CHAPTER II—HOW THE PARLOURS ADDED A FEW WORDS
I have the honour of presenting myself by the name of Jackman. I esteem it a proud privilege to go down to posterity through the instrumentality of the most remarkable boy that ever lived,—by the name of JEMMY JACKMAN LIRRIPER,—and of my most worthy and most highly respected friend, Mrs. Emma Lirriper, of Eighty-one, Norfolk Street, Strand, in the County of Middlesex, in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.
It is not for me to express the rapture with which we received that dear and eminently remarkable boy, on the occurrence of his first Christmas holidays. Suffice it to observe that when he came flying into the house with two splendid prizes (Arithmetic, and Exemplary Conduct), Mrs. Lirriper and myself embraced with emotion, and instantly took him to the Play, where we were all three admirably entertained.
Nor is it to render homage to the virtues of the best of her good and honoured sex—whom, in deference to her unassuming worth, I will only here designate by the initials E. L.—that I add this record to the bundle of papers with which our, in a most distinguished degree, remarkable boy has expressed himself delighted, before re-consigning the same to the left-hand glass closet of Mrs. Lirriper’s little bookcase.
Neither is it to obtrude the name of the old original superannuated obscure Jemmy Jackman, once (to his degradation) of Wozenham’s, long (to his elevation) of Lirriper’s. If I could be consciously guilty of that piece of bad taste, it would indeed be a work of supererogation, now that the name is borne by JEMMY JACKMAN LIRRIPER.
No, I take up my humble pen to register a little record of our strikingly remarkable boy, which my poor capacity regards as presenting a pleasant little picture of the dear boy’s mind. The picture may be interesting to himself when he is a man.
Our first reunited Christmas-day was the most delightful one we have ever passed together. Jemmy was never silent for five minutes, except in church-time. He talked as we sat by the fire, he talked when we were out walking, he talked as we sat by the fire again, he talked incessantly at dinner, though he made a dinner almost as remarkable as himself. It was the spring of happiness in his fresh young heart flowing and flowing, and it fertilised (if I may be allowed so bold a figure) my much-esteemed friend, and J. J. the present writer.
There were only we three. We dined in my esteemed friend’s little room, and our entertainment was perfect. But everything in the establishment is, in neatness, order, and comfort, always perfect. After dinner our boy slipped away to his old stool at my esteemed friend’s knee, and there, with his hot chestnuts and his glass of brown sherry (really, a most excellent wine!) on a chair for a table, his face outshone the apples in the dish.
We talked of these jottings of mine, which Jemmy had read through and through by that time; and so it came about that my esteemed friend remarked, as she sat smoothing Jemmy’s curls:
“And as you belong to the house too, Jemmy,—and so much more than the Lodgers, having been born in it,—why, your story ought to be added to the rest, I think, one of these days.”
Jemmy’s eyes sparkled at this, and he said, “So I think, Gran.”
Then he sat looking at the fire, and then he began to laugh in a sort of confidence with the fire, and then he said, folding his arms across my esteemed friend’s lap, and raising his bright face to hers. “Would you like to hear a boy’s story, Gran?”
“Of all things,” replied my esteemed friend.
“Would you, godfather?”
“Of all things,” I too replied.
“Well, then,” said Jemmy, “I’ll tell you one.”
Here our indisputably remarkable boy gave himself a hug, and laughed again, musically, at the idea of his coming out in that new line. Then he once more took the fire into the same sort of confidence as before, and began:
“Once upon a time, When pigs drank wine, And monkeys chewed tobaccer, ’Twas neither in your time nor mine, But that’s no macker—”
“Bless the child!” cried my esteemed friend, “what’s amiss with his brain?”
“It’s poetry, Gran,” returned Jemmy, shouting with laughter. “We always begin stories that way at school.”
“Gave me quite a turn, Major,” said my esteemed friend, fanning herself with a plate. “Thought he was light-headed!”
“In those remarkable times, Gran and godfather, there was once a boy,—not me, you know.”
“No, no,” says my respected friend, “not you. Not him, Major, you understand?”
“No, no,” says I.
“And he went to school in Rutlandshire—”
“Why not Lincolnshire?” says my respected friend.
“Why not, you dear old Gran? Because I go to school in Lincolnshire, don’t I?”
“Ah, to be sure!” says my respected friend. “And it’s not Jemmy, you understand, Major?”
“No, no,” says I.
“Well!” our boy proceeded, hugging himself comfortably, and laughing merrily (again in confidence with the fire), before he again looked up in Mrs. Lirriper’s face, “and so he was tremendously in love with his schoolmaster’s daughter, and she was the most beautiful creature that ever was seen, and she had brown eyes, and she had brown hair all curling beautifully, and she had a delicious voice, and she was delicious altogether, and her name was Seraphina.”
“What’s the name of your schoolmaster’s daughter, Jemmy?” asks my respected friend.
“Polly!” replied Jemmy, pointing his forefinger at her. “There now! Caught you! Ha, ha, ha!”
When he and my respected friend had had a laugh and a hug together, our admittedly remarkable boy resumed with a great relish:
“Well! And so he loved her. And so he thought about her, and dreamed about her, and made her presents of oranges and nuts, and would have made her presents of pearls and diamonds if he could have afforded it out of his pocket-money, but he couldn’t. And so her father—O, he WAS a Tartar! Keeping the boys up to the mark, holding examinations once a month, lecturing upon all sorts of subjects at all sorts of times, and knowing everything in the world out of book. And so this boy—”
“Had he any name?” asks my respected friend.
“No, he hadn’t, Gran. Ha, ha! There now! Caught you again!”
After this, they had another laugh and another hug, and then our boy went on.
“Well! And so this boy, he had a friend about as old as himself at the same school, and his name (for He had a name, as it happened) was—let me remember—was Bobbo.”
“Not Bob,” says my respected friend.
“Of course not,” says Jemmy. “What made you think it was, Gran? Well! And so this friend was the cleverest and bravest and best-looking and most generous of all the friends that ever were, and so he was in love with Seraphina’s sister, and so Seraphina’s sister was in love with him, and so they all grew up.”
“Bless us!” says my respected friend. “They were very sudden about it.”
“So they all grew up,” our boy repeated, laughing heartily, “and Bobbo and this boy went away together on horseback to seek their fortunes, and they partly got their horses by favour, and partly in a bargain; that is to say, they had saved up between them seven and fourpence, and the two horses, being Arabs, were worth more, only the man said he would take that, to favour them. Well! And so they made their fortunes and came prancing back to the school, with their pockets full of gold, enough to last for ever. And so they rang at the parents’ and visitors’ bell (not the back gate), and when the bell was answered they proclaimed ‘The same as if it was scarlet fever! Every boy goes home for an indefinite period!’ And then there was great hurrahing, and then they kissed Seraphina and her sister,—each his own love, and not the other’s on any account,—and then they ordered the Tartar into instant confinement.”
“Poor man!” said my respected friend.
“Into instant confinement, Gran,” repeated Jemmy, trying to look severe and roaring with laughter; “and he was to have nothing to eat but the boys’ dinners, and was to drink half a cask of their beer every day. And so then the preparations were made for the two weddings, and there were hampers, and potted things, and sweet things, and nuts, and postage-stamps, and all manner of things. And so they were so jolly, that they let the Tartar out, and he was jolly too.”
“I am glad they let him out,” says my respected friend, “because he had only done his duty.”
“O, but hadn’t he overdone it, though!” cried Jemmy. “Well! And so then this boy mounted his horse, with his bride in his arms, and cantered away, and cantered on and on till he came to a certain place where he had a certain Gran and a certain godfather,—not you two, you know.”
“No, no,” we both said.
“And there he was received with great rejoicings, and he filled the cupboard and the bookcase with gold, and he showered it out on his Gran and his godfather because they were the two kindest and dearest people that ever lived in this world. And so while they were sitting up to their knees in gold, a knocking was heard at the street door, and who should it be but Bobbo, also on horseback with his bride in his arms, and what had he come to say but that he would take (at double rent) all the Lodgings for ever, that were not wanted by this a boy and this Gran and this godfather, and that they would all live together, and all be happy! And so they were, and so it never ended!”
“And was there no quarrelling?” asked my respected friend, as Jemmy sat upon her lap and hugged her.
“No! Nobody ever quarrelled.”
“And did the money never melt away?”
“No! Nobody could ever spend it all.”
“And did none of them ever grow older?”
“No! Nobody ever grew older after that.”
“And did none of them ever die?”
“O, no, no, no, Gran!” exclaimed our dear boy, laying his cheek upon her breast, and drawing her closer to him. “Nobody ever died.”
“Ah, Major, Major!” says my respected friend, smiling benignly upon me, “this beats our stories. Let us end with the Boy’s story, Major, for the Boy’s story is the best that is ever told!”
In submission to which request on the part of the best of women, I have here noted it down as faithfully as my best abilities, coupled with my best intentions, would admit, subscribing it with my name,
MRS. LIRRIPER’S LODGINGS.