Home from the Party: 1851

HOME FROM THE PARTY.

It’s all over, as Mr. Punch observes, when the eventful drama of his life is cut short by inadequate remuneration. The daylight has been coming on brighter and brighter for the last hour, we first saw it through the staircase window where there were no candles. The girls’ cerise dresses have assumed beautiful tints in the blue morning; we find our gloves, which we bought for white in a hurry, as we came along, at a strange shop where an anxious boy knew nothing of their numbers, but tried on the old delusion of measuring across our knuckles to show us that they really were seven and three quarters, and slapped every fresh paper parcel he took down, in his desperation, upon the counter to give an appearance of activity and bustle, and recommended a light-blue tie as very much worn at present—we find they [the gloves] turn out to be straw-colour. Two of the candles on the mantelpiece have set their ornaments on fire, and half-a-dozen more are about to follow them; the musicians turn the waltz to the Sturm-Marsch, to show us that they think it is time to finish if the dancers don’t; the waterman says, “Mind the step, my lady,” and holds his lantern to it in the broad sunlight; we fish out our folding hat from behind the window curtains, where we hid it at an early period of the evening; and looking at a mild gentleman in the hall, who finds that 91 has taken his hat and left him 16, from reading his ticket topsyturvey, we are once more on the pavement.

It is a bright clear morning. We see the long lines of houses as clean and sharp as we used to do in the country; and the birds are chirping away in the squares as cheerfully as if they were in a field. A policeman and a sparrow alone occupy the thoroughfare with us; one turns the corner, the other flies away, and we have it all to ourself.

There is a supernatural legibility about the names over the shops: the blue is brighter and the gold more glaring than usual. Why should Benson assert his name so much more palpably than in the noise and bustle and streaming life of noon?—and when there is nobody to look at him too? We wonder whether Benson is asleep where the blinds are down on the second floor; and if so, whether he is dreaming or not, and what his dreams are about, and what Benson is; for the shutters are up, and he might be a linen-draper, butterman, or shoemaker, with equal probability.

Wheels coming on behind us. A brougham goes by, and through the windows drawn closely up, we see the handsome dark girl with the clematis and fuchsia wreath, looking pale and pretty, with a pocket handkerchief over her head cornerwise, held together at the chin. We think about that brougham girl until she is out of sight; and wonder if we appeared to the best advantage as she passed. We don’t much think we did. One of the springs of our hat is out of order, and we were carrying our gloves in our hand, crumpled up to the size of a walnut, as though we were going to conjure with them: and we were blinking as we met the sun at the corner, and holding a seedy bouquet in our hand, which evidently she had not given us. Indeed we forget exactly who did. Our collars retired from public life in the last polka; and the melancholy leaf of the lily of the valley is all that is left, carefully pinned into our button-hole. Never mind—what does it matter? Perhaps we shall never see the brougham girl again.

The sun gets up higher and higher, and is tipping all the chimneys and attic windows, as we think of the old story of the king that was to be chosen from whoever first saw the sun rise, and the cunning slave who turned his back upon the east when all the others were staring their eyeballs out at it, and caught sight of its earliest rays on a minaret. We don’t feel at all inclined to go to bed—not a bit tired. We have a light champaignetre [as in Fête champêtre?] desire to walk about perpetual squares. More wheels behind, and more brougham girls,—no, it’s a market cart, with a man and a boy sitting on a perfect stack of cabbages; and at the same minute a sweep knocks up a weary housemaid over the way, and the baker’s chimney begins to smoke. Hang it all! people are commencing another day before we have been to bed. We experience a sudden revulsion of feeling, and really will give up this late racketing. As we think so we gape, and almost envy the people who went to bed at eleven. Still we don’t feel tired. If we are not more sleepy when we get up this afternoon than we are at present, how fresh we shall be!

A fancy ball is over somewhere, and a Greek is gravely walking along the pavement with Don Caesar de Bazan, and both are smoking. We have not seen fancy dresses by daylight since the Montem. They do not promote hilarity under such an aspect. We gape again: the Greek and Don pass on their way, and we on ours, like strangers in the desert. They have astonished nobody but a cat, who shot with ghostly facility through a narrow grating as they approached.

Here we are at home, at last. A night lamp is burning, in dreary opposition to the daylight, in the passage. It is hardly worth while putting up the chain, and drawing the bolt, for the servants will be down presently. We carry the candlestick mechanically up-stairs, and place it as usual on the drawers. Undressing with a reckless unconcern, that flings our clothes into all corners of the room, we set our alarum—which we know will not wake us, or, if it does, we shall not get up—to go off at half-past eight (three hours and a half hence ); and with a long yawn, and a longer stretch, fall into a feverish, whirling, half-conscious sleep, in which all the features of the last six hours are fitfully jumbling together, the brougham girl predominating.

The Month, A View of Passing Subjects and Manners, Albert Smith & John Leech, 1851

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Ah, those days of cerise ball-gowns and wreaths of clematis and fuchsia! Mrs Daffodil recalls the little satin slippers of the period, so easily “danced through,” like those of the twelve dancing princesses in the fairy tale.

Cats and cabs and wagons seem to figure heavily in the “sound-scape” of the nineteenth century. And what an evocative picture of a verdant “man about town” strolling, if not reeling, homewards from a ball. With his crushed hat and button-hole flower, he seems to have thoroughly enjoyed himself. Irrationally, and on absolutely no evidence, one longs for him to meet the the brougham girl again.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

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