« PreviousContinue »
whom it has to deal. Poverty understands distinctions; it would be bad for the nobility of misery if every one could imitate them. Poverty, too, has its parvenus, who have reduced themselves with great trouble and much
possessors of millions to possessors of nothing; but to bear your honours blushing is not every man's forte, for that requires its peculiar study and education.
As I have said, in spite of all our good will, we assumed a very exceptional position in California ; but with the greatest possible savoir faire we seated ourselves at one of the rough tables, and called for some glasses of rum. My cousin threw a five-franc piece on the table, for we had been so careless as to expend all our small change on our way in the trois sous pour la consommation, that is, in the numerous small entrancefees, for which you have a right to refreshment. Decency was at once insulted by this five-franc piece; the chiffonnier seated next me involuntarily drew back, and cast a distrustful glance upon us, for in California five-franc pieces are things unknown. Either we were honest and wellto-do folk-in that case we did not belong to this society, as we possessed more than they all-- or else we had stolen, and then we were just as little suited for the company, for, as I said, the chiffonniers are honest people. At any rate we had lost our credit by our own art and part, and were obliged to put up with hearing our neighbours make all sorts of whispered remarks about us.
The conversation about government, police, war, and other matters, was hushed around us; we might, after all, be police spies. One of the most interesting traits of this society was, consequently, lost to us, for the Parisian prolétaire politicises like the most practised diplomatist, naturally in his own manner, as alluded to before. We must, therefore, content ourselves with taking a look at the whole company, in which my cousin found some magnificent studies. At one table sat a band of chiffonniers, whose implements stood modestly in a corner ; they were supping out of their own havresack they had brought with them, or earthen vessels ; at another table sat a group of vagabonds, with the most cunning and weather-beaten faces. They were playing cards for sous; the cards could scarcely be distinguished, but unmistakable were the roguishness and villany beaming in their every feature. One man's clothes were shabby and torn; you could see that they were various articles of the most different origin, which had collected here to dress up one of the most distinguished of scoundrels. The worst face in the whole group belonged to the worst clothes; that the others were better dressed could, however, only serve as a proof that they were still greater rogues than he. You see, then, that
you cannot always trust to physiognomy, for at the present day that swindler must be a precious muff who cannot appear, at least, respectably dressed.
One group in the corner of the stone-paved room was highly characteristic. It consisted of a single family, father, mother, and two boys of fourteen and fifteen respectively. This family appeared to boast some degree of prosperity, for the father was counting a bag of sous, the mother was watching him attentively, while the boys, a couple of young gamins of the purest water, were drinking a bottle of execrable wine, with such self-satisfaction that it was impossible to doubt who was the
producer of this copper mammon. Corruption was branded on the faces of these lads, even more so than on those of the father and mother. Each had a handful of sous returned him by his fond parent, which they carelessly thrust into their pockets. I cannot fancy that the father of these sons was so simple as not to know that they had quietly kept back the lion's share of their daily earnings. Perhaps the handful of sous was intended to serve as an encouragement, or in some measure as a premium, for a beggar-boy does not thrust money in his pocket with such contempt as I saw here, unless he had collected enough of them for his purposes beforehand.
Our guide proposed to depart. We had formed the acquaintance of California and its honourable population. Curiosity and novelty were satisfied. The restaurateur of la Californie, a rough fellow, was not unfeeling for the half-franc my cousin had given him; he played us a trick by walking before us to the door, and giving his unwonted guests a deep satirical bow, which had the effect of causing the Californians nearest us to burst out into a horse-laugh.
So I've been once to California, but never more never more.
THE NEW SIMONIDES.
BY CAPTAIN MED WIN.
SIMONIDES, by fragments known to fame,
In Greece of old drew tears from every eye,
with no resemblance but in name,
IN NOVUM SIMONIDEM,
Graiis laudati, nullum memor eximet ævum
Carmina, fragmentis tradita, Simonidis.
Non pudeat, veris, vendere suppositas ?
Et te fles, aliis flebilis ille fuit.
MISERIES OF A WET DAY IN THE COUNTRY,
Woke up at sundry intervals during the night, by the wind roaring, beating, chafing, and shrieking, like an infuriated spirit, round the house, sending violent gusts down the chimney, and making the doors and windows rattle again the rain, driven in with furious beating gusts against the windows, keeping up a sort of accompaniment to its music. In the interlude, disturbed by mice having a battle royal over a crust of bread, left by misfortune in the room, and being almost certain that, in this campaign in the dark, one of them ran across my face. The rattling of the window-panes increasing violently and audibly. Got up and struck a light, under the insane idea I should be able to put a plug in so as to keep them quiet. I found that my dear little boy, Adolphus, with his usual mechanical genius, had cut all my wooden pegs up into thin match-lighters, and
tried in despair to substitute paper plugs from an old Punch. Failed signally in this attempt, as the rain oozing in drenched the paper, and made it weak in its constitution. The lamp blown out in my hands by a sudden rude blast of wind, and retreated, trembling and cold, to my bed, upsetting in my way two chairs and one little table.
Just got into a disturbed sleep, where I fancied I was out in a storm, and was trying in vain to reach the house but never could do so, when I was eventually aroused by the entrance of the servant, to inform me that my pet, Cecil, refused, on any account whatever, to submit to his usual ablutions; and that Adolphus had upset the bath all over the nursery floor, saying that his mamma had told him that water always found its own level, and that he wanted to prove it. Regretted to discover in this instance that the water had forgot itself, and descended beneath its level, having oozed through the nursery boards, and being now busy on a voyage of discovery into the dining-room below. Took care of the dear pets whilst the disaster was getting repaired, and was let into promising Adolphus and his eldest brother, Reginald, that, as the day was so wet, they should be excused from their schools and remain at home with me. Spent nearly half an hour in restoring the equilibrium and temper of the nursery, and then went down to breakfast with Paterfamilias, whom I found looking not slightly disturbed, buttoning up his great-coat, and putting on his boots, and, with the usual perversity of his sex, insisting that “he would rather go out, be it ever so wet, than stay in the house to be tormented as he had been—that it was very strange I never could be down to breakfast, and that he never could have a meal in peace !-that he should like to know how anybody could eat with the wet all dropping down from the ceiling ?—and that if the children could not be taught how to behave better, he must beg they might be kept out of his room.”
Felt all my Materfamilias feelings very much aggrieved, but had not time to remonstrate as the door was slammed to with the last
sentence, and I was left to break my fast as I best could, on some cold weak tea, a ragged-looking loaf, butter that was evidently being the worse for hacked, and a modicum of cold bacon. Sat there watching pensively a little pool on the tablecloth, growing bigger from the roof-drippings—and the enlivening view of the rain-drops trickling down on the window-sill-and felt my spirits growing every moment “small by degrees and beautifully less," till I was suddenly roused to consciousness by piercing screams proceeding from the playroom. Entering there I found the two eldest boys fighting over a book ; Cecil Vane engaged in furtively throwing things into the fire, and conveying other treasures into the ash-heap beneath ; whilst nurse was vainly trying to comfort Una Clementina, our youngest hope, who had fallen off a chair and broken her nose, in her vain endeavours to emulate her brothers in climbing. Sent the two boys by themselves into another room to look at pictures, with strict orders not to fall out any more, and comforted the baby with lollipops and sugar. Went out to order dinner of cook, but found everything in confusion, as the “blacks" had come down the chimney in the night, and the wood was so wet it had entered a protest against being lighted, whilst the wet had come in at the dairy and Hooded all the milk-pans. Endeavoured to cross the yard to see what mischief had been done, but was nearly taken off my legs by the wind, which handled my petticoats in the most shocking manner. Retreated at last into my own little room, and locked the door against all intruders. Thought I would write some sweet verses to console myself, but could see nothing from without but the leafless trees, sodden grass, and earth and sky of one uniform grey leaden colour. Watched the drops of rain as they fell from the window-ledge upon the stone beneath, and counted them off by fifties at a time, till
I quite forgot how many fifties I had counted, and then endeavoured to see if I could call ten between the incessant cracking and creaking of doors and windowframes, but could not even get as far as five. Relieved myself at last in verse, after the following fashion :
Those doors ! those doors ! those passage doors !
Why will they fret me so ?
Go rattling to and fro?
But still that noise wears on;
Nor wake to find it flown.
I've tried to plug them back,
Increases still their clack !
The wind the carpet stirs,
The whistling drugget burrs !
But still their noise begins !
And howls the wind a requiem wild,
As chorus to that strain,
And clack, chat, clack again!
We give them bolt and bar,
With one eternal jar!
Like scream of engine shrill,
And shrieking at their will.
Why will they fret me so ?
Go rattling to and fro ?
My thoughts are even vain,
And clack, chat, clack again! Feeling rather the better for this energetic effort, thought I would go and see after the children and the dinner, but was begged by nurse not to come into the room, as she had "just gotten the childer quiet, and it was a pity to disturb them,” and turned away from the kitchen departments, after one look at the cook's sour face. Walked about the house, feeling miserable and in everybody's way, and not having the least idea what to do with myself. Thought at last I would make myself a little smart for dinner, but found my hair had got all ragged and out of curl, and my things hanging limp, moist, and uncomfortable about me. Determined to sit down and have a good cry, but thought better of it. Heard Paterfamilias' step resounding angrily through the house, letting in a current of wind and rain up to the bedroom door, and trembled before it. Having a certain conviction that the dinner was execrable, sent word down to my sposo that I had a bad headache, and thought I should have a cup of tea in my own bedroom, and escaped thereby the storm beneath, of which I only heard the under effects of the dinner being all sent out again, and the same angry step resounding through the house, and a certain banging of the house-door, which betokened a gusty departure. Finally, to soothe my ruffled spirits, set myself down to write this true history of a rainy day, in hopes that other sufferers, after the like fashion, may find that there are household martyrs as miserable as themselves.