« AnteriorContinuar »
"mousing Calls, the hatred and annoyance of all persons who know the
value of time, formed at S , the staple business of life. After this it is
quite unnecessary to say that S was a small country town, abounding
with genteel idle people,—who, having limited incomes, and few occupations, and much leisure, and little mind, mainly occupied themselves in hearing and retailing news. By many people, S , was considered a charming residence; in the country sense of the term it contained so much 'good society,'—and this good society was so 'very sociable :'—in other words—every body drank tea with every body, and every body knew every body's business. As far as news was concerned they had all things in common; scandal was certainly communicated from mouth to mouth under the charge of secrecy, but that, as all the world knows, is equivalent to proclaiming it by sound of trumpet; so that such a thing as a secret was perfectly unknown in S Surprise was next to impossible, for all events, no matter of what kind, public or private, petty or important, were known beforehand; sudden death was the only circumstance ever known to baffle these omniscient people. It was quite a straight forward proceeding to report births and marriages before their occurrence; but sudden death was an awkward subject to meddle with; it was not to be
foreseen even by those who foresaw all things. The town of S , was
like a bee-hive always in a buzz,—of hints, wonderments, suspicions, doubts, hopes, fears, and conjectures; it was a vast whispering-gallery; one large ear; but this last figure rather fails in similarity, as the self-same whisper often found a hundred different echoes. The surmise at one end of the town that a lady and gentleman were attached, grew to a suspicion in the middle, that they were engaged; from which started a full-grown report at the other end, that the wedding-clothes were in hand. Disasters went through the same exaggerating process. A piece of news past through as many changes as a chrysalis; a simple fact in the hands of these philosophic newsmongers became the germ of a hundred. Life at S , was a
round-robin monotony of putting on the same dresses, seeing the same people, taking the same walks, playing at cards with the same partners, dancing to the same tunes, and coming away at the same hour, over and over again, from the beginning of one year to the end of another. Hence, arose craving for excitement in the only attainable shape, that of news; out of which originated a talent for gossip, and a passion for morning calls.
There was no newspaper printed at S ;there needed none; nor any
s voice of print. An unfortunate genius did venture to set up a General Advertiser; but at the end of three months, he abandoned minion and brevier in desperation; he could procure no news; it was all picked up and disseminated through the indefatigable agency of Morning Callers; every scrap of ' local intelligence' was old by the day of publication. What was far worse, the advertising department was a sinecure; for governesses, mistresses, schools, servants, and apprentices, all preferred these walking advertisements, which were found to answer far better, and were besides 'duty free.'
At the head of these systematic time-destroyers stood Mrs. Sharpley, and her three daughters, Julia, Caroline, and Anne. She, as a widow, considered herself absolved from the apostolic injunction to be a 'keeper at home,' and they, as young ladies, considered themselves absolved likewise, on the plea that as yet they had no home (of their own) to keep. Life was to this family a series of visits and visitations, of opening and shutting doors, how-do-ye-dos, and good-byes; they lived in their bonnets, and their walking shoes, like the feet of Noah's dove, found no rest for their soles. The old lady was a portly, comfortable, coarse-minded, worldly, but in the main kind-hearted, woman; immensely popular; for she had a fluent speech, and during her round of morning calls, dropped a smile, or tear, or compliment, or hope, or consolation, at every step of her progress. The young ladies were chatty, pretty-looking, pleasure-loving, little-reading, less-thinking, damsels; unrivalled in what are called the elegant arts of female industry; the manufacture of riddles and conundrums in blue ink; new-fashioned watch-pockets, pen-wipers, fly-cages, fire-grate papers, egg-baskets, card-purses, bead-bracelets, and tatting. They were prudent, sensible, young women; their mother on a reduced scale;—lovers of shopping for its own sake; geniuses at Pope Joan and Commerce, and ever on the look-out for new patterns, whereby to regenerate old garments. Nothing could equal the sensation occasioned by the appearance of a stranger in S . The visiting part of the community were not exactly in arms on the occasion; but as soon as possible they were one and all on foot; and in a series of morning calls, the affairs, dress, fortune, character, and future destiny of the unfortunate he, or she, were as confidently reported upon as if an old inhabitant of the town. Two strangers, strangers too somewhat out of the common way, had just arrived on a visit, but three days of rain had prevented the possibility of their making calls; the fourth morning, however, graciously dawned in smiles; and thus spoke Mrs. Sharpley at the close of breakfast:—' Well, really, girls, this fine day rejoices one's heart, so make haste and send the things away, that we may make the best of it. Let me see, just nine o'clock now; say we are ready to set off by eleven, and dine an hour later than usual, how many calls can we get through? but first reach me the almanack, and let me see how many we owe ; mercy upon us, how these wet days have thrown us behind-hand.'
The almanack was reached from its stand, and the old lady proceeded to tell over the cards with appropriate notes and comments.
'Mrs. Lorraine Finch—Certainly; it is our duty to call upon her strangers in the first place ; I wish one could have got a little of Sir John's history before one went: I wonder whether he likes dancing. Julia, be sure and practise over your quadrilles to-night. And now I think of it, pray, Anne, my dear, did I ever give Mrs. Finch the receipt for Scotch marmalade, which her poor old aunt asked me for?'
'No, indeed,' replied the young lady addressed, 'for you said you should not make it common to any such person.'
Mrs. Sharpley was seized with a coughing-fit towards the close of her daughter's reply, but recovering herself, she thus proceeded:—' Dear me, what a shameful piece of forgetfulness! Anne, love, sit down, and copy it out directly; take gilt-edge paper, child, not that back of an old letter, and get a new pen. I wonder whether Mrs. Finch will have many parties whilst Sir John and his sister are with her.'
'Mrs. Finch knows more of the world than any one in S ,' said Julia.'
'And dresses better, and her rooms are more tastefully ornamented,' said Caroline. 'And her suppers are more elegant,' observed Anne. 'And she has far better connexions,' said the mother.
Verdict.—Mrs. Lorraine Finch is more worthy of attention than her neighbours.
'Mother,' said Caroline,' we owe a call to those tiresome old frumps the Oddleys; always begging one's patterns, and inviting one to tea in a friendly way. I hate friendly ways.'
'Hush, hush, my dear,' replied her mother, with a cautionary nod, 'a little civility is well bestowed upon people who go every where, and who have nothing to do but talk about their neighbours; besides, I really like the Oddleys—poor souls—one of you find last week's newspaper for them. And Caroline, you might as well give Miss Letty the pattern of a morning-cap; take her that I desired you never to wear again. Well, who else have we to see; the Jones', the Walkers, the Waleys—what people those are—call, call, call, the instant one is out of their debt; just as if one had nothing to do but be at home to them. How long is it since we were at a party there ?'—' Indeed, mother, I don't know,' replied Julia, 'but I am sure we always invite them twice for once.'
'Fie, fie, Julia,' rejoined the mother, 'you should not mention such trifles; however, I don't think we shall have time to call this morning. Mrs. Morris, she is a spiteful creature; but I must see her, for I want to know where her dyer lives. Mrs. Charles Merton, poor woman, what a life she leads with those nine children.' * Really, mother,' interrupted Anne, 'it is of no use wasting time with Mrs. Merton; one never meets her any where, and she knows nothing out of her own house; and she is always busy.' 'So much the greater charity to look in upon her now and then; besides, I think her housemaid is under warning, and I should like to know a little of her character in a quiet way before I see after her. Well, really, I think we shall manage no more calls this morning; we must do the rest to-morrow. I must somehow peep in at Mrs. Taffety's, to see if she has any thing new in the turban way; and if Mrs. Finch is likely to have any gay doings, you girls may as well have your new frocks made now, as at Christmas; now then, dress yourselves directly; your black velvet spencers, and best flounced petticoats; nothing is so becoming as to see sisters all dressed alike. Julia, love, keep your veil down at Mrs. Finch's. Anne, don't forget to offer to show Miss Dashford all the pleasant walks sbout S , really, I quite feel for poor Mrs.
Finch, no young people of her own to amuse her strangers; we must relieve her as much as we can,'
Availing myself of the stage privilege, I beg the reader to consider the black line drawn above, equivalent to a drop-scene; and then, without further preliminary, I shall open this second act, and introduce my performers sitting in Mrs, Finch's library; in company with that lady, S^r John Dashford and his sister, in the fine full flow of morning-call talk; the matrons apart from the young people, and Mrs. Sharpley playing diplomatic. 'My dear Mrs. Finch, I do assure you that this receipt has quite weighed upon my conscience, and I have said to my girls at least a dozen times, do one of you copy out that receipt for Scotch marmalade for Mrs. Finch's aunt—what a delightful old lady she is—so chatty and cheerful. Do tell her, Mrs. Finch, that she must come amongst us this winter; there is nothing so good for an old person as a social rubber; what a charming
acquisition you have made to our S society; but, indeed, as I say to
our girls, whenever you make an increase, it always is an acquisition. What a lovely young woman Miss Dashford is, and how exceedingly like her brother.'
'And he,' interrupted Mrs. Finch, 'is, (I say it in confidence,) the mildest, most easy-tempered creature in the world; you may do any thing with him; his own master, and full three thousand a year, I assure you, Mrs. Sharpley.'
'I hope we maybe able to make S pleasant to him,' replied that
lady earnestly. Now, my dear Mrs. Finch, I do beg and entreat that you will not stand upon ceremony with us; your time will be occupied, and we know young people like young people; let my daughters lionize Miss Dashford and her brother when you are engaged ; we must plan some rural excursions—what a pity it is not winter; but we must do the best we can.' Meantime, out of compliment to the distinguished strangers, the Miss Sharpleys had discoursed in a manner very superior to the general wont of
morning-call conversation at S ;servants, wedding reports, vulgar
topics of every kind were banished; but we will give the reader a specimen. They discovered then, that there were many pleasant walks in the neighbourhood; that riding was a very agreeable exercise; that green was likely to be a very fashionable colour; that Ivanhoe was in a quite different style
from Waverley; that S was very dull in summer ; that in winter it was
much gayer; that quadrilles were far more elegant than country-dances; that it must be very delightful to travel abroad; that the book society was
not well supported in S ;that they hoped to see much of the strangers
during their visit, &c &c.
Conversation rippled on in this style for about an hour; at the end of which time the morning callers departed, and proceeded to the Oddleys, who were all at home, and in more than readiness to receive information on all subjects. A glance at the sitting-room would alone have sufficed to convince a stranger as to the character and customs of its inhabitants. It was three-cornered, and full of three-cornered things. The table was octagonal, the flower-stands triangular, the escuitoire carved, the carpet of a zigzag pattern, and the fire-place set round with Dutch tiles. The ornaments were, a superannuated parrot, and a stuffed owl, an asthmatic poodle, and a tortoise-shell tabby, fat as a porpoise, and grave as a judge; two embroidered angels hanging over the chimney-piece; and two china hay-makers, two ditto shepherdesses, ditto of porcelain candlesticks, ditto of sea-shells, and ditto of glass bellows upon the mantel-shelf. Who would not have known this to be the tenement of old maids! Such in truth were the three Miss Oddleys; but they did honour to the species;