BEING A RECITAL OF CERTAIN MISERABLE DAYS AND NIGHTS PASSED, WHEREWITH TO WARM THE HEART OP THE CHRISTMAS SEASON.
We are six — seven would have made the announcement a poetical quotation; but one is wanting, and we remain a prosy half-dozen, not unwilling to be jolly, but waiting for the occasion. We are at an inn, of course. Outside it is wintry weather, and a great log fire beams on us like a cheerful president.
Lawyer Spence and Mr. Selby belong to the neighbourhood. Of the other gentlemen, one speculates in hops, and has a fine appreciation of the punch; one is of the Indian Civil Service; the last is a servant of the public of Great Britain.
How we came together here, would interest you but slightly. People are always flying about at Christmas, and accidents will happen. Enough that we cry out with clown, “Here we are!”
Now Christmas is such a season for telling stories, that, I give you my word, and I am confirmed in my attestation of the fact by the after assurance of every gentleman present, we had no idea of amusing each other; we thought only of drinking our punch and toddling to bed: and to bed we should have gone, with nothing to laugh over, had not Mr. Lorquison said suddenly:
“Ha! cold weather! We’re comfortable here, eh? How did you spend the autumn, sir?” And that began it.
H.E.I.C.S. was addressed, and replied:
“Oh, down in Scotland.”
The conversation was relapsing; we had almost lost it; when H.E.I.C.S. appeared to remember something, and laughed.
Mr. Lorquison immediately turned a conversational side-face to him: Mr. Spence lifted his head from his glass: Mr. Selby smacked his knee: and the dealer in hops inquired what tickled his fancy.
“Nothing particular,” said the Indian. “I was on the moors in a friend’s hut, and was only laughing at a miserable night I passed there.”
A DREADFUL NIGHT IN A HUT ON THE MOORS.
He paused, as if to hint there was really nothing remarkable in his experience, and pursued:
“My friend hires a shepherd’s hut for the shooting season. The shepherd’s wife is his cook, and does the work in primitive fashion. You shoot a blackcock — it’s presented to you boiled, a pheasant — boiled! everything’s boiled! I believe she would boil a boar’s head. I suffered a little, of course, but that was nothing. She made tolerable hare soup. The animal is skinned, and then stewed down — blood, entrails, and all. I once brought her a hare: she rejected it with scorn: there wasn’t ‘bluid enoo’.’ Well, we shot some game — blackcock rather plentiful this season — tried our hands at spearing salmon, and sought what amusement we could find among a scanty but lively population.
One night my friend, who had established relations with some neighbouring Scotch — I suppose I must say farmers — invited them to dine with him; and as these gentry have to come some distance over the hills, on invitation of this sort involves the offer of a bed, or, at least, some place for them to stretch their limbs. I forget how many glasses of whiskey-toddy I consumed in their society. I was the first to move to bed; but my departure did not at all disturb them. In my first sleep I was aroused by the sound of a heavy fall on the floor. I rose in bed. My friend was at my feet, trying to open the window. ‘Only one of the Scotchees,’ he said, and informed me that it was impossible to quarter him down stairs, as the door would not shut, and the wind blew cold.
” ‘There he is,’ he added, laughing “toddily,” if I may be allowed the word. ‘He said when he last spoke, that he preferred a good floor to a bed. You’ll find him strong; so I open the windows.’
“Complaint was of no use, so I lay down again: my friend went off to his Scotchee, and all seemed at peace. By and bye I felt the cold, and decided to rise quietly and exclude the wind. I had one foot out of bed, when a low growl surprised me, and made me draw it in again quickly. Looking over on one side, I perceived a dog. I have no doubt he was of the ordinary size of shepherds’ dogs in general, but to me he appeared enormous. He had evidently come to watch over his master, and was determined to tear the leg of any one moving in the room. I thought it better to try and bear the cold than come to a tussle with him, and rouse the savage nature of the beast. There’s something in presenting a naked leg to a dog, which is, I assure you, not pleasant.
But the cold increased. I got out of bed. He growled a moment, and then up he jumped and made a rush at me. I’m not ashamed to confess that I was beforehand with him, and sought ignominious shelter in the sheets. He growled again, and I heard him trot round to his original position at the feet of his master. My case seems ridiculous, but it was really desperate. The wind was blowing dead on me, and what with my Indian constitution and the draughts, I saw myself clearly in for a long course of ills.
But it was a full hour before I could resolve what to do: a most miserable hour, I can assure you. I jumped out of bed with all the bed-coverings in my hand — met the savage beast as he was about to spring, and buried him under them. I had just time to shut the window — I was hurrying back to my bed, when I saw his tail emerge, and there was nothing for it but to return to bed as rapidly as I could, and leave him the sheets and blankets.
There I remained, as cold as ever, while he took his station on them. There never was such a dog in the manger! If I got hold of the end of a blanket and began to pull, he growled and made a dash at my hand. The very movement of my leg caused him to be up and alert for an encounter. Once I pulled with all my might, and the beast seized the blanket between his teeth and pulled against me. I became enraged. I thought of my original stratagem; and leaping out again, I flung the blanket — or what portion of it was in my possession — straight at him. But this time I was not so successful. I only contrived to blind his eye for a moment — the next we were rolling together over the recumbent Scotchman.
” ‘Hech! is it the deil?’ I heard him say; and he grasped my foot.
“I lashed out, and sent him roaring backward. Presently he and I were engaged, and burst through the door in our struggle, without much difficulty, right on to the body of my friend’s Scotchman, extended in the manner of his comrade. He uttered a similar inquiry about the deil! and forthwith joined in the fray. My friend was not long in adding a fourth to this curious nocturnal engagement, the dog all the while barking furiously, and snapping at every leg but his master’s. This lasted, I should think, about twenty minutes, at the shortest calculation, when the shepherd and his wife appeared with lights, and I hope they were gratified. But their arrival gave rise to the second case of dead-lock on record. None of us would move till the dog was secured. I held my Scotchman firmly; my friend held me; his Scotchman held mine; and mine had got hold of my friend — being tenacious of his quarry, I suppose, for he had nothing to fear; and so we continued till the dog was secured. It was then close upon morning. We all went downstairs, and drank in the day. Nothing extraordinary, you see, but something to laugh at.”
This unlocked us.
“I think I’ll take a little more of your punch, sir,” said Mr. Selby to Mr. Lorquison. Mr. Lorquison filled Mr. Selby’s glass, and then rubbed his hands, as one who has suddenly the prospect of a good social evening before him.
A PARALLEL NIGHT IN A BED.
“Yes,” continued Mr. Selby. “This didn’t happen to me, mind! But talking about miserable nights, reminds me of a case. There was a fellow on my uncle’s estate — you know it, Spence — at Benlea. I made friends with him when I was a boy, and such a fellow I think I never met. He was a daring fellow, a determined poacher — in short, a good-for-nothing; — what your Scotch friends, sir, would call a ‘ne’er-do-weel:’ and he went to the ‘deil’ as fast as he could.
His name was Tom Clayper. We called him Tom Claypipe, because he always had one in his mouth. Well, the fellow took a fancy to me, and taught me some tricks, which I hope I have forgotten. When we’re young we’re not very choice in our friendships. But Tom really had some good points. I have known him send a hare secretly to a poor widow, who wanted a bit of something. The hare, you say, cost him little. Perhaps he did not reckon how much it did cost him. However, from poaching to highway robbery, and from that to burglary, was but a step for Tom. He found Benlea too hot for him, and disappeared.
I met him ten years afterwards. Looking in the paper one day, I saw there was a trial of one with many aliases, for feloniously entering a certain house — Squire Pell’s, of Boddington — and stealing, &c, &c. Among the list of aliases stood the name of Clayper. He was condemned, and sentenced to transportation for the term of his natural life.
“The sight of the poor fellow’s name, and his position, called up some boyish feelings of mine, and I made up my mind to go and see him. I was able to procure admission. Tom recognised me at once, and held out his hand. He was never ashamed of himself; which was one characteristic he had. We talked over old times. I was capable of appreciating what merits Mr. Clayper possessed, now that I had seen more of the world, and he was certainly an extraordinary fellow. As I was still young enough to be pleased at hearing adventures; and as Tom, now that his career seemed closed, was gratified in relating his, I had Tom’s history before we parted. Its finale seems to have been this: for Tom was rather shy of speaking about certain matters — a peculiarity I have noticed in some of your rips. He had his feelings of delicacy where women are concerned.
A rather pretty girl was in service at the Squire’s — Squire Pell, I think I told you. To her Tom paid court. He was richer in presents than in reputation. I fancy the girl gave him reason to think she liked him. At all events she did not return his fineries. One evening, Mr. Tom met the Colonel in her company — somewhere about the grounds. Tom assured me that he passed them civilly; but the next time he came across the Colonel he was surly, and managed to insult him, and then to speak In mind, which was none of the cleanest. The Colonel, you must know, was engaged at the time to be married to Squire Pell’s only daughter — money, but no beauty. So he let Tom get the best of him; but from that day, Tom says, he felt he had an enemy, and knew who that enemy was. ‘Wasn’t he a coward to hunt a poor devil like that in the dark?’ said Tom to me, and declared he knew the Colonel was a coward, and was determined to be revenged, and satisfied of it.
“One night the Colonel was in bed, and heard his door yield its lock, and open.
“You shall hear the rest in Tom’s words: —
” ‘I knew that man was a coward, sir; so once in the house, and sure of his room, I knew I had him. I knew the bearings of the bed. I watched how the light fell two or three nights before. The moment I opened the door, I threw the light — carried a dark lantern — threw the light slap on his face. I saw him start. Did that man open his eyes? Deuce a bit! Slept as sound as tenpence. I laughed to myself. Why, if he had got up, it’d have been a fair struggle between us, and nabbed I certainly should ‘a been. But deuce a bit did he stir. Colonel Badger, thinks I, I’ll badger you! Well, I walked slow up to him, with the lantern in one hand, and my pistol in the other, levelled at his head. There was he sleeping harder and harder. I couldn’t quite see his heart beat, but I’ll lay my life it galloped.’
“I will spare you Tom’s oaths.
“‘Well sir,’ he went on. ‘I’d half a mind at one moment, to do for him outright. For a coward who’s nothing better than a villain, what good’s he for, to live? Close down to his forehead I put the muzzle of the pistol. It was tempting then. Just a hair, and he’d have had an extinguisher on his small candle! Lor, sir, his eyes was shut, but I’ll wager he saw it all as clear as day. And there was the prespiration a burstin’ out of his forehead, and rollin’ down his cheeks. I remember a large drop of prespiration on his nose! And he pretendin’ to sleep hard all the while! Why, the stoopid ass! did he think I didn’t know that a chap never sweated in his sleep? Leastways not natural sweat.
Well! I kept at that, drawing the pistol away, and puttin’ of it close, for, I should think, forty minutes or more; but I took no account. I was cruel glad, to be sure, and he prespiring harder and harder. Not a move right or left. I didn’t speak. I thought to myself, “Oh you villain! I dare say you think yourself better than me, don’t you? And if you had me in your power, now, wouldn’t you let loose? But I ain’t such a coward as you! You shall bleed, my fine chap — in the pocket. That’ll do!” For, said Tom to me. I hadn’t come there and run the risk, only to frighten the Colonel. Two birds at one blow was always my game. So by-and-bye,’ Tom pursued, ‘when I thought I’d given my gentleman a pretty good sweat for the benefit of his health, I began to ransack. I knew the whereabouts of his desk, and things — collared the desk entire, and made as if I’d walk away. He had a chance then. The cowardly beast! There he stuck. He’d have liked to snore, just to persuade me he was a snoozin’! And such a fellow as that to go misleadin’ of young women! Ain’t it disgustin’, sir?’
“Tom was a bit of a moralist, you see.
“Well, the end of it was that Tom, after giving the Colonel another dose, made up his mind to quit the premises. ‘And I went, sir,’ said Tom. ‘Got off scot free. I just spoke these words in a solemn voice. Colonel; whether you’re asleep, or whether you’re awake, just you keep quiet the next quarter of an hour, or you’re a dead man. I ain’t going yet, but my comrades is (I was all alone, sir, I never took a pal, if I could help it; but I thought I’d tell him so, the coward !) and I’ll stop outside the door, I says, till they’re safe. So mind your eye, I says. I’m in earnest. And then I touched his forehead with the cold iron and moved back, pointin’ at him still, and his face shinin’ with the cold sweat. He won’t forget that hour I give him, in a hurry. I knew very well he’d sleep on, bless you, and so he did, and I never heard nothin’ till a month ago, when they pounced on me for it, and here I am, goin’ to see foreign lands, thanks to you, Colonel. But you won’t forget me, so don’t try. And everybody’s talking of the story, for I outs with it at the trial neck and crop. I told it all about his sweatin’ and pretendin’ to sleep. I saw the people laugh. I’ll swear the judge enjoyed it, for all he looked that grave you’d think he was a owl. Ha! ha! Mr. Colonel! that’s what I calls strikin’ as you fly. They’ll call you a coward in Old England; but they won’t call me one in Van Diemen.’
“And with this consolation Mr. Tom Clayper departed on his voyage. You will admit, gentlemen, that the Colonel’s night must have been sufficiently miserable.”
We all agreed that we did not envy the Colonel his position. Mr. Spence approved his conduct. The dealer in hops sided with Mr. Tom Clayper. Mr. Lorquison thought he should have given the alarm when the audacious burglar left the room. The H.E.I.C.S. was of opinion that Tom’s judgment on the Colonel was well grounded, and I took the side of those who have not been tried as the Colonel was.
Mr. Spence coughed — “Ahem!”
This, when stories are beginning to flow, is always taken for a sign of one coming in sequence. We were not disappointed.
A MOST EXCITING DRAMA.
“Well, gentlemen,” he commenced, without any apropos, “you’ve given me some amusement, I’ll do my best in return. My story’s professional. You won’t object to that? In the law we hear and come across queer things. I give you warning I had nothing to do with this in question; but my agents in London — a highly respectable firm — were engaged in the inquiry. It was all in the papers some years ago, but I dare say you have forgotten it. And, after all, a story twice told may pass on a winter’s night.”
We applauded the observation, and bade him proceed.
“I’ll make it short,” said Mr. Spence. “It’s a drama in three acts — there’s blood in it; but don’t be alarmed, I beg.
“Act the First, then. I was fond of the play when I was a young man, articled in London. The scene opens in a dentist’s room in the West-End of London. Mr. Filey was a fashionable dentist, with an exceedingly, what is called, gentlemanly appearance. You might have taken him for a baronet, and so might I. A carriage drove up to the house, and a lady carefully attired — West-End costume, and some of those women do look very captivating. I haven’t been in London now for four years, notwithstanding the railways; and when I do go it’s never to the West-End. But, well, — a lady, I said. She inquired for Mr. Filey. That gentleman made his bow.
“‘Mr. Filey,’ she said, ‘I have come to you on a sad case.’ She sighed. Of course Mr. Filey was full of sympathy — in his aspect, at all events.
“‘ Yes,’ she said, ‘it is very sad. You are great in teeth, Mr. Filey. Do you remember me years ago?’
“Mr. Filey begged to be excused his forgetfulness, attributing it to his extended practice.
“‘Ah! I was then younger, Mr. Filey. I am now, as my card will have shown you, Lady Spriggs.’
“Mr. Filey bowed to the title.
“‘I have a nephew, Mr. Filey; the heir to a vast property. He has but one defect — his teeth! Oh! the trouble those teeth have given us! His timidity is such that he will never now approach a dentist’s shop — I mean house, and we are at our wit’s ends what to do with him. Do you think that if I contrived to lure him here, Mr. Filey, that you could so manage as to remove one or two of his — I think you call them grinders — without his being aware of it?’
“The proposition was rather startling, but Mr. Filey was an old hand, and an able.
“He said, he had no doubt that, if he had the young gentleman there, he would extract the teeth, and he should hardly know anything of it — so delicate and sudden would be the manipulation — till it was over.
“‘That will do,’ said the lady. ‘You will eternally oblige his family, Mr. Filey, and deeply shall I feel indebted to you, believe me. I will take the liberty of paying you in advance, if you please. May I know what it will be?’
“She drew forth her purse, and paid the sum Mr. Filey thought fit to demand.
“Arrangements were then made that the young gentleman should call on the morrow, at two o’clock p.m., precisely. Every device not to alarm his sensitiveness in the matter of his teeth was promised by Mr. Filey, who was forewarned that the young gentleman was eccentric, and dressed not quite in the fashion — in fact, commonly; so that, unless you knew it, you would not presume him to be heir to a vast estate.
“The scene closes on Mr. Filey bowing the lady into her carriage.
“Act the Second, displays a jeweller’s shop. West End. Messrs. Spitchcock and Co. A lady alights from her carriage, and enters. She desires to see some jewellery. A diadem set with diamonds fixes her eye. Her taste is pleased by a beautiful bracelet, and a pair of ruby ear-rings which suit her complexion, she thinks. She is assured that they suit her admirably. She hands her card: — Lady Spriggs; at present residing at Mr. Filey’s.
“‘You know Mr. Filey, the dentist?’
“‘Very well, indeed,’ she is told, ‘and Sir Sampson also, by name.’
“She then desires them to make out their bill, and tell her the amount of her purchases. Four hundred odd pounds the bill amounted to. And the shopman wasn’t astonished! But what a country this is, where women can lavish money on gimcracks — as I tell my wife. However! the lady said she would be infinitely obliged to them, if, within half an hour — that was, by two o’clock, precisely, and not a moment later — they would pack up the things, and despatch them and the bill, by one of their young men, to Mr. Filey’s, where Sir Sampson, her husband, would write out a cheque, and liquidate the debt. Some woman’s rigmarole, I suppose. However the request was readily assented to. She departed, and the scene closes with her being bowed into her carriage a second time. May the Lord have mercy on simpletons!
“Well, gentlemen, Act the Third. I contend that they are perfect acts, though they have but a scene a-piece.
“A young man with parcel calls at two o’clock, precisely, that afternoon, at Mr. Filey’s, and asks to see Sir Sampson Spriggs.
“‘Her ladyship is within,’ says the page.
“The young man says, she will do. He is ushered into a room where he sees the lady.
“Do you smell a rat, gentlemen?
“Well, the lady affably took the parcel from the young man, and said:
“‘I will take it to show my husband up-stairs. He will be with you in five minutes, and hand you the cheque. You will excuse me? I must first satisfy him of the necessity I have for the articles.’
“Of course, the poor fellow thought that all was fair and straightforward. Ha! ha! He said, he would be happy to wait. Ha! ha! He took a chair. Ha! ha! ha!”
Mr. Spence lost himself in a fit of laughter. Just divining the catastrophe, we also laughed a laugh of eager expectation.
“Don’t you see it?” cried Mr. Spence. “But it’s really too bad to laugh. Well. He waited. The minute hands of the clock went round. He waited on. Before he had time to feel uncomfortable in his mind, the door opened, and a gentleman walked in who bowed to him, and made his mind quite easy.
“‘I brought the things,’ said the young man; ‘and am waiting — ‘
“‘To see me,” said Mr. Filey, admiring the stratagem of the lady immensely. ‘To see me. Yes. I’m aware. A beautiful day to-day, sir? Rather sultry. May I offer you a glass of wine?’
“Of course the young man didn’t object. Ha! ha! You know how they used to prepare victims for the sacrifice! Ha! ha!
“Well. They talked. Mr. Filey said:
“‘Pray take a chair, may I ask you?’ and the young fellow, warmed by his wine, was quite agreeable to anything.
“‘Will you open your mouth, may I ask?’ said Mr. Filey.
“‘What for?’ says the young fellow, amazed.
“‘Oh, nothing!’ says Mr. Filey. ‘I merely wished to inspect. The conformation of your tongue struck me as peculiar. Not that it affects your speech, sir. Not at all. But pray allow me.’
“The poor young fellow opened his mouth. Ha, ha! He opened his mouth, and gaped.
“‘Now draw back your tongue,’ said Mr. Filey.
“No doubt the young fellow thought him a very eccentric baronet, but he complied.
“In a minute one of his grinders was seized — caught in a vice, wrenched, twisted, pulled. Heaven spare us all the horrible agony! I can’t laugh any more. The grinder came out at last, in the midst of stilled screams, and I’m afraid, curses. It came out, and the young man was guilty of an assault on the body of the dexterous operator. Mr. Filey went down.
” ‘Where’s the lady? Where’s Sir Sampson Spriggs?’ roars the young man, with his hand on his mouth.
” ‘My dear sir,’ says Mr. Filey. ‘You really — you may be eccentric; but when one is doing you a good, sir — doing you a service — ‘
” ‘Service,’ splutters the wretched young fellow. ‘Service to pull out a tooth when I didn’t ask you!’
” ‘Ask me, sir,’ says Mr. Filey. ‘When I tell you it has been arranged by your estimable aunt, Lady Spriggs, and that it was paid for yesterday — ‘
” ‘Paid for yesterday!’ bawls the victim, starting back.
” ‘This tooth, sir, was paid for yesterday,’ says Mr. Filey, impressively.
” ‘Lady Spriggs — my aunt?’ exclaimed the confounded youth.
” ‘Come, sir,’ says Mr. Filey. ‘I think whatever your objection to part with it, you owe me an apology. I will not say, in due form. I expected caprice. But really such violence!’
“The young man deliberately asked for Sir Sampson Spriggs, or the parcel of jewels which he had brought half an hour ago from the shop of Messrs. Spitchcock and Co., whose servant he distinctly proclaimed himself to be.
” ‘Bless me!’ cried Mr. Filey, ‘is there some mistake! Have I really? — on my honour, I — ‘
” ‘If you will go up to Sir Sampson Spriggs, and get that parcel of jewellery immediately — ‘ said the young man.
“Mr. Filey started.
” ‘I won’t prosecute you,’ the young man added, washing his mouth out with water.
” ‘You are not the nephew of Sir Sampson?’ said Mr. Filey.
” ‘Don’t laugh at a chap, after what you’ve done to him,’ growled the young man.
” ‘There’s a mistake,’ said Mr. Filey. ‘Sir Sampson is not here. It was an innocent stratagem —’
” ‘Innocent?’ sneers the young man.
” ‘To get you to submit to the operation — Lady Spriggs —’
” ‘Will you ring for her, or not!’ cries the no longer unsuspicious youth.
“The bell was rung. The ready page informed them that Lady Spriggs had left the house shortly after her brief interview with the young man. By degrees the consummate confidence of Mr. Filey in her ladyship was melted and dispersed. He accompanied the young man to Messrs. Spitchcock’s, relates his share in the adventure, and made, let us hope, something like due reparation to the poor victim of the cleverest piece of rascality I know of. The rest was in the hands of the police and my agents in London.
“At any rate — you talk of miserable nights — I think you’ll allow, gentlemen, that there was a miserable day for any poor fellow under the sun.”
On the whole, we certainly thought that this young fellow was worse off than the Colonel.
“If comparisons were in good taste,” said Mr. Lorquison, “I should request permission to observe, that your day is more horrible than any night I ever heard of. To lose a tooth for nothing, egad! Allow me to fill your glass, sir. Bottom of the bowl, by George! How say you, gentlemen?”
Oh, decidedly! we answer: a fresh bowl! During the brew we conversed. Mr. Selby tried us with a ghost. But there was no belief to be had in it, though the wind did blow, and it was Christmas. The dealer in hops laughed outright, and struck his gaiters at the real climax of the phantom. This gentleman had evidently something on his mind.
“Talking of miserable days,” said I, as I held my glass to be replenished by Mr. Lorquison’s second great triumph in the business of punchbrewing; “talking of miserable days, a friend of mine passed one in a railway carriage, which is, I think, almost unsurpassed.”
“Out with it! Let’s hear it!” cried the company, settling in semi-circle round the fire, glass in hand.
A TERRIBLE DAY IN A RAILWAY CARRIAGE.
“But first, to appreciate the incident,” I began, “you must know my friend. He is the most bashful of men, and he stutters: under the influence of excitement, he can hardly speak. Afflicted by a sense of shame, he would fain be dead and buried. To such men life may be a daily tragedy. My friend also is liable to misfortune; so that, with a light heart, and a great capacity for enjoyment, he is usually as miserable as any Manichaean would desire. I seldom meet him but he has some dire calamity to communicate to me.
And, as if by fatality, it is of a kind that reddens the cheeks of a bashful man. I might tell you many extraordinary adventures that have befallen him. This was his last.
“My friend, you must know — we will call him Harry Saxon — is a very amiable amateur-cricketer, out of his bank. He will take the train at six o’clock in the morniug to be down a hundred miles north or west, to a match. On the occasion which led him to his disaster, he had journeyed down north and played his game with success and satisfaction.
But the next morning he had to be up in town in time for the first official hour at his bank, so he made short work of it over-night, and escaped to bed at half-past one a.m.; breakfasted hastily at half-past five, and hurried to the station as quick as he could, arriving there twenty minutes too early, which cooled him; so much so that, when he entered the carriage, he bethought him that he had on his light cricketing-trousers, and might as well — since he had a warm pair, and was alone in the carriage — change them and comfort his limbs.
He remembered also that he could not appear at his bank in light flannels. I hope no one will see any harm in that resolve. If the British public should suggest that there were modest cows in the pasturages he was flying by, and young corruptible heifers, I have only to remark that Mr. Saxon was much above their level.
As it was day, moreover, he could not offend the moon. Of course I share the popular belief that we were born in trousers, and never get out of them. I would merely observe that the case of Mr. Saxon was an exception to the rigid rule. Besides, since he was only relinquishing one pair to assume another, the offence, however grievous, was but momentary, you will admit. Had he done all the honours to the renowned modesty of this island, he would have drawn the second pair over the first.
I can only excuse his not doing this by the declaration that he did not think of it, and absolutely saw no harm in what he was doing. So far then we will exonerate him. Unfortunately the thought of a change had not struck him till he had shot ahead some miles. And, again, very unfortunately, as we say when he would cite instances clearly fated, the young gentleman took off his tight flannels before he opened his carpetbag to disengage his thick tweeds.
Mr. Saxon is of somewhat hasty temperament, slow to conceive — quick to execute; a fine quality which occasionally leads to trouble; for while he was unstrapping his bag the train insensibly slackened speed, and suddenly stopped. On perceiving this alarming fact, Mr. Saxon pulled at the straps with tremendous vigour a second or so, and then looked out of the window with a face outwardly as composed as any ordinary traveller with no burden on his mind and with clothing to his legs, may wear. What the feelings of a bashful man so placed, must have been, I need not tell you. Analysis, if we wished to defend him before a jury of prudes, might be justifiable; but you will not require it.
Mr. Saxon’s heart gave a bound. There was a lady addressing the guard, who pointed down in the direction of Mr. Saxon’s head, and led her swiftly on. Mr. Saxon made a final effort to array himself in one or the other pair, gave it despairingly up, and thought it best to block the window and look extremely uninviting. He could not believe that his fortune could be so cruel as to send this lady straight to him at a time when, without wishing to be uncourteous, he profoundly devoted her to Jericho. He was forgetful of his experience.
Some men have a great hoard of experience, and only see it by the lurid light of new distresses. Now, Mr. Saxon should, no doubt, have spoken and warned the lady off. He stuttered, — I have told you. He did speak, but he was unintelligible. The guard wrenched at the door. Mr. Saxon had just time to hide his nether-failings under a railway rug, which he had providentially with him, when the door opened and the lady became his companion. The train whistled blithely, and off they went.
“Now my friend Harry Saxon tells me he considers it a curious thing that the lady, after a little while, began to regard him with something like astonishment. But the fact does not surprise me, who know him. Nervousness is a part of bashfulness; and, affected by nervousness, we are apt, without knowing it, to grimace strangely. To speak metaphysically, and with enlightened obscurity, we think of ourselves to such an excess, that we grow oblivious of our actions. I dare say you all understand.
“‘M — adam!’ said Harry, after several impotent efforts.
“The lady replied, ‘Sir,’ or ‘Yes.’ He chronicles it exactly, but I forget.
“‘Ha . . . ha — are you going the whole way to T Town?’ said Harry, gasping and holding on his rug with both hands.
“‘No, sir,’ said the lady, haughtily, coldly, and shortly.
“‘What a blessing!’ thought Harry, sinking back.
“The lady opened a book.
“At the next station, Harry looked at her imploringly. She would not go. Perhaps, thought Harry, she’s going on to the last station but one! There he was sure the carriage would be filled.
“He begged politely of her to tell him when she intended to quit the train.
“‘ Really!’ said the lady. ‘May I inquire, sir, why you are so anxious to know?’
“‘ Not at all,’ said Harry, speaking as enigmatically as he looked.
“The lady resumed her reading. An old gentleman, with two young ladies, now entered the carriage. Harry tightened and compressed the rug, and sat glaring at them.
“‘At all events,’ thought Harry, ‘they can’t make me move.’ This consolatory notion had hardly whispered its barren comfort to him, when a slight shock was felt. He saved himself from going into the old gentleman’s arms. Happily, the ladies were too much alarmed to notice his excessive discomposure.
“‘ What’s the matter?’ said the old gentleman.
“The train had come to a stand.
“‘Oh! what is it?’ cried all the ladies.
“‘Stop a minute, my dears,’ said the old gentleman. ‘Don’t be alarmed. Perhaps one of us had better get out and speak to the guard.’
“‘Oh, papa, you shall not go!’ exclaimed the young ladies: and the one who was alone exclaimed,
“‘Perhaps we shall be safer out than in.’
“The young ladies reiterated that their papa should not go. A common eye was directed to Harry, who sat, with a fiery face, trying to appear perfectly unconscious.
‘”Well, if I mayn’t go,’ said the old gentleman, ‘perhaps this gentleman will?’
“Here was a direct appeal. Harry pretended not to hear.
“‘Oh! it must be something dreadful!’ cried the ladies.
“‘Will you oblige us, sir?’ said the solitary lady, ‘by getting out and speaking to the guard?’
“She addressed poor Harry.
“‘ Mr.Saxon grimaced horribly. ‘I should be h – – – happy,’ he began.
“‘ Just ask him if there’s any apprehension of danger,’ said the old gentleman, thinking that he spoke in the assenting tense.
“‘ I k – – – I k – – – can’t !’ says Harry.
“The ladies regarded him with wonder. All Harry’s hopes were that they would get out, and leave him. Danger, ruin, dreadful smashes, he was indifferent to: anything was better than his present torment.
“‘Can’t speak, sir?’ said the old gentleman.
“‘ Can’t m – – – move,’ says Harry.
“‘ No legs — eh? Dear me!’ the old gentleman observed. And yet the rug displayed a pair in outline. ‘Paralysis — lower limbs? Dear me!’
“Several people were out of the train by this time. The old gentleman and all the ladies got out, too. Word was passed that there was a general order to evacuate the carriages.
“Harry heard the old gentleman say. ‘We mustn’t leave that poor fellow. We must help him out.’
“Meantime he was at his carpet bag again. One clear minute to himself, and Harry would be a man. He cared not to risk his life for one clear minute to himself. Before a quarter of the time had expired, and while the garments dangled unfilled, the old gentleman opened the door, and informed Harry that he was prepared to help him out. There also stood the ladies, looking most charitably.
“‘Do p — please shut the door,’ cried Harry.
“‘Come, sir,’ said the old gentleman, ‘you must come out. Give me your arm.’
“‘I k — can’t, I tell you,’ says Harry.
“‘But I will help you, sir,’ said the old gentleman.
“‘ I won’t!’ says Harry.
“‘You must be mad, sir, you must be stark mad,’ said the old gentleman.
“Pushed to extremity, Harry answered. ‘So I am.’
“‘Then you must be dragged out, sir, dragged out by force, main force, sir. Guard!’ shouted the old gentleman.
“The guard came up, but only to say it was a false alarm. The train had shaken off one of the carriages, and turned a few sheep into mutton — all was right now, and everybody was to step in.
“Off they went once more.
“It is really cruel to dwell on Mr. Saxon’s miseries, and the incidents which were perpetually aggravating them and driving him to frenzies of distraction. At one place a lady entered, who could not ride with her back to the engine. He was positively — being the only gentleman facing it — asked to favour her by changing seats; and, gallant by nature, courteous, obliging, he had to stutter a downright refusal.
But realise his position, and I think you will admit that, for a bashful man, Mr. Harry Saxon endured four hours of mortal misery that it would be hard to match. Excessive civilisation, you see, has its troubles. It may seem rather unkind to leave him in the state I have left him in. I will justify this artistic stroke, by assuring you that Mr. Saxon is, I have no doubt whatever, at the moment I speak to you, perfectly prepared to make his bow in the most exquisite society.”
The gentlemen discussed what might have happened to Mr. Saxon.
“For a bashful man,” said Mr. Lorquison, “that certainly was about as unfortunate a dilemma as I remember to have heard of.”
Mr. Spence conceived that he should have made a confidante of the first lady, remarking that women, in such cases, when appealed to, are, as a body, considerate, and not wanting in gentle excuses.
“That’s what I should have done,” said Mr. Spence. “She would have looked out of the other window, and all would have been over in a trice.”
The H.E.I.C.S. thought so too; and cited the indifference of ladies in India to those garments.
Mr. Lorquison excused himself from any recital, seeing that he knew not one. But the punch was a performance far excelling our flimsy efforts to amuse: and I only wish every good man and true may drink as good this Christmas season.