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THE CHIMNEY CORNER., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 1, Issue 73, 13 March 1880
THE CHIMNEY CORNER.
A BOARDING HOUSE IDYLL. By Miss BninnoN. In the meanwhile let me explain my acquaintance with Miss Edie Twistleton. The Twistleton family, consisting of father, mother and* daughter, had been for two years-in the habit of quartering themselves at the Oholmondeley on their visits, to Brighton. It was to me that Twistleton pare owed his' first introduction there. In the Twistleton chariot (magenta picked out with blue), J. been whirled up to the door, and ushered into the mansion with a flowery speech, while Mrs. Bowser and Miss Amelia curtsied and backed against the banisters. It was on that same day that Miss Edie made her debut with a final boardingschool polish, and was at once installed as “the belle of Oholmondeley. Then began the chronic flirtation _ which had ever since existed between Miss Edie and my old bachelor self, conducted without prejudice to any extraneous likings on eithersidewhich may have sprung up simultaneously. Miss Edie and I were sworn friends, dating from that, her first visit to the mansion ; and on that occasion, which was something like the sixth time, wo had met there, I was fully prepared to do. battle for her, and look suspiciously on any handsome young man who eyed her too closely. I had noticed the Count, my vis-a-vis, knowing his name, and distinguished, him only , by his foreign exterior, performing various little acts of attention to Miss Edie on the previous evening; consequently I was prepared to hate him this Sunday morning on a very small provocation. Twistleton pei’e, in Oholmondeley parlance “ a London merchant,” is the personage to whom I am indebted for any external superiority I can claim to the rest of the world; in short he is my tailor. Whether this was ever known to Mrs. Bowser and her boarders, and whether it formed the subject of those whispered conversations which were hushed as Mrs Twistleton came sailing in to dinner in her magenta brocade with the dock-leaf pattern, is more than I can say. I should be inclined to suppose that any conversation on the subject was very trivial indeed, or it would have been reported by the magenta footmen who waited at dinner, and were both iii love with Miss Twistleton’s maid, through whom it would have reached Miss Twistleton, and so into my ear ; for Miss Edie and I had no secrets. At any rate, the magenta carriage was left to over-ride any impropriety there might be in the society of a tailor’s wife, and so I got nothing hut thanks for introducing my honest friend Twistleton and his family at Oholmondeley Mansion. Twistleton himself was in the of spending the Week in town and running down to Brighton for Sunday. Knowing this, I had called at his “ business residence ” (in deference to Mrs. Twistleton, I won’t call it a “ shop ”) on Saturday, that 1 might have the pleasure of travelling down with him ; but some unusually, pressing business— ££ a chaseafter an absconding creditor —had taken him elsewhere into the country,” said the forman. ££ lndeed ! Who is this creditor?” I said, wondering at the display of so much energy on the part of my easy-going friend. ££ Mr. Fleance, sir,” said the foreman, naming a young gentleman whose sudden retirement from the fashionable world had given rise to the report that he had been disinherited by his uncle, Sir Gilbert Fleance. £ £ Then it’s true that Sir Gilbert has cut him off, and his creditors think he’ll cut up best now, I suppose ?” “ Believe, so, sir; leastway the master’s gone into the country to see after him. This between ourselves, you know, Mr. Smith.”
I respected the foreman’s confidence, but wondered very much in my own mind how Twistleton proposed to get his money from "Mr. “Fleauce, who,.if report told true, was as nearly penniless as might be. While the reader’s ignorance of the affairs of the Twistletons had necessitated this tedious preamble, Miss Edie Twistleton had been sailing up the room and shaking hands with Mrs. Bowser. Most of the gentlemen in the room have resumed their seats, and cease to offer chairs, seeing that their case is hopeless, and that her choice of a neighbour lies between myself and the Count. I am old and ugly, and the Count young and handsome, yet somehow I feel as if I had the prior claim, and my brow darkens as I see Miss Bdio glance at the vacant chair next -the Count, sidle toward it, and finally settle there with a vicious little kick at my toes (if I am sitting opposite her,) as much as to say, “ That’s for being grumpy last night, and for looking grumpy this morning. Why shouldn’t I talk to the Count, you old thing 1”' Breakfast threatened to be a gloomy scene from that moment, as far as I and the other gentlemen were concerned. As for the two ladies, they exerted as chilly an influence as they could from their distant corner of the room, pushing their food away from them, and sitting austerely behind plates of cold prayerbooks with crosses. Miss Edis and the Count made up for our silence. The Count was forced by his neighbor into hazarding some daring flights of English. Why he didn’t speak French I couldn’t imagine for Miss Edie understood it well. However, he made quite a perceptible improvement in his pronunciation, though the construction of sentences was sadly wild. Of course, Miss Edie enjoyed all this immensely, and went off into convulsive laughter, in which we neglected ones, finding no other way of forcing ourselves upon her attention, wereobligedto join, though Iwillbebound to say that any of us would rather have cut the' Count’s throat than honored him with a laugh under ordinary circumstances. Breakfast over, and Mrs. Twistleton appearing to conduct her daughter to church, I was pleased _to observe that the Count professed religious scruples which prevented him accompanying them father than the church door. He promised, however, to occupy a hack seat in the Twistleton chariot in the afternoon ; and, that being the case, I, who was walking down the Sarade deliberately refused to‘uncover my ead, though I recognized the Twistleton livery half a jnile off, and was perfectly conscious of Mrs. Twistleton bowing herself distracted in my direction. She took me to task about it at dinner.
“ You know you must wear glasses, Mr. Smith; me and Edie and Count Bdie, what’s the Count’s name again ? Hush, my dear;. not so loud. Something to do with fighting, did you say 2 Oh, yes. Bully. Well, you must really excuse me, Mr. Smith—old people’s memory’s so had; but you did cut us most ’orrid —didn’t he, Edie ? ” But Edie was too much engaged with the Count to make any answer. Of course, there was a great deal of clatter at the table, and plenty of opportunity for conversation with the Count in an undertone, which, I am bound to say, Miss Edie did not neglect. The two pious ladies had put by, their prayer-books, and were secular over their wine ; the gentlemen boarders, being well mixed up with the lady boarders, could only steal furtive glances in our direction ; and so, as I made a point of not interfering and Mrs, Bowser was too much engrossed with the cares of carving, and Mrs. Twistleton in the cares of eating, to do so, Miss Edie and the Count enjoyed a tete-a-tete, interrupted only by the exigencies of the dinner.
The individual who appeared to regard this scene with the greatest interest was Charles, Mrs. Bowser’s butler, footman, and factotum, the marshaller of her troupe of waiting women, their young men in ordinary, and the guard and shield of the establishment. Ho was of a pokey style of architecture, the head protruding from below the collar in a turtle-like fashion. It was commonly said he had grown into this shape from the habit of perpetually poking his head over people’s shoulder to ask them what they would have next. A man of this construction has necessarily a vacuum between the chest and the waistcoat, and in the case of Charles this pouch was the receptacle for potatoes, and other things that fell off the dishes as he scuttled along. A collision with the back of a chair or of a protruding head often transferred the contents of a plate into this hiding-place. In fact, Charles was troubled with general determination of dinner to the waistcoat. This little failing was deplored by Charles and his mistress; but what was to be done, so long as waistcoats formed tempting little cachettes for the reception of flying vegetables ? On this particular evening, there being a large influx of visitors, Mrs. Bowser’s factotum was running about rather more wildly than usual. The magenta footmen aired themselves loftily at the sideboard. On Charles and his cohort of maids depended the distribution of meats. “What will you have, sir? Roast beef ? Rather underdone to : day, sin Roast fowl and Bath chap— very well, sir.” “Here, Lucy, wipe the handle of that knife for Mrs. Blachington, will yer ? ” “ There you go again ! You’ll have Miss Noodiem’s hair right horf, if you don’t look out.” . I am extremely pleased to say that the Count was a sufferer under these circumstances. His head came into collision with a plate which Charles was conveying, at a.run, to a distant part of the room. There was a most audible crack on the Count’s skull, and the gravy shot into Miss Edie’s lap, the plate fell to the floor, and the elbow of a fowl’s wing appearing out of a well-known crevice showed where it had gone. Mrs. Bowser’s severe Charles, dinner on your waistcoat ! ” (her usual form of reproof,) drove poor Charles out of the door to repair damages; and the Count was too much disconcerted to give Miss Edie all the sympathy she demanded. _ ; It was on a dress-changing expedition, necessitated by' this disaster, that I intercepted Miss Edie and brought her to book bn the subject of the Count. “ Who is he ? Does Mrs. Bowser know anything about him? Does Mrs. Twistleton know him! ” (An old bachelor is a privileged inquisitor). “ Now, don’t be tiresome ! I’m sure he’s a very nice man, though he isn’t an Englishman : and he’s much handsomer than you are, and he came to Mrs. Bowser with the highest introduction —he told me so himself. If that isn’t enough for you, stupid old thing, I’ll tell you something more.” “ Does Mr. Twistleton know him ?
“Well, yes—no —not exactly, at least. I looked this morning—. But you won’t tell mamma, or any one ? She’d be so angry.” I bound myself to secrecy. “Well his clothes—l think it was his trousers, I’m not sure—were put out to be brushed, and I could not help seeing, though I didn’t look that way at all, ‘ Twistleton, Harlow Street,’ on the buttons. Don’t tell anyone, for I didn’t mean to look. ” t This was a warrant of the Count s respectability which I could not gainsay. Sunday evening concerts were a great feature at the Cholmondeloy. Then the dowagers, 100 and whist being denied them, collected around the piano and chattered an accompaniment to the devout songs of Mendelssohn and Handel. No doubt their gossip was Sunday gossip, as their gowns were Sunday gowns, and their applauses were very encouraging to the performers. I arrived, tliat evening in time for the closing song, Miss Edie’s. The Count was turning over the leaves fcr her, and making a great fuss about it, much to the wrath of several young gentlemen gnawing their fingers in distant corners of the room, and to the evident discontent of the young ladies pining in neglect. One female, in particular—l won’t call her young—who was hugging her lean arm with an aggrieved expression of countenance, muttered in my hearing, “ that she didn’t know when she had seen an uglier man than the Count, and that she had never known anything so disgraceful as Miss Bdie’s conduct, never !” The song over, Mrs. Twistleton expressed a. hope that dear Mr. Lambkin (the amateur tenor of the party, who likewise played fantasias and made himself useful in accompaniments) would play the “Dead March in Saul.” Mrs. Twistleton’s wish was the wish of the whole room, and Mr. Lambkin, taking off his rings, and playfully twirling himself round on the music stool till it was the right height, commenced operations. Mrs. Twistleton beat time with her fan ; the other ladies followed her example. Ihe young gen tiemen took the opportunity to close up round the piano with countenances expressive of admiration for Handel, and a plaintive appeal to Mr. Lambkin not to force them to the unmanly necessity of shedding tears. Miss Edie was in convulsions of laughter, probably at some joke of the Count, who was standing oyer her, but then she was a privileged individual.
Finally, when Mr. Lambkin ended with a thump, Mrs. Twistleton declared rapturously that it was the prettiest thing ever composed, and everybody echoed, “Quite the prettiest. Thank you, Mr. Lambkin, so kind of you,” and Mrs. Twistleton rushed out of the room with a bland “ Good night,” carrying Miss Edie in her train, with the inseparable Count attending them to the last ; then I penetrated into the sanctum where Charles presided over his spoons and brushed his waistcoats ; found him there, carried him out on to the parade to smoke a cigar, and unfolded to him certain conjectures I had formed on the subject of Count Bouilli. The result of the confabulation was that Charles brought me at intervals, both on that evening and the next morning, various articles of wearing apparel from the Count’s bedchamber. All, alas ! bore the inscription A.B.—Albert Bouilli; however, I was determined to find some clew to another name. It is so hateful to be baffled in one’s suspicions. Charles had entered eagerly into the service, and we carried on our operations during the whole week with the keenness of detectives. Meanwhile the Count was making small work with Miss Edie’s little heart, walking with her on the pier, driving with her in the magenta carriage, and having the impudence to propose a ride, which Mrs. Twistleton agreed toon the condition of my accompanying the pair. I incurred the hatred of Miss Edie for a whole afternoon, because I refused to do anything of the sort. So firmly convinced was lof the Count’s rascality, that I ventured, even without an atom of proof producible, to hint as much to Mrs. Twistleton.
“ Lor’, Mr. Smith, how unkind of you to say so. But there, her pa’ll be dpwn on Saturday, and he’ll see that it’s all right. ” I began to be afraid, however, that Mr. Twistleton would find Miss Edie and this precious Count were on such intimate terms that a separation could not be easily effected, and so Charles and I did not relax our inquisitorial exertions. On Friday morning came the looked-for confirmation of my suspicions. Charles came running into my room with a piece of a tom letter in his hand, whereon were the traces of a recent shave.
“Why do I find this, sir, when the fellar don’t shave ?” ■ . “ Because, Charles, his beard is false, and he does shave. ” His beard was false as his French was false ; I had suspected the one from the first time I heard him speak ; how stupid of me not to have guessed at the rest of his imposture. He was an Englishman I could swear, with a strong growth of red beard under his oily black one, as the paper in my hand showed me. Taking counsel with Charles as to the best means of thrusting this impostor out of the house without making Chohnondeley Mansion the talk of all Brighton, I decided upon fetching Mr. Twistleton from town as a preliminary step, while Charles should see that the Count went to no extreme lengths in my absence. I was off by the next train, and in the afternoon found Mr. Twistleton in his back office. [to be continued.]
THE CHIMNEY CORNER., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 1, Issue 73, 13 March 1880
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