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.
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.