Among the deaths in our obituary for this month, I observe with concern “At his cottage on the Bath road, Captain Jackson.” The name and attribution are common enough; but a feeling like reproach persuades me, that this could have been no other in fact than my dear old friend, who some five-and-twenty years ago rented a tenement, which he was pleased to dignify with the appellation here used, about a mile from Westbourn Green. Alack, how good men, and the good turns they do us, slide out of memory, and are recalled but by the surprise of some such sad memento as that which now lies before us!
He whom I mean was a retired half-pay officer, with a wife and two grown-up daughters, whom he maintained with the port and notions of gentlewomen upon that slender professional allowance. Comely girls they were too.
And was I in danger of forgetting this man?–his cheerful suppers–the noble tone of hospitality, when first you set your foot in the cottage–the anxious ministerings about you, where little or nothing (God knows) was to be ministered.–Althea’s horn in a poor platter–the power of self-enchantment, by which, in his magnificent wishes to entertain you, he multiplied his means to bounties.
You saw with your bodily eyes indeed what seemed a bare scrag–cold savings from the foregone meal–remnant hardly sufficient to send a mendicant from the door contented. But in the copious will–the revelling imagination of your host–the “mind, the mind, Master Shallow,” whole beeves were spread before you–hecatombs–no end appeared to the profusion.
It was the widow’s cruse–the loaves and fishes; carving could not lessen nor helping diminish it–the stamina were left–the elemental bone still flourished, divested of its accidents.
“Let us live while we can,” methinks I hear the open-handed creature exclaim; “while we have, let us not want,” “here is plenty left;” “want for nothing”–with many more such hospitable sayings, the spurs of appetite, and old concomitants of smoaking boards, and feast-oppressed chargers. Then sliding a slender ratio of Single Gloucester upon his wife’s plate, or the daughter’s, he would convey the remanent rind into his own, with a merry quirk of “the nearer the bone,” etc., and declaring that he universally preferred the outside. For we had our table distinctions, you are to know, and some of us in a manner sate above the salt. None but his guest or guests dreamed of tasting flesh luxuries at night, the fragments were vere hospilibus sacra. But of one thing or another there was always enough, and leavings: only he would sometimes finish the remainder crust, to show that he wished no savings.
Wine he had none; nor, except on very rare occasions, spirits; but the sensation of wine was there. Some thin kind of ale I remember–“British beverage,” he would say! “Push about, my boys;” “Drink to your sweethearts, girls.” At every meagre draught a toast must ensue, or a song. All the forms of good liquor were there, with none of the effects wanting. Shut your eyes, and you would swear a capacious bowl of punch was foaming in the centre, with beams of generous Port or Madeira radiating to it from each of the table corners. You got flustered, without knowing whence; tipsy upon words; and reeled under the potency of his unperforming Bacchanalian encouragements.
We had our songs–“Why, Soldiers, Why”–and the “British Grenadiers”–in which last we were all obliged to bear chorus. Both the daughters sang. Their proficiency was a nightly theme–the masters he had given them–the “no-expence” which he spared to accomplish them in a science “so necessary to young women.” But then–they could not sing “without the instrument.”
Sacred, and by me, never-to-be violated, Secrets of Poverty! Should I disclose your honest aims at grandeur, your make-shift efforts of magnificence? Sleep, sleep, with all thy broken keys, if one of the bunch be extant; thrummed by a thousand ancestral thumbs; dear, cracked spinnet of dearer Louisa! Without mention of mine, be dumb, thou thin accompanier of her thinner warble! A veil be spread over the dear delighted face of the well-deluded father, who now haply listening to cherubic notes, scarce feels sincerer pleasure than when she awakened thy time-shaken chords responsive to the twitterings of that slender image of a voice.