< Back to Part 1.
It’s Wednesday 20 January 1867 and we’re sat in the school room at Waters Upton, trying our best not to be noticed. Luckily the assembled audience, containing many of the neighbourhood’s farming folk and others of a similar social standing, are focussed on the Reverend Halke. As it happens, he is delivering the next ‘act’. Are you sitting comfortably? Then we’ll continue.
Reading, ‘Mrs. Gamp’s Tea Party,’ J. T. Halke.
For those unfamiliar with the works of Charles Dickens (in our present company, surely not many!), the Reverend Halke explains that the passage he will read is from The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit. A hush falls over the room as those around us, many of whom are used to hearing the cleric reading on Sundays from an altogether different book, await this new experience.
“And quite a family it is to make tea for,” said Mrs. Gamp; “and wot a happiness to do it! My good young ‘ooman”—to the servant-girl—“p’raps somebody would like to try a new-laid egg or two, not biled too hard. Likeways, a few rounds o’ buttered toast, first cuttin’ off the crust, in consequence of tender teeth, and not too many of ‘em; which Gamp himself, Mrs. Chuzzlewit, at one blow, being in liquor, struck out four, two single, and two double, as was took by Mrs. Harris for a keepsake, and is carried in her pocket at this present hour, along with two cramp-bones, a bit o’ ginger, and a grater like a blessed infant’s shoe, in tin, with a little heel to put the nutmeg in; as many times I’ve seen and said, and used for caudle when required, within the month.”
As the privileges of the side-table—besides including the small prerogatives of sitting next the toast, and taking two cups of tea to other people’s one, and always taking them at a crisis, that is to say, before putting fresh water into the tea-pot, and after it had been standing for some time; also comprehended a full view of the company, and an opportunity of addressing them as from a rostrum, Mrs. Gamp discharged the functions entrusted to her with extreme good-humour and affability. Sometimes, resting her saucer on the palm of her outspread hand, and supporting her elbow on the table, she stopped between her sips of tea to favour the circle with a smile, a wink, a roll of the head, or some other mark of notice; and at those periods her countenance was lighted up with a degree of intelligence and vivacity, which it was almost impossible to separate from the benignant influence of distilled waters.
But for Mrs. Gamp, it would have been a curiously silent party. Miss Pecksniff only spoke to her Augustus, and to him in whispers. Augustus spoke to nobody, but sighed for every one, and occasionally gave himself such a sounding slap upon the forehead as would make Mrs. Todgers, who was rather nervous, start in her chair with an involuntary exclamation. Mrs. Todgers was occupied in knitting, and seldom spoke. Poor Merry held the hand of cheerful little Ruth between her own, and listening with evident pleasure to all she said, but rarely speaking herself, sometimes smiled, and sometimes kissed her on the cheek, and sometimes turned aside to hide the tears that trembled in her eyes. Tom felt this change in her so much, and was so glad to see how tenderly Ruth dealt with her, and how she knew and answered to it, that he had not the heart to make any movement towards their departure, although he had long since given utterance to all he came to say.The old clerk, subsiding into his usual state, remained profoundly silent, while the rest of the little assembly were thus occupied, intent upon the dreams, whatever they might be, which hardly seemed to stir the surface of his sluggish thoughts.
Duet, ‘The Minute Gun at Sea,’ Mr. Palmer and friend.
Now Mr Palmer returns to the spotlight. Last time he was part of a quartet (performing The Village Choristers), now he’s about to sing a duet from Up All Night or The Smuggler’s Cave, a comic opera written way back in 1809 by Samuel James Arnold, with music by Matthew Peter King. I took the liberty of stopping off in 1870 on my way here to pick up a copy of Diprose’s Standard Song Book and Reciter, which has the following version of the song (showing which parts are sung by each character). A minute gun, incidentally, is a cannon or gun fired at one-minute intervals as a sign of distress.
Juliana: Let him who sighs in sadness here,
Rejoice, and know a friend is near.
Heartwell: What heavenly sounds are those I hear?
What being comes the gloom to cheer?
1st: When in the storm on Albion’s coast,
The night watch guards his weary post
From thoughts of danger free,
He marks some vessel’s dusky form,
And hears amid the howling storm,
The minute gun at sea,
2nd: The minute gun at sea;
Both: And hears amid the howling storm,
The minute gun at sea.
2nd: Swift on the shore a hardy few
The life-boat man with a gallant crew,
And dare the dang’rous wave;
Through the wild surf they cleave their way,
Lost in the foam, nor know dismay—
For they go the crew to save,
1st: For they go the crew to save.
Both: Lost in the foam, nor know dismay—
For they go the crew to save.
1st: But O, what rapture fills each breast
2nd: Of the hopeless crew of the ship distressed.
Both: Then landed safe, what joys to tell
Of all the dangers that befell!—
1st: Then is heard no more,
2nd: By the watch on the shore,
Both: Then is heard no more, by the watch on the shore,
Both: Then is heard no more, by the watch on the shore,
The minute gun at sea.
Song, ‘The Fidgety Man,’ Mr. Hughes.
Now Mr Hughes is taking his second turn, but I need to pop back to 1870 to find a copy of his song even though it means missing his performance. (I think I’ve found it in Sharp’s New London Songster, but if this is it – and it’s the only song of this title I can find – it’s a strange choice for man to sing! Have a look and make your own mind up.)
Reading, ‘The Boy and the Beads,’ Mr. Weaving.
Edward Weaving is the Master of the Industrial School in the former workhouse buildings just beyond the parish boundary, near Cold Hatton. He and Mrs Weaving started there in 1860 and although they don’t yet know it, next year (1868) Mr Weaving will become the Master of the Drayton Union Workhouse. (Shhh, don’t tell – spoilers!) In the here and now, he’s going to read from Dickens’ Pickwick Papers. I wonder if he also recites this passage to his inmates?
“By the bye, Bob,” said Hopkins, with a scarcely perceptible glance at Mr. Pickwick’s attentive face, “we had a curious accident last night. A child was brought in, who had swallowed a necklace.”
“Swallowed what, Sir?” interrupted Mr. Pickwick.
“A necklace,” replied Jack Hopkins. “Not all at once—you know that would be too much; you couldn’t swallow that, if the child did—eh, Mr. Pickwick? ha! ha!”—Mr. Hopkins appeared highly gratified with his own pleasantry; and continued—”No, the way was this;—child’s parents were poor people who lived in a court. Child’s eldest sister bought a necklace—common necklace, made of large black wooden beads. Child being fond of toys, cribbed the necklace, hid it, played with it, cut the string, and swallowed a bead. Child thought it capital fun, went back next day, and swallowed another bead.”
“Bless my heart,” said Mr. Pickwick, “what a dreadful thing! I beg your pardon, Sir. Go on.”
“Next day, child swallowed two beads; the day after that, he treated himself to three, and so on, till, in a week’s time, he had got through the necklace, five-and-twenty beads in all. The sister, who was an industrious girl, and seldom treated herself to a bit of finery, cried her eyes out, at the loss of the necklace; looked high and low for it; but, I needn’t say, didn’t find it. A few days afterward, the family were at dinner—baked shoulder of mutton, and potatoes under it—the child, who wasn’t hungry, was playing about the room, when suddenly there was heard a singular noise, like a small hailstorm. ‘Don’t do that, my boy,’ said the father. “I ain’t a doin’ nothing,’ said the child. ‘Well, don’t do it again,’ said the father. There was a short silence, and then the noise began again, worse than ever. ‘If you don’t mind what I say, my boy,’ said the father, ‘you’ll find yourself in bed, in something less than a pig’s whisper.’ He gave the child a shake to make him obedient, and such a rattling ensued as nobody ever heard before. ‘Why, it’s in the child!’ said the father: ‘he’s got the croup in the wrong place!’ ‘No, I haven’t, father,’ said the child, beginning to cry, ‘it’s the necklace; I swallowed it, father.’—The father caught the child up, and ran with him to the hospital—the beads in the boy’s stomach rattling all the way with the jolting; and the people looking up in the air, and down in the cellars, to see where the unusual sound came from. He’s in the hospital now,” said Jack Hopkins, “and he makes such a strange noise when he walks about, that they’re obliged to muffle him in a watchman’s coat, for fear he should wake the patients!”
“That’s the most extraordinary case I ever heard of,” said Mr. Pickwick, with an emphatic blow on the table.
“Oh, that’s nothing,” said Jack Hopkins. “Is it, Bob?”
“Certainly not,” replied Mr. Bob Sawyer.
“Very singular things occur in our profession, I can assure you, Sir,” said Hopkins.“So I should be disposed to imagine,” replied Mr. Pickwick.
> On to Part 3.
Picture credits. Mrs. Gamp Makes Tea: Sketch by ‘Phiz’ (Hablot K Browne), scanned by Philip V Allingham and taken from The Victorian Web. Extract from sheet music for The Minute Gun At Sea: Original image from Trove; out of copyright. Mr Pickwick: Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.