “business is not so bad, but I suppose you’ve heard about my uncle?”

“No, I’ve not. What has happened?” inquired the friend of the family. “He hasn’t had another visit from his old enemy?”

“I’m sorry to say, Mr. Butterfield, he has,” returned Josiah, rolling out a mass of brown paste, prior to its division into pills.

“Ah, bad boy! he should try a dry old port,” observed Mr. Butterfield: “he’s too fond of a fruity flavour — won’t do for gout.”

“It’s not gout, sir,” rejoined the chemist, with a faint smile. “I wish it was, with all my heart.”

“No I you don’t mean it! What is it? A little palpitation here?” And the old gentleman, patting himself on the waistcoat, winked with great significant’y.

“That’s it, sir,” replied the chemist, taking his spatula and cutting the roll of brown paste into a species of mince physic.

“Dear me,” said Mr. Butterfield, looking at Josiah complacently through his spectacles. “I’m very glad indeed to hear of it.”

Josiah dropped his spatula with an air of astonishment:

“Mr. Butterfield!”

“You know, Josiah,” remarked the old gentleman, “it’s never too late to repent: he ought to have done it twenty years ago, and so I’ve told him over and over again. Why, look at me. I married at eighteen, and now I’m the father of ten and the grandfather of as many more. What think you of that?”

“Well, I think, Mr. Butterfield,” said Josiah, gravely, “that you made a wise and happy selection. My uncle, I fear, is the victim of infatuation.”

“How so?” demanded the friend of the family.

In answer to this inquiry, Josiah informed Mr. Butterfield that the lady to whom his uncle was engaged — a Mrs. Mountelephant — was the widow of a superintendent of the Irish constabulary; that she was a magnificent woman, with a high, commanding tone; and that he felt assured her imperious manners, not to mention her two daughters, who were reduced copies of their mamma, would render poor Uncle Simkinson miserable for life.

“A perfect Boadicea,” observed Mr. Butterfield, who appeared to be slightly impressed by Josiah’s earnestness. “I was in hopes he had found some nice little woman who would butter his crumpets, air his slippers, sweeten his gruel, tie his cravat, and lighten his sorrows. Supposing you and I call upon him to-morrow evening, and see if we can’t restore him to reason?”

Josiah consented with pleasure, and Mr. Butterfield having requested his medical adviser to let him have a packet of James’s powders, took his departure, first promising to see Uncle Sim, and prepare his mind for the operation, of which it stood so urgently in need.

The hearty old gentleman was scarcely out of sight, when his place was taken by a little, but remarkably pretty young female, with very bright hazel eyes, very glossy brown curls, and the smallest chip bonnet, trimmed with flowers, that the perverse ingenuity of fashion has perhaps ever produced.

“Isn’t that delicious?” she said, holding up a bouquet to Josiah’s roman nose.

“Tolerable,” replied the chemist, coldly moulding his bits of paste into spherical forms between his finger and thumb.

” There’s no encouragement to give you anything nice,” returned the little beauty. “I thought you would have been enraptured. Some young — persons —would.”

Josiah dropped the finished pill into a white card-box, and heaved a great sigh.

“How dull you look to-day,” complained the fairy-tempter, with something between sympathy and reproach. “What’s happened, Josey, dear?”

“I’ve had a letter from Uncle Simkinson,” replied the chemist, shutting the pill-box, with an expression of sorrow; “but walk into the surgery, and I’ll tell you all about it, as soon as I’ve made up Mrs. Condito’s prescription.”

Sophy went into the surgery, and sat down in an awful looking chair, with a high and hollow back, adapted for patients who were doomed to undergo the fearful penalties of dental extraction. There was a kind of corkscrew on the mantelshelf, and other instruments of torture, which Sophy could not contemplate without a shudder.

“I have just received this letter from my uncle,” said Josiah, handing Sophy the depressing epistle before cited.

“So, he’s going to be married at last,” cried Sophy laughing. “Well, they say, better late than never.”

“My dear Sophy,” remonstrated the chemist, “how can you treat a serious matter with such shocking levity —really, I’m surprised.”

“Why?”

“Why!”

“There’s no harm in it, Josey,” rejoined Sophia, with one of her sweetest looks.

“Well!” said the medical professor, untying and retying his white apron, “that’s purely a matter of taste.”

“O!” cried Sophia, rising and preparing to go, for like some other little, but pretty women, her humility was not greatly conspicuous at all times. “You wish to play at contradictions. I see no necessity for it. So — good evening.”

Josiah turned and caught her just as she had opened the surgery door, and was about to depart in a tiff — a lover’s tiff, of course. There was a little tear on her cheek, which ought to have been preserved in a lachrymatory, as it was the first and last that Josiah’s cruelty ever caused her to shed.

“Don’t be angry, Sophy,” said the penitent chemist in a more sentimental tone than we had given him credit for. “I didn’t mean to.”

“I know that, Josey,” murmured Sophy, wiping her eyes and adjusting her side-combs;” but why are you so alarmed, dear, about Uncle Simkinson’s marriage?”

“Because, Sophy, it will not only be the ruin of him, but I fear the ruin of both of us. You know he lent me two hundred pounds to take this business, for which he holds my promissory note. Now, I’ve no confidence in that Mrs. Mountelephant: she’s a haughty and overbearing, if not also an artful and designing woman. She will rule poor Uncle Sim with a rod of iron, and will perhaps set him against all his relations, in order to secure his property for herself and her daughters.”

“O Josiah,” cried Sophy, looking tenderly upon her adorer, “I think you are too — what shall I say —cautious. I do, indeed.”

“One can’t be too cautious, Sophy,” returned the chemist, drawing his stool nearer to Sophy’s chair. “I was in hopes that we should have been able to have arranged for our marriage next month, but until I know what my uncle’s feeling will be when he is married, it would be madness to think of it. Here’s Mrs. Condito —excuse me.”

And Josiah left the surgery, carefully closing the door behind him, to prevent Mrs. Condito from gratifying her native curiosity by seeing Josiah’s “intended,” of whom rumour spoke highly, and rumour in a country town, as we all know, is seldom or never unsupported by some slight foundation of fact.

Leaving Sophy and Josiah to confer more fully on this alarming state of affairs, let us endeavour to ascertain the feelings and position of the party most interested —if Josiah’s statement be correct — in escaping from it.

Uncle Simkinson was a little bald-headed man, with a long reddish nose and grey twinkling eyes. He dressed with great primness, and always wore a large seal, a smart frill, drab smalls and gaiters to match.

Uncle Sim had his weak side — he was a little too fond of punch. Reclining in an easy chair, with a sleek tortoiseshell cat purring at his feet; his feet on the fender; a bright fire before him; a glass of hot whiskey-toddy and a couple of wax candles at his elbow, and Petrarch’s Sonnets visible through his eye-glass, he would, under ordinary circumstances, have been happy, for what more could a rational bachelor require to make him supremely blest? Nothing.

But Uncle Sim had for some short time ceased to be a rational bachelor. He was under the spell of the Enchantress. On the plains of Waterloo, to which he and his nephew Josiah made a pilgrimage from Brussels last summer, Uncle Sim was encountered and conquered by Mrs. Mountelephant. He listened, and was lost — carried away by her commanding eloquence and military genius, as she expatiated, for the edification of her daughters — two stately young ladies of highly apprehensive aspect and voluminous crinoline — upon the magnitude and grandeur of European war. With her parasol as her indicator, she pointed out the locality of the most remarkable events in that great battle, whereon she spake with Johnsonian pomp and patriotic pride.

Yonder was the farm-house of Hougomont; there was the orchard, where “Greek met Greek.” By that road the Prussians advanced. On the right was La Belle Alliance, where Blucher and Wellington first embraced; and there, where mangel-wurzel now is nurtured by the ensanguined soil, that fell and final struggle ensued, in obedience to the summons, “Up guards and at ’em,” whose memory historians have rendered imperishable.

When a young man, Uncle Sim had been one of the Coggeshall Fencibles, and even now the embers of martial enthusiasm glowed in his bosom, and lent a heroic radiance to his eye. No wonder, therefore, that he gazed admiringly upon Mrs. Mountelephant, and eagerly sought to make her acquaintance.

Moreover, though he had never invested his happiness in nuptial bonds, he had a fine appreciation of feminine majesty, and was wont to speak of Siddons, Pasta, and other Queens of Tragedy and Song, in terms of extravagant laudation. With the graceful gallantry of a past age, he rendered homage to the magnificent charms of the Irish widow, and was so successful, that a month had scarcely elapsed from their meeting at Waterloo, when the widow had taken possession not only of his heart, but of furnished apartments in his house.

One evening, shortly after Uncle Simkinson had written to inform his nephew of his contemplated union with Mrs. Mountelephant, he was sitting alone in bachelor meditation — fancy free — when, dreaming of wedded bliss, he nodded and fell asleep. He was awoke by a brisk current of air, which he ascribed to the sudden entrance of Mrs. Mountelephant and her voluminous daughters. Presenting him with a marriage licence, the widow announced that she had arranged everything for to-morrow at 11 A.M., military time, and hoped Mr. Simkinson would not keep the carriage waiting.

Uncle Sim, whose mind was not accustomed to travel by express trains of thought, declared afterwards, that he felt so completely subdued by Mrs. Mountelephant’s imperial address, that he had neither power nor will to offer any resistance. The nuptials were accordingly solemnised forthwith; and on their return from church, Mrs. Simkinson addressed her consort — having first desired him to be seated — in these words:

“You may probably not be aware, Mr. Simkinson, that I am and have been for some years — indeed prior to my poor dear husband’s decease — the ‘Honorary Secretary to the Ladies’ Managing Committee of the United General and Benevolent Association for the Promotion of Cottage Economy among the Industrial Peasantry in the Northern District of the Province of Connaught.’

My official duties will require my presence in Ireland for a few weeks every year. I have, however, made such arrangements that you will not have to complain of any want of comfort during my absence. Martha will remain with you on board wages. I have given her directions about taking down the four-post bedstead, during which time perhaps you would not mind sleeping on the boards. The chandelier, mirror, paintings, piano, sofa, &c, will all be carefully wrapped in brown-holland, so that you need be under no apprehension of their sustaining any injury.

The family plate I have sent to my daughter Adelaide, and the best china cups and saucers are carefully put away, so that nothing can be stolen or destroyed. The carpets will all be taken up and the floors scoured. With reference to refections, you will find sixty-seven spoonfuls of tea in the caddy — two for each day and one over for the teapot.

As Martha will be so much occupied, perhaps you will excuse her cooking more than is absolutely necessary. I have told her to get you a neck of mutton for Sunday next, which will probably last you all the week. Should you wish for wine or spirits at any time, I will leave the key of the cellaret with my daughter Clarissa, and on your communicating with her at Bayswater, she will supply you with any quantity that you may require.

There is half a bottle of cowslip wine and a little gingerette, but you will only take them medicinally of course. I have looked the book-case, but you will find on my official bureau, which is open, a few works, such as ‘Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations,’ ‘M’Culloch’s Statistics,’ ‘Watts’ Logic,’ ‘The Principles of Banking Popularly Explained,’ and a largo collection of Blue Books, by which your mind in solitude will be agreeably elevated and relieved.

Martha has tied a kid glove round the knocker to prevent hearth-stone boys from coming up the steps, so that you can pursue your studies without interruption. You will oblige me by keeping the curtains drawn and blinds down, and let me beg of you not to indulge in your usual habit of humming any secular tunes, which might lead unthinking persons to associate my absence with feelings on your part other than those of deep and becoming regret.”

“Have you finished?” demanded Uncle Sim.

“One word more. Should any friend call, as you will have no means of entertaining him, you will not be ‘at home’ — in the polite sense of the term.”

“Madam!” exclaimed Uncle Sim, unable any longer to curb his rage, “do you wish to reduce me to a perfect nonentity? Are you aware that I am your lord and master? That my will is law, and that your province is simply to render obedience and honour?”

“Sir!” returned the late Mrs. Mountelephant, majestically, “I shall not condescend to answer such common-place remarks.”

Uncle Sim collapsed to his natural proportions.

”But am I to sacrifice nil my little domestic bachelor comforts?” pleaded Uncle Sim, with tearful pathos.

“Assuredly!” rejoined his imperious consort; “have I not sacrificed my pension — my name — my independence? Ungrateful man! I leave you to your reflections.”

And with a magnificent sweep of her train, she left him accordingly.

“This is a pretty reign of terror,” soliloquised Uncle Sim, throwing open his coat to breathe more freely. “I’m looked upon by Mrs. S. as less than nobody. I’ll not endure it! I’ll have a deed of separate maintenance!”

And scarcely had he uttered the words, when Clarissa entered, and, with a reproachful gaze, denounced him as a “monster,” while Adelaide, looking over her sister’s shoulder, shudderingly pronounced him a “brute.”

Paralysed by such fearful epithets, Uncle Sim was seized with vertigo; his head swam, his body reeled, and, unable to maintain his balance, cither mental or physical, he fainted away.

When he recovered his senses he was standing at the street-door, benumbed with cold. It was a frosty moon-lit night, and the iron railings sparkled as if strewn with small diamonds. After knocking violently for some minutes, Martha looked out of her chamber-window, and informed him that it was past one o’clock, and missis had ordered her never to admit master if he wasn’t home before eleven.

Uncle Sim broke into a cold perspiration. He now saw it all Mrs. S. was determined to worry him to death, secure his property, and marry another victim — if another could be found.

With feelings of unfeigned contrition, Uncle Sim retired to a small coffee-shop, where he slept all day. On his return home he perceived lights in the drawing-room, and shadows on tho muslin curtains, which made his purse-strings quiver, feeling that shadows such as these must be attended with a loss of substance somewhere. A confectioner’s man was standing at the door, who requested Uncle Sim to help him down with his tray — an indignity to which Uncle Sim peremptorily refused to submit.

“Why, arn’t you the greengrocer wot’s come to wait at table?” said the confectioner’s man with an air of surprise.

“Greengrocer?” cried Uncle Sim. “No! I’m master of the house.”

“Doubtful!” coolly replied the man of tarts; “there’s only one master here, and that’s a missus.”

“I’ll go for a policeman,” said Uncle Sim, and he had proceeded some distance for that purpose, when, turning round, his steps and attention were arrested by a fly, with a gaunt horse, which stopped at his family mansion; and from which alighted three ladies in blue satin, one slightly deformed, and a stout military-looking man wearing a waxed moustache.

Uncle Sim hastened back, but it was too late, the door was closed before he could reach it, and with a sense of desolation he sat down on his own steps and wept.

The arrival of hired musicians — a harp, fiddle, and violoncello — compelled him to rise. Availing himself of the opportunity he followed them in, and ascending the grand staircase, was about to enter the drawing-room, when he was stopped by the greengrocer in faded theatrical livery, who begged him, as a gentleman, to walk down, as Mrs. Simkinson had very “pertikler ” company.

This was too much, Uncle Sim seized the innocent greengrocer by his scarlet collar, and compressiug him into a corner, left him breathless; then, bounding forward, he presently confronted Mrs. Simkinson, who was presiding at the tea-urn, while Clarissa and Adelaide sat on the sofa, one on either side of the stout military-man, whom they were evidently besieging with compliments of large calibre. The ladies in blue satin were bending over Heath’s Book of Beauties, and three fashionable but faint-looking gentlemen with faultless back-hair were bending over them.

“Don’t move, ladies,” said Mrs. Simkinson, composedly pausing with sugar-tongs in hand; “this poor gentleman labours under an hallucination; he fancies that he is master of the house, but he is quite harmless.”

So saying she stamped once or twice heavily on the carpet, when two solemn-looking men with cotton pocket-handkerchiefs in their hands, made their appearance, and would kindly have persuaded Uncle Sim to allow himself to be led away.

“Never!” exclaimed the noble champion of the rights of man, “it’s my house, it’s my wife, it’s my furniture; and before I’ll abdicate my throne I’ll throw my house, and all that is in it, out of window!”

A shriek that might have penetrated a party wall burst from the ladies in blue as Uncle Sim wildly seizing the sofa cushions, flung up the window-sash, and hurled them into the fore-court below. Music stool, canterbury, ottoman, squab, vases, lustres, shovel, poker, tongs, broom, and kettle-holder, followed in rapid succession, and Uncle Sim was about raising the chair of state occupied by his stupendous consort, when a familiar voice startled him, and, looking up, he beheld his old friend Butterfield and his nephew Josiah, who were standing by his own fireside, and laughing heartily at his surprised demeanour.

“Why, Sim, you’ve been dreaming,” exclaimed Mr. Butterfield; ” had a cucumber, I suppose, for supper?”

“Thank fortune it’s no worse!” replied Uncle Sim, wiping his forehead.” I fancied, Josey, that I was married to Mrs. Mountelephant.”

And he then proceeded to relate, with some degree of agitation, the fearftil vision by which his slumbers had been broken.

“How horrid,” said Josiah, sympathetically. “I don’t wonder at your looking so pale.”

After some further conversation upon Mrs. Mountelephant, whose name alone, as Uncle Sim observed, was enough to inspire an army with terror, Mr. Butterfield retired in order that Josiah might, as he expressed it, have a clear stage and no favour. Josiah accordingly, with modest assurance, proceeded to lay his matrimonial plans before his uncle, humbly hoping that his patron would have no objection to his union with a young lady of no fortune, but of excellent principles, and — bating a little hastiness — of sweet disposition.

“Objection,” cried Uncle Sim, joyously shaking Josiah’s hand. “I admire your courage, Josey, and will dance at your wedding, and you shall dance at mine — some day — but not just yet, Josey — not just yet.”

The young chemist and Sophy, having long had —in Josiah’s language — a “natural affinity” for each other, are now indissolubly united. Clarissa is engaged to Major K , unattached, and Adelaide is idolised by a French artist, whose pencil has already immortalised her lofty loveliness.

As for Uncle Simkinson and Mrs. Mountelephant, they are as good friends as ever, and likely long to remain so; for while declining to enlist his affections under her banner, Uncle Sim still regards that majestic woman with gallant admiration, and taking into account her knowledge of military tactics, conscientiously believes her worthy to rank with some of the oldest generals in Her Majesty’s service.

A.


 

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