There are some acquaintances whom it is no easy matter to shake off. My little beau yesterday overtook me again in one of the public walks, and, slapping me on the shoulder, saluted me with an air of the most perfect familiarity. His dress was the same as usual, except that he had more powder in his hair; wore a dirtier shirt, and had on a pair of temple spectacles, and his hat under his arm.
As I knew him to be an harmless amusing little thing, I could not return his smiles with any degree of severity; so we walked forward on the terms of the utmost intimacy, and in a few minutes discussed all the usual topics preliminary, to particular conversation.
The oddities that marked his character, however, soon began to appear; he bowed to several well-dressed persons, who, by their manner of returning the compliment, appeared perfect strangers. At intervals he drew out a pocket-book, seeming to take memorandums before all the company, with much importance and assiduity. In this manner he led me through the length of the whole Mall, fretting at his absurdities, and fancying myself laughed at as well as he by every spectator.
When we were got to the end of our procession, "Hang me," cries he, with an air of vivacity, "I never saw the park so thin in my life before; there's no company at all to-day. Not a single face to be seen."
" No company," interrupted I, peevishly; "no company where there is such a crowd? Why, man, there is too much. What are the thousands that have been laughing at us but company?"
"Lord, my dear," returned he, with the utmost good humour, "you seem immensely chagrined; but, hang me, when the world laughs at me, I laugh at all the world, and so we are even. My Lord Trip, Bill Squash, the Creolian, and I, sometimes make a party at being ridiculous; and so we say and do a thousand things for the joke's sake. But I see you are grave; and if you are for a fine grave sentimental companion, you shall dine with my wife to-day; I must insist on't; I'll introduce you to Mrs. Tibbs, a lady of as elegant qualifications as any in nature; she was bred, but that's between ourselves, under the inspection of the Countess of Shoreditch. A charming body of voice! But no more of that, she shall give us a song. You shall see my little girl too. Carolina Wilhelma Amelia Tibbs, a sweet pretty creature; I design her for my Lord Drumstick's eldest son; but that's in friendship, let it go no further; she's but six years old, and yet she walks a minuet, and plays on the guitar immensely already. I intend she shall be as perfect as possible in every accomplishment. In the first place I'll make her a scholar; I'll teach her Greek myself, and I intend to learn that language purposely to instruct her; but let that be a secret."
Thus saying, without waiting for a reply, he took me by the arm and hauled me along. We passed through many dark alleys and winding ways; for, from some motives to me unknown, he seemed to have a particular aversion to every frequented street; at last, however, we got to the door. of a dismal-looking house in the outlets of the town, where he informed me he chose to reside for the benefit of the air.
We entered the lower door, which seemed ever to lie most hospitably open: and I began to ascend an old and creaking staircase, when, as he mounted to show me the way, he demanded whether I delighted in prospects; to which answering in the affirmative,
"Then," says he, "I shall show you one of the most charming out of my windows; we shall see the ships sailing, and the whole country for twenty miles round, tip top, quite high. My Lord Swamp would give ten thousand guineas for such a one; but, as I sometimes pleasantly tell him, I always love to keep my prospects at home, that my friends may come to see me the oftener."
By this time we were arrived as high as the stairs would permit us to ascend, till we came to what he was facetiously pleased to call the first floor down the chimney; and knocking at the door, a voice with a Scotch accent, from within, demanded, "Wha's there?" My conductor answered that it was him. But this not satisfying the querist, the voice again repeated the demand: to which he answered louder than before, and now the door was opened by an old maidservant with cautious reluctance.
When we were got in, he welcomed me to his house with great ceremony, and turning to the old woman, asked where her lady was?
"Good troth," replied she, in the northern dialect, "she's washing your two shirts at the next door, because they have taken an oath against lending out the tub any longer."
"My two shirts!" cries he in a tone that faltered with confusion, "what does the idiot mean?"
"I ken what I mean well enough," replied the other; "she's washing your two shirts at the next door, because—"
"Fire and fury! no more of thy stupid explanations," cried he. "Go and inform her we have got company. Were that Scotch hag," continued he, turning to me, "to be for ever in the family, she would never learn politeness, nor forget that absurd poisonous accent of hers, or testify the smallest specimen of breeding or high life; and yet it is very surprising too, as I had her from a parliament man, a friend of mine, from the Highlands, one of the politest men in the world; but that's a secret."
We waited some time for Mrs. Tibbs' arrival, during which interval I had a full opportunity of surveying the chamber and all its furniture; which consisted of four chairs with old wrought bottoms, that he assured me were his wife's embroidery; a square table that had been once japanned, a cradle in one corner, a lumbering cabinet in the other; a broken shepherdess, and a mandarin without a head, were stuck over the chimney; and round the walls several paltry, unframed pictures, which, he observed, were all of his own drawing.
"What do you think, sir, of that head in the corner, done in the manner of Grisoni? There's the true keeping in it; it's my own face: and though there happens to be no likeness, a countess offered me an hundred for its fellow: I refused her for, hang it, that would he mechanical, you know."
The wife, at last, made her appearance, at once a slattern and a coquette; much emaciated, but still carrying the remains of beauty. She made twenty apologies for being seen in such odious dishabille, but hoped to be excused, as she had stayed out all night at Vauxhall Gardens with the countess, who was excessively fond of the horns.
" And indeed, my dear," added she, turning to her husband, "his lordship drank your health in a bumper."
"Poor Jack," cries he, "a dear good-natured creature, I know he loves me; but I hope, my dear, you have given orders for dinner? You need make no great preparations neither, there are but three of us; something elegant, and little will do; a turbot, an ortolan, or a—"
"Or what do you think, my dear," interrupts the wife, "of a nice pretty bit of ox-cheek, piping hot, and dressed with a little of my own sauce?"
"The very thing," replies he; "it will eat best with some smart bottled beer; but be sure to let's have the sauce his grace was so fond of. I hate your immense loads of meat; that is country all over; extreme disgusting to those who are in the least acquainted with high life."
By this time my curiosity began to abate, and my appetite to increase; the company of fools may at first make us smile, but at last never fails of rendering us melancholy. I therefore pretended to recollect a prior engagement, and after having shown my respect to the house, by giving the old servant a piece of money at the door, I took my leave: Mr. Tibbs assuring me that dinner, if I stayed, would be ready at least in less than two hours.