The gardens are worthy of the houses -- and the rents are frightful. A sudden death, and an executor in a hurry, offered the lease of the next house a bargain. Alderman Sir John Dowager took it on speculation, and is waiting to dispose of it on his own outrageous terms. In the meantime, he and his family occupy the premises. Sir John is stingy; his wife is deaf; his daughter is sour, his son is sulky. The one other member of this detestable family is an interesting exception to the rest: he is Lady Dowager's son, by her first husband. Let this gentleman wait a little while, and be introduced presently by himself.
Our new neighbours took possession during an excessively hot summer. On the first day, they were occupied in settling themselves in their house. On the second day, they enjoyed their garden. We were sitting on our lawn; and they were sitting on their lawn. In consideration of Lady Dowager's deafness, they talked loud enough (especially the daughter, Miss Bess, and the son, Young John) to be heard all over our grounds. This said, let them describe their own characters in an extract from their conversation. I am the reporter. And I own I peeped over the wall.
Stingy Sir John. -- I gave orders, my dear, about those two pieces of bread that were left yesterday; and I find nobody can give any account of them. Is this the manner in which I am to be treated by my own servants? Deaf Lady Dowager(addressing her daughter). -- What does your papa say, Bess? Sour Bess. -- Pa's abusing the servants; and all about two bits of bread. Sir John. -- I'll thank you, miss, not to misrepresent me to my own face. You do it on purpose. Sulky Young John. -- She does everything on purpose. Miss Bess. -- That's a lie. Lady Dowager. -- What is it? I can't hear. What is it? Sir John. -- My dear, your deafness is certainly growing on you. Young John. -- And a good thing too, in such a family as ours. Sir John. -- That is a most improper observation to make. Miss Bess. -- He looked at me when he made it. Lady Dowager. -- Who's speaking now? Bess! what is the matter? Miss Bess. -- Papa and John are quarrelling with me as usual. Sir John. -- How dare you speak in that way of your father? Over and over again, Miss Elizabeth, I have had occasion to remark -- Young John. -- It's a perfect misery to live in the same house with her. Sir John. -- What do you mean, sir, by interrupting me? Lady Dowager. -- I think it's rather hard on me that nobody speaks loud enough to be heard. I shall go into the house. Sir John (looking after his wife). -- Her temper gets more irritable every day. Bess (looking at Young John) } No wonder!
Young John (looking at Bess)
There are our next-door neighbours presented by themselves. Why do I introduce such people into these pages? Alas! I am not able to keep them out. They are mixed up, by the inscrutable decrees of Providence, with Sophia Pillico wickedness, and with my sister Salome's dearest hopes in life. Does my sister's Christian name sound disagreeably? Let me mention the associations; and no reasonable person will object to it. She was called Salome, and I was called Lois, after my father's two maiden sisters. Excellent women! They lived in the West of England -- they left us their money -- and they went to Heaven. (Instructions to the Editor: Now go on.)
III The Editor introduces Mr and Mrs Wholebrook; directors of the famous Hydropathic Establishment at Cosgrove.
As man and wife, they were naturally accustomed to talk over the affairs of the day, in bed. One night, they held an especially interesting conversation. Both agreed -- they had not been very long married -- in lamenting the departure of a retiring member of the household; registered in the books by the odd name of, 'Otto Fitzmark.'
'Why should he leave us?' Mr Wholebrook asked. 'He has not gone through the cure; and, when I inquired if he had any complaint to make, he spoke in the most gratifying manner of the comfort of the house, and the excellence of the cooking.'
'My dear, if you knew him as well as I do --'
'What do you mean, Louisa? Has Mr Fitzmark been --?'
'Don't be a fool, James. Mr Fitzmark is a ladies' man; young and handsome, and in delicate health. He likes to confide in women, poor fellow; especially when they happen to be -- there! that will do; I forgive you: don't interrupt me again. And understand this: I, who am in Mr Otto's confidence, expected him to say he was going back to London, at least a week since.'
'Is it business, my dear?'
'Business! Mr Fitzmark has absolutely nothing to do. His valet is a treasure; and he has a comfortable income left him by his father.'
'His father was a foreigner, wasn't he?
'Good Heavens! what has that got to do with it?'
'I only spoke. If I am to be taken up short because I only speak, we'll say good night.'
'Don't be angry, darling! Won't you forgive me? won't you? won't you?'
'What were we talking about, dear?'
'What indeed! Wasn't it Mr Fitzmark's father? You were quite right about him: he was sort of half foreigner.