图书图片
PDF
ePub

dash of bitterness. Every argument, however originated, tended to, and at last ended in the mode of acquiring and improving wealth, and the eternal burden of the song sounded at last somewhat harshly on the ears of one so straitened in resources as myself: but, as I saw that no offence was intended, of course none was taken.

The conversation, as well as the person, of the lady was of a very different description. Her form was not above the middle height, remarkably slight, though well-proportioned; her face, as I have before hinted, was very handsome, but conveying the idea of a delicate constitution, as her figure indicated a fragile structure. These characteristics were corroborated by extreme habitual languor, which led the casual observer to conclude that she was sickly, if not actually suffering: and, on my expressing that opinion to Sir John, he indulged in a hearty laugh, and assured me that Lady Sonkin had a constitution of steel. That he had never known her ill for an hour since they married; and that even in her confinements when she increased his family, she was unlike all other women, and would never consent to be imprisoned beyond a single week in her own chamber. He then spoke in high terms of her domestic character, and ended by observing, “We all have our little weaknesses, Mr. N- , and Lady Sonkin is not entirely exempt. In short, she has long affected the character of a fine lady; and, as I can very well afford to indulge her in her fancies, and do not myself altogether dislike to see them, why I let her have her way.”

Having been rather puzzled by the lady's character, I was not sorry to be enlightened thus far respecting it. I had myself observed with surprise how well she bore the perpetual round of dissipation into which they plunged immediately after their arrival; and that she, though ever complaining of fatigue and lowness, still preserved all the freshness of health, while her blooming girls and sturdy boys were gradually becoming paler, and exhibiting, even thus early, the ill-consequences of exhausted strength and spirits.

A still greater change was soon observable in the family. The dresses of the whole party were thrown aside, and replaced by those of the last Parisian fashions. Everything English was gradually laid by. Port wine, of which they all at first partook, was no longer circulated round the table, and never past beyond the range of Sir John and myself. The presentable slices from the enormous Cheshire cheese no longer appeared, but were replaced by Gruyère, Neufchatel, and Parmesan. Nothing English, or bearing an English name, was permitted to appear on table. The lady had complained to me that she was conscious her education had been strangely neglected by her parents, since she had never learned French, beyond the wretched smattering which she had acquired at school, and which was totally forgotten within six months after she left it. This deficiency she said she had never felt until the growth of her children had made her so thoroughly ashamed of her own ignorance, that she had sat down in earnest to repair it; and that she had urged their present removal to Paris from a desire to improve herself, at the same time that her children would acquire their finishing knowledge of the language at the fountain-head. All this I thought very rational, provided it were kept within proper bounds; but, alas ! the proper bounds which ought to confine discretion are seldom noticed until they are overstepped.

The English language soon followed the English dishes, wine, and cheese. The names of the family were next Gallicized. The amiable Mary was newly christened, without priest or water, and named Marion, the pretty Susan was changed into Susette, and the playful Kate into Cateau, John, a fine robust lad, who promised to emulate the dimensions of his father, was henceforth to acknowledge no other name than Jean or Jeannot ; and poor little James was many days before he would answer to that of Jacques, or Jacquet. The governess, Miss Turner, a sensible and modest young woman, remonstrated vehemently against being called Ma'mselle Tourneur, and did not give up the point until Lady Sonkin listlessly observed,

“Well, child, if your objection is really invincible, I suppose we must yield the point; in which case we will call you, should you prefer it, Mademoiselle Pirouette !

So Tourneur she became,-no longer the young ladies' governess, but their gouvernante, and addressed always, and usually spoken of by the children, as ma bonne. Poor Mr. Taylor submitted to become Monsieur Tailleur, though he laughingly protested he was no tailor, and was thenceforward always named le précepteur. Jenny, the lady's maid, was now Ma'mselle Jeanneton, Robert, the coachman, Robichon ; and old Joseph, the half butler and half footman, Joson. The latter, it must be confessed, grumbled with true English sturdi. ness against what he called such a d-d outlandish nickname; but, as this grumbling was confined to his fellow-servants, he only got laughed at for his pains, until he offered to fight Robichon, and threatened to knock down either of the two French valets, who had been engaged shortly after the arrival of the family, if they ever presumed to call him by any other name than that by which he had been lawfully and religiously baptised. These additions to the family were Messieurs Bénoit (unfortunately pronounced generally by the family Benêt, which gave visible offence) and Gautier; (somehow constantly converted, in the hurry of speech, to Gaucher, which produced many significant shrugs, and some half-uttered ejaculations of Mon Dieu ! and “ Grand Dieu ! with the kitchen addition of Qu'ils sont bêtes les Anglois !) There was, indeed, one individual of the family, and that a prime favourite of them all, that could not be induced by threats or persuasions to acknowledge or answer to his new appellative. This person was Spot, the Danish dog, who either did not hear, or else did not understand, his new title of Tache. At length, after every other attempt had failed, it was suggested by one of the party to give merely a French pronunciation to his own natural English name, which it was concluded would surely be understood. A new order was therefore issued that the dog should be from that time accustomed by all the family to answer to the name of Spô. The dog was as deaf or as obstinate as ever; and one day, when one of the young ladies, Ma'mselle Susette, who had a slight lisp, had called to him in vain from the carriage window at least a dozen times in a breath by that illegitimate appellation, it suddenly occurred to her elder sister that the rapid repetition assumed the sound of another word, which, though belonging to a celebrated river in Italy, is not generally called for out of a carriage window by a young lady in Paris. I need hardly add, that the sash was instantly drawn up, the young and charming Susette covered with blushes, and Spot (or Spo, or Po) left to rejoin the carriage, or follow his own fortune.

One day, shortly after this occurrence, I was called into consultation by the mistress of the house, who informed me that she had long entertained an exceeding aversion to the name which had been given to her by her husband. She stated that, upon diligent inquiry, she had ascertained that Sir John's family was one of great antiquity; that, although the genealogical tree had not been handed down to him as a younger branch of the stock, there was no doubt that the original name had been Sonking, or Kingson, and that the dropping of the final g had merely occurred through negligence or accident; that the name was, at all events, unpleasant to the ear ; and that she should never die in peace if she left her family behind her with so disagreeable and unmeaning a patronymic as Sonkin. To have the family derived from royalty, she said, although illegitimately, was something; but the loss of the final g had abridged them even of that consolation, and given an unbearable vulgarity to the remaining name. She wished seriously to consult me as to the means to be adopted to procure the royal authority for taking a name which she infinitely preferred, to which she was fully assured the family of her husband was entitled, -- " that name," she added,

is Fitzroy."

How I should have managed to keep my countenance another minute, or to offer any advice on this delicate subject, I know not, but felt wonderful relief when at the precise moment Sir John made his unexpected appearance, and catching the last words, exclaimed

« What! on that eternal subject! Mr. N- I am bound to apologise for the weakness of my good wife, who thinks there is more value in a name than in that sterling commodity called wealth, which can purchase one at any time, in this or any other country. I have indulged her on every point but this ; and on this she knows I am immovable. Sonkin was the name of my father, and his father before him; and Sonkin shall descend to my children, as the name of a man who achieved, not only his wealth, but his rank, by the exercise of a plain understanding, assisted by the integrity of his forefathers, in pursuance of the trade to which his destiny had devoted him.”

At the word “ trade,” Lady Sonkin threw herself back, or rather down, on the sofa. For some moments I thought she was fainting ; on the contrary, she was only collecting vigour for an animated reply.

“ Trade! trade!” starting up, she exclaimed. “My poor nerves will never recover the shock! I appeal to you, Mr. N— , whether commerce,that mighty power which links the four quarters of the globe together, is to be degraded by the term trade ?

“Now, pr’ythee, Lady Sonkin,” replied the knight, “ be calm, and let me explain.”

“Well, dear,” she softly replied, “ you know I never argue with you, -as how could I? But when a gentleman has accumulated above two hundred thousand pounds by his vast commercial dealings

“ No, madam,” interrupted the knight; “in honest and plain terms, by his trade.

“ I always thought,” she in turn interrupted, with apparent languor, but real energy, “ that, after all, commerce and trade were synonymous terms. I appeal to Mr. N- ."

“Why, really, Lady Sonkin," I replied, “ you might puzzle a better philologist than myself by such a question ; but, without entering into definitions, I certainly always imagined that trade on an extensive scale was considered to be commerce, and that commerce on a limited scale was generally considered to be trade. As, for instance, we call those currents of air trade winds, such as the monsoon in the Indian ocean, which waft in one direct course the vessel freighted with the produce of one country to the shores of another, and thence in due season back again with the exchange procured for the commodities exported; and this I presume to be an illustration of what is called commerce. When Sir John spoke of trade, he did not, I imagine, allude to the petty transactions of a chandler's shop, but to that commanding influence which traffic between remote nations has given especially to the fortunate islands of which we are natives.”

"A chandler's shop !"exclaimed the lady, with a sort of hysterical laugh—“a chandler's shop! We never kept a CHANDLER'S SHOP, I assure you! Did we, my dear?”

“Woman!” cried the husband, with a red face, and most impressively angry tone, “ you are a fool! Do hold your tongue!”

“ That, my love,” she replied, “ I shall do, of course, when you desire me; but before I do so, I will say, that Mr N- 's notion of a chandler's shop is almost an affront to a man whose extensive speculation in hops, and remarkably fine taste in Cheshire cheese, has procured him so fine a fortune, and — and — ah me! - I faint with exhaustion! Pray, ring the bell, and order Jeanneton to attend me!”

Here she relapsed on the sofa, and having rung the bell, we immediately retired.

The honest knight took me into another apartment, and contipued,

“ You now know," said he, “ what I have made no mystery of, and had no wish to conceal, that my wealth has been acquired in trade, which, though carried on upon a large scale, I have never dignified by the name of commerce, though intrinsically it might be called so. Lady Sonkin is a little fanciful on these matters; but we all have our weaknesses. I do not quarrel with hers, because they arise from a laudable pride in her husband, and as natural an ambition for her children. In plain fact, though we never actually kept a shop, I have been upon a large scale a factor and speculator in hops, -in the same way a large farmer, and wholesale dealer in the sterling English commodity of Cheshire cheeses. I have made a fine fortune, Mr. N- ; what is more, I have made it honestly ; and, though I am not insensible to the dignity which it has pleased my gracious Sovereign to confer upon me, I am neither vain of my title or spoiled by my wealth. One thing only I would conceal, and would not admit, had you not witnessed it, the harmless weakness of my little wife. She is an excellent woman, Mr. N- ; an excellent wife, and an admirable mother; and, though only the daughter of a half-pay captain in the army, she has proved herself entitled to every indulgence I can so amply afford her. But I will not on this single point of name, and the assumption of family pride which does not belong to me, indulge a folly which, as it becomes ridiculous, may cease to be harmless."

I honestly confess that my own reason responded to every word my bulky friend uttered ; but not choosing to take any part pro or con. I was glad to recollect that the hour was luckily arrived when I could take my leave without offence, and I rose, though with warmer feelings than usual towards my new acquaintance, yet not without some sort of irritated emotions towards my London friend, who had fixed upon me this “ unsorted set,” and exclaiming to myself, “ So, my new associate, after all, is a cheesemonger ! ”

As I returned home, however, I recalled many admirable anecdotes of splendid institutions founded by, and munificent gifts recorded of, citizens of London who were merchants in a general sense, and equally, perhaps, in hops and cheese ; and before I stepped into bed, I found an honest blush upon my cheek for having, even for a moment, felt degraded by my temporary connection with one of these most useful and most influential members of society. I say I blushed; and the man or the woman who blushes when alone, may rest satisfied that they possess something within which is allied to honour, and not destitute of virtue.

It is not my intention at present to follow the fortunes of this family during their residence abroad; but they had not resided in Paris more than five months before the listless vigour and energetic languor of Lady Sonkin had made her and her children, especially her daughters, so conspicuously remarkable, that they were introduced upon the stage in a piquant little vaudeville, entitled, “ Les Angloises pour rire."

The good-humoured satire, and inimitable acting of Pèrlet in this piece, drew crowds nightly to the theatre, and it was noticed that the English residents enjoyed the burlesque with even greater zest than the Parisians themselves.

One English family alone was sought for there in vain ;-in fact, that one English family had been present on the first night the piece was performed, and had enjoyed it like everybody else, until they found their loge the centre of attraction to all eyes, and at last, as the piece concluded, that the inmates were the marked objects of the whole parterre, who with a burst of thundering applause simultaneously shouted, “ Vivent les Angloises ! vivent les Angloises !” &c.

While all Paris, therefore, was ringing the fame of “ Les Angloises pour rire,” the “one family ” were busily employed chez eur in purchasing incog. in packing, and preparing for their precipitate departure; and ten days after the first enacting of the memorable vaudeville, I accompanied the party as far as Lyons, where I parted, not without feelings of regret, from my friend Sir John and his really agreeable family, and saw them start once more on their road to Italy.

N

« 上一页继续 »