A chat with Mr. Merton on Society. Mr. and Mrs. James, of Sutton, come up. A miserable evening at the Tank Theatre. Experiments with enamel paint. I make another good joke; but Gowing and Cummings are unnecessarily offended. I paint the bath red, with unexpected result.
Cummings called, bringing with him his friend Merton, who is in the wine trade. Gowing also called. Mr. Merton made himself at home at once, and Carrie and I were both struck with him immediately, and thoroughly approved of his sentiments.
Merton leaned back in his chair and said: “You must take me as I am;” and I replied: “Yes—and you must take us as we are. We’re homely people, we are not swells.”
He answered: “No, I can see that,” and Gowing roared with laughter; but Merton in a most gentlemanly manner said to Gowing: “I don’t think you quite understand me. I intended to convey that our charming host and hostess were superior to the follies of fashion, and preferred leading a simple and wholesome life to gadding about to twopenny-halfpenny tea-drinking afternoons, and living above their incomes.”
I was immensely pleased with these sensible remarks of Merton’s, and concluded that subject by saying: “No, candidly, Mr. Merton, we don’t go into Society, because we do not care for it; and what with the expense of cabs here and cabs there, and white gloves and white ties, etc., it doesn’t seem worth the money.”
Merton said in reference to friends: “My motto is ‘Few and True;’ and, by the way, I also apply that to wine, ‘Little and Good.’” Gowing said: “Yes, and sometimes ‘cheap and tasty,’ eh, old man?” Merton, still continuing, said he should treat me as a friend, and put me down for a dozen of his “Lockanbar” whisky, and as I was an old friend of Gowing, I should have it for 36s., which was considerably under what he paid for it.
He booked his own order, and further said that at any time I wanted any passes for the theatre I was to let him know, as his name stood good for any theatre in London.
Carrie reminded me that as her old school friend, Annie Fullers (now Mrs. James), and her husband had come up from Sutton for a few days, it would look kind to take them to the theatre, and would I drop a line to Mr. Merton asking him for passes for four, either for the Italian Opera, Haymarket, Savoy, or Lyceum. I wrote Merton to that effect.
April 21.—Got a reply from Merton, saying he was very busy, and just at present couldn’t manage passes for the Italian Opera, Haymarket, Savoy, or Lyceum, but the best thing going on in London was the Brown Bushes, at the Tank Theatre, Islington, and enclosed seats for four; also bill for whisky.
Mr. and Mrs. James (Miss Fullers that was) came to meat tea, and we left directly after for the Tank Theatre. We got a ’bus that took us to King’s Cross, and then changed into one that took us to the “Angel.” Mr. James each time insisted on paying for all, saying that I had paid for the tickets and that was quite enough.
We arrived at theatre, where, curiously enough, all our ’bus-load except an old woman with a basket seemed to be going in. I walked ahead and presented the tickets. The man looked at them, and called out: “Mr. Willowly! do you know anything about these?” holding up my tickets. The gentleman called to, came up and examined my tickets, and said: “Who gave you these?” I said, rather indignantly: “Mr. Merton, of course.” He said: “Merton? Who’s he?” I answered, rather sharply: “You ought to know, his name’s good at any theatre in London.” He replied: “Oh! is it? Well, it ain’t no good here. These tickets, which are not dated, were issued under Mr. Swinstead’s management, which has since changed hands.” While I was having some very unpleasant words with the man, James, who had gone upstairs with the ladies, called out: “Come on!” I went up after them, and a very civil attendant said: “This way, please, box H.” I said to James: “Why, how on earth did you manage it?” and to my horror he replied: “Why, paid for it of course.”
This was humiliating enough, and I could scarcely follow the play, but I was doomed to still further humiliation. I was leaning out of the box, when my tie—a little black bow which fastened on to the stud by means of a new patent—fell into the pit below. A clumsy man not noticing it, had his foot on it for ever so long before he discovered it. He then picked it up and eventually flung it under the next seat in disgust. What with the box incident and the tie, I felt quite miserable. Mr. James, of Sutton, was very good. He said: “Don’t worry—no one will notice it with your beard. That is the only advantage of growing one that I can see.” There was no occasion for that remark, for Carrie is very proud of my beard.
To hide the absence of the tie I had to keep my chin down the rest of the evening, which caused a pain at the back of my neck.
Could scarcely sleep a wink through thinking of having brought up Mr. and Mrs. James from the country to go to the theatre last night, and his having paid for a private box because our order was not honoured, and such a poor play too. I wrote a very satirical letter to Merton, the wine merchant, who gave us the pass, and said, “Considering we had to pay for our seats, we did our best to appreciate the performance.” I thought this line rather cutting, and I asked Carrie how many p’s there were in appreciate, and she said, “One.” After I sent off the letter I looked at the dictionary and found there were two. Awfully vexed at this.
Decided not to worry myself any more about the James’s; for, as Carrie wisely said, “We’ll make it all right with them by asking them up from Sutton one evening next week to play at Bézique.”
In consequence of Brickwell telling me his wife was working wonders with the new Pinkford’s enamel paint, I determined to try it. I bought two tins of red on my way home. I hastened through tea, went into the garden and painted some flower-pots. I called out Carrie, who said: “You’ve always got some newfangled craze;” but she was obliged to admit that the flower-pots looked remarkably well. Went upstairs into the servant’s bedroom and painted her washstand, towel-horse, and chest of drawers. To my mind it was an extraordinary improvement, but as an example of the ignorance of the lower classes in the matter of taste, our servant, Sarah, on seeing them, evinced no sign of pleasure, but merely said “she thought they looked very well as they was before.”
Got some more red enamel paint (red, to my mind, being the best colour), and painted the coal-scuttle, and the backs of our Shakspeare, the binding of which had almost worn out.
Painted the bath red, and was delighted with the result. Sorry to say Carrie was not, in fact we had a few words about it. She said I ought to have consulted her, and she had never heard of such a thing as a bath being painted red. I replied: “It’s merely a matter of taste.”
Fortunately, further argument on the subject was stopped by a voice saying, “May I come in?” It was only Cummings, who said, “Your maid opened the door, and asked me to excuse her showing me in, as she was wringing out some socks.” I was delighted to see him, and suggested we should have a game of whist with a dummy, and by way of merriment said: “You can be the dummy.” Cummings (I thought rather ill-naturedly) replied: “Funny as usual.” He said he couldn’t stop, he only called to leave me the Bicycle News, as he had done with it.
Another ring at the bell; it was Gowing, who said he “must apologise for coming so often, and that one of these days we must come round to him.” I said: “A very extraordinary thing has struck me.” “Something funny, as usual,” said Cummings. “Yes,” I replied; “I think even you will say so this time. It’s concerning you both; for doesn’t it seem odd that Gowing’s always coming and Cummings’ always going?” Carrie, who had evidently quite forgotten about the bath, went into fits of laughter, and as for myself, I fairly doubled up in my chair, till it cracked beneath me. I think this was one of the best jokes I have ever made.
Then imagine my astonishment on perceiving both Cummings and Gowing perfectly silent, and without a smile on their faces. After rather an unpleasant pause, Cummings, who had opened a cigar-case, closed it up again and said: “Yes—I think, after that, I shall be going, and I am sorry I fail to see the fun of your jokes.” Gowing said he didn’t mind a joke when it wasn’t rude, but a pun on a name, to his thinking, was certainly a little wanting in good taste. Cummings followed it up by saying, if it had been said by anyone else but myself, he shouldn’t have entered the house again. This rather unpleasantly terminated what might have been a cheerful evening. However, it was as well they went, for the charwoman had finished up the remains of the cold pork.
At the office, the new and very young clerk Pitt, who was very impudent to me a week or so ago, was late again. I told him it would be my duty to inform Mr. Perkupp, the principal. To my surprise, Pitt apologised most humbly and in a most gentlemanly fashion. I was unfeignedly pleased to notice this improvement in his manner towards me, and told him I would look over his unpunctuality. Passing down the room an hour later. I received a smart smack in the face from a rolled-up ball of hard foolscap. I turned round sharply, but all the clerks were apparently riveted to their work. I am not a rich man, but I would give half-a-sovereign to know whether that was thrown by accident or design. Went home early and bought some more enamel paint—black this time—and spent the evening touching up the fender, picture-frames, and an old pair of boots, making them look as good as new. Also painted Gowing’s walking-stick, which he left behind, and made it look like ebony.
April 29, Sunday.—
Woke up with a fearful headache and strong symptoms of a cold. Carrie, with a perversity which is just like her, said it was “painter’s colic,” and was the result of my having spent the last few days with my nose over a paint-pot. I told her firmly that I knew a great deal better what was the matter with me than she did. I had got a chill, and decided to have a bath as hot as I could bear it. Bath ready—could scarcely bear it so hot. I persevered, and got in; very hot, but very acceptable. I lay still for some time.
On moving my hand above the surface of the water, I experienced the greatest fright I ever received in the whole course of my life; for imagine my horror on discovering my hand, as I thought, full of blood. My first thought was that I had ruptured an artery, and was bleeding to death, and should be discovered, later on, looking like a second Marat, as I remember seeing him in Madame Tussaud’s. My second thought was to ring the bell, but remembered there was no bell to ring. My third was, that there was nothing but the enamel paint, which had dissolved with boiling water. I stepped out of the bath, perfectly red all over, resembling the Red Indians I have seen depicted at an East-End theatre. I determined not to say a word to Carrie, but to tell Farmerson to come on Monday and paint the bath white.