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Pesca's face and manner, on the evening when we confronted each
other at my mother's gate, were more than sufficient to inform me
that something extraordinary had happened. It was quite useless,
however, to ask him for an immediate explanation. I could only
conjecture, while he was dragging me in by both hands, that
(knowing my habits) he had come to the cottage to make sure of
meeting me that night, and that he had some news to tell of an
unusually agreeable kind.
We both bounced into the parlour in a highly abrupt and
undignified manner. My mother sat by the open window laughing and
fanning herself. Pesca was one of her especial favourites and his
wildest eccentricities were always pardonable in her eyes. Poor
dear soul! from the first moment when she found out that the
little Professor was deeply and gratefully attached to her son,
she opened her heart to him unreservedly, and took all his
puzzling foreign peculiarities for granted, without so much as
attempting to understand any one of them.
My sister Sarah, with all the advantages of youth, was, strangely
enough, less pliable. She did full justice to Pesca's excellent
qualities of heart; but she could not accept him implicitly, as my
mother accepted him, for my sake. Her insular notions of
propriety rose in perpetual revolt against Pesca's constitutional
contempt for appearances; and she was always more or less
undisguisedly astonished at her mother's familiarity with the
eccentric little foreigner. I have observed, not only in my
sister's case, but in the instances of others, that we of the
young generation are nothing like so hearty and so impulsive as
some of our elders. I constantly see old people flushed and
excited by the prospect of some anticipated pleasure which
altogether fails to ruffle the tranquillity of their serene
grandchildren. Are we, I wonder, quite such genuine boys and
girls now as our seniors were in their time? Has the great advance
in education taken rather too long a stride; and are we in these
modern days, just the least trifle in the world too well brought
Without attempting to answer those questions decisively, I may at
least record that I never saw my mother and my sister together in
Pesca's society, without finding my mother much the younger woman
of the two. On this occasion, for example, while the old lady was
laughing heartily over the boyish manner in which we tumbled into
the parlour, Sarah was perturbedly picking up the broken pieces of
a teacup, which the Professor had knocked off the table in his
precipitate advance to meet me at the door.
"I don't know what would have happened, Walter," said my mother,
"if you had delayed much longer. Pesca has been half mad with
impatience, and I have been half mad with curiosity. The
Professor has brought some wonderful news with him, in which he
says you are concerned; and he has cruelly refused to give us the
smallest hint of it till his friend Walter appeared."
"Very provoking: it spoils the Set," murmured Sarah to herself,
mournfully absorbed over the ruins of the broken cup.
While these words were being spoken, Pesca, happily and fussily
unconscious of the irreparable wrong which the crockery had
suffered at his hands, was dragging a large arm-chair to the
opposite end of the room, so as to command us all three, in the
character of a public speaker addressing an audience. Having
turned the chair with its back towards us, he jumped into it on
his knees, and excitedly addressed his small congregation of three
from an impromptu pulpit.
"Now, my good dears," began Pesca (who always said "good dears"
when he meant "worthy friends"), "listen to me. The time has
come--I recite my good news--I speak at last."
"Hear, hear!" said my mother, humouring the joke.
"The next thing he will break, mamma," whispered Sarah, "will be
the back of the best arm-chair."
"I go back into my life, and I address myself to the noblest of
created beings," continued Pesca, vehemently apostrophising my
unworthy self over the top rail of the chair. "Who found me dead
at the bottom of the sea (through Cramp); and who pulled me up to
the top; and what did I say when I got into my own life and my own
"Much more than was at all necessary," I answered as doggedly as
possible; for the least encouragement in connection with this
subject invariably let loose the Professor's emotions in a flood
"I said," persisted Pesca, "that my life belonged to my dear
friend, Walter, for the rest of my days--and so it does. I said
that I should never be happy again till I had found the
opportunity of doing a good Something for Walter--and I have never
been contented with myself till this most blessed day. Now,"
cried the enthusiastic little man at the top of his voice, "the
overflowing happiness bursts out of me at every pore of my skin,
like a perspiration; for on my faith, and soul, and honour, the
something is done at last, and the only word to say now is--Right-
It may be necessary to explain here that Pesca prided himself on
being a perfect Englishman in his language, as well as in his
dress, manners, and amusements. Having picked up a few of our
most familiar colloquial expressions, he scattered them about over
his conversation whenever they happened to occur to him, turning
them, in his high relish for their sound and his general ignorance
of their sense, into compound words and repetitions of his own,
and always running them into each other, as if they consisted of
one long syllable.
"Among the fine London Houses where I teach the language of my
native country," said the Professor, rushing into his long-
deferred explanation without another word of preface, "there is
one, mighty fine, in the big place called Portland. You all know
where that is? Yes, yes--course-of-course. The fine house, my
good dears, has got inside it a fine family. A Mamma, fair and
fat; three young Misses, fair and fat; two young Misters, fair and
fat; and a Papa, the fairest and the fattest of all, who is a
mighty merchant, up to his eyes in gold--a fine man once, but
seeing that he has got a naked head and two chins, fine no longer
at the present time. Now mind! I teach the sublime Dante to the
young Misses, and ah!--my-soul-bless-my-soul!--it is not in human
language to say how the sublime Dante puzzles the pretty heads of
all three! No matter--all in good time--and the more lessons the
better for me. Now mind! Imagine to yourselves that I am teaching
the young Misses to-day, as usual. We are all four of us down
together in the Hell of Dante. At the Seventh Circle--but no
matter for that: all the Circles are alike to the three young
Misses, fair and fat,--at the Seventh Circle, nevertheless, my
pupils are sticking fast; and I, to set them going again, recite,
explain, and blow myself up red-hot with useless enthusiasm, when--
a creak of boots in the passage outside, and in comes the golden
Papa, the mighty merchant with the naked head and the two chins.--
Ha! my good dears, I am closer than you think for to the business,
now. Have you been patient so far? or have you said to yourselves,
'Deuce-what-the-deuce! Pesca is long-winded to-night?'"
We declared that we were deeply interested. The Professor went
"In his hand, the golden Papa has a letter; and after he has made
his excuse for disturbing us in our Infernal Region with the
common mortal Business of the house, he addresses himself to the
three young Misses, and begins, as you English begin everything in
this blessed world that you have to say, with a great O. 'O, my
dears,' says the mighty merchant, 'I have got here a letter from
my friend, Mr.----'(the name has slipped out of my mind; but no
matter; we shall come back to that; yes, yes--right-all-right).
So the Papa says, 'I have got a letter from my friend, the Mister;
and he wants a recommend from me, of a drawing-master, to go down
to his house in the country.' My-soul-bless-my-soul! when I heard
the golden Papa say those words, if I had been big enough to reach
up to him, I should have put my arms round his neck, and pressed
him to my bosom in a long and grateful hug! As it was, I only
bounced upon my chair. My seat was on thorns, and my soul was on
fire to speak but I held my tongue, and let Papa go on. 'Perhaps
you know,' says this good man of money, twiddling his friend's
letter this way and that, in his golden fingers and thumbs,
'perhaps you know, my dears, of a drawing-master that I can
recommend?' The three young Misses all look at each other, and
then say (with the indispensable great O to begin) "O, dear no,
Papa! But here is Mr. Pesca' At the mention of myself I can hold
no longer--the thought of you, my good dears, mounts like blood to
my head--I start from my seat, as if a spike had grown up from the
ground through the bottom of my chair--I address myself to the
mighty merchant, and I say (English phrase) 'Dear sir, I have the
man! The first and foremost drawing-master of the world! Recommend
him by the post to-night, and send him off, bag and baggage
(English phrase again--ha!), send him off, bag and baggage, by the
train to-morrow!' 'Stop, stop,' says Papa; 'is he a foreigner, or
an Englishman?' 'English to the bone of his back,' I answer.
'Respectable?' says Papa. 'Sir,' I say (for this last question of
his outrages me, and I have done being familiar with him--) 'Sir!
the immortal fire of genius burns in this Englishman's bosom, and,
what is more, his father had it before him!' 'Never mind,' says
the golden barbarian of a Papa, 'never mind about his genius, Mr.
Pesca. We don't want genius in this country, unless it is
accompanied by respectability--and then we are very glad to have
it, very glad indeed. Can your friend produce testimonials--
letters that speak to his character?' I wave my hand negligently.
'Letters?' I say. 'Ha! my-soul-bless-my-soul! I should think so,
indeed! Volumes of letters and portfolios of testimonials, if you
like!' 'One or two will do,' says this man of phlegm and money.
'Let him send them to me, with his name and address. And--stop,
stop, Mr. Pesca--before you go to your friend, you had better take
a note.' 'Bank-note!' I say, indignantly. 'No bank-note, if you
please, till my brave Englishman has earned it first.' 'Bank-
note!' says Papa, in a great surprise, 'who talked of bank-note? I
mean a note of the terms--a memorandum of what he is expected to
do. Go on with your lesson, Mr. Pesca, and I will give you the
necessary extract from my friend's letter.' Down sits the man of
merchandise and money to his pen, ink, and paper; and down I go
once again into the Hell of Dante, with my three young Misses
after me. In ten minutes' time the note is written, and the boots
of Papa are creaking themselves away in the passage outside. From
that moment, on my faith, and soul, and honour, I know nothing
more! The glorious thought that I have caught my opportunity at
last, and that my grateful service for my dearest friend in the
world is as good as done already, flies up into my head and makes
me drunk. How I pull my young Misses and myself out of our
Infernal Region again, how my other business is done afterwards,
how my little bit of dinner slides itself down my throat, I know
no more than a man in the moon. Enough for me, that here I am,
with the mighty merchant's note in my hand, as large as life, as
hot as fire, and as happy as a king! Ha! ha! ha! right-right-
right-all-right!" Here the Professor waved the memorandum of terms
over his head, and ended his long and voluble narrative with his
shrill Italian parody on an English cheer.
My mother rose the moment he had done, with flushed cheeks and
brightened eyes. She caught the little man warmly by both hands.
"My dear, good Pesca," she said, "I never doubted your true
affection for Walter--but I am more than ever persuaded of it
"I am sure we are very much obliged to Professor Pesca, for
Walter's sake," added Sarah. She half rose, while she spoke, as
if to approach the armchair, in her turn; but, observing that
Pesca was rapturously kissing my mother's hands, looked serious,
and resumed her seat. "If the familiar little man treats my
mother in that way, how will he treat ME?" Faces sometimes tell
truth; and that was unquestionably the thought in Sarah's mind, as
she sat down again.
Although I myself was gratefully sensible of the kindness of
Pesca's motives, my spirits were hardly so much elevated as they
ought to have been by the prospect of future employment now placed
before me. When the Professor had quite done with my mother's
hand, and when I had warmly thanked him for his interference on my
behalf, I asked to be allowed to look at the note of terms which
his respectable patron had drawn up for my inspection.
Pesca handed me the paper, with a triumphant flourish of the hand.
"Read!" said the little man majestically. "I promise you my
friend, the writing of the golden Papa speaks with a tongue of
trumpets for itself."
The note of terms was plain, straightforward, and comprehensive,
at any rate. It informed me,
First, That Frederick Fairlie, Esquire, of Limmeridge House.
Cumberland, wanted to engage the services of a thoroughly
competent drawing-master, for a period of four months certain.
Secondly, That the duties which the master was expected to perform
would be of a twofold kind. He was to superintend the instruction
of two young ladies in the art of painting in water-colours; and
he was to devote his leisure time, afterwards, to the business of
repairing and mounting a valuable collection of drawings, which
had been suffered to fall into a condition of total neglect.
Thirdly, That the terms offered to the person who should undertake
and properly perform these duties were four guineas a week; that
he was to reside at Limmeridge House; and that he was to be
treated there on the footing of a gentleman.
Fourthly, and lastly, That no person need think of applying for
this situation unless he could furnish the most unexceptionable
references to character and abilities. The references were to be
sent to Mr. Fairlie's friend in London, who was empowered to
conclude all necessary arrangements. These instructions were
followed by the name and address of Pesca's employer in Portland
Place--and there the note, or memorandum, ended.
The prospect which this offer of an engagement held out was
certainly an attractive one. The employment was likely to be both
easy and agreeable; it was proposed to me at the autumn time of
the year when I was least occupied; and the terms, judging by my
personal experience in my profession, were surprisingly liberal.
I knew this; I knew that I ought to consider myself very fortunate
if I succeeded in securing the offered employment--and yet, no
sooner had I read the memorandum than I felt an inexplicable
unwillingness within me to stir in the matter. I had never in the
whole of my previous experience found my duty and my inclination
so painfully and so unaccountably at variance as I found them now.
"Oh, Walter, your father never had such a chance as this!" said my
mother, when she had read the note of terms and had handed it back
"Such distinguished people to know," remarked Sarah, straightening
herself in the chair; "and on such gratifying terms of equality
"Yes, yes; the terms, in every sense, are tempting enough," I
replied impatiently. "But before I send in my testimonials, I
should like a little time to consider----"
"Consider!" exclaimed my mother. "Why, Walter, what is the matter
"Consider!" echoed my sister. "What a very extraordinary thing to
say, under the circumstances!"
"Consider!" chimed in the Professor. "What is there to consider
about? Answer me this! Have you not been complaining of your
health, and have you not been longing for what you call a smack of
the country breeze? Well! there in your hand is the paper that
offers you perpetual choking mouthfuls of country breeze for four
months' time. Is it not so? Ha! Again--you want money. Well! Is
four golden guineas a week nothing? My-soul-bless-my-soul! only
give it to me--and my boots shall creak like the golden Papa's,
with a sense of the overpowering richness of the man who walks in
them! Four guineas a week, and, more than that, the charming
society of two young misses! and, more than that, your bed, your
breakfast, your dinner, your gorging English teas and lunches and
drinks of foaming beer, all for nothing--why, Walter, my dear good
friend--deuce-what-the-deuce!--for the first time in my life I
have not eyes enough in my head to look, and wonder at you!"
Neither my mother's evident astonishment at my behaviour, nor
Pesca's fervid enumeration of the advantages offered to me by the
new employment, had any effect in shaking my unreasonable
disinclination to go to Limmeridge House. After starting all the
petty objections that I could think of to going to Cumberland, and
after hearing them answered, one after another, to my own complete
discomfiture, I tried to set up a last obstacle by asking what was
to become of my pupils in London while I was teaching Mr.
Fairlie's young ladies to sketch from nature. The obvious answer
to this was, that the greater part of them would be away on their
autumn travels, and that the few who remained at home might be
confided to the care of one of my brother drawing-masters, whose
pupils I had once taken off his hands under similar circumstances.
My sister reminded me that this gentleman had expressly placed his
services at my disposal, during the present season, in case I
wished to leave town; my mother seriously appealed to me not to
let an idle caprice stand in the way of my own interests and my
own health; and Pesca piteously entreated that I would not wound
him to the heart by rejecting the first grateful offer of service
that he had been able to make to the friend who had saved his
The evident sincerity and affection which inspired these
remonstrances would have influenced any man with an atom of good
feeling in his composition. Though I could not conquer my own
unaccountable perversity, I had at least virtue enough to be
heartily ashamed of it, and to end the discussion pleasantly by
giving way, and promising to do all that was wanted of me.
The rest of the evening passed merrily enough in humorous
anticipations of my coming life with the two young ladies in
Cumberland. Pesca, inspired by our national grog, which appeared
to get into his head, in the most marvellous manner, five minutes
after it had gone down his throat, asserted his claims to be
considered a complete Englishman by making a series of speeches in
rapid succession, proposing my mother's health, my sister's
health, my health, and the healths, in mass, of Mr. Fairlie and
the two young Misses, pathetically returning thanks himself,
immediately afterwards, for the whole party. "A secret, Walter,"
said my little friend confidentially, as we walked home together.
"I am flushed by the recollection of my own eloquence. My soul
bursts itself with ambition. One of these days I go into your
noble Parliament. It is the dream of my whole life to be
Honourable Pesca, M.P.!"
The next morning I sent my testimonials to the Professor's
employer in Portland Place. Three days passed, and I concluded,
with secret satisfaction, that my papers had not been found
sufficiently explicit. On the fourth day, however, an answer
came. It announced that Mr. Fairlie accepted my services, and
requested me to start for Cumberland immediately. All the
necessary instructions for my journey were carefully and clearly
added in a postscript.
I made my arrangements, unwillingly enough, for leaving London
early the next day. Towards evening Pesca looked in, on his way
to a dinner-party, to bid me good-bye.
"I shall dry my tears in your absence," said the Professor gaily,
"with this glorious thought. It is my auspicious hand that has
given the first push to your fortune in the world. Go, my friend!
When your sun shines in Cumberland (English proverb), in the name
of heaven make your hay. Marry one of the two young Misses;
become Honourable Hartright, M.P.; and when you are on the top of
the ladder remember that Pesca, at the bottom, has done it all!"
I tried to laugh with my little friend over his parting jest, but
my spirits were not to be commanded. Something jarred in me
almost painfully while he was speaking his light farewell words.
When I was left alone again nothing remained to be done but to
walk to the Hampstead cottage and bid my mother and Sarah good-
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