« ПредишнаНапред »
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 Si' 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 ome to them. How long it 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,' inter. rupted 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 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, Sir 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 ssociety; 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 may be able to make Spleasant to him,' replied that lady earnestly. Now, my dear Mrs. Finch, I do beg and entreat that 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 Sm; 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 ; simple-hearted, straight-forward, worthy women; prone, as Miss Caroline said, to beg patterns, and invite to tea in a friendly way; but thoroughly good-natured; good-natured even in their gossip; no spiteful version of a fact ever originated with the Miss Oddleys; and if their heads resembled their sitting-room in being ornamented with lumber, their hearts did not, for they contained nothing three-cornered. This has been a long digression from the main subject; but if one exhibits the worse parts of human nature, it is but common justice to pourtray its worthier.
• Well, ladies,' commenced their matron visitor, here I am, with all my tribe-no leaving them behind when we are to call on Miss OddleysWell, and how have you been this age since I saw you? I said to Anne or Julia, I don't know which, as we were dressing, my dear, said I, we will go and call on the Miss Oddleys this morning, come what will; and here we are, and here you are, snug and comfortable as ever. Ah, as I often say to my girls, Miss Oddleys' life for happiness. By the way we have brought you a newspaper, and the pattern of a morning-cap Miss Letty, which, take my word for it, will become you amazingly. We are on our way to the fashions; I suppose you don't countenance such vanities, Miss Esther?'
My pocket does not,' replied the spinster, with a good-humoured smile, but we always see them nevertheless; we contrive to want a yard or two of ribbon, or a bit of persian, when Mrs. Taffety exhibits. But have you seen our strangers ? Certainly the Finches must be doing uncommonly well. I prophesy Sir John will lose his heart whilst he is here; young ladies, mark my words. But what do you think of him, my dears?' The young ladies smiled, and bridled, and declared they really had not formed any opinion on the subject; that from the very transient notice they had taken of him, Sir John appeared a rather pleasant, somewhat good-looking young man : then, to make amends for their decorous reserve as to the brother, one and all were rapturous in their encomiums on the sister.
But to proceed in this elaborate, question-and-answer manner, tract our morning calls till doomsday; we shall venture therefore to make a multum in parvo of all the useful and interesting information received and imparted during this present sitting of the Gossips' Parliament.
That four parties only were in projection throughout S-; that parties were not half so pleasant in summer as in winter; that people's dresses never appeared half so nice ; that Mrs. Jones's governess was about to leave; that it was suspected she was going to marry the eldest son; that the match between Emma Leicester and her cousin was broken off; that it was not supposed there was any fault on either side ; that poor Mrs. Merton had had the tooth-ache a whole week; that the new curate played the best rubber of any gentleman in the place, and preached moreover most excellent sermons; that it was a great comfort to have a good clergyman; that Doctor Dawdle had been called out of church the last Sunday ; that Mr. Clare had increased his business; that Mrs, Thompson was likely to increase her family ; that the Waleys were just gone into mourning ; that the Morris's were just gone out; that mourning was very disagreeable in summer; that it was very convenient when it so happened that people could put it on in winter, &c. &c.
This is but a brief abstract of what transpired ; at the end of half an hour Mrs. Sharpley and her daughters rose, for time was precious to them.
They felt that news like knowledge was not to be hoarded ; and if like Dr. Watts's busy bee
They gathered honey all the day
From every opening flower, they were, to do them justice, neither idle nor selfish recipients ; like the same busy bee they stored it up for the use and pleasure of others; what they gathered in one place they deposited elsewhere in a new and improved form.
Mrs. Morris's was the next point for which our party made; and having there unloaded the cargo of intelligence taken in at the Oddleys, they proceeded to take in fresh supplies of such articles as Mrs. M. could furnish; which, most unfortunately, consisted chiefly of contradictions. From her then they learnt, that Sir John Dashford had only two thousand a year ;that the Finches were exceedingly censured for keeping so much company, (Mrs. Morris had not been included in their last party); that Mr. Clare was likely to be gazetted soon ;-that the new curate did not preach his own sermons ;-that the Waleys were going into black, not into mourning ;--that there were very unpleasant reports abroad concerning young Jones ;—that servants were the ninety-nine plagues of Babylon;—that five ladies wanted cooks, and as many house-maids ;-that Mrs.Waley's new gown was a dyed one; that Emma Leicester was not likely to overget her disppointment, &c. &c. In addition to all this important intelligence, our morning callers further increased their stock of useful knowledge by one or two culinary details, and managing discoveries, which we purpose to impart to Dr. Kitchener, for the benefit of his next edition of the · Cook's Oracle,' and the · Footman's Directory. How shameful that there should be so many contradictory reports about the same thing,' said Mrs. Sharpley as she left Mrs. Morris's, · but as we have many places yet to call at, I dare say we shall get at the truth by and bye.'
In this hope she proceeded with her daughters to the Jones', the Walkers, the Waleys, and the Mertons. At all these places, excepting the last, (poor Mrs. Merton, as usual, knew nothing), the same peal of subjects was rung, and at each with changes. Poor Sir John's two thousand a year dwindled down to five hundred; his other good qualities were plucked from him in like manner; and his overthrow was crowned by the certain intelligence from 'unquestionable authority,' (there never yet was a piece of scandal that did not plead ' unquestionable authority'), that he was on the point of marriage! At each reduction of his income Mrs. Sharpley's eulogies waxed fainter and fainter, and at the last piece of intelligence she determined in her own mind to forego her new turban and let the girls wait till Christmas for their new frocks.
How the matter ended we cannot at present explain ; all we dare venture to declare, is, that our morning callers returned home weary with walking, perplexed with contradictions, comforted only by reflecting how much business they had got through in one morning.
M. J. J.