WORLDLINGS (I am informed) say that if you keep on telling the world a certain thing, the world will believe it at last, and the great art (I am assured) is, never to lose an opportunity of pressing your point upon your intended convert. The world said that Mr. John Savernake was a good man, and I am inclined to think that he obtained this character chiefly from his having pertinaciously, and for several years, declared that he deserved it.
Now, Mr. Savernake did not look like a good man. Nevertheless, he was not ill looking, had a fresh and clean complexion, shaved all kind of hair from his face, kept his upper hair, which was black and rather short, smoothly oiled, and though as a professional gentleman (who “did” bills) he did not think it meet to dress exactly like those who came to him for money, he was always very glossy and Sunday-fied, and his things looked new. He had rather small sharp black eyes, which did not “stand out with fatness,” like tho evil Oriental’s, but rather the reverse, the plumpness of his face placing them a little in recess, as in the porcine family.
His voice was harsh and coarse, and not particularly under his command, especially when his temper had mastered him, but as a rule, he affected, with his equals, a kind of jeering jollity which those who wished to speak well of him called bonhommie. They did not call it so when they had ceased to wish to speak well of him, and yet were obliged to speak civilly to him, as would sometimes happen to gentlemen who incurred money obligations which they are unable to meet.
He could laugh, and show good white teeth, but his usual smile was a muscular effort which drew his mouth a little way towards his left ear, and did not produce a pleasing effect, especially upon a party who was endeavouring to show excellent reasons why Mr. Savernake should forego proceedings on a certain bill, and got that smile instead of a promise to give time.
But he was not altogether a bad fellow — who is, utter in their wrath the most offensive things in these days? Savernake would give a very good dinner, and so far from stinting his excellent wine, nothing delighted him more than to see a guest take a great deal too much. Cheaply purchased by the usurer was the pleasure of being able to say to his guest next time they met, and especially if other persons were present, “How very drunk you were on Tuesday. What a ridiculous figure you cut up-stairs. Laughingstock of the whole party. O, don’t tell me.”
Well, the dinner he would give you would have cost you at an hotel a guinea and a half at least. Put your own price upon the pleasure his elegant speech next day would cause you, and deduct the difference. That, at least, was the arithmetic of a good many men who had their own reasons for not rejecting his invitations, and who, during that period, declared that they got the dinner cheap. Now, out of his clutch, they say that they were very extravagant.
It has been said that John Savernake took pains to impress upon the world the fact that he was a good man. Not a religious man, mind; for he was too self-indulgent to indulge in playing at Somebody Else. He also lacked self-command for the continuous assumption of character. He usually swore a little, and sometimes a great deal, and certainly had not the educative imagination which enables some professedly pious persons to without ever becoming profane. And there were two or three other reasons why Mr. Savernake’s goodness could not exactly take the form of religion. But what he asserted to the world that he was, and what when he had had some wine, I am disposed to think he half believed himself to be, was a kindly-hearted, charitable, generous Chap (as he put it), a little impulsive, and perhaps too apt to speak his mind (“might perhaps have been a richer man if I wasn’t”), but at bottom a worthy fellow, whose Heart was in the Right Place.
O, what a lot of that description there are, and what an addition they are to the necessary miseries of this life! Our friend was very prompt at putting his name down to charities and the like, and his name was often proclaimed by the Worthy Chairman, and inserted in the printed list of Benefactors. He was something less prompt in handing his cheque to the collector, who was lucky if he found Mr. Savernake disengaged, but one has heard of that little peculiarity being exhibited by better men even than John Savernake.
John sometimes waxed savage, and took high ground, when teased for his contribution. “I give my example, and my name, and my recommendation to your association. I take an interest in it, and get others to do so, and I think that it is ungrateful and impolitic to bother me about the trumpery subscription. I shall pay when I choose.” And he could thus get another long grace, or perhaps escape paying altogether, until a new collector arose, who knew not Savernake.
But some people judge a man by what he is at home, and assert that until you have seen the state of feeling between him and his family, you know nothing about him. This is, of course, extremely unfair and improper. What right has anybody to penetrate into domestic life, and thence inhospitably gather information to be used elsewhere. Besides, the rule of judging from these internal discoveries is very unjustly applied. One has heard many a man excused for being a brute to, and a swindler of, persons out of doors, by the plea, “Ah, but if you only saw him at home. He is devotedly attached to Mrs. BruinHawk, and as for his children, they make a perfect fool of him. He can’t be bad.”
But (and it was unlucky for Savernake), few people take the other side, and apologise for a man’s insulting his wife and snubbing his children, on the ground that he does so much good out of doors and has his name on so many charity lists. He is called a hypocrite.
Savernake was sometimes called a hypocrite, but chiefly by incautious wives, who did not know the value of money, or that of keeping well with a man to whom their husbands owed money. There came unhappiness once or twice out of the way in which Savernake treated his family.
He had a wife — a blessing which, like the rain, comes upon the just and the unjust, a proof of its providential origin — a son who was learning the law, with a view to combining it with his father’s amiable calling — and a daughter, who was a pretty girl, and as good as she could be in a house where there was little of good thought or acted.
Savernake was habitually rather civil to his wife; for, as hath been told, ho was a self-indulgent person, and had an instinctive sense that a good deal of extra comfort might be got out of his home with its mistress tolerably well inclined towards him. Really, therefore, Mrs. Savernake was not very much ill-treated. But as there was no real restraint upon her husband’s temper, except the pleasant one that has been mentioned, and as he was pretty sure to blaze out into savagery when he got tipsy, and as he was pretty sure to get tipsy when ho had company, such part of that company as had heard Mr. John Savernake administering marital chiding to Mrs. John Savernake, came away with the impression that he was a most abominable brute.
Before a wife refuses to visit any of her husband’s acquaintances, she should be quite sure that she can afford to have that acquintance offended. Little Mrs. George Chalmers was very wretched when her George was captured at breakfast one morning, at the suit of John Savernake — the rupture between plaintiff and defendant was occasioned by Mrs. George’s having, inconsequence of her recollection of Mr. Savernake’s amiabilities to his wife, refused an invitation to meet some rather distinguished victims for whom the usurer wished to make a pleasant party. However, George ought to have told her of his danger, and so she said, with tears, when she went over to see him in B 14, Surrey, bringing him the produce of her pawned jewels.
As for the son, Andrew, there was little to say about him at the time of our story, except that he was a white-faced, sneaking kind of lad, who always looked as if he thought you were going to throw something at him, and was prepared to dodge the missile. When his father swore at him, he sulked, and sometimes snapped, and even ventured on a little bad language in return.
For the rest, he was a dutiful lad, and would sit on a swell’s doorstep half the night, to be ready to serve hiin with a writ when he came home joyous and vinous from the club. He limped slightly from a preternatural kick once received by him from the foot of an Irish gentleman, not then accustomed to the amenities of the law; and who, finding the white-faced youth loitering about the door of his chambers, did, as he remarked, “eliminate the ruffian with some promptitude.” Still less is there anything to say about Mr. Andrew Savernake now, inasmuch as he has not nearly half completed a mission on which he has been despatched, at his country’s cost, to a distant, and what is playfully called, a penal settlement.
But Flora Savernake was a pretty and good girl, who having good impulses was very naturally led to separate herself as early as she conveniently could from a house where either hollowness or violence was the order of every day.
At the time we are going to speak of she was — but stay. I should like to tell how she managed it. I am afraid she had been reading some French farce, for there was very little attention paid to her studies. Her mother knew nothing, and her father cared nothing about such matters. But Mr. Savernake found out that she had given very serious encouragement to the attentions of one Charles Heneage, a young newspaper man, who had been invited to the house because he could tell a story and sing a song, and who accepted the invitation to the house, because he liked a good dinner and Flora Savernake.
Terrible was the storm that burst upon Miss Flora’s curls, and thunderous were the maledictions which the man whose Heart was in the Right Place discharged upon the pretensions of “the beggar that wrote for so much a line, and hadn’t a something shilling in the world.”
Flora was not frightened at the noise and the oaths — she had heard that sort of thing often before. But when her affectionate father proceeded to say that he would lock her up in a bedroom until next day, when he would take her away into Wales, she began to think that matters were growing serious. I suppose she had strange ideas of the terrors of Wales, and supposed that she should be shut up for life in a strong castle aud fed on leeks, which was not an inviting prospect to a young lady of nineteen.
So she very properly burst into tears, declared that she had never had the least idea of encouraging Mr. Heneage, except as an amusing companion; and if the next time Charles Heneage came, her papa would only be present, he would see that there was no intention, on her part, of offering him hope. To this Mr. Savernake grimly assented, but insisted that he should be concealed during the interview. He would listen to what passed.
Handsome Heneage came and Mr. Savernake was informed of his arrival, and secreted himse’f as appointed. The young couple met, and by a curious coincidence (I am told that a look or a finger will put a lover on his guard) the conversation was extremely guarded and general, until after a pause, the listening father heard his daughter exclaim in a tone of high indignation:
“A letter, Mr. Heneage, and clandestinely delivered to me! No, sir, I shall not take it. Anything that I ought to receive, should be sent through my papa or mamma. Take it back, sir. You will not take it. Then I throw it on the ground, and set my foot upon it.”
And Savernake heard a stamp of the little foot. Flora did not know, you see, whether he could see her, or not.
“You had better take up your letter, and go, Mr. Heneage,” proceeded the artless girl. “You do not know the pain you have given me.”
Mr. Heneage remarked something about sorrow and presumption, took up his letter, and departed; and Miss Savernake received some grumbling approbation from her father, and was, at all events, to be left at liberty for the present.
While he was shaving, which he was very careful about, the next morning, a sudden thought crossed Mr. Savernake’s mind, and he cut himself, as the reader may be glad to hear, very severely. It took him some time to abuse his wife, and staunch the blood, and finish dressing; but as soon as those duties were performed, he rushed to Miss Flora’s door, and demanded whether she were dressed. No answer.
Dressed, of course, she was, and looking very pretty — in her hat — by the side of handsome Charles Heneage, in a covpi of the Great Western Railway, and at least fifty miles from London. Charles Heneage had written no letter on the preceding day, but that was no reason against Flora’s writing one, stating her terrors, and mentioning where she would meet him next morning at five, and flinging it — as she remarked — upon the ground, for him to take up. They are a very happy couple, and Charles is making a large income, and going to be called to the bar.
But frantically enraged as was the man with the Heart in the Right Place, at his daughter getting away and being made happy, the incident which perhaps he will remember longer is his purchase of the house in which his childhood had been spent. The kindly-hearted, generous, impulsive Chap, with the heart as aforesaid, had quarelled with his parents at an early age, — had been turned out of their house in town, and sent to be apprenticed in the country; how he broke his indentures, and what subsequent rascalities he performed until he became blessed of Providence — rich and respected — need not be told. We know him as a wealthy man, and he says that he is a good one, and he ought to know.
Mr. Savernake happened to see that the house in which his parents, long since dead, had resided, was for sale. There it was in the advertisement, Number 45, Atherton Street, Russell Square, W. C. And there mingled with a aort of liking to possess the house where he had been a child, a decided feeling that it was a respectable and also touching and refreshing thing to do. And finding that the house was in good condition, he bought it, and sent in upholsterers and furnishers, and in due course the mansion was all elegance and splendour, as beseemeth a house in such a region. Mr. Savernake and his wife moved into the new abode; and, as early as possible, he gave a great ostentatious dinner to more people than could well sit down. It was the house-warming.
The dinner went off with iclat, and everything was admired; and at the proper time the proper friend of the family rose to say the proper thing about congratulations to their kind host and hostess, and long might they live to enjoy the beautiful house in which, for the first time, they had dispensed their general hospitality.
Mr. Savernake rose in full swagger. He was not a man of many words, but his Heart was in the Right Place. (That it is.) He was very thankful to them all for coming — he could not give them such splendid repasts as they enjoyed at home — (Oh .’) but they had a hearty welcome, and he hoped that he should often and often see them again with their legs under his mahogany. (Applause.) Allusion had been made by his kind friend to the house. It had been called beautiful. It was well enough; and he didn’t say that he wasn’t well lodged. But that was not the thing. Why he loved the house — why it was dear to him, from kitchen to roof, was that it had been the home of his boyhood. Yes, 45, Atherton Street, had been his childhood’s home. He knew every room, he might say every board in every floor, and every knot in every board. In this house a good father’s counsels had often been given him; in this sacred house — in a spot he had visited — he was not ashamed to tell them — just before they came, a dear mother’s tears had flowed over him. (Sensation. ) The very number of the house had been blessed to him; 45 had been a lucky number many a time and oft. He was once more at home — he felt that every wall and rafter seemed to honour and love him, and — and — his Heart was in the Right Place. Ajid God bless them all.
He sat down amid great enthusiasm; but what is life?
At the last moment, and to fill a vacant chair, he had asked in an old gentleman of large proportions, but larger self-esteem, he having filled divers parochial offices in the district in which they 6tood. The old gentleman was offended at being thus asked, but came and eat his dinner, and this was the return he made.
When the applause had subsided, and the words “interesting,”and “touching”and “manly,”
were buzzing about, as usual, the old gentleman
his name was Hepper — rose, and begged silence. His imposing appearance, and white hair, prejudiced everybody in his favour, and all looked out for a new sensation. They got one.
“Nobody,” said Mr. Hepper, in the most distinct voice, while servants at the open door listened, as well as the guests, — “nobody can feel more than I do the beauty of what has fallen from our worthy host. To come back to the home of our childhood a rich and good man is the noblest event of life. (Oreat applause.) I wish I had known our worthy host a little earlier. ( “Make up for it,” from Mr. Savernake.) I should like to have known him when he was buying this house. (Attention.) Because — and as I was at the time the collector of rates for the street, I knew all about it — exactly six years ago, all the houses in the street were new numbered, and this, which is now 45, was, when our host was a boy, 57. I dare say he was never in this house till he bought it. However, the sentiment is the same, and does him the highest honour.”
A good man struggling with a misfortune is a sight dear to the gods. As Mr. Savernake always stated that he was a good man, anyhow, there must have been much enjoyment that night upon Olympus. There was very little in 45, Atherton Street.