Dinner at Franching’s to meet Mr. Hardfur Huttle.
MAY 10. Received a letter from Mr. Franching, of Peckham, asking us to
dine with him to-night, at seven o’clock, to meet Mr. Hardfur Huttle, a
very clever writer for the American papers. Franching apologised for the
short notice; but said he had at the last moment been disappointed of two
of his guests and regarded us as old friends who would not mind filling
up the gap. Carrie rather demurred at the invitation; but I explained to
her that Franching was very well off and influential, and we could not
afford to offend him. “And we are sure to get a good dinner and a good
glass of champagne.” “Which never agrees with you!” Carrie replied,
sharply. I regarded Carrie’s observation as unsaid. Mr. Franching asked
us to wire a reply. As he had said nothing about dress in the letter, I
wired back: “With pleasure. Is it full dress?” and by leaving out our
name, just got the message within the sixpence.
Got back early to give time to dress, which we received a telegram
instructing us to do. I wanted Carrie to meet me at Franching’s house;
but she would not do so, so I had to go home to fetch her. What a long
journey it is from Holloway to Peckham! Why do people live such a long
way off? Having to change ‘buses, I allowed plenty of time—in fact, too
much; for we arrived at twenty minutes to seven, and Franching, so the
servant said, had only just gone up to dress. However, he was down as
the clock struck seven; he must have dressed very quickly.
I must say it was quite a distinguished party, and although we did not
know anybody personally, they all seemed to be quite swells. Franching
had got a professional waiter, and evidently spared no expense. There
were flowers on the table round some fairy-lamps and the effect, I must
say, was exquisite. The wine was good and there was plenty of champagne,
concerning which Franching said he himself, never wished to taste better.
We were ten in number, and a menû card to each. One lady said she
always preserved the menû and got the guests to write their names on
We all of us followed her example, except Mr. Huttle, who was of course
the important guest.
The dinner-party consisted of Mr. Franching, Mr. Hardfur Huttle, Mr. and
Mrs. Samuel Hillbutter, Mrs. Field, Mr. and Mrs. Purdick, Mr. Pratt, Mr.
R. Kent, and, last but not least, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Pooter. Franching
said he was sorry he had no lady for me to take in to dinner. I replied
that I preferred it, which I afterwards thought was a very
uncomplimentary observation to make.
I sat next to Mrs. Field at dinner. She seemed a well-informed lady, but
was very deaf. It did not much matter, for Mr. Hardfur Huttle did all
the talking. He is a marvellously intellectual man and says things which
from other people would seem quite alarming. How I wish I could remember
even a quarter of his brilliant conversation. I made a few little
reminding notes on the menû card.
One observation struck me as being absolutely powerful—though not to my
way of thinking of course. Mrs. Purdick happened to say “You are
certainly unorthodox, Mr. Huttle.” Mr. Huttle, with a peculiar
expression (I can see it now) said in a slow rich voice: “Mrs. Purdick,
‘orthodox’ is a grandiloquent word implying sticking-in-the-mud. If
Columbus and Stephenson had been orthodox, there would neither have been
the discovery of America nor the steam-engine.” There was quite a
silence. It appeared to me that such teaching was absolutely dangerous,
and yet I felt—in fact we must all have felt—there was no answer to the
argument. A little later on, Mrs. Purdick, who is Franching’s sister and
also acted as hostess, rose from the table, and Mr. Huttle said: “Why,
ladies, do you deprive us of your company so soon? Why not wait while we
have our cigars?”
The effect was electrical. The ladies (including Carrie) were in no way
inclined to be deprived of Mr. Huttle’s fascinating society, and
immediately resumed their seats, amid much laughter and a little chaff.
Mr. Huttle said: “Well, that’s a real good sign; you shall not be
insulted by being called orthodox any longer.” Mrs. Purdick, who seemed
to be a bright and rather sharp woman, said: “Mr. Huttle, we will meet
you half-way—that is, till you get half-way through your cigar. That, at
all events, will be the happy medium.”
I shall never forget the effect the words, “happy medium,” had upon him.
He was brilliant and most daring in his interpretation of the words. He
positively alarmed me. He said something like the following: “Happy
medium, indeed. Do you know ‘happy medium’ are two words which mean
‘miserable mediocrity’? I say, go first class or third; marry a duchess
or her kitchenmaid. The happy medium means respectability, and
respectability means insipidness. Does it not, Mr. Pooter?”
I was so taken aback by being personally appealed to, that I could only
bow apologetically, and say I feared I was not competent to offer an
opinion. Carrie was about to say something; but she was interrupted, for
which I was rather pleased, for she is not clever at argument, and one
has to be extra clever to discuss a subject with a man like Mr. Huttle.
He continued, with an amazing eloquence that made his unwelcome opinions
positively convincing: “The happy medium is nothing more or less than a
vulgar half-measure. A man who loves champagne and, finding a pint too
little, fears to face a whole bottle and has recourse to an imperial
pint, will never build a Brooklyn Bridge or an Eiffel Tower. No, he is
half-hearted, he is a half-measure—respectable—in fact, a happy medium,
and will spend the rest of his days in a suburban villa with a
stucco-column portico, resembling a four-post bedstead.”
We all laughed.
“That sort of thing,” continued Mr. Huttle, “belongs to a soft man, with
a soft beard with a soft head, with a made tie that hooks on.”
This seemed rather personal and twice I caught myself looking in the
glass of the cheffonière; for I had on a tie that hooked on—and why
not? If these remarks were not personal they were rather careless, and
so were some of his subsequent observations, which must have made both
Mr. Franching and his guests rather uncomfortable. I don’t think Mr.
Huttle meant to be personal, for he added; “We don’t know that class here
in this country: but we do in America, and I’ve no use for them.”
Franching several times suggested that the wine should be passed round
the table, which Mr. Huttle did not heed; but continued as if he were
giving a lecture:
“What we want in America is your homes. We live on wheels. Your simple,
quiet life and home, Mr. Franching, are charming. No display, no
pretension! You make no difference in your dinner, I dare say, when you
sit down by yourself and when you invite us. You have your own personal
attendant—no hired waiter to breathe on the back of your head.”
I saw Franching palpably wince at this.
Mr. Huttle continued: “Just a small dinner with a few good things, such
as you have this evening. You don’t insult your guests by sending to
the grocer for champagne at six shillings a bottle.”
I could not help thinking of “Jackson Frères” at three-and-six!
“In fact,” said Mr. Huttle, “a man is little less than a murderer who
does. That is the province of the milksop, who wastes his evening at
home playing dominoes with his wife. I’ve heard of these people. We
don’t want them at this table. Our party is well selected. We’ve no use
for deaf old women, who cannot follow intellectual conversation.”
All our eyes were turned to Mrs. Field, who fortunately, being deaf, did
not hear his remarks; but continued smiling approval.
“We have no representative at Mr. Franching’s table,” said Mr. Huttle,
“of the unenlightened frivolous matron, who goes to a second class dance
at Bayswater and fancies she is in Society. Society does not know her;
it has no use for her.”
Mr. Huttle paused for a moment and the opportunity was afforded for the
ladies to rise. I asked Mr. Franching quietly to excuse me, as I did not
wish to miss the last train, which we very nearly did, by-the-by, through
Carrie having mislaid the little cloth cricket-cap which she wears when
we go out.
It was very late when Carrie and I got home; but on entering the
sitting-room I said: “Carrie, what do you think of Mr. Hardfur Huttle?”
She simply answered: “How like Lupin!” The same idea occurred to me in
the train. The comparison kept me awake half the night. Mr. Huttle was,
of course, an older and more influential man; but he was like Lupin,
and it made me think how dangerous Lupin would be if he were older and
more influential. I feel proud to think Lupin does resemble Mr. Huttle
in some ways. Lupin, like Mr. Huttle, has original and sometimes
wonderful ideas; but it is those ideas that are so dangerous. They make
men extremely rich or extremely poor. They make or break men. I always
feel people are happier who live a simple unsophisticated life. I
believe I am happy because I am not ambitious. Somehow I feel that
Lupin, since he has been with Mr. Perkupp, has become content to settle
down and follow the footsteps of his father. This is a comfort.