A Merry Christmas by Thomas Haynes Bayly

Dover, December 20th, 1836.

Dear your Lordship,—I never writ to a lord before, and don't do it now spontaneous; but Mrs. Miggins desires me to ask you to join our Christmas party next week. Now I think that will be what you call a bore, because 'tisn't only us ourselves, but I can't give up old friends and relations, and so there'll be more Migginses than you ever saw before; and, always excepting daughter Sophy, I suspect you've seen more already than you ever wish to see again. However, daughter Sophy did seem to attract your notice like, last autumn here, when you was staying with the duke. I saw clear enough you didn't want the duke nor the duchess to know about it, and so I were glad when you took yourself away; but Sophy hankers after you, and my wife says,—and she's right enough there, though it doesn't generally follow that a thing's right because she says it,—that there's no reason why daughter Sophy shouldn't be a lord's wife and a lady herself, like other fine girls no ways her betters; and, though I did make my money in the soap and candle line, the money, now it's made, an't the worse; and so, if you really wants to marry Sophy, say it out and out, and I'll give my consent. It is but fair and right to tell your Lordship that there's another young man desperate about her,—not, when I say another young man, that I mean to call your lordship a young man, for I know that wouldn't be respectful. However, if I had my own way in all things,—which I haven't, and few men have,—Captain Mills of the artillery would be the man for Sophy. He's a mighty proper man to look at, and I've asked him down to spend Christmas here too; so, if your lordship don't think it worth while to come, why only say the word, and, to my thinking, Captain Mills will have a good chance.

People do report things that I don't want to believe about your lordship's ways of going on; but if you do marry Sophy, hang it! make her happy. Don't take her away from them as loves her, and then be neglectful and unkind; for she don't know yet what unkindness is, and I know 'twould break her heart, and then I should break mine, and my poor wife would follow,—so that would break us all. But a lord must be a gentlemen, and a gentleman can't behave like a blackguard to a woman. So some down here on Saturday the 24th, and we'll have a merry Christmas and a happy New Year. In all which my wife and Sophy do join. So no more at present

From your dear lordship's humble servant at command, Peter Miggins.

Peter Miggins's letter to Lord John Lavender has probably sufficiently introduced him to the reader. The right honourable personage to whom that letter was addressed was the youngest son of a duke, and in all respects as great a contrast to all the blood of the Migginses as can possibly be imagined.

Lord John had been, for many years, one of the best-looking men about town; so many years, indeed, had he been a beauty, that it was quite wonderful to detect no change in his figure, face, or manner. He still looked as he always had looked, and probably always intended to look. There is this one great advantage in beginning to make up early in life,—nobody detects any difference. The toilet requires a more protracted attention, and a steadier hand; but, once completed, to the eye of the observer the colours and the outline are the same. No woman ever thought more about her appearance than did Lord John Lavender; yet there was a manliness in his manner and conversation which rescued him from the charge of effeminacy.

He was devoted to the fair sex; so much so, that the world could not help giving him credit for being so sedulously attentive to the beautification of his person solely that he might render himself agreeable in their eyes.

He certainly succeeded most admirably; and, at the same time that he was in all societies courted and caressed by the fairest and the most distinguished, there was one little well-known theatrical connexion, of which we will say as little as possible, and to which old Mr. Miggins had alluded in his letter.

Lord John Lavender's income was small, his expectations minute, his expenses great, and his debts amounted to his overplus expenditure for the number of years he had been about town. Of the sum total of his incumbrances he was ignorant. Bills came in at stated periods, and were carelessly thrown aside; for what was the use of looking at their amount, knowing beforehand that he could not pay them? But he was aware this could not go on for ever; he knew that, according to custom, tradesmen would trust him, as they constantly trust others, almost to any amount, for a certain period, without having from the first the slightest reason to suppose that the individual so trusted would ever be in a condition to pay them; and then all of a sudden they would pounce upon him, demand payment of all arrears, and trust no more.

Now, it was quite impossible for Lord John to think of retrenchment. Among the absolute necessaries of life he reckoned at least two pair of primrose kid gloves a-day, at three shillings a-pair. Two guineas a-week for gloves,—the price of a moderate bachelor's lodging! Life would be intolerable without such things; so, in order that he might continue in the land of the living, his fastidious lordship had deigned to smile upon Miss Sophy Miggins, and had permitted the idea of marriage with a plebeian to enter his aristocratic mind.

No wonder that Sophy should be dazzled by smiles from such a quarter. She was pleased and flattered, and imagined that she liked his lordship exceedingly, though she never felt at ease in his presence. He was so unlike everybody with whom she had been accustomed to associate, that she had sense enough to suppose she must be equally unlike his former companions, and she was always afraid of exciting his wonder and ridicule by some awkward breach of the usages of good society. But then to walk about with a lord, was a thing not to be resisted; and though she would have been much happier with the Captain Mills of whom her father made honourable mention in his letter to Lord John, still she never could bring herself to reject the proffered arm of his lordship.

And had she made up her mind to accept the hand of Lord John Lavender, should that also in due course of time be proffered? Not exactly; but Mrs. Miggins had decided for her. That his intentions were honourable, she could not doubt. Honourable! nay, was he not a right honourable lover? So, in full expectation of an offer for her daughter, the old lady bought a "Peerage," placed it in a conspicuous part of her drawing-room, and looked very coldly on Captain Mills.

The captain was ordered to Woolwich; and Lord John having left Dover, Sophy could not, at parting, help evincing to poor Mills a little of the partiality which she felt. Such was the position of affairs when Mr. Miggins, who had no notion of men (nor lords neither) being shilly shally, as he called it, was determined to bring matters to a crisis. He therefore, after much serious cogitation, wrote the letter which has been confidentially exhibited to the reader; and also another, requiring infinitely less forethought, which he dispatched to Captain Mills.

"What day of the month is it?" said Lord John to his valet, after perusing the epistle of his Dover correspondent.

"The twenty-first, my lord."

"The twenty-first!" exclaimed his lordship finishing his coffee.—"Wednesday, I declare!—and Sunday is Christmas-day! If I go at all, I must go on Saturday at latest."

"My lord?"

"I must go to Dover, Friday or Saturday."

"Oh! on your way to the Continent? I think it would be advisable, my lord."

"The Continent! no:—why advisable?"

"Why, my lord; may I speak?" inquired Faddle, as he removed breakfast.

"Certainly: what have you to say?"

"Why, the tradespeople, my lord:—just at Christmas-time the bills do fall in like a shower of paper-snow in a stage-play."

"Oh! and you think I must get out of the way, and let the storm blow over, eh?"

"I do, indeed, my lord; for I'm sorry to say it's very threatening."

"Oh, well! we'll go as far as Dover; there's no occasion to cross that odious channel."

"If I may make bold to ask, why will your lordship be safer at Dover than in London?"

"Don't you remember that pretty girl, Faddle? the girl with the rich father,—Miss Miggins?"

"Oh! marriage!" said Faddle, with a very deep sigh.

"Yes, Faddle, marriage."

"And here's a billet from May-fair!"

"Ah! let me see;" and Lord John opened an elegant little note, penned on a rose-leaf,—at least, in colour and fragrance it resembled one.

"She acts to-night, and desires me to dine with her on Christmas-day. Leave me, Faddle. Give me pen, ink, and paper; send me the coiffeur directly. I must speak to Tightfit's man at one; appoint Heeltap at two, and Gimcrack and Shine a quarter of an hour later."

"To speak about their bills, my lord?"

"Oh dear, no; to elongate their bills. But they are too distinguished in their respective lines to breathe a hint about the trifles. As to the canaille of tradesmen, mention my intended marriage."

"Oh! it's settled?"

"Why, to be sure; you don't suppose I've anything to do but to go!"

The valet bowed, and left the noble lord to his meditations. At three he was in his cab,—at five in May-fair,—at eight in the green-room.

Rapidly passed Thursday and Friday; and, among his many preparations for departure on Saturday, Lord John forgot to write to his future father-in-law, to intimate that it was his intention to depart. No matter; they would only be the more delighted at his unexpected arrival. Faddle packed up all his things; and, as his cambric handkerchiefs and kid gloves entirely filled one portmanteau, some notion may be formed of the quantity of luggage which it was absolutely necessary for him to take.

All this, however, was despatched by the mail on Friday night, directed to "Lord John Lavender, Worthington's Ship Hotel." On Saturday morning, his lordship, accompanied by his faithful Faddle, was to follow in a post-chariot and four. But Saturday morning came, and with it came another rose-leaf, on which were lines so delicately penned, that——

Suffice it to say that Lord John Lavender postponed his departure, dined in May-fair on Christmas-day, and, having resolved to travel all night, ordered horses to be at the door at ten. He at length tore himself away, wrapped himself up in several cloaks, threw himself into a corner of the carriage, and fell fast asleep. Poor Faddle in the rumble was most uncomfortably situated. It was no common snow-storm that commenced on Christmas-night 1836, nor was it a commonly keen wind that blew upon him. He shivered and shook, muttering foul curses on May-fair; and very shortly became as white as a sugar ornament on the exterior of a twelfth-cake, and very nearly as inanimate. With much ado they reached Canterbury; their stopping suddenly, roused Lord John Lavender from his repose. Somebody tapped at the window, and most reluctantly he opened it.

"If you please, my lord, we can't go any further," stammered the miserable and long-suffering Faddle.

"If I please! nonsense: horses out directly!"

"They say it's not possible, my lord: we've come through terrible dangers as it is."

"Not possible! why not?"

"The snow, my lord."

"Snow! nonsense!—as if it never snowed before! Tell them who I am. I say, you fellows, put horses to,—the distance is nothing;—go on;" and Lord John pulled up the glass, threw himself again into his corner, and the landlord, knowing that though they would inevitably be obliged to return, the horses must be paid for, tipped the postilion the wink, and on they went.

But not to Dover! Slowly they proceeded: now one wheel was up in the air, and then the other. Lord John was himself startled when he saw the deep drifts through which they waded; and when at last they stopped at a low miserable hovel by the road-side, he no longer urged the possibility of proceeding farther.

"We must return to Canterbury."

"Impossible, my lord: after we passed a part of the road which had been cut between two hills, an immense mass of snow fell, and blocked it up. It is a mercy it did not fall upon us;—we had a narrow escape."

"We can't stay here," said Lord John, looking at the wretched hut before him.

"We must stay here," said one of the drivers.

"Why, I haven't got my things!—what can I do, Faddle, without my things? I haven't even a clean cambric handkerchief, nor a tooth-brush!"

It was too true: it had appeared so easy to have his "things" unpacked and placed on his dressing-table the moment he arrived at Dover, that literally nothing had been provided. Intense cold soon drove Lord John into the hut; from which, however, his first impulse was to emerge again, so execrable were the fumes of bad tobacco, and so odious the group which preoccupied the low chamber.

"Walk in and welcome," cried a tipsy waggoner; "we be all friends."

"Oh, faith!" said an Irish lady, whose husband, a "needy knife-grinder," was asleep on the floor, "he's a rale gintleman, and I'll give him a sate by myself, and p'raps he'll trate me to a drop of comfort."

Lord John felt exceedingly sick; and, choking with anger and tobacco-smoke, he turned to the ragged lad of the house, and ordered a private room.

"There be no room, sir, but this here, besides that there up the ladder."

"Up there, then," said his lordship, approaching it.

"No, but ye can't though," said the lad interposing: "mother and sister's asleep up there, and the waggoner's wife, and all the females except she as sits there, by the fire."

Lord John paused; he could not invade the territory of the fair sex: what was to be done?

"Can't I have a bed?"

"There be some dry straw left, I take it: I'll go and see, and give you a shake down here, and welcome."

"A shake down!" groaned his lordship, "Faddle!"

"Yes, my lord."

"Where are you?"

"Here—dying, I believe; I never was so ill!" and there in truth lay Faddle, rolling on the bare floor.

"I say, Mother Murphy," said the tipsy Waggoner, "that ere chap's a lord!"

"They be going to do away wi' them, I hear," said the Radical knife-grinder, waking up; "and a good job too;—werry useless fellors, I take it."

"Bless his pretty face!" said the Irish lady: "exchange is no robbery; and I'd gi' him a kiss for a drop of the cratur."

"You be hung!" cried her husband, throwing a stool at her head; "you've had too much already."

The fair representative of Hibernia was not to be put upon; up she started, and there was a pitched battle between her and her husband, which ended in the fall of both.

Unused to fatigue, Lord John at last threw himself on his straw. But what a night did he pass! the noise, the smell, the discomfort, the fleas—oh!

By many will the last week of 1836 be long remembered, but by none with greater horror than by the Right Honourable Lord John Lavender.

Without wholesome food,—without a change of linen,— exposed to cold, privation, and every possible annoyance, he became seriously unwell; and when, at the end of a week, the indefatigable Mr. Worthington opened a communication between Dover and Canterbury by means of a sledge, the poor prisoner was unable to avail himself of it. Some comforts and necessary restoratives were, however, conveyed to him; and at the end of another week, after the road had been traversed by many, four horses were again put to his carriage, and, entering it like the shadow of his former self, he once more started on his way to Dover. We have said that there is a great advantage in having begun to "make up" early in life. Not so, however, when the process has been suddenly and unavoidably interrupted. But Lord John was sure to find all he wanted as soon as he arrived at the Ship Hotel; a few hours' renovation would prepare him for his interview with the fair Sophy. He threw himself back in the carriage, and indulged in the most gratifying anticipations.

He was roused from his reverie by the rapid approach of a chariot and four greys; and, leaning forward, he caught a glimpse of Sophy,—the lovely, amiable Sophy,—who, having heard of his dilemma, had, doubtless, set out to seek him!

"Stop! stop!" cried Lord John. "Here, Faddle, get down; call to those drivers. Hollo there!—open the door—let down the step—give me your arm—that will do: I'm delighted to see you, Sophy; I recognised you in a minute: I was on my way to Dover to pay my respects."

Sophy blushed, and smiled, and did not seem to know what to say: at last she articulated,

"Papa and mamma will be happy to see you, my lord: allow me to introduce to your lordship my husband, Captain Mills;" and a gentleman leaned forward and bowed, who had before been invisible.

"Your lordship will be in time for the wedding-dinner; you will have the kindness to say you have seen us."

Saying thus, Captain Mills and his lady again bowed and smiled; and, leaving his lordship in amazement, the wedding equipage dashed on.

Lord John Lavender proceeded to Dover, and, looking into some Sunday chronicle of fashionable scandal, he saw that his friend of May-fair had just entered into another arrangement. His case was desperate; and, accompanied only by his valet, he proceeded on what lords and gentlemen so circumstanced, call, a Continental trip.

They who choose to read a document on a certain church-door, may ascertain, that though no Robin Hood, the Right Honourable Lord John Lavender is an outlaw.