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Something like a bad imitation of animation lighted up the lady's face, as she acknowledged the compliment. Watkins Tottle incurred the sin of wishing that the ashes of the Reverend Charles Timson were quietly deposited in the churchyard of his curacy, wherever it might be.
'I'll tell you what,' interrupted Parsons, who had just appeared with clean hands, and a black coat, 'it's my private opinion, Timson, that your "distribution society" is rather a humbug.'
'You are so severe,' replied Timson, with a Christian smile: he disliked Parsons, but liked his dinners.
'So positively unjust!' said Miss Lillerton.
'Certainly,' observed Tottle. The lady looked up; her eyes met those of Mr. Watkins Tottle. She withdrew them in a sweet confusion, and Watkins Tottle did the same - the confusion was mutual.
'Why,' urged Mr. Parsons, pursuing his objections, 'what on earth is the use of giving a man coals who has nothing to cook, or giving him blankets when he hasn't a bed, or giving him soup when he requires substantial food? - "like sending them ruffles when wanting a shirt." Why not give 'em a trifle of money, as I do, when I think they deserve it, and let them purchase what they think best? Why? - because your subscribers wouldn't see their names flourishing in print on the church-door - that's the reason.'
'Really, Mr. Parsons, I hope you don't mean to insinuate that I wish to see MY name in print, on the church-door,' interrupted Miss Lillerton.
'I hope not,' said Mr. Watkins Tottle, putting in another word, and getting another glance.
'Certainly not,' replied Parsons. 'I dare say you wouldn't mind seeing it in writing, though, in the church register - eh?'
'Register! What register?' inquired the lady gravely.
'Why, the register of marriages, to be sure,' replied Parsons, chuckling at the sally, and glancing at Tottle. Mr. Watkins Tottle thought he should have fainted for shame, and it is quite impossible to imagine what effect the joke would have had upon the lady, if dinner had not been, at that moment, announced. Mr. Watkins Tottle, with an unprecedented effort of gallantry, offered the tip of his little finger; Miss Lillerton accepted it gracefully, with maiden modesty; and they proceeded in due state to the dinner-table, where they were soon deposited side by side. The room was very snug, the dinner very good, and the little party in spirits. The conversation became pretty general, and when Mr. Watkins Tottle had extracted one or two cold observations from his neighbour, and had taken wine with her, he began to acquire confidence rapidly. The cloth was removed; Mrs. Gabriel Parsons drank four glasses of port on the plea of being a nurse just then; and Miss Lillerton took about the same number of sips, on the plea of not wanting any at all. At length, the ladies retired, to the great gratification of Mr. Gabriel Parsons, who had been coughing and frowning at his wife, for half-an-hour previously - signals which Mrs. Parsons never happened to observe, until she had been pressed to take her ordinary quantum, which, to avoid giving trouble, she generally did at once.
'What do you think of her?' inquired Mr. Gabriel Parsons of Mr. Watkins Tottle, in an under-tone.
'I dote on her with enthusiasm already!' replied Mr. Watkins Tottle.
'Gentlemen, pray let us drink "the ladies,"' said the Reverend Mr. Timson.
'The ladies!' said Mr. Watkins Tottle, emptying his glass. In the fulness of his confidence, he felt as if he could make love to a dozen ladies, off-hand.
'Ah!' said Mr. Gabriel Parsons, 'I remember when I was a young man - fill your glass, Timson.'
'I have this moment emptied it.'
'Then fill again.'
'I will,' said Timson, suiting the action to the word.
'I remember,' resumed Mr. Gabriel Parsons, 'when I was a younger man, with what a strange compound of feelings I used to drink that toast, and how I used to think every woman was an angel.'
'Was that before you were married?' mildly inquired Mr. Watkins Tottle.
'Oh! certainly,' replied Mr. Gabriel Parsons. 'I have never thought so since; and a precious milksop I must have been, ever to have thought so at all. But, you know, I married Fanny under the oddest, and most ridiculous circumstances possible.'
'What were they, if one may inquire?' asked Timson, who had heard the story, on an average, twice a week for the last six months. Mr. Watkins Tottle listened attentively, in the hope of picking up some suggestion that might be useful to him in his new undertaking.
'I spent my wedding-night in a back-kitchen chimney,' said Parsons, by way of a beginning.
'In a back-kitchen chimney!' ejaculated Watkins Tottle. 'How dreadful!'
'Yes, it wasn't very pleasant,' replied the small host. 'The fact is, Fanny's father and mother liked me well enough as an individual, but had a decided objection to my becoming a husband. You see, I hadn't any money in those days, and they had; and so they wanted Fanny to pick up somebody else. However, we managed to discover the state of each other's affections somehow. I used to meet her, at some mutual friends' parties; at first we danced together, and talked, and flirted, and all that sort of thing; then, I used to like nothing so well as sitting by her side - we didn't talk so much then, but I remember I used to have a great notion of looking at her out of the extreme corner of my left eye - and then I got very miserable and sentimental, and began to write verses, and use Macassar oil. At last I couldn't bear it any longer, and after I had walked up and down the sunny side of Oxford-street in tight boots for a week - and a devilish hot summer it was too - in the hope of meeting her, I sat down and wrote a letter, and begged her to manage to see me clandestinely, for I wanted to hear her decision from her own mouth. I said I had discovered, to my perfect satisfaction, that I couldn't live without her, and that if she didn't have me, I had made up my mind to take prussic acid, or take to drinking, or emigrate, so as to take myself off in some way or other. Well, I borrowed a pound, and bribed the housemaid to give her the note, which she did.'
'And what was the reply?' inquired Timson, who had found, before, that to encourage the repetition of old stories is to get a general invitation.
'Oh, the usual one! Fanny expressed herself very miserable; hinted at the possibility of an early grave; said that nothing should induce her to swerve from the duty she owed her parents; implored me to forget her, and find out somebody more deserving, and all that sort of thing. She said she could, on no account, think of meeting me unknown to her pa and ma; and entreated me, as she should be in a particular part of Kensington Gardens at eleven o'clock next morning, not to attempt to meet her there.'
'You didn't go, of course?' said Watkins Tottle.
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Sketches by Boz -- by Charles Dickens