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THIS is the story of a visit made by Mr. Pecksniff, a very pompous man, and his two daughters Miss Mercy and Miss Charity, to the boarding-house kept by Mrs. Todgers, in London; and a call while there on Miss Pinch, a governess or young lady teaching in a rich family.
Mr. Pecksniff with his two beautiful young daughters looked about him for a moment, and then knocked at the door of a very dingy building, even among the choice collection of dingy houses around, on the front of which was a little oval board, like a tea-tray, with this inscription--"Commercial Boarding-house: M. Todgers."
It seemed that M. Todgers was not up yet, for Mr. Pecksniff knocked twice and rang three times without making any impression on anything but a dog over the way. At last a chain and some bolts were withdrawn with a rusty noise, and a small boy with a large red head, and no nose to speak of, and a very dirty boot on his left arm, appeared; who (being surprised) rubbed the nose just mentioned with the back of a shoe-brush, and said nothing.
"Still abed, my man?" asked Mr. Pecksniff.
"Still abed!" replied the boy. "I wish they was still abed. They're very noisy abed; all calling for their boots at once. I thought you was the paper, and wondered why you didn't shove yourself through the grating as usual. What do you want?"
Considering his years, which were tender, the youth may be said to have asked this question sternly, and in something of a defiant manner. But Mr. Pecksniff, without taking offense at his bearing, put a card in his hand, and bade him take that up-stairs, and show them in the meanwhile into a room where there was a fire.
Surely there never was, in any other borough, city, or hamlet, in the world, such a singular sort of a place as Todgers'. And surely London, to judge from that part of it which hemmed Todgers' round, and hustled it, and crushed it, and stuck its brick-and-mortar elbows into it, and kept the air from it, and stood perpetually between it and the light, was worthy of Todgers'.
There were more trucks near Todgers' than you would suppose a whole city could ever need; not trucks at work but a vagabond race, forever lounging in the narrow lanes before their masters' doors and stopping up the pass; so that when a stray hackney-coach or lumbering wagon came that way, they were the cause of such an uproar as enlivened the whole neighborhood, and made the very bells in the next church-tower ring again. In the narrow dark streets near Todgers', wine-merchants and wholesale dealers in grocery-ware had perfect little towns of their own; and, deep among the very foundations of these buildings, the ground was undermined and burrowed out into stables, where cart-horses, troubled by rats, might be heard on a quiet Sunday, rattling their halters, as disturbed spirits in tales of haunted houses are said to clank their chains.
To tell of half the queer old taverns that had a drowsy and secret existence near Todgers' would fill a goodly book; while a second volume no less in size might be given to an account of the quaint old guests who frequented their dimly-lighted parlors.
The top of the house was worthy of notice. There was a sort of terrace on the roof, with posts and fragments of rotten lines, once intended to dry clothes upon; and there were two or three tea-chests out there, full of earth, with forgotten plants in them, like old walking-sticks. Whoever climbed to this observatory was stunned at first from having knocked his head against the little door in coming out; and, after that, was for the moment choked from having looked, perforce, straight down the kitchen chimney; but these two stages over, there were things to gaze at from the top of Todgers', well worth your seeing, too. For, first and foremost, if the day were bright, you observed upon the house-tops, stretching far away, a long dark path--the shadow of the tall Monument which stands in memory of the great fire in London many years before: and turning round, the Monument itself was close beside you, with every hair erect upon his golden head, as if the doings of the city frightened him. Then there were steeples, towers, belfries, shining vanes and masts of ships, a very forest. Gables, house-tops, garret-windows, wilderness upon wilderness. Smoke and noise enough for all the world at once.
After the first glance, there were slight features in the midst of this crowd of objects, which sprung out from the mass without any reason, as it were, and took hold of the attention whether the spectator would or no. Thus, the revolving chimney-pots on one great stack of buildings seemed to be turning gravely to each other every now and then, and whispering the result of their separate observation of what was going on below. Others, of a crooked-back shape, appeared to be maliciously holding themselves askew, that they might shut the prospect out and baffle Todgers'. The man who was mending a pen at an upper window over the way became of vast importance in the scene, and made a blank in it, ridiculously large in its size, when he went away. The fluttering of a piece of cloth upon the dyer's pole had far more interest for the moment than all the changing motion of the crowd. Yet even while the looker-on felt angry with himself for this, and wondered how it was the tumult swelled into a roar; the hosts of objects seemed to thicken and expand a hundredfold; and after gazing round him, quite scared, he turned into Todgers' again, much more rapidly than he came out; and ten to one he told M. Todgers afterwards that if he hadn't done so, he would certainly have come into the street by the shortest cut: that is to say, head-foremost.
So said the two Miss Pecksniffs, when they came down with Mrs. Todgers from the roof of the house; leaving the youthful porter to close the door and follow them down-stairs: who being of a playful temperament, and contemplating with a delight peculiar to his sex and time of life any chance of dashing himself into small fragments, lingered behind to walk upon the wall around the roof.
It was the second day of their stay in London, and by this time the Misses Pecksniff and Mrs. Todgers were becoming very friendly, insomuch that the last-named lady had already told the story of three early disappointments in love; and had furthermore given her young friends a general account of the life, conduct, and character of Mr. Todgers: who, it seemed, had cut his life as a husband rather short, by unlawfully running away from his happiness, and staying for a time in foreign countries as a bachelor.
"Your pa was once a little particular in his attentions, my dears," said Mrs. Todgers, "but to be your ma was too much happiness denied me. You'd hardly know who this was done for, perhaps?"
She called their attention to an oval miniature, like a little blister, which was tacked up over the kettle-holder, and in which there was a dreamy shadowing forth of her own visage.
"It's a speaking likeness!" cried the two Misses Pecksniff.
"It was considered so once," said Mrs. Todgers, warming herself in a gentlemanly manner at the fire: "but I hardly thought you would have known it, my loves."
They would have known it anywhere. If they could have met with it in the street or seen it in a shop-window, they would have cried, "Good gracious! Mrs. Todgers!"
"Being in charge of a boarding-house like this makes sad havoc with the features, my dear Misses Pecksniff," said Mrs. Todgers. "The gravy alone is enough to add twenty years to one's age, I do assure you."
"Lor!" cried the two Misses Pecksniff.
"The anxiety of that one thing, my dears," said Mrs. Todgers, "keeps the mind continually upon the stretch. There is no such passion in human nature as the passion for gravy among business men. It's nothing to say a joint won't yield--a whole animal wouldn't yield--the amount of gravy they expect each day at dinner. And what I have undergone in consequence," cried Mrs. Todgers, raising her eyes and shaking her head, "no one would believe!"
"Just like Mr. Pinch, Mercy!" said Charity. "We have always noticed it in him, you remember?"
"Yes, my dear," giggled Mercy, "but we have never given it him, you know."
Mr. Pecksniff kept what was called a school for architects, and Tom Pinch was one of his students.
"You, my dears, having to deal with your pa's pupils who can't help themselves, are able to take your own way," said Mrs. Todgers, "but in a boarding-house, where any gentleman may say, any Saturday evening, 'Mrs. Todgers, this day week we part, in consequence of the cheese,' it is not so easy to preserve a pleasant understanding. Your pa was kind enough," added the good lady, "to invite me to take a ride with you to-day; and I think he mentioned that you were going to call upon Miss Pinch. Any relation to the gentleman you were speaking of just now, Miss Pecksniff?"
"For goodness' sake, Mrs. Todgers," interposed the lively Mercy, "don't call him a gentleman. My dear Cherry, Pinch a gentleman! The idea!"
"What a wicked girl you are!" cried Mrs. Todgers, embracing her with great affection. "You are quite a joker, I do declare! My dear Miss Pecksniff, what a happiness your sister's spirits must be to your pa and self!"
"That Pinch is the most hideous, goggle-eyed creature, Mrs. Todgers, in existence," resumed Mercy: "quite an ogre. The ugliest, awkwardest, frightfullest being, you can imagine. This is his sister, so I leave you to suppose what she is. I shall be obliged to laugh outright, I know I shall!" cried the charming girl. "I never shall be able to keep my face straight. The notion of a Miss Pinch really living at all is sufficient to kill one, but to see her--oh my stars!"
Mrs. Todgers laughed immensely at the dear love's humor, and declared she was quite afraid of her, that she was. She was so very severe.
"Who is severe?" cried a voice at the door. "There is no such thing as severity in our family, I hope!" And then Mr. Pecksniff peeped smilingly into the room, and said, "May I come in, Mrs. Todgers?"
Mrs. Todgers almost screamed, for the little door between that room and the inner one being wide open, there was a full showing of the sofa-bedstead open as a bed, and not closed as a sofa. But she had the presence of mind to close it in the twinkling of an eye; and having done so, said, though not without confusion, "Oh yes, Mr. Pecksniff, you can come in if you please."
"How are we to-day," said Mr. Pecksniff, jocosely; "and what are our plans? Are we ready to go and see Tom Pinch's sister? Ha, ha, ha! Poor Thomas Pinch!"
"Are we ready," returned Mrs. Todgers, nodding her head in a mysterious manner, "to send a favorable reply to Mr. Jinkins' round-robin?[D] That's the first question, Mr. Pecksniff."
"Why Mr. Jinkins' robin, my dear madam?" asked Mr. Pecksniff, putting one arm round Mercy and the other round Mrs. Todgers, whom he seemed for the moment, to mistake for Charity. "Why Mr. Jinkins'?"
"Because he began to get it up, and indeed always takes the lead in the house," said Mrs. Todgers, playfully. "That's why, sir."
"Jinkins is a man of superior talents," observed Mr. Pecksniff. "I have formed a great regard for Jinkins. I take Jinkins' desire to pay polite attention to my daughters as an additional proof of the friendly feelings of Jinkins, Mrs. Todgers."
"Well now," returned the lady, "having said so much, you must say the rest, Mr. Pecksniff: so tell the dear young ladies all about it."
With these words, she gently drew away from Mr. Pecksniff's grasp, and took Miss Charity into her own embrace; though whether she was led to this act solely by the affection she had conceived for that young lady, or whether it had any reference to a lowering, not to say distinctly spiteful expression which had been visible in her face for some moments, has never been exactly ascertained. Be this as it may, Mr. Pecksniff went on to inform his daughters of the purpose and history of the round-robin aforesaid, which was, in brief, that the young men who helped to make up the sum and substance of that company, called Todgers', desired the honor of their presence at the general table so long as they remained in the house, and besought that they would grace the board at dinner-time next day, the same being Sunday. He further said that, Mrs. Todgers having consented to this invitation, he was willing, for his part, to accept it; and so left them that he might write his gracious answer, the while they armed themselves with their best bonnets for the utter defeat and overthrow of Miss Pinch.
Tom Pinch's sister was governess in a family, a lofty family; perhaps the wealthiest brass and copper founder's family known to mankind. They lived at Camberwell; in a house so big and fierce that its mere outside, like the outside of a giant's castle, struck terror into vulgar minds and made bold persons quail. There was a great front gate, with a great bell, whose handle was in itself a note of admiration; and a great lodge, which, being close to the house, rather spoiled the look-out certainly, but made the look-in tremendous. At this entry, a great porter kept constant watch and ward; and when he gave the visitor high leave to pass, he rang a second great bell, answering to whose notes a great footman appeared in due time at the great hall-door with such great tags upon his liveried shoulders that he was perpetually entangling and hooking himself among the chairs and tables and led a life of torment which could scarcely have been surpassed if he had been a blue-bottle in a world of cobwebs.
To this mansion, Mr. Pecksniff, accompanied by his daughters and Mrs. Todgers, drove gallantly in a one-horse fly. The foregoing ceremonies having been all performed, they were ushered into the house, and so, by degrees, they got at last into a small room with books in it, where Mr. Pinch's sister was at that moment instructing her eldest pupil: to wit, a little woman thirteen years old, who had already arrived at such a pitch of whalebone and education that she had nothing girlish about her; which was a source of great rejoicing to all her relations and friends.
"Visitors for Miss Pinch!" said the footman. He must have been an ingenious young man, for he said it very cleverly; with a nice distinction in his manner between the cold respect with which he would have announced visitors to the family and the warm personal interest with which he would have announced visitors to the cook.
"Visitors for Miss Pinch!"
Miss Pinch rose hastily with such tokens of agitation as plainly declared that her list of callers was not numerous. At the same time, the little pupil became alarmingly upright, and prepared herself to take notice of all that might be said and done. For the lady of the establishment was curious in the natural history and habits of the animal called Governess, and encouraged her daughters to report thereon whenever occasion served; which was, in reference to all parties concerned, very proper, improving, and pleasant.
It is a melancholy fact, but it must be related, that Mr. Pinch's sister was not at all ugly. On the contrary, she had a good face--a very mild and friendly face; and a pretty little figure--slight and short, but remarkable for its neatness. There was something of her brother, much of him indeed, in a certain gentleness of manner, and in her look of timid truthfulness; but she was so far from being a fright, or a dowdy, or a horror, or anything else predicted by the two Misses Pecksniff, that those young ladies naturally regarded her with great indignation, feeling that this was by no means what they had come to see.
Miss Mercy, as having the larger share of gayety, bore up the best against this disappointment, and carried it off, in outward show at least, with a titter; but her sister, not caring to hide her disdain, expressed it pretty openly in her looks. As to Mrs. Todgers, she leaned on Mr. Pecksniff's arm and preserved a kind of genteel grimness, suitable to any state of mind, and involving any shade of opinion.
"Don't be alarmed, Miss Pinch," said Mr. Pecksniff, taking her hand condescendingly in one of his, and patting it with the other. "I have called to see you, in pursuance of a promise given to your brother, Thomas Pinch. My name--compose yourself, Miss Pinch--is Pecksniff."
The good man spoke these words as though he would have said, "You see in me, young person, the friend of your race; the patron of your house; the preserver of your brother, who is fed with manna daily from my table; and in right of whom there is a considerable balance in my favor at present standing in the books beyond the sky. But I have no pride, for I can afford to do without it!"
The poor girl felt it all as if it had been Gospel Truth. Her brother, writing in the fullness of his simple heart, had often told her so, and how much more! As Mr. Pecksniff ceased to speak, she hung her head, and dropped a tear upon his hand.
"Oh, very well, Miss Pinch!" thought the sharp pupil, "crying before strangers as if you didn't like the situation!"
"Thomas is well," said Mr. Pecksniff; "and sends his love and this letter. I cannot say, poor fellow, that he will ever become great in our profession; but he has the will to do well, which is the next thing to having the power; and, therefore, we must bear with him. Eh?"
"I know he has the will, sir," said Tom Pinch's sister, "and I know how kindly and thoughtfully you cherish it, for which neither he nor I can ever be grateful enough, as we often say in writing to each other. The young ladies, too," she added, glancing gratefully at his two daughters. "I know how much we owe to them."
"My dears," said Mr. Pecksniff, turning to them with a smile: "Thomas' sister is saying something you will be glad to hear, I think."
"We can't take any merit to ourselves, papa!" cried Cherry, as they both showed Tom Pinch's sister, with a courtesy, that they would feel obliged if she would keep her distance. "Mr. Pinch's being so well provided for is owing to you alone, and we can only say how glad we are to hear that he is as grateful as he ought to be."
"Oh, very well, Miss Pinch!" thought the pupil again. "Got a grateful brother, living on other people's kindness!"
"It was very kind of you," said Tom Pinch's sister, with Tom's own simplicity and Tom's own smile, "to come here--very kind indeed: though how great a kindness you have done me in gratifying my wish to see you, and to thank you with my own lips, you, who make so light of benefits conferred, can scarcely think."
"Very grateful; very pleasant; very proper;" murmured Mr. Pecksniff.
"It makes me happy too," said Ruth Pinch, who, now that her first surprise was over, had a chatty, cheerful way with her, and a single-hearted desire to look upon the best side of everything, which was the very moral and image of Tom; "very happy to think that you will be able to tell him how more than comfortably I am situated here, and how unnecessary it is that he should ever waste a regret on my being cast upon my own resources. Dear me! So long as I heard that he was happy and he heard that I was," said Tom's sister, "we could both bear, without one impatient or complaining thought, a great deal more than ever we have had to endure, I am certain." And if ever the plain truth were spoken on this occasionally false earth, Tom's sister spoke it when she said that.
"Ah!" cried Mr. Pecksniff, whose eyes had in the meantime wandered to the pupil; "certainly. And how do you do, my very interesting child?"
"Quite well, I thank you, sir," replied that frosty innocent.
"A sweet face this, my dears," said Mr. Pecksniff, turning to his daughters. "A charming manner!"
Both young ladies had been in delight with the child of a wealthy house (through whom the nearest road and shortest cut to her parents might be supposed to lie) from the first. Mrs. Todgers vowed that anything one-quarter so angelic she had never seen. "She wanted but a pair of wings, a dear," said that good woman, "to be a young syrup"--meaning, possibly, young sylph or seraph.
"If you will give that to your distinguished parents, my amiable little friend," said Mr. Pecksniff, producing one of his professional cards, "and will say that I and my daughters----"
"And Mrs. Todgers, pa," said Mercy.
"And Mrs. Todgers, of London," added Mr. Pecksniff, "that I, and my daughters, and Mrs. Todgers, of London, did not intrude upon them, as our object simply was to take some notice of Miss Pinch, whose brother is a young man in my employment; but that I could not leave this very noble mansion without adding my humble tribute, as an architect, to the correctness and elegance of the owner's taste, and to his just appreciation of that beautiful art, to the cultivation of which I have devoted a life, and to the promotion of whose glory and advancement I have sacrificed a--a fortune--I shall be very much obliged to you."
"Missis' compliments to Miss Pinch," said the footman, suddenly appearing and speaking in exactly the same key as before, "and begs to know wot my young lady is a-learning of just now."
"Oh!" said Mr. Pecksniff, "here is the young man. He will take the card. With my compliments, if you please, young man. My dears, we are interrupting the studies. Let us go."
One evening, following the visit to Miss Pinch, there was a great bustle at Todgers', partly owing to some additional domestic preparations for the morrow and partly to the excitement always arising in that house from Saturday night, when every gentleman's linen arrived at a different hour in his own little bundle, with his private account pinned on the outside. Shrill quarrels from time to time arose between Mrs. Todgers and the girls in remote back kitchens; and sounds were occasionally heard, indicative of small articles of ironmongery and hardware being thrown at the boy. It was the custom of that youth on Saturdays to roll up his shirt sleeves to his shoulders, and pervade all parts of the house in an apron of coarse green baize; moreover, he was more strongly tempted on Saturdays than on other days (it being a busy time) to make bolts into the neighboring alleys when he answered the door, and there to play at leap-frog and other sports with vagrant lads, until pursued and brought back by the hair of his head or the lobe of his ear; thus, he was quite a conspicuous feature among the peculiar incidents of the last day in the week at Todgers'.
He was especially so on this particular Saturday evening, and honored the Misses Pecksniff with a deal of notice; seldom passing the door of Mrs. Todgers' private room, where they sat alone before the fire, without putting in his head and greeting them with some such compliments as, "There you are again!" "Ain't it nice?"--and similar humorous attentions.
"I say," he whispered, stopping in one of his journeys to and fro, "young ladies, there's soup to-morrow. She's a-making it now. Ain't she a-putting in the water? Oh! not at all neither!"
In the course of answering another knock, he thrust in his head again:
"I say--there's fowls to-morrow. Not skinny ones. Oh no!"
Presently he called through the keyhole:
"There's a fish to-morrow--just come. Don't eat none of him!" and with this spectral warning vanished again.
By-and-by, he returned to lay the cloth for supper. He entertained them on this occasion by thrusting the lighted candle into his mouth, after the performance of which feat, he went on with his professional duties; brightening every knife as he laid it on the table, by breathing on the blade and afterwards polishing the same on the apron already mentioned. When he had completed his preparations, he grinned at the sisters, and expressed his belief that the approaching meal would be of "rather a spicy sort."
"Will it be long before it's ready, Bailey?" asked Mercy.
"No," said Bailey, "it is cooked. When I come up she was dodging among the tender pieces with a fork, and eating of 'em."
But he had scarcely achieved the utterance of these words, when he received a sudden blow on the head, which sent him staggering against the wall; and Mrs. Todgers, dish in hand, stood indignantly before him.
"Oh you little villain!" said that lady. "Oh you bad, false boy!"
"No worse than yerself," retorted Bailey, guarding his head with his arm. "Ah! Come now! Do that agin, will yer!"
"He's the most dreadful child," said Mrs. Todgers, setting down the dish, "I ever had to deal with. The gentlemen spoil him to that extent, and teach him such things, that I'm afraid nothing but hanging will ever do him any good."
"Won't it!" cried Bailey. "Oh! Yes! Wot do you go a-lowerin' the table-beer for, then, and destroying my constitooshun?"
"Go down-stairs, you vicious boy!" said Mrs. Todgers, holding the door open. "Do you hear me? Go along!"
After two or three skilful dodges he went, and was seen no more that night, save once, when he brought up some tumblers and hot water, and much disturbed the two Misses Pecksniff by squinting hideously behind the back of the unconscious Mrs. Todgers. Having done this justice to his wounded feelings, he retired under-ground; where, in company with a swarm of black beetles and a kitchen candle, he employed himself in cleaning boots and brushing clothes until the night was far advanced.
Benjamin was supposed to be the real name of this young servant, but he was known by a great variety of names. Benjamin, for instance, had been converted into Uncle Ben, and that again had been corrupted into Uncle. The gentlemen at Todgers' had a merry habit, too, of bestowing upon him, for the time being, the name of any notorious criminal or minister; and sometimes, when current events were flat, they even sought the pages of history for these distinctions; as Mr. Pitt, Young Brownrigg, and the like. At the period of which we write, he was generally known among the gentlemen as Bailey junior; a name bestowed upon him in contradistinction, perhaps, to the Old Bailey prison; and possibly as involving the recollection of an unfortunate lady of the same name, who perished by her own hand early in life, and has been made famous in a song.
The usual Sunday dinner-hour at Todgers' was two o'clock--a suitable time, it was considered, for all parties; convenient to Mrs. Todgers, on account of the baker's; and convenient to the gentlemen, with reference to their afternoon engagements. But on the Sunday which was to introduce the two Misses Pecksniff to a full knowledge of Todgers' and its society, the dinner was postponed until five, in order that everything might be as genteel as the occasion demanded.
When the hour drew nigh, Bailey junior, testifying great excitement, appeared in a complete suit of cast-off clothes several sizes too large for him, and, in particular, mounted a clean shirt of such extraordinary magnitude that one of the gentlemen (remarkable for his ready wit) called him "collars" on the spot. At about a quarter before five a deputation, consisting of Mr. Jinkins and another gentleman whose name was Gander, knocked at the door of Mrs. Todgers' room, and, being formally introduced to the two Misses Pecksniff by their parent, who was in waiting, besought the honor of showing them up-stairs.
Here the gentlemen were all assembled. There was a general cry of "Hear, hear!" and "Bravo, Jink!" when Mr. Jinkins appeared with Charity on his arm: which became quite rapturous as Mr. Gander followed, escorting Mercy, and Mr. Pecksniff brought up the rear with Mrs. Todgers.
"The wittles is up!"
[D] A "round-robin" is a letter signed by all the people of a company, with the names written in a circle around the letter so that no name will be first or last.
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