The Romance of A
A Passage in the
Life of An Adventurer
WITH AN ILLUSTRATION BY GEORGE
When things are at the worst, they are sure to mend,
says the old adage; and the hero of the following narrative is a case in
point. Dick Diddler was a distant connexion, by the mother's side, of the
famous Jeremy, immortalized by Kenny. He was a shrewd, reckless
adventurer, gifted with an elastic conscience that would stretch like
Indian-rubber, and a genius for raising the wind unsurpassed by ∆olus
himself. At the period to which this tale refers, he had dissipated
at the minor West-end hells, and elsewhere, the last farthing of a
pittance which he inherited from his father; and was considerably in
arrears with his landlady, a waspish gentlewoman who rented what
she complacently termed "an airy house" in the windiest quarter of
Camden Town. This was embarrassing; but Dick was not one to
despair. He had high animal spirits, knowledge of the world,
imperturbable self-possession, good exterior, plausible address, and
a modesty which he felt persuaded would never stand in the way of
Thousands of London adventurers, it has been observed,
rise in the morning without knowing how they shall provide a meal for the
day. Our hero was just now in this predicament, for he had not even the
means of procuring a breakfast. Something, however, must be done,
and that immediately, so he applied himself to a cracked bell which
stood on his ill-conditioned table; and, while waiting his landlady's
answer to the tintinnabulary summons, occupied himself by casting a
scrutinizing glance at his outer Adam. Alas! there was little here to
gratify the eye of taste and gentility! His coat was in that peculiar
state denominated "seedy," his linen was as yellow as a sea-sick
cockney, and his trousers evinced tokens of an antiquity better
qualified to inspire reverence than admiration.
Just as he had completed his survey, his landlady entered
the room, accompanied by her first-born,—a hopeful youth, with a fine
expanse of mouth calculated seriously to perplex a quartern loaf.
Dick perused her features attentively, and thought he had never before
seen her look so ugly. But this of course: Venus herself would
look a fright, if she came to dun for money.
"Ah, poppet, is that you?" exclaimed Dick, affectionately
patting the urchin's head, by way of an agreeable commencement to the
conversation; "Why, how the dear boy grows! Blessings on his pretty
face: he's the very image of his Ma!"
"Come, come, Mr. Diddler," replied Mrs. Dibbs, "that
language won't do no longer. You've been blessing little Tom twice a day
ever since you got into my books, but I'm not going to take out my
account in blessings. Blessings won't pay my milk-score, so I must
have my money,—and this very day too, for I've got a bill to make
"Have patience, my good lady, and all will be right."
"Ay, so you've said for the last month; but saying's one thing,
and doing's another."
"But it ain't very good; it's very bad."
"Well, well, no matter, Mrs. D——"
"No matter! But I say it is a great matter,—a matter
of ten pounds fifteen shillings, to say nothing of them oysters what you did
me out on last night."
"Exactly so; and you shall have it all this very day, for
it so happens that I'm going into the City to receive payment of a debt
that has been owing me since November last. And this reminds me
that I have not yet breakfasted; so pray send up—now don't apologise,
for you could not possibly have known that I had an appointment
in Fenchurch-street at ten o'clock."
"Breakfast!" exclaimed Mrs. Dibbs with a disdainful toss
of her head; "no, no; not a mouthful shall you have till I get my money:
I'm quite sick of your promises."
"Nay, but my dear Mrs. D——"
"It's no use argufying the pint; what I've said, I'll stand
to. Come, Tom—drat the boy! why don't you come?" and so saying, the
choleric dame, catching fast hold of her son by the pinafore, flounced
out of the room, banging the door after her with the emphasis of a hurricane.
Dick remained a few minutes behind, in the hope that
breakfast might yet be forthcoming: but finding that there was not the
slightest prospect of his landlady's relenting, he, in the true spirit of
an indignant Briton, consigned her "eyes" to perdition; and, having
thus expectorated his wrath, began to furbish up his faded apparel.
He tucked in his saffron shirt-collar; buttoned up his coat to the chin,
refreshing the white seams with the "Patent Reviver;" smoothed
round his silk hat, which luckily was in good preservation; and then
rushed out of the house with the desperate determination of breakfasting
at some one's expense. There is nothing like the gastric juice
to stimulate a man's ingenuity. It is the secret of half the poetic
inspiration in our literature.
Chance—or perhaps that ruling destiny which, do what
we will, still sways all our actions—led Dick's steps in the direction
of the Hampstead Road. It was a bright, cool, summer morning; the
housemaids were at work with their brooms outside the cottages;
the milkman was going his rounds with his "sky-blue;" and the
shiny porter-pots yet hung upon the garden rails. As our hero
moved onward, keeping his mouth close shut, lest the lively wind
might act too excitingly on his unfurnished epigastrum, his attentive
optics chanced to fall on a cottage, in the front parlour of which,
the window being open, he beheld a sight that roused all the shark
or alderman within him,—to wit, a breakfast set forth in a style
that might have created an appetite "under the ribs of death." Dick
stopped: the case was desperate; but his self-possession was equal
to the emergency. "A Mr. Smith lives here," said he, running his
eye hastily over the premises: "the bower, and the wooden god,
those trees so neatly clipped, and that commonplace-looking terrier
sleeping at the gate, with his nose poked through the rails, all betoken
the habits and fancies of a Smith. Good! I will favour the
gentleman with a call;" and with these words Dick gave a vehement
pull at the garden-bell.
"Is Mr. Smith at home?" he inquired with an air of easy assurance
that produced an instant effect on the girl who answered the bell.
"Upon my life, that's very awkward; particularly
so as he requested me to be——"
"Oh! I suppose, then, you're the gentleman that was
expected here to breakfast this morning?"
"The very same, my dear."
"Well," continued the girl, unlocking the gate, "master
desired me to say that you were to walk in, and not wait for him, for he
had to go into Tottenham-court Road on business, and should not be back
for an hour."
Dick took the hint, walked in,
and in an instant was hard at work.
How he punished the invigorating coffee! What havoc
he wrought among the eggs and French rolls! Never was seen such voracity
since the days of the ventripotent Heliogabalus. His expedition
was on a par with his prowess, for Mr. Smith's guest being momentarily
expected, he felt that he had not a moment to lose. Accordingly,
after doing prompt, impartial justice to every article on table,
he coolly rang the bell, and, without noticing the muttered "My
stars!" of the servant as she glanced at the wreck before her, he
desired her to tell Mr. Smith that, as he had a visit to pay in the
neighbourhood, he could not wait longer for him, but would call
again in the course of the day; and then, putting on his hat with
an air, he quitted the cottage on the best possible terms with himself
and all the world. There is nothing like good eating and drinking
to bring out the humanities.
Having no professional duties to attend to, Dick strolled
on to Hampstead Heath, where he seated himself on a bench that commands
an extensive view towards the west and north. Here he continued
musing upwards of an hour, in that buoyant mood which a
good breakfast never fails to call forth. It was early yet to trouble
himself about dinner or his landlady's bill; and Dick was not the
man to recognise a grievance till it stared him in the face, when, if
he could not give it the cut direct, he would boldly confront and
grapple with it: so he occupied himself with whistling one of Macheath's
songs in the Beggar's Opera.
While thus idling away his time, and picturing in his
mind's eye the perplexed visages of Mr. Smith and his guest when they should
become acquainted with the extent of their calamity, Dick's attention
was suddenly directed to the sound of voices near him. He listened;
and, from the dulcet accents in which the conversation was carried
on, felt persuaded that the parties were making love. Curious to
ascertain who they were, he retreated behind one of the broadest elms
on the terrace, and there beheld a dry old maid, thin as a thread-paper,
and straight as a stick of sealing-wax, smirking and affecting
to blush at something that was whispered in her ear by a young man.
Our adventurer fancied that the latter's person was familiar to him;
so, the instant the enamoured turtles separated, he emerged from his
hiding-place, and saw, advancing towards the bench he had just quitted,
an old com-rogue, to whom in his better days he had lost many
a sum at the gaming-table.
The recognition was mutual.
"What! Dick Diddler?"
"What! Sam Spragge?"
"Why, Sam, what has brought you here at this hour?" quoth our hero.
Samuel smiled, and pointed significantly towards the ancient virgin,
who was just then crossing the Heath, near the donkey-stand.
"Hem! I understand. Much property?"
"Eight hundred a year at her own disposal, and two thousand
three per cents at the death of a crusty, invalid brother-in-law,
who lives with her in that old-fashioned house she is now entering."
"Eight hundred a year!" said Dick musing; "lucky dog! And
how long have you known her?"
"Oh! an eternity. Three days."
"And where did you pick her up?"
"Under a gateway in Camden Town, where we were both standing
up from the rain."
"You seem to have made excellent use of your time."
"Nothing easier. I could see at a glance that she was quite
as anxious for a husband as I am for a rich wife; so, after some indifferent
chat about the weather, &c. I prevailed on her to accept of
my escort home; talked lots of sentiment as we jogged along under
my umbrella; praised her beauty to the skies,—for she is inordinately
vain, though ugly enough, as you must have seen, to scare a
ghost—and, in short, did not quit her till she had promised to meet
me on the following day."
"And she kept her word, no doubt?"
"Yes, I have now seen her four times, and am sure that if I
could but muster up funds enough for a Gretna-green trip,—for she has all
the romance of a boarding-school girl,—I could carry her off this
very night. But I cannot, Dick, I cannot;" and Sam heaved a sigh
that was quite pathetic.
"Can you not borrow of her?—'tis for her own good, you know."
"Impossible! I have represented myself as a man of substance;
and, were she once to suppose me otherwise, so quick-witted is she
on money matters, that she would instantly give me my dismissal."
"And what is your angel's name?"
"My dear fellow," exclaimed Dick with a sudden burst of emotion,
"from my soul I pity you; but, alas! sympathy is all I have to offer:—look
here!" and, turning his empty pockets inside out, he displayed
two holes therein, about as big as the aperture of a mousetrap.
An expressive pause followed this touching exhibition; shortly
after which the two adventurers parted,—Sam returning towards London,
with a view, no doubt, of seeking, like Apollyon, "whom he
might devour;" and Dick remaining where he was, casting ever and
anon a glance towards the house where the fair Priscilla vegetated,
and meditating, the while, on the revelation that had just been made to him.
Tired at length of reverie, he rose from the bench, and made
his way back into Hampstead,—slowly, for every step was bringing him
nearer the residence of his unreasonable landlady. On passing down
by Mount Vernon, he beheld the walls on either side of him placarded
with hand-bills announcing that an auction was to take place
that day at a large old family mansion (the by-streets of Hampstead
abound in such) close by: and, on moving towards the spot, he saw,
by the groups of people who were lounging at the open door, that
the sale had already begun. By way of killing an idle half-hour or
so, Dick entered; and, elbowing his way up stairs, soon found himself
in a spacious drawing-room, crowded with pictures, vases, old porcelain,
and other articles of virtý.
Just at that moment the auctioneer put up a landscape painting
by one of the old masters, on which he expatiated with the customary
professional eloquence. "Going, ladies and gentlemen, going for two
hundred pounds—undoubted Paul Potter—highly admired by the late
lamented Lawrence—sheep so naturally coloured, you'd swear you
could hear 'em bleat—frame, too, in excellent
"Two hundred and thirty!" said a small gentleman in spectacles,
raising himself on tip-toe to catch the auctioneer's eye.
"Two hundred and fifty" shouted another.
"Going for two hundred and fifty," said the man in the
rostrum; after a pause, "upon my word, ladies and gentlemen, this is giving
away the picture. Pray look at that fore-shortened old ram in the
background; why, his two horns alone are worth the money. Let me
beg, for the honour of art, that——"
"Three hundred!" roared Dick, with an intrepid effrontery
that extorted universal respect,—for to his other amiable qualities he
added that of being a "brag" of the first water, and was proud, even
though it were but for a moment, of displaying his consequence among strangers.
As this was the highest bidding, the picture was knocked
down to our hero, who, having cracked his joke, and gratified his swaggering
propensities, was about to beat a retreat, when he found his elbow
twitched by a nervous, eager little man,—a duodecimo edition of a
virtuoso,—who had only that moment entered the room.
"So you have purchased that Paul Potter, sir, I understand,"
said the stranger, wiping the perspiration from his bald head, and evidently
struggling with his vexation.
Dick nodded an affirmative, not a little curious
to know what would come next.
"Bless my soul, how unlucky! To think that I should
have been only five minutes too late, and such a run as I had for it! Excuse
the liberty I am taking, but have you any wish to be off your bargain,
sir?—not that I am particularly anxious about the picture—I merely
ask for information; that's all, sir, I assure you," added the virtuoso,
aware that he had committed himself, and endeavouring to retrieve
Dick cast one of his most searching glances at the stranger;
and, reading in his countenance the anxiety he would fain have concealed
under a show of indifference, said in his slyest and most composed
manner, "May I beg to be favoured with your name, sir?"
"Smithson, sir,—Richard Smithson, agent to Lord
Theodore Thickskull, whose picture-gallery I have the honour of a commission
to furnish; and happening to read a day or two ago in the "Times" that
a few old paintings were to be disposed of by auction here on the
premises, I thought, perhaps——"
"Indeed! That alters the case," replied our hero with
an air of dignified courtesy, "for I have some slight acquaintance with his
"Bless my soul, how odd!—how uncommon odd! Possibly,
then, for my lord's sake, you will not object to——"
"No," replied Dick smiling, "I did not say that."
"Rely on it, sir," continued the fidgety little virtuoso,
"you are mistaken in your estimate of that painting. They say it is a Paul
Potter; but it's no such thing—no such thing, sir."
"Then why are you so anxious to get possession of it?"
"Who? I, sir? Bless my soul, I'm not anxious. I merely
thought that as his lordship was particularly partial to landscapes, he might
be tempted, perhaps, to give more—"
"Well," said Dick, eager to bring the matter to a conclusion,
"as I have no very pressing desire to retain the picture, though it is the
very thing for my library in Mount-street, you shall have it; but on certain conditions."
"Name them, my dear sir, name them," said the virtuoso, his
eyes sparkling with animation.
"I have bought the painting," resumed Dick, "for three hundred
guineas; now, you shall have it for six hundred. You see I put the
matter quite on a footing of business, without the slightest reference
to his lordship."
"Six hundred guineas! Bless my soul, impossible!"
"As you please," replied our hero with exquisite nonchalance; "I
am indifferent about the matter."
"Say four hundred, sir."
"Not a farthing less. The pictures in this house, as the
advertisement which brought me up here at this unseasonable hour, before I
had even time to complete my toilette, justly observes, have been
long celebrated, and——"
"I'll give you five hundred," replied Smithson,
cutting short Dick's remarks.
"Well, well, for his lordship's sake——"
"Good!" exclaimed the virtuoso; and hurrying Dick to
a more quiet corner of the room, he took out pen and inkhorn, wrote a
check on a West-end banker for the amount of the balance, thrust it
into his hand, and then, after assuring him that he would arrange
everything with the auctioneer, and would not trouble him to stay
longer, hurried away towards the rostrum, as though he feared our
hero would repent the transfer of a painting for which he himself
imagined he should be able to screw about eight hundred pounds
out of his lordship, who was remarkable for the readiness with which
he paid through the nose.
No sooner had Dick lost sight of Mr. Smithson, than
away he flew from the house, bounding and taking big leaps like a ram,
till he reached the main street, when, changing his exultant pace for a
more sober and gentlemanlike one, he hailed the Hampstead coach,
which was about leaving the office, snugly ensconced himself inside,
and within the hour was deposited at Charing-cross.
"Coachman," quoth our hero, as the Jehu, having descended
from his box, held out his hand to receive the usual fare, "I am rather delicately situated."
"Humph!" replied the man, who seemed perfectly to
comprehend, though not to sympathise with, the delicacy of the case, "sorry
for it; but master always says, says he——"
"The fact is," continued Dick, interrupting what bade fair
to become a prolix Philippic, "though I have not a farthing in my pocket,
having forgotten to take out my purse this morning, yet as I am just
going to receive cash for a two hundred pound cheque, and shall return
with you to Hampstead, I presume the delay of an hour will
make no great difference."
The coachman, whose white round face usually beamed
with all the bland expression of a turnip, evinced symptoms of an uneasy distrust
at this speech; but when Dick exhibited the cheque—not relishing
the idea of a "bolt," long experience having no doubt taught him
that coachmen running after a fare are apt to run with most inconvenient
velocity—when, I say, Dick exhibited this convincing scrap
of paper, all Jehu’s suspicions vanished, and, touching the shining
edge of his hat, he absolved our hero from extempore payment, with
a bow that might have done honour to a Margate dancing-master.
This knotty point settled, the ingenious Richard next posted off in a
cab to the banker's,—for it was beneath his dignity to walk,—presented
his cheque, received the amount, placed it securely in his
waistcoat pocket, and then made all possible haste to a well-known
shop in the neighbourhood of Piccadilly, where every item necessary
to perfect the man of fashion may be procured at a minute’s notice.
Our hero entered the shop in a condition bordering upon the
shabby genteel, though his person and address were a handsome set-off
against the infirmities of his apparel: he came out dressed in the
very height of ton. The hue of his linen was unimpeachable; his
pantaloons fitted to a miracle; his coat was guiltless of a wrinkle.
Then his gay, glossy silk waistcoat, to say nothing of—but enough;
the metamorphosis was complete—the snake had cast its skin—the
grub was transformed into the butterfly.
But, startling as was the change which his Hampstead
speculation had wrought in his person, still more so was its effect on his
mind. Here an entire revolution was already in full activity. Vast ideas
fermented in his brain. He no longer crept along with the downcast
look of an adventurer, but stared boldly about him, as one conscious
that he was somebody. And so he was. It is not every one who
cuts a figure at the West-end that can boast of the possession of two
On his road back to Charing-cross, the first object which caught
our hero’s eye was the Hampstead coach preparing to set out on its
return. The sight brought to his recollection the fair Priscilla Spriggins;
and in an instant, with the decision of a Napoleon, he resolved
to make a "Bold Stroke for a Wife," and carry her of to Gretna that
very night. The scheme was hopeless, you will say: granted; but
Dick was formed to vanquish, not be vanquished by, circumstances.
"Faint heart never won fair lady," said he; "so here goes;" and in he popped.
It was now about two o'clock, the hour when the fair
inhabitants of our cockney Arcadia are in the habit of taking the air on
the Heath, some with work-bags, some with the "last new novel," but
the majority with "Bentley's Miscellany" in their hands. Dick no
sooner reached the donkey-stand, than he seated himself on a bench
close by,—where two young ladies were standing, fondly imagining
that they beheld Windsor Castle through a spyglass,—and looked
anxiously about him, to see if he could detect Miss Spriggins among
the peripatetics. But no Priscilla was visible. How, therefore,
should he act? "Wait," said common sense; so Dick waited.
Half an hour had elapsed, and he was beginning to get
impatient, when suddenly, on casting his eyes towards the lady's house, he
saw the door open, and Miss Spriggins herself stepped forth, with a novel
in one hand, and a pea-green parasol in the other. Dick watched her
motions as a cat watches a mouse: saw her steal away towards a retired
quarter of the Heath, and, having made up his mind as to the
line of conduct he should pursue, started from his seat and followed
quickly in her wake.
On reaching her side, "Miss Spriggins, I presume?"
said he with a profound obeisance.
"The same, sir," replied the surprised Priscilla.
"Ah! madam," resumed Dick, bursting at once into a
sentimental vein, for he felt that every minute was precious, "happy am I
to see that enchanting face once more."
"Excuse me, sir," said Miss Spriggins, affecting to bridle
up; "but really I do not comprehend——"
"Comprehend, madam!—and how should you? I scarcely
comprehend myself. But how should it be otherwise, when for weeks past
I have daily wandered over this romantic heath, hoping, but, alas!
in vain, to catch one stray gleam of that sunny beauty which last
April—how well I remember the date!—so riveted my fancy as it
flashed on me from the front drawing-room of yonder house;" and
Dick pointed towards Priscilla's dwelling.
"Really, sir, this language——"
"Is the language of frenzy, maybe; but it is the language
also of passion. Ah! madam, if you but knew the flame that that one casual
glimpse of your bewitching countenance lit up in my unhappy
heart, you would pity what I now feel. Would to God that you were
as much a stranger to me as I am to you, for then I should cease to
be the wretch I am;" and Dick, having no onion ready, turned away
his head, and covered his face with his handkerchief.
"Sir," replied Miss Spriggins, startled, yet far from displeased,
"I really know not what answer to make to this most extraordinary——"
"Extraordinary, madam? Is it extraordinary to admire beauty—to
reverence perfection—to live but in the hope of again seeing her
who, once seen, can never be forgotten—is this extraordinary? If
so, then am I the most extraordinary of men. Revered Priscilla,—Miss
Spriggins, I should say,—your beauty has undone me. I should
have joined my regiment at Carlisle ere now; but you, and you only,
have kept me lingering in this sylvan district. Ah, lady! Captain
Felix O'Flam was happy till he saw you,—happy, even though deceived
by one whom he once thought his friend."
The fair Priscilla, whose predominant infirmity, as has been
before observed, was an indigestion of celibacy, could not witness the affliction
of the dashing young man before her, without sympathising with
him; perceiving which, Dick continued, "I see you pity me, lady,
and your pity would be still more profound did you know all. It is
no later than last week that I became acquainted with the arts of an
adventurer named Spragge, who, for months previously, having wormed
himself into my confidence, had led me to believe that——"
"Spragge!" interrupted Miss Spriggins with a look of huge
dismay; "and pray what sort of a person may he have been?"
In reply, Dick described Sam to the life; whereupon
his companion, no longer able to conceal her rage, exclaimed abruptly,
"The wretch!—what an escape have I had!"
"Escape, madam! How so? Has the villain dared to deceive
you, as he has me? I know that he is one of those plausible, unprincipled
adventurers about town, who make a point of preying on the
unwary—and such he must have considered me, when he introduced
himself one morning as a relation of the commanding officer of my
regiment;—but that he should have presumed to——"
"Oh no, captain," replied Miss Spriggins with evident
embarrassment; "I was never his dupe. He merely called,—if indeed it be the
same person, as I feel convinced it is,—one day last week at my brother's,
on some pretence or other, which—which—But I have done
with him, the monster!"
"Call on you, madam!" replied Dick, adroitly giving in to the
lady's little deviation from fact, "call on you, when I dared not approach
your threshold! But enough—I'll cut his throat!"
"No, no, captain; believe me, he is unworthy of your revenge."
"You say right, madam; for, since I have found reason to
suspect him, I have instituted inquiries into his character, and am told that
he is beneath contempt. Why—would you believe it?—the fellow has
been twice ducked in a horse-pond, for thimble-rigging, at Epsom,—flogged
at the cart's tail for petty larceny, rubbed down with vinegar
and set in the black-hole to dry."
"Mercy on us! you don't say so?"
"Fact. But to quit this unworthy theme, and revert to a more
pleasing one:—May I, lady,"—and Dick here put on his most wheedling
air,—"may, I, having at length been honoured with one interview
with you, presume to hope for a second? Say only that we may
again meet,—nay, that this very evening we may take a stroll together
through these sequestered shades,—and make me the happiest of
men. Alas! I once thought that fortune alone was necessary to constitute
felicity; but, now that I have that, I feel 'tis as nothing; and
that love,—disinterested, impassioned love,—is the main ingredient
in the cup of human bliss. Give me but the woman I adore, and I
ask—I expect nothing further; but wealth without her is a mere
This rhapsody had more effect on his companion than anything
Dick had yet said. It was a shot between wind and water.
"Oh, captain!" replied Priscilla, "I appreciate your
generous sentiments; and, to convince you that I am not unworthy to share them,
will—however strange it may appear in a young and timid female—consent
to see you once more. But, remember, it must be our last
interview;" and she sighed,—and so did Dick.
"Adieu, then, idol of my soul! if so I may presume to call
you," exclaimed this ingenuous young man; "adieu, till the shades of twilight
lengthen along the horse-pond hard by the donkey-stand, when
we will meet again, and the thrice-blessed Felix——" Dick stopped:
seized the lady's hand, which she faintly struggled to withdraw; imprinted
on it a kiss that "came twanging off," as Massinger would
say; and then tore himself away, as if fearful of trusting himself with
On quitting Priscilla's side, Dick rattled across the fields
to Highgate, wondering at the success that had thus far crowned his efforts.
"Will she keep her appointment?" said he. "Yes, yes; I see it in
her eye. The 'captain' has done the business; never was there so
conceited an old lass!" and, thus soliloquizing, he found himself at the
door of the best hotel in Highgate, strutted into the coffee-room, and
rang the bell for the waiter.
The man answered his summons, cast a shrewd glance
at his exterior, and, satisfied with the scrutiny, made a low bow,
prefaced by a semicircular flourish of his napkin.
"Waiter," said Dick, with the air of a prince, "show me
into a private room, and let it be your best."
"Please to follow me, sir," replied the man; and, so saying,
he ushered our hero into a spacious apartment, which commanded a picturesque
view of a brick-field, with a pig-sty in the background.
"Good!" said Dick, and throwing himself full-length on a
sofa, he ordered an early dinner, cold, but of the best quality, together with
one bottle of madeira, and another of port, by way of appendix.
Well; the dinner came, wine ditto, and both were excellent.
Glass after glass was filled and emptied, and Dick felt his spirits mounting
into the seventh heaven of enjoyment. His thoughts were winged;
his prospects radiant with the sunny hues of hope. The fair Priscilla
was his own,—his grievances were at an end,—and he henceforth
could snap his fingers at fate. Happy man!
Having despatched his madeira, and two or three supplementary
glasses of port, so that one bottle might not be jealous of the attentions
paid to the other, Dick summoned the waiter into his presence,
paid his bill like a lord, and concluded by ordering a post-chaise and
four to be ready for him within two hours in a certain lane which he
specified, and which led off the high-road a few yards beyond the
turnpike. Of course the man understood the drift of this order.
Dick, however, took no notice of his knowing simper; but, telling him
that he should return in a short time, stalked from the hotel as if the
majesty of England were centred in his person.
On returning to the Heath, he found, as he had expected,
the fair Priscilla awaiting his advent by the horse-pond. She received him
with a blush, to which he replied by a squeeze; and then, emboldened
by the wine he had drunk, went on in a strain of high-flown panegyric
which rapidly thawed the heart of the too susceptible Miss
Spriggins. Dick was not the lad to do things by halves. Neck or nothing
was his motto; and accordingly, before he had been ten minutes
in company with his fair one, he had succeeded in drawing from her
a confession that she preferred him to all the suitors she had ever
had. This point gained, our hero adroitly changed the conversation;
talked of his prospects when his father's estates in the North should
come into his possession; of his friend Lord Theodore Thickskull, to
whom he should be so proud to introduce his Priscilla; and of his intention
to sell out of the army the instant she consented to be his.
Thus chatting, Dick—accidentally, to all appearance—drew
his companion on towards Highgate, when, suddenly putting on a look of
extreme wonder, he exclaimed, "Who'd have thought it! We are
close by the Tunnel. Ah! dearest Priscilla, you see how time flies
when we are with those we love! And, now that you are here, my
angel, you cannot surely refuse to honour my hotel with your presence.
Nay, not a word; it is hard by, and I am sure you must be fatigued after your walk."
The lady protested that she could not think of entering an
hotel with a single man. She did, however; and was so favourably impressed
with the respect shown to Dick by the waiter, who with his
finger beside his nose implied that all was ready, that had she ever
harboured distrust, this circumstance alone would have effectually
banished it from her mind.
No sooner had the parties entered Dick's private
apartment, than, strange to tell, they beheld a bottle of port wine standing
on the table. And, lo! there also were two glasses! Of course our hero
could not but present one to Priscilla, who received it, nothing loth,
though affecting extreme coyness. Its effects were soon visible. Her
bleak blue nose assumed a faint mulberry tinge, her eyes sparkled,
and she simpered, languished, and ogled Dick, sighing the while, with
a sort of die-away sensibility, intended to show the extreme tenderness
of her nature. These blandishments, which our hero returned
with compound interest, were, however, soon put an end to, by the
lady's suddenly rising, and requesting him to chaperon her home, as
it was getting late, and her brother would be uneasy at her absence.
Dick complied, though with apparent reluctance, and, as he passed
through the hall with Priscilla hanging on his arm, he could see the
landlady peeping at him through the yellow gauze blinds of the tap-room window.
It was now confirmed twilight; the dicky-birds were
asleep in their nests; the Highgate toll-bar looked vague and spectral in the
gloom; and nought disturbed the solemn silence of the hour, save the
pot-boys calling "Beer!" at the cottages by the road-side. As Dick
rambled on, under the pretence of leading Miss Spriggins by a short
cut home, his thoughts took the hue of the season, and he became
pensive and abstracted. He looked at Priscilla, and sighed; while she
reciprocated the respiration, heaving up from the depths of her œsophagus
a sigh that might have upset a schooner. And thus the enamoured
pair pursued their walk, Dick every now and then squeezing
his companion's hand with the gentle compression of a blacksmith's
vice. 'Twas a spectacle gratifying to a benevolent heart, the sight of
those devoted lovers, so wrapt up in each other as to be regardless of
the extraordinary beauties of the picturesque scenery about them.
The dog-rose bloomed in the hedge, but they inhaled not its fragrance.
The ducks quacked in the verdant ditch beside their path,
but they heeded not their euphonious ejaculations. Their own sweet
thoughts were enough for them. Surrounding nature was as nought,—they
seemed alone in creation,—the sole denizens of Middlesex!
By this time the moon had climbed the azure vault of
heaven; the last Omnibus had set down the last man; when lo! before he
was aware of his contiguity, Dick found himself close by the turnpike.
'Twas a critical moment; but the young man was desperate, and
desperation knows no impossibilities. Changing the sentimental tone he
had hitherto adopted, he burst into the most frenzied exclamations of
grief; stated the necessity he was under of immediately joining his
regiment at Carlisle, which he should have done long before had not
his love for Priscilla kept him lingering in the vicinity of Hampstead;
that he had not the heart to state this before; but, now that he had
explained his situation, he felt that he should not survive the shock of
a separation. "There," said he, pointing to the carriage, which was
but a few yards off, "there is the detested vehicle destined to bear
me far from thee! Why had I not the candour to explain my position
till this moment? Alas! who, situated as I am, could have
acted otherwise? Lady, I love—adore—doat—on you to
distraction! Let us fly, then, and link our fates together. You speak not, alas!"
"Good Heavens!" replied the bewildered Miss Spriggins,
"impossible! What would the world say? Oh fie, Captain Felix!—to think
that I should have been exposed to——"
"Come, Priscilla,—my Priscilla,—and let us hasten
to be happy. The respected clergyman at Gretna——"
"An elopement!—Monstrous!—Oh! that I should
have lived to hear such a proposition!"
Need the sequel be insisted on? Dick wept, prayed,
capered, tore his hair, and acted a thousand shrewd extravagances; swore he
would hang himself to the toll-bar, or cut his throat with an oyster-knife,
if his own dear Priscilla did not consent to unite her destiny
with his; and, in fact, so worked upon the damsel's sensibilities, that
she had no help for it but to gasp forth a reluctant consent. An instant,
and all was ready for departure. Crack went the whip, round
went the wheels, and away went the fond couple to Gretna-green,
rattling along the high north road at the rate of fourteen miles an hour!
Thus he who at nine o'clock in the morning was an
adventurer without a sixpence in his pocket, by the same hour in the evening
was a gentleman in possession of a woman worth eight hundred pounds per
annum!—Gentle reader, truth is strange,—stranger than fiction.