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Chapter 2

MR. MINNS AND HIS COUSIN

Mr. Augustus Minns was a bachelor, of about forty as he said--of
about eight-and-forty as his friends said. He was always
exceedingly clean, precise, and tidy; perhaps somewhat priggish,
and the most retiring man in the world. He usually wore a brown
frock-coat without a wrinkle, light inexplicables without a spot, a
neat neckerchief with a remarkably neat tie, and boots without a
fault; moreover, he always carried a brown silk umbrella with an
ivory handle. He was a clerk in Somerset-house, or, as he said
himself, he held 'a responsible situation under Government.' He
had a good and increasing salary, in addition to some 10,000l. of
his own (invested in the funds), and he occupied a first floor in
Tavistock-street, Covent-garden, where he had resided for twenty
years, having been in the habit of quarrelling with his landlord
the whole time: regularly giving notice of his intention to quit
on the first day of every quarter, and as regularly countermanding
it on the second. There were two classes of created objects which
he held in the deepest and most unmingled horror; these were dogs,
and children. He was not unamiable, but he could, at any time,
have viewed the execution of a dog, or the assassination of an
infant, with the liveliest satisfaction. Their habits were at
variance with his love of order; and his love of order was as
powerful as his love of life. Mr. Augustus Minns had no relations,
in or near London, with the exception of his cousin, Mr. Octavius
Budden, to whose son, whom he had never seen (for he disliked the
father), he had consented to become godfather by proxy. Mr. Budden
having realised a moderate fortune by exercising the trade or
calling of a corn-chandler, and having a great predilection for the
country, had purchased a cottage in the vicinity of Stamford-hill,
whither he retired with the wife of his bosom, and his only son,
Master Alexander Augustus Budden. One evening, as Mr. and Mrs. B.
were admiring their son, discussing his various merits, talking
over his education, and disputing whether the classics should be
made an essential part thereof, the lady pressed so strongly upon
her husband the propriety of cultivating the friendship of Mr.
Minns in behalf of their son, that Mr. Budden at last made up his
mind, that it should not be his fault if he and his cousin were not
in future more intimate.

'I'll break the ice, my love,' said Mr. Budden, stirring up the
sugar at the bottom of his glass of brandy-and-water, and casting a
sidelong look at his spouse to see the effect of the announcement
of his determination, 'by asking Minns down to dine with us, on
Sunday.'

'Then pray, Budden, write to your cousin at once,' replied Mrs.
Budden. 'Who knows, if we could only get him down here, but he
might take a fancy to our Alexander, and leave him his property?--
Alick, my dear, take your legs off the rail of the chair!'

'Very true,' said Mr. Budden, musing, 'very true indeed, my love!'
On the following morning, as Mr. Minns was sitting at his
breakfast-table, alternately biting his dry toast and casting a
look upon the columns of his morning paper, which he always read
from the title to the printer's name, he heard a loud knock at the
street-door; which was shortly afterwards followed by the entrance
of his servant, who put into his hands a particularly small card,
on which was engraven in immense letters, 'Mr. Octavius Budden,
Amelia Cottage (Mrs. B.'s name was Amelia), Poplar-walk, Stamford-
hill.'

'Budden!' ejaculated Minns, 'what can bring that vulgar man here!--
say I'm asleep--say I'm out, and shall never be home again--
anything to keep him down-stairs.'

'But please, sir, the gentleman's coming up,' replied the servant,
and the fact was made evident, by an appalling creaking of boots on
the staircase accompanied by a pattering noise; the cause of which,
Minns could not, for the life of him, divine.

'Hem--show the gentleman in,' said the unfortunate bachelor. Exit
servant, and enter Octavius preceded by a large white dog, dressed
in a suit of fleecy hosiery, with pink eyes, large ears, and no
perceptible tail.

The cause of the pattering on the stairs was but too plain. Mr.
Augustus Minns staggered beneath the shock of the dog's appearance.

'My dear fellow, how are you?' said Budden, as he entered.

He always spoke at the top of his voice, and always said the same
thing half-a-dozen times.

'How are you, my hearty?'

'How do you do, Mr. Budden?--pray take a chair!' politely stammered
the discomfited Minns.

'Thank you--thank you--well--how are you, eh?'

'Uncommonly well, thank you,' said Minns, casting a diabolical look
at the dog, who, with his hind legs on the floor, and his fore paws
resting on the table, was dragging a bit of bread and butter out of
a plate, preparatory to devouring it, with the buttered side next
the carpet.

'Ah, you rogue!' said Budden to his dog; 'you see, Minns, he's like
me, always at home, eh, my boy!--Egad, I'm precious hot and hungry!
I've walked all the way from Stamford-hill this morning.'

'Have you breakfasted?' inquired Minns.

'Oh, no!--came to breakfast with you; so ring the bell, my dear
fellow, will you? and let's have another cup and saucer, and the
cold ham.--Make myself at home, you see!' continued Budden, dusting
his boots with a table-napkin. 'Ha!--ha!--ha! -'pon my life, I'm
hungry.'

Minns rang the bell, and tried to smile.

'I decidedly never was so hot in my life,' continued Octavius,
wiping his forehead; 'well, but how are you, Minns? 'Pon my soul,
you wear capitally!'

'D'ye think so?' said Minns; and he tried another smile.

''Pon my life, I do!'

'Mrs. B. and--what's his name--quite well?'

'Alick--my son, you mean; never better--never better. But at such
a place as we've got at Poplar-walk, you know, he couldn't be ill
if he tried. When I first saw it, by Jove! it looked so knowing,
with the front garden, and the green railings and the brass
knocker, and all that--I really thought it was a cut above me.'

'Don't you think you'd like the ham better,' interrupted Minns, 'if
you cut it the other way?' He saw, with feelings which it is
impossible to describe, that his visitor was cutting or rather
maiming the ham, in utter violation of all established rules.

'No, thank ye,' returned Budden, with the most barbarous
indifference to crime, 'I prefer it this way, it eats short. But I
say, Minns, when will you come down and see us? You will be
delighted with the place; I know you will. Amelia and I were
talking about you the other night, and Amelia said--another lump of
sugar, please; thank ye--she said, don't you think you could
contrive, my dear, to say to Mr. Minns, in a friendly way--come
down, sir--damn the dog! he's spoiling your curtains, Minns--ha!--
ha!--ha!' Minns leaped from his seat as though he had received the
discharge from a galvanic battery.

'Come out, sir!--go out, hoo!' cried poor Augustus, keeping,
nevertheless, at a very respectful distance from the dog; having
read of a case of hydrophobia in the paper of that morning. By
dint of great exertion, much shouting, and a marvellous deal of
poking under the tables with a stick and umbrella, the dog was at
last dislodged, and placed on the landing outside the door, where
he immediately commenced a most appalling howling; at the same time
vehemently scratching the paint off the two nicely-varnished bottom
panels, until they resembled the interior of a backgammon-board.

'A good dog for the country that!' coolly observed Budden to the
distracted Minns, 'but he's not much used to confinement. But now,
Minns, when will you come down? I'll take no denial, positively.
Let's see, to-day's Thursday.--Will you come on Sunday? We dine at
five, don't say no--do.'

After a great deal of pressing, Mr. Augustus Minns, driven to
despair, accepted the invitation, and promised to be at Poplar-walk
on the ensuing Sunday, at a quarter before five to the minute.

'Now mind the direction,' said Budden: 'the coach goes from the
Flower-pot, in Bishopsgate-street, every half hour. When the coach
stops at the Swan, you'll see, immediately opposite you, a white
house.'

'Which is your house--I understand,' said Minns, wishing to cut
short the visit, and the story, at the same time.

'No, no, that's not mine; that's Grogus's, the great ironmonger's.
I was going to say--you turn down by the side of the white house
till you can't go another step further--mind that!--and then you
turn to your right, by some stables--well; close to you, you'll see
a wall with "Beware of the Dog" written on it in large letters--
(Minns shuddered)--go along by the side of that wall for about a
quarter of a mile--and anybody will show you which is my place.'

'Very well--thank ye--good-bye.'

'Be punctual.'

'Certainly: good morning.'

'I say, Minns, you've got a card.'

'Yes, I have; thank ye.' And Mr. Octavius Budden departed, leaving
his cousin looking forward to his visit on the following Sunday,
with the feelings of a penniless poet to the weekly visit of his
Scotch landlady.

Sunday arrived; the sky was bright and clear; crowds of people were
hurrying along the streets, intent on their different schemes of
pleasure for the day; everything and everybody looked cheerful and
happy except Mr. Augustus Minns.

The day was fine, but the heat was considerable; when Mr. Minns had
fagged up the shady side of Fleet-street, Cheapside, and
Threadneedle-street, he had become pretty warm, tolerably dusty,
and it was getting late into the bargain. By the most
extraordinary good fortune, however, a coach was waiting at the
Flower-pot, into which Mr. Augustus Minns got, on the solemn
assurance of the cad that the vehicle would start in three minutes-
-that being the very utmost extremity of time it was allowed to
wait by Act of Parliament. A quarter of an hour elapsed, and there
were no signs of moving. Minns looked at his watch for the sixth
time.

'Coachman, are you going or not?' bawled Mr. Minns, with his head
and half his body out of the coach window.

'Di-rectly, sir,' said the coachman, with his hands in his pockets,
looking as much unlike a man in a hurry as possible.

'Bill, take them cloths off.' Five minutes more elapsed: at the
end of which time the coachman mounted the box, from whence he
looked down the street, and up the street, and hailed all the
pedestrians for another five minutes.

'Coachman! if you don't go this moment, I shall get out,' said Mr.
Minns, rendered desperate by the lateness of the hour, and the
impossibility of being in Poplar-walk at the appointed time.

'Going this minute, sir,' was the reply;--and, accordingly, the
machine trundled on for a couple of hundred yards, and then stopped
again. Minns doubled himself up in a corner of the coach, and
abandoned himself to his fate, as a child, a mother, a bandbox and
a parasol, became his fellow-passengers.

The child was an affectionate and an amiable infant; the little
dear mistook Minns for his other parent, and screamed to embrace
him.

'Be quiet, dear,' said the mamma, restraining the impetuosity of
the darling, whose little fat legs were kicking, and stamping, and
twining themselves into the most complicated forms, in an ecstasy
of impatience. 'Be quiet, dear, that's not your papa.'

'Thank Heaven I am not!' thought Minns, as the first gleam of
pleasure he had experienced that morning shone like a meteor
through his wretchedness.

Playfulness was agreeably mingled with affection in the disposition
of the boy. When satisfied that Mr. Minns was not his parent, he
endeavoured to attract his notice by scraping his drab trousers
with his dirty shoes, poking his chest with his mamma's parasol,
and other nameless endearments peculiar to infancy, with which he
beguiled the tediousness of the ride, apparently very much to his
own satisfaction.

When the unfortunate gentleman arrived at the Swan, he found to his
great dismay, that it was a quarter past five. The white house,
the stables, the 'Beware of the Dog,'--every landmark was passed,
with a rapidity not unusual to a gentleman of a certain age when
too late for dinner. After the lapse of a few minutes, Mr. Minns
found himself opposite a yellow brick house with a green door,
brass knocker, and door-plate, green window-frames and ditto
railings, with 'a garden' in front, that is to say, a small loose
bit of gravelled ground, with one round and two scalene triangular
beds, containing a fir-tree, twenty or thirty bulbs, and an
unlimited number of marigolds. The taste of Mr. and Mrs. Budden
was further displayed by the appearance of a Cupid on each side of
the door, perched upon a heap of large chalk flints, variegated
with pink conch-shells. His knock at the door was answered by a
stumpy boy, in drab livery, cotton stockings and high-lows, who,
after hanging his hat on one of the dozen brass pegs which
ornamented the passage, denominated by courtesy 'The Hall,' ushered
him into a front drawing-room commanding a very extensive view of
the backs of the neighbouring houses. The usual ceremony of
introduction, and so forth, over, Mr. Minns took his seat: not a
little agitated at finding that he was the last comer, and, somehow
or other, the Lion of about a dozen people, sitting together in a
small drawing-room, getting rid of that most tedious of all time,
the time preceding dinner.

'Well, Brogson,' said Budden, addressing an elderly gentleman in a
black coat, drab knee-breeches, and long gaiters, who, under
pretence of inspecting the prints in an Annual, had been engaged in
satisfying himself on the subject of Mr. Minns's general
appearance, by looking at him over the tops of the leaves--'Well,
Brogson, what do ministers mean to do? Will they go out, or what?'

'Oh--why--really, you know, I'm the last person in the world to ask
for news. Your cousin, from his situation, is the most likely
person to answer the question.'

Mr. Minns assured the last speaker, that although he was in
Somerset-house, he possessed no official communication relative to
the projects of his Majesty's Ministers. But his remark was
evidently received incredulously; and no further conjectures being
hazarded on the subject, a long pause ensued, during which the
company occupied themselves in coughing and blowing their noses,
until the entrance of Mrs. Budden caused a general rise.

The ceremony of introduction being over, dinner was announced, and
down-stairs the party proceeded accordingly--Mr. Minns escorting
Mrs. Budden as far as the drawing-room door, but being prevented,
by the narrowness of the staircase, from extending his gallantry
any farther. The dinner passed off as such dinners usually do.
Ever and anon, amidst the clatter of knives and forks, and the hum
of conversation, Mr. B.'s voice might be heard, asking a friend to
take wine, and assuring him he was glad to see him; and a great
deal of by-play took place between Mrs. B. and the servants,
respecting the removal of the dishes, during which her countenance
assumed all the variations of a weather-glass, from 'stormy' to
'set fair.'

Upon the dessert and wine being placed on the table, the servant,
in compliance with a significant look from Mrs. B., brought down
'Master Alexander,' habited in a sky-blue suit with silver buttons;
and possessing hair of nearly the same colour as the metal. After
sundry praises from his mother, and various admonitions as to his
behaviour from his father, he was introduced to his godfather.

'Well, my little fellow--you are a fine boy, ain't you?' said Mr.
Minns, as happy as a tomtit on birdlime.

'Yes.'

'How old are you?'

'Eight, next We'nsday. How old are YOU?'

'Alexander,' interrupted his mother, 'how dare you ask Mr. Minns
how old he is!'

'He asked me how old _I_ was,' said the precocious child, to whom
Minns had from that moment internally resolved that he never would
bequeath one shilling. As soon as the titter occasioned by the
observation had subsided, a little smirking man with red whiskers,
sitting at the bottom of the table, who during the whole of dinner
had been endeavouring to obtain a listener to some stories about
Sheridan, called, out, with a very patronising air, 'Alick, what
part of speech is BE.'

'A verb.'

'That's a good boy,' said Mrs. Budden, with all a mother's pride.

'Now, you know what a verb is?'

'A verb is a word which signifies to be, to do, or to suffer; as, I
am--I rule--I am ruled. Give me an apple, Ma.'

'I'll give you an apple,' replied the man with the red whiskers,
who was an established friend of the family, or in other words was
always invited by Mrs. Budden, whether Mr. Budden liked it or not,
'if you'll tell me what is the meaning of BE.'

'Be?' said the prodigy, after a little hesitation--'an insect that
gathers honey.'

'No, dear,' frowned Mrs. Budden; 'B double E is the substantive.'

'I don't think he knows much yet about COMMON substantives,' said
the smirking gentleman, who thought this an admirable opportunity
for letting off a joke. 'It's clear he's not very well acquainted
with PROPER NAMES. He! he! he!'

'Gentlemen,' called out Mr. Budden, from the end of the table, in a
stentorian voice, and with a very important air, 'will you have the
goodness to charge your glasses? I have a toast to propose.'

'Hear! hear!' cried the gentlemen, passing the decanters. After
they had made the round of the table, Mr. Budden proceeded--
'Gentlemen; there is an individual present--'

'Hear! hear!' said the little man with red whiskers.

'PRAY be quiet, Jones,' remonstrated Budden.

'I say, gentlemen, there is an individual present,' resumed the
host, 'in whose society, I am sure we must take great delight--and-
-and--the conversation of that individual must have afforded to
every one present, the utmost pleasure.' ['Thank Heaven, he does
not mean me!' thought Minns, conscious that his diffidence and
exclusiveness had prevented his saying above a dozen words since he
entered the house.] 'Gentlemen, I am but a humble individual
myself, and I perhaps ought to apologise for allowing any
individual feeling of friendship and affection for the person I
allude to, to induce me to venture to rise, to propose the health
of that person--a person that, I am sure--that is to say, a person
whose virtues must endear him to those who know him--and those who
have not the pleasure of knowing him, cannot dislike him.'

'Hear! hear!' said the company, in a tone of encouragement and
approval.

'Gentlemen,' continued Budden, 'my cousin is a man who--who is a
relation of my own.' (Hear! hear!) Minns groaned audibly. 'Who I
am most happy to see here, and who, if he were not here, would
certainly have deprived us of the great pleasure we all feel in
seeing him. (Loud cries of hear!) Gentlemen, I feel that I have
already trespassed on your attention for too long a time. With
every feeling--of--with every sentiment of--of--'

'Gratification'--suggested the friend of the family.

'- Of gratification, I beg to propose the health of Mr. Minns.'

'Standing, gentlemen!' shouted the indefatigable little man with
the whiskers--'and with the honours. Take your time from me, if
you please. Hip! hip! hip!--Za!--Hip! hip! hip!--Za!--Hip hip!--
Za-a-a!'

All eyes were now fixed on the subject of the toast, who by gulping
down port wine at the imminent hazard of suffocation, endeavoured
to conceal his confusion. After as long a pause as decency would
admit, he rose, but, as the newspapers sometimes say in their
reports, 'we regret that we are quite unable to give even the
substance of the honourable gentleman's observations.' The words
'present company--honour--present occasion,' and 'great happiness'-
-heard occasionally, and repeated at intervals, with a countenance
expressive of the utmost confusion and misery, convinced the
company that he was making an excellent speech; and, accordingly,
on his resuming his seat, they cried 'Bravo!' and manifested
tumultuous applause. Jones, who had been long watching his
opportunity, then darted up.

'Budden,' said he, 'will you allow ME to propose a toast?'

'Certainly,' replied Budden, adding in an under-tone to Minns right
across the table, 'Devilish sharp fellow that: you'll be very much
pleased with his speech. He talks equally well on any subject.'
Minns bowed, and Mr. Jones proceeded:

'It has on several occasions, in various instances, under many
circumstances, and in different companies, fallen to my lot to
propose a toast to those by whom, at the time, I have had the
honour to be surrounded, I have sometimes, I will cheerfully own--
for why should I deny it?--felt the overwhelming nature of the task
I have undertaken, and my own utter incapability to do justice to
the subject. If such have been my feelings, however, on former
occasions, what must they be now--now--under the extraordinary
circumstances in which I am placed. (Hear! hear!) To describe my
feelings accurately, would be impossible; but I cannot give you a
better idea of them, gentlemen, than by referring to a circumstance
which happens, oddly enough, to occur to my mind at the moment. On
one occasion, when that truly great and illustrious man, Sheridan,
was--'

Now, there is no knowing what new villainy in the form of a joke
would have been heaped on the grave of that very ill-used man, Mr.
Sheridan, if the boy in drab had not at that moment entered the
room in a breathless state, to report that, as it was a very wet
night, the nine o'clock stage had come round, to know whether there
was anybody going to town, as, in that case, he (the nine o'clock)
had room for one inside.

Mr. Minns started up; and, despite countless exclamations of
surprise, and entreaties to stay, persisted in his determination to
accept the vacant place. But, the brown silk umbrella was nowhere
to be found; and as the coachman couldn't wait, he drove back to
the Swan, leaving word for Mr. Minns to 'run round' and catch him.
However, as it did not occur to Mr. Minns for some ten minutes or
so, that he had left the brown silk umbrella with the ivory handle
in the other coach, coming down; and, moreover, as he was by no
means remarkable for speed, it is no matter of surprise that when
he accomplished the feat of 'running round' to the Swan, the coach-
-the last coach--had gone without him.

It was somewhere about three o'clock in the morning, when Mr.
Augustus Minns knocked feebly at the street-door of his lodgings in
Tavistock-street, cold, wet, cross, and miserable. He made his
will next morning, and his professional man informs us, in that
strict confidence in which we inform the public, that neither the
name of Mr. Octavius Budden, nor of Mrs. Amelia Budden, nor of
Master Alexander Augustus Budden, appears therein.

Charles Dickens