The Diary Of A Nobody

CHAPTER XVIII

Trouble with a stylographic pen. We go to a Volunteer Ball, where I am
let in for an expensive supper. Grossly insulted by a cabman. An odd
invitation to Southend.

APRIL 8. No events of any importance, except that Gowing strongly
recommended a new patent stylographic pen, which cost me
nine-and-sixpence, and which was simply nine-and-sixpence thrown in the
mud. It has caused me constant annoyance and irritability of temper.
The ink oozes out of the top, making a mess on my hands, and once at the
office when I was knocking the palm of my hand on the desk to jerk the
ink down, Mr. Perkupp, who had just entered, called out: “Stop that
knocking! I suppose that is you, Mr. Pitt?” That young monkey, Pitt,
took a malicious glee in responding quite loudly: “No, sir; I beg pardon,
it is Mr. Pooter with his pen; it has been going on all the morning.” To
make matters worse, I saw Lupin laughing behind his desk. I thought it
wiser to say nothing. I took the pen back to the shop and asked them if
they would take it back, as it did not act. I did not expect the full
price returned, but was willing to take half. The man said he could not
do that—buying and selling were two different things. Lupin’s conduct
during the period he has been in Mr. Perkupp’s office has been most
exemplary. My only fear is, it is too good to last.

APRIL 9. Gowing called, bringing with him an invitation for Carrie and
myself to a ball given by the East Acton Rifle Brigade, which he thought
would be a swell affair, as the member for East Acton (Sir William Grime)
had promised his patronage. We accepted of his kindness, and he stayed
to supper, an occasion I thought suitable for trying a bottle of the
sparkling Algéra that Mr. James (of Sutton) had sent as a present.
Gowing sipped the wine, observing that he had never tasted it before, and
further remarked that his policy was to stick to more recognised brands.
I told him it was a present from a dear friend, and one mustn’t look a
gift-horse in the mouth. Gowing facetiously replied: “And he didn’t like
putting it in the mouth either.”

I thought the remarks were rude without being funny, but on tasting it
myself, came to the conclusion there was some justification for them.
The sparkling Algéra is very like cider, only more sour. I suggested
that perhaps the thunder had turned it a bit acid. He merely replied:
“Oh! I don’t think so.” We had a very pleasant game of cards, though I
lost four shillings and Carrie lost one, and Gowing said he had lost
about sixpence: how he could have lost, considering that Carrie and I
were the only other players, remains a mystery.

APRIL 14, Sunday. Owing, I presume, to the unsettled weather, I awoke
with a feeling that my skin was drawn over my face as tight as a drum.
Walking round the garden with Mr. and Mrs. Treane, members of our
congregation who had walked back with us, I was much annoyed to find a
large newspaper full of bones on the gravel-path, evidently thrown over
by those young Griffin boys next door; who, whenever we have friends,
climb up the empty steps inside their conservatory, tap at the windows,
making faces, whistling, and imitating birds.

APRIL 15. Burnt my tongue most awfully with the Worcester sauce, through
that stupid girl Sarah shaking the bottle violently before putting it on
the table.

APRIL 16. The night of the East Acton Volunteer Ball. On my advice,
Carrie put on the same dress that she looked so beautiful in at the
Mansion House, for it had occurred to me, being a military ball, that Mr.
Perkupp, who, I believe, is an officer in the Honorary Artillery Company,
would in all probability be present. Lupin, in his usual
incomprehensible language, remarked that he had heard it was a “bounders’
ball.” I didn’t ask him what he meant though I didn’t understand. Where
he gets these expressions from I don’t know; he certainly doesn’t learn
them at home.

The invitation was for half-past eight, so I concluded if we arrived an
hour later we should be in good time, without being “unfashionable,” as
Mrs. James says. It was very difficult to find—the cabman having to get
down several times to inquire at different public-houses where the Drill
Hall was. I wonder at people living in such out-of-the-way places. No
one seemed to know it. However, after going up and down a good many
badly-lighted streets we arrived at our destination. I had no idea it
was so far from Holloway. I gave the cabman five shillings, who only
grumbled, saying it was dirt cheap at half-a-sovereign, and was
impertinent enough to advise me the next time I went to a ball to take a
‘bus.

Captain Welcut received us, saying we were rather late, but that it was
better late than never. He seemed a very good-looking gentleman though,
as Carrie remarked, “rather short for an officer.” He begged to be
excused for leaving us, as he was engaged for a dance, and hoped we
should make ourselves at home. Carrie took my arm and we walked round
the rooms two or three times and watched the people dancing. I couldn’t
find a single person I knew, but attributed it to most of them being in
uniform. As we were entering the supper-room I received a slap on the
shoulder, followed by a welcome shake of the hand. I said: “Mr. Padge, I
believe;” he replied, “That’s right.”

I gave Carrie a chair, and seated by her was a lady who made herself at
home with Carrie at once.

There was a very liberal repast on the tables, plenty of champagne,
claret, etc., and, in fact, everything seemed to be done regardless of
expense. Mr. Padge is a man that, I admit, I have no particular liking
for, but I felt so glad to come across someone I knew, that I asked him
to sit at our table, and I must say that for a short fat man he looked
well in uniform, although I think his tunic was rather baggy in the back.
It was the only supper-room that I have been in that was not
over-crowded; in fact we were the only people there, everybody being so
busy dancing.

I assisted Carrie and her newly-formed acquaintance, who said her name
was Lupkin, to some champagne; also myself, and handed the bottle to Mr.
Padge to do likewise, saying: “You must look after yourself.” He
replied: “That’s right,” and poured out half a tumbler and drank Carrie’s
health, coupled, as he said, “with her worthy lord and master.” We all
had some splendid pigeon pie, and ices to follow.

The waiters were very attentive, and asked if we would like some more
wine. I assisted Carrie and her friend and Mr. Padge, also some people
who had just come from the dancing-room, who were very civil. It
occurred to me at the time that perhaps some of the gentlemen knew me in
the City, as they were so polite. I made myself useful, and assisted
several ladies to ices, remembering an old saying that “There is nothing
lost by civility.”

The band struck up for the dance, and they all went into the ball-room.
The ladies (Carrie and Mrs. Lupkin) were anxious to see the dancing, and
as I had not quite finished my supper, Mr. Padge offered his arms to them
and escorted them to the ball-room, telling me to follow. I said to Mr.
Padge: “It is quite a West End affair,” to which remark Mr. Padge
replied: “That’s right.”

When I had quite finished my supper, and was leaving, the waiter who had
been attending on us arrested my attention by tapping me on the shoulder.
I thought it unusual for a waiter at a private ball to expect a tip, but
nevertheless gave a shilling, as he had been very attentive. He
smilingly replied: “I beg your pardon, sir, this is no good,” alluding to
the shilling. “Your party’s had four suppers at 5s. a head, five ices at
1s., three bottles of champagne at 11s. 6d., a glass of claret, and a
sixpenny cigar for the stout gentleman—in all £3 0s. 6d.!”

I don’t think I was ever so surprised in my life, and had only sufficient
breath to inform him that I had received a private invitation, to which
he answered that he was perfectly well aware of that; but that the
invitation didn’t include eatables and drinkables. A gentleman who was
standing at the bar corroborated the waiter’s statement, and assured me
it was quite correct.

The waiter said he was extremely sorry if I had been under any
misapprehension; but it was not his fault. Of course there was nothing
to be done but to pay. So, after turning out my pockets, I just managed
to scrape up sufficient, all but nine shillings; but the manager, on my
giving my card to him, said: “That’s all right.”

I don’t think I ever felt more humiliated in my life, and I determined to
keep this misfortune from Carrie, for it would entirely destroy the
pleasant evening she was enjoying. I felt there was no more enjoyment
for me that evening, and it being late, I sought Carrie and Mrs. Lupkin.
Carrie said she was quite ready to go, and Mrs. Lupkin, as we were
wishing her “Good-night,” asked Carrie and myself if we ever paid a visit
to Southend? On my replying that I hadn’t been there for many years, she
very kindly said: “Well, why don’t you come down and stay at our place?”
As her invitation was so pressing, and observing that Carrie wished to
go, we promised we would visit her the next Saturday week, and stay till
Monday. Mrs. Lupkin said she would write to us to-morrow, giving us the
address and particulars of trains, etc.

When we got outside the Drill Hall it was raining so hard that the roads
resembled canals, and I need hardly say we had great difficulty in
getting a cabman to take us to Holloway. After waiting a bit, a man said
he would drive us, anyhow, as far as “The Angel,” at Islington, and we
could easily get another cab from there. It was a tedious journey; the
rain was beating against the windows and trickling down the inside of the
cab.

When we arrived at “The Angel” the horse seemed tired out. Carrie got
out and ran into a doorway, and when I came to pay, to my absolute horror
I remembered I had no money, nor had Carrie. I explained to the cabman
how we were situated. Never in my life have I ever been so insulted; the
cabman, who was a rough bully and to my thinking not sober, called me
every name he could lay his tongue to, and positively seized me by the
beard, which he pulled till the tears came into my eyes. I took the
number of a policeman (who witnessed the assault) for not taking the man
in charge. The policeman said he couldn’t interfere, that he had seen no
assault, and that people should not ride in cabs without money.

We had to walk home in the pouring rain, nearly two miles, and when I got
in I put down the conversation I had with the cabman, word for word, as I
intend writing to the Telegraph for the purpose of proposing that cabs
should be driven only by men under Government control, to prevent
civilians being subjected to the disgraceful insult and outrage that I
had had to endure.

APRIL 17. No water in our cistern again. Sent for Putley, who said he
would soon remedy that, the cistern being zinc.

APRIL 18. Water all right again in the cistern. Mrs. James, of Sutton,
called in the afternoon. She and Carrie draped the mantelpiece in the
drawing-room, and put little toy spiders, frogs and beetles all over it,
as Mrs. James says it’s quite the fashion. It was Mrs. James’
suggestion, and of course Carrie always does what Mrs. James suggests.
For my part, I preferred the mantelpiece as it was; but there, I’m a
plain man, and don’t pretend to be in the fashion.

APRIL 19. Our next-door neighbour, Mr. Griffin, called, and in a rather
offensive tone accused me, or “someone,” of boring a hole in his cistern
and letting out his water to supply our cistern, which adjoined his. He
said he should have his repaired, and send us in the bill.

APRIL 20. Cummings called, hobbling in with a stick, saying he had been
on his back for a week. It appears he was trying to shut his bedroom
door, which is situated just at the top of the staircase, and unknown to
him a piece of cork the dog had been playing with had got between the
door, and prevented it shutting; and in pulling the door hard, to give it
an extra slam, the handle came off in his hands, and he fell backwards
downstairs.

On hearing this, Lupin suddenly jumped up from the couch and rushed out
of the room sideways. Cummings looked very indignant, and remarked it
was very poor fun a man nearly breaking his back; and though I had my
suspicions that Lupin was laughing, I assured Cummings that he had only
run out to open the door to a friend he expected. Cummings said this was
the second time he had been laid up, and we had never sent to inquire. I
said I knew nothing about it. Cummings said: “It was mentioned in the
Bicycle News.”

APRIL 22. I have of late frequently noticed Carrie rubbing her nails a
good deal with an instrument, and on asking her what she was doing, she
replied: “Oh, I’m going in for manicuring. It’s all the fashion now.” I
said: “I suppose Mrs. James introduced that into your head.” Carrie
laughingly replied: “Yes; but everyone does it now.”

I wish Mrs. James wouldn’t come to the house. Whenever she does she
always introduces some new-fandangled rubbish into Carrie’s head. One of
these days I feel sure I shall tell her she’s not welcome. I am sure it
was Mrs. James who put Carrie up to writing on dark slate-coloured paper
with white ink. Nonsense!

APRIL 23. Received a letter from Mrs. Lupkin, of Southend, telling us the
train to come by on Saturday, and hoping we will keep our promise to stay
with her. The letter concluded: “You must come and stay at our house; we
shall charge you half what you will have to pay at the Royal, and the
view is every bit as good.” Looking at the address at the top of the
note-paper, I found it was “Lupkin’s Family and Commercial Hotel.”

I wrote a note, saying we were compelled to “decline her kind
invitation.” Carrie thought this very satirical, and to the point.

By-the-by, I will never choose another cloth pattern at night. I ordered
a new suit of dittos for the garden at Edwards’, and chose the pattern by
gaslight, and they seemed to be a quiet pepper-and-salt mixture with
white stripes down. They came home this morning, and, to my horror, I
found it was quite a flash-looking suit. There was a lot of green with
bright yellow-coloured stripes.

I tried on the coat, and was annoyed to find Carrie giggling. She said:
“What mixture did you say you asked for?”

I said: “A quiet pepper and salt.”

Carrie said: “Well, it looks more like mustard, if you want to know the
truth.”