The Confessions of an Elderly Gentleman,

Containing his Last Love

The Countess of Blessington need not be afraid that I shall interfere with her work in the unhappy tale which I am about to begin; my scene will be laid in a very different walk of life, and the lady whose charms have wounded my heart bear no resemblance whatever to the aristocratic beauties which grace the book of the Countess. My arrangement ever goes upon an opposite principle to hers; her elderly gentleman proceeds from first to last, getting through his fates and fortunes in regular rotation, as if they were so many letters of the alphabet, from A to Z: I read mine backward, in the manner of Turks, Jews, and other infidels; for worse than Turk or Jew have I been treated by the fair sex!

When I confess to being an elderly gentleman, I leave my readers to their own conjectures as to the precise figure of my age. It is sufficient to say that I have arrived at the shady side of fifty,—how much further, it is unnecessary to add. I have been always what is called a man in easy circumstances. My father worked hard in industrious pursuits, and left me, his only son, a tolerably snug thing. I started in life with some five or six thousand pounds, a good business as a tobacconist, a large stock-in-trade, excellent credit and connexion, not a farthing of debt, and no encumbrance in the world. In fact, I had, one way or another, about a thousand a year, with no great quantity of trouble. I liked business, and stuck to it; became respected in my trade and my ward; and have frequently filled the important office of common-councilman with considerable vigour and popularity. As I never went into rash speculations, and put by something every year, my means are now about double what they were some thirty-five years ago, when Mr. Gayless, sen. departing this life, left the firm of Gayless, Son, and Company, to my management.

It is not to be wondered at, that a man in such circumstances should occasionally allow himself relaxation from his labours. I entered heartily into all the civic festivities; and, at my snug bachelor's country-house on Fortress Terrace, Kentish Town, did the thing genteelly enough every now and then. Many an excursion have I made up and down the river, to Greenwich, Richmond, Blackwall, &c.; have spent my summer at Margate, and once went to the Lakes of Westmoreland. Some of that party proposed to me to go over to see the Lakes of Killarney; but I had by that time come to years of discretion, and was not such a fool as to trust myself among the Irish. I however did go once to Paris, but, not understanding the language, I did not take much interest in the conversation of the Frenchmen; and as for talking to English people, why I can do that at home, without distressing my purse or person.

The younger portion of my fair readers may be anxious to know what is the personal appearance of him who takes the liberty of addressing them. I have always noticed that young ladies are very curious on this point; and it is difficult, if not impossible, to persuade them how irrational is their anxiety. It is in vain to quote to them the venerable maxims of antiquity, such as, "It is not handsome is, but handsome does," or, "When Poverty enters the door, Love flies out at the window," or, "All is not gold that glitters," or many more adages of equal wisdom. It is generally of no avail to dilate upon the merits of mind and intellect to persons whose thoughts run after glossy locks and sparkling eyes, and to whose imagination a well-filled ledger is of secondary importance to a well-tripped quadrille. In my own knowledge, a young lady of our ward refused to accept the hand of a thriving bill-broker in Spital-square,—a highly respectable middle-aged man, who had made a mint of money by sharp application to his business,—and chose a young barrister of the Inner Temple, whose bill, to my certain knowledge, was refused discount by the Spital-square broker at twenty-five per cent. I have been assured by officers in the army that the case has sometimes occurred of girls in garrison towns preferring an ensign to a major of many years' service; and I have heard, on authority which I have reason to credit, of a West-end lady rejecting an actual governor of a colony, on the ground that he was a withered fellow as old and prosy as her grandfather,—as if there was anything disgraceful in that,—and shortly afterwards cocking her cap at a penniless dog, because he had romantic eyes, and wrote rubbish in albums and pocket-books. I really have no patience with such stuff. Middle-aged ladies are far less fastidious.

If I must delineate myself, however, here goes. So far from deteriorating by age, I think I have improved, like Madeira. A miniature of me, taken in my twenty-first year by an eminent artist who lived in Gutter-lane, and drew undeniable likenesses at an hour's sitting for half-a-guinea, forms a great contrast to one by Chalon, painted much more than twenty years afterward. You really would never think them to represent the same man, and yet both are extremely alike. I was in my youth a sallow-faced lad, with hollow cheeks, immense staring eyes, and long thin sandy hair, plastered to the side of my head. By the course of living which I have led in the city, the sallow complexion has been replaced by a durable red, the lean cheek is now comfortably plumped out, the eyes pursed round and contracted by substantial layers of fat, and the long hair having in general taken its departure has left the remainder considerably improved by the substitution of a floating silver for the soapy red. Then, my stature, which, like that of many celebrated men of ancient and modern times, cannot be said to be lofty, gave me somewhat an air of insignificance when I was thin-gutted and slim; but, when it is taken in conjunction with the rotundity I have attained in the progress of time, no one can say that I do not fill a respectable space in the public eye. I have also conformed to modern fashions; and when depicted by Chalon in a flowing mantle, with "Jour ą gauche" (whatever that may mean) written under it, I am as grand as an officer of hussars with his martial cloak about him, and quite as distinct a thing from the effigy of Mr. M'Dawbs, of Gutter-lane, as the eau de Portugal which now perfumes my person, is, from the smell of the tobacco which filled my garments with the odour of the shop when first I commenced my amorous adventures.

Such was I, and such am I; and I have now said, I think, enough to introduce me to the public. My story is briefly this:—On the 23rd of last December, just before the snow, I had occasion to go on some mercantile business to Edinburgh, and booked myself at a certain hotel, which must be nameless, for the journey—then rendered perilous by the weather. I bade adieu to my friends at a genial dinner given, on the 22nd, in the coffee-room, where I cheered their drooping spirits by perpetual bumpers of port, and all the consolation that my oratory could supply. I urged that travelling inside, even in Christmas week, in a stage-coach, was nothing nearly so dangerous as flying in a balloon; that we were not to think of Napoleon's army perishing in the snows of Russia, but rather of the bark that carried the fortunes of Cęsar; that great occasions required more than ordinary exertions; and that the last advices concerning the house of Screw, Longcut, and Co. in the High-street, rendered it highly probable that their acceptances would not be met unless I was personally in Edinburgh within a week. These and other arguments I urged with an eloquence which, to those who were swallowing my wine, seemed resistless. Some of my own bagmen, who had for years travelled in black rappee or Irish blackguard, shag, canaster, or such commodities, treated the adventure as a matter of smoke; others, not of such veteran experience, regarded my departure as an act of rashness not far short of insanity. "To do such a thing," said my old neighbour, Joe Grabble, candlestick-maker and deputy, "at your time of life!"

I had swallowed perhaps too much port, and, feeling warmer than usual, I did not much relish this observation. "At my time of life, Joe," said I; "what of that? It is not years that make a man younger or older; it is the spirits, Joe,—the life, the sprightliness, the air. There is no such thing now, Joe, as an old man, an elderly man, to be found anywhere but on the stage. Certainly, if people poke themselves eternally upon a high stool behind a desk in a murky counting-house in the city, and wear such an odd quiz of a dress as you do, they must be accounted old."

"And yet," said Joe, "I am four years younger than you. Don't you remember how we were together at school at old Muddlehead's, at the back of Honey-lane-market, in the year seventeen hundred and eighty-fou—?"

"There is no need," said I, interrupting him, "of quoting dates. It is not considered genteel in good society. I do not admit your statement to be correct."

"I'll prove it from the parish register," said Joe Grabble.

"Don't interrupt, Joe," said I; "interrupting is not considered genteel in good society. I neither admit nor deny your assertion; but how does that affect my argument? I maintain that in every particular I am as young as I was thirty years ago."

"And quite as ready to go philandering," said Joe, with a sneer.

"Quite," replied I, "or more so. Nay, I venture to say that I could at this moment make myself as acceptable to that pretty young woman at the bar, as nine-tenths of the perfumed dandies of the West-end."

"By your purse, no doubt," said Joe, "if even that would obtain you common civility."

I was piqued at this; and, under the impulse of the moment and the wine, I performed the rash act of betting a rump and dozen for the present company, against five shillings, that she would acknowledge that I was a man of gaiety and gallantry calculated to win a lady's heart before I left London, short as was the remaining space. Joe caught at the bet, and it was booked in a moment. The party broke up about nine o'clock, and I could not help observing something like a suppressed horselaugh on their countenances. I confess that, when I was left alone, I began to repent of my precipitancy.

But faint heart never won fair lady; so, by a series of manœuvring with which long practice had rendered me perfect, I fairly, in the course of an hour, entrenched myself in the bar, and, at about ten o'clock, was to be found diligently discussing a fragrant remnant of broiled chicken and mushroom, and hobnobbing with the queen of the pay department in sundry small glasses of brandy and water, extracted from the grand reservoir of the tumbler placed before me. So far all was propitious; but, as Old Nick would have it, in less than ten minutes the party was joined by a mustachoed fellow, who had come fresh from fighting—or pretending to fight—for Donna Isabella, or Don Carlos,—Heaven knows which, (I dare say he didn't,)—and was full of Bilboa, and San Sebastian, and Espartero, and Alaix pursuing Gomez, and Zumalacarregui, and General Evans, and all that style of talk, for which women have open ears. I am sure that I could have bought the fellow body and soul—at least all his property real and personal—for fifty pounds; but there he sate, crowing me down whenever I ventured to edge in a word, by some story of a siege, or a battle, or a march, ninety-nine hundred parts of his stories being nothing more nor less than lies. I know I should have been sorry to have bulled or beared in Spanish on the strength of them; but the girl (her name is Sarah) swallowed them all with open mouth, scarcely deigning to cast a look upon me. With mouth equally open, he swallowed the supper and the brandy for which I was paying; shutting mine every time I attempted to say a word by asking me had I ever served abroad. I never was so provoked in my life; and, when I saw him press her hand, I could have knocked him down, only that I have no practice in that line, which is sometimes considered to be doubly hazardous.

I saw little chance of winning my wager, and was in no slight degree out of temper; but all things, smooth or rough, must have an end, and at last it was time that we should retire. My Spanish hero desired to be called at four,—I don't know why,—and Sarah said, with a most fascinating smile,

"You may depend upon 't, sir; for, if there was no one else as would call you, I'd call you myself."

"Never," said he, kissing her hand, "did Boots appear so beautiful!"

"Devil take you!" muttered I, as I moved up stairs with a rolling motion; for the perils of the journey, the annoyance of the supper-table, the anticipation of the lost dinner and unwon lady, aided, perhaps, by what I had swallowed, tended somewhat to make my footsteps unsteady.

My mustachoed companion and I were shown into adjacent rooms, and I fell sulkily asleep. About four o'clock I was aroused by a knocking, as I at first thought, at my own room, but which I soon found to be at that of my neighbour. I immediately caught the silver sound of the voice of Sarah summoning its tenant.

"It's just a-gone the three ke-waters, sir, and you ought to be up."

"I am up already, dear girl," responded a voice from inside, in tones as soft as the potations at my expense of the preceding night would permit; "I shall be ready to start in a jiffy."

The words were hardly spoken when I heard him emerging, luggage in hand, which he seemed to carry with little difficulty.

"Good-b'ye, dear," said he; "forgive this trouble."

"It's none in the least in life, sir," said she.

And then—god of jealousy!—he kissed her.

"For shame, sir!" said Sarah. "You mustn't. I never permit it; never!"

And he kissed her again; on which she, having, I suppose, exhausted her stock of indignation in the speech already made, offered no observation. He skipped down stairs, and I heard her say, with a sigh, "What a nice man!"

The amorous thought rose softly over my mind. "Avaunt!" said I, "thou green-eyed monster; make way for Cupid, little god of love. Is my rump and my dozen yet lost? No. As the song says,

"When should lovers breathe their vows?
When should ladies hear them?
When the dew is on the boughs,
When none else is near them."

Whether the dew was on the boughs, or not, I could not tell; but it was certain that none else was near us. With the rapidity of thought I jumped out of bed, upsetting a jug full of half-frozen water, which splashed all over, every wretch of an icicle penetrating to my very marrow, but not cooling the ardour of my love. After knocking my head in the dark against every object in the room, and cutting my shins in various places, I at last succeeded in finding my dressing-gown knee smalls, and slippers, and, so clad, presented myself at the top of the staircase before the barmaid. She was leaning over the balustrade, looking down through the deep well after the departing stranger, whose final exit was announced by the slamming of the gate after him by the porter. I could not help thinking of Fanny Kemble in the balcony scene of Romeo and Juliet.

She sighed, and I stood forward.

"Oh!" she screamed. "Lor' have mercy upon us! what's this?"

"Be not afraid," said I, "Sarah; I am no ghost."

"Oh, no," said she, recovering, "I didn't suppose you were; but I thought you were a Guy Fawkes."

"No, angelic girl, I am not a Guy Fawkes; another flame is mine!" and I caught her hand, endeavouring to apply it to my lips.

"Get along, you old——" I am not quite certain what the angelic Sarah called me; but I think it was a masculine sheep, or a goat.

"Sarah!" said I, "let me press this fair hand to my lips."

Sarah saved me the trouble. She gave me—not a lady's "slap," which we all know is rather an encouragement than otherwise,—but a very vigorous, well-planted, scientific blow, which loosened my two fore-teeth; and then skipped up stairs, shut herself in her room, and locked the door.

I followed, stumbled up stairs, and approached in the dark towards the keyhole, whence shone the beams of her candle. I was about to explain that innocence had nothing to fear from me, when a somewhat unintelligible scuffling up the stairs was followed by a very intelligible barking. The house-dog, roused by the commotion, was abroad,—an animal more horrid even than the schoolmaster,—and, before I could convey a word as to the purity of my intentions, he had caught me by the calf of the leg so as to make his cursed fangs meet in my flesh, and bring the blood down into my slippers. I do not pretend to be Alexander or Julius Cęsar, and I confess that my first emotion, when the brute let me loose for a moment, and prepared, with another fierce howl, for a fresh invasion of my personal comforts, was to fly,—I had not time to reflect in what direction; but, as my enemy came from below, it was natural that my flight should be upwards. Accordingly, up stairs I stumbled as I could, and the dog after me, barking and snapping every moment, fortunately without inflicting any further wound. I soon reached the top of the staircase, and, as further flight was hopeless, I was obliged to throw myself astride across the balustrade, which was high enough to prevent him from getting at me without giving himself more inconvenience than it seems he thought the occasion called for.

Here was a situation for a respectable citizen, tobacconist, and gallant! The darkness was intense; but I knew by an occasional snappish bark whenever I ventured to stir, or to make the slightest noise, that the dog was couching underneath me, ready for a spring. The thermometer must have been several yards beneath the freezing point, and I had nothing to guard me from the cold but a night-gown and shirt. I was barelegged and barefooted, having lost my slippers in the run. The uneasy seat on which I was perched was as hard as iron, and colder than ice. I had received various bruises in the adventures of the last few minutes, but I forgot them in the smarting pain of my leg, rendered acute to the last degree by exposure to the frost. And then I knew perfectly well, that, if I did not keep my seat with the dexterity of a Ducrow, I was exposed by falling on one side to be mangled by a beast of a dog watching my descent with a malignant pleasure, and, on the other, to be dashed to pieces by tumbling down from the top to the bottom of the house. The sufferings of Mazeppa were nothing compared to mine. He was, at least, safe from all danger of falling off his unruly steed. They had the humanity to tie him on.

Here I remained, with my bedroom candle in my hand,—I don't know how long, but it seemed an eternity,—until at length the dog began to retire by degrees, backwards, like the champion's horse at the coronation of George the Fourth, keeping his eyes fixed upon me all the time. I watched him with intense interest as he slowly receded down the stairs. He stopped a long time peeping over one stair so that nothing of him was visible but his two great glaring eyes, and then they disappeared. I listened. He had gone.

I gently descended; cold and wretched as I was, I actually smiled as I gathered my dressing-gown about me, preparatory to returning to bed. Hark! He was coming back again, tearing up the stairs like a wild bull. I caught sight of his eyes. With a violent spring I caught at and climbed to the top of an old press that stood on the landing, just as the villanous animal reared himself against it, scratching and tearing to get at me, and gnashing his teeth in disappointment. Such teeth too!

"Why, what is the matter?" cried the beauteous Sarah, opening her chamber door, and putting forth a candle and a nightcap.

"Sarah, my dear!" I exclaimed, "call off the dog, lovely vision!"

"Get along with you!" said Sarah; "and don't call me a lovely vision, or I'll scream out of my window into the street. It serves you right!"

"Serves me right, Sarah!" I exclaimed, in a voice which I am quite certain was very touching. "You'll not leave me here, Sarah; look, look at this dreadful animal!"

"You're a great deal safer there than anywhere else," said Sarah; and she drew in her head again, and locked the door, leaving me and the dog gazing at each other with looks of mutual hatred.

How long I continued in this position I feel it impossible to guess; It appeared to me rather more than the duration of a whole life. I was not even soothed by the deep snoring which penetrated from the sleeping apartment of the fair cause of all my woes, and indicated that she was in the oblivious land of dreams.

I suppose I should have been compelled to await the coming of daylight, and the wakening of the household, before my release from my melancholy situation, if fortune had not so far favoured me as to excite, by way of diversion, a disturbance below stairs, which called off my guardian fiend. I never heard a more cheerful sound than that of his feet trotting down stairs; and, as soon as I ascertained that the coast was clear, I descended, and tumbled at once into bed, much annoyed both in mind and body. The genial heat of the blankets, however, soon produced its natural effect, and I forgot my sorrows in slumber. When I woke it was broad daylight,—as broad, I mean, as daylight condescends to be in December,—an uneasy sensation surprised me. Had I missed the coach? Devoting the waiters to the infernal gods, I put my hand under my pillow for my watch; but no watch was there. Sleep was completely banished from my eyes, and I jumped out of bed to make the necessary inquiries; when, to my additional horror and astonishment, I found my clothes also had vanished. I rang the bell violently, and summoned the whole posse comitatūs of the house, whom I accused, in the loftiest tones, of misdemeanors of all descriptions. In return, I was asked who and what I was, and what brought me there; and one of the waiters suggested an instant search of the room, as he had shrewd suspicions that I was the man with the carpet-bag, who went about robbing hotels. After a scene of much tumult, the appearance of Boots at last cut the knot. I was, it seems, "No. 12, wot was to ha' gone by the Edenbry coach at six o'clock that morning, but wot had changed somehow into No. 11, wot went at four."

"And why," said I, "didn't you knock at No. 12?"

"So I did," said Boots; "I knocked fit to wake the dead, and, as there warn't no answer, I didn't like to wake the living; I didn't knock no more, 'specially as Sarah——"

"What of Sarah?" I asked in haste.

"—'Specially as Sarah was going by at the time, and told me not to disturb you, for she knowd you had been uneasy in the night, and wanted a rest in the morning."

"I waited for no further explanation, but rushed to my room, and dressed myself as fast as I could, casting many a rueful glance on my dilapidated countenance, and many a reflection equally rueful on the adventures of the night.

My place was lost, and the money I paid for it; that was certain: but going to Edinburgh was indispensable. I proceeded, therefore, to book myself again; and, on doing so, found Joe Grabble in the coffee-room talking to Sarah. He had returned, like Paul Pry, in quest of his umbrella, or something else he had forgotten the night before, and I arrived just in time to hear him ask if I was off. The reply was by no means flattering to my vanity.

"I do not know nothink about him," said the indignant damsel, "except that, whether he's off or on, he's a nasty old willin."

"Hey-day, Peter!" exclaimed Joe. "So you are not gone? What is this Sarah says about you?"

"May I explain," said I, approaching her with a bow, "fair Sarah?"

"I don't want your conversation at no price," was the reply. "You're an old wretch as I wouldn't touch with a pair of tongs!"

"Hey-day!" cried Joe. "This is not precisely the character you expected. The rump and dozen——"

But the subject is too painful to be pursued. My misfortunes were, however, not yet at an end. I started that evening by the mail. We had not got twenty miles from town when the snow-storm began. I was one of its victims. The mail stuck somewhere in Yorkshire, where we were snowed up and half starved for four days, and succeeded only after a thousand perils, the details of which may be read most pathetically related in the newspapers of the period, in reaching our destination. When there, I lost little time in repairing to our agent,—a W.S. of the name of M'Cracken,—who has a handsome flat in Nicholson-street, not far from the College. He welcomed me cordially; but there was something dolorous in his tone, nevertheless.

"Sit ye down, Master Gayless; sit ye down, and tak' a glass o' wine; it wull do ye guid after yer lang and cauld journey. I hae been looking for ye for some days."

"What about the house of Screw and Longcut?" I inquired, with much anxiety.

"I am vera sorry to say, naething guid."

"Failed?"

"Why, jest that; they cam' down three days ago. They struggled an' struggled, but it wad no do."

"What is the state of their affairs?"

"Oh! bad—bad—saxpence in the pund forby. But, why were you no here by the cotch o' whilk ye advised me. That cotch cam' in safe eneuch; and it puzzled me quite to see yer name bookit in the waybill, an' ye no come. I did no ken what to do. I suppose some accident detained you?"

"It was indeed an accident," replied I faintly, laying down my untasted glass.

"I hope it's of nae consequence elsewhere," said M'Cracken, "because it is unco unlucky here; for if ye had been in E'nbro' on the Saturday, I think—indeed I am sure—that we wad hae squeezed ten or twelve shillings in the pund out o' them,—for they were in hopes o' remittances to keep up; but, when the Monday cam', they saw the game was gane, and they are now clane dished. So you see, Mr. Gayless, ye're after the fair."

"After the fair, indeed," said I; for men can pun even in misery.

What my man of business told me, proved to be true. The dividend will not be sixpence in the pound, and it is more than six hundred and fifty pounds odd out of my pocket. I had the expense (including that of a lost place) of a journey to Edinburgh and back for nothing. I was snowed up on the road, and frozen up on the top of a staircase. I lost a pair of teeth, and paid the dentist for another. I was bumped and bruised, bullied by a barmaid, and hunted by a dog. I paid my rump and dozen amid the never-ending jokes of those who were eating and drinking them; and I cannot look forward to the next dog-days without having before my eyes the horrors of hydrophobia.

Such was my last love!