Misled by A Name by Anonymous

It was my fortune to pass a portion of my youth at a celebrated watering-place, to which it was the fashion, at that time, with the faculty, in all parts of the kingdom, to consign their patients, usually in compliance with the desires of the latter, when medicine could be of no more avail; and there was such a constant influx of pale people of fortune, who were buried within so brief a period after the announcement of their arrival, that I sincerely pitied persons of opulence, because they seemed to be Death's favourite prey. Burials occurred so frequently, that at least a tithe of the inhabitants were undertakers.

It was really laughable to witness the intrigue that took place in the event of a death. The funeral was generally bespoke, even before the patient had been given over by the resident physicians: the sick gentleman's grocer, his tailor, his shoemaker, the master of the inn where he had put up on his arrival, the person in whose house he was expiring, the barber who shaved him when he was no longer able to shave himself, his butler, who had become tainted with the mania of the place, and the man over the way, whose wife was a laundress, were all undertakers in disguise, and sighing for his dissolution. This is a true sketch of the state of things some years ago, at ——, and, doubtless, at many other equally celebrated resorts of the afflicted. The various candidates for "a black job,"—that was the technical term,—frequently formed a coalition of interests. One of the party was nominated to bury the deceased, and divide the profits among all. Bribery to the domestics, in these cases, was carried on to a shocking extent; for the resident tradesmen of the place, rendered callous by custom, purchased the votes of every individual who was likely to have any voice in the election of an undertaker. Humorous mistakes frequently occurred in the ardour of the pursuit, and in the rivalry existing between the real gentlemen of the hearse, and those who were constantly on the alert to obtain a share of their profits. A case occurs to my recollection, which may, perhaps, be deemed not altogether devoid of interest.

An undertaker, who had received intelligence from one of the numerous jackals of the place, that the doctors had received their last fee from the friends of a patient, who lodged at Mr. B.'s house in a certain crescent, immediately repaired to the scene of action. He knocked at the door, but the footman (having received a bribe, and very particular instructions from a rival undertaker, who had purchased the same intelligence a few moments earlier from a the same identical jackal, and who was then in the pantry, trying to buy over the butler,) told him that he had mistaken the number; that his master was perfectly well; and that, in all probability, the gentleman who was dying, lived at Mr. B.'s other lodging-house, No. 7, in the same crescent.

"Do you know his name?" inquired the undertaker.

"The Reverend Mr. Morgan," replied the footman.

"Do you know his servant?"

"Yes; he's a thick-set man, with a slight cast in his eye."

"In or out of livery?"

"Out."

"May I use your name?"

"With all my heart, on your tipping the usual."

"There's a crown; it's all speculation,—neck or nothing; so I can't afford more. What's your name?"

"I am Sir Joseph Morgan's under-butler."

"Thank you;—good day:—but stop, allow me to trouble you with a dozen of my cards; a judicious use of them may pay you: I come down handsomely, and you may make it worth your while, as well as mine, should anything occur in your family. Will you do what you can?"

"With pleasure."

"Much obliged: and,—d'ye hear?—here's another: if you know of any house where the ravens roost,—you understand me—stick it in the frame of the house-keeper's looking-glass. Good morning!"

The Reverend Mr. Morgan, to whose lodgings the under-butler had referred the undertaker, was a middle-aged gentleman, lately married, and in daily expectation of having an heir to his name and the little freehold which his uncle had devised to him in the county of Brecon. He was just the sort of man that the under-butler had in his eye, when describing his servant. As the undertaker approached the door of No. 7, the reverend gentleman, in his usual neat, but homely dress, made his appearance. The undertaker, suspecting that he was the servant, accosted him the moment he had closed the door behind him, and the following dialogue ensued:—

"Your most obedient, sir."

"Yours, sir;—I ask pardon, but as I am in a hurry—"

"One moment—"

"Really, sir, if you knew the situation of affairs—"

"I do, sir;—I do, indeed."

"No!"

"Yes!"

"Well, it's rather odd. But I cannot stand here gossipping. Mrs. Morgan—"

"Ah! poor dear creature! but these things will happen, you know:—transitory life—sublunary world—rad mortality—vale of tears!—Going for the doctor?"

"No, not just yet; but—"

"Ah! still the event is pretty certain, I believe."

"Why, yes; I flatter myself it is."

"Good. Pardon me for being intrusive, my dear friend; but it lies in your power to do me a favour, I think: will you?"

"Oh! yes,—anything;—provided it costs me nothing."

"Not a penny:—you'll be in pocket by it. But, before I explain, allow me to ask,—have you any interest with, or influence over Mrs. Morgan? Be candid."

"Why, sir, I think I ought to have."

"Oh! I see:—a managed matter;—a candidate for dead men's shoes, eh?—Ah! you sly dog!"

"Sly dog!"

"You'll soon be master, I guess."

"I hope so; I have been long trying for it."

"Ha, ha! I know it. Oh! I can see things. But now to business:—the fact is, I'm a professional man."

"Oh! are you?"

"Yes,—you understand:—and as soon as any thing occurs, call me in; and I'll make matters agreeable to you."

"But Mrs. Morgan,—she must be consulted: I'm just going to see a gentleman on this very business."

"To be sure Mrs. M. must be consulted! Far be it from me to think of intruding myself without her permission. But you can use your influence. A word in your ear: I'm empowered to mention the name of Sir Joseph Morgan's under-butler. Manage it well, and I'll tip you a five pound note."

"Sir Joseph Morgan's under-butler! Me? Tip me?"

"Oh, honour! honour among thieves, you know. Ha, ha! Harkye;—the moment he goes off—"

"Goes off! Who?"

"The parson.—I say, the moment he goes off—"

"Ah!"

"Smuggle me up to his wife."

"To Mrs. M.? Smuggle you?"

"Oh! these things must be done with decorum, you know."

"Well, but—"

"Leave me to manage the rest. I flatter myself that my talent and experience will ensure us the desired success. Act well your part, and depend upon it I shall be the happy man."

"The happy man!"

"Ay; see him home, as we say."

"See who home?"

"Why, M., to be sure."

"M.?"

"Yes. Really, though, now I look at you, you don't seem to follow my ideas exactly."

"Not with that precision which I could wish."

"Psha! In plain English, then,—the parson being about to kick the bucket—"

"Kick the—"

"Ay,—hop the twig,—or pop off the hooks:—pick and choose, I've a variety."

"And pray, sir, what may his kicking the bucket be to you?"

"Thirty pounds, at least, if his widow's a trump, and things turn out kindly."

"I'm quite in a fog!—Pray, sir, who and what are you?"

"Didn't I say I was a professional man—an undertaker?"

"Oh! you're an undertaker, are you?"

"At your service."

"Thank you. And so you think of seeing M. home, do you?"

"Yes; box him up, as we say;—Ha, ha!"

"And I'm to have five pounds—"

"Exclusive of the usual jollification on the occasion, with the mutes and mourners; and an additional guinea, if you think proper to officiate with a black stick and hat-band. Pull your hat over your eyes, hold a white pocket-handkerchief to your face, and nobody will know you:—that's the way to manage. Ha, ha!"

"Very good; very good, indeed. Ha, ha!"

"Ha, ha! But come—what say you to a cheerful glass on this melancholy occasion? Sorrow is dry, you know;—I'll be a bottle."

"You're very good. And so you're an undertaker, after all, are you?"

"To be sure I am:—come along."

"And I'm to smuggle you up to Mrs. M., eh?—Ha, ha!—I must say I admire your mode of doing business much."

"Tact, my dear fellow,—tact and decorum; I display no other talents."

"Your gay manner, too—"

"Yes; 'we're the lads for life and joy,' as the song says. I'm naturally cheerful; but when I feel pretty sure of my man—as I now do—oddsheart! I'm as merry as a grig. Take my arm." The undertaker marched off in triumph with his supposed prey leaning on his arm, towards a neighbouring tavern; but whether the reverend gentleman blighted his hopes by an early explanation, or forgot Mrs. M. for a few moments longer, and partook of the proffered bottle, "the chronicler cannot state."




     In my little parlour, where,
     Seated in an easy chair,
     At the dull decline of day,
     Oft I doze an hour away;—
     Yester-eve I had a dream,
     Of such seeming misery,
     That, at last, my own loud scream,
     Roused me to reality:
     And, though strange my say may seem,
     Sleep I'd rather never more,
     Than hear again what then I bore.

     Time, methought, was journeying fast:
     Years, like moments, fleetly passed;
     Still on they flowed,—behind,—before,
     Across what seemed a dismal sea,
     To break like billows on the shore
     Of measureless Eternity.
     From all his leaden clogs releas'd,
     Anon, the speed of Time increas'd;
     Till even light could scarcely vie,
     With the speed of a passing century.

     The hills were grey,—the world was old;
     Its hour was come, its sands were told;
     The knell of a million years had rung;
     And I, alone, continued young,
     And, now, the work of woe began,
     Despair through every bosom ran;
     Death stalked abroad in open day,
     And, visibly, attack'd his prey:
     No more by slow disease he work'd,
     Or in the cup of nectar lurk'd;
     No host was now in battle slain,
     No man set up,—a butt for Pain
     To shoot her lingering arrows through;
     No more the earth devour'd a town;
     But Death walk'd openly in view,
     And, with his scythe, mow'd myriads down.
     I clos'd my eyes,—I saw no more,
     Until a voice close to my ear,—
     A voice I ne'er had heard before,
     So dismal that I quail'd with fear,
     And utter'd that wild horrid scream,
     Which rous'd me from my wretched dream!
     Bade me awake, methought, and see
     Him, whose doom it was to be,
     The last of human kind!
     An awful form before me stood,
     Whose aspect boded aught but good:
     His looks were grim, his locks were grey;
     He seem'd like one near life's last goal;
     And thrice, methought, I heard him say,
     That he came to cast my soul!

     My sight grew dim, I gasped for breath;—
     (For who can brave a sudden death?)—
     A moment's fearful pause ensued,
     Then he,—the object of my dread,—
     Address'd me thus in accents rude;
     I listened, less alive than dead.
     "I've said it once, I've said it twice,
     I've raised my voice, and said it thrice:
     My time is short,—I've much to do;—
     I've lately lost my brother;—
     I cannot wait all night on you,
     For I must cast another.
     To make your boot fit well, a tree
     You've ordered, as I'm told;
     And, once again, I say, in me,
     The last-man you behold."