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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesSandra Belloni - Book 5 - Chapter 35. Mrs. Chump's Epistle
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Sandra Belloni - Book 5 - Chapter 35. Mrs. Chump's Epistle Post by :rthur Category :Long Stories Author :George Meredith Date :May 2012 Read :1239

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Sandra Belloni - Book 5 - Chapter 35. Mrs. Chump's Epistle

BOOK V CHAPTER XXXV. MRS. CHUMP'S EPISTLE

When Mrs. Chump had turned her back on Brookfield, the feelings of the outcast woman were too deep for much distinctly acrimonious sensation toward the ladies; but their letters soon lifted and revived her, until, being in a proper condition of prickly wrath, she sat down to compose a reply that should bury them under a mountain of shame. The point, however, was to transfer this mountain from her bosom, which laboured heavily beneath it, to their heads. Nothing could appear simpler. Here is the mountain; the heads are yonder. Accordingly, she prepared to commence. In a moment the difficulty yawned monstrous. For the mountain she felt was not a mountain of shame; yet that was the character of mountain she wished to cast. If she crushed them, her reputation as a forgiving soul might suffer: she could not pardon without seeing them abased. Thus shaken at starting, she found herself writing: "I know that your father has been hearing tales told of me, or he would have written, and he has not; so you shall never see me, not if you cried to me from the next world--the hot part."

Perusing this, it was too tremendous. "Oh, that's awful!" she said, getting her body a little away from the manuscript. "Ye couldn't curse much louder."

A fresh trial found her again rounding the fact that Mr. Pole had not written to her, and again flying into consequent angers. She had some dim conception of the sculpture of an offended Goddess. "I look so," she said before the glass "I'm above ye, and ye can't hurt me, and don't come anigh me: but here's a cheque--and may ye be haunted in your dreams!--but here's a cheque."

There was pain in her heart, for she had felt faith in Mr. Pole's affection for her. "And he said," she cried out in her lonely room--"he said, 'Martha, ye've onnly to come and be known to 'm, and then they'll take to the ideea.' And wasn't I a patient creature! And it's Pole that's turned--Pole!"

Varied with the frequent 'Oh!' and 'Augh!' these dramatic monologues occupied her time while the yacht was sailing for her Devon bay.

At last the thought struck her that she would send for Braintop--telegraphing that expenses would be paid, and that he must come with a good quill. "It goes faster," she whispered, suggesting the pent-up torrent, as it were, of blackest ink in her breast that there was to pour forth. A very cunning postscript to the telegram brought Braintop almost as quick to her as a return message. It was merely 'Little Belloni.'

She had forgotten this piece of artifice: but when she saw him start at the opening of the door, keeping a sheepish watch in that direction, "By'n-by," she said, with a nod; and shortly afterward unfolded her object in summoning him from his London labours: "A widde-woman ought to get marrud, Mr. Braintop, if onnly to have a husband to write letters for 'rr. Now, that's a task! But sup to-night, and mind ye say yer prayers before gettin' into bed; and no tryin' to flatter your Maker with your knees cuddled up to your chin under the counterpane. I do 't myself sometimes, and I know one prayer out of bed's worrth ten of 'm in. Then I'll pray too; and mayhap we'll get permission and help to write our letter to-morrow, though Sunday, as ye say."

On the morrow Braintop's spirits were low, he having perceived that the 'Little Belloni' postscript had been but an Irish chuckle and nudge in his ribs, by way of sly insinuation or reminder. He looked out on the sea, and sighed to be under certain white sails visible in the offing. Mrs. Chump had received by the morning's post another letter from Arabella, enclosing one for Wilfrid. A dim sense of approaching mastery, and that she might soon be melted, combined with the continued silence of Mr. Pole to make her feel yet more spiteful. She displayed no commendable cunning when, to sharpen and fortify Braintop's wits, she plumped him at breakfast with all things tempting to the appetite of man. "I'll help ye to 'rr," she said from time to time, finding that no encouragement made him potent in speech.

Fronting the sea a desk was laid open. On it were the quills faithfully brought down by Braintop.

"Pole's own quills," she said, having fixed Braintop in this official seat, while she took hers at a station half-commanding the young clerk's face. The mighty breakfast had given Braintop intolerable desire to stretch his limbs by the sounding shore, and enjoy life in semi-oblivion. He cheered himself with the reflection that there was only one letter to write, so he remarked politely that he was at his hostess's disposal. Thereat Mrs. Chump questioned him closely whether Mr. Pole had spoken her name aloud; and whether he did it somehow, now and then by accident, and whether he had looked worse of late. Braintop answered the latter question first, assuring her that Mr. Pole was improving.

"Then there's no marcy from me," said Mrs. Chump; and immediately discharged an exclamatory narrative of her recent troubles, and the breach between herself and Brookfield, at Braintop's ears. This done, she told him that he was there to write the reply to the letters of the ladies, in her name. "Begin," she said. "Ye've got head enough to guess my feelin's. I'm invited, and I won't go--till I'm fetched. But don't say that. That's their guess ye know. 'And I don't care for ye enough to be angry at all, but it's pity I feel at a parcel of fine garls'--so on, Mr. Braintop."

The perplexities of epistolary correspondence were assuming the like proportions to the recruited secretary that they had worn to Mrs. Chump. Steadily watching his countenance; she jogged him thus: "As if ye couldn't help ut, ye know, ye begin. Jest like wakin' in the mornin' after dancin' all night. Ye make the garls seem to hear me seemin' to say--Oooo! I was so comfortable before your disturbin' me with your horrud voices. Ye understand, Mr. Braintop? 'I'm in bed, and you're a cold bath.' Begin like that, ye know. 'Here's clover, and you're nettles.' D'ye see? Here from my glass o' good Porrt to your tumbler of horrud acud vin'gar.' Bless the boy! he don't begin."

She stamped her foot. Braintop, in desperation, made a plunge at the paper. Looking over his shoulder in a delighted eagerness, she suddenly gave it a scornful push. "'Dear!'" she exclaimed. "You're dearin' them, absurd young man I'm not the woman to I dear 'em--not at the starrt! I'm indignant--I'm hurrt. I come round to the 'dear' by-and-by, after I have whipped each of the proud sluts, and their brother Mr. Wilfrid, just as if by accident. Ye'll promus to forget avery secret I tell ye; but our way is always to pretend to believe the men can't help themselves. So the men look like fools, ye sly laughin' fella! and the women horrud scheming spiders. Now, away, with ye, and no dearin'."

The Sunday-bells sounded mockingly in Braintop's ears, appearing to ask him how he liked his holiday; and the white sails on the horizon line have seldom taunted prisoner more. He spread out another sheet of notepaper and wrote "My," and there he stopped.

Mrs. Chump was again at his elbow. "But, they aren't 'my,'" she remonstrated, "when I've nothin' to do with 'm. And a 'my' has a 'dear' to 't always. Ye're not awake, Mr. Braintop; try again."

"Shall I begin formally, 'Mrs. Chump presents her compliments,' ma'am?" said Braintop stiffly.

"And I stick myself up on a post, and talk like a parrot, sir! Don't you see, I'm familiar, and I'm woundud? Go along; try again."

Braintop's next effort was, "Ladies."

"But they don't behave to me like ladus; and it's against my conscience to call 'em!" said Mrs. Chump, with resolution.

Braintop wrote down "Women," in the very irony of disgust.

"And avery one of 'em unmarred garls!" exclaimed Mrs. Chump, throwing up her hands. "Mr. Braintop! Mr. Braintop! ye're next to an ejut!"

Braintop threw dawn the pen. "I really do not know what to say," he remarked, rising in distress.

"I naver had such a desire to shake anny man in all my life," said Mrs. Chump, dropping to her chair.

The posture of affairs was chimed to by the monotonous bell. After listening to it for some minutes, Mrs. Chump was struck with a notion that Braintop's sinfulness in working on a Sunday, or else the shortness of the prayer he had put up to gain absolution, was the cause of his lack of ready wit. Hearing that he had gloves, she told him to go to church, listen devoutly, and return to luncheon. Braintop departed, with a sensation of relief in the anticipation of a sermon, quite new to him. When he next made his bow to his hostess, he was greeted by a pleasant sparkle of refreshments. Mrs. Chump herself primed him with Sherry, thinking in the cunning of her heart that it might haply help the inspiration derived from his devotional exercise. After this, pen and paper were again produced.

"Well, now, Mr. Braintop, and what have ye thought of?" said Mrs. Chump, encouragingly.

Braintop thought rapidly over what he might possibly have been thinking of; and having put a file of ideas into the past, said, with the air of a man who delicately suggests a subtlety: "It has struck me, ma'am, that perhaps 'Girls' might begin very well. To be sure 'Dear girls' is the best, if you would consent to it."

"Take another glass of wine, Mr. Braintop," Mrs. Chump nodded. "Ye're nearer to ut now. 'Garls' is what they are, at all events. But don't you see, my dear your man, it isn't the real thing we want so much as a sort of a proud beginnin', shorrt of slappin' their faces. Think of dinner. Furrst soup; that prepares ye for what's comin'. Then fish, which is on the road to meat, dye see?--we pepper 'em. Then joint, Mr. Braintop--out we burrst: (Oh, and what ins'lent hussies ye've been to me, and yell naver see annything of me but my back!) Then the sweets,--But I'm a forgivin' woman, and a Christian in the bargain, ye ungrateful minxes; and if ye really are sorrowful! And there, Mr. Braintop, ye've got it all laid out as flat as a pancake."

Mrs. Chump gave the motion of a lightning scrawl of the pen. Braintop looked at the paper, which now appeared to recede from his eyes, and flourish like a descending kite. The nature of the task he had undertaken became mountainous in his imagination, till at last he fixed his forehead in his thumbs and fingers, and resolutely counted a number of meaningless words one hundred times. As this was the attitude of a severe student, Mrs. Chump remained in expectation. Aware of the fearful confidence he had excited in her, Braintop fell upon a fresh hundred, with variations.

"The truth is, I think better in church," he said, disclosing at last as ingenuous a face as he could assume. He scarcely ventured to hope for a second dismissal.

To his joy, Mrs. Chump responded with a sigh: "There, go again; and the Lord forgive ye for directin' your mind to temporal matters when ye're there! It's none of my doin', remember that; and don't be tryin' to make me a partic'pator in your wickudness."

"This is so difficult, ma'am, because you won't begin with Dear," he observed snappishly, as he was retiring.

"Of coorse it's difficult if it bothers me," retorted Mrs. Chump, divided between that view of the case and contempt of Braintop for being on her own level.

"Do you see, we are not to say 'Dear' anything, or 'Ladies,' or--in short, really, if you come to think, ma'am!"

"Is that a woman's business, Mr. Braintop?" said Mrs. Chump, as from a height; and the youth retired in humiliation.

Braintop was not destitute of the ambition of his time of life, and yearned to be what he believed himself--something better than a clerk. If he had put forth no effort to compose Mrs. Chump's letter, he would not have felt that he was the partner of her stupidity; but he had thoughtlessly attempted the impossible thing, and now, contemplating his utter failure, he was in so low a state of mind that he would have taken pen and written himself down, with ordinary honesty, good-for-nothing. He returned to his task, and found the dinner spread. Mrs. Chump gave him champagne, and drank to him, requesting him to challenge her. "We won't be beaten," she said; and at least they dined.

The 'we' smote Braintop's swelling vanity. It signified an alliance, and that they were yoked to a common difficulty.

"Oh! let's finish it and have it over," he remarked, with a complacent roll in his chair.

"Naver stop a good impulse," said Mrs. Chump, herself removing the lamp to light him.

Braintop sat in the chair of torture, and wrote flowingly, while his taskmistress looked over him, "Ladies of Brookfield." He read it out: "Ladies of Brookfield."

"I'll be vary happy to represent ye at the forthcomin' 'lection," Mrs. Chump gave a continuation in his tone.

"Why, won't that do, ma'am?" Braintop asked in wonderment.

"Cap'tal for a circular, Mr. Braintop. And ye'll allow me to say that I don't think ye've been to church at all."

This accusation containing a partial truth (that is, true if it referred to the afternoon, but not as to the morning), it was necessary for Braintop's self-vindication that he should feel angry. The two were very soon recriminating, much in the manner of boy and girl shut up on a sunny afternoon; after which they, in like manner, made it up--the fact of both having a habit of consulting the glass, and the accident of their doing it at the same time, causing an encounter of glances there that could hardly fail to be succeeded by some affability. For a last effort, Mrs. Chump laid before Braintop a prospect of advancement in his office, if he so contrived as to write a letter that should land her in Brookfield among a scourged, repentant, and forgiven people. That he might understand the position, she went far modestly to reveal her weakness for Mr. Pole. She even consented to let 'Ladies' be the opening apostrophe, provided the word 'Young' went before it: "They'll feel that sting," she said. Braintop stipulated that she should not look till the letter was done; and, observing his pen travelling the lines in quick succession, Mrs. Chump became inspired by a great but uneasy hope. She was only to be restrained from peeping, by Braintop's petulant "Pray, ma'am!" which sent her bouncing back to her chair, with a face upon one occasion too solemn for Braintop's gravity. He had written himself into excellent spirits; and happening to look up as Mrs. Chump retreated from his shoulder, the woman's comic reverence for his occupation--the prim movement of her lips while she repeated mutely the words she supposed he might be penning--touched him to laughter. At once Mrs. Chump seized on the paper. "Young ladus," she read aloud, "yours of the 2nd, the 14th, and 21st ulto. The 'ffection I bear to your onnly remaining parent."

Her enunciation waxed slower and significantly staccato toward a pause. The composition might undoubtedly have issued from a merchant's office, and would have done no discredit to the establishment. When the pause came, Braintop, half for an opinion, and to encourage progress, said, "Yes, ma'am;" and with "There, sir!" Mrs. Chump crumpled up the paper and flung it at him. "And there, sir!" she tossed a pen. Hearing Braintop mutter, "Lady-like behaviour," Mrs. Chump came out in a fiery bloom. "Ye detestable young fella! Oh, ye young deceiver! Ye cann't do the work of a man! Oh! and here's another woman dis'pointed, and when she thought she'd got a man to write her letters!"

Braintop rose and retorted.

"Ye're false, Mr. Braintop--ye're offensuv, sir!" said Mrs. Chump; and Braintop instantly retired upon an expressive bow. When he was out of the room, Mrs. Chump appealed spitefully to an audience of chairs; but when she heard the front-door shut with a report, she jumped up in terror, crying incredulously, "Is the young man pos'tively one? Oh! and me alone in a rage!--" the contemplated horrors of which position set her shouting vociferously. "Mr. Braintop!" sounded over the stairs, and "Mr. Braintop!" into the street. The maid brought Mrs. Chump her bonnet. Night had fallen; and nothing but the greatest anxiety to recover Braintop would have tempted her from her house. She made half-a-dozen steps, and then stopped to mutter, "Oh! if ye'd onnly come, I'd forgive ye--indeed I would!"

"Well, here I am," was instantaneously answered; her waist was clasped, and her forehead was kissed.

The madness of Braintop's libertinism petrified her.

"Ye've taken such a liberty, sir 'deed ye've forgotten yourself!"

While she was speaking; she grew confused with the thought that Braintop had mightily altered both his voice and shape. When on the doorstep he said; "Come out of the darkness or, upon my honour, I shall behave worse," she recognized Wilfrid, and understood by his yachting costume in what manner he had come. He gave her no time to think of her dignity or her wrath. "Lady Charlotte is with me. I sleep at the hotel; but you have no objection to receive her, have you?" This set her mind upon her best bedroom, her linen, and the fitness of her roof to receive a title. Then, in a partial fit of gratitude for the honour, and immense thankfulness at being spared the task of the letter, she fell on Wilfrid's shoulder, beginning to sob--till he, in alarm at his absurd position, suggested that Lady Charlotte awaited a welcome. Mrs. Chump immediately flew to her drawing-room and rang bells, appearing presently with a lamp, which she set on a garden-pillar. Together they stood by the lamp, a spectacle to ocean: but no Lady Charlotte drew near.

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