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'Well, gentlemen,' said Mrs. Parsons, 'you are really very polite; you stay away the whole morning, after promising to take us out, and when you do come home, you stand whispering together and take no notice of us.'
'We were talking of the BUSINESS, my dear, which detained us this morning,' replied Parsons, looking significantly at Tottle.
'Dear me! how very quickly the morning has gone,' said Miss Lillerton, referring to the gold watch, which was wound up on state occasions, whether it required it or not.
'I think it has passed very slowly,' mildly suggested Tottle.
('That's right - bravo!') whispered Parsons.
'Indeed!' said Miss Lillerton, with an air of majestic surprise.
'I can only impute it to my unavoidable absence from your society, madam,' said Watkins, 'and that of Mrs. Parsons.'
During this short dialogue, the ladies had been leading the way to the house.
'What the deuce did you stick Fanny into that last compliment for?' inquired Parsons, as they followed together; 'it quite spoilt the effect.'
'Oh! it really would have been too broad without,' replied Watkins Tottle, 'much too broad!'
'He's mad!' Parsons whispered his wife, as they entered the drawing-room, 'mad from modesty.'
'Dear me!' ejaculated the lady, 'I never heard of such a thing.'
'You'll find we have quite a family dinner, Mr. Tottle,' said Mrs. Parsons, when they sat down to table: 'Miss Lillerton is one of us, and, of course, we make no stranger of you.'
Mr. Watkins Tottle expressed a hope that the Parsons family never would make a stranger of him; and wished internally that his bashfulness would allow him to feel a little less like a stranger himself.
'Take off the covers, Martha,' said Mrs. Parsons, directing the shifting of the scenery with great anxiety. The order was obeyed, and a pair of boiled fowls, with tongue and et ceteras, were displayed at the top, and a fillet of veal at the bottom. On one side of the table two green sauce-tureens, with ladles of the same, were setting to each other in a green dish; and on the other was a curried rabbit, in a brown suit, turned up with lemon.
'Miss Lillerton, my dear,' said Mrs. Parsons, 'shall I assist you?'
'Thank you, no; I think I'll trouble Mr. Tottle.'
Watkins started - trembled - helped the rabbit - and broke a tumbler. The countenance of the lady of the house, which had been all smiles previously, underwent an awful change.
'Extremely sorry,' stammered Watkins, assisting himself to currie and parsley and butter, in the extremity of his confusion.
'Not the least consequence,' replied Mrs. Parsons, in a tone which implied that it was of the greatest consequence possible, - directing aside the researches of the boy, who was groping under the table for the bits of broken glass.
'I presume,' said Miss Lillerton, 'that Mr. Tottle is aware of the interest which bachelors usually pay in such cases; a dozen glasses for one is the lowest penalty.'
Mr. Gabriel Parsons gave his friend an admonitory tread on the toe. Here was a clear hint that the sooner he ceased to be a bachelor and-'emancipated himself from such penalties, the better. Mr. Watkins Tottle viewed the observation in the same light, and challenged Mrs. Parsons to take wine, with a degree of presence of mind, which, under all the circumstances, was really extraordinary.
'Miss Lillerton,' said Gabriel, 'may I have the pleasure?'
'I shall be most happy.'
'Tottle, will you assist Miss Lillerton, and pass the decanter. Thank you.' (The usual pantomimic ceremony of nodding and sipping gone through) -
'Tottle, were you ever in Suffolk?' inquired the master of the house, who was burning to tell one of his seven stock stories.
'No,' responded Watkins, adding, by way of a saving clause, 'but I've been in Devonshire.'
'Ah!' replied Gabriel, 'it was in Suffolk that a rather singular circumstance happened to me many years ago. Did you ever happen to hear me mention it?'
Mr. Watkins Tottle HAD happened to hear his friend mention it some four hundred times. Of course he expressed great curiosity, and evinced the utmost impatience to hear the story again. Mr. Gabriel Parsons forthwith attempted to proceed, in spite of the interruptions to which, as our readers must frequently have observed, the master of the house is often exposed in such cases. We will attempt to give them an idea of our meaning.
'When I was in Suffolk - ' said Mr. Gabriel Parsons.
'Take off the fowls first, Martha,' said Mrs. Parsons. 'I beg your pardon, my dear.'
'When I was in Suffolk,' resumed Mr. Parsons, with an impatient glance at his wife, who pretended not to observe it, 'which is now years ago, business led me to the town of Bury St. Edmund's. I had to stop at the principal places in my way, and therefore, for the sake of convenience, I travelled in a gig. I left Sudbury one dark night - it was winter time - about nine o'clock; the rain poured in torrents, the wind howled among the trees that skirted the roadside, and I was obliged to proceed at a foot-pace, for I could hardly see my hand before me, it was so dark - '
'John,' interrupted Mrs. Parsons, in a low, hollow voice, 'don't spill that gravy.'
'Fanny,' said Parsons impatiently, 'I wish you'd defer these domestic reproofs to some more suitable time. Really, my dear, these constant interruptions are very annoying.'
'My dear, I didn't interrupt you,' said Mrs. Parsons.
'But, my dear, you did interrupt me,' remonstrated Mr. Parsons.
'How very absurd you are, my love! I must give directions to the servants; I am quite sure that if I sat here and allowed John to spill the gravy over the new carpet, you'd be the first to find fault when you saw the stain to-morrow morning.'
'Well,' continued Gabriel with a resigned air, as if he knew there was no getting over the point about the carpet, 'I was just saying, it was so dark that I could hardly see my hand before me. The road was very lonely, and I assure you, Tottle (this was a device to arrest the wandering attention of that individual, which was distracted by a confidential communication between Mrs. Parsons and Martha, accompanied by the delivery of a large bunch of keys), I assure you, Tottle, I became somehow impressed with a sense of the loneliness of my situation - '
'Pie to your master,' interrupted Mrs. Parsons, again directing the servant.
'Now, pray, my dear,' remonstrated Parsons once more, very pettishly. Mrs. P. turned up her hands and eyebrows, and appealed in dumb show to Miss Lillerton. 'As I turned a corner of the road,' resumed Gabriel, 'the horse stopped short, and reared tremendously. I pulled up, jumped out, ran to his head, and found a man lying on his back in the middle of the road, with his eyes fixed on the sky. I thought he was dead; but no, he was alive, and there appeared to be nothing the matter with him. He jumped up, and potting his hand to his chest, and fixing upon me the most earnest gaze you can imagine, exclaimed - 'Pudding here,' said Mrs. Parsons.
'Oh! it's no use,' exclaimed the host, now rendered desperate. 'Here, Tottle; a glass of wine. It's useless to attempt relating anything when Mrs. Parsons is present.'
This attack was received in the usual way. Mrs. Parsons talked TO Miss Lillerton and AT her better half; expatiated on the impatience of men generally; hinted that her husband was peculiarly vicious in this respect, and wound up by insinuating that she must be one of the best tempers that ever existed, or she never could put up with it. Really what she had to endure sometimes, was more than any one who saw her in every-day life could by possibility suppose. - The story was now a painful subject, and therefore Mr. Parsons declined to enter into any details, and contented himself by stating that the man was a maniac, who had escaped from a neighbouring mad- house.
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Sketches by Boz -- by Charles Dickens