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'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 putting 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.
The cloth was removed; the ladies soon afterwards retired, and Miss Lillerton played the piano in the drawing-room overhead, very loudly, for the edification of the visitor. Mr. Watkins Tottle and Mr. Gabriel Parsons sat chatting comfortably enough, until the conclusion of the second bottle, when the latter, in proposing an adjournment to the drawing-room, informed Watkins that he had concerted a plan with his wife, for leaving him and Miss Lillerton alone, soon after tea.
'I say,' said Tottle, as they went up-stairs, 'don't you think it would be better if we put it off till-till-to-morrow?'
'Don't YOU think it would have been much better if I had left you in that wretched hole I found you in this morning?' retorted Parsons bluntly.
'Well - well - I only made a suggestion,' said poor Watkins Tottle, with a deep sigh.
Tea was soon concluded, and Miss Lillerton, drawing a small work- table on one side of the fire, and placing a little wooden frame upon it, something like a miniature clay-mill without the horse, was soon busily engaged in making a watch-guard with brown silk.
'God bless me!' exclaimed Parsons, starting up with well-feigned surprise, 'I've forgotten those confounded letters. Tottle, I know you'll excuse me.'
If Tottle had been a free agent, he would have allowed no one to leave the room on any pretence, except himself. As it was, however, he was obliged to look cheerful when Parsons quitted the apartment.
He had scarcely left, when Martha put her head into the room, with - 'Please, ma'am, you're wanted.'
Mrs. Parsons left the room, shut the door carefully after her, and Mr. Watkins Tottle was left alone with Miss Lillerton.
For the first five minutes there was a dead silence. - Mr. Watkins Tottle was thinking how he should begin, and Miss Lillerton appeared to be thinking of nothing. The fire was burning low; Mr. Watkins Tottle stirred it, and put some coals on.
'Hem!' coughed Miss Lillerton; Mr. Watkins Tottle thought the fair creature had spoken. 'I beg your pardon,' said he.
'I thought you spoke.'
'There are some books on the sofa, Mr. Tottle, if you would like to look at them,' said Miss Lillerton, after the lapse of another five minutes.
'No, thank you,' returned Watkins; and then he added, with a courage which was perfectly astonishing, even to himself, 'Madam, that is Miss Lillerton, I wish to speak to you.'
'To me!' said Miss Lillerton, letting the silk drop from her hands, and sliding her chair back a few paces. - 'Speak - to me!'
'To you, madam - and on the subject of the state of your affections.' The lady hastily rose and would have left the room; but Mr. Watkins Tottle gently detained her by the hand, and holding it as far from him as the joint length of their arms would permit, he thus proceeded: 'Pray do not misunderstand me, or suppose that I am led to address you, after so short an acquaintance, by any feeling of my own merits - for merits I have none which could give me a claim to your hand. I hope you will acquit me of any presumption when I explain that I have been acquainted through Mrs. Parsons, with the state - that is, that Mrs. Parsons has told me - at least, not Mrs. Parsons, but - ' here Watkins began to wander, but Miss Lillerton relieved him.
'Am I to understand, Mr. Tottle, that Mrs. Parsons has acquainted you with my feeling - my affection - I mean my respect, for an individual of the opposite sex?'
'Then, what?' inquired Miss Lillerton, averting her face, with a girlish air, 'what could induce YOU to seek such an interview as this? What can your object be? How can I promote your happiness, Mr. Tottle?'
Here was the time for a flourish - 'By allowing me,' replied Watkins, falling bump on his knees, and breaking two brace-buttons and a waistcoat-string, in the act - 'By allowing me to be your slave, your servant - in short, by unreservedly making me the confidant of your heart's feelings - may I say for the promotion of your own happiness - may I say, in order that you may become the wife of a kind and affectionate husband?'
'Disinterested creature!' exclaimed Miss Lillerton, hiding her face in a white pocket-handkerchief with an eyelet-hole border.
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Sketches by Boz -- by Charles Dickens