« PreviousContinue »
Several weeks passed away, and I was about to leave England to join my sisters on the Continent. I determined to look once more on that enslaving smile, whose recollection had haunted me more than once. I had ascertained that she resided with an old lady who took two pupils, and taught French and Italian, and music and manners, at an establishment called Vine House. Two days before I left the country, I had been till a late hour shooting at a mark with a duelling pistol, an entertainment, of which, perhaps from a lurking presentiment, I was very fond. I was returning alone when Í perceived, by the light of an enormous lamp, a board by the way-side bearing the welcome inscription, “ Vine House."
Enough,” I exclaimed, “ enough! one more scene before the curtain drops,-Romeo and Juliet by lamplight!" ---I roamed about the dwelling-place of all I held dear, till I saw a figure at one of the windows in the back of the house, which it was quite impossible to doubt. I leaned against a tree in a sentimental position, and began to chant my own rhymes thus:
“ Pretty coquette, the ceaseless play
Of thine unstudied wit,
By buoyant fancy lit,
Dreamlike, I saw thee fit,
On that bright brow of thine,
On countlesz coxcombs shine,
For other ears than mine,
and if thousands share the bliss,
As fickle as the sea,
Unpleasing though it be;
An image, sweet, of thee,
“ Are they your own verses ?" said my idol at the window.
“They are yours, Margaret! I was only the versifier ; you were the muse herself."
“ The muse herself is obliged to you. And now what is your errand ? for it grows late, and you must be sensible--no, that you never will be but you must be aware, that this is Very indecorous."
“ I am come to see you, dear Margaret;-which I cannot without candles;-to see you, and to tell you, that it is impossible I can forget-"
“ Bless me! what a memory you have. But you must take another opportunity for your tale! for—"
“ Alas! I leave England immediately!"
“A pleasant voyage to you! there, not a word more; I must run down to coffee.”
“ Now may I never laugh more," I said, “if I am baffled thus ;" so I strolled back to the front of the house and proceeded to reconnoitre. A bay-window was half open, and in a small neat drawing-room I perceived a group assembled :an old lady, with a high muslin cap and red ribbons, was pouring out the coffee ;-her nephew, a tall awkward young gentleman, sitting on one chair and resting his legs on another, was occupied in the study of Sir Charles Grandison ;--and my fair Margaret was leaning on a sofa, and laughing immoderately. “Indeed, Miss," said the matron, “ you should learn to govern your mirth; people will think you came out of Bedlam." I lifted the window gently, and stept into the room.
66 Bedlam, madam!” quoth I, “I bring intelligence from Bedlam, I arrived last week.”
The tall awkward young gentleman stared: and the aunt half said, half shrieked, -66 What in the name of wonder are
“Mad, madam ! very particularly mad! mad as a hare in March, or a Cheapside blood on Sunday morning. Look at me! do I not foam ? listen to me! do I not rave?-Coffee, my dear madam, coffee; there is no animal so thirsty as your madman in the dog-days."
Eh! really!" said the tall awkward young gentleman. “My good sir,” I began ;-but my original insanity began to fail me, and I drew forthwith upon Ossian's,- Fly! receive the wind and fly; the blasts are in the hollow of my hand, the course of the storm is mine!”
“Eh ! really!” said the tall awkward young gentleman.
“ I look on the nations and they vanish : my nostrils pour the blast of death: I come abroad on the winds; the tempest is before my face; but my dwelling is calm, above the clouds; the fields of my rest are pleasant.
“Do you mean to insult us?” said the old lady.
“Ay! do you mean to insult my aunt ?--really!" said the tall awkward young gentleman.
“ I shall call in my servants," said the old lady. “ I am the humblest of them," said I, bowing.
“I shall teach you a different tune," said the tall awkward young gentleman, “really!”
“ Very well, my dear sir; my instrument is the barrel organ;" and I cocked my sweet little pocket companion in his face, “ Vanish, little Kastril ; for by Hannibal, Heliogabalus, and Holophernes, time is valuable ; madness is precipitate, and hair-triggers are the word : vanish!”
“Eh! really !” said the tall awkward young gentleman, and performed an entrechat which carried him to the door : the old lady had disappeared at the first note of the barrel organ. I locked the door, and found Margaret in a paroxysm of laughter. “I wish you had shot him," she said, when she recovered, so I wish you had shot him : he is a sad fool."
“Do not talk of him; I am speaking to you, beautiful Margaret, possibly for the last time! Will you ever think of me? perhaps you will. But let me receive from you some token that I may dote upon in other years ; something that may be a hope to me in my happiness, and a consolation in calamity. Something nay! I never could talk romance; but give me one lock of your hair, and I will leave England with resignation."
“ You have earned it like a true knight," said Margaret; and she severed from her head a long glossy ringlet. “Look,” she continued, “you must to horse, the country has risen for your apprehension." I turned towards the window. The country had indeed risen. Nothing was to be seen but gossoons in the van, and gossips in the rear, red faces and white jackets, gallants in smock frocks, and gay damsels in grogram. Bludgeons were waving, and torches were flashing, as far as the gaze could reach. All the chivalry of the place was arming and chafing, and loading for a volley of pebbles and oaths together.
I kneeled down and kissed her hand. It was the happiest moment of my life! “Now," said I, “au revoir, my sweet Margaret,” and in a moment I was in the lane.
“Gentlemen, be pleased to fall back!-farther yet,-a few paces farther! Stalwart Kern, in buckskin, be pleased to lay down your cat-o'-nine-tails old knight of the plush jerkin; ground your poker !-So, fair damsel with the pitehfork, you are too pretty for so rude an encounter !—Most miraculous Magog, with the sledge-hammer, flit!-Sooty Cupid,with the link, light me from Paphos.-Ha! tall friend of the barrel-organ, have you turned staff-officer? Etna and Vesuvius !- wild fire and wit !-blunderbusses and steam !—fly. Ha! have I not Burgundy in my brain, murder in my plot, and a whole train of artillery in my coat-pocket.” Right and left the ranks opened for my egress, and in a few minutes I was alone on the road, and whistling “ lillihullero."
This was my first folly. I looked at the lock of hair often, but I never saw Margaret again. She has become the wife of a young clergyman, and resides with him on a small living in Staffordshire. I believe she is very happy, and I have forgotten the colour of her eyes.
MY MAIDEN BRIEF.
“A LAWYER," says an old comedy which I once read at the British Museum, “is an odd sort of fruit-first rotten, then green, and then ripe." There is too much of truth in this homely figure. The first years of a young barrister are spent, or rather worn out, in anxious leisure. His talents rust, his temper is injured, his little patrimony wastes away, and not an attorney shews a sign of remorse. He endures term after term, and circuit after circuit, that greatest of miseries,-a rank above his means of supporting it. He drives round the country in a post-chaise, and marvels what Johnson found so exhilarating in its motion-that is, if he paid for it himself. He eats venison and drinks claret; but he loses the flavour of both when he reflects that his wife (for the fool is married, and married for love, too,) has, perhaps, just dined for the third time on a cold neck of mutton, and has not tasted wine since their last party-an occurrence beyond even legal memory. He leaves the festive board early, and takes a solitary walk-returns to his lodgings in the twilight, and sees on his table a large white rectangular body, which for a moment he supposes may be a brief,-alas! it is only a napkin. He is vexed and rings to have it removed, when up comes his clerk, drunk and insolent: he is about to kick him down stairs, but stays his foot, on calling to mind the arrear of the fellow's wages; and contents himself with wondering where the rascal finds the means for such extravagance.
Then in court many are the vexations of the briefless. The attorney is a cruel animal; as cruel as a rich coxcomb in a ball-room, who delights in exciting hopes only to disappoint them. Indeed I have often thought the communications between solicitors and the bar has no slight resemblance to the flirtation between the sexes. Barristers, like ladies, must wait to be chosen. The slightest overture would be equally fatal to one gown as to the other. The gentlemen of the bar sit round the table in dignified composure, thinking just as little of briefs as a young lady of marriage. An attorney enters --not an eye moves; but somehow or other the fact is known to all. Calmly the wretch draws from his pocket a brief: practice enables us to see at a glance that the tormentor has left a blank for the name of his counsel. He looks around the circle as if to choose his man; you cannot doubt but his eye rested on you,-he writes a name, but you are too far off to read it, though you know every name on your circuit upside down. Now the traitor counts out the fee and wraps
up *, with slow and provoking formality. At length all being pre
pared, he looks towards you to catch (as you suppose) your eye. You nod, and the brief comes flying ; you pick it up, and find on it the name of a man three years your junior, who is sitting next to you ; you curse the attorney's impudence and ask yourself if he meant to insult you. Perhaps not, you say, for the dog squints.
My maiden brief was in town. How well do I recollect the minutest circumstances connected with that case! The rap at the door! I am a connoisseur in raps,—there is not a dun in London who could deceive me; I know their tricks but too well; they have no medium between the rap servile and the rap impudent. This was a cheerful touch; you felt that the operator knew he should meet with a face of welcome. My clerk, who is not much under the influence of sweet sounds, seemed absolutely inspired, and answered the knock with astonishing velocity. I could hear from my inner room the murmur of inquiry and answer; and though I could not distinguish a word, the tones confirmed my hopes ;-I was not long suffered to doubt: my client entered, and the pure white paper, tied round with the brilliant red tape, met my eyes. He in. quired respectfully, and with an appearance of anxiety which marked him to my mind for a perfect Chesterfield, if I was already retained in
The rogue knew well enough I never had had a retainer in my life. I took a moment to consider; and after making him repeat the name of his case, I gravely assured him I was at perfect liberty to receive his brief. He then laid the papers and my fee upon the table, asked me if the time appointed for a consultation with the two gentlemen who were with me' would be convenient ; and, finding that the state of my engagements would allow me to attend, made his bow and departed. That fee was sacred gold, and I put it to no vulgar use.
Meny years have now elapsed since that case was disposed of, ard yet how fresh does it live in my memory; how perfectly do I recollect every authority to which he referred ! how