|Back||1 2 3 4 5||Next|
Guster is busy in the little drawing-room on this present afternoon in the long vacation, when Mr. and Mrs. Snagsby have it in contemplation to receive company. The expected guests are rather select than numerous, being Mr. and Mrs. Chadband and no more. From Mr. Chadband's being much given to describe himself, both verbally and in writing, as a vessel, he is occasionally mistaken by strangers for a gentleman connected with navigation, but he is, as he expresses it, "in the ministry." Mr. Chadband is attached to no particular denomination and is considered by his persecutors to have nothing so very remarkable to say on the greatest of subjects as to render his volunteering, on his own account, at all incumbent on his conscience; but he has his followers, and Mrs. Snagsby is of the number. Mrs. Snagsby has but recently taken a passage upward by the vessel, Chadband; and her attention was attracted to that Bark A 1 when she was something flushed by the hot weather.
"My little woman," says Mr. Snagsby to the sparrows in Staple Inn, "likes to have her religion rather sharp, you see!"
So Guster, much impressed by regarding herself for the time as the handmaid of Chadband, whom she knows to be endowed with the gift of holding forth for four hours at a stretch, prepares the little drawing-room for tea. All the furniture is shaken and dusted, the portraits of Mr. and Mrs. Snagsby are touched up with a wet cloth, the best tea-service is set forth, and there is excellent provision made of dainty new bread, crusty twists, cool fresh butter, thin slices of ham, tongue, and German sausage, and delicate little rows of anchovies nestling in parsley, not to mention new-laid eggs, to be brought up warm in a napkin, and hot buttered toast. For Chadband is rather a consuming vessel--the persecutors say a gorging vessel--and can wield such weapons of the flesh as a knife and fork remarkably well.
Mr. Snagsby in his best coat, looking at all the preparations when they are completed and coughing his cough of deference behind his hand, says to Mrs. Snagsby, "At what time did you expect Mr. and Mrs. Chadband, my love?"
"At six," says Mrs. Snagsby.
Mr. Snagsby observes in a mild and casual way that "it's gone that."
"Perhaps you'd like to begin without them," is Mrs. Snagsby's reproachful remark.
Mr. Snagsby does look as if he would like it very much, but he says, with his cough of mildness, "No, my dear, no. I merely named the time."
"What's time," says Mrs. Snagsby, "to eternity?"
"Very true, my dear," says Mr. Snagsby. "Only when a person lays in victuals for tea, a person does it with a view--perhaps--more to time. And when a time is named for having tea, it's better to come up to it."
"To come up to it!" Mrs. Snagsby repeats with severity. "Up to it! As if Mr. Chadband was a fighter!"
"Not at all, my dear," says Mr. Snagsby.
Here, Guster, who had been looking out of the bedroom window, comes rustling and scratching down the little staircase like a popular ghost, and falling flushed into the drawing-room, announces that Mr. and Mrs. Chadband have appeared in the court. The bell at the inner door in the passage immediately thereafter tinkling, she is admonished by Mrs. Snagsby, on pain of instant reconsignment to her patron saint, not to omit the ceremony of announcement. Much discomposed in her nerves (which were previously in the best order) by this threat, she so fearfully mutilates that point of state as to announce "Mr. and Mrs. Cheeseming, least which, Imeantersay, whatsername!" and retires conscience-stricken from the presence.
Mr. Chadband is a large yellow man with a fat smile and a general appearance of having a good deal of train oil in his system. Mrs. Chadband is a stern, severe-looking, silent woman. Mr. Chadband moves softly and cumbrously, not unlike a bear who has been taught to walk upright. He is very much embarrassed about the arms, as if they were inconvenient to him and he wanted to grovel, is very much in a perspiration about the head, and never speaks without first putting up his great hand, as delivering a token to his hearers that he is going to edify them.
"My friends," says Mr. Chadband, "peace be on this house! On the master thereof, on the mistress thereof, on the young maidens, and on the young men! My friends, why do I wish for peace? What is peace? Is it war? No. Is it strife? No. Is it lovely, and gentle, and beautiful, and pleasant, and serene, and joyful? Oh, yes! Therefore, my friends, I wish for peace, upon you and upon yours."
In consequence of Mrs. Snagsby looking deeply edified, Mr. Snagsby thinks it expedient on the whole to say amen, which is well received.
"Now, my friends," proceeds Mr. Chadband, "since I am upon this theme--"
Guster presents herself. Mrs. Snagsby, in a spectral bass voice and without removing her eyes from Chadband, says with dreadful distinctness, "Go away!"
"Now, my friends," says Chadband, "since I am upon this theme, and in my lowly path improving it--"
Guster is heard unaccountably to murmur "one thousing seven hundred and eighty-two." The spectral voice repeats more solemnly, "Go away!"
"Now, my friends," says Mr. Chadband, "we will inquire in a spirit of love--"
Still Guster reiterates "one thousing seven hundred and eighty- two."
Mr. Chadband, pausing with the resignation of a man accustomed to be persecuted and languidly folding up his chin into his fat smile, says, "Let us hear the maiden! Speak, maiden!"
"One thousing seven hundred and eighty-two, if you please, sir. Which he wish to know what the shilling ware for," says Guster, breathless.
"For?" returns Mrs. Chadband. "For his fare!"
Guster replied that "he insistes on one and eightpence or on summonsizzing the party." Mrs. Snagsby and Mrs. Chadband are proceeding to grow shrill in indignation when Mr. Chadband quiets the tumult by lifting up his hand.
"My friends," says he, "I remember a duty unfulfilled yesterday. It is right that I should be chastened in some penalty. I ought not to murmur. Rachael, pay the eightpence!"
While Mrs. Snagsby, drawing her breath, looks hard at Mr. Snagsby, as who should say, "You hear this apostle!" and while Mr. Chadband glows with humility and train oil, Mrs. Chadband pays the money. It is Mr. Chadband's habit--it is the head and front of his pretensions indeed--to keep this sort of debtor and creditor account in the smallest items and to post it publicly on the most trivial occasions.
|Back||1 2 3 4 5||Next|
Bleak House -- by Charles Dickens