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Mr. Watkins Tottle blushed up to the eyes, and down to the chin, and exhibited a most extensive combination of colours as he confessed the soft impeachment.
'I suppose you popped the question, more than once, when you were a young - I beg your pardon - a younger - man,' said Parsons.
'Never in my life!' replied his friend, apparently indignant at being suspected of such an act. 'Never! The fact is, that I entertain, as you know, peculiar opinions on these subjects. I am not afraid of ladies, young or old - far from it; but, I think, that in compliance with the custom of the present day, they allow too much freedom of speech and manner to marriageable men. Now, the fact is, that anything like this easy freedom I never could acquire; and as I am always afraid of going too far, I am generally, I dare say, considered formal and cold.'
'I shouldn't wonder if you were,' replied Parsons, gravely; 'I shouldn't wonder. However, you'll be all right in this case; for the strictness and delicacy of this lady's ideas greatly exceed your own. Lord bless you, why, when she came to our house, there was an old portrait of some man or other, with two large, black, staring eyes, hanging up in her bedroom; she positively refused to go to bed there, till it was taken down, considering it decidedly wrong.'
'I think so, too,' said Mr. Watkins Tottle; 'certainly.'
'And then, the other night - I never laughed so much in my life' - resumed Mr. Gabriel Parsons; 'I had driven home in an easterly wind, and caught a devil of a face-ache. Well; as Fanny - that's Mrs. Parsons, you know - and this friend of hers, and I, and Frank Ross, were playing a rubber, I said, jokingly, that when I went to bed I should wrap my head in Fanny's flannel petticoat. She instantly threw up her cards, and left the room.'
'Quite right!' said Mr. Watkins Tottle; 'she could not possibly have behaved in a more dignified manner. What did you do?'
'Do? - Frank took dummy; and I won sixpence.'
'But, didn't you apologise for hurting her feelings?'
'Devil a bit. Next morning at breakfast, we talked it over. She contended that any reference to a flannel petticoat was improper; - men ought not to be supposed to know that such things were. I pleaded my coverture; being a married man.'
'And what did the lady say to that?' inquired Tottle, deeply interested.
'Changed her ground, and said that Frank being a single man, its impropriety was obvious.'
'Noble-minded creature!' exclaimed the enraptured Tottle.
'Oh! both Fanny and I said, at once, that she was regularly cut out for you.'
A gleam of placid satisfaction shone on the circular face of Mr. Watkins Tottle, as he heard the prophecy.
'There's one thing I can't understand,' said Mr. Gabriel Parsons, as he rose to depart; 'I cannot, for the life and soul of me, imagine how the deuce you'll ever contrive to come together. The lady would certainly go into convulsions if the subject were mentioned.' Mr. Gabriel Parsons sat down again, and laughed until he was weak. Tottle owed him money, so he had a perfect right to laugh at Tottle's expense.
Mr. Watkins Tottle feared, in his own mind, that this was another characteristic which he had in common with this modern Lucretia. He, however, accepted the invitation to dine with the Parsonses on the next day but one, with great firmness: and looked forward to the introduction, when again left alone, with tolerable composure.
The sun that rose on the next day but one, had never beheld a sprucer personage on the outside of the Norwood stage, than Mr. Watkins Tottle; and when the coach drew up before a cardboard- looking house with disguised chimneys, and a lawn like a large sheet of green letter-paper, he certainly had never lighted to his place of destination a gentleman who felt more uncomfortable.
The coach stopped, and Mr. Watkins Tottle jumped - we beg his pardon - alighted, with great dignity. 'All right!' said he, and away went the coach up the hill with that beautiful equanimity of pace for which 'short' stages are generally remarkable.
Mr. Watkins Tottle gave a faltering jerk to the handle of the garden-gate bell. He essayed a more energetic tug, and his previous nervousness was not at all diminished by hearing the bell ringing like a fire alarum.
'Is Mr. Parsons at home?' inquired Tottle of the man who opened the gate. He could hardly hear himself speak, for the bell had not yet done tolling.
'Here I am,' shouted a voice on the lawn, - and there was Mr. Gabriel Parsons in a flannel jacket, running backwards and forwards, from a wicket to two hats piled on each other, and from the two hats to the wicket, in the most violent manner, while another gentleman with his coat off was getting down the area of the house, after a ball. When the gentleman without the coat had found it - which he did in less than ten minutes - he ran back to the hats, and Gabriel Parsons pulled up. Then, the gentleman without the coat called out 'play,' very loudly, and bowled. Then Mr. Gabriel Parsons knocked the ball several yards, and took another run. Then, the other gentleman aimed at the wicket, and didn't hit it; and Mr. Gabriel Parsons, having finished running on his own account, laid down the bat and ran after the ball, which went into a neighbouring field. They called this cricket.
'Tottle, will you "go in?"' inquired Mr. Gabriel Parsons, as he approached him, wiping the perspiration off his face.
Mr. Watkins Tottle declined the offer, the bare idea of accepting which made him even warmer than his friend.
'Then we'll go into the house, as it's past four, and I shall have to wash my hands before dinner,' said Mr. Gabriel Parsons. 'Here, I hate ceremony, you know! Timson, that's Tottle - Tottle, that's Timson; bred for the church, which I fear will never be bread for him;' and he chuckled at the old joke. Mr. Timson bowed carelessly. Mr. Watkins Tottle bowed stiffly. Mr. Gabriel Parsons led the way to the house. He was a rich sugar-baker, who mistook rudeness for honesty, and abrupt bluntness for an open and candid manner; many besides Gabriel mistake bluntness for sincerity.
Mrs. Gabriel Parsons received the visitors most graciously on the steps, and preceded them to the drawing-room. On the sofa, was seated a lady of very prim appearance, and remarkably inanimate. She was one of those persons at whose age it is impossible to make any reasonable guess; her features might have been remarkably pretty when she was younger, and they might always have presented the same appearance. Her complexion - with a slight trace of powder here and there - was as clear as that of a well-made wax doll, and her face as expressive. She was handsomely dressed, and was winding up a gold watch.
'Miss Lillerton, my dear, this is our friend Mr. Watkins Tottle; a very old acquaintance I assure you,' said Mrs. Parsons, presenting the Strephon of Cecil-street, Strand. The lady rose, and made a deep courtesy; Mr. Watkins Tottle made a bow.
'Splendid, majestic creature!' thought Tottle.
Mr. Timson advanced, and Mr. Watkins Tottle began to hate him. Men generally discover a rival, instinctively, and Mr. Watkins Tottle felt that his hate was deserved.
'May I beg,' said the reverend gentleman, - 'May I beg to call upon you, Miss Lillerton, for some trifling donation to my soup, coals, and blanket distribution society?'
'Put my name down, for two sovereigns, if you please,' responded Miss Lillerton.
'You are truly charitable, madam,' said the Reverend Mr. Timson, 'and we know that charity will cover a multitude of sins. Let me beg you to understand that I do not say this from the supposition that you have many sins which require palliation; believe me when I say that I never yet met any one who had fewer to atone for, than Miss Lillerton.'
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Sketches by Boz -- by Charles Dickens