Much ado about nothing; or, a specimen of modern patronage
I communicated to my mother and Virginia my father's intentions relative to my future employ, and was not surprised to find my mother very much pleased with the intelligence, for she had always considered my situation of "Poor Jack" as disgracing her family—declaring it the "most ungenteelest" of all occupations. Perhaps she was not only glad of my giving up the situation, but also of my quitting her house. My father desired me to wear my Sunday clothes during the week, and ordered me a new suit for my best, which he paid for out of the money which he had placed in the hands of the lieutenant of the hospital; and I was very much surprised to perceive my mother cutting out half-a-dozen new shirts for me, which she and Virginia were employed making up during the evenings. Not that my mother told me who the shirts were for—she said nothing; but Virginia whispered it to me: my mother could not be even gracious to me. Nevertheless, the shirts and several other necessaries, such as stockings and pocket-handkerchiefs, were placed for my use on my father's sea-chest, in my room, without any comment on her part, although she had paid for them out of her own purse. During the time that elapsed from my giving up the situation of "Poor Jack" to my quitting Greenwich, I remained very quietly in my mother's house, doing everything that I could for her, and employing myself chiefly in reading books, which I borrowed anywhere that I could. I was very anxious to get rid of my sobriquet of "Poor Jack," and when so called would tell everybody that my name was now "Thomas Saunders."
One Sunday, about three weeks after I had given up my berth, I was walking with my father and Virginia on the terrace of the hospital, when we perceived a large party of ladies and gentlemen coming toward us. My father was very proud of us. I had this very day put on the new suit of clothes which he had ordered for me, and which had been cut out in the true man-of-war fashion; and Virginia was, as usual, very nicely dressed. We were walking toward the party who were advancing, when all of a sudden my father started, and exclaimed:
"Well, shiver my timbers! if it ain't she—and he—by all that's blue!"
Who she or he might be neither Virginia nor I could imagine; but I looked at the party, who were now close to us, and perceived, in advance of the rest, an enormous lady, dressed in a puce-colored pelisse and a white satin bonnet. Her features were good, and, had they been on a smaller scale, would have been considered handsome. She towered above the rest of the company, and there was but one man who could at all compete with her in height and size, and he was by her side.
My father stopped, took off his cocked hat, and scraped the gravel with his timber toe, as he bowed a little forward.
"Sarvant, your honor's ladyship. Sarvant, your honor Sir Hercules."
"Ah! who have we here?" replied Sir Hercules, putting his hand up as a screen above his eyes. "Who are you, my man?" continued he.
"Tom Saunders, your honor's coxswain, as was in the 'Druid,'" replied my father, with another scrape of the gravel, "taken in moorings at last, your honor. Hope to see your honor and your honorable ladyship quite well."
"I recollect you now, my man," replied Sir Hercules, very stiffly. "And where did you lose your leg?"
"Battle o' the Nile, your honor; Majesty's ship Oudacious.'"
"How interesting!" observed one of the ladies; "one of Sir Hercules' old men."
"Yes, madam, and one of my best men. Lady Hercules, you must recollect him," said Sir Hercules.
"I should think so, Sir Hercules," replied the lady; "did I not give him my own lady's maid in marriage?"
"Dear me, how excessively interesting!" said another of the party.
Now, this was a little event in which Sir Hercules and Lady Hercules stood prominent; it added to their importance for the moment, and therefore they were both pleased. Lady Hercules then said, "And pray, my good man, how is your wife?"
"Quite well and hearty, at your ladyship's sarvice," replied my father; "and, please your ladyship, these two be our children."
"Bless me, how interesting!" exclaimed another lady.
"And remarkably well-bred 'uns," remarked a short gentleman in a fox-hunting coat, examining Virginia through his eye-glass; "coxswain, filly—dam, lady's maid."
"What is your name, child?" said Lady Hercules to Virginia.
"Virginia, ma'am," replied my sister, with a courtesy.
"You must say 'Lady Hercules,' my dear," said my father, stooping down.
"My name is Virginia, Lady Hercules," replied my sister, courtesying again.
"Indeed; then I suppose you are named after me?"
"Yes, your ladyship; hope no offense—but we did take the liberty," replied my father.
"And what is yours, boy?"
"Thomas, Lady Hercules," replied I, with a bow and scrape, after my father's receipt for politeness.
"And where is your mother?" said Sir Hercules.
"Mother's at home, Lady Hercules," replied I, with another scrape.
"How very interesting!" exclaimed one of the party. "Quite an event!" said another. "A delightful rencontre!" cried a third. "How kind of you, Lady Hercules, to give up your own maid! and such handsome children," etc., etc. "It's really quite charming."
Lady Hercules was evidently much pleased, and she assumed the patroness.
"Well, little girl, since you have been named after me, out of gratitude I must see what can be done for you. Tell your mother to come up to me to-morrow at three o'clock, and bring you with her."
"Yes, Lady Hercules," replied Virginia, with a courtesy.
"And, Saunders, you may as well come up at the same time, and bring your lad with you," added Sir Hercules.
"Yes, your honor," replied my father, both he and I simultaneously scraping the gravel.
"Wish your honor Sir Hercules, and your honorable lady, and all the honorable company, a very good-morning," continued my father, taking Virginia and me by the hand to lead us away.
Sir Hercules touched his hat in return, and walked away as stiff as usual. The pensioners who had witnessed the interview between him and my father, concluding that Sir Hercules was a naval officer, now rose and touched their hats to him as he walked with her ladyship in advance of the party. We joined Anderson, who was sitting down at the other end of the walk, when my father communicated to him what had passed.
As my father conducted Virginia home, she said to him, "Why do you call him sir and her lady?"
"Because they are quality people, child. He is a barrownight, and she is Lady Hercules."
"Are all barrownights and ladies so much bigger than other people are in general?"
"No, child, they don't go by size. I've seen many a lord who was a very little man."
My mother was very much pleased when we narrated what had happened, as she considered that Lady Hercules might prove a valuable patron to Virginia, whom she did not fail to have ready at the time appointed; and, dressed in our very best, we all walked together to the Sun, at which Sir Hercules and his lady had taken up their quarters. Let it not be supposed that my mother had forgotten the unceremonious manner in which she had been dismissed from the service of Lady Hercules—it was still fresh in the memory of a person so revengeful in her disposition; but she considered that as Lady Hercules had forgotten it, it was her interest to do the same; so, when we were ushered into the room where sat Sir Hercules and her ladyship, my mother was all smiles and courtesies, and gratitude for past favors.
There was an old gentleman, with a bald powdered head, dressed in black, standing with his back to the fire when we entered. He was the only other person in the room besides Sir Hercules and his lady. Lady Hercules first obtained from my mother a short history of what had happened since they had parted; and really, to hear my mother's explanation, it would have been supposed that she and my father had always been the most loving couple in the world.
"Well," said Sir Hercules, "and what do you intend to do with your boy, Saunders?"
"May it please your honor, I've been thinking of bringing him up as a channel pilot," replied my father.
"Very good," replied Sir Hercules; "I can see to that; and with my interest at the Trinity Board, the thing is done, sir;" and Sir Hercules walked pompously about the room. "Saunders," said Sir Hercules, stopping, after he had taken three or four turns up and down, and joining his fingers behind his back, "I thought I perceived some difference in you when you first addressed me. What has become of your tail, sir?"
"My tail, your honor?" replied my father, looking as much a delinquent as if he was still on board a man-of-war, and had been guilty of some misdemeanor, "why, please your honor Sir Hercules—"
"I cut it off for him with my scissors," interrupted my mother, with a courtesy. "Saunders was very savage when he came for to know it; but he had a stupefaction of the brain, and was quite insensible at the time; and so, Sir Hercules and my lady" (here a courtesy), "I thought it was better—"
"Ah! I see—a brain fever," observed Sir Hercules. "Well, under these circumstances you may have saved his life; but 'twas a pity, was it not, my lady?—quite altered the man. You recollect his tail, my lady?"
"What a question, Sir Hercules!" replied her ladyship with great dignity, turning round toward my mother.
My father appeared to be quite relieved from his dilemma by his wife's presence of mind, and really thankful to her for coming to his assistance; she had saved him from the mortification of telling the truth. How true it is that married people, however much they may quarrel, like to conceal their squabbles from the world!
"And what are you thinking of doing with your little girl?" said Lady Hercules—"bringing her up to service, I presume. Leave that to me. As soon as she is old enough, the thing is done, you need say no more about it." Here her ladyship fell back in the large easy-chair on which she was seated, with a self-satisfied air of patronage, and looking even more dignified than her husband.
But my mother had no such intentions, and having first thanked her ladyship for her great kindness, stated very humbly that she did not much like the idea of her daughter going out to service, that she was far from strong, and that her health would not allow her to undertake hard work.
"Well, but I presume she may do the work of a lady's maid?" replied her ladyship haughtily; "and it was that service which I intended for her."
"Indeed, Lady Hercules, you are very kind; but there is an objection," replied my mother, to gain time.
"Please your ladyship," said my father, who, to my great surprise, came to my mother's support, "I do not wish that my little girl should be a lady's maid."
"And why not, pray?" said her ladyship, rather angrily.
"Why, you see, your ladyship, my daughter is, after all, only the daughter of a poor Greenwich pensioner; and, although she has been so far pretty well educated, yet I wishes her not to forget her low situation in life, and ladies' maids do get so confounded proud ('specially those who have the fortune to be ladies' ladies' maids), that I don't wish that she should take a situation which would make her forget herself and her poor old pensioner of a father; and, begging your honor's pardon, that is the real state of the case, my lady."
What my mother felt at this slap at her I do not know, but certain it is that she was satisfied with my father taking the responsibility of refusal on his own shoulders, and she therefore continued: "I often have told Mr. Saunders how happy I was when under your ladyship's protection, and what a fortunate person I considered myself; but my husband has always had such an objection to my girl being brought up to it that I have (of course, my lady, as it is my duty to him to do so) given up my own wishes from the first; indeed, my lady, had I not known that my little girl was not to go to service, I never should have ventured to have called her Virginia, my lady."
"What, then, do you intend her for?" said Sir Hercules to my father. "You don't mean to bring her up as a lady, do you?"
"No, your honor, she's but a pensioner's daughter, and I wishes her to be humble, as she ought to be; so I've been thinking that something in the millinery line, or perhaps—"
"As a governess, my lady," interrupted my mother, with a courtesy.
"That will make her humble enough, at all events," observed the bald gentleman in black, with a smile.
"I admit," replied Lady Hercules, "that your having given my name to your little girl is a strong reason for her not going into service; but there are many expenses attending the education necessary for a young person as governess."
Here my mother entered into an explanation of how Virginia had been educated—an education which she should not have dreamed of giving, only that her child bore her ladyship's name, etc. My mother employed her usual flattery and humility, so as to reconcile her ladyship to the idea; who was the more inclined when she discovered that she was not likely to be put to any expense in her patronage of my sister. It was finally agreed that Virginia should be educated for the office of governess, and that when she was old enough Lady Hercules would take her under her august protection; but her ladyship did do her some service. Finding that Virginia was at a respectable school, she called there with a party of ladies, and informed the schoolmistress that the little girl was under her protection, and that she trusted that justice would be done to her education. In a school where the Misses Tippet were considered the aristocracy the appearance of so great a woman as Lady Hercules was an event, and I do not know whether my little sister did not after that take precedence in the school. At all events, she was much more carefully instructed and looked after than she had been before. Sir Hercules was also pleased to find, upon inquiry, that there was every prospect of my entering the pilot service, without any trouble on his part. Both Sir Hercules and his lady informed their friends of what their intentions were to their young proteges, and were inundated with praises and commendations for their kindness, the full extent of which the reader will appreciate. But, as my mother pointed out as we walked home, if we did not require their assistance at present, there was no saying but that we eventually might; and if so, that Sir Hercules and Lady Hawkingtrefylyan could not well refuse to perform their promises. I must say that this was the first instance in my recollection in which my parents appeared to draw amicably together; and I believe that nothing except regard for their children could have produced the effect.