« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
"Mrs. E. G. Heathcote, Grove Terrace, Camberwell." To what wild dreams, to what extravagant speculations did it give birth! He had evidently made a favourable impression on the mature lady, and might not his merits do him as good service with her daughter, or niece, or ward, or whatever she was, the young lovely creature to whom she had alluded by so charming a title. The Cam→ berwell Beauty! The acknowledged Venus of that large and populous parish! The Beauty of all the Grove, and Grove Lane of the Old road and the New-of all the Green-of Church-row and the Terrace, of all Champion and Denmark Hills-of all Cold Harbour Lane! The loveliest of the lovely, from the Red Cap on the north to the Greyhound on the south-from the Holland Arms in the east to the Blue Anchor in the west!
"Here, Perry, reach me the Book of Beauty."
The shopman handed the volume to his master, who began earnestly to look through the illustrations, wondering which of those bewitching countesses, or mistresses, or misses, the fair incognita might resemble. But such speculations were futile, so the book was closed and thrown aside; and then his thoughts reverting to his own personal pretensions, he passed his fingers through his hair, adjusted his collar, and drawing himself up to his full height, took a long look at his legs. But this survey was partial and unsatisfactory, and accordingly striding up the stairs, three at once, he appealed to the looking-glass in the dining room, as stated in the preceding chapter.
The verdict of the mirror has been told, and the result was a conviction in the mind of Mr. Mooby, that sometime, and somewhere, the Beauty must have been smitten with his elegant appearance-perhaps in an open carriage at Epsom-perhaps in the street-but most probably as he was standing up, the observed of all observers, in the pit of Her Majesty's Theatre.
For the rest of the day Mr. Mooby retired from business; indeed, he was in a state of exaltation that unfitted him for mercantile affairs, or any of the commonplace operations of life. The cloth was laid, and the dinner was served up, but he could not eat; and as usual in such cases, he laid the blame on the cook and the butcher. The soles were smoked, the melted butter was oiled, the potatoes were over-boiled, the steak was fresh killed, the tart was execrable, and the cheese had been kept too dry. In short, he relished nothing except the bumper of sherry, which he filled and drank off, dedicating it mentally to the Camberwell Beauty.
The second glass was poured out and quaffed to his own honour, and the third was allotted to an extempore sentiment, which rolled the two former toasts into one. These ceremonies performed, he again consulted the mirror over the mantelshelf, carefully pocket-combing his hair, and plucking up his collar as before. But these were mere commonplace manœuvres compared with those in which he afterwards indulged.
Now of all absurd animals, a man in love is the most ridiculous, and of course doubly so if he should be in love with two at once, himself and a lady. This being precisely the case with Mr. Mooby, he gave a loose to his twofold passion, and committed follies enough for a brace
of love-lunatics. It would have cured a quinsey to have seen and heard how he strutted, and chuckled, and smiled, and talked to himself-how he practised bowing, and sliding, and kneeling, and sighing -how he threw himself into attitudes and ecstasies, and then how he twisted and wriggled to look at his calves, and as far as he could all round his waist, and up his back! Never, never was there a man in such a fever of vanity and love-delirium, since the conceited Steward, who walked in yellow-stockings and cross-gartered, and dreamt that he was a fitting mate for the Beauty of Illyria!
ALL lovers are dreamers
"In real earnest ?"
Perfectly, miss. They are notorious visionaries, whether asleep or
"Why then, of all things, let us have the dream of Mr. Mooby about the Camberwell Beauty. It must have been such a very curious one, considering that he had never seen the lady!"
It was, and, remembering his business, rather characteristic to boot. I have hinted before, how vainly he had tried, during the day, to paint an ideal portrait of the Fair Unknown, and no sooner were his eyes closed at night, than a similar series of vague figures and faces began to tantalize him in his sleep. Dim feminine shapes, of every style of beauty, flitted before him, and vanished like Daguerreotype images, which there was not light enough to fix. Before he could examine, or chuse, and say " this must be the Idol," the transitory phantom was gone, or transfigured. The blonde ripened into a brunette, the brunette bleached into a blonde before he could decide on either complexion. Flaxen tresses darkened into jet-raven locks brightened into golden ringlets, and yellow curls into auburn, before he could prefer one colour to another. Black eyes changed at a wink into gray; blue in a twinkling to hazel,-but no, they were green! The commanding figure dwindled into a sylph, the fairy swelled into the fine woman, the majestic Juno melted into a Venus, the rosy Hebe became a pale Minerva-who in turn looked for a moment like the lady in the frontispiece to the "Book of Beauty;" and then, one after another, like all the Beauties at Hampton Court!
Alas! amid such a bewildering galaxy, how could he fix on the Beauty of Camberwell!
One angelic figure, which retained its shape and features somewhat longer than the rest, informed him, by the mysterious correspondence of dreams, that she was the Beauty of Buttermere. Another lovely phantom, who presented herself rather vividly, by signs understood only in visions, let him know that she was the Beauty who had espoused the gentle Beast. And, finally, a whole bevy of Nymphs and Graces suddenly appeared at once, but as suddenly changed"Into what-pray what?"
Why, into a row of books, and which signified to him by their lettered backs, that they were "the Beauties of England and Wales!"
It was the first day on which Mrs. E. G. Heathcote, of Grove Terrace, Camberwell, was to be "at home;" and the eager Mr. Mooby had resolved to avail himself of the very earliest opportunity for a visit. A determination not formed so much on his own account, as for the sake of the enamoured love-sick creature, whom his vanity painted as sitting on pins, needles, thorns, tenter-hooks, and all the other picked-pointed articles which are popularly supposed to stuff the seats, cushions, pillows, and bolsters of the chairs, beds, sofas, and settees, of anxious and impatient people.
Accordingly, no sooner was breakfast over, than snatching up his hat, he set out
"Ah, to Gracious Street for the homnibus!"
No ma'am to the Poultry for a pair of exquisitely-made French gloves, that fitted better than his skin, and were of the most delicate lemon-colour that you ever, or never, saw. Thence he went to Cheapside, where he treated himself to a superfine thirty-shilling beaver, of a fashionable shape, that admirably suited the character of his physiognomy; after which he bought, I forget where, a bottle of genuine Eau de Cologne the sort that is manufactured by Jean Marie Farina, and by nobody else and finally, looking in at a certain noted shop near the Mansion-house, he purchased a bouquet of the choicest and rarest flowers of the season.
"Well, and then he went to the bus."
No-he returned home to dress-namely, in his best coat with the brass buttons, a fancy waistcoat, black trousers, and patent leather boots. His shirt was frilled-with an ample allowance of white cuff→ and his silken cravat was of a pale sky-blue. Of course, he did not fail to consult the looking-glass in the dining-room, which assured him that his costume was complete. The shopmen, however, to whom he afterwards submitted the question were more inclined to demur. The clerk thought that an Union pin would have been an improvement to the cravat, and the porter would have preferred a few Mosaic studs in the shirt-front. In answer to which, the master, who had consulted them, declared that they knew nothing about the matter.
In the mean time the hour struck which he had appointed in his own mind for the start, so hastily striding up Cornhill and turning into Gracechurch-street, he luckily obtained the last vacant place in an omnibus, which was already on the move. As usual, the number of the passengers was considerably reduced ere the vehicle reached the Red Cap, at the Green-in fact, there remained but three gentlemen besides Mr. Mooby, who after some preliminary conversation, contrived to turn the discourse on the subject that lay nearest his heart. But he took nothing by his motion. A little cross-looking old fellow in the corner-seat looked knowing but said nothing: the other two passengers declared that they had never heard of the Camberwell Beauty. "I am going to see her, however," said Mr. Mooby.
"Are you, sir?" retorted the little crabbed-looking old gentleman in the corner-seat. "Well, I hope you may get her!"
"I hope, in fact I have reason to believe, that I shall," replied the self-confident Mr. Mooby, and twitching the Mackintosh of the conductor, he desired to be set down at the bottom of the Grove.
"It is rather strange," he thought, as he walked slowly up the hill, "that they have not heard of her. The little old chap in the corner though, seemed to know her, and to be rather jealous of me. But, no-it's impossible that he can be a rival;" and as he said this, there occurred a corresponding alteration in his gait-" perhaps he's her father or her uncle."
Of all friends in need, seconds, backers, confidants, helpers, and comforters, there is none like Self-Conceit! Of all the Life Assurances in England, from the Mutual to the Equitable, there is none like SelfAssurance! It defies the cold water of timidity and the wet blankets of diffidence and against the aguish, chilly, and hot fits of modesty it is as sovereign as Quinine!
How many men, for instance, on a similar errand to that of the young bookseller, would have felt nerve-quakes and tremor cordis, and have scarcely mustered courage enough to pull the bell at the gate! How many would have remained in the front garden shillyshallying like Master Slender, till the Camberwell Beauty herself came forth, as sweet Anne Page did, to entreat her bashful wooer to enter the premises !
Not so with Mr. Mooby; as soon as he had ascertained the right house, he walked resolutely up to the door, and played on the knocker something very analogous to a flourish of trumpets. The well-known footman in the drab livery appeared to the summons and admitted the visiter, who contrived during his progress through the hall to smooth his coat-tails, pluck up his collar, pull down his white cuffs, and pass his pocket-comb through his hair. He was going, moreover, to hang up his hat; but luckily remembered the present mode, and that the beaver was bran new, wherefore he carried it with him into the drawing-room-a very indifferent fashion, be it said, and particularly in the case of an invitation to dinner, for what can be more ridiculous than to see a guest sitting hat in hand, as if he had dropped in unasked, and was far from certain of a welcome.
"And did he see the Beauty?"
No, madam. Mrs. Heathcote was alone: but obviously prepared for the visit. A number of handsomely-bound books almost covered the round table, some of them open, and exhibiting coloured plates illustrative of Conchology, Geology, and Botany: others were devoted to Ornithology and Entomology-hinting, by the way, that the lady was rather multifarious in her studies.
“There, never mind her studies!"
In manner she was as condescending, affable, and agreeable as ever, and as chatty as usual, in her low, sweet voice. Nevertheless, her visiter did not feel quite so much at his ease as he had anticipated. After the first compliments, and commonplace remarks on the weather, the lady's conversation became perplexingly scientific, her allusions dis
tressingly obscure, while technical terms, and classical proper names, fell in quick succession from her lips. Some of the names seemed familiar to the ear of the listener, but before he could determine whether he had heard them at school, or in his business, or at the opera, he was obliged to "give them up," and direct his guesses to a fresh set of riddles. Every moment he was getting more mystified ;he knew no more than a dog whether she was talking mythology, or metaphysics, or natural history, or algebra, or alchemy, or astrology, or all six of them at once.
This ignorance was sufficiently irksome; but it soon became alarming, for she began to make more direct appeals to him, and occasionally seemed surprised and dissatisfied with his answers. His old shifts, besides, were no longer of any avail-she turned a deaf ear to his quotations from the Times and Herald-the theatrical movements, the odds at Tattersall's, and the progress of the New Royal Exchange. Above all, he trembled to find that the extraordinary mental efforts he was compelled to make in order to keep pace with her, were fast driving out of his head all the pretty speeches which he had prepared for a more interesting conference. In a word, he was thoroughly flabbergasted-as completely topsyturvied in his ideas, as the fly that walks on the ceiling, with its head downwards. What course to take he knew no more than that vainly enlightened man, the man in the moon. He fidgeted in his seat, coughed, sighed, blew his nose, sniffed at the bouquet, looked all round his hat," then into it, and then on the crown of it, but without making any discovery. The lady meanwhile talking on, in a full stream, for all he knew, like Coleridge on the Samo-Thracian Mysteries!
"Well, well, never mind her nonsense."
Poor Mooby! His conceit was fast being taken out of him. His vanity was oozing out at every pore of his body-his assurance seemed peeling off his face, like the skin after a fever. He was dying to see the Beauty-but alas! there was that eternal tongue, inexhaustible as an artesian spring, still pouring, pouring,-by the way, ma'am, did you ever read the "Arabian Nights?"
"Of course, sir."
Well, then, you will remember the story of the tailor who, burning, broiling, and frying to see his beauty of Bagdad by appointment, was detained, half-shaved, hour after hour, by Es-Sámit, the garrulous barber. Now call the tailor Mr. Mooby, and put the babbling tonsor into petticoats, and you will have an exact notion of the case-how the lady gossipped, and how the perplexed lover fretted and fumed, till like the oriental, he felt as if his gall-bladder had burst," and was ready to cry out with him, "For the sake of heaven be silent, for thou hast crumbled my liver!"
"Dear me, how shocking!"
Very! In spite of the rudeness of the act he could not refrain from looking at his watch-an hour had passed, and yet there had been no more mention of the Beauty than if she had been doomed like the Sleeping one to lie dormant for a hundred years! The most distressing doubts and misgivings began to creep over him. For example, that the talkative lady was not precisely of sound mind-she was certainly rather flighty and rambling in her discourse-and consequently that