Mrs. Jennings,

Who Wanted Somebody to Care for Her by H. H.

Theophilus Bullfinch was a bachelor, middle-aged, and sufficiently stout to look respectable. A spare man conveys a feeling of spareness in all things. The eye never rests so contentedly as on a fat and what is generally termed a "comfortable-looking" personage; a stout man carries an appearance of wealth in the very folds of his coat, and so did Theophilus Bullfinch. But, alas! although temptation fell not in his way, he fell in the way of Mrs. Jennings!

"Time tells a tale,"—and we behold our bachelor located at a watering-place, no less famous for the civility and unimposing character of its inhabitants than the select nature of its visiters,—Margate. This, no one, we are sure, will venture to deny, who has "seasoned" it for three or four months. The kindly feelings of its inhabitants are perceptible even in its ass-drivers. Where will you find such fatherly boys to their donkeys,—such yellow shoes,—such society, as at Margate? We are sure our readers will say with us, Nowhere!

Theophilus felt this; and ventured a trip, and a house, for he bought one, urged thereto by a lady acquaintance, by name Mrs. Palaver,—a lady who drove not only her husband, but a pair of ponies, and astonished the eyes both of "quality" and "natives" by the way she did the genteel,—that is, as far as her ponies went: for herself, she had a soul above mean approbation. Among the "select" at the libraries, Mrs. P. was the ruling star; and, to judge not only from the redness of her face, but as her husband could testify, Mars in petticoats. She shilling-loo'd and "one-in-three'd," even to the hinderance of "The Concert;" but no one bore interruptions of this nature with so much philosophical sweetness as Old Bones, the proprietor; and as the "one-in-threes" bore to him a profit of three to one, the dulcet tones of the signora of the rooms were often eclipsed by Mrs. P.'s shake, or "go," as it is called. Our readers may be curious as to the name of the "signora:" it was Mrs. Nobs by day, Signora Nobini by night. And such a voice! The little boys in Hawley-square heard as well as the company inside,—in fact rather better, for they complained of its being a leetle too forte.

But although Mrs. Palaver put down shillings, she picked up friends,—dear souls of the newest importation,—and among the rest Mrs. Jennings. Mrs. Jennings was a widow who "wanted somebody to care for her." She had a small independence, and, if we may venture to judge from subsequent events, a very small independence; in fact, it might be doubted if it were an independence at all. She was tall, scraggy, and thin—we use a homely simile—as a pancake; the effect of grief, doubtless. She had lost a husband, she said, who doted on her; and, having lost so great a treasure, can we wonder at her unwearied exertions to obtain a fresh supply of affection? Theophilus was a man of money. Mrs. Jennings could not boast of the same golden fruit; and, as she wanted "somebody to care for her," she fixed her eye—a grey one—upon Theophilus Bullfinch.

"They met," not in a "crowd," but at a tea and card party; at the mutual friend's, Mrs. Palaver, where real eighteenpenny Cape, and diamond-cut sandwiches of the size and thinness of a three-cornered note, indicated the gentility of the lady of the house. Theophilus and the widow were partners,—a beginning not to be despised. Mrs. Jennings looked confusion over her hand, and vowed her heart must fall to his king of clubs. Theophilus blushed; she sighed, and intent upon a new game, lost the rubber! Theophilus paid for himself; the widow had a mind above trifles. Theophilus was tempted,—what man is not at times?—and paid for Mrs. Jennings. The first stone was laid, and the widow saw the church already built, the door open, and the parson's hand in the same inviting position. The next morning, Mrs. Jennings, our bachelor, and the mutual friend were to perambulate the fields, or rather corn-fields, and numerous of the "quality" were drifting along the chalky roads on an equestrian tour; asses were at a premium, and young ladies legs going up. Our party wended their way, and Mrs. J. talked of the days when she and Mr. J. made love in a corn field. If she had only somebody to care for her!—and Mrs. Jennings squeezed something very like a tear into the corners of her eyes. We know not what effect they might have had on the dear departed, but to our bachelor they appeared the essence of affection,—pretty little drops, distilled from that great alembic, the heart. Theophilus, we have before hinted, was unused to the sweet witchery of womankind, and in the simplicity of his soul thought tears must be a natural production! Let not the wise in the lore of matrimony laugh at his ignorance,—Theophilus was a bachelor!

He was touched by this unexampled proof of, to him, affection; and, drawing himself into closer proximity with Mrs. Jennings than he had before ventured, began—

"My dear ma'am, don't distress yourself. Men are like ears of corn."

"I know it," cried Mrs. Jennings, twisting one round her finger as she spoke.

"Like grass, ma'am; and Time's scythe mows down husbands and fathers!"

"Oh! oh!" sobbed the widow.

"Is there anything I can do to comfort you, ma'am?" asked Theophilus inquiringly.

Mrs. Jennings looked assent, and kept twisting the ear of corn.

"A good wife, ma'am, is a jewel,—the tears are still in your eyes,—and will you allow me to make you an offer——"

"An offer!" said Mrs. Jennings; and the tears, spite of herself, shrunk back, as though ashamed of what they were doing,—"an offer!"

"Of my handkerchief," said Theophilus.

A clover-field is a dangerous thing to walk in. Philosophers may divine the cause,—we only know it is so; sentiment is not for the highway: love and clover are synonymous. Mrs. Jennings knew this, and trotted the unsuspecting, uninitiated Theophilus into one, accordingly. Poppies, we know not why, do grow in clover; and Bullfinch—he was fond of botanising—plucked one, and, lamenting that violets were out of bloom, gave it to Mrs. Jennings. This was enough; and she whispered to the lady who was doing thirdy, "He must mean something."

The town residence of Theophilus Bullfinch was in one of the squares in the neighbourhood of the Museum. But what is a house if it want a woman's smile? So thought Mrs. Jennings and she let no opportunity pass of "popping in;"—we are grieved to say the popping was all upon her side. She would call as she was passing—the day was so hot—to take a rest; or the day was so cold, and she wanted—the truth must be spoken—a warm! What could Theophilus do? With a grim welcome on his face, and a "D—n the woman!" in his heart, he grumbled out, "You'd better take a chair." Mrs. Jennings did, and anything else she could get. But getting was a point not easily arrived at; for if Bullfinch loved one thing more than another, it was himself. She would bring him, by way of treat, wrapt in the corner of her pocket handkerchief; five or six nice little ginger-cakes, of her own making, of the size, and bearing a strong family likeness to what children call "sixes;" but finding all her entreaties thrown away, and her ginger-cakes likely to be in the same predicament, she would in the liberality of her soul take them into the kitchen by way of present to the housekeeper, who "pshaw'd!" as soon as her back was turned, and, enlarging upon the merits of her own ginger-cakes, gave them to the maid, and she—they went no farther: servant-maids have good appetites.

What woman could bear these slights of fortune tamely? We can take upon ourselves to say Mrs. Jennings did not; but, intent upon the one great object of a woman's life,—a husband,—she let no opportunity pass of reporting that herself and Theophilus were shortly to be one, fully convinced of the fact that, though marriages may be made in heaven, there is nothing like speculating upon them on earth; and hoping, no doubt, to discover the true philosophers stone, which "turneth all to gold,"—Theophilus was a man of wealth,—she left no stone unturned to get him; and, to give things an appearance, she sat herself down—we tremble as we write—in no less a place than his bedroom, determined not to quit it until, as she observed, "there was an understanding between them." Theophilus was horror-stricken, the housekeeper no less so, and the servant-maid all flutters and ribbons.

"Oh! oh!" gasped the widow, "you base man!—a weak woman as I am!"

"Very!" grunted Theophilus.

The housekeeper here interfered. "What's the use of crying about it? Why don't you look after somebody else?"

"Ah!" sobbed the widow, "you don't know what's atwixt us!"

"I wish the street-door was," thought Bullfinch.

The lady was inexorable. "The poppy," she said, "had done the business! If she had only someone to care for her!" Her feelings overcame her, and she lay upon the bed in agony of finely-developed grief, we presume, for the convenience of fainting.

Theophilus was at his wits' end, and a something very like a "D—n me!" was at his tongue's; but, "nursing his wrath," and echoing the words of an Eastern sultan, that "he who finds himself in a fire ought to be resigned to the Divine will; but whoever is out of the fire ought to be careful, and keep himself in his happy state." Thus far he thought with Mahomet; so he put on his hat and sallied forth, leaving Mrs. Jennings in undisputed possession of his bed.  Whether this argued a want of taste, or was only a chastening of the spirit, we will not attempt to define; but certain it is he went out, and the widow, finding her efforts ineffectual, did the ditto.

Days passed, and so did Mrs. Jennings the house; the servant-maid, with a prudent industry, answering the door in the area. Bullfinch (in a money-getting lane in the City the curious reader will see the Co. written after it) was a merchant; and as, in the ordinary course of things, it is necessary to emerge into the streets previously to reaching the place "where merchants most do congregate," what was to be done?—for never did cat watch a rat-hole more patiently, more hungrily, than the widow the doorway of his house. His modesty was not widow-proof; and the only way to shun her, was by a back-door, which opened into a mews: patiently picking his way through mire and dirty straw, did Theophilus, cursing widows and poppies, wend his way; whilst she—patience had ceased to be a virtue—vowed vengeance in the streets.

On a wet day, a day of gloom and splash,—the streets running rivers, and the skies shedding drops like pebbles,—the passengers dripping, drenching,—and the New Police, all love and oil-skin, sheltering themselves under doors and gateways,—sat Theophilus Bullfinch, Esq. in his easy-chair, brightening the blaze of warm fire by a fresh "stir," smugly sipping his wine, and in the uprising of his heart wishing confusion to all widows, and devoting a full glass to the particular condemnation of Mrs. Jennings. Every now and then he cast an eye to the patting rain and floating streets, and thanked Heaven which had set the fruits of fortune ripened for his plucking, and given him that which made life like a full cup, that he could drink from, nor tire of. He sat in "contemplation sweet."

"Whence comes that knocking?" he might have said, had not the servant-maid saved him the trouble, by saying a young man wanted to see him.

"Me!" ejaculated Theophilus.

"Yes, sir," was the reply, and, after much scrubbing on the doormat, in a vein endeavour to rub his boots clean, the young man was shown up, soaked to the skin, and dripping like a watering-pot. Theophilus opened his eyes; the young man took the same liberty with his mouth, and inquired if his name was Bullfinch? The answer was in the affirmative. A chair was set; the servant left the room, and, looking at the muddy footsteps on the stair-carpets, uttered sundry pretty little sayings about "dirty feet," "her trouble in the morning;" &c. and retailed her complaints to the goddess of the kitchen.

The young man commenced by saying he had brought a little account.

"And a great deal of wet," gently murmured Theophilus. "A little account!"

"Yes, sir,—for board and lodging."

Bullfinch opened his eyes still wider, and echoed "Board and lodging!"

"The bill, sir, is four-and-twenty pounds."

Another echo, and still higher uplifting of the eyebrows: "Where do you come from?"

"Blackheath, sir."

"Blackheath! What! through the rain?"

The young man ventured a smile as he replied, "No, sir; I wish I had."

"Board and lodging!—you must have made a mistake."

"Oh no, sir," said the young man; "here is the bill,—twenty-four weeks, at a pound a-week, as a parlour-boarder, at Mrs. Twig's establishment for young ladies."

Theophilus looked suspiciously at his silver spoons, and eyed the bell-rope. But a new light seemed to break upon him at the mention of the word "establishment," as he replied,

"I am afraid, my good sir, the 'establishment' you come from is in St. George's Fields. I a parlour-boarder at a young ladies' school!"

"No, sir; not you."

"Who then?" cried Theophilus.

"Mrs. Jennings, sir."

"Mrs. Who!"

"Jennings, sir."

Bullfinch sunk back into his uneasy-chair. "Mrs. Jennings!—Mrs. Devil!" and in the bitterness of his spleen he deemed her no less a personage. "Mrs.——" The word, like Macbeth's amen, "stuck in his throat."

There was a pause. At length, plucking his courage by the ears, he continued; "And do you expect me to pay for this old——!" We omit the word; no lady admires being likened to a dog.

"If you please, sir, I have put 'paid' to the bill."

"That's lucky, for it's the only way you'll ever have the satisfaction of seeing it 'paid.' Four-and-twenty pounds!—not so many farthings!" but the goodness of his disposition got the better of his anger as he added, "unless to buy her a rope."

It is needless to dwell longer upon this occurrence, further than by saying, that the "young man," finding the bill not in a way of being "settled," or Mrs, Jennings either, took his beaver, or—we like to be particular—his four-and-ninepenny, no longer a hat, but a piece of ornamented brown paper in a fine state of decomposition, and was in the act of leaving the room, when rat! tat! tat! went the door, and another young man was announced with a bill for acceptance, drawn by Messrs. Lutestring & Co. for silks, flannels &c. supplied to—Mrs. Jennings! Monsieur Tonson was nothing to this! Another knock, and a female was ushered up with a yard-long bill for millinery, &c. done for—Mrs. Jennings! The "Storm" upon the grand piano was a mere puff to that raised by Bullfinch. He swore, raved, ordered them from his house, and finally, thrusting his head between his hands, groaned a bitter groan, and, smiting his brow, cried, "Oh, that d—d poppy!"

The following morning, a suspicious-looking person, of a pick-pockety exterior, and belonging to a similar industrious calling—he was a lawyer's clerk—knocked at the knocker of Theophilus Bullfinch, and with that gentlemanly ease and accomplished manner so peculiar to young men in the law, handed to the aforesaid personage a letter, prettily worded, and headed "Jennings versus Bullfinch." It was a notice of action for "breach."

Tremble, oh, ye bachelors!—and oh, ye spinsters! smirk in the hope of one day convincing the world you ought to have been married. Mrs. Jennings was of the same opinion, and, in a spirit of justice to her sex, put her case into the hands of Messrs. Twist and Strainer, as respectable a firm as ever undertook a "breach of promise case." It is needless to say they issued their process with becoming expedition; and Bullfinch, sorely galled, mastered his antipathy,—we cannot but think a very foolish one,—and applied to an attorney!—in the hope—men catch at straws—that an attorney might be an honest man! Alas! that a person of his years should not have more wisdom!—It is perhaps necessary to inform the reader that the damages were laid at five thousand pounds.

The day of trial arrived. Theophilus, with a blushing face and tremulous heart, squeezed himself into a seat beside his legal adviser; his eyes upon the floor, and his hands feelingly placed in his pockets. He fancied all eyes bent on his, and smarted under them as they were burning-glasses. By degrees his timidity abated, and at the bustle occasioned by the judge coming into court had so far summoned courage as to raise his eyes. They met, "gently beaming," the eyes of Mrs. Jennings, who was seated in the gallery. He would rather have looked on a wolf's; but a sort of fascination, as birds feel looking at serpents, kept them fixed,—nailed to the eyes of what seemed to him his evil genius; whilst she, with the bland look of injured innocence, jerked a few tears into her eyes, and, taking out her pocket-handkerchief,—a clean one for the occasion,—wept, that is, she appeared to do so; but a woman's tears, like her ornaments, are not always real.

She looked, and Bullfinch spell-bound met her gaze; but, as a friend of ours once said, "He gave her a look!"

The proceedings commenced. The learned counsel opened the case by enlarging upon "the enormity of the defendant's crime, and the plaintiff's unprotected state; a crime," the learned counsel went on to say, "unparalleled in the annals of the law; a crime, my lord and gentlemen, which breaks into the peace of families, and takes from the lovely and the virtuous that jewel no wealth can barter,—her reputation, gentlemen, her unspotted, her unblushing reputation! Not that I would be understood to accuse the defendant of seduction. No, gentlemen; the lady whose case I am pleading is too fair a flower to be hurt by his calumniating breath!—she is——"

Here Theophilus uttered a word; we are grieved we cannot repeat it; but the officer of the court bawled "Silence!" in so loud a tone as completely to drown it. The learned counsel continued:

"Yes, my lord and gentlemen, the defendant—I blush, gentlemen, I blush," and the learned counsel was evidently overcome with the novelty of his situation,—"the defendant is a man," he resumed, "past the intoxicating meridian of life, when the feelings of youth flutter like bees sipping flowers of the fairest hue. He has proved himself——"

Another ejaculation from Theophilus, and again the officer "Silence'd!"

"He has proved himself a monster of the blackest dye,—a reptile who ought to be crushed off the face of the earth! Oh, gentlemen, did you but know the lady as I do,—have known the sanctity of her private life, and the ethereal nature of her public one; her loveliness,  her virgin excellence, beloved by relations, idolized by her family!" The lades in the gallery were visibly affected, and looked daggers at the brute of a defendant. The counsel, after a pause, resumed: "This, gentlemen, is the being for whom I am to plead. Englishmen will, I am sure, never desert the ladies!"

The jury-box felt the appeal, and looked proudly dignified; and after dwelling for two hours and three quarters on "the villain who by his insidious wiles"—Theophilus looked patiently unconscious of his Don Juan accomplishments—"had wormed himself into the lady's affections, and then basely left her, a daisy on the stalk, to pine!" he called upon them as husbands,—"Think of your wives," continued the counsel: they evidently did, and looked anything but pleased; and urging them as fathers and as men to give the plaintiff such damages as the enormity of the crime and the wealth of the defendant warranted, the learned counsel sat down, evidently to the satisfaction of himself and all who heard him.

It is needless to dwell longer upon this interesting trial, as the curiously inclined may read a full account of it in any newspaper of the date, and therein they will see it stated in evidence how the "mutual friend" bore witness to Mr. Bullfinch picking the poppy and paying for the widow at cards. Theophilus had often accused himself of the folly, and sundry other little etceteras "too numerous to mention." The housekeeper, in being cross-examined, also bore evidence, though much against her will, to the intimacy of the parties. The maid—women invariably hold by each other—always considered master 'gaged to Mrs. Jennings. The jury seemed to think so too, and returned a verdict of—Theophilus never recovered the shock—five hundred pounds!

Ye elderly bachelors, and ye bachelors of all degrees, hear this and pause! There are specks in the sun; can you, in the vanity of your hearts, think women more immaculate? Alas, the error! Pause then, and, whenever you play at cards with a lady, think of Theophilus Bullfinch, and never pay for your partner; and for the rest of your lives, if you would escape actions for "breach," never pick poppies, or walk in clover with widows!

"After all," said Theophilus, as he wrote a check for the amount of damages, and another for the costs, "even this is better than being bothered by Mrs. Jennings, especially as she wanted somebody to care for her."

H. H.