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Chapter 8

THE MISTAKEN MILLINER. A TALE OF AMBITION

Miss Amelia Martin was pale, tallish, thin, and two-and-thirty--
what ill-natured people would call plain, and police reports
interesting. She was a milliner and dressmaker, living on her
business and not above it. If you had been a young lady in
service, and had wanted Miss Martin, as a great many young ladies
in service did, you would just have stepped up, in the evening, to
number forty-seven, Drummond-street, George-street, Euston-square,
and after casting your eye on a brass door-plate, one foot ten by
one and a half, ornamented with a great brass knob at each of the
four corners, and bearing the inscription 'Miss Martin; millinery
and dressmaking, in all its branches;' you'd just have knocked two
loud knocks at the street-door; and down would have come Miss
Martin herself, in a merino gown of the newest fashion, black
velvet bracelets on the genteelest principle, and other little
elegancies of the most approved description.

If Miss Martin knew the young lady who called, or if the young lady
who called had been recommended by any other young lady whom Miss
Martin knew, Miss Martin would forthwith show her up-stairs into
the two-pair front, and chat she would--SO kind, and SO
comfortable--it really wasn't like a matter of business, she was so
friendly; and, then Miss Martin, after contemplating the figure and
general appearance of the young lady in service with great apparent
admiration, would say how well she would look, to be sure, in a low
dress with short sleeves; made very full in the skirts, with four
tucks in the bottom; to which the young lady in service would reply
in terms expressive of her entire concurrence in the notion, and of
the virtuous indignation with which she reflected on the tyranny of
'Missis,' who wouldn't allow a young girl to wear a short sleeve of
an arternoon--no, nor nothing smart, not even a pair of ear-rings;
let alone hiding people's heads of hair under them frightful caps.
At the termination of this complaint, Miss Amelia Martin would
distantly suggest certain dark suspicions that some people were
jealous on account of their own daughters, and were obliged to keep
their servants' charms under, for fear they should get married
first, which was no uncommon circumstance--leastways she had known
two or three young ladies in service, who had married a great deal
better than their missises, and THEY were not very good-looking
either; and then the young lady would inform Miss Martin, in
confidence, that how one of their young ladies was engaged to a
young man and was a-going to be married, and Missis was so proud
about it there was no bearing of her; but how she needn't hold her
head quite so high neither, for, after all, he was only a clerk.
And, after expressing due contempt for clerks in general, and the
engaged clerk in particular, and the highest opinion possible of
themselves and each other, Miss Martin and the young lady in
service would bid each other good night, in a friendly but
perfectly genteel manner: and the one went back to her 'place,'
and the other, to her room on the second-floor front.

There is no saying how long Miss Amelia Martin might have continued
this course of life; how extensive a connection she might have
established among young ladies in service; or what amount her
demands upon their quarterly receipts might have ultimately
attained, had not an unforeseen train of circumstances directed her
thoughts to a sphere of action very different from dressmaking or
millinery.

A friend of Miss Martin's who had long been keeping company with an
ornamental painter and decorator's journeyman, at last consented
(on being at last asked to do so) to name the day which would make
the aforesaid journeyman a happy husband. It was a Monday that was
appointed for the celebration of the nuptials, and Miss Amelia
Martin was invited, among others, to honour the wedding-dinner with
her presence. It was a charming party; Somers-town the locality,
and a front parlour the apartment. The ornamental painter and
decorator's journeyman had taken a house--no lodgings nor vulgarity
of that kind, but a house--four beautiful rooms, and a delightful
little washhouse at the end of the passage--which was the most
convenient thing in the world, for the bridesmaids could sit in the
front parlour and receive the company, and then run into the little
washhouse and see how the pudding and boiled pork were getting on
in the copper, and then pop back into the parlour again, as snug
and comfortable as possible. And such a parlour as it was!
Beautiful Kidderminster carpet--six bran-new cane-bottomed stained
chairs--three wine-glasses and a tumbler on each sideboard--
farmer's girl and farmer's boy on the mantelpiece: girl tumbling
over a stile, and boy spitting himself, on the handle of a
pitchfork--long white dimity curtains in the window--and, in short,
everything on the most genteel scale imaginable.

Then, the dinner. There was baked leg of mutton at the top, boiled
leg of mutton at the bottom, pair of fowls and leg of pork in the
middle; porter-pots at the corners; pepper, mustard, and vinegar in
the centre; vegetables on the floor; and plum-pudding and apple-pie
and tartlets without number: to say nothing of cheese, and celery,
and water-cresses, and all that sort of thing. As to the Company!
Miss Amelia Martin herself declared, on a subsequent occasion,
that, much as she had heard of the ornamental painter's
journeyman's connexion, she never could have supposed it was half
so genteel. There was his father, such a funny old gentleman--and
his mother, such a dear old lady--and his sister, such a charming
girl--and his brother, such a manly-looking young man--with such a
eye! But even all these were as nothing when compared with his
musical friends, Mr. and Mrs. Jennings Rodolph, from White Conduit,
with whom the ornamental painter's journeyman had been fortunate
enough to contract an intimacy while engaged in decorating the
concert-room of that noble institution. To hear them sing
separately, was divine, but when they went through the tragic duet
of 'Red Ruffian, retire!' it was, as Miss Martin afterwards
remarked, 'thrilling.' And why (as Mr. Jennings Rodolph observed)
why were they not engaged at one of the patent theatres? If he was
to be told that their voices were not powerful enough to fill the
House, his only reply was, that he would back himself for any
amount to fill Russell-square--a statement in which the company,
after hearing the duet, expressed their full belief; so they all
said it was shameful treatment; and both Mr. and Mrs. Jennings
Rodolph said it was shameful too; and Mr. Jennings Rodolph looked
very serious, and said he knew who his malignant opponents were,
but they had better take care how far they went, for if they
irritated him too much he had not quite made up his mind whether he
wouldn't bring the subject before Parliament; and they all agreed
that it ''ud serve 'em quite right, and it was very proper that
such people should be made an example of.' So Mr. Jennings Rodolph
said he'd think of it.

When the conversation resumed its former tone, Mr. Jennings Rodolph
claimed his right to call upon a lady, and the right being
conceded, trusted Miss Martin would favour the company--a proposal
which met with unanimous approbation, whereupon Miss Martin, after
sundry hesitatings and coughings, with a preparatory choke or two,
and an introductory declaration that she was frightened to death to
attempt it before such great judges of the art, commenced a species
of treble chirruping containing frequent allusions to some young
gentleman of the name of Hen-e-ry, with an occasional reference to
madness and broken hearts. Mr. Jennings Rodolph frequently
interrupted the progress of the song, by ejaculating 'Beautiful!'--
'Charming!'--'Brilliant!'--'Oh! splendid,' &c.; and at its close
the admiration of himself, and his lady, knew no bounds.

'Did you ever hear so sweet a voice, my dear?' inquired Mr.
Jennings Rodolph of Mrs. Jennings Rodolph.

'Never; indeed I never did, love,' replied Mrs. Jennings Rodolph.

'Don't you think Miss Martin, with a little cultivation, would be
very like Signora Marra Boni, my dear?' asked Mr. Jennings Rodolph.

'Just exactly the very thing that struck me, my love,' answered
Mrs. Jennings Rodolph.

And thus the time passed away; Mr. Jennings Rodolph played tunes on
a walking-stick, and then went behind the parlour-door and gave his
celebrated imitations of actors, edge-tools, and animals; Miss
Martin sang several other songs with increased admiration every
time; and even the funny old gentleman began singing. His song had
properly seven verses, but as he couldn't recollect more than the
first one, he sang that over seven times, apparently very much to
his own personal gratification. And then all the company sang the
national anthem with national independence--each for himself,
without reference to the other--and finally separated: all
declaring that they never had spent so pleasant an evening: and
Miss Martin inwardly resolving to adopt the advice of Mr. Jennings
Rodolph, and to 'come out' without delay.

Now, 'coming out,' either in acting, or singing, or society, or
facetiousness, or anything else, is all very well, and remarkably
pleasant to the individual principally concerned, if he or she can
but manage to come out with a burst, and being out, to keep out,
and not go in again; but, it does unfortunately happen that both
consummations are extremely difficult to accomplish, and that the
difficulties, of getting out at all in the first instance, and if
you surmount them, of keeping out in the second, are pretty much on
a par, and no slight ones either--and so Miss Amelia Martin shortly
discovered. It is a singular fact (there being ladies in the case)
that Miss Amelia Martin's principal foible was vanity, and the
leading characteristic of Mrs. Jennings Rodolph an attachment to
dress. Dismal wailings were heard to issue from the second-floor
front of number forty-seven, Drummond-street, George-street,
Euston-square; it was Miss Martin practising. Half-suppressed
murmurs disturbed the calm dignity of the White Conduit orchestra
at the commencement of the season. It was the appearance of Mrs.
Jennings Rodolph in full dress, that occasioned them. Miss Martin
studied incessantly--the practising was the consequence. Mrs.
Jennings Rodolph taught gratuitously now and then--the dresses were
the result.

Weeks passed away; the White Conduit season had begun, and
progressed, and was more than half over. The dressmaking business
had fallen off, from neglect; and its profits had dwindled away
almost imperceptibly. A benefit-night approached; Mr. Jennings
Rodolph yielded to the earnest solicitations of Miss Amelia Martin,
and introduced her personally to the 'comic gentleman' whose
benefit it was. The comic gentleman was all smiles and blandness--
he had composed a duet, expressly for the occasion, and Miss Martin
should sing it with him. The night arrived; there was an immense
room--ninety-seven sixpenn'orths of gin-and-water, thirty-two small
glasses of brandy-and-water, five-and-twenty bottled ales, and
forty-one neguses; and the ornamental painter's journeyman, with
his wife and a select circle of acquaintance, were seated at one of
the side-tables near the orchestra. The concert began. Song--
sentimental--by a light-haired young gentleman in a blue coat, and
bright basket buttons--[applause]. Another song, doubtful, by
another gentleman in another blue coat and more bright basket
buttons--[increased applause]. Duet, Mr. Jennings Rodolph, and
Mrs. Jennings Rodolph, 'Red Ruffian, retire!'--[great applause].
Solo, Miss Julia Montague (positively on this occasion only)--'I am
a Friar'--[enthusiasm]. Original duet, comic--Mr. H. Taplin (the
comic gentleman) and Miss Martin--'The Time of Day.' 'Brayvo!--
Brayvo!' cried the ornamental painter's journeyman's party, as Miss
Martin was gracefully led in by the comic gentleman. 'Go to work,
Harry,' cried the comic gentleman's personal friends. 'Tap-tap-
tap,' went the leader's bow on the music-desk. The symphony began,
and was soon afterwards followed by a faint kind of ventriloquial
chirping, proceeding apparently from the deepest recesses of the
interior of Miss Amelia Martin. 'Sing out'--shouted one gentleman
in a white great-coat. 'Don't be afraid to put the steam on, old
gal,' exclaimed another, 'S-s-s-s-s-s-s'-went the five-and-twenty
bottled ales. 'Shame, shame!' remonstrated the ornamental
painter's journeyman's party--'S-s-s-s' went the bottled ales
again, accompanied by all the gins, and a majority of the brandies.

'Turn them geese out,' cried the ornamental painter's journeyman's
party, with great indignation.

'Sing out,' whispered Mr. Jennings Rodolph.

'So I do,' responded Miss Amelia Martin.

'Sing louder,' said Mrs. Jennings Rodolph.

'I can't,' replied Miss Amelia Martin.

'Off, off, off,' cried the rest of the audience.

'Bray-vo!' shouted the painter's party. It wouldn't do--Miss
Amelia Martin left the orchestra, with much less ceremony than she
had entered it; and, as she couldn't sing out, never came out. The
general good humour was not restored until Mr. Jennings Rodolph had
become purple in the face, by imitating divers quadrupeds for half
an hour, without being able to render himself audible; and, to this
day, neither has Miss Amelia Martin's good humour been restored,
nor the dresses made for and presented to Mrs. Jennings Rodolph,
nor the local abilities which Mr. Jennings Rodolph once staked his
professional reputation that Miss Martin possessed.

Charles Dickens