Between 1833 and 1836, the Victorian writer Charles Dickens wrote a number of sketches which were originally published in various newspapers and other periodicals including The Morning Chronicle, The Evening Chronicle, The Monthly Magazine, The Carlton Chronicle and Bell’s Weekly Messenger. Many were published under the pen name of Boz, which Dickens adopted early on in his career as a writer and journalist. The popular sketches were reproduced in 1836 in a collected work, Sketches by Boz, which contained 56 sketches divided into four sections: Our Parish (7 sketches) Scenes (25 sketches), Characters (12 sketches) and Tales (12 sketches). The material in the first three sections consists of portraits of London life and the last section comprised fictional stories.
Sketches by Boz. Tales, Chapter 5.
‘Indeed, my love, he paid Teresa very great attention on the last assembly night,’ said Mrs. Malderton, addressing her spouse, who, after the fatigues of the day in the City, was sitting with a silk handkerchief over his head, and his feet on the fender, drinking his port;—‘very great attention; and I say again, every possible encouragement ought to be given him. He positively must be asked down here to dine.’
‘Who must?’ inquired Mr. Malderton.
‘Why, you know whom I mean, my dear—the young man with the black whiskers and the white cravat, who has just come out at our assembly, and whom all the girls are talking about. Young—dear me! what’s his name?—Marianne, what is his name?’ continued Mrs. Malderton, addressing her youngest daughter, who was engaged in netting a purse, and looking sentimental.
‘Mr. Horatio Sparkins, ma,’ replied Miss Marianne, with a sigh.
‘Oh! yes, to be sure—Horatio Sparkins,’ said Mrs. Malderton. ‘Decidedly the most gentleman-like young man I ever saw. I am sure in the beautifully-made coat he wore the other night, he looked like—like—’
‘Like Prince Leopold, ma—so noble, so full of sentiment!’ suggested Marianne, in a tone of enthusiastic admiration.
‘You should recollect, my dear,’ resumed Mrs. Malderton, ‘that Teresa is now eight-and-twenty; and that it really is very important that something should be done.’
Miss Teresa Malderton was a very little girl, rather fat, with vermilion cheeks, but good-humoured, and still disengaged, although, to do her justice, the misfortune arose from no lack of perseverance on her part. In vain had she flirted for ten years; in vain had Mr. and Mrs. Malderton assiduously kept up an extensive acquaintance among the young eligible bachelors of Camberwell, and even of Wandsworth and Brixton; to say nothing of those who ‘dropped in’ from town. Miss Malderton was as well known as the lion on the top of Northumberland House, and had an equal chance of ‘going off.’
‘I am quite sure you’d like him,’ continued Mrs. Malderton, ‘he is so gentlemanly!’
‘So clever!’ said Miss Marianne.
‘And has such a flow of language!’ added Miss Teresa.
‘He has a great respect for you, my dear,’ said Mrs. Malderton to her husband. Mr. Malderton coughed, and looked at the fire.
‘Yes I’m sure he’s very much attached to pa’s society,’ said Miss Marianne.
‘No doubt of it,’ echoed Miss Teresa.
‘Indeed, he said as much to me in confidence,’ observed Mrs. Malderton.
‘Well, well,’ returned Mr. Malderton, somewhat flattered; ‘if I see him at the assembly to-morrow, perhaps I’ll ask him down. I hope he knows we live at Oak Lodge, Camberwell, my dear?’
‘Of course—and that you keep a one-horse carriage.’
‘I’ll see about it,’ said Mr. Malderton, composing himself for a nap; ‘I’ll see about it.’
Mr. Malderton was a man whose whole scope of ideas was limited to Lloyd’s, the Exchange, the India House, and the Bank. A few successful speculations had raised him from a situation of obscurity and comparative poverty, to a state of affluence. As frequently happens in such cases, the ideas of himself and his family became elevated to an extraordinary pitch as their means increased; they affected fashion, taste, and many other fooleries, in imitation of their betters, and had a very decided and becoming horror of anything which could, by possibility, be considered low. He was hospitable from ostentation, illiberal from ignorance, and prejudiced from conceit. Egotism and the love of display induced him to keep an excellent table: convenience, and a love of good things of this life, ensured him plenty of guests. He liked to have clever men, or what he considered such, at his table, because it was a great thing to talk about; but he never could endure what he called ‘sharp fellows.’ Probably, he cherished this feeling out of compliment to his two sons, who gave their respected parent no uneasiness in that particular. The family were ambitious of forming acquaintances and connexions in some sphere of society superior to that in which they themselves moved; and one of the necessary consequences of this desire, added to their utter ignorance of the world beyond their own small circle, was, that any one who could lay claim to an acquaintance with people of rank and title, had a sure passport to the table at Oak Lodge, Camberwell.
The appearance of Mr. Horatio Sparkins at the assembly, had excited no small degree of surprise and curiosity among its regular frequenters. Who could he be? He was evidently reserved, and apparently melancholy. Was he a clergyman?—He danced too well. A barrister?—He said he was not called. He used very fine words, and talked a great deal. Could he be a distinguished foreigner, come to England for the purpose of describing the country, its manners and customs; and frequenting public balls and public dinners, with the view of becoming acquainted with high life, polished etiquette, and English refinement?—No, he had not a foreign accent. Was he a surgeon, a contributor to the magazines, a writer of fashionable novels, or an artist?—No; to each and all of these surmises, there existed some valid objection.—‘Then,’ said everybody, ‘he must be somebody.’—‘I should think he must be,’ reasoned Mr. Malderton, within himself, ‘because he perceives our superiority, and pays us so much attention.’
The night succeeding the conversation we have just recorded, was ‘assembly night.’ The double-fly was ordered to be at the door of Oak Lodge at nine o’clock precisely. The Miss Maldertons were dressed in sky-blue satin trimmed with artificial flowers; and Mrs. M. (who was a little fat woman), in ditto ditto, looked like her eldest daughter multiplied by two. Mr. Frederick Malderton, the eldest son, in full-dress costume, was the very beau idéal of a smart waiter; and Mr. Thomas Malderton, the youngest, with his white dress-stock, blue coat, bright buttons, and red watch-ribbon, strongly resembled the portrait of that interesting, but rash young gentleman, George Barnwell. Every member of the party had made up his or her mind to cultivate the acquaintance of Mr. Horatio Sparkins. Miss Teresa, of course, was to be as amiable and interesting as ladies of eight-and-twenty on the look-out for a husband, usually are. Mrs. Malderton would be all smiles and graces. Miss Marianne would request the favour of some verses for her album. Mr. Malderton would patronise the great unknown by asking him to dinner. Tom intended to ascertain the extent of his information on the interesting topics of snuff and cigars. Even Mr. Frederick Malderton himself, the family authority on all points of taste, dress, and fashionable arrangement; who had lodgings of his own in town; who had a free admission to Covent-garden theatre; who always dressed according to the fashions of the months; who went up the water twice a-week in the season; and who actually had an intimate friend who once knew a gentleman who formerly lived in the Albany,—even he had determined that Mr. Horatio Sparkins must be a devilish good fellow, and that he would do him the honour of challenging him to a game at billiards.
The first object that met the anxious eyes of the expectant family on their entrance into the ball-room, was the interesting Horatio, with his hair brushed off his forehead, and his eyes fixed on the ceiling, reclining in a contemplative attitude on one of the seats.
‘There he is, my dear,’ whispered Mrs. Malderton to Mr. Malderton.
‘How like Lord Byron!’ murmured Miss Teresa.
‘Or Montgomery!’ whispered Miss Marianne.
‘Or the portraits of Captain Cook!’ suggested Tom.
‘Tom—don’t be an ass!’ said his father, who checked him on all occasions, probably with a view to prevent his becoming ‘sharp’—which was very unnecessary.
The elegant Sparkins attitudinised with admirable effect, until the family had crossed the room. He then started up, with the most natural appearance of surprise and delight; accosted Mrs. Malderton with the utmost cordiality; saluted the young ladies in the most enchanting manner; bowed to, and shook hands with Mr. Malderton, with a degree of respect amounting almost to veneration; and returned the greetings of the two young men in a half-gratified, half-patronising manner, which fully convinced them that he must be an important, and, at the same time, condescending personage.
‘Miss Malderton,’ said Horatio, after the ordinary salutations, and bowing very low, ‘may I be permitted to presume to hope that you will allow me to have the pleasure—’
‘I don’t think I am engaged,’ said Miss Teresa, with a dreadful affectation of indifference—‘but, really—so many—’
Horatio looked handsomely miserable.
‘I shall be most happy,’ simpered the interesting Teresa, at last. Horatio’s countenance brightened up, like an old hat in a shower of rain.
‘A very genteel young man, certainly!’ said the gratified Mr. Malderton, as the obsequious Sparkins and his partner joined the quadrille which was just forming.
‘He has a remarkably good address,’ said Mr. Frederick.
‘Yes, he is a prime fellow,’ interposed Tom, who always managed to put his foot in it—‘he talks just like an auctioneer.’
‘Tom!’ said his father solemnly, ‘I think I desired you, before, not to be a fool.’ Tom looked as happy as a cock on a drizzly morning.
‘How delightful!’ said the interesting Horatio to his partner, as they promenaded the room at the conclusion of the set—‘how delightful, how refreshing it is, to retire from the cloudy storms, the vicissitudes, and the troubles, of life, even if it be but for a few short fleeting moments: and to spend those moments, fading and evanescent though they be, in the delightful, the blessed society of one individual—whose frowns would be death, whose coldness would be madness, whose falsehood would be ruin, whose constancy would be bliss; the possession of whose affection would be the brightest and best reward that Heaven could bestow on man?’
‘What feeling! what sentiment!’ thought Miss Teresa, as she leaned more heavily on her companion’s arm.
‘But enough—enough!’ resumed the elegant Sparkins, with a theatrical air. ‘What have I said? what have I—I—to do with sentiments like these! Miss Malderton’—here he stopped short—‘may I hope to be permitted to offer the humble tribute of—’
‘Really, Mr. Sparkins,’ returned the enraptured Teresa, blushing in the sweetest confusion, ‘I must refer you to papa. I never can, without his consent, venture to—’
‘Surely he cannot object—’
‘Oh, yes. Indeed, indeed, you know him not!’ interrupted Miss Teresa, well knowing there was nothing to fear, but wishing to make the interview resemble a scene in some romantic novel.
‘He cannot object to my offering you a glass of negus,’ returned the adorable Sparkins, with some surprise.
‘Is that all?’ thought the disappointed Teresa. ‘What a fuss about nothing!’
‘It will give me the greatest pleasure, sir, to see you to dinner at Oak Lodge, Camberwell, on Sunday next at five o’clock, if you have no better engagement,’ said Mr. Malderton, at the conclusion of the evening, as he and his sons were standing in conversation with Mr. Horatio Sparkins.
Horatio bowed his acknowledgments, and accepted the flattering invitation.
‘I must confess,’ continued the father, offering his snuff-box to his new acquaintance, ‘that I don’t enjoy these assemblies half so much as the comfort—I had almost said the luxury—of Oak Lodge. They have no great charms for an elderly man.’
‘And after all, sir, what is man?’ said the metaphysical Sparkins. ‘I say, what is man?’
‘Ah! very true,’ said Mr. Malderton; ‘very true.’
‘We know that we live and breathe,’ continued Horatio; ‘that we have wants and wishes, desires and appetites—’
‘Certainly,’ said Mr. Frederick Malderton, looking profound.
‘I say, we know that we exist,’ repeated Horatio, raising his voice, ‘but there we stop; there, is an end to our knowledge; there, is the summit of our attainments; there, is the termination of our ends. What more do we know?’
‘Nothing,’ replied Mr. Frederick—than whom no one was more capable of answering for himself in that particular. Tom was about to hazard something, but, fortunately for his reputation, he caught his father’s angry eye, and slunk off like a puppy convicted of petty larceny.
‘Upon my word,’ said Mr. Malderton the elder, as they were returning home in the fly, ‘that Mr. Sparkins is a wonderful young man. Such surprising knowledge! such extraordinary information! and such a splendid mode of expressing himself!’
‘I think he must be somebody in disguise,’ said Miss Marianne. ‘How charmingly romantic!’
‘He talks very loud and nicely,’ timidly observed Tom, ‘but I don’t exactly understand what he means.’
‘I almost begin to despair of your understanding anything, Tom,’ said his father, who, of course, had been much enlightened by Mr. Horatio Sparkins’s conversation.
‘It strikes me, Tom,’ said Miss Teresa, ‘that you have made yourself very ridiculous this evening.’
‘No doubt of it,’ cried everybody—and the unfortunate Tom reduced himself into the least possible space. That night, Mr. and Mrs. Malderton had a long conversation respecting their daughter’s prospects and future arrangements. Miss Teresa went to bed, considering whether, in the event of her marrying a title, she could conscientiously encourage the visits of her present associates; and dreamed, all night, of disguised noblemen, large routs, ostrich plumes, bridal favours, and Horatio Sparkins.
Various surmises were hazarded on the Sunday morning, as to the mode of conveyance which the anxiously-expected Horatio would adopt. Did he keep a gig?—was it possible he could come on horseback?—or would he patronize the stage? These, and other various conjectures of equal importance, engrossed the attention of Mrs. Malderton and her daughters during the whole morning after church.
‘Upon my word, my dear, it’s a most annoying thing that that vulgar brother of yours should have invited himself to dine here to-day,’ said Mr. Malderton to his wife. ‘On account of Mr. Sparkins’s coming down, I purposely abstained from asking any one but Flamwell. And then to think of your brother—a tradesman—it’s insufferable! I declare I wouldn’t have him mention his shop, before our new guest—no, not for a thousand pounds! I wouldn’t care if he had the good sense to conceal the disgrace he is to the family; but he’s so fond of his horrible business, that he will let people know what he is.’
Mr. Jacob Barton, the individual alluded to, was a large grocer; so vulgar, and so lost to all sense of feeling, that he actually never scrupled to avow that he wasn’t above his business: ‘he’d made his money by it, and he didn’t care who know’d it.’
‘Ah! Flamwell, my dear fellow, how d’ye do?’ said Mr. Malderton, as a little spoffish man, with green spectacles, entered the room. ‘You got my note?’
‘Yes, I did; and here I am in consequence.’
‘You don’t happen to know this Mr. Sparkins by name? You know everybody?’
Mr. Flamwell was one of those gentlemen of remarkably extensive information whom one occasionally meets in society, who pretend to know everybody, but in reality know nobody. At Malderton’s, where any stories about great people were received with a greedy ear, he was an especial favourite; and, knowing the kind of people he had to deal with, he carried his passion of claiming acquaintance with everybody, to the most immoderate length. He had rather a singular way of telling his greatest lies in a parenthesis, and with an air of self-denial, as if he feared being thought egotistical.
‘Why, no, I don’t know him by that name,’ returned Flamwell, in a low tone, and with an air of immense importance. ‘I have no doubt I know him, though. Is he tall?’
‘Middle-sized,’ said Miss Teresa.
‘With black hair?’ inquired Flamwell, hazarding a bold guess.
‘Yes,’ returned Miss Teresa, eagerly.
‘Rather a snub nose?’
‘No,’ said the disappointed Teresa, ‘he has a Roman nose.’
‘I said a Roman nose, didn’t I?’ inquired Flamwell. ‘He’s an elegant young man?’
‘With remarkably prepossessing manners?’
‘Oh, yes!’ said all the family together. ‘You must know him.’
‘Yes, I thought you knew him, if he was anybody,’ triumphantly exclaimed Mr. Malderton. ‘Who d’ye think he is?’
‘Why, from your description,’ said Flamwell, ruminating, and sinking his voice, almost to a whisper, ‘he bears a strong resemblance to the Honourable Augustus Fitz-Edward Fitz-John Fitz-Osborne. He’s a very talented young man, and rather eccentric. It’s extremely probable he may have changed his name for some temporary purpose.’
Teresa’s heart beat high. Could he be the Honourable Augustus Fitz-Edward Fitz-John Fitz-Osborne! What a name to be elegantly engraved upon two glazed cards, tied together with a piece of white satin ribbon! ‘The Honourable Mrs. Augustus Fitz-Edward Fitz-John Fitz-Osborne!’ The thought was transport.
‘It’s five minutes to five,’ said Mr. Malderton, looking at his watch: ‘I hope he’s not going to disappoint us.’
‘There he is!’ exclaimed Miss Teresa, as a loud double-knock was heard at the door. Everybody endeavoured to look—as people when they particularly expect a visitor always do—as if they were perfectly unsuspicious of the approach of anybody.
The room-door opened—‘Mr. Barton!’ said the servant.
‘Confound the man!’ murmured Malderton. ‘Ah! my dear sir, how d’ye do! Any news?’
‘Why no,’ returned the grocer, in his usual bluff manner. ‘No, none partickler. None that I am much aware of. How d’ye do, gals and boys? Mr. Flamwell, sir—glad to see you.’
‘Here’s Mr. Sparkins!’ said Tom, who had been looking out at the window, ‘on such a black horse!’ There was Horatio, sure enough, on a large black horse, curvetting and prancing along, like an Astley’s supernumerary. After a great deal of reining in, and pulling up, with the accompaniments of snorting, rearing, and kicking, the animal consented to stop at about a hundred yards from the gate, where Mr. Sparkins dismounted, and confided him to the care of Mr. Malderton’s groom. The ceremony of introduction was gone through, in all due form. Mr. Flamwell looked from behind his green spectacles at Horatio with an air of mysterious importance; and the gallant Horatio looked unutterable things at Teresa.
‘Is he the Honourable Mr. Augustus What’s-his-name?’ whispered Mrs. Malderton to Flamwell, as he was escorting her to the dining-room.
‘Why, no—at least not exactly,’ returned that great authority—‘not exactly.’
‘Who is he then?’
‘Hush!’ said Flamwell, nodding his head with a grave air, importing that he knew very well; but was prevented, by some grave reasons of state, from disclosing the important secret. It might be one of the ministers making himself acquainted with the views of the people.
‘Mr. Sparkins,’ said the delighted Mrs. Malderton, ‘pray divide the ladies. John, put a chair for the gentleman between Miss Teresa and Miss Marianne.’ This was addressed to a man who, on ordinary occasions, acted as half-groom, half-gardener; but who, as it was important to make an impression on Mr. Sparkins, had been forced into a white neckerchief and shoes, and touched up, and brushed, to look like a second footman.
The dinner was excellent; Horatio was most attentive to Miss Teresa, and every one felt in high spirits, except Mr. Malderton, who, knowing the propensity of his brother-in-law, Mr. Barton, endured that sort of agony which the newspapers inform us is experienced by the surrounding neighbourhood when a pot-boy hangs himself in a hay-loft, and which is ‘much easier to be imagined than described.’
‘Have you seen your friend, Sir Thomas Noland, lately, Flamwell?’ inquired Mr. Malderton, casting a sidelong look at Horatio, to see what effect the mention of so great a man had upon him.
‘Why, no—not very lately. I saw Lord Gubbleton the day before yesterday.’
‘All! I hope his lordship is very well?’ said Malderton, in a tone of the greatest interest. It is scarcely necessary to say that, until that moment, he had been quite innocent of the existence of such a person.
‘Why, yes; he was very well—very well indeed. He’s a devilish good fellow. I met him in the City, and had a long chat with him. Indeed, I’m rather intimate with him. I couldn’t stop to talk to him as long as I could wish, though, because I was on my way to a banker’s, a very rich man, and a member of Parliament, with whom I am also rather, indeed I may say very, intimate.’
‘I know whom you mean,’ returned the host, consequentially—in reality knowing as much about the matter as Flamwell himself.—‘He has a capital business.’
This was touching on a dangerous topic.
‘Talking of business,’ interposed Mr. Barton, from the centre of the table. ‘A gentleman whom you knew very well, Malderton, before you made that first lucky spec of yours, called at our shop the other day, and—’
‘Barton, may I trouble you for a potato?’ interrupted the wretched master of the house, hoping to nip the story in the bud.
‘Certainly,’ returned the grocer, quite insensible of his brother-in-law’s object—‘and he said in a very plain manner—’
‘Floury, if you please,’ interrupted Malderton again; dreading the termination of the anecdote, and fearing a repetition of the word ‘shop.’
‘He said, says he,’ continued the culprit, after despatching the potato; ‘says he, how goes on your business? So I said, jokingly—you know my way—says I, I’m never above my business, and I hope my business will never be above me. Ha, ha!’
‘Mr. Sparkins,’ said the host, vainly endeavouring to conceal his dismay, ‘a glass of wine?’
‘With the utmost pleasure, sir.’
‘Happy to see you.’
‘We were talking the other evening,’ resumed the host, addressing Horatio, partly with the view of displaying the conversational powers of his new acquaintance, and partly in the hope of drowning the grocer’s stories—‘we were talking the other night about the nature of man. Your argument struck me very forcibly.’
‘And me,’ said Mr. Frederick. Horatio made a graceful inclination of the head.
‘Pray, what is your opinion of woman, Mr. Sparkins?’ inquired Mrs. Malderton. The young ladies simpered.
‘Man,’ replied Horatio, ‘man, whether he ranged the bright, gay, flowery plains of a second Eden, or the more sterile, barren, and I may say, commonplace regions, to which we are compelled to accustom ourselves, in times such as these; man, under any circumstances, or in any place—whether he were bending beneath the withering blasts of the frigid zone, or scorching under the rays of a vertical sun—man, without woman, would be—alone.’
‘I am very happy to find you entertain such honourable opinions, Mr. Sparkins,’ said Mrs. Malderton.
‘And I,’ added Miss Teresa. Horatio looked his delight, and the young lady blushed.
‘Now, it’s my opinion—’ said Mr. Barton.
‘I know what you’re going to say,’ interposed Malderton, determined not to give his relation another opportunity, ‘and I don’t agree with you.’
‘What!’ inquired the astonished grocer.
‘I am sorry to differ from you, Barton,’ said the host, in as positive a manner as if he really were contradicting a position which the other had laid down, ‘but I cannot give my assent to what I consider a very monstrous proposition.’
‘But I meant to say—’
‘You never can convince me,’ said Malderton, with an air of obstinate determination. ‘Never.’
‘And I,’ said Mr. Frederick, following up his father’s attack, ‘cannot entirely agree in Mr. Sparkins’s argument.’
‘What!’ said Horatio, who became more metaphysical, and more argumentative, as he saw the female part of the family listening in wondering delight—‘what! Is effect the consequence of cause? Is cause the precursor of effect?’
‘That’s the point,’ said Flamwell.
‘To be sure,’ said Mr. Malderton.
‘Because, if effect is the consequence of cause, and if cause does precede effect, I apprehend you are wrong,’ added Horatio.
‘Decidedly,’ said the toad-eating Flamwell.
‘At least, I apprehend that to be the just and logical deduction?’ said Sparkins, in a tone of interrogation.
‘No doubt of it,’ chimed in Flamwell again. ‘It settles the point.’
‘Well, perhaps it does,’ said Mr. Frederick; ‘I didn’t see it before.’
‘I don’t exactly see it now,’ thought the grocer; ‘but I suppose it’s all right.’
‘How wonderfully clever he is!’ whispered Mrs. Malderton to her daughters, as they retired to the drawing-room.
‘Oh, he’s quite a love!’ said both the young ladies together; ‘he talks like an oracle. He must have seen a great deal of life.’
The gentlemen being left to themselves, a pause ensued, during which everybody looked very grave, as if they were quite overcome by the profound nature of the previous discussion. Flamwell, who had made up his mind to find out who and what Mr. Horatio Sparkins really was, first broke silence.
‘Excuse me, sir,’ said that distinguished personage, ‘I presume you have studied for the bar? I thought of entering once, myself—indeed, I’m rather intimate with some of the highest ornaments of that distinguished profession.’
‘N-no!’ said Horatio, with a little hesitation; ‘not exactly.’
‘But you have been much among the silk gowns, or I mistake?’ inquired Flamwell, deferentially.
‘Nearly all my life,’ returned Sparkins.
The question was thus pretty well settled in the mind of Mr. Flamwell. He was a young gentleman ‘about to be called.’
‘I shouldn’t like to be a barrister,’ said Tom, speaking for the first time, and looking round the table to find somebody who would notice the remark.
No one made any reply.
‘I shouldn’t like to wear a wig,’ said Tom, hazarding another observation.
‘Tom, I beg you will not make yourself ridiculous,’ said his father. ‘Pray listen, and improve yourself by the conversation you hear, and don’t be constantly making these absurd remarks.’
‘Very well, father,’ replied the unfortunate Tom, who had not spoken a word since he had asked for another slice of beef at a quarter-past five o’clock, p.m., and it was then eight.
‘Well, Tom,’ observed his good-natured uncle, ‘never mind! I think with you. I shouldn’t like to wear a wig. I’d rather wear an apron.’
Mr. Malderton coughed violently. Mr. Barton resumed—‘For if a man’s above his business—’
The cough returned with tenfold violence, and did not cease until the unfortunate cause of it, in his alarm, had quite forgotten what he intended to say.
‘Mr. Sparkins,’ said Flamwell, returning to the charge, ‘do you happen to know Mr. Delafontaine, of Bedford-square?’
‘I have exchanged cards with him; since which, indeed, I have had an opportunity of serving him considerably,’ replied Horatio, slightly colouring; no doubt, at having been betrayed into making the acknowledgment.
‘You are very lucky, if you have had an opportunity of obliging that great man,’ observed Flamwell, with an air of profound respect.
‘I don’t know who he is,’ he whispered to Mr. Malderton, confidentially, as they followed Horatio up to the drawing-room. ‘It’s quite clear, however, that he belongs to the law, and that he is somebody of great importance, and very highly connected.’
‘No doubt, no doubt,’ returned his companion.
The remainder of the evening passed away most delightfully. Mr. Malderton, relieved from his apprehensions by the circumstance of Mr. Barton’s falling into a profound sleep, was as affable and gracious as possible. Miss Teresa played the ‘Fall of Paris,’ as Mr. Sparkins declared, in a most masterly manner, and both of them, assisted by Mr. Frederick, tried over glees and trios without number; they having made the pleasing discovery that their voices harmonised beautifully. To be sure, they all sang the first part; and Horatio, in addition to the slight drawback of having no ear, was perfectly innocent of knowing a note of music; still, they passed the time very agreeably, and it was past twelve o’clock before Mr. Sparkins ordered the mourning-coach-looking steed to be brought out—an order which was only complied with, on the distinct understanding that he was to repeat his visit on the following Sunday.
‘But, perhaps, Mr. Sparkins will form one of our party to-morrow evening?’ suggested Mrs. M. ‘Mr. Malderton intends taking the girls to see the pantomime.’ Mr. Sparkins bowed, and promised to join the party in box 48, in the course of the evening.
‘We will not tax you for the morning,’ said Miss Teresa, bewitchingly; ‘for ma is going to take us to all sorts of places, shopping. I know that gentlemen have a great horror of that employment.’ Mr. Sparkins bowed again, and declared that he should be delighted, but business of importance occupied him in the morning. Flamwell looked at Malderton significantly.—‘It’s term time!’ he whispered.
At twelve o’clock on the following morning, the ‘fly’ was at the door of Oak Lodge, to convey Mrs. Malderton and her daughters on their expedition for the day. They were to dine and dress for the play at a friend’s house. First, driving thither with their band-boxes, they departed on their first errand to make some purchases at Messrs. Jones, Spruggins, and Smith’s, of Tottenham-court-road; after which, they were to go to Redmayne’s in Bond-street; thence, to innumerable places that no one ever heard of. The young ladies beguiled the tediousness of the ride by eulogising Mr. Horatio Sparkins, scolding their mamma for taking them so far to save a shilling, and wondering whether they should ever reach their destination. At length, the vehicle stopped before a dirty-looking ticketed linen-draper’s shop, with goods of all kinds, and labels of all sorts and sizes, in the window. There were dropsical figures of seven with a little three-farthings in the corner; ‘perfectly invisible to the naked eye;’ three hundred and fifty thousand ladies’ boas, from one shilling and a penny halfpenny; real French kid shoes, at two and ninepence per pair; green parasols, at an equally cheap rate; and ‘every description of goods,’ as the proprietors said—and they must know best—‘fifty per cent. under cost price.’
‘Lor! ma, what a place you have brought us to!’ said Miss Teresa; ‘what would Mr. Sparkins say if he could see us!’
‘Ah! what, indeed!’ said Miss Marianne, horrified at the idea.
‘Pray be seated, ladies. What is the first article?’ inquired the obsequious master of the ceremonies of the establishment, who, in his large white neckcloth and formal tie, looked like a bad ‘portrait of a gentleman’ in the Somerset-house exhibition.
‘I want to see some silks,’ answered Mrs. Malderton.
‘Directly, ma’am.—Mr. Smith! Where is Mr. Smith?’
‘Here, sir,’ cried a voice at the back of the shop.
‘Pray make haste, Mr. Smith,’ said the M.C. ‘You never are to be found when you’re wanted, sir.’
Mr. Smith, thus enjoined to use all possible despatch, leaped over the counter with great agility, and placed himself before the newly-arrived customers. Mrs. Malderton uttered a faint scream; Miss Teresa, who had been stooping down to talk to her sister, raised her head, and beheld—Horatio Sparkins!
‘We will draw a veil,’ as novel-writers say, over the scene that ensued. The mysterious, philosophical, romantic, metaphysical Sparkins—he who, to the interesting Teresa, seemed like the embodied idea of the young dukes and poetical exquisites in blue silk dressing-gowns, and ditto ditto slippers, of whom she had read and dreamed, but had never expected to behold, was suddenly converted into Mr. Samuel Smith, the assistant at a ‘cheap shop;’ the junior partner in a slippery firm of some three weeks’ existence. The dignified evanishment of the hero of Oak Lodge, on this unexpected recognition, could only be equalled by that of a furtive dog with a considerable kettle at his tail. All the hopes of the Maldertons were destined at once to melt away, like the lemon ices at a Company’s dinner; Almack’s was still to them as distant as the North Pole; and Miss Teresa had as much chance of a husband as Captain Ross had of the north-west passage.
Years have elapsed since the occurrence of this dreadful morning. The daisies have thrice bloomed on Camberwell-green; the sparrows have thrice repeated their vernal chirps in Camberwell-grove; but the Miss Maldertons are still unmated. Miss Teresa’s case is more desperate than ever; but Flamwell is yet in the zenith of his reputation; and the family have the same predilection for aristocratic personages, with an increased aversion to anything low.
Discover more Sketches by Boz.