CHAPTER XLVI. RECORDS A TOUCHING ACT OF DELICATE FEELING, NOT UNMIXED WITH PLEASANTRY, ACHIEVED AND PERFORMED BY Messrs. DODSON AND FOGG
It was within a week of the close of the month of July, that a hackney cabriolet, number unrecorded, was seen to proceed at a rapid pace up Goswell Street; three people were squeezed into it besides the driver, who sat in his own particular little dickey at the side; over the apron were hung two shawls, belonging to two small vixenish-looking ladies under the apron; between whom, compressed into a very small compass, was stowed away, a gentleman of heavy and subdued demeanour, who, whenever he ventured to make an observation, was snapped up short by one of the vixenish ladies before-mentioned. Lastly, the two vixenish ladies and the heavy gentleman were giving the driver contradictory directions, all tending to the one point, that he should stop at Mrs. Bardell's door; which the heavy gentleman, in direct opposition to, and defiance of, the vixenish ladies, contended was a green door and not a yellow one.
'Stop at the house with a green door, driver,' said the heavy gentleman.
'Oh! You perwerse creetur!' exclaimed one of the vixenish ladies. 'Drive to the 'ouse with the yellow door, cabmin.'
Upon this the cabman, who in a sudden effort to pull up at the house with the green door, had pulled the horse up so high that he nearly pulled him backward into the cabriolet, let the animal's fore-legs down to the ground again, and paused.
'Now vere am I to pull up?' inquired the driver. 'Settle it among yourselves. All I ask is, vere?'
Here the contest was renewed with increased violence; and the horse being troubled with a fly on his nose, the cabman humanely employed his leisure in lashing him about on the head, on the counter-irritation principle.
'Most wotes carries the day!' said one of the vixenish ladies at length. 'The 'ouse with the yellow door, cabman.'
But after the cabriolet had dashed up, in splendid style, to the house with the yellow door, 'making,' as one of the vixenish ladies triumphantly said, 'acterrally more noise than if one had come in one's own carriage,' and after the driver had dismounted to assist the ladies in getting out, the small round head of Master Thomas Bardell was thrust out of the one-pair window of a house with a red door, a few numbers off.
'Aggrawatin' thing!' said the vixenish lady last-mentioned, darting a withering glance at the heavy gentleman.
'My dear, it's not my fault,' said the gentleman.
'Don't talk to me, you creetur, don't,' retorted the lady. 'The house with the red door, cabmin. Oh! If ever a woman was troubled with a ruffinly creetur, that takes a pride and a pleasure in disgracing his wife on every possible occasion afore strangers, I am that woman!'
'You ought to be ashamed of yourself, Raddle,' said the other little woman, who was no other than Mrs. Cluppins. 'What have I been a-doing of?' asked Mr. Raddle.
'Don't talk to me, don't, you brute, for fear I should be perwoked to forgit my sect and strike you!' said Mrs. Raddle.
While this dialogue was going on, the driver was most ignominiously leading the horse, by the bridle, up to the house with the red door, which Master Bardell had already opened. Here was a mean and low way of arriving at a friend's house! No dashing up, with all the fire and fury of the animal; no jumping down of the driver; no loud knocking at the door; no opening of the apron with a crash at the very last moment, for fear of the ladies sitting in a draught; and then the man handing the shawls out, afterwards, as if he were a private coachman! The whole edge of the thing had been taken off — it was flatter than walking.
'Well, Tommy,' said Mrs. Cluppins, 'how's your poor dear mother?'
'Oh, she's very well,' replied Master Bardell. 'She's in the front parlour, all ready. I'm ready too, I am.' Here Master Bardell put his hands in his pockets, and jumped off and on the bottom step of the door.
'Is anybody else a-goin', Tommy?' said Mrs. Cluppins, arranging her pelerine.
'Mrs. Sanders is going, she is,' replied Tommy; 'I'm going too, I am.'
'Drat the boy,' said little Mrs. Cluppins. 'He thinks of nobody but himself. Here, Tommy, dear.'
'Well,' said Master Bardell.
'Who else is a-goin', lovey?' said Mrs. Cluppins, in an insinuating manner.
'Oh! Mrs. Rogers is a-goin',' replied Master Bardell, opening his eyes very wide as he delivered the intelligence.
'What? The lady as has taken the lodgings!' ejaculated Mrs. Cluppins.
Master Bardell put his hands deeper down into his pockets, and nodded exactly thirty-five times, to imply that it was the lady-lodger, and no other.
'Bless us!' said Mrs. Cluppins. 'It's quite a party!'
'Ah, if you knew what was in the cupboard, you'd say so,' replied Master Bardell.
'What is there, Tommy?' said Mrs. Cluppins coaxingly. 'You'll tell ME, Tommy, I know.' 'No, I won't,' replied Master Bardell, shaking his head, and applying himself to the bottom step again.
'Drat the child!' muttered Mrs. Cluppins. 'What a prowokin' little wretch it is! Come, Tommy, tell your dear Cluppy.'
'Mother said I wasn't to,' rejoined Master Bardell, 'I'm a-goin' to have some, I am.' Cheered by this prospect, the precocious boy applied himself to his infantile treadmill, with increased vigour.
The above examination of a child of tender years took place while Mr. and Mrs. Raddle and the cab-driver were having an altercation concerning the fare, which, terminating at this point in favour of the cabman, Mrs. Raddle came up tottering.
'Lauk, Mary Ann! what's the matter?' said Mrs. Cluppins.
'It's put me all over in such a tremble, Betsy,' replied Mrs. Raddle. 'Raddle ain't like a man; he leaves everythink to me.'
This was scarcely fair upon the unfortunate Mr. Raddle, who had been thrust aside by his good lady in the commencement of the dispute, and peremptorily commanded to hold his tongue. He had no opportunity of defending himself, however, for Mrs. Raddle gave unequivocal signs of fainting; which, being perceived from the parlour window, Mrs. Bardell, Mrs. Sanders, the lodger, and the lodger's servant, darted precipitately out, and conveyed her into the house, all talking at the same time, and giving utterance to various expressions of pity and condolence, as if she were one of the most suffering mortals on earth. Being conveyed into the front parlour, she was there deposited on a sofa; and the lady from the first floor running up to the first floor, returned with a bottle of sal-volatile, which, holding Mrs. Raddle tight round the neck, she applied in all womanly kindness and pity to her nose, until that lady with many plunges and struggles was fain to declare herself decidedly better.
'Ah, poor thing!' said Mrs. Rogers, 'I know what her feelin's is, too well.' 'Ah, poor thing! so do I,' said Mrs. Sanders; and then all the ladies moaned in unison, and said they knew what it was, and they pitied her from their hearts, they did. Even the lodger's little servant, who was thirteen years old and three feet high, murmured her sympathy.
'But what's been the matter?' said Mrs. Bardell.
'Ah, what has decomposed you, ma'am?' inquired Mrs. Rogers.
'I have been a good deal flurried,' replied Mrs. Raddle, in a reproachful manner. Thereupon the ladies cast indignant glances at Mr. Raddle.
'Why, the fact is,' said that unhappy gentleman, stepping forward, 'when we alighted at this door, a dispute arose with the driver of the cabrioily — ' A loud scream from his wife, at the mention of this word, rendered all further explanation inaudible.
'You'd better leave us to bring her round, Raddle,' said Mrs. Cluppins. 'She'll never get better as long as you're here.'
All the ladies concurred in this opinion; so Mr. Raddle was pushed out of the room, and requested to give himself an airing in the back yard. Which he did for about a quarter of an hour, when Mrs. Bardell announced to him with a solemn face that he might come in now, but that he must be very careful how he behaved towards his wife. She knew he didn't mean to be unkind; but Mary Ann was very far from strong, and, if he didn't take care, he might lose her when he least expected it, which would be a very dreadful reflection for him afterwards; and so on. All this, Mr. Raddle heard with great submission, and presently returned to the parlour in a most lamb-like manner.
'Why, Mrs. Rogers, ma'am,' said Mrs. Bardell, 'you've never been introduced, I declare! Mr. Raddle, ma'am; Mrs. Cluppins, ma'am; Mrs. Raddle, ma'am.'
'Which is Mrs. Cluppins's sister,' suggested Mrs. Sanders.
'Oh, indeed!' said Mrs. Rogers graciously; for she was the lodger, and her servant was in waiting, so she was more gracious than intimate, in right of her position. 'Oh, indeed!'
Mrs. Raddle smiled sweetly, Mr. Raddle bowed, and Mrs. Cluppins said, 'she was sure she was very happy to have an opportunity of being known to a lady which she had heerd so much in favour of, as Mrs. Rogers.' A compliment which the last-named lady acknowledged with graceful condescension.
'Well, Mr. Raddle,' said Mrs. Bardell; 'I'm sure you ought to feel very much honoured at you and Tommy being the only gentlemen to escort so many ladies all the way to the Spaniards, at Hampstead. Don't you think he ought, Mrs. Rogers, ma'am?' 'Oh, certainly, ma'am,' replied Mrs. Rogers; after whom all the other ladies responded, 'Oh, certainly.'
'Of course I feel it, ma'am,' said Mr. Raddle, rubbing his hands, and evincing a slight tendency to brighten up a little. 'Indeed, to tell you the truth, I said, as we was a-coming along in the cabrioily — '
At the recapitulation of the word which awakened so many painful recollections, Mrs. Raddle applied her handkerchief to her eyes again, and uttered a half-suppressed scream; so that Mrs. Bardell frowned upon Mr. Raddle, to intimate that he had better not say anything more, and desired Mrs. Rogers's servant, with an air, to 'put the wine on.'