The Little Bit of Tape by Richard Johns


The Little Bit of Tape

The Little Bit of Tape

"Slow and sure" has been the motto of my family from generation to generation, and wonderfully has it prospered by acting on this maxim; the misfortunes of the house of Slowby having apparently been reserved for the only active and enterprising individual ever born unto that name. Reader, I am that unhappy man! Waiters upon Fortune, plentifully have all my progenitors fared from the dainties of the good lady's table; while I, in my anxiety to share in the feast, have generally upset the board, and lost every thing in the scramble.

Sir James Slowby, my worthy father, was a younger son, and his portion had been little more than the blessing of a parent, conveyed in the form of words always used in our family—"Bless thee, my son; be slow and sure, and you will be sure to get on." He did get on; for, was he not one of the feelers of that huge polypus in society, the Slowbys? Ways of making money, which other men had diligently sought in vain, discovered themselves to him; places were conferred on him, and legacies left him, for no one reason that could be discovered, except that he seemed indifferent to such matters, and latterly became so wealthy, that he did not require them. He was slow in marrying; not entering the "holy state" till he was forty. He did not wed a fortune: no! he rather preferred a woman of good expectations; and these were, of course, realised,—the money came "slow and sure." He lived to a good old age; but death, though slow, was sure also; and he at length died, leaving two sons: on one he bestowed all his wealth; the other, my luckless self, he left a beggarly dependent on an elder brother's bounty. The fact of the matter was, I had too much vivacity to please so true a Slowby as my father; while James was a man after his own heart: and, perhaps I had circulated a little too much of the old gentleman's money in what he strangely called my "loose kind of life;" but which I only denominated "living fast." He might have confessed that I was not altogether selfish in my pleasures. I often made my father most magnificent presents; and though, perhaps, he ultimately had to pay the bills, the generosity of the intention was the same.

The following letters were written just before our worthy parent's death, by his two sons. James was at the paternal mansion in —— Square, I at a little road-side public-house about four and twenty miles from Newmarket. I must premise that I was thus far on my way to London, in answer to my brother's summons; but, at "Ugley" over the post-chaise went—a wheel was broken, and so was my left arm. The post-boys swore it was my fault, because I had not patience to have the wheels properly greased; and I, because it was my misfortune to be obliged to delay my journey till the mischief was repaired—I mean as regards the WEAL of my arm, not the wheel of the chaise,—for, had I been able, I would rather have ridden one of the post-horses to the next stage, than not have pursued my route.

"—— Square.

 "My dear brother,—Your father requests that you will take an early opportunity of coming to town, as he is supposed to be on his death-bed. His will only awaits your arrival to receive signature. Should you solemnly promise not to dissipate money as you have heretofore done, he will leave you a gentlemanly competence. Dr. Druget is of opinion that our father may live till Sunday next; so, if you are here at any period before that date, you will be in sufficient time for the above-mentioned purpose.

"Your affectionate brother, James Slowby."

 "Dear Jim,—You might think it wise to delay my seeing our dear father, but I did not;—so started at once,—double-fee'd the post-boys,—double feed for the horses,—away I bowled, till off came the wheel at Ugley. Here I am, with a broken arm. Tell my father I am cut to the quick that we may never meet again. I'll promise any thing he likes. I now really see the folly of being always in such a devil of a hurry; particularly in spending money, paying bills, and that kind of thing: say that I will now for ever stick by the family motto, 'slow and sure.' Yours in haste,

"Richard Slowby.

"P.S. I send my own servant to ride whip and spur till he puts this in your hands; he will beat the post by an hour and a half, which is of consequence."

This latter epistle never reached its destination,—my poor fellow broke his neck at Epping; and, as the letter was despatched in too great haste to be fully directed, it was opened and returned to me by the coroner in due course of post.

I did not get to town till long after the death of my father. The will signed at last, my absence being unaccounted for, gave my brother the whole property; nor did he seem inclined to part with a shilling. A place in the T——, which the head of our ancient house, Lord Snaile, had bestowed on my father, and still promised to keep in the family, might yet be mine,—I was his lordship's godson, and had a fair chance for it; but the now Sir James Slowby, second of the title, and worthy of the name, would not withdraw his claim as eldest born.

"I won't move in the matter, Richard," said my slow and sure brother; "but if my lord gives me the offer, I will accept it. I am not greedy after riches, Heaven knows; but it would be tempting Providence not to hold what is put into my possession, nor freely take what is freely given. His lordship has requested, by letter, that we both wait upon him in Curzon Street, no doubt about the appointment; he makes mention of wishing to introduce us to the ladies, after 'the despatch of business.' Our cousin Maria used to be lovely as a child, and, though not a fortune, may come in for something considerable, ultimately."

Such was my brother's harangue. Sick of his prosing I left his house, comforting myself that I had, at least, as much chance of the appointment as he had; nor was I altogether without my hopes of supplanting him with Maria, though he might be worthy of wedding her at Marylebone; and I, even with her own special licence, would have to journey on the same errand as far as Gretna.

I dined that day at Norwood with an old schoolfellow. At his house I was to pass the night, and on the morrow, at two o'clock, my fate was to be decided. On this eventful morning I was set down in Camberwell by my friend's phaeton. I had seen the Norwood four-horse coach start for town long before we left home, and had given myself great credit for not allowing it to convey me that I might have from thence been enabled to intrude on Lord Snaile's privacy an hour or two before I was expected. But I recollected I had annoyed his lordship on more than one occasion in a similar manner, and I seriously resolved that I would no longer mar my fortunes by my precipitation. It was now, however, within two hours of the time of appointment; my friend's vehicle was not going any farther, and I might, at least, indulge myself by reaching Oxford Street by the quickest public conveyance. Omnibuses had just been introduced on that road; and the Red Rover, looking like a huge trap for catching passengers, was drawn up at the end of Camberwell Green. "Charing Cross, sir!"—"Oxford Street, sir!"—"Going directly, sir!" was music to my ears, even from the cracked voice of a cad, and in I unfortunately got; and there did I sit for ten minutes, while coaches innumerable, passed me for London. Still I preserved my patience, firm in my good resolves. At length another Westminster omnibus drove up.

"Are you going now; or are you not?" said I, very properly restraining an oath just on the tip of my tongue.

"Going directly, sir—be in town long before him, sir," said the cad, pointing to the other 'bus, for he saw my eye was turned towards it.

At that moment a simple-looking servant-girl with a bandbox came across the Green, and a fight commenced between the conducteurs of the rival vehicles for the unfortunate woman, in which she got not a little pulled about. The Red Rover, however, won the day; and glad enough was I when we started, at a rattling pace. But my pleasure was of short duration.

"Where are you going?" asked an old women opposite me, who knew the road, which I did not.

"Going to take up, ma'am," said the cad. "We shall be back to the Green Man in ten minutes if you've left any thing behind."

"Where is my bandbox?" said the girl.

"I knows nothing about it, not I; I suppose it went by the other 'bus if you arn't a got it. Why did you let it out of your own hands, young 'oman? That 'ere cad is the greatest thief on the road."

The girl began to cry, and declared she should lose her place; and I to swear, for I thought it very likely I should lose mine. But we at length once more passed the Green, and tore along at the rate of ten miles an hour, till we set down passengers at the Elephant and Castle. Reader, do you happen to know a biscuit-shop occupying the corner of the road to Westminster, opposite the aforesaid Elephant and Castle? There it was, the Red Rover drew up, and the cad descended to run after a man and woman, who seemed undetermined whether they would take six-pennyworth or not. My patience was now quite exhausted. A four-horse Westminster coach was just starting across the way, and, determined to get a place in a more expeditious conveyance, I dashed open the door of the omnibus just as the conducteur's "all right" again set the carriage in motion; he,  having failed in his canvassing, at the same instant jumped on the step behind the 'bus. The consequences were direful. The cad was transferred to the pavement by a swingeing blow on the temple from the opening panel, while I lost my equilibrium, and made a full-length prostration into mud four inches thick, which formed the bed of the road. I had fallen face downward, and the infuriated official of the 'bus quickly bestrode me, grasping me by the nape of the neck. I gasped for breath. Never shall I forget what I then inhaled. To bite the dust is always disagreeable; but, I can assure you, it is nothing to a mouthful of mud. Rescued at last by the intervention of the police, I was permitted to rise. I had no time to dispute the question of right and wrong; glad enough was I to be allowed to medicate the cad's promissory black eye with a sovereign; for which I was declared by all present, and particularly by the man what rides behind the 'homnibus' "to be a perfect gemman, only a little hasty." Never was a gentleman in a worse pickle. The road had been creamed by the reign of wet weather that marks an English summer. Had I been diving in a mud-cart, or "far into the bowels of the land," through the medium of a ditch in the neighbouring St. George's Fields, I could not have presented a more extraordinary appearance. I might have been rated as a forty-shilling landholder, and rich soil into the bargain. As soon as I could clear my eyes sufficiently to permit of the exercise of vision, I espied an old clothes' shop in the distance; and in this welcome retreat I speedily bestowed myself amid cries of "How are you off for soap?"—"There you go, stick-in-the-mud!"—"Where did you lie last?" and other specimens of suburban wit. Having left the admiring gaze of about two hundred spectators, I obtained a washing-tub and a private room from my newly-formed acquaintance, Isaacs; and, my ablutions being complete, I equipped myself in a full suit of black, which, though the habiliments were rather the worse for wear, fitted me pretty well, and had been, withal, decently made. I was also supplied with shirt and drawers, "goot ash new," and a hat which Isaacs swore was only made the week before, and "cheap ash dirt." I appreciated the simile, but the hat I could scarcely get on my head; time was however wearing away, and I was obliged to have it, as well as a pair of Blucher boots, not a Wellington fitting me in the Jew's whole stock of such articles. I again started. There happened to be a hackney-coach passing just as I emerged from the shop. This was fortunate; for, to hide my low boots, Isaacs had strapped my trousers down so tightly, that, not trusting much to the material, I thought it might be advisable to avoid walking.

I had yet sufficient time before me to keep my appointment, and I was now fairly on my way to Curzon Street; nothing interrupting my meditation for the next half hour but the paying of a turnpike. I had certainly met with many vexatious annoyances during the morning; but I felt pleased with myself for so far conquering my impetuous spirit as to have exhibited, on the whole, but little irritation under my suffering. For this, I thought I deserved to succeed in my present visit to that high-priest of Fortune, a patron. Then I bethought me of Maria, and took a glance at my suit of black. I fancied that I must look very like an undertaker,—I knew not why: I had imagined myself perfectly gentlemanly in appearance when I left  my toilet at Norwood, and I had only changed one suit of black for another,—but then these were not made for me. Perhaps some poor fellow had been hanged in them. I got nervous and miserable.

My hat galled my head; I removed it, and held it in my hand. It certainly did not look like a new one. I was ingeniously tormenting myself with calling to memory every disease of the scalp I had ever heard of, when I reached the corner of Curzon Street; and, not wishing to desecrate the portals of the fastidious peer by driving up in a "Jarvey," I got out, and made my approach on foot. I had knocked—there was a delay in opening the door. The porter is out of the way, thought I; and I took an opportunity of looking at my heels, to see if I had walked off with any straws from the coach. I heard the door opening;—I say heard, for I did not look up, my eyes just then resting on a small piece of tape that I had been dragging in the dirt—Oh! luckless appurtenance of the drawers of the Jew!—Yes! the door was opening to admit me to the presence of my noble relation—my patron—who I trusted was waiting with an appointment of 1500l. a-year, anxious to bestow it on his godson—the morning that was to witness my introduction to her whom I had already wedded in my imagination—I saw a little piece of tape dangling at my heels! Before the portals of the mansion had quite gaped to receive me, my finger was twisted round this cruel instrument of destiny, in the hope of breaking it. I pulled. Acting like a knife on the trousers, fast strapped to my boots, and too powerful a strain on the drawers, though "goot ash new," both were rent to the waistband;—my coat ripped at the shoulder by the action of my arm;—my hat fell off, and was taken by the wind down the street;—and the servant, to whom, having finished this ingenious operation, I stood fully disclosed, unfortunately saw but the effects, without knowing the cause of my disaster.

The man was too well-bred to remark my appearance, but he had every reason for thinking me either mad or drunk; as, to crown all, my face must have been flushed and distorted from rage and mortification.

"My lord expects you in the library, sir," said the astounded servant.

An abrupt "Tell my lord I'll call again" was my only reply, delivered over my shoulder as I dashed from the door, perfectly unconscious of what I was about, till I found myself in a tavern, the first friendly door that was open to receive me. I here composed my bewildered senses, despatched a messenger for a tailor, and set myself down to concoct a note to Lord Snaile. But how narrate to the most particular, matter-of-fact, and yet fastidious, man in the world the events of that morning? I threw the pen and paper from me in despair. Nothing now remained but to wait patiently, if possible, till I could make my excuses in person.

The tailor came, and in about an hour and a half I was again on my way to his lordship's residence; but alas! ere I reached it, I met my steady young brother, who with much formality thus addressed me.

"Richard Slowby, your conduct this morning is the climax of your excesses. His lordship requests that he may not in future be favoured with your visits in Curzon Street; and I consider it my duty to inform you, that these will be equally disagreeable in —— Square."

I felt at that moment too proud to ask for, or offer, explanations. I saw by the twinkle of his cold grey eye that he had received the appointment, and of course it would have been against his principles to resign it in my favour; so I merely told him that I should have great pleasure in attending to the wishes of two men I so equally respected as Lord Snaile and Sir James Slowby: and, bidding him a very good morning, I left him to his self-gratulations.

About a twelvemonth afterwards, I elicited from the servant who had opened the door to me, and delivered my unfortunate message to his lordly master, the following particulars.

It appears that on the man entering the library he found the peer and the baronet seated together, the eyes of the former fixed on a time-piece, which told the startling fact that the hour of appointment was past, by five minutes. "Is Mr. Slowby come?" said my lord, turning suddenly towards the servant.

"Yes, my lord; but——"

"Show him in directly, sir. Did I not tell you I expected Mr. Slowby, and ordered him to be admitted?"

"I told the gentleman so, my lord, and that you were waiting for him, and he said he would call again. I am afraid the gentleman is unwell, my lord."

"Unwell!" cried his lordship, "and you allowed him to quit the house?"

"He ran away, my lord;" and here, not knowing how far it would be safe to give the conclusion he had drawn from my extraordinary manner and appearance, the man hesitated.

"Tell me why, this instant, sir," exclaimed his master; "there is some mystery, and I will know it."

"I beg pardon, my lord, but Mr. Slowby seemed much excited—was without his hat, had torn clothes—scarcely decent, my lord. I hope your lordship will excuse me, but the gentleman seemed flushed with after-dinner indulgence in the morning, my lord."

On this well-bred announcement of my being drunk, the peer and his companion exchanged significant looks.

"You may go," said my lord, bowing his head to the servant: but ere my informant got further than the neutral ground between the double doors, he heard my kind brother say, "Just like him;—dined yesterday at Norwood."

"A disgrace to the family!" sorrowfully remarked his lordship. "I had hoped to benefit him, but"—a pause—"the appointment is yours, Sir John. I could not trust it with a man of his character."

It is satisfactory to know the particulars of one's misfortunes, and these were given me at the "Bear" in Piccadilly. After being cut by all, as a graceless vagabond, when it was discovered that I had few meals to say grace over, I am now considered dead to society; but I am, in fact, "living for revenge." To spite the omnibuses, and abuse the cads at my leisure, I drive a short stage out of town; and if any gentleman knows one Dick Hastings, and will "please to remember the coachman," he who will drink to his honour's good health will be the luckless Richard Slowby.