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THE CHIMNEY CORNER., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 1, Issue 150, 9 September 1880
THE CHIMNEY CORNER.
THE DISRUPTION: A TAT.T. OF TRYING TIMES, CHAPTER XVII. Alas! must noblest views, like an old song, Be for mere fancy’s sport a theme creative, A jest, a riddle, Fame through thick and thin sought. And Socrates himself but Wisdom’s Quixote? BYRON. On the day following the events narrated in last chapter, Mr. Duncanson waited on Mr. Bacon about the usual hour. He found the great man pacing the floor of his library with hand on brow, and evidently in a state of great perplexity. “Come away, Mr. Duncanson,” he said on seeing the student enter ; “come away ! I have been wearying for you to-day ; for I very much need your advice and assistance.
“ Respecting what, Mr. Bacon ? ” “ Just sit down, sir, and I’ll tell you. Oh dear ! I never was so puzzled in my life. No problem in politics, metaphysics, or mathematics ever gave me so much trouble as an unforeseen practical difficulty in regard to my introduction to Sir Robert Peel and Lord Aberdeen, j thought I had the whole affair cut and dry ; and it cost me no little trouble, I can tell you to get the preliminaries so well arranged. But my purpose is like to be frustrated in the most provoking manner imaginable. What do you think, Mr. Duncanson! my friend the Lord Lieutenant of shire tells me, quite coolly, that he can’t and won’t introduce me to Ministers unless I first pay my respects to her Majesty at the Drawing Room, and take a lady along with me ! ” “ What lady, Mr. Bacon ? ”
“ Why, any one, I suppose. His lordship does not dictate to me on that point, but he says it is absolutely essential that I should appear before her Majesty in petticoat company. Isn’t it monstrous ? I looke'd at him when he made the proposal, thinking it might be a quiz on my well known aversion to female society; but I could discover nothing of the kind. He spoke to me with the utmost gravity and firmness, so I concluded there was no joke in the matter, and I am not to be deceived by appearances. One of two things must be the case —either the rule is absolute, as he stated to me, and it is impossible I can have a conference with the Ministers without attending the Queen’s Drawing-room with a lady —or his lordship wishes, for some deep purpose of his own, to prevent me from advising the advisers of the Crown. The latter supposition I think most probable, for it may be a very inconvenient thing for him, and other party-men like him, to let me have an opportunity of opening the eyes of the Premier to a broad and philosophic course of policy ! Indeed I should not wonder if it turns out that he has been instigated by some of the great party leaders to throw obstacles in the way; for you will observe, sir, I apprised him of my wishes and intentions on Friday, and it was only yesterday that he told me what I have mentioned. So there was was plenty of time for consultation between him and his party friends, and the result has probably been a determination to stop me at all hazards. Why, it is very probable that that the leading Presbyterians have taken fright, and are at the bottom of a plot to circumvent me. If that is the case, I hope, Mr. Duncanson, you have no hand in it.” “ You may feel quite at ease on that • score.”
“Well, well, I daresay you are incapable of such treachery. But there may be a Presbyterian plot against me for all that; or a cabal of Scotch bankers, who are another class who must be shaking in their shoes, if they are aware of my views on the currency. But at any rate, the suspicious thing in the whole affair is this—while my friend the Lord-Lieutenant makes it a sine qua non that I should play the fool by going to court in female company, I know that he is to introduce the Magistrates and Town Councillors of several northern buighs without a lady among them. But guess how he gets off. Why, there is, he says, a distinction, involving a point of etiquette, between official and non-official persons. Any petty little civic dignitary has, in virtue of his office, the privilege of being introduced at Court as an individual personage, and without any supplementary accessory of the other sex; but no private gentleman (whatever may be his intellectual rank) is considered presentable without a lady along with him. I don’t care much about appearing at the Drawing-Room at all, though I certainly think it might be as well that her Majesty should have an opportunity of seeing me when she is in the country at any rate, for she will probably, by and by, hear a good deal concerning me; but as I said before, I can only, it seems, obtain a conference with Ministers, after being duly presented to the Sovereign. Now, Mr. Duncanson, what am I to do ? ” “ Why, sir, you must just consult your own feelings.” “ Ay, yes, to be sure, but then I have different feelings pulling opposite ways. I have on the one hand a strong sense of duty urging me to see Sir Robert Peel without delay, and put him on right measures; while on the other hand I have the greatest reluctance to let myself down to a common-place level by going dawdling to Court in female company. Yet I daresay the sense of duty would prevail with me so far as to make me submit to a little humiliation if I only knew any lady I could make use of for the occasion. But the fact is, I have got myself so completely shaken free of female society that I don’t know an individual of the sex I could apply to. Do you know anyone whom you could recommend to me, Mr. Duncanson ? ” “Really, sir, I do not. This is a matter in which, I fear, I cannot be of the least service to you.” “ I was afraid of that, sir—l was afraid of that. You are a very good scholar, Mr. Duncanson but not a practical man. If you will be so good as to send your friend Mr. Afleck to me, I think he will be able to render me some assistance in this business.” Mr, Duncanson was glad to get off so easily; but in communicating the message to his friend Robin, he took care to caution him against doing anything that would tend to encourage Mr. Bacon to render himself ridiculous. Robin made no rash promises, for he
had a purpose of his own to drive—namely the gratification of Jean Brown’s curiosity—and he thought he had now the means in his power. Mr. Bacon at once entered , into business with him on his arrival; at; his house, and Robin readily undertook to act as his black foot in the emergency. “ But do you know of any lady, Mr. Afleck—any respectable and good-look-ing lady who would be likely to take it as a compliment were I to ask her to accompany me to the Queen’s Draw-ing-Room, and who would not attempt to make herself troublesome to me afterwards.
“ I canna say I can name ony ane just the noo; but, if ye’ll gi’e me till the morn, I’ll se what can be dune.” “ Very well, sir, I shall expect you impatiently to-morrow forenoon.” Away went Robin, straight as an arrow, to Jean Brown. Jean laughed exuberantly on hearing Robin’s statement of the case, but did not know well what to make of it. At length she said—“Ye dinna expect me to gang to the palace wi’ the daft gentleman, div ye, Robin ? ” “No just exackly, Jean; for though ye were willing, I’m no sure if ye wad do for the job. Mr. Bacon wants a leddy— a real leddy-looking body, at least —and ye ken, Jean, ye’re no muckle mair o’ a leddy than I’m o’ a gentleman.” “Am I no, Robin ? Ye’re raista'en for ance, my lad. But it’s nae difference, for I wadna gang a fit in sic company, only I wad gi’e something to see Mr. Bacon, and ye maun try and mak’ an errand for me to him oot o’ this new notion o’ his.”
“ Weel, aweel, I’ll see. But do ye no think Shusie Simperton wad be glad o’ the ploy? Ye ken she tell’d me she was just oot o’ the body to see the Queen —and she wad get a fine sicht o’ her at the tevee.”
“At the levee, Robin, ye mean.”
“Weelaweel it’s a’ the same what they ca’t but it’s the handling 1 mean, whaur the Queen has to sit and get herse! glowered at like an image in the wax-wark. Do ye no think saft Shusie wad be glad to gang and see her, even wi’ a daft man ? ” “ Deed I’m no shure but she wad. At ony rate I can spcer, so just wait ye a wee till I come back.”
Off went Jean, and was not long before she returned ' with Miss' Stimperton’s consent to receive a visit from Mr Bacon, if he should please to call and explain his wishes. This was considered to be the most dignified mode of proceedure for all parties concerned. It had even received the sanction of Mrs. Renshaw, who had caught the infection of curiosity regarding the eccentric bachelor of Auchterbardie from Jean Brown, and Jean was delighted with the prospect of his visit. So much for the proceedings of Tuesday. On Wednesday all the city was on the tiptoe of expectation of the Queen’s arrival, but a far greater event took place, though it was known but to few. On that day the illustrious Mr. Bacon made a first attempt at talking soft nonsense to a woman and the woman was “saft Shusie Simperton.” He was dressed in a style intended to be fine, but which can only be described in the words of Jean Brown as “ dreadfully funny.” He came along to Mrs, Glunchagain’s lodging-house, and on handing in his card was shown into a room where Mrs." Renshaw and Miss Stimperton were seated. Jean Brown, with the freedom she was accustomed to at Whinnyside, soon made her appearance, though she had been engaged in. baking the cakes intended for the Queen. Other men court women to pass their whole lives with them; but Mr. Bacon, though only courting for a few hours of Miss Stimperton’s society, expended more eloquence than most wooers can command or care to use. He proceeded on the assumption that women are weak and vain, and can only be influenced by the grossest flattery. This commodity he dealt out to Miss Stimperton without stint or measure, and for once he had his own luck, for he could not have carried his butter to a better market. His expressions were so hyperbolical and extravagant, and his appearance and manner so bizarre , that Jean Brown screamed and laughed, even in his presence, as if she would have gone into hysterics ; while her mistress was more astonished than tickled, and expressed her amazement in an undertone by saying, “ M'Quirkie’s gab was naething to this.”
Missj Stimperton, however, _ took all Mr. Bacon’s compliments in dread earnest, as the warm declaration of love at first sight. Even when Mr. Bacon told her that it was like getting a peep into Paradise to obtain a look of her unequalled beauty, and that she was the flower of all her sex, she did not think the dose too strong, but hung her head, in charming bashfulness and confusion. At length Mr Bacon popped the question. Would she please to be his companion for one day —only a part of a day—and dazzle all eyes at the Queen’s levee ? Miss Stimperton seemed inclined to breathe a frank consent, like a loved one wooed and won, consenting to enter the silken bands of wedlock ; but she had a little caution in her composition, which prompted her to return a conditional answer. She said she could not say, unless she knew first the kind of ceremony she would have to go through, for she was not sure of being able to conduct herself properly. “ True, very true,” said Mr. Bacon ; “ and I can easily make the whole affair plain to you. I could show you just now the kind of forms it will be necessary to observe in the royal presence : but it would, perhaps, be more satisfactory to go through a regular rehearsal in a larger room than this—such as my own drawing-room —and if you will be so kind as come over in the afternoon with your friends, you will see everything done in proper style.” This proposal was readily agreed to, and Mr. Bacon set off in high glee at the success of his diplomacy. Arrived at home, he commenced immediately to prepare his drawing-room for the mock ceremony. He converted an old-fashioned high-backed chair into a throne by raising it on the top of a large chest, placing his bed-steps before it, and covering the whole with a suit of red moreen bed curtains gaudily fringed with yellow worsted, but not a little the worse for wear, and spotted pretty liberally with ink and greasy
stains. Gn the whole, however, he considered he had succeeded in making a very tolerable throne, bating the canopy, which consisted only of the immense portfolio which Robin Afleck was to carry with him to the interview with Sir Robert Peel. This article was suspended by the four corners from the ceiling, and a lap of red moreen drapery was brought over it. It looked well enough when at rest, but had an awkward trick of swinging from side to side, which consorted ill with the dignity of royal state. The floor betweeen the throne and the door was covered with a faded, rich, old, Turkey carpet: but all the rest of it was bare and littered over with old volumes and stray papers which neither Mr. Bacon nor his boy thought it necessary to remove. Neither did they disturb any of the manifold miscellaneous and heterogeneous articles which cumbered every nook of the apartment. Among these were a galvanic battery and an electrical machine, sadly out of repair; a small printing press, on which the ink lay so thick that it had become the last resting-place of many a poor fly ; and a turning lathe, which the spiders had taken possession of, though the last shavings that had been made with it still lay ankle deep around. After Mr. Bacon had completed his state arrangements and arrayed himself in his court dress, he awaited with considerable impatience and anxiety the arrival of the other performers in the approaching farce. The step he was venturing, on, in admitting women into the domicile, was a departure from his old-established habits, and a violation of deeply-rooted predjudices. But what could he do ? The hand of necessity was upon him, and he saw nothing for it but submission, for his sense of “ duty to the country ” amounted to a motive as stern as fate. He therefore submitted with the best grace he could.
The first to arrive was Robin Afleck, who had been apprised of the intended rehearsal and summoned to take part in it. Robin entered into the project con amore, and anticipated infinite amusement both to himself and Jean Brown. He was immediately desired to put on his fancy suit, which he did with some reluctance, for fear of Jean’s ridicule, but also half-willingly, in the hope of exciting her admiration. At length a movement took place among the bell wires ; but as the door bell, like all the other bells in the house, had broken off connection with these troublesome relations, and got comfortably muffled up among cobwebs, he refused to say a word on the subject. A knocking at the door succeeded, and Neddie, after a prolonged struggle to get into his yellow breeches, answered the call, and admitted Miss Stiraperton and Jean Brown. Mrs. Renshaw had declined to come, as she had contrived to fasten an appointment tor that day on honest Stiffriggs, and was glad of the opportunity of meeting him in his sister’s absense. Mr. Bacon, trailing his ermine robe behind him, met them in the lobby, and with great gallantry led them to the Throne room. Robin was in an adjoining apartment, and had not quite completed his toilette; but he entered soon after with an expression of countenance in which it was impossible to say whether pride, fun, or shame predominated, for they were all present, and contending for the mastery. J ean Brown’s power of face, which had just before been hard enough tasked, now fairly gave way; and her risibility exploded in a burst of laughter which lasted long, and was renewed every time she ventured to turn her eyes to him. “ Oh, Robin ! ” she said, when she was able to articulate a word, “ put aff that hat, or ye’ll be the death o’ me.”
[To be continued—commenced on “July 26-)
THE CHIMNEY CORNER., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 1, Issue 150, 9 September 1880
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