Page images
PDF
EPUB

“I am going to see her, however,” said Mr. Booby.

“Are you, sir?” retorted the little crabbed-looking old gentleman in the corner-seat. “Well, I hope you may get her l’”

“I hope, in fact I have reason to believe that I shall,” replied the self-confident Mr. Booby, and twitching the Mackintosh of the conductor, he desired to be set down at the bottom of the Grove.

“It is rather strange,” he thought, as he walked slowly up the hill, “that they have not heard of her. The little old chap in the corner though, seemed to know her, and to be rather jealous of me. But, no — it’s impossible that he can be a rival; ” and as he said this, there occurred a corresponding alteration in his gait—“perhaps he's her father or her uncle.”

[ocr errors]

BRAvo, Vanity Of all friends in need, seconds, backers, confidents, helpers, and comforters, there is none like Self-Conceit ! Of all the Life Assurances in England, from the Mutual to the Equitable, there is none like Self-Assurance It defies the cold water of timidity and the wet blankets of diffidence—and against the aguish, chilly, and hot fits of modesty it is as sovereign as Quinine ! IIow many men, for instance, on a similar errand to that of the young bookseller, would have felt nerve-quakes and tremor cordis, and have scarcely mustered courage enough to pull the bell at the gate How many would have remained in the front garden shilly-shallying like Master Slender, till the Camberwell Beauty herself came forth, as sweet Anne Page did, to entreat her bashful wooer to enter the premises 1 Not so with Mr. Booby ; as soon as he had ascertained the right house, he walked resolutely up to the door, and played on the knocker something very analogous to a flourish of trumpets. The well-known footman in the drab livery appeared to the summons and admitted the visitor, who contrived during his progress through the hall to smooth his coat-tails, pluck up his collar, pull down his white cuffs, and pass his pocket-comb through his hair. He was going, moreover, to hang up his hat; but luckily remembered the present mode, and that the beaver was bran-new, wherefore he carried it with him into the drawing-room — a very indifferent fashion, be it said, and particularly in the case of an invitation to dinner, for what can be more ridiculous than to see a guest sitting hat in hand, as if he had dropped in unasked, and was far from certain of a welcome. “And did he see the Beauty P” No, madam. Mrs. Heathcote was alone: but obviously prepared for the visit. A number of handsomely bound books almost covered the round table, some of them open, and exhibiting colored plates illustrative of Conchology, Geology, and Botany; others were devoted to Ornithology and Entomolgy — hinting, by the way, that the lady was rather multifarious in her studies. In manner she was as condescending, affable, and agreeable as ever, and as chatty as usual, in her low, sweet voice. Nevertheless, her visitor did not feel quite so much at his ease as he had anticipated. After the first compliments, and commonplace remarks on the weather, the lady's conversation became perplexingly scientific, her allusions distressingly obscure, while technical terms, and classical proper names, fell in quick succession from her lips. Some of the names seemed familiar to the ear of the listener, but before he could determine whether he had heard them at school, or in his business, or at the opera, he was obliged to “give them up,” and direct his guesses to a fresh set of riddles. Every moment he was getting more mystified;—he knew no more than a dog whether she was talking mythology, or metaphysics, or natural history, or algebra, or alchemy, or astrology, or all six of them at Once. This ignorance was sufficiently irksome ; but it soon became alarming, for she began to make more direct appeals to him, and occasionally seemed surprised and dissatisfied with his answers. His old shifts, besides, were no longer of any avail — she turned a deaf ear to his quotations from the Times and Herald— the theatrical movements, the odds at Tattersall's, and the progress of the New Royal Exchange. Above all, he trembled to find that the extraordinary mental efforts he was compelled to make in order to keep pace with her, were fast driving out of his head all the pretty speeches which he had prepared for a more interesting conference. In a word, he was thoroughly flabbergasted — as completely topsyturvied in his ideas as the fly that walks on the ceiling, with its head downwards. What course to take he knew no more than that vainly enlightened man, the man in the moon. IIe fidgeted in his seat, coughed, sighed, blew his nose, sniffed at the bouquet, looked “all round his hat,” then into it, and then on the crown of it, but without making any discovery. The lady meanwhile talking on, in a full stream, for all he knew, like Coleridge on the Samo-Thracian Mysteries “Well, well, never mind her nonsense.” Poor Boobyl His conceit was fast being taken out of him. His vanity was oozing out at every pore of his body — his assurance seemed peeling off his face, like the skin after a fever. IIe was dying to see the Beauty—but alas ! there was that eternal tongue, inexhaustible as an Artesian spring, still pouring, pouring, — by the way, ma'am, did you ever read the “Arabian Nights”? “Of course, sir.” Well, then, you will remember the story of the tailor who, burning, broiling, and frying to see his beauty of Bagdad by appointment, was detained, half-shaved, hour after hour, by Es-Sámit, the garrulous barber. Now, call the tailor Mr. Booby, and put the babbling tonsor into petticoats, and you will have an exact notion of the case — how the lady gossiped, and how the perplexed lover fretted and fumed, till, like the Oriental, he felt “as if his gall-bladder had burst,” and was ready to cry out with him, “For the sake of heaven, be silent, for thou hast crumbled my liver!” “Dear me, how shocking !” Very ! In spite of the rudeness of the act, he could not refrain from looking at his watch — an hour had passed, and yet there had been no more mention of the Beauty than if she had been doomed, like the Sleeping one, to lie dormant for a hundred years. The most distressing doubts and misgivings began to creep over him. For example, that the talkative lady was not precisely of sound mind—she was certainly rather flighty and rambling in her discourse — and consequently that the lovely being she had promised to introduce to him might be altogether a fiction l His spirits sank at the idea, like the quicksilver before a hurricane, and he heartily wished himself back in his own shop, or his warehouse, – anywhere but alone in the same room with a crazy woman, who talked Encyclopaedias, till he was as heavy at heart, as confused in his head, and as uneasy all over, as if he had just feasted with a geologist on pudding-stone and conglomerate. Never had he been so mystified and confounded in all his life! Accustomed to revolve in the circle of his own perfections, his thoughts were utterly at fault when called to the consideration of circumstances and combinations at all complex or extraordinary; whilst his superficial knowledge, limited to the covers of books, failed to furnish him with any hint towards the unravelment of a mystery quite equal, in his estimation, to the intricacies of romance. What would he not have given for a few minutes' private consultation with his Co., with his Clerk, or even with his Porter | A dozen of times he was on the point of rising, determined to plead a sudden headache, a bleeding at the nose, or a forgotten engagement; and certainly erelong he would have said or done something desperate if the eccentric lady had not, of her own accord, put a period to his suspense by saying abruptly, “But we have gossiped enough, Mr. Booby, and I must now introduce you to my Camberwell Beauty.” The crisis was come ! The important interview was at hand ' Mr. Booby sprang to his feet, twitched his collar, plucked his cuffs, set up his hair, clapped his bran-new hat under his left arm, and smelling and smiling at his bouquet walked jauntily on his tiptoes, at the invitation of the lady, into a sort of boudoir.

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

“AND was the Beauty in the little room?”

Yes. There was also a couch in it, and a most luxurious library-chair. One side of the wall was covered with cases of stuffed birds of the smaller species, the opposite side was occupied by cases of shells, and specimens of minerals, and metallic ores, and the third side was taken up with cases of beetles, moths, and butterflies.

“But the Beauty 2"

On the sofa-table lay a Hortus Siccus for botanical specimens, and a Scrap-book, - both open.

“But the Beauty P”

In one corner of the room, on a kind of a pedestal, was a bust of Cuvier; in the opposite corner, on a similar stand, a head of Werner; in the third nook was that of Rossini; and in the fourth stood a handsome perch for a parrot, but the bird was dead or absent. Over the door —

“No, no — the Beauty P”

Over the door was a half-length of the lady herself, in a fancy dress; and from the centre of the ceiling hung a small Chinese lantern.

“The Beauty 2"

In the recess of the solitary window, on a stand, stood a compound birdcage, a la Bechstein, enclosing a globe of goldfish, and surmounted by a basket of flowers. The floor, – which was Turkey carpeted—

“The Beauty 2 the Beauty P”

The floor was littered with various articles, including a guitar, – a large porcelain jar, – and a little wicker-work kennel for a lapdog, — but the dog, like the parrot, was deficient.

“The Beauty 2 the Beauty 2 the Beauty P”

My dear madam, pray have a little patience, and read “Blue Beard; ” how nearly his last wife was destroyed by her curiosity. My mystery is not yet ripe, and you have even less right to the key of my Romance than Fatima had to the key of the Bloody Chamber.

C H A PTE R V III.

EveRY person of common observation must have remarked the vast contrast between the carriage of a man going up, and the bearing of the same going down in the world !

In the first case how he trips, how he brightens, how he jokes, how he laughs, how he dances, how he sings, how he

« PreviousContinue »