Abbildungen der Seite

rest of mankind, I have such a pride in affecting, I will ask any impartial observer if, in the course of his experience, he can call to mind one instance of a shy woman for every twenty he remembers of shy men ; and if he can lay his hand on his heart, and answer in the affirmative, I give in. My own observations would lead me to compute the proportion as infinitely greater in favour of the ladies ; and I can only account for their larger share of self-possession by the innate consciousness of superiority which they must enjoy over their ruder fellow-creatures, whom they twist and wind by the sheer force of intellect, as we, in our turn, do to the beasts of the field. Look at a young miss, calm and selfcontained, in a halo of muslin at her first ball; and observe that young lady's papa hemming and hawing, and stammering and tautologizing through the healths he has “ ventured to propose” at supper-time; and then tell me which is the inferior animal ? Why, papa looks like a gaby, and his daughter like an angel.

However, notwithstanding, or perhaps as a set-off to his persecutions by his school-fellows, Green was an especial favourite with the women. Even the master's wife, a fine lady whom we never saw, save when we were ill, and who then, like a stately apparition, just glided through the sickchamber, and, leaving a ravishing odour of perfume, was seen no moreeven this splendid dame would sometimes condescend to notice Green. Then the cook and housemaid would lay their beribboned heads together, to smuggle pudding in for his refreshnient, when, as was often the case, he was suffering by fasting as well as stripes for the misdemeanours of another; whilst the whole of a neighbouring ladies' school, whom we met weekly, on our way to church, and nowhere else, were firmly impressed with the conviction that he, Green, in his tight trowsers and bluchers, with a very short jacket and dingy hands, was the Chosen One, each modest maiden naturally supposing that it was the contemplation of her own charms which“ brought the colour to his visage and the lustre to his eye.” Poor Green! he would have sunk into the earth could he have foreseen such a fate ; but he was obviously predestined to be a ladies' man.

Schoolboy friendships, warm and generous as they may be at the time, seldom outlast the engrossing cares and growing selfishness of incipient manhood. Do you remember your greatest charm at that academy to which you owe the advantage of what is pleasantly termed a liberal education? Can you call to mind, as if it were but yesterday, your long tête-à-tête walks, his arm round your neck, and yours encircling that waistband which he had outgrown, in the orthodox fashion of schoolboy cronyship? Have you forgotten those brilliant visions of the future, in which you were to be inseparables, when manhood was to bring that wished-for period (alas ! that it has not yet arrived) when you should each be able to do as you liked ? Had you not entire confidence in that faithful friend ? were you not prepared to undergo any amount of pains and penalties to screen him from punishment ? Was not your love for each other like that of David and Jonathan, “ surpassing the love of women"? And what has been the result? For six months after your separation, you corresponded with praiseworthy regularity, writing each other warm, frank, honest, schoolboy letters, signed "ever your truly affectionate"; and now, if he were to ask you to lend him fifty pounds, not only would you positively decline to accommodate him, but consider yourself highly aggrieved by the inconvenience of such a request. Does it seem so very long ago since you shared with him the last apple in the store, and gave him a silver pencil-case, purchased with the savings of a twelvemonth ? Ah ! since then you have outgrown warmer feelings than those you entertained for him. The pale girl with the dark circles round her eyes—you once thought you could not live without her. She sleeps at Torquay; but you go out to dinner pretty regularly still. Blanche has now got a false front and two grown-up daughters ; but your heart did nor leap into your mouth when you met her last night at the French play, and you can scarcely believe there was a time when you were almost mad because she jilted you and married the banker, No ; you have found out some one since then, whom you love better than open-hearted schoolboy or gentle maiden. You have an engrossing attachment, cherished with unfailing constancy, and growing stronger and stronger every day with its indulgence. Need I say, its object has for many years past resided at Number One ?

Green and I, however, did see one another pretty regularly during our first years of manhood. We were both living in London, where I was perfecting an education prematurely cut short by certain irregularities at Oxford, on which I need not now enlarge. It was a superstition of iny younger days that a man on entering life was bound to devote himself assiduously to what his advisers called “ seeing the world”-a comprehensive study, which it was supposed could only be followed out to advantage in the crowded drawing rooms of certain ladies of fashion. And I was accordingly qualifying diligently for a cosmopolite by a regular course of idleness and suffocation. What a gratifying thing it must be

a to a father, to contemplate his son, growing day by day a thorough "man of the world,' and assimilating more and more to those bright ornaments of their species whom he cannot but see distinguished for all that is great and good, leading a life of self-denial at their clubs, and laborious usefulness at their whist-tables. Such a glorious desting for & man! such a satisfactory career to look back upon, when “the world” begins to slip from under him! Well, Green and I were both embarked on this somewhat fruitless voyage, and certainly few men were less adapted by nature {for a carcer of fashionable levity than my bashful friend. Of the agonies he has endured, no one but himself can have the faintest conception. I happen to know that at one period his modesty was so unbearable to his own feelings, that he summoned courage to consult one of those advertising professors, who perform miraculous cures in cases of “ blushings, winkings, loss of memory, upsetting of tea-cups, absence of mind, nervousness, and general insanity" ; but, on ringing the sage's bell, he was so alarmed at the apparition of a female servant in red ribbons, he having prepared himself to encounter nothing more formidable than a tall footman or a boy in buttons at the worst, that he became instantaneously deprived of the power of speech, and confronted the astonished damsel with such workings of conntenance, and crimson hue of visage, that she, alarmed in her turn, banged the door in his face ; and, rushing down stairs to her fellowservants. "had it out” in hysterics in the back kitchen. It would require a volume to enumerate all the scrapes into which my friend's unfortunate organization was perpetually leading him-how he was suspected of eaves-dropping when detected with his hand on the lock



of a door through which for several minutes he had been summoning courage to enter a room full of company; how he was generally supposed to have gone to an evening party in a state of intoxication, from the affable manner in which he was to address an individual whom he took for “ the man of the house,” but who, in point of fact, was the butler ; how he would leave cards on people he had never sceil, and “turn up” corners out of compliment to daughters who had no existence, whilst for months he would neglect an intimate friend two doors off, from sheer inability to face the ordeal of “How do you do?" Many an afternoon drive has poor Green unwittingly spoilt, from the difficulty he invariably experienced in "getting away" after he had screwed his courage up to the point of visiting intercourse ; and when he did take his departure, it was more in the fashion of an infuriated bullock rushing out in defiance of all obstacles, than a Christian bidding an orderly farewell to his friends. To bow to full-length mirrors, to cut the most intimate acquaintances, to accost astonished strangers with the utmost cordiality, to make pressing inquiries after the health of friends who were lately dead, or worse still, relations not on speaking terms ; to tread on ladies' toes, tear their gowns, put water into their glasses instead of wine, and be totally unconscious whether he was standing on his head or his heels, were matters of every-day occurrence with Green. And yet, while the men laughed at him, and called him a born idiot, the women certainly liked him, and esteemed him what they were pleased to term "rather an interesting person.'

This predilection on their part was not, however, without its draw. backs : in love, as in war, the post of honour is necessarily the post of danger; and between ladies who wanted him to marry their daughters, and ladies who wanted him to marry themselves, poor Green, as his countenance betokened, was continually in hot water. Not that he was what Belgravia calls “a parti," and Bloomsbury “a catch ;" for my friend's fortune was of that moderate amount which is termed "absolute starvation,” or “a comfortable income,” according to the peculiar ideas of the individual matron who is discussing the question; nor that he was by any means a beauty-short light hair, large green eyes, with a total absence of eyebrows, and a permanent expression of astonishment ; a florid complexion, and a round, simple face, guiltless of whiskers, and constantly suffused with blushes, surmounting a stout, ungainly form, can hardly be said to constitute a prepossessing tout ensemble ; and when to these advantages are added, hands that nature obviously intended for use, not ornament, and feet with which not even a French bootmaker could successfully contend, we have a picture that scarcely comes up to an imaginative damsel's ideal of her future victim. Yet, in the peculiar organization of our present state of society, it is a singular truth, totally unaccounted for on philosophical principles, that the ladies who are prepared to encounter the responsibilities of matrimony far outnumber the gentlemen who deem it expedient to enter upon the same domestic career. And whilst the fact of a charming being in blonde, “going out,” as they call it, is tantamount to a declaration that her

young affections are not irrevocably engaged, the very first question mooted in a committee of chaperons with regard to the partner who asks to look at her bouquet and takes her in to supper, resolves itself into this: “Is he a marrying man?That my friend Green necessarily belonged to that useful class was the natural conclusion drawn from his heightened colour and general trepidation when brought into collision with the fair sex ; and I can only account for the long immunities he enjoyed, and the many years of freedom during which, like the butterfly, he roved from flower to flower, the lucky dog! by that excessive nervousness which prevented his ever actually arriving at those overtures in which, although the rule is by no means an unbroken one, it is generally considered decorous for the gentleman to assume the initiative.

Of the many scrapes into which my old schoolfellow's apparent susceptibility and actual shyness were continually leading him, there was one of which I myself was a witness, and consequently entertain a vivid recollection, that may serve as a warning to bashful men in general. During our first years of manhood, and whilst after the fashion of very young fellows, hunting in couples through society, we were much brought in contact with an ill-assorted pair, rejoicing in the name of Major and Mrs. Bloker. Of what particular service this gallant officer was an ornament, not being a military man, I am at a loss to say ; but that he was a terror and a scourge to the foes of his country, I gather from his irritability of temperament and sustained fierceness of demeanour. Mrs. Bloker was a pretty little woman, with a fair skin, a profusion of nut-brown hair, and a lurking devil in her eye, that to my mind excused the vigilance and jealousy of her lord. We were all four great friends, and used to have charming little parties to Greenwich, Richmond, and other “out-of-town” resorts which people frequent to get a good appetite and a bad dinner. To see Mrs. Bloker ask Green for an ice was as good as anything ever yet produced in a farce. My friend would allow his malady so completely to overcome him on these occasions, that he appeared to lose all consciousness of his own identity. I think the lady used to laugh at both of us, though I confess to have been smitten myself by her exquisite little figure and saucy face ; but it was no laughing matter to the Major. His jealousy, if indeed it ever slept, was more easily aroused than Othello's ; and when he saw every word addressed by his pretty little wife to my friend Green, followed by scarlet blushes and a total prostration of intellect on the part of that ingenuous youth, he came to the conclusion that on one side, at least, feelings were entertained “something more than kind.” That the warrior was a prey to the gnawing fangs of “the green-eyed monster" was a fact, of which, as may be supposed, we had not then the slightest conception. The bare hint of such a circumstance, under the idea that he was the cause, would have driven Green to fly his country on the instant. I don't think his sensitiveness would ever have recovered the shock ; for, like most shy men, he was chivalrously alive to all delicacy of feeling, more particularly where the fair sex were concerned. As the season came to a close, however, the climax arrived which nearly brought to a tragedy that which, as far as it went, was a laughable farce. Green and I were staying in a countryhouse for Goodwood races ; and amongst a numerous and agreeable party, our friends, the Blokers, were not the least attraction. I enjoyed the thing exceedingly : the weather was delightful, the racing excellent-not that I knew much about that ; and Mrs. Bloker divided her smiles pretty equally between myself, my friend, and a particularly good-looking Cornet, who was hand-and-glov ewith her husband. Dear!

how pretty she used to look when she came down to breakfast in such a becoming dress! and took her seat with her back to the light, you may be sure, which threw a ripple of gold upon her glossy hair. She was altogether a summer beauty; and on a glowing morning, when the birds were singing in the sunshine, and the insects humming in the shade, she seemed to belong quite as much to the scene as if she had been a flower in the conservatory, or a peach on the wall. Now Green was an early riser ; and it was his habit to enjoy a stroll in the pure morning air before any of the party but himself dreamt of leaving their chambers, which was in fact his principal reason for choosing that hour for his walk. Well, on one of these delightful mornings, Green

. returning to his toilet for one more turn at the hair-brushes before going down to breakfast, being in his usual state of nervous haste and trepidation, and deceived, moreover, by the similarity of doors which in all houses exists between the worst bed-rooms, took a bad shot at his own apartment, and walked into one occupied by an individual of the opposite sex, then combing down her long back hair, in a costume that forcibly reminded him of Lady Godiva's equestrian progress through Coventry. To remain to apologize is the worst possible plan under such circumstances, and aghast as my friend was at the airkward mistake into which he had blundered, instinct for once assumed the office of reason ; and shutting the door with a hang, he decamped tumultuously to take refuge in the drawing-room, from which he was again driven into the open air by a housemaid coming in to break the chimney-ornaments and put the place “ to rights.' My friend had plenty of time to recover his presence of mind before the party assembled ; and when he took his seat at the breakfast-table directly opposite to Mrs. Bloker, there was no visible alteration in his peculiar manner to betoken the shock his nervous system had received.

Now it so happened that the individual to whom Green had paid bis abrupt morning visit filled the responsible office of ladies'-maid to Mrs. Bloker ; and conversing with her mistress on general topics, whilst dressing her, as I am informed is the practice of this class of domestics, she naturally mentioned the circumstance of the “shy young gentleman,” as she called him, breaking in upon her privacy ; leaving it to be inferred that the invasion originated, not so much in mistake, as in a wish to further his acquaintance with her charming self.

Mrs. Bloker was what the French call espiègle, which in my idea signifies one who “ means mischief,” and taking, as she did, a certain interest in her modest friend, of course found a pleasure in bullying him. So, during the dead silence that followed the helping of every one to tea and butter, which is all the sustenance ladies allow themselves for breakfast, she accosted Green across the table with an arch look and a shake of her pretty ringlets

" An early riser Mr. Green !-do you generally pay your morning visits before nine o'clock ?"

Had the whole breakfast table, tea-urn, muffins, cold pie, strawberries, and all, gone straight up the chimney, Green could not have looked more astonished than he did at this harmless remark. All at once it flashed upon him that it must have been Mrs. Bloker whom he had seen, a short hour ago, in something less than demi-toilette; and the agonizing necessity of apologizing impelled bim to blurt out

« ZurückWeiter »