Table of Contents

+ Add to Library

Previous Next

Chapter 36 Private and confidential, relating to Family Matters. Showin_ow Mr Kenwigs underwent violent Agitation, and how Mrs Kenwigs was as well a_ould be expected

  • It might have been seven o'clock in the evening, and it was growing dark i_he narrow streets near Golden Square, when Mr Kenwigs sent out for a pair o_he cheapest white kid gloves—those at fourteen- pence—and selecting th_trongest, which happened to be the right- hand one, walked downstairs with a_ir of pomp and much excitement, and proceeded to muffle the knob of th_treet-door knocker therein. Having executed this task with great nicety, M_enwigs pulled the door to, after him, and just stepped across the road to tr_he effect from the opposite side of the street. Satisfied that nothing coul_ossibly look better in its way, Mr Kenwigs then stepped back again, an_alling through the keyhole to Morleena to open the door, vanished into th_ouse, and was seen no longer.
  • Now, considered as an abstract circumstance, there was no more obvious caus_r reason why Mr Kenwigs should take the trouble of muffling this particula_nocker, than there would have been for his muffling the knocker of an_obleman or gentleman resident ten miles off; because, for the greate_onvenience of the numerous lodgers, the street-door always stood wide open, and the knocker was never used at all. The first floor, the second floor, an_he third floor, had each a bell of its own. As to the attics, no one eve_alled on them; if anybody wanted the parlours, they were close at hand, an_ll he had to do was to walk straight into them; while the kitchen had _eparate entrance down the area steps. As a question of mere necessity an_sefulness, therefore, this muffling of the knocker was thoroughl_ncomprehensible.
  • But knockers may be muffled for other purposes than those of mer_tilitarianism, as, in the present instance, was clearly shown. There ar_ertain polite forms and ceremonies which must be observed in civilised life, or mankind relapse into their original barbarism. No genteel lady was ever ye_onfined—indeed, no genteel confinement can possibly take place—without th_ccompanying symbol of a muffled knocker. Mrs Kenwigs was a lady of som_retensions to gentility; Mrs Kenwigs was confined. And, therefore, Mr Kenwig_ied up the silent knocker on the premises in a white kid glove.
  • 'I'm not quite certain neither,' said Mr Kenwigs, arranging his shirt-collar, and walking slowly upstairs, 'whether, as it's a boy, I won't have it in th_apers.'
  • Pondering upon the advisability of this step, and the sensation it was likel_o create in the neighbourhood, Mr Kenwigs betook himself to the sitting-room, where various extremely diminutive articles of clothing were airing on a hors_efore the fire, and Mr Lumbey, the doctor, was dandling the baby—that is, th_ld baby—not the new one.
  • 'It's a fine boy, Mr Kenwigs,' said Mr Lumbey, the doctor.
  • 'You consider him a fine boy, do you, sir?' returned Mr Kenwigs.
  • 'It's the finest boy I ever saw in all my life,' said the doctor. 'I never sa_uch a baby.'
  • It is a pleasant thing to reflect upon, and furnishes a complete answer t_hose who contend for the gradual degeneration of the human species, tha_very baby born into the world is a finer one than the last.
  • 'I ne—ver saw such a baby,' said Mr Lumbey, the doctor.
  • 'Morleena was a fine baby,' remarked Mr Kenwigs; as if this were rather a_ttack, by implication, upon the family.
  • 'They were all fine babies,' said Mr Lumbey. And Mr Lumbey went on nursing th_aby with a thoughtful look. Whether he was considering under what head h_ould best charge the nursing in the bill, was best known to himself.
  • During this short conversation, Miss Morleena, as the eldest of the family, and natural representative of her mother during her indisposition, had bee_ustling and slapping the three younger Miss Kenwigses, without intermission; which considerate and affectionate conduct brought tears into the eyes of M_enwigs, and caused him to declare that, in understanding and behaviour, tha_hild was a woman.
  • 'She will be a treasure to the man she marries, sir,' said Mr Kenwigs, hal_side; 'I think she'll marry above her station, Mr Lumbey.'
  • 'I shouldn't wonder at all,' replied the doctor.
  • 'You never see her dance, sir, did you?' asked Mr Kenwigs.
  • The doctor shook his head.
  • 'Ay!' said Mr Kenwigs, as though he pitied him from his heart, 'then you don'_now what she's capable of.'
  • All this time there had been a great whisking in and out of the other room; the door had been opened and shut very softly about twenty times a minute (fo_t was necessary to keep Mrs Kenwigs quiet); and the baby had been exhibite_o a score or two of deputations from a select body of female friends, who ha_ssembled in the passage, and about the street-door, to discuss the event i_ll its bearings. Indeed, the excitement extended itself over the whol_treet, and groups of ladies might be seen standing at the doors, (some in th_nteresting condition in which Mrs Kenwigs had last appeared in public,) relating their experiences of similar occurrences. Some few acquired grea_redit from having prophesied, the day before yesterday, exactly when it woul_ome to pass; others, again, related, how that they guessed what it was, directly they saw Mr Kenwigs turn pale and run up the street as hard as eve_e could go. Some said one thing, and some another; but all talked together, and all agreed upon two points: first, that it was very meritorious and highl_raiseworthy in Mrs Kenwigs to do as she had done: and secondly, that ther_ever was such a skilful and scientific doctor as that Dr Lumbey.
  • In the midst of this general hubbub, Dr Lumbey sat in the first- floor front, as before related, nursing the deposed baby, and talking to Mr Kenwigs. He wa_ stout bluff-looking gentleman, with no shirt-collar to speak of, and a bear_hat had been growing since yesterday morning; for Dr Lumbey was popular, an_he neighbourhood was prolific; and there had been no less than three othe_nockers muffled, one after the other within the last forty-eight hours.
  • 'Well, Mr Kenwigs,' said Dr Lumbey, 'this makes six. You'll have a fine famil_n time, sir.'
  • 'I think six is almost enough, sir,' returned Mr Kenwigs.
  • 'Pooh! pooh!' said the doctor. 'Nonsense! not half enough.'
  • With this, the doctor laughed; but he didn't laugh half as much as a marrie_riend of Mrs Kenwigs's, who had just come in from the sick chamber to repor_rogress, and take a small sip of brandy-and- water: and who seemed t_onsider it one of the best jokes ever launched upon society.
  • 'They're not altogether dependent upon good fortune, neither,' said M_enwigs, taking his second daughter on his knee; 'they have expectations.'
  • 'Oh, indeed!' said Mr Lumbey, the doctor.
  • 'And very good ones too, I believe, haven't they?' asked the married lady.
  • 'Why, ma'am,' said Mr Kenwigs, 'it's not exactly for me to say what they ma_e, or what they may not be. It's not for me to boast of any family with whic_ have the honour to be connected; at the same time, Mrs Kenwigs's is—I shoul_ay,' said Mr Kenwigs, abruptly, and raising his voice as he spoke, 'that m_hildren might come into a matter of a hundred pound apiece, perhaps. Perhap_ore, but certainly that.'
  • 'And a very pretty little fortune,' said the married lady.
  • 'There are some relations of Mrs Kenwigs's,' said Mr Kenwigs, taking a pinc_f snuff from the doctor's box, and then sneezing very hard, for he wasn'_sed to it, 'that might leave their hundred pound apiece to ten people, an_et not go begging when they had done it.'
  • 'Ah! I know who you mean,' observed the married lady, nodding her head.
  • 'I made mention of no names, and I wish to make mention of no names,' said M_enwigs, with a portentous look. 'Many of my friends have met a relation o_rs Kenwigs's in this very room, as would do honour to any company; that'_ll.'
  • 'I've met him,' said the married lady, with a glance towards Dr Lumbey.
  • 'It's naterally very gratifying to my feelings as a father, to see such a ma_s that, a kissing and taking notice of my children,' pursued Mr Kenwigs.
  • 'It's naterally very gratifying to my feelings as a man, to know that man. I_ill be naterally very gratifying to my feelings as a husband, to make tha_an acquainted with this ewent.'
  • Having delivered his sentiments in this form of words, Mr Kenwigs arranged hi_econd daughter's flaxen tail, and bade her be a good girl and mind what he_ister, Morleena, said.
  • 'That girl grows more like her mother every day,' said Mr Lumbey, suddenl_tricken with an enthusiastic admiration of Morleena.
  • 'There!' rejoined the married lady. 'What I always say; what I always did say!
  • She's the very picter of her.' Having thus directed the general attention t_he young lady in question, the married lady embraced the opportunity o_aking another sip of the brandy- and-water—and a pretty long sip too.
  • 'Yes! there is a likeness,' said Mr Kenwigs, after some reflection. 'But suc_ woman as Mrs Kenwigs was, afore she was married! Good gracious, such _oman!'
  • Mr Lumbey shook his head with great solemnity, as though to imply that h_upposed she must have been rather a dazzler.
  • 'Talk of fairies!' cried Mr Kenwigs 'I never see anybody so light to be alive, never. Such manners too; so playful, and yet so sewerely proper! As for he_igure! It isn't generally known,' said Mr Kenwigs, dropping his voice; 'bu_er figure was such, at that time, that the sign of the Britannia, over in th_olloway Road, was painted from it!'
  • 'But only see what it is now,' urged the married lady. 'Does SHE look like th_other of six?'
  • 'Quite ridiculous,' cried the doctor.
  • 'She looks a deal more like her own daughter,' said the married lady.
  • 'So she does,' assented Mr Lumbey. 'A great deal more.'
  • Mr Kenwigs was about to make some further observations, most probably i_onfirmation of this opinion, when another married lady, who had looked in t_eep up Mrs Kenwigs's spirits, and help to clear off anything in the eatin_nd drinking way that might be going about, put in her head to announce tha_he had just been down to answer the bell, and that there was a gentleman a_he door who wanted to see Mr Kenwigs 'most particular.'
  • Shadowy visions of his distinguished relation flitted through the brain of M_enwigs, as this message was delivered; and under their influence, h_ispatched Morleena to show the gentleman up straightway.
  • 'Why, I do declare,' said Mr Kenwigs, standing opposite the door so as to ge_he earliest glimpse of the visitor, as he came upstairs, 'it's Mr Johnson!
  • How do you find yourself, sir?'
  • Nicholas shook hands, kissed his old pupils all round, intrusted a larg_arcel of toys to the guardianship of Morleena, bowed to the doctor and th_arried ladies, and inquired after Mrs Kenwigs in a tone of interest, whic_ent to the very heart and soul of the nurse, who had come in to warm som_ysterious compound, in a little saucepan over the fire.
  • 'I ought to make a hundred apologies to you for calling at such a season,'
  • said Nicholas, 'but I was not aware of it until I had rung the bell, and m_ime is so fully occupied now, that I feared it might be some days before _ould possibly come again.'
  • 'No time like the present, sir,' said Mr Kenwigs. 'The sitiwation of Mr_enwigs, sir, is no obstacle to a little conversation between you and me, _ope?'
  • 'You are very good,' said Nicholas.
  • At this juncture, proclamation was made by another married lady, that the bab_ad begun to eat like anything; whereupon the two married ladies, alread_entioned, rushed tumultuously into the bedroom to behold him in the act.
  • 'The fact is,' resumed Nicholas, 'that before I left the country, where I hav_een for some time past, I undertook to deliver a message to you.'
  • 'Ay, ay?' said Mr Kenwigs.
  • 'And I have been,' added Nicholas, 'already in town for some days, withou_aving had an opportunity of doing so.'
  • 'It's no matter, sir,' said Mr Kenwigs. 'I dare say it's none the worse fo_eeping cold. Message from the country!' said Mr Kenwigs, ruminating; 'that'_urious. I don't know anybody in the country.'
  • 'Miss Petowker,' suggested Nicholas.
  • 'Oh! from her, is it?' said Mr Kenwigs. 'Oh dear, yes. Ah! Mrs Kenwigs will b_lad to hear from her. Henrietta Petowker, eh? How odd things come about, now!
  • That you should have met her in the country! Well!'
  • Hearing this mention of their old friend's name, the four Miss Kenwigse_athered round Nicholas, open eyed and mouthed, to hear more. Mr Kenwig_ooked a little curious too, but quite comfortable and unsuspecting.
  • 'The message relates to family matters,' said Nicholas, hesitating.
  • 'Oh, never mind,' said Kenwigs, glancing at Mr Lumbey, who, having rashl_aken charge of little Lillyvick, found nobody disposed to relieve him of hi_recious burden. 'All friends here.'
  • Nicholas hemmed once or twice, and seemed to have some difficulty i_roceeding.
  • 'At Portsmouth, Henrietta Petowker is,' observed Mr Kenwigs.
  • 'Yes,' said Nicholas, 'Mr Lillyvick is there.'
  • Mr Kenwigs turned pale, but he recovered, and said, THAT was an od_oincidence also.
  • 'The message is from him,' said Nicholas.
  • Mr Kenwigs appeared to revive. He knew that his niece was in a delicate state, and had, no doubt, sent word that they were to forward full particulars. Yes.
  • That was very kind of him; so like him too!
  • 'He desired me to give his kindest love,' said Nicholas.
  • 'Very much obliged to him, I'm sure. Your great-uncle, Lillyvick, my dears!'
  • interposed Mr Kenwigs, condescendingly explaining it to the children.
  • 'His kindest love,' resumed Nicholas; 'and to say that he had no time t_rite, but that he was married to Miss Petowker.'
  • Mr Kenwigs started from his seat with a petrified stare, caught his secon_aughter by her flaxen tail, and covered his face with his pocket- handkerchief. Morleena fell, all stiff and rigid, into the baby's chair, a_he had seen her mother fall when she fainted away, and the two remainin_ittle Kenwigses shrieked in affright.
  • 'My children, my defrauded, swindled infants!' cried Mr Kenwigs, pulling s_ard, in his vehemence, at the flaxen tail of his second daughter, that h_ifted her up on tiptoe, and kept her, for some seconds, in that attitude.
  • 'Villain, ass, traitor!'
  • 'Drat the man!' cried the nurse, looking angrily around. 'What does he mean b_aking that noise here?'
  • 'Silence, woman!' said Mr Kenwigs, fiercely.
  • 'I won't be silent,' returned the nurse. 'Be silent yourself, you wretch. Hav_ou no regard for your baby?'
  • 'No!' returned Mr Kenwigs.
  • 'More shame for you,' retorted the nurse. 'Ugh! you unnatural monster.'
  • 'Let him die,' cried Mr Kenwigs, in the torrent of his wrath. 'Let him die! H_as no expectations, no property to come into. We want no babies here,' sai_r Kenwigs recklessly. 'Take 'em away, take 'em away to the Fondling!'
  • With these awful remarks, Mr Kenwigs sat himself down in a chair, and defie_he nurse, who made the best of her way into the adjoining room, and returne_ith a stream of matrons: declaring that Mr Kenwigs had spoken blasphem_gainst his family, and must be raving mad.
  • Appearances were certainly not in Mr Kenwigs's favour, for the exertion o_peaking with so much vehemence, and yet in such a tone as should prevent hi_amentations reaching the ears of Mrs Kenwigs, had made him very black in th_ace; besides which, the excitement of the occasion, and an unwonte_ndulgence in various strong cordials to celebrate it, had swollen and dilate_is features to a most unusual extent. But, Nicholas and the doctor—who ha_een passive at first, doubting very much whether Mr Kenwigs could be i_arnest—interfering to explain the immediate cause of his condition, th_ndignation of the matrons was changed to pity, and they implored him, wit_uch feeling, to go quietly to bed.
  • 'The attention,' said Mr Kenwigs, looking around with a plaintive air, 'th_ttention that I've shown to that man! The hyseters he has eat, and the pint_f ale he has drank, in this house—!'
  • 'It's very trying, and very hard to bear, we know,' said one of the marrie_adies; 'but think of your dear darling wife.'
  • 'Oh yes, and what she's been a undergoing of, only this day,' cried a grea_any voices. 'There's a good man, do.'
  • 'The presents that have been made to him,' said Mr Kenwigs, reverting to hi_alamity, 'the pipes, the snuff-boxes—a pair of india-rubber goloshes, tha_ost six-and-six—'
  • 'Ah! it won't bear thinking of, indeed,' cried the matrons generally; 'bu_t'll all come home to him, never fear.'
  • Mr Kenwigs looked darkly upon the ladies, as if he would prefer its all comin_ome to HIM, as there was nothing to be got by it; but he said nothing, an_esting his head upon his hand, subsided into a kind of doze.
  • Then, the matrons again expatiated on the expediency of taking the goo_entleman to bed; observing that he would be better tomorrow, and that the_new what was the wear and tear of some men's minds when their wives wer_aken as Mrs Kenwigs had been that day, and that it did him great credit, an_here was nothing to be ashamed of in it; far from it; they liked to see it, they did, for it showed a good heart. And one lady observed, as a case bearin_pon the present, that her husband was often quite light-headed from anxiet_n similar occasions, and that once, when her little Johnny was born, it wa_early a week before he came to himself again, during the whole of which tim_e did nothing but cry 'Is it a boy, is it a boy?' in a manner which went t_he hearts of all his hearers.
  • At length, Morleena (who quite forgot she had fainted, when she found she wa_ot noticed) announced that a chamber was ready for her afflicted parent; an_r Kenwigs, having partially smothered his four daughters in the closeness o_is embrace, accepted the doctor's arm on one side, and the support o_icholas on the other, and was conducted upstairs to a bedroom which bee_ecured for the occasion.
  • Having seen him sound asleep, and heard him snore most satisfactorily, an_aving further presided over the distribution of the toys, to the perfec_ontentment of all the little Kenwigses, Nicholas took his leave. The matron_ropped off one by one, with the exception of six or eight particular friends, who had determined to stop all night; the lights in the houses graduall_isappeared; the last bulletin was issued that Mrs Kenwigs was as well a_ould be expected; and the whole family were left to their repose.