“Tobacco is the tomb of love,” writes a modern novelist of high standing; but, with every respect for his authority, I beg to say it was quite the contrary in my case.
Twenty-one years ago, I was sitting by my fireside, totting up innumerable pages of my bachelor’s housekeeping-book, taking exercise in arithmetic on long columns of “petty cash” — comprising items for carrots and Bath-bricks, metal tacks and mutton chops — until, tired and wearied, I arrived at the sum total, and jerked the book on the mantelpiece.
Nearly at the same time I placed my hand in the pocket of my dressing gown, drew out a leather case, and lit a principe. Well, having lit the principe, I placed my feet on the fender and sighed, exhausted by my long job of domestic accounts. I was then in business — ’twas a small wholesale business then, ’tis a large one now — yet one morning’s totting of carrots and Bath-bricks, of metal tacks and mutton chops, would tire me a thousand times more than twenty-four hours of honest ledger-work.
I sighed, not from love, but from labour; for, to tell you the truth, I had never been in love. Is this to go on for ever? thought I, as I took my third whiff, and looked dreamily through the thin smoke as it ascended between me and a large print of the capture of Gibraltar which hung over the chimney piece. Am I to spend my prime in totting up parsnips, and computing carrots, and comptrolling washing-bills? I sighed again, and in the act, off I flew the button of my neck-band, as though some superior power had seasonably sent the accident to remind me of my helplessness.
The button settled the business; though, as it slipped down inside my shirt, and passed with its mother-o’-pearl coldness over my heart, it for a moment threatened to chill my matrimonial resolution. I pitied my own lonely state, and pity, we know, is akin to love. But how was the matter to be accomplished? Most men at my age would already have adjusted their inclination to some object; so that having made up their mind and counted the cost, little more would have remained to be done than to decide upon the day, and lay hold upon the licence.
This, however, was not the case with me. I had been too much occupied, too idle, or too indolent to devote the time or make the effort to “form an attachment.” It was through no disinclination or difficulty to be pleased; for had any young lady of moderately agreeable powers taken the trouble, she might have married me long ere then. I should even have been grateful to her for taking the trouble off my hands; but I was too bashful to adopt the initiative.
I was a bashful man. This weakness came from the same cause as my Uncle Toby’s — namely, a I want of acquaintance with female society, which | want arose from another cause in my case — namely, I too close an application to business.
Accordingly I thought of an advertisement; yet with no practical design of doing business, but, as I persuaded myself, for a joke. So I scratched with a pencil on the back of a letter, the following: —
WANTED A WIFE. — None but principals need apply. The advertiser does not require cash, but only a companion. He is six-and-twenty, and, tired of single, he thinks he can settle down to married life. As men go, he believes he has a moderate share of temper, and want of time is his only reason for having recourse to the newspapers. He has enough means for himself and a second party, and is willing to treat at once. He is quite aware that a great many attempts to convert his honest intentions into an extravagant joke will be made, but he warns all rash in traders. If he finds a man hardy enough to make sport of his affections, he will thrash him — if a woman, he will forgive her. He has a heart for the sincere, a horsewhip for the impertinent. In either case, all applications will be promptly attended to, if addressed to P. P., to the office of this paper.
I felt proud of my composition, and puffed away my principe with a vague glee and anticipation of something coming out of it. I had no very great idea that anything but fun would result; and I certainly had not the slightest notion of involving myself in a personal collision with any one. Still the presentiment that it was not destined to be all a barren joke, pressed upon me.
On Saturday the advertisement appeared, and I heard its style canvassed by all my friends, and it was jokingly suggested by more than one, that I was the domestically destitute individual who put it forth.
On Monday morning I sent a boy to the newspaper office for P. P.’s letters. I expected he might be followed by some curious and inquisitive persons; so I told him on his way back to call at a bachelor neighbour’s of mine for a book. The trick told. The lad was followed by some persons who never lost sight of him until they ran him to my friend’s, and then they went back and announced that he was the advertiser. I thus discharged in full one or two practical jokes which my neighbour had played upon me.
The answers were of the usual character — several seeking to elicit my name, and still more suggesting places of meeting, where I was to exhibit myself with a flower in my button-hole and a white handkerchief in my hand. One only looked like business. It was from a lady, who proposed an interview in a neighbouring city, about forty miles north. She said there was something so frank and straightforward in my advertisement, that she was convinced it was real, and she could rely upon my keeping her name secret, if after we met nothing came of the meeting. She would, therefore, see me at the— , at — , on a certain day, and if mutual approbation did not follow the interview, why there was no harm done.
Most people would have put down this as a trap to give me a journey for nothing. I did not. A presentiment impelled me to accept and keep the engagement. This was in the old coaching days, when a man had time to make an acquaintance in forty miles, not as now, when you are at your journey’s end before you have looked round your company in a railway carriage. There were but two insides — myself and a pleasant, talkative, honest-faced elderly gentleman. Shy and timid in female society, I was yet esteemed animated and agreeable enough amongst my own sex. We had no trouble, therefore, in making ourselves agreeable to one another; so much so, that as the coach approached G_ , and the old gentleman learned that I meant to stop there that night, he asked me to waive ceremony and have a cup of tea with him after I had dined at my hotel. My “fair engagement” was not till next day, and, as I liked the old gentleman, I accepted his offer.
After my pint of sherry, I brushed my hair and went in search of my coach companion and my promised cup of tea. I had no difficulty in finding him out, for he was – a man of substance and some importance in the place. I was shown into the drawing-room. My old friend received me heartily, and introduced me to his wife and five daughters.
“All spinsters, sir,” said he; “young ladies whom an undiscriminating world seems disposed to leave upon my hands.”
“If we don’t sell, papa,” said the eldest, who with her sisters seemed to reflect her father’s fun, “it is not for want of puffing, for all your introductions are advertisements.”
At the mention of this last word, I felt a little discomposed, and almost regretted my engagement for the next day, when that very night, perhaps, my providential opportunity had arrived. I need not trouble my readers with all our sayings and doings during tea; suffice it to say that I found them a very pleasant, friendly family, and was surprised to find I forgot all my shyness and timidity, encouraged by their good-tempered ease and conversation.
They did not inquire whether I was married or single, for where there were five young unmated daughters, the question might seem invidious. I, however, in the freedom of the moment, volunteered the information of my bachelorhood; I thought I had no sooner communicated the fact than the girls passed round a glance of arch intelligence from one to the other. I cannot tell you how odd I felt at the moment. My sensations were between pleasure and confusion, as a suspicion crossed my mind, and helped, I felt, to colour my cheek. Presently, however, the eldest, with an assumed indifference which cost her an effort, asked where I was staying.
“At the hotel,” I answered with some embarrassment.
It was with difficulty they restrained a laugh; they bit their lips, and I had no longer a suspicion — I was certain. So, after having some music, when I rose to depart I mustered courage, as I bid them good bye, to say aside to the eldest:
“Shall P. P. consider this the interview?” A blush of conscious guilt, I should rather say innocence, told me I had sent my random arrow to the right quarter; so I pressed the matter no further at that moment, but I did her hand.
I remained in at my hotel next day, until an hour after the appointed time, but no one made their appearance. “Then,” thought I, brushing my hair and adjusting my cravat, “since the mountain will not come to Mahomet, Mahomet must go to the mountain;” so I walked across to my old friends. The young ladies were all in. The eldest was engaged with some embroidery at the window. I had therefore an opportunity, as I leant over the frame, to whisper:
“S. S. is not punctual.”
The crimson in her face and neck was now so deep, that a sceptic himself would no longer doubt. I need say no more; that evening in her father’s garden, she confessed that she and her sisters had conspired to bring me up to G_ on a fool’s errand, never meaning, of course, to keep the engagement.
“Then,” said I, “since you designed to take me in, you must consent to make me happy!”
“And what did she say, papa?” asks my second daughter, who is now looking over my shoulder as I write.
“Why, you little goose, she promised to be your mamma, and she has kept her word.”
M. R. J.