Victorian London - Publications - Humorous - Lights and Shadows of London Life [by James Payn], 1867 - Pt.II -  Chapter 4 - Dividends and a Tournament

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ONE of the worst features of the otherwise noble profession of Literature is, that it is apt to lead one into indifferent company. A man may, indeed, be a very painstaking theological writer without falling into this temptation, and there are other positions in the literary army - in "the siege-train which carries the learned quotations," for instance - where there is nothing of the kind to fear; but the light horsemen, the Home Correspondents, whose mission it is to hang on the skirts of the world as it moves on, and report its progress, must needs be exceeding circumspect. A barrister may sit in his rooms at Lincoln's Inn from morn to eve, and nothing worse than an attorney may [-258-] ever disturb him; and, indeed, I have known barristers without even that interruption; but We, the butterflies of the press, are always being enticed from our studious retirement by some flaunting flower. Gentle reader, I pray thee do not misunderstand me. I should rather say, perhaps, that some gorgeous Ephemeral in the shape of a gentleman with nothing to do, is always "looking us up," as he calls it, and begging us to come with him to this, that, and the other entertainment of a more or less frivolous kind. We are not supposed to need time for reflection or preparation; it is held that we do no work; or that when we work, we only play, like the fountains in the garden of the Palace of Crystal. Our jets of wit and humour are thought to burst spontaneously forth, after the manner of a Michigan oil-well. This is not quite the case, upon my honour. Hair torn out by the handful, ends of finger-nails, pens chewed spasmodically down to their quills - such rather are the dreadful tokens which but too often herald the advent of a jeu-d'esprit. The throes [-259-] having subsided, we assume a calm demeanour, and refit; nobody knows what we have suffered; and the world, who appreciates the really elegant little thing in its perfect and published state, remarks: "What a particularly easy and agreeable style has Jones! One cannot imagine how he contrives, not being an electric battery, to throw off such unceasing scintillations."
    Being interrupted in the secret practice of our profession, then, is inconvenient enough, yet we are constantly subject to such intrusion; and what is worse, the unwelcome visitor is, as I have said, almost always bent not only upon making us idle, but on leading us into dissipation. The habits of this Home Correspondent are naturally what would be called morbidly domestic. Give him his Hooker (by which I mean his favourite divine of that name) and a bottle of lemonade or ginger-beer, if the weather is oppressive, and he demands no other pleasures. Conceive an individual of this mental disposition being importuned by a mercurial friend (in a white hat) to accom-[-260-]pany him to Cremorne Gardens to see the Tournament! Of course, this man was Mr. Richard Sergeant, already known to the intelligent (and retentive) reader, as having persuaded the H. C. to welcome his Princess to this metropolis from the summit of a flight of movable steps. No person who had not combined the advantage of being educated as a lawyer, and of following the life of a man of pleasure, would have ventured upon such a (words have scarcely sufficient force to express my meaning)-such an offensive anomaly; nobody, I say, who did not possess a gigantic effrontery would have made such a proposition to me. My answer was dignified and decided.
    "Libertine," observed I calmly, ringing the bell for the servant to show him the door, "avaunt !" But the servant, who is used to the habits of this dreadful man, and misunderstood my summons, brought up a pint bottle of Bass's pale ale and an anchovy biscuit; so he sat down, and lunched.
    "Now, why won't you come to the Tournament, [-261-] you charming old humbug?" reiterated this intruder, made more audacious by refreshment.
    "Sir," observed I haughtily, "I am not aware that you have any right to ask me my reasons."
    "No right at all, my amiable friend; on the contrary, I consider it quite a privilege. Now, come, confess, are your scruples moral or pecuniary? If it's the expense, why I've got a free ticket; here it is - a beautiful thing bound in green, with the royal arms in gold at the back of it - which will admit us both."
    "Dear me," replied I, "let me look at it. So you are on the free list at Cremorne, are you? What entertainment do you give in return? You are too stout for the tight-rope, too small for the Giant - why, my dear Dick, you must be the Dogs and Monkeys."
    "I dare say you think that very funny," remarked my companion as though he didn't at all agree with me, if I did; for, as is not unusual with persons addicted to lively sallies against [-262-] their friends, Dick always receives any approach to repartee with considerable gloom.
    "I really beg your pardon," said I.
    "Oh, I am not annoyed, sir; nothing puts me out, I assure you; and certainly not witless buffoonery."
    "That's a good fellow," said I; "and besides, I was mistaken; I know now why you get your admission free."
    "Well, why ?" inquired Dick, with the colour of his intelligent countenance a little heightened.
    "Oh, it's of no consequence," replied I; "you must know yourself, so what's the good of my telling you? I am thankful for your obliging offer; but if I did go to Cremorne at all, I'd rather pay at the doors."
    "O dear me, we have an objection to go to Cremorne at all, have we! Immaculate child of Literature! spotless elevator of the masses! If the tournament were held in Exeter Hall, then you would not hesitate to witness it."
    [-263-] "Just so," said I. "Good morning."
    "And have we always entertained these strict opinions?" inquired my mocking visitor. "Did we always prefer tea and bread and butter, with water-cresses for a relish, to cutlets and still champagne?"
    "Not always," said I cheerfully; "but ever since Wednesday night, at the Olympic Theatre -"
    "Oh, we still go to plays, do we? We are not perfect even yet."
    "At the Olympic Theatre, on Wednesday night, sir," reiterated I severely, "I received a most admirable social lesson from Mr. Tom Taylor's Ticket-of-Leave Man. He not only teaches the whole world to be charitable and just to the Erring, but he incidentally addresses himself to the Fast - and Loose. The opening scene of that striking drama represents a London Tea-garden; it is there that the unfortunate Brierly, as honest a young man as myself, is led to his ruin, and made to pass forged bank-notes by his dissolute companion, who, by-the-by, wore a white hat - Good-[-264-]morning, my dear fellow; I was afraid you would not be able to stay long."
    Sergeant had run down stairs before I had finished my sentence, but I put my head out of window, and caught his ear again. "You asked why you possessed that season-ticket to Cremorne, my dear fellow. I beg your pardon "- My companion had run almost into the arms of some respectable friend of his; an old gentleman, I should think, from the warmth with which Dick greeted him, who was likely to benefit him after death; so I waited till their conference was ended, to impart my information in a clear and audible voice. "It must be because you are one of the waiters, Dick; I remember you now perfectly. You kept us once an hour and a half waiting for dinner in one of those alfresco bowers, which Patience should make her residence instead of the monument allotted to her by the poet. I gave you one-and-four."
    It cannot be denied that this Home Correspondent got the best of that little encounter with his enemy, and he returned to his Hooker, in conse-[-265-]quence, in the highest spirits. But it was fated that a return-match should come off with the same person in which this favourite of the public cut a rather inglorious figure. I never could draw - never - although considerable sums of money have been wasted in teaching me that accomplishment; but if there is one kind of drawing at which I am less expert than another, it is the drawing of dividends. An individual whose profession is Literature has seldom much practice of this kind; and as far as I myself am concerned, I might transact all my business at the Bank upon a Sunday as well as any other day in the week. However, it once entered into the head of a friend - whom let me here call Crotchet, although for one of his whims and caprices that is quite a flattering title - to make me trustee for a young friend of his. There was another trustee, of course, to do all the work, and I lent my moral influence with the tacit understanding that no other aid should be asked for. Imagine, then, the disturbance of my mind when I got a letter from this Co. of mine, who [-266-] was everything in the business, to say that he was going abroad for months, and that I was to draw the July dividend.
    "Nothing is easier," wrote he: "the sum is £3853, 2s. ld., and my name comes first: you know the stock."
    "Nothing easier! Why, I could not even understand his words. His name came first! Where, when? And why was he so ludicrously precise about the sum? Why mention the two-and-a-penny - upon which the July dividend must be surely inappreciable. Know the stock? Of course I knew the stock; and a very sweet-smelling and inexpensive plant it is. And yet he could scarcely mean a wall-flower. It must be something to do with the securities, or the in vestments, or the bonds, or the liabilities, or the mortgages, or the bills at sight, of that embarrassing young female, Miss Cecilia Crotchet, for whom I was co-trustee. I dimly remembered to have signed certain documents of an extraordinary wordy character, after a capital luncheon at her uncle's, who [-267-] thanked me for doing so with a cordiality greater, as it seemed to me, than the occasion demanded; but as for remembering the name of the particular property, which had won the confidence of the young lady and her advisers, it was really not to be done. I turned to the Money Market and City Intelligence column of the Times newspaper, to see whether there was anything suggestive there; perhaps I should recognise the forgotten investment, if I came upon its title.
    "In the Stock Exchange," began that mysterious article, "the supply of money continues abundant." What a charming place, then, that must be. Why did not my respected guardian place me in the Stock Exchange, and curb my early propensities for light literature with a more rigid hand? If I were to bite his ear off (as the classical youth, when led to execution, bit off the ear of his too indulgent mother), it would only be what he deserved. How much better would it be to be "bearing" and "bulling" on that Tom Tiddler's ground, than bearing and being bullied as an un-[-268-]fortunate Home Correspondent! Exchequer bills left off at 1s. dis., to 2s. pm." Did they! then they seem not to have made up their minds whether they would be calculated as cab-fares, or by the railway time-tables. One shilling distance means a shilling a mile, I suppose; and then two shillings post-meridian - what does that mean, I wonder? "In the share-market yesterday, dulness was the prevailing feature." Well, I am not surprised at that. "In British mines, Wheal Ludcott declined." Who's he, I wonder, and what did he object to? "Wheal Mary Anne" - come, that looks like a young lady's investment - "Wheal Mary Anne improved ¼." That seems very odd; a young lady improving a quarter. Which quarter, might I ask? Or perhaps she was at a finishing-school, and has done credit to her "extras" during the last three months. In the Market for Foreign Securities, "Mexican closed at the fiat price of 36 1/8." Opinions differ, but I should call £36, 12s. 6d. a good round sum. "Spanish Passive is unaltered." That I am prepared for; I believe it has so re-[-269-]mained ever since the time of the Armada. "Portuguese (old) - have I got among the wine-lists? - "48 3/8. 48 ex div." This is evidently some expression bequeathed by the Romans. "The demand for rum continues without improvement." Now, what do they mean by that? I hope they do not want people to drink more rum. "Rice is unchanged." That I am sorry for; for I think rice is one of these things that might improve itself; I think it might acquire a little taste of its own, for instance, and not be so entirely dependent on strawberry jam to make it palatable. "Mule twist is quiet." This sounds almost too good to be true; it is a contradiction in terms, if it means anything.
    It is one of the weaknesses of business men, that, never having been well-grounded in literature, they are not able to express themselves with lucidity. I had learned nothing from this City Intelligence whatever: and I took my way to the Bank after those dividends with great misgivings.
    [-270-] I dare say that gentlemen unaccustomed to Business have observed for themselves the refined good-nature and willing courtesy with which they have been always assisted by those who understand it, and whose calling it is. They have been touched by the grace with which a bank clerk helps them out of a difficulty, and especially by his reassuring manner, which sets them so immediately at ease. I found all this in perfection at the Bank of England. Seriously, I do beg to submit to the directors of that establishment, that twopence a week for manners would not he an extravagant sum to set apart out of their gains for the benefit of each of their employés. It is enormously to the credit of country gentlemen, and others unacquainted with mercantile transactions, that no dividend clerk has ever yet been thrashed at his own counter. I would cheerfully have given the sum of £5, out of the money I received in behalf of Miss Cecilia Crotchet, to have seen that ceremony well carried out in the case of the man who presided over my ledger. I did not find him very easily, because I [-271-] got into the Bullion Department by mistake, and there remained, fairly fascinated by its golden music, until I attracted the polite attention of a policeman in plain clothes; then I naturally went to the dividend counter, which bore my own initials instead of that of my co-trustee, whereby, I believe, I intensified suspicion. Finally, I gave in the number of pounds without the two-and-a-penny, and was peremptorily informed that "It wouldn't do." I was about to state the whole history of the connection between myself, Mr. Crotchet, Miss Cecilia Crotchet, and my co-trustee, when the clerk informed me that I had made a mistake in the place of application, and had better take a Hansom to Bethlehem Hospital at once.
    At the very moment when I was meditating a suitable reply to this sarcasm, my eye fell upon Mr. Richard Sergeant. He was at the wrong extremity of a tail of persons who were detained opposite one of the ledgers by a very persevering but unintelligent female, who was demanding "seven-and-six," and announcing her  intention of not [-272-] going until she got it. I ran up to him with the most genial warmth, and a determination to forget and forgive all that had passed between us at our last interview. He did not at first meet me in the same beautiful spirit of reconciliation.
    "You want something, my friend," he observed with frigidity.
    "Only a renewal of your affectionate regard," said I; "and this little matter of Miss Crotchet's dividend."
    Then he took me back to the repulsive clerk, and made us both sign various documents, which eventually put me into possession of a piece of paper like the London Gazette, which, it seems, was all I had come for. The old lady, however, was by no means so fortunate, but still continued her importunities, until, at Dick's suggestion, "the tail" - to whom time was money - actually subscribed the sum of seven-and-sixpence among themselves, and sent her away with it in the highest spirits. It struck us afterwards that perhaps that respectable female had anticipated the [-273-] payment of this ransom from the beginning, and had never owned any stock at all; but in any case she deserved a reward for her pertinacity.
    "And now," said Sergeant, "you will come to the Tournament; you will not refuse a man who has saved you from perhaps a felon's jail. They began to have the darkest suspicions of you, I do assure you. That policeman has got his eye upon you yet."
    "Sergeant," said I, "I would willingly die for you, but I cannot commit an impropriety; I cannot go to-"
    "Stop!" cried he; "consider your moral influence. I am going to Cremorne this day with two other men of no better principles than myself. Now, will you not be our guide, philosopher, and friend-in other words, our chaperon?"
    This was certainly giving the whole affair a different complexion. "You said you can take me in for nothing," said I, reflectively.
    "For nothing," said he; "and we shall be delighted to pay for your cab. Under these cir-[-274-]cumstances, I thought that too severe a determination would be out of place. A Tournament was not only in itself an innocent amusement, but one which does not come in the way of a Home Correspondent every day. Moreover, I had always entertained a passion for deeds of chivalry. In the whole range of fiction, there is no incident so exciting, in my opinion, as that in the lists of Ashby-de-la-Zouch, when Ivanhoe rides up amid the well-meant advice of the populace, that he should "touch Ralph de Vipont's shield - he has the less sure seat," and strikes "with the sharp end of his spear the shield of Brian de Bois-Guilbert until it rang again." I expected to see this enacted at Cremorne. I anticipated that horse and man would be hurled to the ground, and turn several times over in the saw-dust. I don't complain, because I had a free-ticket; but I think that persons who paid half-a-crown have a right to murmur.
    There was the fanfaronade of trumpets sounding to the onset; there was wild and martial music [-275-] breathing defiance to all corners; but nothing came of it. The whole spectacle was thoroughly medieval, down to the jokes of the clowns. I never saw anything half so good in a circus-never. The Queen of Beauty would have inspired me to set lance in rest against a hundred Paynims. The pages were charming, especially one in blue - a page out of the blue-book, as Sergeant called her. There were Scottish Henchmen bearing gigantic bread-knives, who were all that could be desired, and more. There were Poles (for every nation under heaven was represented as accurately as propriety permitted), with scythes for mowing men. It was really a fine spectacle, as indeed a spectacle should be; wherein the performers outnumber the lookers-on. But still it was a tournament without the tilting - the tragedy of Hamlet without that interesting young Dane.
    I am rather doubtful, however, as to whether the armour would have stood any real jousting - especially the new armour. There were some suits which gave one quite the idea that Mr. E. T. [-276-] Smith had plundered the Tower; but there were others evidently made for the occasion, which had a suspicious glitter about them. They looked as if they had been constructed out of the lining of a meat-screen; they may have been pure silver, but I have my doubts. One thing, however, was abundantly clear, that armour, however gorgeous, could never have been becoming. Man is not adapted for a shell, like a tortoise. I protest that each individual knight looked as though he had a coal-scuttle on his head, with a rushlight-shade fastened on it by way of visor. Then how cumbrous, how hot such gear must have been! I don't wonder that the old saying of "Motley is the only wear" should have arisen, for in the summer months, at least, it would have been far preferable to have been a clown than a knight of tourney. We moderns bewail the inconvenience of a hat, and the oppression of evening costume in the dog-days, but what should we have said to a suit of Milan steel? How could the Crusaders have worn such things in Palestine, far less have fought [-277-] in them! They were not particularly powerful men. At the Eglintoun Tournament, it was discovered that ancient armour was too small for modern limbs; what endurance, what pluck, then, must those warriors of the Cross have possessed!
    I cannot say much for the amusements of the middle ages, as represented at Cremorne. I believe Aunt Sally to require as much skill in her votaries as did the Dart and Target. The Quintain. (which we will not have the unfairness to compare for a moment with the Sextant) is vastly inferior in science even to well-regulated Croquet; while as for Tilting at the Ring, you have only to secure a very slow horse, and the prize is your own. The danger in the last named-game is to the menial who puts the rings on, and seems to run an even chance of having his eye poked out at every course.
    Mr. Richard Sergeant and his friends endeavoured to arouse the chivalrous element in these performers by shouting,
    "Love of ladies, splintering of lances, stand [-278-] forth, gallant knights, fair eyes look upon your deeds, in the genuine medieval manner, but without the slightest effect.
    One of them, a knight in green, whom we named Vert et tranquille, from his want of ambition, winked, absolutely winked, through the bars of his helmet, and replied,
    "Not if we know it;" speaking, I conclude, for self and charger.
    I wonder what class of person is engaged for these knightly parts. Do volunteers present themselves fresh from the pages of Scott and James, who desire no remuneration beyond thus realising the dreams of their youth? Or are they mercenaries, Free-lances, like Maurice de Bracy? In either case, I don't see why they should riot tilt. If a man can be got to fight for a shilling a day, he can surely be persuaded to tilt for double that stipend. Nay, if the matter is merely a question of expense, why not make this magnificent spectacle a channel of advertisement ?-and let the more sprightly steeds bear scrolls at the edge of [-279-] their trappings, as, "Do you bruise your oats?" I throw this hint out with my usual lavish freedom, but it will doubtless prove invaluable to those whom it may concern. Let us have, then, a genuine tournament, in place of a make-believe, lest it be said that we have degenerated ever since that day of the lists of Eglintoun, where knights and nobles jousted in the rain; when Sir Campbell of Saddel, as Hook said, lost his family seat, and the mad thane of Waterford ran for once a steady course, and the present ruler of France (if I mistake not) kept his seat, as now, against allcomers.