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THE ROMANCE OF A DAY.

A PASSAGE IN THE LIFE OF AN ADVENTURER.

WITH AN ILLUSTRATION BY GEORGE CRUIKSHANK.

When things are at the worst, they are sure to mend, says the old adage; and the hero of the following narrative is a case in point. Dick Diddler was a distant connexion, by the mother's side, of the famous Jeremy, immortalized by Kenny. He was a shrewd, reckless adventurer, gifted with an elastic conscience that would stretch like Indian-rubber, and a genius for raising the wind unsurpassed by Æolus himself. At the period to which this tale refers, he had dissipated at the minor West-end hells, and elsewhere, the last farthing of a pittance which he inherited from his father ; and was considerably in arrears with his landlady, 'a waspish gentlewoman who rented what she complacently termed “an airy house” in the windiest quarter of Camden Town. This was embarrassing ; but Dick was not one to despair. He had high animal spirits, knowledge of the world, imperturbable self-possession, good' exterior, plausible address, and a modesty which he felt persuaded would never stand in the way of his advancement.

Thousands of London adventurers, it has been observed, rise in the morning without knowing how they shall provide a meal for the day. Our hero was just now in this predicament, for he had not even the means of procuring a breakfast. Something, however, must be done, and that immediately, so he applied himself to a cracked bell which stood on his ill-conditioned table; and, while waiting his landlady's answer to the tintinnabulary summons, occupied himself by casting a scrutinizing glance at his outer Adam. Alas! there was little here to gratify the eye of taste and gentility! His coat was in that peculiar state denominated “seedy,” his linen was as yellow as a sea-sick cockney, and his trousers evinced tokens of an antiquity better qualified to inspire reverence than admiration.

Just as he had completed his survey, his landlady entered the room, accompanied by her first-born, a hopeful youth, with a fine expanse of mouth calculated seriously to perplex a quartern loaf. Dick perused her features attentively, and thought he had never before seen her look so ugly. But this of course : Venus herself would look a fright, if she came to dun for money.

“Ah, poppet, is that you ?” exclaimed Dick, affectionately patting the urchin's head, by way of an agreeable commencement to the conversation ; “Why, how the dear boy grows ! Blessings on his pretty face; he's the very image of his Ma!"

“ Come, come, Mr. Diddler,” replied Mrs. Dibbs, “ that language won't do no longer. You've been blessing little Tom twice a day ever since you got into my books, but I'm not going to take out my account in blessings. Blessings won't pay my milk-score, so I must have my money,--and this very day too, for I've got a bill to make up to-morrow.

“ Have patience, my good lady, and all will be right."

“Ay, so you've said for the last month ; but saying 's one thing, and doing 's another." “ Very good.”

2 Q

“ But it ain't very good ; it's very

bad." “ Well, well, no matter, Mrs. D

“ No matter! But I say it is a great matter,-a matter of ten pounds fifteen shillings, to say nothing of them oysters what you did me out on last night."

“ Exactly so ; and you shall have it all this very day, for it so happens that I'm going into the City to receive payment of a debt that has been owing me since November last. And this reminds me that I have not yet breakfasted ; so pray send up—now don't apologise, for you could not possibly have known that I had an appointment in Fenchurch-street at ten o'clock."

“ Breakfast !" exclaimed Mrs. Dibbs with a disdainful toss of her head; “no, no; not a mouthful shall you have till I get my money: I'm quite sick of your promises."

“Nay, but my dear Mrs. D

“It's no use argufying the pint; what I've said, I'll stand to. Come, Tom—drat the boy ! why don't you come ?" and so saying, the choleric dame, catching fast hold of her son by the pinafore, flounced out of the room, banging the door after her with the emphasis of a hurricane.

Dick remained a few minutes behind, in the hope that breakfast might yet be forthcoming: but finding that there was not the slightest prospect of his landlady's relenting, he, in the true spirit of an indignant Briton, consigned her "eyes” to, perdition ; and, having thus expectorated his wrath, began to furbish up his faded apparel. He tucked in his saffron shirt-collar ; buttoned up his coat to the chin, refreshing the white seams with the “Patent Reviver ;”. smoothed round his silk hat, which luckily was in good preservation; and then rushed out of the house with the desperate determination of breakfasting at some one's expense. There is nothing like the gastric juice to stimulate a man's ingenuity. It is the secret of half the poetic inspiration in our literature.

Chance-or perhaps that ruling destiny which, do what we will, still sways all our actions—led Dick's steps in the direction of the Hampstead Road. It was a bright, cool, summer morning; the housemaids were at work with their brooms outside the cottages; the milkman was going his rounds with his “ sky-blue;" and the shiny porter-pots yet hung upon the garden rails. As our hero moved onward, keeping his mouth close shut, lest the lively wind might act too excitingly on his unfurnished epigastrum, his attentive optics chanced to fall on a cottage, in the front parlour of which, the window being open, he beheld a sight that roused all the shark or alderman within him,- to wit, a breakfast set forth in a style that might have created an appetite “under the ribs of death.” Dick stopped: the case was desperate ; but his self-possession was equal to the emergency. “A Mr. Smith lives here," said he, running his eye hastily over the premises : "the bower, and the wooden god, those trees so neatly clipped, and that commonplace-looking terrier sleeping at the gate, with his nose poked through the rails, all be, token the habits and fancies of a Smith. Good! I will favour the gentleman with a call;" and with these words Dick gave a vehement pull at the garden-bell.

“ Is Mr. Smith at home?" he inquired with an air of easy as

was on

surance that produced an instant effect on the girl who answered the bell.

“ No, sir;"

“Upon my life, that's very awkward ; particularly so as he requested me to be"

“Oh! I suppose, then, you 're the gentleman that was expected here to breakfast this morning ?"

“ The very same, my dear."

“ Well,” continued the girl, unlocking the gate, master desired me to say that you were to walk in, and not wait for him, for he had to go into Tottenham-court Road on business, and should not be back for an hour.”

Dick took the hint, walked in, and in an instant was hard at work.

How he punished the invigorating coffee! What havoc he wrought among the eggs and French rolls! Never was seen such voracity since the days of the ventripotent Heliogabalus. His expedition

par with his prowess, for Mr. Smith's guest being momentarily expected, he felt that he had not a moment to lose. Accordingly, after doing prompt, impartial justice to every article on table, he coolly rang the bell, and, without noticing the muttered “My stars !” of the servant as she glanced at the wreck before her, he desired her to tell Mr. Smith that, as he had a visit to pay in the neighbourhood, he could not wait longer for him, but would call again in the course of the day; and then, putting on his hat with an air, he quitted the cottage on the best possible terms with himself and all the world. There is nothing like good eating and drinking to bring out the humanities.

Having no professional duties to attend to, Dick strolled on to Hampstead Heath, where he seated himself on a bench that commands an extensive view towards the west and north. Here he continued musing upwards of an hour, in that buoyant mood which a good breakfast never fails to call forth. It was early yet to trouble himself about dinner or his landlady's bill; and Dick was not the man to recognise a grievance till it stared him in the face, when, if he could not give it the cut direct, he would boldly confront and grapple with it: so he occupied himself with whistling one of Macheath's songs in the Beggar's Opera.

While thus idling away his time, and picturing in his mind's eye the perplexed visages of Mr. Smith and his guest when they should become acquainted with the extent of their calamity, Dick's attention was suddenly directed to the sound of voices near him. He listened; and, from the dulcet accents in which the conversation was carried on, felt persuaded that the parties were making love. Curious to ascertain who they were, he retreated behind one of the broadest elms on the terrace, and there beheld a dry old maid, thin as a threadpaper, and straight as a stick of sealing-wax, smirking and affecting to blush at something that was whispered in her ear by a young man. Our adventurer fancied that the latter's person was familiar to him ; so, the instant the enamoured turtles separated, he emerged from his hiding-place, and saw, advancing towards the bench he had just quitted, an old com-rogue, to whom in his better days he had lost many a sum at the gaming-table. The recognition was mutual.

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“ What! Dick Diddler ?" “What ! Sam Spragge ?"

“ Why, Sam, what has brought you here at this hour?” quoth our hero.

Samuel smiled, and pointed significantly towards the ancient virgin, who was just then crossing the Heath, near the donkey-stand. “ Hem! I understand. Much property ?"

Eight hundred a year at her own disposal, and two thousand three per cents at the death of a crusty, invalid brother-in-law, who lives with her in that old-fashioned house she is now entering."

“ Eight hundred a year !” said Dick musing ; “lucky dog! And how long have you known her?"

“Oh! an eternity. Three days." “ And where did you pick her up

7" “ Under a gateway in Camden Town, where we were both standing up from the rain.” “ You seem to have made excellent use of

your

time." Nothing easier. I could see at a glance that she was quite as anxious for a husband as I am for a rich wife; so, after some indifferent chat about the weather, &c. I prevailed on her to accept of my escort home; talked lots of sentiment as we jogged along under my umbrella ; praised her beauty to the skies--for she is inordinately vain, though ugly enough, as you must have seen, to scare a ghost—and, in short, did not quit her till she had promised to meet me on the following day."

“And she kept her word, no doubt ?"

“ Yes, I have now seen her four times, and am sure that if I could but muster up funds enough for a Gretna-green trip,—for she has all the romance of a boarding school girl,—I could carry her off this very night. But I cannot, Dick, I cannot ;" and Sam heaved a sigh that was quite pathetic.

“ Can you not borrow of her ?-'tis for her own good, you know."

“ Impossible! I have represented myself as a man of substance; and, were she once to suppose me otherwise, so quick-witted is she on money matters, that she would instantly give me my dismissal."

“ And what is your angel's name ?" “Priscilla Spriggins."

“My dear fellow,” exclaimed Dick with a sudden burst of emotion, “ from my soul I pity you ; but, alas / sympathy is all I have to offer: - look here!" and, turning his empty pockets inside out, he displayed two holes therein, about as big as the aperture of a mouse-trap.

An expressive pause followed this touching exhibition; shortly after which the two adventurers parted, -Sam returning towards London, with a view, no doubt, of seeking, like Apollyon, “whom he might devour;" and Dick remaining where he was, casting ever and anon a glance towards the house where the fair Priscilla vegetated, and meditating, the while, on the revelation that had just been made to him.

Tired at length of reverie, he rose from the bench, and made his way back into Hampstead,-slowly, for every step was bringing him nearer the residence of his unreasonable landlady. On passing down by Mount Vernon, he beheld the walls on either side of him placarded with hand-bills announcing that an auction was to take place

that day at a large old family mansion (the by-streets of Hampstead abound in such) close by; and, on moving towards the spot, he saw, by the groups of people who were lounging at the open door, that the

sale had already begun. By way of killing an idle half-hour or so, Dick entered; and, elbowing his way up stairs, soon found himself in a spacious drawing-room, crowded with pictures, vases, old porcelain, and other articles of virtù.

Just at that moment the auctioneer put up a landscape painting by one of the old masters, on which he expatiated with the customary professional eloquence. “Going, ladies and gentlemen, going for two hundred pounds-undoubted Paul Potter-highly admired by the late lamented Lawrence-sheep so naturally coloured, you'd swear you could hear 'em bleat-frame, too, in excellent condition-goinggoing—"

“ Two hundred and thirty !" said a small gentleman in spectacles, raising himself on tip-toe to catch the auctioneer's eye. “ Two hundred and fifty" shouted another.

Going for two hundred and fifty," said the man in the rostrum ; after a pause,“ upon my word, ladies and gentlemen, this is giving away the picture. Pray look at that fore-shortened old ram in the background; why, his two horns alone are worth the money. Let me beg, for the honour of art, that

“Three hundred !” roared Dick, with an intrepid effrontery that extorted universal respect, — for to his other amiable qualities he added that of being a “ brag" of the first water, and was proud, even though it were but for a moment, of displaying his consequence among strangers.

As this was the highest bidding, the picture was knocked down to our hero, who, having cracked his joke, and gratified his swaggering propensities, was about to beat a retreat, when he found his elbow twitched by a nervous, eager little man,-a duodecimo edition of a virtuoso,—who had only that moment entered the room.

“So you have purchased that Paul Potter, sir, I understand,” said the stranger, wiping the perspiration from his bald head, and evidently struggling with his vexation.

Dick nodded an affirmative, not a little curious to know what would come next.

“Bless my soul, how unlucky! To think that I should have been only five minutes too late, and such a run as I had for it! Excuse the liberty I am taking, but have you any wish to be off your bargain, sir ?—not that I am particularly anxious about the picture-I merely ask for information ; that's all, sir, I assure you,” added the virtuoso, aware that he had committed himself, and endeavouring to retrieve his blunder.

Dick cast one of his most searching glances at the stranger ; and, reading in his countenance the anxiety he would fain have concealed under a show of indifference, said in his slyest and most composed manner, “ May I beg to be favoured with your name, sir ?”

" Smithson, sir,- Richard Smithson, agent to Lord Theodore Thickskull, whose picture gallery I have the honour of a commission to furnish ; and happening to read a day or two ago in the “ Times” that a few old paintings were to be disposed of by auction here on the premises, I thought, perhaps

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