Page images

with his name at full length under it, was suspended on the public gallows. He was still skulking in disguise at Berlin, and might doubtless have effected his escape — but shocked at the libellous picture that professed to represent him, he was actually arrested one morning, at the first dawn of light, brush and palate in hand, painting up the odious portrait to something more resembling the personal attractions of the originall And now for our Albrecht. Conceive him sitting languishingly — a Narcissus without his pond — seeing nothing, admiring nothing, but his own certainly well-turned legs Fancy him stretching them, crossing them, ogling them in all possible attitudes, – taking back and front views of them, and along the outer or inner side. Imagine him coquetting with them, carelessly dropping a handkerchief over them, as if to veil their beauties; sliding his enamored hand down them by turns, – and then, with great reluctance brought to dance on them, if dancing it might be called, so languidly, as if he feared to wear out the dear delicate limbs by the exertion. Suppose him afterwards, relapsing into his former self-contemplation, so exclusively, as to neglect the common politeness of an answer even to a question from a lady — and a lady to whom he professed to show particular attention. And now, dearest and best Bettine, you have my secret. It is very well to marry a man with handsome legs, but one would not choose to have them always running in his head.”

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][graphic]
[ocr errors]

“I would give ten thousand pounds for a character.”

“If you please, Ma'am,” said Betty, wiping her steaming arms on her apron as she entered the room, - “if you please, Ma'am, here’s the lady for the character.” Mrs. Dowdum immediately jumped up from her chair, and with a little run, no faster than a walk, proceeded from the window to the fireplace, and consulted an old-fashioned watch which stood on the mantel-shelf. “Bless me! it is twelve o'clock, sure enough 1” Now, considering that the visit was by appointment, and had been expected for the last hour, it will be thought remarkable that Mrs. Dowdum should be so apparently unprepared ; but persons who move in the higher circles within the vortex of what is called a perpetual round of pleasure, where visits, welcome or unwelcome, circulate with proportionate rapidity, can hardly estimate the importance of an interview in those lower spheres which, comparatively, scarcely revolve at all. Thus for the last hour Mrs. Dowdum had been looking for the promised call, and listening with all her might for the sound of the knocker; and yet when it did come, she was as much flurried as people commonly are by what is denominated a drop in. Accordingly, after consulting the watch, she found it necessary to refer to the looking-glass which hung above it, and to make an extempore toilet. First, she laid hold of her cap with both hands, and gave it — her flaxen wig following the impulse — what sailors term a half turn to the right, after which she repeated the same manoeuvre towards the left; and then, as if by this operation she had discovered the juste milieu, she left matters as they were. Her shawl was next treated in the same fashion, first being lapped over one way, and then lapped over the other, and carefully pinned. Finally she gathered up a handful of the front of her gown below the waist, and gave it a smart tug downwards; and then having stroked it with both hands to make it “sit flat,” if possible, instead of round, the costume was considered as quite correct. The truth is, the giving a character is an important business to all parties concerned : to the subject, who is about to be blazoned or branded as good for everything or good for nothing — to the inquirer, who is on the eve of adopting a Pamela or a Jezabel — and last, not least, to the referee herself, who must show that she has a character to preserve, as well as one to give away. There are certain standard questions always asked on such occasions, against one of which, “Is she clean and neat in her habits P” Mrs. Dowdum had already provided. “Is she sober 2° and Mrs. Dowdum thrust a bottle of catsup, but which might have been taken for ratifia, into the corner cupboard. “Is she honest?” and Mrs. Dowdum poked the Newgate Calendar she had been reading under the sofa-bolster. An extra query will occasionally be put — “Is she decidedly pious P” and Mrs. Dowdum took up “Pilgrim’s Progress.” Lastly, two chairs were placed near the window, as chairs always are placed, when the respective sitters are to give and take a character. The reader will perhaps smile here; but in reality there is a great deal of expression about those rosewood or mahogany conveniences. A close observer who enters a parlor or drawing-room, and finds a parcel of empty seats away from the wall, can judge pretty shrewdly, from the area of the circle and other circumstances, of the nature of the foregone visit. Should the ring be large, and the seats far apart, the visit has been formal. A closer circuit implies familiarity. Two chairs side by side in front of the fender are strictly confidential — one on each side of the rug hints a tête-à-téte matrimonial. A chair which presents an angle to its companions has been occupied by a young lady from boardingschool, who always sits at one corner. Two chairs placed back to back need not speak—they are not upon speaking terms; and a chair thrown down, especially if broken, is equally significant. A creditor's seat is invariably beside the door; and should you meet with a chair which is neither near the fire, nor near the table, nor near any wooden companion, be sure that it has been the resting-place of a poor relation. In the present case, Mrs. Dowdum's two chairs were placed square, and dead opposite to each other, as if the parties who were to occupy them were expected to look straight into each other's faces. It might be called the categorical position. “Now then, Betty, I am ready; show the lady up.” The lady was accordingly ushered up by Betty, who then retired, closing the door behind her, as slowly as servants always do, when they are shutting the curiosity without and the news within. After the usual compliments, the lady then opened the business, and the parties fell into dialogue. “I am informed, Madam, by Ann Gale, that she lived with you three years?” “Certainly, Ma'am — last Martinmas; which made it a month over, all but two days.” “She is sober, of course?” “As a judge, Ma'am — would n't touch a drop of spirits for the world. Many’s the good glass of g—I have offered her of a washer-day, for we washes at home, Ma'am ; but she always declined.” o “And she is steady otherwise — for instance, as to followers ?” “Followers, Ma'am! nothing in the shape, Ma'am ; it would not be allowed here ; ” and Mrs. Dowdum drew herself up till her gown wanted smoothing down again. “And her temper ?” “Remarkable mild, Ma'am. Can't be a sweeter. I’ve tried on purpose to try it, and could n’t put her out.” “I beg pardon, Madam, for asking such a question in such a house; but she is clean in her habits of course P” “Of course, as you say, Ma'am ; else she would n't have stayed so long here ; ” and Mrs. Dowdum looked round her tidy apartments with great complacency. “So far so good,” said the lady, fixing her large, dark eyes intently on the little gray ones opposite. “And now, Madam, let me ask you the most important question of all. Is — SHE HonesT * * “As the day, Ma'am — you might trust her with untold goold !” “Excuse me, Madam, but have you ever trusted her with it yourself?” T

“Lord, Ma'am, scores and scores of times | She used to pay my bills, and always brought me the receipts as regular as clockwork.”

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small]

“I am afraid, Madam, that circumstance is hardly decisive. Could she be trusted, do you think, in a house where there is a great deal of property — the mistress a little careless perhaps — and gold and bank-notes and loose change often lying about — to say nothing of the plate, and my own jewels 2"

“All I can say is, Ma'am, I never missed anything — never ! And not for want of opportunity — there's that watch, Ma'am, over the fireplace, it’s a gold one and a repeater, Ma'am ; she might have took it over and over, and me no wiser, for I’m apt to be absent. Then as for plate

there’s always my best silver teapot in that corner cupboard —”

« PreviousContinue »