A Simpleton by Charles Reade
Dr. Staines and Mrs. Staines visited France, Switzerland, and the Rhine, and passed a month of Elysium before they came to London to face their real destiny and fight the battle of life.
And here, methinks, a reader of novels may perhaps cry out and say, "What manner of man is this, who marries his hero and heroine, and then, instead of leaving them happy for life, and at rest from his uneasy pen and all their other troubles, flows coolly on with their adventures?"
To this I can only reply that the old English novel is no rule to me, and life is; and I respectfully propose an experiment. Catch eight old married people, four of each sex, and say unto them, "Sir," or "Madam, did the more remarkable events of your life come to you before marriage or after?" Most of them will say "after," and let that be my excuse for treating the marriage of Christopher Staines and Rosa Lusignan as merely one incident in their lives; an incident which, so far from ending their story, led by degrees to more striking events than any that occurred to them before they were man and wife.
They returned, then, from their honey tour, and Staines, who was methodical and kept a diary, made the following entry therein:--
"We have now a life of endurance, and self-denial, and economy, before us; we have to rent a house, and furnish it, and live in it, until professional income shall flow in and make all things easy: and we have two thousand five hundred pounds left to do it with."
They came to a family hotel, and Dr. Staines went out directly after breakfast to look for a house. Acting on a friend's advice, he visited the streets and places north of Oxford Street, looking for a good commodious house adapted to his business. He found three or four at fair rents, neither cheap nor dear, the district being respectable and rather wealthy, but no longer fashionable. He came home with his notes, and found Rosa beaming in a crisp peignoir, and her lovely head its natural size and shape, high-bred and elegant. He sat down, and with her hand in his proceeded to describe the houses to her, when a waiter threw open the door-- "Mrs. John Cole."
"Florence!" cried Rosa, starting up.
In flowed Florence: they both uttered a little squawk of delight, and went at each other like two little tigresses, and kissed in swift alternation with a singular ardor, drawing their crests back like snakes, and then darting them forward and inflicting what, to the male philosopher looking on, seemed hard kisses, violent kisses, rather than the tender ones to be expected from two tender creatures embracing each other.
"Darling," said Rosa, "I knew you would be the first. Didn't I tell you so, Christopher?--My husband--my darling Florry! Sit down, love, and tell me everything; he has just been looking out for a house. Ah! you have got all that over long ago: she has been married six months. Florry, you are handsomer than ever; and what a beautiful dress! Ah! London is the place. Real Brussels, I declare," and she took hold of her friend's lace and gloated on it.
Christopher smiled good-naturedly, and said, "I dare say you ladies have a good deal to say to each other."
"Oceans," said Rosa.
"I will go and hunt houses again."
"There's a good husband," said Mrs. Cole, as soon as the door closed on him, "and such a fine man! Why, he must be six feet. Mine is rather short. But he is very good; refuses me nothing. My will is law."
"That is all right--you are so sensible; but I want governing a little, and I like it--actually. Did the dressmaker find it, dear?"
"Oh, no! I had it by me. I bought it at Brussels on our wedding tour: it is dearer there than in London."
She said this as if "dearer" and "better" were synonymous.
"But about your house, Rosie dear?"
"Yes, darling, I'll tell you all about it. I never saw a moire this shade before. I don't care for them in general; but this is so distingue."
Florence rewarded her with a kiss.
"The house," said Rosa. "Oh, he has seen one in Portman Street, and one in Gloucester Place."
"Oh, that will never do," cried Mrs. Cole. "It is no use being a physician in those out-of-the-way places. He must be in Mayfair."
"Of course. Besides, then my Johnnie can call him in when they are just going to die. Johnnie is a general prac., and makes two thousand a year; and he shall call your one in; but he must live in Mayfair. Why, Rosie, you would not be such a goose as to live in those places--they are quite gone by."
"I shall do whatever you advise me, dear. Oh, what a comfort to have a dear friend: and six months married, and knows things. How richly it is trimmed! Why, it is nearly all trimmings."
"That is the fashion."
And after that big word there was no more to be said.
These two ladies in their conversation gravitated towards dress, and fell flat on it every half-minute. That great and elevating topic held them by a silken cord, but it allowed them to flutter upwards into other topics; and in those intervals, numerous though brief, the lady who had been married six months found time to instruct the matrimonial novice with great authority, and even a shade of pomposity. "My dear, the way ladies and gentlemen get a house--in the first place, you don't go about yourself like that, and you never go to the people themselves, or you are sure to be taken in, but to a respectable house-agent."
"Yes, dear, that must be the best way, one would think."
"Of course it is; and you ask for a house in Mayfair, and he shows you several, and recommends you the best, and sees you are not cheated."
"Thank you, love," said Rosa; "now I know what to do; I'll not forget a word. And the train so beautifully shaped! Ah! it is only in London or Paris they can make a dress flow behind like that," etc., etc.
Dr. Staines came back to dinner in good spirits; he had found a house in Harewood Square; good entrance hall, where his gratuitous patients might sit on benches; good dining-room where his superior patients might wait; and good library, to be used as a consulting- room. Rent only eighty-five pounds per annum.
But Rosa told him that would never do; a physician must be in the fashionable part of the town.
"Eventually," said Christopher; "but surely at first starting--and you know they say little boats should not go too far from shore."
Then Rosa repeated all her friend's arguments, and seemed so unhappy at the idea of not living near her, that Staines, who had not yet said the hard word "no" to her, gave in; consoling his prudence with the reflection that, after all, Mr. Cole could put many a guinea in his way, for Mr. Cole was middle-aged,--though his wife was young,--and had really a very large practice.
So next day, the newly-wedded pair called on a house-agent in Mayfair, and his son and partner went with them to several places. The rents of houses equal to that in Harewood Square were three hundred pounds a year at least, and a premium to boot.
Christopher told him these were quite beyond the mark. "Very well," said the agent. "Then I'll show you a Bijou."
Rosa clapped her hands. "That is the thing for us. We don't want a large house, only a beautiful one, and in Mayfair."
"Then the Bijou will be sure to suit you."
He took them to the Bijou.
The Bijou had a small dining-room with one very large window in two sheets of plate glass, and a projecting balcony full of flowers; a still smaller library, which opened on a square yard enclosed. Here were a great many pots, with flowers dead or dying from neglect. On the first floor a fair-sized drawing-room, and a tiny one at the back: on the second floor, one good bedroom, and a dressing-room, or little bedroom: three garrets above.
Rosa was in ecstasies. "It is a nest," said she.
"It is a bank-note," said the agent, stimulating equal enthusiasm, after his fashion. "You can always sell the lease again for more money."
Christopher kept cool. "I don't want a house to sell, but to live in, and do my business; I am a physician: now the drawing-room is built over the entrance to a mews; the back rooms all look into a mews: we shall have the eternal noise and smell of a mews. My wife's rest will be broken by the carriages rolling in and out. The hall is fearfully small and stuffy. The rent is abominably high; and what is the premium for, I wonder?"
"Always a premium in Mayfair, sir. A lease is property here: the gentleman is not acquainted with this part, madam."
"Oh, yes, he is," said Rosa, as boldly as a six years' wife: "he knows everything."
"Then he knows that a house of this kind at a hundred and thirty pounds a year in Mayfair is a bank-note."
Staines turned to Rosa. "The poor patients, where am I to receive them?"
"In the stable," suggested the house agent.
"Oh!" said Rosa, shocked.
"Well, then, the coach-house. Why, there's plenty of room for a brougham, and one horse, and fifty poor patients at a time: beggars musn't be choosers; if you give them physic gratis, that is enough: you ain't bound to find 'em a palace to sit down in, and hot coffee and rump steaks all round, doctor."
This tickled Rosa so that she burst out laughing, and thenceforward giggled at intervals, wit of this refined nature having all the charm of novelty for her.
They inspected the stables, which were indeed the one redeeming feature in the horrid little Bijou; and then the agent would show them the kitchen, and the new stove. He expatiated on this to Mrs. Staines. "Cook a dinner for thirty people, madam."
"And there's room for them to eat it--in the road," said Staines.
The agent reminded him there were larger places to be had, by a very simple process, viz., paying for them.
Staines thought of the large, comfortable house in Harewood Square. "One hundred and thirty pounds a year for this poky little hole?" he groaned.
"Why, it is nothing at all for a Bijou."
"But it is too much for a bandbox."
Rosa laid her hand on his arm, with an imploring glance.
"Well," said he, "I'll submit to the rent, but I really cannot give the premium, it is too ridiculous. He ought to bribe me to rent it, not I him."
"Can't be done without, sir."
"Well, I'll give a hundred pounds and no more."
"Then good morning. Now, dearest, just come and see the house at Harewood Square,--eighty-five pounds and no premium."
"Will you oblige me with your address, doctor?" said the agent.
"Dr. Staines, Morley's Hotel."
And so they left Mayfair.
Rosa sighed and said, "Oh, the nice little place; and we have lost it for two hundred pounds."
"Two hundred pounds is a great deal for us to throw away."
"Being near the Coles would soon have made that up to you: and such a cosey little nest."
"Well the house will not run away."
"But somebody is sure to snap it up. It is a Bijou." She was disappointed, and half inclined to pout. But she vented her feelings in a letter to her beloved Florry, and appeared at dinner as sweet as usual.
During dinner a note came from the agent, accepting Dr. Staine's offer. He glozed the matter thus: he had persuaded the owner it was better to take a good tenant at a moderate loss, than to let the Bijou be uninhabited during the present rainy season. An assignment of the lease--which contained the usual covenants--would be prepared immediately, and Dr. Staines could have possession in forty-eight hours, by paying the premium.
Rosa was delighted, and as soon as dinner was over, and the waiters gone, she came and kissed Christopher.
He smiled, and said, "Well, you are pleased; that is the principal thing. I have saved two hundred pounds, and that is something. It will go towards furnishing."
"La! yes," said Rosa, "I forgot. We shall have to get furniture now. How nice!" It was a pleasure the man of forecast could have willingly dispensed with; but he smiled at her, and they discussed furniture, and Christopher, whose retentive memory had picked up a little of everything, said there were wholesale upholsterers in the City who sold cheaper than the West-end houses, and he thought the best way was to measure the rooms in the Bijou, and go to the city with a clear idea of what they wanted; ask the prices of various necessary articles, and then make a list, and demand a discount of fifteen per cent on the whole order, being so considerable, and paid for in cash.
Rosa acquiesced, and told Christopher he was the cleverest man in England.
About nine o'clock Mrs. Cole came in to condole with her friend, and heard the good news. When Rosa told her how they thought of furnishing, she said, "Oh no, you must not do that; you will pay double for everything. That is the mistake Johnnie and I made; and after that a friend of mine took me to the auction-rooms, and I saw everything sold--oh, such bargains; half, and less than half, their value. She has furnished her house almost entirely from sales, and she has the loveliest things in the world--such ducks of tables, and jardinieres, and things; and beautiful rare china--her house swarms with it--for an old song. A sale is the place. And then so amusing."
"Yes, but," said Christopher, "I should not like my wife to encounter a public room."
"Not alone, of course; but with me. La! Dr. Staines, they are too full of buying and selling to trouble their heads about us."
"Oh, Christopher, do let me go with her. Am I always to be a child?"
Thus appealed to before a stranger, Staines replied warmly, "No, dearest, no; you cannot please me better than by beginning life in earnest. If you two ladies together can face an auction-room, go by all means; only I must ask you not to buy china or ormulu, or anything that will break or spoil, but only solid, good furniture."
"Won't you come with us?"
"No; or you might feel yourself in leading-strings. Remember the Bijou is a small house; choose your furniture to fit it, and then we shall save something by its being so small."
This was Wednesday. There was a weekly sale in Oxford Street on Fridays; and the ladies made the appointment accordingly.
Next day, after breakfast, Christopher was silent and thoughtful awhile, and at last said to Rosa, "I'll show you I don't look on you as a child; I'll consult you in a delicate matter."
Rosa's eyes sparkled.
"It is about my Uncle Philip. He has been very cruel; he has wounded me deeply; he has wounded me through my wife. I never thought he would refuse to come to our marriage."
"And did he? You never showed me his letter."
"You were not my wife then. I kept an affront from you; but now, you see, I keep nothing."
"I am so happy, I have got over that sting--almost; and the memory of many kind acts comes back to me; and I don't know what to do. It seems ungrateful not to visit him--it seems almost mean to call."
"I'll tell you; take me to see him directly. He won't hate us forever, if he sees us often. We may as well begin at once. Nobody hates me long."
Christopher was proud of his wife's courage and wisdom. He kissed her, begged her to put on the plainest dress she could, and they went together to call on Uncle Philip.
When they got to his house in Gloucester Place, Portman Square, Rosa's heart began to quake, and she was right glad when the servant said "Not at home."
They left their cards and address; and she persuaded Christopher to take her to the sale-room to see the things.
A lot of brokers were there, like vultures; and one after another stepped forward and pestered them to employ him in the morning. Dr. Staines declined their services civilly but firmly, and he and Rosa looked over a quantity of furniture, and settled what sort of things to buy.
Another broker came up, and whenever the couple stopped before an article, proceeded to praise it as something most extraordinary. Staines listened in cold, satirical silence, and told his wife, in French, to do the same. Notwithstanding their marked disgust, the impudent, intrusive fellow stuck to them, and forced his venal criticism on them, and made them uncomfortable, and shortened their tour of observation.
"I think I shall come with you to-morrow," said Christopher, "or I shall have these blackguards pestering you."
"Oh, Florry will send them to the right-about. She is as brave as a lion."
Next day Dr. Staines was sent for into the City at twelve to pay the money and receive the lease of the Bijou, and this and the taking possession occupied him till four o'clock, when he came to his hotel.
Meantime, his wife and Mrs. Cole had gone to the auction-room.
It was a large room, with a good sprinkling of people, but not crowded except about the table. At the head of this table--full twenty feet long--was the auctioneer's pulpit, and the lots were brought in turn to the other end of the table for sight and sale.
"We must try and get a seat," said the enterprising Mrs. Cole, and pushed boldly in; the timid Rosa followed strictly in her wake, and so evaded the human waves her leader clove. They were importuned at every step by brokers thrusting catalogues on them, with offers of their services, yet they soon got to the table. A gentleman resigned one chair, a broker another, and they were seated.
Mrs. Staines let down half her veil, but Mrs. Cole surveyed the company point-blank.
The broker who had given up his seat, and now stood behind Rosa, offered her his catalogue. "No, thank you," said Rosa; "I have one;" and she produced it, and studied it, yet managed to look furtively at the company.
There were not above a dozen private persons visible from where Rosa sat; perhaps as many more in the whole room. They were easily distinguishable by their cleanly appearance: the dealers, male or female, were more or less rusty, greasy, dirty, aquiline. Not even the amateurs were brightly dressed; that fundamental error was confined to Mesdames Cole and Staines. The experienced, however wealthy, do not hunt bargains in silk and satin.
The auctioneer called "Lot 7. Four saucepans, two trays, a kettle, a bootjack, and a towel-horse."
These were put up at two shillings, and speedily knocked down for five to a fat old woman in a greasy velvet jacket; blind industry had sewed bugles on it, not artfully, but agriculturally.
"The lady on the left!" said the auctioneer to his clerk. That meant "Get the money."
The old lady plunged a huge paw into a huge pocket, and pulled out a huge handful of coin--copper, silver, and gold--and paid for the lot; and Rosa surveyed her dirty hands and nails with innocent dismay. "Oh, what a dreadful creature!" she whispered; "and what can she want with those old rubbishy things? I saw a hole in one from here." The broker overheard, and said, "She is a dealer, ma'am, and the things were given away. She'll sell them for a guinea, easy."
"Didn't I tell you?" said Mrs. Cole.
Soon after this the superior lots came on, and six very neat bedroom chairs were sold to all appearance for fifteen shillings.
The next lot was identical, and Rosa hazarded a bid,--"Sixteen shillings."
Instantly some dealer, one of the hook-nosed that gathered round each lot as it came to the foot of the table, cried "Eighteen shillings."
"Nineteen," said Rosa.
"A guinea," said the dealer.
"Don't let it go," said the broker behind her. "Don't let it go, ma'am."
She colored at the intrusion, and left off bidding directly, and addressed herself to Mrs. Cole. "Why should I give so much, when the last were sold for fifteen shillings?"
The real reason was that the first lot was not bid for at all, except by the proprietor. However, the broker gave her a very different solution; he said, "The trade always run up a lady or a gentleman. Let me bid for you; they won't run me up; they know better."
Rosa did not reply, but looked at Mrs. Cole.
"Yes, dear," said that lady; "you had much better let him bid for you."
"Very well," said Rosa; "you can bid for this chest of drawers--lot 25."
When lot 25 came on, the broker bid in the silliest possible way, if his object had been to get a bargain. He began to bid early and ostentatiously; the article was protected by somebody or other there present, who now of course saw his way clear; he ran it up audaciously, and it was purchased for Rosa at about the price it could have been bought for at a shop.
The next thing she wanted was a set of oak chairs.
They went up to twenty-eight pounds; then she said, "I shall give no more, sir."
"Better not lose them," said the agent; "they are a great bargain;" and bid another pound for her on his own responsibility.
They were still run up, and Rosa peremptorily refused to give any more. She lost them, accordingly, by good luck. Her faithful broker looked blank; so did the proprietor.
But, as the sale proceeded, she being young, the competition, though most of it sham, being artful and exciting, and the traitor she employed constantly puffing every article, she was drawn in to wishing for things, and bidding by her feelings.
Then her traitor played a game that has been played a hundred times, and the perpetrators never once lynched, as they ought to be, on the spot. He signalled a confederate with a hooked nose; the Jew rascal bid against the Christian scoundrel, and so they ran up the more enticing things to twice their value under the hammer.
Rosa got flushed, and her eye gleamed like a gambler's, and she bought away like wildfire. In which sport she caught sight of an old gentleman, with little black eyes that kept twinkling at her.
She complained of these eyes to Mrs. Cole. "Why does he twinkle so? I can see it is at me. I am doing something foolish--I know I am."
Mrs. Cole turned, and fixed a haughty stare on the old gentleman. Would you believe it? instead of sinking through the floor, he sat his ground, and retorted with a cold, clear grin.
But now, whenever Rosa's agent bid for her, and the other man of straw against him, the black eyes twinkled, and Rosa's courage began to ooze away. At last she said, "That is enough for one day. I shall go. Who could bear those eyes?"
The broker took her address; so did the auctioneer's clerk. The auctioneer asked her for no deposit; her beautiful, innocent, and high-bred face was enough for a man who was always reading faces, and interpreting them.
And so they retired.
But this charming sex is like that same auctioneer's hammer, it cannot go abruptly. It is always going--going--going--a long time before it is gone. I think it would perhaps loiter at the door of a jail, with the order of release in its hand, after six years' confinement. Getting up to go quenches in it the desire to go. So these ladies having got up to go, turned and lingered, and hung fire so long, that at last another set of oak chairs came up. "Oh! I must see what these go for," said Rosa, at the door.
The bidding was mighty languid now Rosa's broker was not stimulating it; and the auctioneer was just knocking down twelve chairs--oak and leather--and two arm-chairs, for twenty pounds, when, casting his eyes around, he caught sight of Rosa looking at him rather excited. He looked inquiringly at her. She nodded slightly; he knocked them down to her at twenty guineas, and they were really a great bargain.
"Twenty-two," cried the dealer.
"Too late," said the auctioneer.
"I spoke with the hammer, sir."
"After the hammer, Isaacs."
"Shelp me God, we was together."
One or two more of his tribe confirmed this pious falsehood, and clamored to have them put up again.
"Call the next lot," said the auctioneer, peremptorily. "Make up your mind a little quicker next time, Mr. Isaacs; you have been long enough at it to know the value of oak and moroccar."
Mrs. Staines and her friend now started for Morley's Hotel, but went round by Regent Street, whereby they got glued at Peter Robinson's window, and nine other windows; and it was nearly five o'clock when they reached Morley's. As they came near the door of their sitting-room, Mrs. Staines heard somebody laughing and talking to her husband. The laugh, to her subtle ears, did not sound musical and genial, but keen, satirical, unpleasant; so it was with some timidity she opened the door, and there sat the old chap with the twinkling eyes. Both parties stared at each other a moment.
"Why, it is them," cried the old gentleman. "Ha! ha! ha! ha! ha!"
Rosa colored all over, and felt guilty somehow, and looked miserable.
"Rosa dear," said Dr. Staines, "this is our Uncle Philip."
"Oh!" said Rosa, and turned red and pale by turns; for she had a great desire to propitiate Uncle Philip.
"You were in the auction-room, sir?" said Mrs. Cole, severely.
"I was, madam. He! he!"
"Furnishing a house?"
"No, ma'am. I go to a dozen sales a week; but it is not to buy--I enjoy the humors. Did you ever hear of Robert Burton, ma'am?"
"No. Yes; a great traveller, isn't he? Discovered the Nile--or the Niger--or something?"
This majestic vagueness staggered old Crusty at first, but he recovered his equilibrium, and said, "Why, yes, now I think of it, you are right; he has travelled farther than most of us, for about two centuries ago he visited that bourn whence no traveller returns. Well, when he was alive--he was a student of Christchurch--he used to go down to a certain bridge over the Isis and enjoy the chaff of the bargemen. Now there are no bargemen left to speak of; the mantle of Bobby Burton's bargees has fallen on the Jews and demi-semi-Christians that buy and sell furniture at the weekly auctions; thither I repair to hear what little coarse wit is left us. Used to go to the House of Commons; but they are getting too civil by half for my money. Besides, characters come out in an auction. For instance, only this very day I saw two ladies enter, in gorgeous attire, like heifers decked for sacrifice, and reduce their spoliation to a certainty by employing a broker to bid. Now, what is a broker? A fellow who is to be paid a shilling in the pound for all articles purchased. What is his interest, then? To buy cheap? Clearly not. He is paid in proportion to the dearness of the article."
Rosa's face began to work piteously.
"Accordingly, what did the broker in question do? He winked to another broker, and these two bid against one another, over their victim's head, and ran everything she wanted up at least a hundred per cent above the value. So open and transparent a swindle I have seldom seen, even in an auction-room. Ha! ha! ha! ha! ha!"
His mirth was interrupted by Rosa going to her husband, hiding her head on his shoulder, and meekly crying.
Christopher comforted her like a man. "Don't you cry, darling," said he; "how should a pure creature like you know the badness of the world all in a moment? If it is my wife you are laughing at, Uncle Philip, let me tell you this is the wrong place. I'd rather a thousand times have her as she is, than armed with the cunning and suspicions of a hardened old worldling like you."
"With all my heart," said Uncle Philip, who, to do him justice, could take blows as well as give them; "but why employ a broker? Why pay a scoundrel five per cent to make you pay a hundred per cent? Why pay a noisy fool a farthing to open his mouth for you when you have taken the trouble to be there yourself, and have got a mouth of your own to bid discreetly with? Was ever such an absurdity?" He began to get angry.
"Do you want to quarrel with me, Uncle Philip?" said Christopher, firing up; "because sneering at my Rosa is the way, and the only way, and the sure way."
"Oh, no," said Rosa, interposing. "Uncle Philip was right. I am very foolish and inexperienced, but I am not so vain as to turn from good advice. I will never employ a broker again, sir."
Uncle Philip smiled and looked pleased.
Mrs. Cole caused a diversion by taking leave, and Rosa followed her down-stairs. On her return she found Christopher telling his uncle all about the Bijou, and how he had taken it for a hundred and thirty pounds a year and a hundred pounds premium, and Uncle Philip staring fearfully.
At last he found his tongue. "The Bijou!" said he. "Why, that is a name they gave to a little den in Dear Street, Mayfair. You haven't ever been and taken that! Built over a mews."
Christopher groaned. "That is the place, I fear."
"Why the owner is a friend of mine; an old patient. Stables stunk him out. Let it to a man; I forget his name. Stables stunk him out. He said, 'I shall go.' 'You can't,' said my friend; 'you have taken a lease.' 'Lease be d--d,' said the other; 'I never took your house; here's quite a large stench not specified in your description of the property--it can't be the same place;' flung the lease at his head, and cut like the wind to foreign parts less odoriferous. I'd have got you the hole for ninety; but you are like your wife--you must go to an agent. What! don't you know that an agent is a man acting for you with an interest opposed to yours? Employing an agent! it is like a Trojan seeking the aid of a Greek. You needn't cry, Mrs. Staines; your husband has been let in deeper than you have. Now, you are young people beginning life; I'll give you a piece of advice. Employ others to do what you can't do, and it must be done; but never to do anything you can do better for yourselves! Agent! The word is derived from a Latin word 'agere,' to do; and agents act up to their etymology, for they invariably do the nincompoop that employs them, or deals with them, in any mortal way. I'd have got you that beastly little Bijou for ninety pounds a year."
Uncle Philip went away crusty, leaving the young couple finely mortified and discouraged.
That did not last very long. Christopher noted the experience and Uncle Phil's wisdom in his diary, and then took his wife on his knee, and comforted her, and said, "Never mind; experience is worth money, and it always has to be bought. Those who cheat us will die poorer than we shall, if we are honest and economical. I have observed that people are seldom ruined by the vices of others; these may hurt them, of course; but it is only their own faults and follies that can destroy them."
"Ah! Christie," said Rosa, "you are a man! Oh, the comfort of being married to a man. A man sees the best side. I do adore men. Dearest, I will waste no more of your money. I will go to no more sales."
Christopher saw she was deeply mortified, and he said, quietly, "On the contrary, you will go to the very next. Only take Uncle Philip's advice, employ no broker; and watch the prices things fetch when you are not bidding; and keep cool."
She caressed his ears with both her white hands, and thanked him for giving her another trial. So that trouble melted in the sunshine of conjugal love.
Notwithstanding the agent's solemn assurance, the Bijou was out of repair. Dr. Staines detected internal odors, as well as those that flowed in from the mews. He was not the man to let his wife perish by miasma; so he had the drains all up, and actually found brick drains, and a cesspool. He stopped that up, and laid down new pipe drains, with a good fall, and properly trapped. The old drains were hidden, after the manner of builders. He had the whole course of his new drains marked upon all the floors they passed under, and had several stones and boards hinged to facilitate examination at any period.
But all this, with the necessary cleaning, whitewashing, painting, and papering, ran away with money. Then came Rosa's purchases, which, to her amazement, amounted to one hundred and ninety pounds, and not a carpet, curtain, or bed amongst the lot. Then there was the carriage home from the auction-room, an expense one avoids by buying at a shop, and the broker claimed his shilling in the pound. This, however, Staines refused. The man came and blustered. Rosa, who was there, trembled. Then, for the first time, she saw her husband's brow lower; he seemed transfigured, and looked terrible. "You scoundrel," said he, "you set another villain like yourself to bid against you, and you betrayed the innocent lady that employed you. I could indict you and your confederate for a conspiracy. I take the goods out of respect for my wife's credit, but you shall gain nothing by swindling her. Be off, you heartless miscreant, or I'll"--
"I'll take the law, if you do."
"Take it, then! I'll give you something to howl for;" and he seized him with a grasp so tremendous that the fellow cried out in dismay, "Oh! don't hit me, sir; pray don't."
On this abject appeal, Staines tore the door open with his left hand, and spun the broker out into the passage with his right. Two movements of this angry Hercules, and the man was literally whirled out of sight with a rapidity and swiftness almost ludicrous; it was like a trick in a pantomime. A clatter on the stairs betrayed that he had gone down the first few steps in a wholesale and irregular manner, though he had just managed to keep his feet.
As for Staines, he stood there still lowering like thunder, and his eyes like hot coals; but his wife threw her tender arms around him, and begged him consolingly not to mind.
She was trembling like an aspen.
"Dear me," said Christopher, with a ludicrous change to marked politeness and respect, "I forgot you, in my righteous indignation." Next he became uxorious. "Did they frighten her, a duck? Sit on my knee, darling, and pull my hair, for not being more considerate--there! there!"
This was followed by the whole absurd soothing process, as practised by manly husbands upon quivering and somewhat hysterical wives, and ended with a formal apology. "You must not think that I am passionate; on the contrary, I am always practising self- government. My maxim is, Animum rege qui nisi paret imperat, and that means, Make your temper your servant, or else it will be your master. But to ill-use my dear little wife--it is unnatural, it is monstrous, it makes my blood boil."
"Oh, dear! don't go into another. It is all over. I can't bear to see you in a passion; you are so terrible, so beautiful. Ah! they are fine things, courage and strength. There's nothing I admire so much."
"Why, they are as common as dirt. What I admire is modesty, timidity, sweetness; the sensitive cheek that pales or blushes at a word, the bosom that quivers, and clings to a fellow whenever anything goes wrong."
"Oh, that is what you admire, is it?" said Rosa dryly.
"Admire it?" said Christopher, not seeing the trap; "I adore it."
"Then, Christie, dear, you are a Simpleton, that is all. And we are made for one another."
The house was to be furnished and occupied as soon as possible; so Mrs. Staines and Mrs. Cole went to another sale-room. Mrs. Staines remembered all Uncle Philip had said, and went plainly dressed; but her friend declined to sacrifice her showy dress to her friend's interests. Rosa thought that a little unkind, but said nothing.
In this auction-room they easily got a place at the table, but did not find it heaven; for a number of secondhand carpets were in the sale, and these, brimful of dust, were all shown on the table, and the dirt choked, and poisoned our fair friends. Brokers pestered them, until at last Rosa, smarting under her late exposure, addressed the auctioneer quietly, in her silvery tones: "Sir, these gentlemen are annoying me by forcing their services on me. I do not intend to buy at all unless I can be allowed to bid for myself."
When Rosa, blushing and amazed at her own boldness, uttered these words, she little foresaw their effect. She had touched a popular sore.
"You are quite right, madam," said a respectable tradesman opposite her. "What business have these dirty fellows, without a shilling in their pockets, to go and force themselves on a lady against her will?"
"It has been complained of in the papers again and again," said another.
"What! mayn't we live as well as you?" retorted a broker.
"Yes, but not to force yourself on a lady. Why, she'd give you in charge of the police if you tried it on outside."
Then there was a downright clamor of discussion and chaff.
Presently up rises very slowly a countryman so colossal, that it seemed as if he would never have done getting up, and gives his experiences. He informed the company, in a broad Yorkshire dialect, that he did a bit in furniture, and at first starting these brokers buzzed about him like flies, and pestered him. "Aah damned 'em pretty hard," said he, "but they didn't heed any. So then ah spoke 'em civil, and ah said, 'Well, lads, I dinna come fra Yorkshire to sit like a dummy and let you buy wi' my brass; the first that pesters me again ah'll just fell him on t' plaace, like a caulf, and ah'm not very sure he'll get up again in a hurry.' So they dropped me like a hot potato; never pestered me again. But if they won't give over pestering you, mistress, ah'll come round and just stand behind your chair, and bring nieve with me," showing a fist like a leg of mutton.
"No, no," said the auctioneer, "that will not do. I will have no disturbance here. Call the policeman."
While the clerk went to the door for the bobby, a gentleman reminded the auctioneer that the journals had repeatedly drawn attention to the nuisance.
"Fault of the public, not mine, sir. Policeman, stand behind that lady's chair, and if anybody annoys her put him quietly into the street."
"This auction-room will be to let soon," said a voice at the end of the table.
"This auction-room," said the auctioneer, master of the gay or grave at a moment's notice, "is supported by the public and the trade; it is not supported by paupers."
A Jew upholsterer put in his word. "I do my own business; but I like to let a poor man live."
"Jonathan," said the auctioneer to one of his servants, "after this sale you may put up the shutters; we have gone and offended Mr. Jacobs. He keeps a shop in Blind Alley, Whitechapel. Now then, lot 69."
Rosa bid timidly for one or two lots, and bought them cheap.
The auctioneer kept looking her way, and she had only to nod.
The obnoxious broker got opposite her, and ran her up a little out of spite; but as he had only got half a crown about him, and no means of doubling it, he dared not go far.
On the other side of the table was a figure to which Rosa's eyes often turned with interest--a fair young boy about twelve years old; he had golden hair, and was in deep mourning. His appearance interested Rosa, and she wondered how he came there, and why; he looked like a lamb wedged in among wolves, a flower among weeds. As the lots proceeded, the boy seemed to get uneasy; and at last, when lot '73 was put up, anybody could see in his poor little face that he was there to bid for it.
"Lot '73, an armchair covered in morocco. An excellent and useful article. Should not be at all surprised if it was made by Gillow."
"Gillow would though," said Jacobs, who owed him a turn.
Chorus of dealers.--"Haw! haw!"
The auctioneer.--"I like to hear some people run a lot down; shows they are going to bid for it in earnest. Well, name your own price. Five pounds to begin?"
Now if nobody had spoken the auctioneer would have gone on, "Well, four pounds then--three, two, whatever you like," and at last obtained a bona fide offer of thirty shillings; but the moment he said "Five pounds to begin," the boy in black lifted up his childish treble and bid thus, "Five pound ten"--"six pounds"--"six pound ten"--"seven pounds"--"seven pound ten"--"eight pounds"-- "eight pound ten"--"nine pounds"--"nine pound ten"--"ten pounds!" without interruption, and indeed almost in a breath.
There was a momentary pause of amazement, and then an outburst of chaff.
"Nice little boy!"
"Didn't he say his lesson well?"
"Favor us with your card, sir. You are a gent as knows how to buy."
"What did he stop for? If it's worth ten, it is worth a hundred."
"Bless the child!" said a female dealer, kindly, "what made you go on like that? Why, there was no one bid against you! you'd have got it for two pounds--a rickety old thing."
Young master began to whimper. "Why, the gentleman said, 'Five pounds to begin.' It was the chair poor grandpapa always sat in, and all the things are sold, and mamma said it would break her heart to lose it. She was too ill to come, so she sent me. She told me I was not to let it be sold away from us for less than ten pounds, or she sh--should be m--m--miserable," and the poor little fellow began to cry. Rosa followed suit promptly but unobtrusively.
"Sentiment always costs money," said Mr. Jacobs, gravely.
"How do you know?" asked Mr. Cohen. "Have you got any on hand? I never seen none at your shop."
Some tempting things now came up, and Mrs. Staines bid freely; but all of a sudden she looked down the table, and there was Uncle Philip, twinkling as before. "Oh, dear! what am I doing now!" thought she. "I have got no broker."
She bid on, but in fear and trembling, because of those twinkling eyes. At last she mustered courage, wrote on a leaf of her pocket- book, and passed it down to him: "It would be only kind to warn me. What am I doing wrong?"
He sent her back a line directly: "Auctioneer running you up himself. Follow his eye when he bids; you will see there is no bona fide bidder at your prices."
Rosa did so, and found that it was true.
She nodded to Uncle Philip; and, with her expressive face, asked him what she should do.
The old boy must have his joke. So he wrote back: "Tell him, as you see he has a fancy for certain articles, you would not be so discourteous as to bid against him."
The next article but one was a drawing-room suite Rosa wanted; but the auctioneer bid against her; so at eighteen pounds she stopped.
"It is against you, madam," said the auctioneer.
"Yes, sir," said Rosa; "but as you are the only bidder, and you have been so kind to me, I would not think of opposing you."
The words were scarcely out of her mouth, when they were greeted with a roar of Homeric laughter that literally shook the room, and this time not at the expense of the innocent speaker.
"That's into your mutton, governor."
"Sharp's the word this time."
"I say, governor, don't you want a broker to bid for ye?"
"Wink at me next time, sir; I'll do the office for you."
"No greenhorns left now."
"That lady won't give a ten-pund note for her grandfather's armchair."
"Oh, yes, she will, if it's stuffed with banknotes."
"Put the next lot up with the owner's name and the reserve price. Open business."
"And sing a psalm at starting."
"A little less noise in Judaea, if you please," said the auctioneer, who had now recovered from the blow. "Lot 97."
This was a very pretty marqueterie cabinet; it stood against the wall, and Rosa had set her heart upon it. Nobody would bid. She had muzzled the auctioneer effectually.
"Your own price."
"Two pounds," said Rosa.
A dealer offered guineas; and it advanced slowly to four pounds and half a crown, at which it was about to be knocked down to Rosa, when suddenly a new bidder arose in the broker Rosa had rejected. They bid slowly and sturdily against each other, until a line was given to Rosa from Uncle Philip.
"This time it is your own friend, the snipe-nosed woman. She telegraphed a broker."
Rosa read, and crushed the note. "Six guineas," said she.
"Ten guineas," said Rosa; and then, with feminine cunning, stealing a sudden glance, caught her friend leaning back and signalling the broker not to give in.
"It is yours, my faithful friend," said Rosa, turning suddenly round to Mrs. Cole, with a magnificent glance no one would have thought her capable of.
Then she rose and stalked away.
Dumfounded for the moment, Mrs. Cole followed her, and stopped her at the door.
"Why, Rosie dear, it is the only thing I have bid for. There I've sat by your side like a mouse."
Rosa turned gravely towards her. "You know it is not that. You had only to tell me you wanted it. I would never have been so mean as to bid against you."
"Mean, indeed!" said. Florence, tossing her head.
"Yes, mean; to draw back and hide behind the friend you were with, and employ the very rogue she had turned off. But it is my own fault. Cecilia warned me against you. She always said you were a treacherous girl."
"And I say you are an impudent little minx. Only just married, and going about like two vagabonds, and talk to me like that!"
"We are not going about like two vagabonds. We have taken a house in Mayfair."
"Say a stable."
"It was by your advice, you false-hearted creature."
"You are a fool."
"You are worse; you are a traitress."
"Then don't you have anything to do with me."
"Heaven forbid I should, you treacherous thing!"
"You insolent--insolent--I hate you."
"And I despise you."
"I always hated you at bottom."
"That's why you pretended to love me, you wretch."
"Well, I pretend no more. I am your enemy for life."
"Thank you. You have told the truth for once in your life."
"I have. And he shall never call in your husband; so you may leave Mayfair as soon as you like."
"Not to please you, madam. We can get on without traitors."
And so they parted, with eyes that gleamed like tigers.
Rosa drove home in great agitation, and tried to tell Christopher; but choked, and became hysterical. The husband-physician coaxed and scolded her out of that; and presently in came Uncle Philip, full of the humors of the auction-room. He told about the little boy with a delight that disgusted Mrs. Staines, and then was particularly merry on female friendships. "Fancy a man going to a sale with his friend, and bidding against him on the sly."
"She is no friend of mine. We are enemies for life."
"And you were to be friends till death," said Staines, with a sigh.
Philip inquired who she was.
"Mrs. John Cole."
"Not of Curzon Street?"
"And you have quarrelled with her?"
"Well, but her husband is a general practitioner."
"She is a traitress."
"But her husband could put a good deal of money in Christopher's way."
"I can't help it. She is a traitress."
"And you have quarrelled with her about an old wardrobe."
"No, for her disloyalty, and her base good-for-nothingness. Oh! oh! oh!"
Uncle Philip got up, looking sour. "Good afternoon, Mrs. Christopher," said he, very dryly.
Christopher accompanied him to the foot of the stairs. "Well, Christopher," said he, "matrimony is a blunder at the best; and you have not done the thing by halves. You have married a simpleton. She will be your ruin."
"Uncle Philip, since you only come here to insult us, I hope in future you will stay at home."
"Oh! with pleasure, sir. Good-by!"